crafty · DIY · hackin' it · Keepin' it real

Day 514: I learned some things tonight.

Remember that time I told Mr. December that I was going to involve K in an epic DIY project that could maybe involve wrecking a table? Well, K and I decided tonight was the night for a trial run.

Now, here’s where I’ve grown as a person: ten years ago, I would have just started the project and let the chips fall where they may. These days I do a practice run first. I grabbed one of the extra leaves from our old table (the one that’s on its way out) and, using a hair dryer and a scraper, carefully peeled off some of the veneer. I learned a few things in the process:

  1. I need to wear work gloves next time. My knuckles got kind of shredded anytime the scraper slipped (which was often.)
  2. IKEA’s wood veneer is extremely thin, but is definitely wood—which means that it splinters and doesn’t scrape off all in one piece.
  3. Stripping the veneer off this table leaf wasn’t teaching me anything, since the table I was hoping to work on is topped with Formica, not real wood veneer.

By the time I accepted lesson number three, I had already pretty much wrecked the table leaf. There was nothing left to lose… so I invited K to help me cover the bare particle board with poured paints. I mean, why not? It could look cool, or it could be a flop. Either way it was going to the dump.

K had already mixed some epoxy, so after playing with the paint for a while, we said, “What the heck,” and went ahead and poured some epoxy on top of the paint. And now we wait; I wonder how the paint and epoxy will interact as the epoxy cures (and puts out a ton of heat)?

Final lesson learned: just leave well enough alone and accept the table as it is.

3 Images: 1. a birch-coloured table leaf with a section of veneer missing, with the particleboard substrate visible. 2. Close-up of the poured paint covered with epoxy. 3. The same table leaf with two large patches of poured paint and epoxy.

better homes than yours · DIY · el cheapo · hackin' it · whine and cheese

Day 495: Cheap Imitations?

“I have big plans,” I informed Mr. December. “I’m going to rope K into my crazy, harebrained scheme and we’re going to do it when you’re out of the house.”

You might be wondering why I told him at all; I was wondering the same thing two seconds after I finished speaking. That’s me, though: when I’m excited about something, I can’t keep my mouth shut. Except for that time we threw my parents a big surprise party for their anniversary… but that was really, really hard.

Back to Mr. December. “Does it involve wrecking a perfectly good table?” he asked.

How did he know? “Maybe a little…” I admitted.

I don’t know if I ever told you that we have a new-to-us dining room table. It’s not the fancy epoxy table, and it’s not the custom wood table with the tree-shaped legs either. I’ve known this table for most of my life, as it’s been sitting in the boardroom of my Dad’s office for the last twenty-five (or so) years. It’s the exact size and shape that I wanted, and it was free, which means I can throw my table fund into twelve beautiful (and matching) dining chairs.

Besides, you know I’m happier when I’m hacking furniture, right? This table is—like most office furniture—really nice wood-look formica over particle board. But I have big plans here: remove some of the laminate (probably a meandering river down the middle, but who knows) and pour a very thin layer of blue epoxy into the resultant gap. I think it would look extremely cool.

Speaking of cool, my mum brought these beautiful chairs to my attention:

Image description: a chair with chrome legs and a transparent blue plastic molded seat. There are ripples emanating from the centre of the seat. It looks like water.

When I saw them—and when Mum told me how comfy they are—I started looking for them online. I found what I thought was the right chair on Overstock and Wayfair; but when I read the reviews, many of them said the chairs weren’t very durable. I found this strange since my Aunty (in whose kitchen the above photo was taken) told me that the chairs still look untouched even with all the abuse her dogs and birds dish out.

So I ran a Google search on the photo of the chair. Sure enough, there appeared to be two different companies making a nearly-identical product. Of course, I couldn’t tell which was which except by the dimensions; in typical Wayfair manner, they’ve given the chairs a name that is completely different from the model name on the manufacturers’ website. Sure enough, though, one of them is slightly bigger and presumably more durable. It definitely gets better reviews than its doppelganger.

This kind of thing makes me crazy. It’s obviously designed to make it impossible for customers to comparison-shop, and in that it succeeds; but if I ordered a set of chairs and they turned out to be the cheap imitations, I’d be pissed.

