In which Mrs. Fickbonne breaks a tool and makes some boxes

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First of all, I just want to say that it is not my fault that the miter saw is broken. It may have fallen to its doom on my watch, but that does not mean that I am to blame in any way. I am innocent, I say. Innocent!

Also I’m fine. Thanks for asking. I should probably explain.

As dedicated Casa Fickbonne readers* well know, the front of our house is distinctly lacking in curb appeal. Actually, that’s putting it mildly. The front of our house looks like the whole place is about to be condemned. Visual evidence:

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The Casa Fickbonne, as we first saw it.

We planted three $25 maple trees in the hell strip when we first moved in last year, but since then have done almost nothing (save weed whacking) to improve the general abandoned-crack-house look. Obviously we need a retaining wall to keep what passes for our front yard from sliding into the street, but it’s the busy season and I can’t seem to get a single landscaper to call me back.

So it’s time I take matters into my own hands!

As promised, I’m improving my carpentry skills by working on small, simple projects. And what could be simpler than a couple of window boxes? So that’s what I decided to build: two window boxes for the front porch, filled with beautiful blooms and finely crafted with my own hands.

I began my project first by raiding the Garage of Wonders for supplies. Unsurprisingly, I was able to find all the wood–mostly water-resistant cedar!–I needed in the leftovers from the garden beds and the headboard. Also all the tools I needed. And most of the hardware. Really all I needed from Home Depot was Minwax wood stain in Red Oak, some Varathane spar varnish, and four L-brackets. Thanks, Garage of Wonders!

With my tools and supplies assembled, I set to work. And that’s where the trouble started. Mr. Fickbonne’s compound miter saw is set up on some planks across a couple of saw horses in the garage, and I must have jostled it while plugging it in because the next thing I knew the whole thing toppled backwards off its perch and onto the concrete floor.

So I was off to a rough start. It still works, but the safety mechanisms and guiding laser are damaged. Who needs those, anyway?**

After that, things went smoothly. I measured and cut my wood (I’ll spare you the details because it really is too simple to explain), screwed, glued, clamped, and nailed the things together, and sanded them down. I made sure to drill some holes in the bottom of the boxes for water drainage.

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Boxes really are easy to make. But without a nail gun I had to screw the boards together, which left unsightly screw heads on the front of the boxes. So the gluing, clamping, and nailing was to attach some decorative trim to cover the screw heads. And because it looked pretty. I used some wood filler (best friend of amateur carpenters) to fill in the gaps between the piece decorative trim, since the damaged miter saw was no longer particularly accurate in its measurements (the measuring problem was definitely with the saw, not with me).

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I stained the boxes Red Oak, and then let them dry overnight before applying the spar varnish. Spar varnish is the ideal outdoor top coat. It was originally invented for use on sailing ships (hence the name… since I guess spars are a part of ships… I don’t know, ask Ben!). So it holds up well under extreme conditions. These boxes are going to live on the shelter of the front porch, but I want them to last!

After the boxes dried, I bracketed them directly to the wood under the front windows using the L-brackets. I made sure to get the super-strong L-brackets (they hold up to 1,200 pounds), since once these boxes are filled with wet soil they’re going to be pretty heavy.

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Then I lined them with shade fabric and rocks to help with drainage, then filled them with soil and some flowers! According to Pinterest wizards, the proper way to plant in a window box is to combine thrillers (tall plants), fillers (short plants), and spillers (dangling plants). I’ll admit, picking flowers was the most enjoyable part of this project. Most of what’s in there are marigolds, petunias, vinca vine, and salvia.

And voila! A coupla’ gorgeous window boxes, and all it cost me was a miter saw***:

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*A complete list: Mom, Dad, Andrea, and Lauren.

**No Fickbonnes were harmed in the creation of this project. We do not condone the use of power tools without proper safety measures. Do as I say, not as I do.

***Turns out Home Depot has a ridiculously lenient exchange policy. They told me they’ll let me exchange the saw within 90 days of purchase if I have the receipt, even though it’s not their fault it broke! Nor is it mine. Just so we’re clear.

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We will survive the coming Water Wars

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Colorado recently did away with some of their antiquated water laws and legalized rain barrels! Yes indeed! We can now legally own a rain barrel on our property! For those of you who don’t live in our fair state (and therefore think this revelation is kind of bizarre), let me catch you up to speed.

About a century ago, when western expansion was making it rapidly apparent that whoever owned the scant supply of water in the Western states would be massively powerful in the years to come, people started buying and selling rights to water sources in Colorado. They literally fought and died over it, which I know because I’m currently editing a book entitled As Precious as Blood: The Western Slope in Colorado’s Water Wars by Steven C. Schulte (coming fall 2016, check it out readers). Fast forward a century and the water rights situation in Colorado has become tedious and outdated. Someone a hundred miles downstream owns the rights to the rain that falls on my property, so by setting up a rain barrel I’m technically stealing their water. This is silly and it has nothing to do with environmental conservation. So the CO legislature wisely made a decision to change the law and legalize rain barrels (we’re good at legalizing stuff here).

History lesson over! Tune back in for the fun part.

With record droughts approaching, it made sense to set up at least one rain barrel in our yard if we want to keep our vegetables healthy without breaking the bank to pay our monthly water bill. I got in touch with Kyle from Container Reclaimer in Lafayette, who supplied me with me a 48-gallon, reclaimed, food-grade plastic drum along with a rain barrel conversion kit. You can also buy the kit separately and rig a rain barrel out of a plastic trash can, but for the volume we want to be able to handle I felt better about using a sturdy drum.

In its first life, our drum contained Mountain Dew-flavored syrup for mixing with carbonated water to make Mountain Dew. So we knew it was food-grade because it once held, uh… food? Sort of? Since the rain barrel will be irrigating vegetables, it was important that it never contained harmful chemicals before making its way to us (insert Moutain Dew joke here). We had to rinse some fluorescent yellow goo out of the drum before setting it up. Strider helped.

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The rain barrel conversion kit contained everything we needed (except for the drill and a level, which we owned). Set-up took Ben and I maybe 30 minutes, with most of that spent leveling the ground under the barrel and arranging the bricks that it would sit atop (bricks reclaimed from the old fence in the backyard). The only difficult part was drilling through our gutter’s downspout.

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In the end we have a fully functional rain barrel, all set up and ready for the approaching rainstorm. With any luck it’ll be topped off for the drought season and will supplement our city water for irrigating the Bill J. Dunn Memorial Garden all summer long. Here it is!

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