Make a Note of It

I do, and learn, new stuff all the time. I wish it’d stick with me! It seems my approach to learning is very much of the two-steps-forward-one-step-back variety, or possibly, one forward, two back, if I’m to be entirely truthful. So much seems like water flowing through a sieve in this ol’ brain of mine.

That is one of the prime forces that made me such an inveterate list-aholic. I fear that if I don’t have lists for every occasion and purpose, and lists of what those lists are, I am doomed to lose whatever motes of mindfulness I have collected in the course of my journeys. Not that lists aren’t perfectly able to be misplaced, forgotten and misinterpreted themselves.

There is probably no perfect solution to this problem. I end up thinking about my lists almost more than about the contents of them or what I might do with said contents, most especially avoiding the thought that if I spent the list-composing and writing time on simply doing what I am making notes to remind me to do, I might not even need the lists. Heresy.

What can I say. I am a pessimist: I don’t think I’ll ever find enough time in a day to get all that I want done accomplished. I am an optimist, too: I think that if I hold something so dearly important as to document its urgency on a list, surely I will someday get it done. Obviously, I am just a good old-fashioned, self-deluded fool. But I have a whole list of reasons that that’s okay and will still get me to my goals. Eventually.digital illustration

Green Means Go

It’ll be a while yet. Spring and its sprouts aren’t making any particular headway even here in Texas just now, and I don’t expect to see any more than tiny hints of promising green until the current cycle of typically unpredictable and radically changeable temperatures settle into their usual late-February-into-March kindliness. But I can’t help thinking ahead.photoAfter all, there’s such a compelling sense of momentum that comes with those first tiny glimpses of something ever so delicate and yet determinedly pointy that forces its way out of hard ground and harder branches. The very fact that they can emerge from such unwilling sources tells me that once they’ve driven through those barriers, not only is there little that could stop them, they will pick up speed as they go, unfolding, uncurling, swelling, bursting into bloom, and finally, enlarging into the full fruits of the season. Such a suffusion of newness and energy and purpose!photoI look forward, in the same way, to some of my many projects coming to fruition, as I so rarely know what the final outcome will be, really. What seems like a perfectly lovely little green bell pepper can grow up into a dramatically bold but even sweeter scarlet capiscum, if nurtured and tended along its sojourn of development; in the same way, what may have begun as a quick little one-line idea sketch with pencil or pen while I sat in the back of a rehearsal hall or in the waiting room before an appointment could well grow up, over time, into a digitally enhanced illustration full of color and texture and layers that I hadn’t planned at the start. Whatever the result, it begins with the green bud or the green light of an idea, and I cannot resist the allure of that color, beckoning me with its promises and possibilities.

The Icing on the…erm…Chair

Being Crafty is something other people do. I admire the feats of those who can crochet spectacular Afghan blankets seemingly out of thin air or decorate their homes for the holidays with recycled coat hangers and tuna tins and somehow make them look like a magazine cover. People who have the know-how, skill and patience to embroider babies’ bonnets, build palatial birdhouses out of scavenged fence pickets and carve perfect portraits of great historical figures out of turnips impress me greatly.

I, on the other hand, have been known to abandon ship mid-craft, or at the very least change directions radically when I feel I haven’t a hope of getting the hang of what my project was initially intended to be. My youthful embroidery days were ended when I spent a lengthy evening working on the details of some would-be floral tea towel‘s featured bouquet, stood up to gather my sewing and head off to bed, and discovered I’d embroidered through both the tea towel and the lap of my nightgown. My candle-making artistry had only its propensities for melting and burning (and thus, quickly, disappearing) to recommend it. Unlike those who are able to make fabulous sand mandalas with the grains arranged perfectly meditatively into millions of delicate otherworldly patterns would be, if not appalled, then at least mystified and probably saddened, by the strange mud-pies that would be the only produce of my efforts in that direction.

Pretty well any craft that takes any real focus and attention, let alone proficient control of the medium, is likely to remain out of my reach.