So how am I supposed to know? According to the online retailers, I’m not. I guess this means I have to email actual bricks-and-mortar furniture stores around here and ask if they still carry these. And if not… do I take my chances and order 12 online? Or do I order just two online and risk them selling out before I can buy more?

Camping it up · hackin' it · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 461: Terrycloth Tetris

I’m having fun.

Having to inventory and then buy all the kids’ stuff for camp is a pain in the butt. But packing? That’s seriously fun. And hacking the packing… even better.

I’ve only sent my kids to overnight camp once before, but apparently I totally nailed the packing last year. The kids were especially fond of their bedrolls; to make it super simple to make up their beds, we laid out all the bedding on the floor as if it was a bed, then folded the sides in and rolled the whole thing. When they got to camp, they just unrolled it and tucked the corners of the fitted sheet under the mattress. Done.

They asked me to do it again this year; today I put together N’s bedroll for him. Then I had an inspired idea for the towels: I used some random zippered nylon cubes (from where? I don’t know) to pack the towels. When the kids get to camp they can keep their clean towels in the cube on their shelf or under their bed so they don’t end up all over the place.

Um, Sara? you’re saying, Why are you telling us this? This is the most mundane, boring blog post I’ve seen from you since that time back in 2012.

Moving on…

I think I might pack all the kids’ stuff in packing cubes. Or even better, those vinyl packages with zippers that bedding sometimes comes in. It’ll keep everything organized and let them see all their stuff.

What I’m really saying is that I love how compact and neat everything looks when it’s packed in cubes. I re-packed K’s towels a few times before I got them to fit perfectly into the space. The dopamine hit when I succeed at doing it just right is as good as when I finally find the most elusive puzzle piece or when I pack the dishwasher so that everything fits in perfectly.

Am I weird?

You know what? Don’t answer that. Just let me bask in the satisfaction of well-packed towels.

Image description: two zippered vinyl cubes containing rolled-up towels.
bikes planes and automobiles · DIY · Fibro Flares · hackin' it

Day 432: Comebacks

Our trampoline mat ripped in April. I called the company immediately to order a replacement part, which was backordered until June. Happily, it didn’t take that long; it arrived at our house a few days ago.

Be proud of me: I recognized that if Mr. December and I tried to replace the mat ourselves, it would take several hours of sweating and swearing, and there was a very real possibility that someone would get whacked in the head with one of the tension rods. We decided to hire a professional. He did the job this morning in twenty minutes.

So now the trampoline is back after a month and a half.

I’m back, too, I think. I jumped on the trampoline a very little bit today, something I was previously unable to do without bringing on post-concussion symptoms (the concussion was two years ago, but some effects still linger.) It was exhilarating. Tomorrow I’ll jump just a bit longer and before you know it, trampolining will be my daily workout.

I’ve also been biking more this past week, and I’ve been able to go on short rides without triggering another fibro flare. The rides are far shorter than what I used to do at my peak, but my body is just happy to be moving again, and I can’t expect to go from a six-week flare and a year of lockdowns into fourteen kilometres with a loaded 100-pound cargo bike overnight, can I?

As reluctant as I am to admit it, Mr. December was kind of right about the light situation in our bedroom. After a blowout “fix this now!” argument, I stomped upstairs and blocked the windows completely with cardboard. It looks pretty awful from outside, but it definitely creates blackout conditions. Last night I slept a lot later than I have the past couple of weeks. We’ve also been going to sleep a bit earlier, and I know that the increased sleep is likely keeping me from flaring again.

I’m not okay with having cardboard in my windows all the time, though. The extra hardware for our new curtain rod has come in, and so has the black adhesive-backed felt I ordered (to stick to the ceiling between the wall and the curtains, because otherwise the light just reflects off the ceiling and straight into our eyes.) Mr. December will help me install everything this weekend. It had better work. If it doesn’t, I’m sure you’ll be able to hear my scream of frustration no matter where in the world you are.

better homes than yours · DIY · hackin' it · IKEA · Kids

Day 352: Baby’s First Build

Okay, fine. She’s not a baby. She’s six. But she’s my baby, and this was her first IKEA build.

