Making ugly stuff pretty again


I’ve found that one of the easiest and cheapest ways to improve our home is by fixing up ugly stuff to make it pretty again. See, for example, the free bar cart that was also free to rehabilitate with a little extra paint and stain I had on hand leftover from other projects.

So that’s what all this is about. When we moved into our house, it contained a few random pieces of furniture, including two dilapidated patio tables under the awning in the back yard. We’d like to eventually replace the two tables with one big, homemade farmhouse style table out there. But for now, we just pushed the two tables together and cover them with a table cloth when we have company.

Because one of them looked like this:



If you can’t tell from the picture, the surface of the table is completely wrecked. The stain is faded and the finish is peeling and nasty. It has been outside and uncared-for for far too long, and as a result it has let itself go. So I set about refinishing it.

First I sanded the everloving bejeezus out of it. Normally when refinishing furniture, an orbital sander will do, but in this case I whipped out the ole’ belt sander. Some of the stains just went too deep into the stripped wood (because SOMEONE spilled WINE on it once and I have no idea who that was it definitely wasn’t me).

After sanding it to within an inch of its life, the surface looked like this:


Ah, much better. Or, at least, just a blank slate. Next I chose some stain from our vast collection in the Garage of Miracles (some of which was there before we moved in). I believe I used Minwax Special Walnut. Then, because I didn’t have quite the varnish I wanted, I performed the traditional Mid-Project Home Depot Run. They were also out of the varnish I wanted, but they had it in aerosol form. I have never used aerosol varnish before, so I decided to try it.

BIG MISTAKE. It… definitely did not work as advertised. What I ended up with was a rough, uneven surface that was still tacky 48 hours later and filled with all the airborne crap that got caught up in the spray.

… so I started over. I sanded it down again (this time with the orbital sander) until all that was left was a light layer of stain.

I applied a second layer of stain, and then two layers of Varathane Spar Urethane, which you’ll remember from my charming window boxes and house number board. It’s probably what I should’ve just used in the first place. Oh well.

Voila! A beauteous, rehabbed, “”””shabby chic”””” patio table. It is now in respectable shape for company, and when we eventually build that farmhouse table we can sell it to recoup some building costs. And if I hadn’t wasted $8 on the aerosol spray varnish, it would have cost me nothing but time.



Hailmageddon, 2017


I’ve always wanted to take advantage of my homeowner’s insurance! And two weeks ago I got to do just that. What a time to be alive!

While we were at work, the skies turned black and the wind picked up. Mr. Fickbonne called me to make sure the sun shades were up on the garden, because it looked like it was going to hail and we didn’t want our delicate plants to get pummeled. As if mere sun shades would be enough to protect anything from what was coming. How naïve we were! How innocent!

Instead of a normal hail storm, we got baseball-sized rocks of ice hurtling from the skies. Not only did they rip the sun shades from their hoops and completely demolish the garden, but they damaged the house and Ben’s car.


Every car in the parking lot at Ben’s office lost its windshield. After the insurance people were done with us, we learned that Ben’s Jeep was totaled. The poor thing looked like it had pock marks over every body panel. It lost the tail lights, the mirrors, the windshield. Sections of the tail gate were completely smashed through! All of which turned out to be good news: we’ve been saving up to get rid of that stupid lemon of a vehicle for awhile now, and the insurance claim just sped up the process.


Fortunately, I was at my office in Boulder, where it only rained. So my car was safe. I think I would’ve cried if my little Volkswagen was hurt. It’s too good of a car for me. I don’t deserve you, Greta!

The house is another matter. The hail came straight out of the west, so we lost both windows on that side of the house, the siding and trim were dented and stripped of paint, and the roof needs to be replaced. Oh yeah, and our poor tumbledown shack of a garage suffered a similar fate. Behold, the aftermath:

Then of course there’s the garden…


And what used to be our maple trees…



And insult to injury, even my watering can got smashed…

18341935_10100821305988141_1148633185482758351_nAll of which is to say: we’ll be dealing with the insurance company and contracts for awhile. I’m trying to look on the bright side. After all, now we get a brand new roof and we don’t have to pay for it! And while the insurance negotiations are not done yet, I’m hoping it also means a new paint job for the house, which was part of our ten-year plan anyway. And don’t get me started on that bathroom window. We’ve wanted to smash that thing since we moved in. We even got new sheets out of the deal, as the bedroom window shattered into glass dust all over the bed.

In the calm after the storm, our neighbors have really pulled together. Some of them fared much worse than we did, and it warms the cockles of my heart—whatever the hell those are—to have everyone meeting in the street to check on each other.


We’re lucky enough to have a garage full of boards, plastic sheeting, and tools and the know-how to use them. But after boarding up our own windows we went next door to our neighbor’s house and did the same for him. And the moral of this Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood story is that when disaster strikes, it’s really nice to be able to depend on the people around you.

Stay tuned throughout the summer for updates on the repairs! At least I’ll get plenty of blog posts out of this mess…

The War on Tomatoes


Friends, the state of Colorado is trying to murder my tomato plants. And it has almost succeeded.

I’ve been bursting at the seams to garden this spring. April was a gorgeous month: sunny, hot, all the spring flowers blooming. I bought pepper and tomato plants and lovingly nurtured them in our hothouse (read: a table by the south-facing egress window downstairs). I collected my seeds. I composted and tilled the garden soil.

Our “safe planting date” (HAH!) for this climate zone is May 15th. But a week before that I looked at the forecast, saw blue skies far into the future, and decided to jump the gun. I transplanted all my little plantlings and lovingly folded my seeds into the ground. It looked beautiful.

It lasted barely 24 hours.

Because then the hail came. And not just any hail! Baseball-sized ice rocks, hurtling out of the sky like they were launched from the trebuchets of cloud-dwelling giants. Every window on the West side of the house was smashed. The roof was ruined. Ben’s car was totaled. The trim and siding took a major beating. Our beloved maples and fruit trees were practically stripped.

And the garden was demolished. The hail tore the sun shades right off their PVC pipe frames. When it was all over, you couldn’t even tell where the pepper plants used to be. The only shade to stay up was over the tomatoes, but it was full of holes and we still lost two of the five plants. Most of my seeds likely washed away.

A view of the carnage:


Ok, fine, lesson learn. I mocked the gods with my hubris and paid the price. So a week later I planted again. Ah, beautiful! Here’s a before and after:

image1 (2)  image1 (1)

And that lasted five days before the forecast spelled my doom once more. Snow and freezing rain, headed right for us.

Determined not to lose my leafy beauties again, I launched into action! I watered the beds thoroughly, to act as insulation against the cold (counterintuitive, but that’s how it works). I pulled the large-bulbed string lights down from around the patio and laid them around the perimeter of each bed to generate a little heat. Then I covered each garden bed with the plastic sheeting we’ve used in the past for emergency makeshift greenhouse purposes. I weighed down the edges with bricks and hoped for the best.

Then, I plugged the lights in:

Screen Shot 2017-05-18 at 2.36.54 PM

(See my Facebook for the actual video. I’m too cheap to upgrade my WordPress account to host videos.)

When I woke up this morning we had freezing rain. Within twenty minutes it was wet, heavy, cold snow. Miserable. But my plants are safely tucked into the heated greenhouses I MacGuyvered for them. And with any luck the snow will be over by Saturday and I can once more open them up to the sun!

The weather has tried to take my garden twice now. I’ll be damned if I let it win!