There are, however, certain tools, materials and proficiencies in the land of Craft that I can and do manage. One of the media I have enjoyed manipulating for playful, if not crafty, purposes at times is lightweight spackling compound. This stuff, made initially for repair of wounded wallboard and the filling of trim gaps by builders and handy-persons, resembles cheap bake-shop frosting so strongly in texture (and, I daresay, probably in taste, though that’s moot here) that it goes through an icing bag and tip wonderfully well. So it’s great for not only creating faux frosty baked goods but also all sorts of the same kind of detail work that plaster and woodcarving and metalworking artisans have used to create architectural accents and furniture details for eons, especially in combination with other small sculptural elements. Thinning the spackle just enough with water to go through a pastry icing tip and retain its proper density and texture and shape while drying is virtually the only difference. In fact, the spackle can be tinted in many of the same ways as frosting, too, though it may be painted and colored in many ways after the fact.photoIn any event, I’ve had fun with this magical past on occasion. I’ve made customized and personalized ceiling medallions with it. I made a nice big window valance that had all kinds of pieces and parts–food and cookery gadgets and the like–blending its own form and meaning with the rest of the dining room in which it hung. I’ve used it to create baroque picture frames and mirror frames. Probably the most fun project with it so far was making a couple of very rococo side chairs by upholstering them with tapestry-like fabrics and then building equally over-the-top sculptural frames and backs out of small objects, some pre-made and some of my own making from plasticine or wood, bone or clay or metal, and then faithfully infilled with spackle ‘frosting’ before I gilded it all with metallic paints.photo montageWhat’s next? Who knows. But there are boxes full of fun waiting for me to make them into something new, and that little yet persistent itch returns from time to time, so undoubtedly there will be a next thing. Just you wait and see.

Just a Little Thing

It doesn’t always require a huge investment of time, materials or effort to effect a notable improvement around the house. No matter how gifted I am at procrastinating when it comes to DIY and fix-it projects around the place, I’m always kind of amazed to rediscover how small a thing can have such large-scale impact. It doesn’t mean that I learn from my experiences enough to behave sensibly and just get the tasks done without resistance, but I seldom fail to be impressed after the fact all the same.photoTake front door painting, for example. There wasn’t anything especially unpleasant, let alone wrong, with the existing paint on our front door. It was, in fact, in good condition, and even a pretty nice color. I do like this trim color on the house in general. What was a bit unsatisfactory to me was that with such a dark color on it, the front door seemed to me to actively recede from view into the shadows of the porch rather than appearing to welcome visitors approaching on the front path.

So I decided to paint the door a sprightly and fresh color that might liven up the entry and seem a little more encouraging to anyone who might be coming to knock there. I chose an apple green that I knew would mimic the brightest greens in the plantings around our yard and complement both the existing deep green trim paint and the earthy mix of colors in our brickwork. I chose a semi-gloss paint to reflect light without glaring and make the door even more visible from the street and path.photoThen I waited. I put it off for weeks. It was only a couple days’ work to mask, prep and triple-coat the door, but I could find any number of excuses to do Other Things, even put up the also-evaded porch Christmas lights, as long as I could avoid repainting the front door. That’s how I [don’t] roll. Lazy People Unite!photoWell, I did finally get the task done. And it’s kind of impressive to me, yet again, how much this one little thing manages to change the look of the house. For the better, I think; in the name of fair play I must, of course, tell you that the manly member of the household is not yet convinced the change is for the better, but he doesn’t object so strenuously that I’m going to repaint it anytime soon. Besides, even if I do decide to repaint it, there’s no doubt it’ll take a good long while for the project to actually get done.photo

DI-Why-Not

Here at the ol’ Sparks Ranch (well, just a ranch-style house, but we are in Texas after all), DIY projects happen for a variety of reasons, but there are three main motivators that have the best chance of eventually getting me involved in them. The first is that I get, ahem, the spark of an idea for something that could be better than it is. The second is that I don’t often have the moolah to purchase such an item or bit of action ready-made and fabulous. And the third is that sometimes just the right piece of the puzzle arrives on my doorstep to nudge me into  motion after all.

These three inspirations converged recently when my longstanding desire to spiff up our built-in bar–an item I’d never been accustomed to having in my home, but what the heck, it came with the house–complicated by my unwillingness to spend much on the project, met with the gift of our renovating next-door neighbor’s removal of the built-in bottle and stemware rack from the bar in her house. (Thank you, LM!) As our houses are of similar vintage and share close cousins of the woodwork stain variety, the ejected cabinet was a close enough match to those already in the lower half of our bar to make a fine fit.

What began as a modest set of lower cabinets, a set-in [and nearly stainless] bar sink with a cheap but functional faucet, a nasty very fake looking ‘wood’ laminate countertop and some glass shelves on a simple bracket style rack is now, I think a reasonable bit better: it’s both a fair amount more functional and a little less sketchy looking, and I think I won’t be quite so worried about keeping it closed constantly as I had been in its shaggier state.

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Homely yet functional. Kind of like me. But I always want to be a little better, so why shouldn’t my house!