We’ve taken a very relaxed approach to furnishing our house. The library still has the old cushion from our old window seat (it doesn’t fit the new seat,) a super-comfy-from-the-curb rocking chair, and a beanbag. Our dining table is sagging—I’m convinced the only thing holding it up is the metal slides on the underside—and the chairs are beyond awful. My headboard is as yet unfinished, as is my built-in desk. And E’s room… where I had planned to have neat built-ins on either side of her bed, she has two mismatched (in size and colour) cube shelves that didn’t fit anywhere else in the house.

I finally decided to design the built-ins using modular IKEA furniture. The components arrived here on Tuesday, and today E declared that she was ready to “build my first IKEA thing!”

I’ve been assembling IKEA furniture for so long that I’ve forgotten that their instructions are a language unto themselves. I taught E all about what the letter “i” in a circle means, why there’s a hand pointing to a particular component, and how to tell all the different kinds of screws apart. By the end she was assembling like a pro.

Part of my plan for E’s room is a unit on wheels that can roll behind her headboard when she’s not using it, and then be pulled out and used as a dollhouse when she wants it. Not that she wouldn’t have room for a dollhouse that just sits out all the time, but I’m apparently not happy until my build has something that pulls out, rolls out, tucks in, or slides away. I’m quirky like that: I love my rolling kitchen island (that tucks under the counter,) the pull-out desk in the library, and my camouflaged command centre cabinet in the dining room.

The IKEA series I’m using for E’s room is called EKET. For the roll-out dollhouse/bookshelf I decided to have two cubes facing the room so she can access them when the unit is rolled away. That made joining the cubes a bit tricky to figure out, but maybe that’s just my tendency to overthink things; I ended up just using screws to attach the units to each other. I was a bit worried about the whole thing sagging at the joint between the units, so I flipped it upside down and screwed a metal plate into the bottom, straddling the join point. While the unit was upside down I added fixed casters (because swivel casters would be a disaster of scraping and banging into stuff. Fixed casters basically act like a drawer slide.)

I’m sure it’ll be a few more weekends before I’m really done with E’s room, so that’s all you’re getting tonight. In fact, after N sees this he’ll want to know why I started on E’s room without finishing his; right now he’s got several stacks of these IKEA cubes on his floor and the mounting templates taped to the wall. What can I say? ADHD means never wanting to finish one thing before starting another. Story of my life.

crafty · DIY · hackin' it · Keepin' it real · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 346: Made with love… and some dental floss.

Building on yesterday’s success, today I finished N’s roller shade—sort of—and fixed E’s Roman shade. It’s fully operational again, now with a hint of minty freshness!

If you know how Roman shades are made, you’ll understand when I tell you that the clear plastic rings detached from the shade, rendering the string useless. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, here’s a picture:

It’s ugly, I know, but nobody sees that side. Anyhow, nine of these little plastic rings had come off the shade when the string holding them broke. I had to sew them back on stronger than before; I had absolutely no desire to fix this shade every six months. That’s why instead of thread, I used dental floss.

Confession time: I’m not a flosser. I mean, I know how, and occasionally I’ll do it if I feel the need, but that happens rarely if at all. Our dentist gives us free floss at every visit (along with toothbrushes, toothpaste, and anything else we feel we need) which means that I’ve built up quite a stash of the stuff.

It’s pretty friction-tolerant (it would have to be if you’re dragging it past sharp biting edges of teeth) so I figure it should be able to survive the rigors of life as a bedroom window treatment. Time will tell, I suppose. In the meantime I get to feel productive—which my friends remind me shouldn’t be the yardstick by which my worth is measured, but it makes me feel good nonetheless.

DIY · hackin' it · Keepin' it real · whine and cheese

Day 315: Fix-it Fail

There’s a drawer in the library that has not worked properly since it was built. A few months ago I took a close look and determined that the drawer was an eighth of an inch too wide, which was causing the drawer glides to bind. I was convinced that I’d have to build an entirely new drawer box.

Tonight I decided to take a closer look. It occurred to me that there was enough space between the side of the drawer and the side of the cabinet to just reposition the drawer glide further from the edge of the drawer. This was exciting news: if true, it would be a pretty easy fix.