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Now, with more storage! And a little bit more finished look, despite its humble beginnings.

What I did: first, I remembered that I’m now over half a century old and therefore should not lift a couple-hundred-pounds cabinet up and bolt it into place solo, something I would undoubtedly have been dumb enough to try in times past. Okay, and I was silly enough to lift the thing onto the counter by myself before I decided that not being hoist on my own petard was a really appealing concept. So after I cleared all of the previous bits out of the spot and plugged up the screw holes from the old shelves, I hired a carpenter friend to come and heft the oak box up, herk it into position, and bolt it generally in place with me. I’m cheap but not [entirely] insane.

I masked off the space and did the most gruesome part of the job: prepping and spray painting the countertop and the lower half of the walls, along with the sink and faucet, with my old friend Hammerite paint in the bronzy brown hammered finish. The walls and hardware (including the light switch and outlet) were all in extremely rough shape and it seemed to me the better part of valor to just embrace the rugged look and be a tiny bit old-school industrial in style. Then I brought in all of the scraps of trim and moldings I had left over from our previous reno projects here, along with my little hand-saw and miter setup, and pieced together some legs to support the front of the already weighty empty cabinet and horizontal supports for shelves over the sink, cut two short shelves out of a couple of old bookshelves no longer in use elsewhere, and then trimmed out the whole conglomeration. Under all of the paint, if you look too closely, you’ll see that it’s one wild concatenation of mismatched trim profiles and caulked, spackled, sanded and glued odd parts, but I did my best to pull it all together with the finishes by painting the bottom half all in Hammerite and the top half (including the ceiling) in plenty of primer and a finish coat of satin latex in simple cream.

I borrowed a couple of unused curtain rod finials to hide some of the weirder joinery at the corners and loaded the cabinets, and I believe I’m now within an nth of Done with this particular DIY. Or, if I’m to be honest, I suppose I should admit it’s DIM (Did It Myself–and yes, dimly enough). I just took the globe off of the ceiling light and stuck a reproduction Edison bulb in the fixture for now; eventually, I’ll want to either move the fixture itself or get a swag to relocate the bulb over the sink, so it doesn’t sit right next to the wine rack and heat it up, however briefly I keep the light turned on in there. And I’m going to put some of those little chalkboard labels on the front of the ‘new’ cabinet in those flat spaces so I can write in what’s in the rack and change it as the inventory changes. At the moment, I’m done with what I have materials on hand to do, so I think I’ll just enjoy it. Probably ought to sit down and have a drink!

Cheers! Sláinte! Salut! Prost! Egészségedre! Here’s Mud in Your Eye! Skål!photo

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More Fun with Drawing Toys

Not much needs to be said here. I’m on another of my tangential rambles with my art practice, and what pleases me a great deal about crawling my way into the digital era is that not only can I document my work better than I used to do, I can retain it in numerous, widely varied states and play with it without nearly so much difficulty in changing my mind and erasing or altering things as I like. Talk about a bonus for a mercurial goof-off like me.graphite drawing

digital artwork from a drawing

All in the Details (Small and Large), Part 3

At last we come to the changes made via some refurbishing and renovations in the Jack and Jill bath and, most significantly, in the master en suite. Let’s be honest: a large part of the quality of life for many of us revolves around having access to a good bathroom–or several. You do know what I mean. Oh, joy!

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Jack & Jill just got a refresher course . . .

I will simply say right now that we are mighty satisfied, contented even, at having a whole batch of fairly unfussy yet fully functional and nicely spiffed up bathrooms gracing our living quarters these days. Life is ever so good.

In the Jack and Jill bath between TV room and office, the original tub tile of pale chartreuse is here to stay, being sturdily cemented in and expensive and tough to remove, so it was essential to work around that, as well as keeping the existing dark woodwork intact. Okay, then, I stuck with that and the extant bronze-toned hardware. Even the ’80s light fixture would be a bit too pricy to replace at this point. But I didn’t have to do especially huge things besides tackling that main expense-inducer and complicator of things, replacement of the sink, counter and faucet. The new granite is complemented by a small but deep and flat-bottomed sink of porcelain that allows easy cleaning of the sink and of things set in it, particularly with its new higher-rise faucet. I confess I’m mystified why more people don’t opt for single-lever controls on faucets when that allows hands-free on/off/temperature control, a very common need among people washing their, well, dirty hands, I would think! Along with the faucet, I added new tub and shower hardware to replace the old corroded parts, new curtains there (a vinyl waterproof one and an accent set of sage green sheers to cool the tile color) and a little carved valance (too narrow for the window width, but it’s a start) over the translucent shade-covered window. All three of our bathrooms recently got grand new Toto commodes, dual flush toilets that are a massive improvement over the original antiquities that used to struggle to serve our household and guests.