I did all my measuring. I cut out an extra notch at the back of the drawer so the glide could fit in. I drilled new holes for the little pins that connect the glide to the drawer. Then it was time to put the drawer glides back into the cabinet, which was not a comfortable operation. The cabinet opening is about three inches by six inches, and I had to get both of my hands in there. I couldn’t use my power drill since it was too big; instead I used our little ratcheting screwdriver. It took forever and got grease all over my hands from the glides.

It took way too long to screw in four measly screws. By the time I finished I was ready to put in the drawer and be done with it all. I pulled out the glides and positioned the drawer on them.

It didn’t fit.

[Insert swear words here.]

I took the drawer out and ripped out the spacer I had put in to keep the right glide in position. “One more time,” I muttered to myself. I slid the glides out, positioned the drawer, pushed it onto the prongs, and slid the drawer shut.

It closed this time, but it wasn’t pretty. See exhibit A, below. The photo on the right is of the other drawer, the front of which sits flush with the surrounding frame. The photo on the left is of the drawer that I attempted to fix: it’s fully closed, but it still juts out from the frame by a good quarter-inch. Blast!

Now it looks like I’ll have to unscrew the drawer glides from the cabinet sides (again with the cramped space and the tiny ratcheting screwdriver) and reinstall them just a smidge farther away from the cabinet front. Oh, goody. What fun.

I probably had time to finish fixing it tonight, but it’s usually better to stop before you feel like torching the whole *&%$ thing because it just won’t work. I might fix it tomorrow, but for tonight it’s a fix-it fail.

better homes than yours · DIY · hackin' it · IKEA · Renovation

Day 314: Vanity, thy name is HEMNES

When we were designing our house, way back in ’15, I already knew I wanted our powder room to have more than just a tiny handwashing sink. It needed to be able to store lots of extra toilet paper and hand towels, of course, but also things like hairbrushes and elastics for last-minute I’m-not-going-back-upstairs-for-this ponytails. It also needed to fit in a six-foot by four-foot bathroom along with a toilet and an inswing door.

“Why don’t you just do a nice wall-hung sink and store your stuff somewhere else?” the architect asked.

“What about just a tiny vanity?” the architect’s assistant wondered aloud.

“Nope and nope,” I said resolutely.

I hadn’t told them yet, but I also wanted a wide sink so that two kids could stand side-by-side to wash their hands. They didn’t disappoint: they told me that was unlikely to work in such a small bathroom.

To them I basically said, “Hold my coffee.” Then I hacked a vanity that ticked all the boxes.

Unsurprisingly (if you know me,) it started at IKEA. They had some nice big sinks that didn’t stick out too much. The one I chose—LILLANGEN—had a soap dish and a tray that fit inside the sink itself. As a bonus, I figured it could be installed so that it looked like an apron-front farmhouse sink.

But the vanity designed for that sink was one of IKEA’s cheaper ones, and it didn’t look very nice. I preferred the solid-wood HEMNES vanities with drawers. Some quick math told me that I could fit three of them along the six-foot wall in the bathroom, and as they only protruded about 12 inches into the room, there’d still be space for the toilet beside it.

(Unfortunately for those of you who’d like to reproduce this hack, IKEA doesn’t seem to sell the 12-inch-deep version of the HEMNES anymore.)

There were a couple of minor problems. The first was the colour: I could only get the vanity in black. No problem—that would be solved with some spray paint.

The next problem was that if I set the sink fully centered on one of the three vanities I was combining, it would be very weirdly off centre and half-obscured by the door when the door was open (which is a lot of the time, especially if you’re just ducking in to wash your hands.) It would look much better if I could offset the sink so that it was centred on two of the cabinets, but that would require some fancy work.

Here’s how I did it:

Step One: Purchasing
I bought three HEMNES vanities and the LILLANGEN sink. I was still a bit unsure of what I’d have to do to hack it, so I also bought a HEMNES étagère shelf as well: it was relatively inexpensive and would give me some extra (matching) materials to work with if I needed them.