The last change in the Jack and Jill was to replace the dated frame-less mirror with a simple framed one and trade out the glass shades of the over-sink light fixture with some more modern and artful ones. They’re described as ‘gold and blue’, but the color in the glass is in effect softer than that (more neutral, like sand and grey on white). They gently combine with the delicacy and prettiness of the granite color and texture and it all softens the tile’s green further and lends a quiet calm to the space.

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Next to my husband’s grandfather’s shaving mirror in the J&J bath is a delightfully amusing photo of Paul Gauguin sitting at Alphonse Mucha’s harmonium while wearing an appropriately bohemian deshabille shirttail-over-no-pants getup. Old school bathroom humor, I suppose!

The Big Bang of this phase of project happiness chez nous was of course the master bath suite redo. It felt like a long time coming even though it was only two years’ waiting on the wish list. So much happiness in getting our hands on it now. First up: we had a Solatube skylight installed in the space that was previously lit only by a weak ceiling light and two arrow-slit windows in the shower. Solatube now offers a nice combination contraption, which we chose, that includes the light tube for natural sunlight collection, an internal electric light for nighttime, and an integrated fan vent whose motor attaches to the roof joists and so is quietly distant. And a whole lot more effective than our 30-year-old fan, to boot. The constant wash of daylight in the space is a remarkably cool alternative to big windows. Wouldn’t it be lovely to install some in the living room, dining room . . . .

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Doors to his and my respective vanities flank our lovely, simple old bedroom armoire (that’s his grandmother’s cocktail dress hanging there, by the way). I left a strip of the dark-stained wood unpainted on the vanity door jambs to complement all of the mahogany and teak in our master bedroom furnishings and tie the spaces together.

The master bath reno actually started during the original freshening up for our moving in, when we knew we wanted doors installed in the openings between the master bedroom and the two separate vanity areas that flank the shower/toilet room and through which it’s entered. Those six-paneled doors were installed then but never finish-painted over the pre-primed starter coat. At long last, they’re fully clothed. I changed out the door handles, putting brushed nickel lever handles on both those and the vanity-to-shower doors, regular knobs of that color on the walk-in closet doors on each side, and new silvery hinges on everything, white door stops on them, new silver colored hinges on all of the cabinetry, and so forth. I’d already changed the light fixtures in the vanities from bright brass 12-light ’70s theatre dressing room atrocities to simpler nickel and glass lamps. I had put nickel knobs on the cabinetry throughout the suite to start. Now it was time to finish up everything else with some fresher and more modern goodness.

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From the vanity on my side of the suite you can see that marvelous skylighted walk-in-shower room. So inviting! The vanity space is a comfortable spot, too, where I can enjoy the folk art painting of the family farm in Norway (L) and the little embroidered alpine plant my mother stitched (by my mirrored closet door).

I kept the light sage walls through the suite happily–it’s so calming and almost spa-like to me, even though our particular, personal ‘spa’ is not all that high-end. The shower we had replace our old bathtub now is the closest we’re likely to get to a spa, however, and we’re enjoying it immensely already. The men we brought in for this their second round of work on our home gave us a lovely refuge where we can scrub up for the day. They demolished the old, tough olive green tile, pulled out the beat up cast iron tub, and tiled in a lovely naturally soothing walk-in shower with sandy tan square and rectangular tiles, a floor of sweet tiny brick-shaped paler tiles and soft tan sanded grout. I bought a nice brushed nickel shower head with a single lever valve and a secondary spray head, a spice rack to use as a shampoo-and-implements holder, a wall dispenser for tea tree oil soap, and a fold-down teak shower seat.

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Closeups of the new look of the master shower. The ‘Lucky Bamboo’ in the window is not the only one that loves it in here now!

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I had already begun work on the other parts of the master washroom before we got to this wrestle-out-the-tub phase, but now they got some fresh paint and new hardware to wrap up the process.