Step Two: Planning for the sink
I needed the sink to straddle the post between two units. To do that, I measured and marked how low the sink would sit, and then cut one panel to the correct height.

Step Three: Modifying the frame
The vanities were only intended to have drawer glides attached to the insides of their side panels. For my vanity, though, I needed the two panels in the middle to have drawer hardware on both sides. Using the cut-down side panel from Step Two as well as an unmodified side panel, I drilled through all of the holes in the panel so that they were open on both sides. Then I assembled the vanity as I would normally.

Now I had one whole vanity frame with holes on its outside. Then I followed the original instructions to attach the outer frames to the inner one (by dropping a side panel each and using the central frame as the side panels.) Make sense?

Because the panels weren’t recessed equally on the inside and outside of the side pieces, I couldn’t just use the parts that came with the vanity to mount the drawer glides on the outsides: instead I used shims to install the drawer glides so that the drawers would fit properly. Then I followed the instructions to connect the side panels to each other so that they framed three columns of drawers.

Step Four: Accommodating the sink
I wanted the sink to look like a farmhouse sink, which meant that the front of it would have to go where the top drawers would normally be. I had already cut down the centre panel, but now I needed to fill the spaces on either side of the sink as well as add a crossbar to support the sink’s front edge. For this I used the extra side pieces as well as one long piece of wood from the HEMNES étagère that I bought. It would have been really cool to have tiny drawers there, but I was hesitant to complicate things any further.

At this point the sink fit, but two of my top drawers were now too tall.

Fortunately, the drawer boxes themselves mostly fit under the sink. I just had to cut out a bit of one side and the back of each to accommodate the sink and the plumbing. The drawer fronts were easily cut down to their new size, and I used my router on the new top edge to make it look like the original.

As for the drain, IKEA has a neat drain system where the drain almost immediately runs back to the wall and then goes down into the P-trap, so I only had to cut a bit out of the panel directly under the middle of the sink to accommodate the drain assembly.

Step Five: Colour
The vanity needed paint now. I found a colour of Rustoleum Painter’s Touch spray paint—Ink Blue—that was almost an exact match for the Benjamin Moore Starry Night Blue that covered the trim and the ceiling of our powder room. I used my spray tent to protect the driveway (although to this day my parents’ driveway still has flecks of this colour on it—sorry, Mum and Dad.)

Step Six: Installation
When I brought the vanity over to our house, there were a few tense moments trying to get it through the powder room door. Twisting and turning it eventually worked, and our contractors leveled the feet and screwed the vanity into the wall. I cut the countertops so that they were recessed from the front of the sink; the plumber installed the sink, faucet, and drain. My final finishing touch was to install ring pulls so that there wouldn’t be knobs sticking out into an already-too-small space.

Ta-da! That’s it! I’m so pleased with how this vanity turned out. If you do try it, please come back and brag in the comments!

el cheapo · hackin' it · Keepin' it real

Day 307: The Free Economy

I scored some new dining chairs today.

I happened across a post on Facebook offering these four chairs, brand new in box, for free. Since the fasteners on our IKEA chairs (circa 2001) have been tightened repeatedly and still feel rickety, I expressed my interest. That was last night. By noon today I had driven two kilometres to pick them up, and at seven this evening I assembled the first one. We’re trying it out now to decide whether we like them enough to keep, or whether we should pass them on to the next interested party.

This is not my first foray into what I call the Free Economy (or sometimes, the Curb Economy.) Many of my acquisitions have been from the curb on trash day or from a “free to a loving home” post on Facebook.

The comfiest chair in our house is a fully upholstered Dutalier glider that was put out at the curb on someone’s moving day. A couple of tiny stains aside, it was in good condition and certainly looked and worked way better than my decrepit wooden glider. It was just at the end of our block and one of the moving guys graciously offered us the loan of his dolly to roll the chair home.

We’ve found two IKEA children’s tables (plastic) on the curb in our neighbourhood. One was covered with marker scribbles; if I was more pretentious I would say that it had a “distressed finish.” Whatever you want to call it, I was glad I wouldn’t have to get upset about the first marker lines to mar the perfect tabletop.

Just when I was trying to teach E how to ride a two-wheeler, someone offered a free Balance Buddy on the neighbourhood Facebook group. It only took a couple of weeks for her to learn, and then the bike training handle was passed to another neighbour.

The most comfortable couch we own was free, courtesy of a friend for whom style will always trump comfort. After her renovation the couch had “the wrong form factor” (I think that means shape,) so it had to go. The colour isn’t so great in our living room, but I’m willing to put up with a slight deviation from our colour scheme because this couch feels so decadent to sit and lie on. The kids have already informed me it’s never leaving our house.

The list is extensive and I won’t belabour the point. From the wooden tea chest that holds board game parts to the training bras I needed to buy, I’ve benefited repeatedly from hand-me-downs and curbside finds.

When Mr. December first heard I had claimed these free chairs, he commented that surely there must be someone in need who couldn’t afford to buy them new. I pointed out that if I passed on the chairs, there was no guarantee that the next people in line for them would be any more in need of them than we are. Besides, here was a risk-free way to try this style of chair. If it didn’t work for us, we could then pass the chairs on to someone else.

I think that some people still associate hand-me-downs and curbside shopping with being poor. But in some circles it has always been about sharing, reducing consumption, and keeping stuff out of landfills. Besides, participating fairly in the free economy means that you give as well as get. True story: when Mr. December moved out of his student hovel, we dragged to the curb the ugly hand-me-down sofa that some roommate’s grandma had given them. We went back inside the house to get the next thing destined for the curb; by the time we got outside again the couch was gone. A few moments later I was standing in Mr. D’s living room, looking through the window… when I saw through the neighbour’s window that they now had the couch—the free economy had worked its magic.

I’ve given away furniture, toys, clothing, and even scrap wood to people who wanted them. One friend of mine gratefully took some Masonite off my hands for an upcycling project; another friend just posted that she’s looking for picture frames of various shapes and sizes, and I happen to have a pile of unused frames in our basement storage room. She can take her pick.

When the universe give me such an abundance of things, I feel free to share with everyone around me. And if I accidentally give away something I’ll end up needing… well, I have confidence that someone somewhere in this city will be giving that something away one day soon.

crafty · DIY · hackin' it · Jewy goodness · The COVID files

Day 301: Mikdash Me’at (a little temple)

Jewish tradition says that ever since the Beit Hamikdash (main temple in Jerusalem) was destroyed, each Jewish home is a Mikdash Me’at (little temple.) I usually take that to mean that all the small Jewish rituals we do in our homes—Chanukah candles, Kiddush for Shabbat, Havdallah, even thanking God after meals—make our homes a place for spiritual connection with the divine. But today I got a bit more literal with the whole “little temple” thing: I turned my living room into a chapel of sorts for K’s bat mitzvah.

I feel like this should be a tutorial. I could show you how to make a Torah-reading table out of an IKEA desk, some leftover moulding scraps, a spare drawer box, and some Masonite. You have all of those things at home, don’t you? Doesn’t everybody?


Does that mean you also don’t have seven metres of sheer drapery fabric sitting around? Because that would be really useful to hide the computers and messy cubbies from the webcam.

Nevermind, then.

Image description: white plastic envelopes, each sealed with a duck-shaped sticker.

K and I prepared little packages for some of our more local friends and family, containing the siddur (prayer book) I’ve compiled for the event as well as some soft candies to throw at the bat mitzvah girl. We sealed them with the logo stickers I designed (rubber ducky silhouette wearing a blue kippah and a blue mask,) and spent two hours driving around to deliver them in person, before the stay-at-home order comes into effect at midnight tonight. We didn’t get to a few people, but they’re the ones who live close enough that we can go for a walk and just drop the package into their mailbox, so we can do it tomorrow or Friday (I’m pretty sure a stay-at-home order still allows us to go for a walk.)

Below are some pics of our reading table uncovered, N playing on the computer behind the drapes we put up (using a tension rod) to hide all the clutter, and K reading during our Zoom rehearsal (note the computer sitting on a stack of game boxes.) There’s plenty I could tell you about our rehearsal, but I’ll just say that it was much needed. And now I’m off to relax a bit before my bed beckons any louder.