The granite contractor who installed our marvelous kitchen counters and sills two years ago brought his wonderful crew back in and set in our vanity tops and under-mount sinks that match the Jack and Jill’s, and our plumber installed the new faucets I’d bought, and when the crew completed a few more tasks of fix-it mania around the house their work was done. Once they built our haven of cleanliness it was my turn to get back to work. I primed and painted all of the dark wainscoting and cabinetry in the bathroom suite white, replaced the whole-wall mirrors over the vanities with smaller white-framed mirrors and hung a white wood medicine cabinet next to each of ours, rehung the full length mirrors on our closet doors, reassembled all of the cabinets with new silver colored hinges, padded stops, magnetic latches, and a vast quantity of swear words, and finished with the clean reorganization of drawers and shelves and reintroduction of wall art and such amenities.

The long and the short of it, the small and the large, is that we have a lot of upgrades around the house to show for relatively few days’ total labor and machinations. I will very happily not deal with such messes and involvement again any time soon, but it is as always a tremendous pleasure to have things this much closer to our ideal. In the usual way, it will undoubtedly uncover the next set of changes to build a new wish list upon, and that is simply the way that this inveterate changer-of-all-things operates. And the way that life flows, no matter what. These are the details on which our reality is truly based.

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Note that the light coming in here is all sunlight from that small skylight in the adjacent shower room. And yes, His (L) and Hers (R) vanities. It’s dandy to have so much space–and we each have a full walk-in closet of our own attached to these, plus the shared shower room between. Living like royalty, indeed; that IS, after all, our style . . .

State of Abstraction

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Foiled again! Or not, if I grab the reins . . .

Yesterday’s post still stands: I am gradually renewing myself in a seasonal fashion of sorts, regaining my typical Spring-like attitudes as I begin what is for me a long and gradual process of Spring Cleaning in home and heart. I never realize I’ve been letting myself get quite so cobwebby until I’m nearly mummified. But I usually recollect my senses eventually, as now, and begin removing all of the crust and crumbs and detritus and down-dragging inhibitors I’ve been collecting over the last while. So, out with the old tinfoil (above) that is best recycled when it’s no longer leak-proof. Out with the burned out porch lights and in with the new (hurray for the companies now making those oddball shapes and sorts in LEDs). Out with my overcast persona and back to my native optimism.

This is not to say that all is perfection and clarity in my little corner of the universe, only that it’s once again slanting toward an upward trajectory as it should be. I also find, in these times of slewing back ’round to my intended direction and sweeping out the junk, that as I begin and jump in, I can get a little confused, overwhelmed or just plain distracted by the plethora of perfectly acceptable but sometimes competing directions I can take or the complexity of attempting to sort and stratify the tasks. But rather than turning into an emotional hoarder and becoming either unwilling and unable to do one single part of the heap of projects and therefore unwilling and unable to begin, let alone attempt the whole–or, worse yet, getting so bogged down in the process that I am entombed in my own attempt–I find it’s reasonably helpful to let my mind wander a bit and pick at bits and pieces. A zone of blurry, abstract thinking is quite all right with me at the moment. It’s the pseudo-zen that allows me to blandly go about picking up a stray button or used cup here and there, set them down as I pass their proper places, and along the route-to-nowhere, discover the manageable task that I can tackle for this few minutes of my time, all the while letting my brain meander until it lights on whatever else it deems necessary for the next bit of progress.

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Slanted and distorted as the point of view may be for the moment, the calm in this unfocused state allows me to safely unbar the windows that had become clogged with cloudy thinking and blocked by barriers of other kinds . . .

So while it may look to anyone else as though an event of Random Nuclear Catastrophe has taken place in the house, I’m actually accomplishing a lot of tiny deeds that had stacked up both on my lists of incipient doings and in unseen corners that evaded such evaluations. I’m pulling out the one straw here or there that opens a peephole through the big haystack that has been surprisingly stealthy in building up, removing one brick of rubble from the demolition that lets a ray of daylight through. And yes, each peephole or ray reveals yet more loose straws and bricks until I feel like a Big Good Wolf about to knock down the piggish house that’s been unnecessarily but inevitably building up in secret, because all of its weaknesses have been revealed bit by bit, button by cup, task by task. All on a sort of hazy autopilot wherein I can let my mind wander, so seemingly relaxed but as it caroms around in slow-motion also more astute than large amounts of frustrated puzzling.

It may look fairly directionless and mildly crazed in mid-process, but strangely it’s quite calming to me and gives me a greater sense of purpose and direction after all. It all begins to take shape, swirling around as it does and gathering speed, and at some point, coalescing into more sensible plans. But until then, I can go along with the current of this abstract flow and while my mind is relatively free from restrictions in it, maybe come up with some surprising new reasons to be content just living in the moment and letting go of my worries.

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The beauty of structure is that it can evolve out of seeming randomness quite naturally--if I let it be so . . .