Look out, Rehab Addict, I’m rehabbin’ some furniture

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In the spirit of practicing my home improvement skills before it actually matters, I’ve rehabilitated our old nightstands! As with the kitchen bar cart, the rule was I could only use what we already had in the Garage of Wonders, making these essentially free projects. I knew I didn’t necessarily have a purpose in mind for these two end tables, and I didn’t particularly care if I messed them up. So my goal here was to make them pretty and then sell them on Craigslist.

I’m planning to use an antique finish technique on our kitchen table when I eventually get around to it, so I decided to practice that technique on the end tables. Before I explain the technique, take a look at the results.

Before:

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After:

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I know right? I’m getting so much better at house blog photography! Oh, and the table looks cute too. I believe this look is known by trendy Pinteresters as “”””shabby chic””””.

Overall I think I went a little too heavy-handed with the antique finish, so I scaled it back for the next one, the night stand that used to be in our guest room. Here’s how it turned out.

Before:

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After:

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It’s a little more understated, and I think the sage green paint works a little better than the white for this method. I also like how the wood grain is visible. Anyway, here’s the very basic instructions for how to get this effect with nothing but an orbital sander, paint of any color, and stain of any color:

  1. Sand the bejeezus out of every part of the wood, even those hard to reach little nooks and crannies.
  2. Paint it with your chosen paint color. Don’t worry too much about drips or uneven brush strokes.
  3. Wait for the paint to dry, then sand it again. You’ll want to judge for yourself how much of the paint you want to sand off, but in general just don’t hold the sander in any one spot for too long, and definitely don’t press down too hard.
  4. Rub stain in and immediately wipe away with a clean cloth. You want the stain to soak into the bare bits of wood you’ve just exposed with the sander and to collect in the nooks and crannies, but over the painted surfaces it should just leave the barest residue.
  5. Let it dry!

Drying times aside, this is an hour long project for something as small as these end tables. You can also mix it up like I did with the first table, and try pairing the antiquing technique with just straight staining on different parts of the piece. You might also consider sealing the whole thing with a wax sealant or a varnish if it’s going to get handled frequently (like kitchen cabinets or a dresser).

Oh and the best part? I’ve already sold one on Craigslist. Not bad for a free project that took me an hour!

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Increasing that curb appeal

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Two things. First, remember how I wanted to increase Casa Fickbonne’s curb appeal from Recently Condemned Crackhouse status to Resembles a Habitable Domicile? And remember how I wanted to practice my carpentry skills on small stuff before tackling larger projects? You do? Ok great.

Now that we’re all on the same page… I made a thing!

It is a dual house number placard and flower planter, and it mounts on the front of my house. It was inspired by Etsy crafter Chesneys and it doesn’t technically have a name, but I built it and it looks just grand. See?

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Now that’s craftsmanship. I built it mostly in an afternoon, but had to come back to it over the course of two days while I waited for the varnish to dry and changed my mind twice about how I wanted to mount it. But all told it was maybe two hours of labor for a moderately skilled carpenter.

HOW I DID IT

Materials:

  • some scrap wood we had lying around the Garage of Miracles
  • Minwax wood stain in Red Oak
  • spar varnish for weather proofing
  • some screws of varying lengths and sizes
  • wood glue
  • house numbers
  • succulents
  • soil
  • also a miter saw, orbital sander, clamps, measuring tape, drill, screwdriver, level, pencil, and all the other tools house bloggers have on hand and never mention in the list of materials

Instructions:

  • First I cut all my wood to length and sanded it down to make it look rounded and antiquey. The backboard is made up of two even pieces of scrap wood I didn’t bother measuring. The flower box is 7″x3″.
  • Next I attached the two backboard pieces by screwing a third board to the back of them both. This will also serve as the mounting board.
  • Then I glued and screwed the flower box in place. The front board of the flower box is the only piece that is connected entirely with glue. Let’s hope it holds.
  • I drilled a hole in the bottom of the flower box for drainage, because I intend this sucker to hold real live plants!
  • I stained the whole shebang Red Oak to match the window boxes I made this summer.
  • After the stain dried (about one hour) I applied the first coat of spar varnish. Then I let it sit for about 24 hours before applying the second coat. My recommendation with this stuff is to put it on thin and apply multiple coats no matter how long it takes to dry. Otherwise you end up with gloopy bumps. And nobody likes gloopy bumps.
  • After another 24 hours I screwed the house numbers in place. I wish I could say I measured precisely to get them even, but, well… I just kind of eyeballed it.
  • Flipped ‘er over and screwed on the mounting hardware. Then removed it and replaced it with different mounting hardware. Then removed that and replaced it with the first set of mounting hardware. YOU MUST COMPLETE THIS STEP IN ITS ENTIRETY LEST YOU RISK MOCKING THE UNIVERSE WITH YOUR HUBRIS.
  • Mounted it on the front of the house with much measuring and swearing.
  • I lined the flower box with landscape fabric and nestled in some adorable succulents and soil.

Instant curb appeal. And also now people can find my house when I give them directions like “It’s the one that looks like a meth den except for the gorgeous woodwork on the front porch.” See what I mean?

In other news, we had our first frost of the season! So I covered what’s left of the garden in bedsheets to keep them nice and toasty and producing fruit for a few more weeks. Also, Craig (of bathroom remodel fame) caught some trout and gifted me with the guts. I just buried them deep in the garden beds, where they’ll spend the winter decomposing and filling the soil with all kinds of exciting nutrients to feed next year’s crops.

Garden update: A lesson in hubris

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After three years of raising vegetables, this was to be my largest backyard garden yet. Ben built two new beds, for a total of five 4’x8′ raised garden beds, lovingly tilled and composted and protected with sturdy PVC pipe and shade fabric hoop houses. I tried out several new species, packed in as many plants as possible, and went for it with all the confidence and gusto that a few lucky years will grant the average gardener.

But like Icarus, I flew too close to the sun! Alas, hubris was my downfall! Here’s everything that’s gone wrong–and a few things that have gone right–in my garden so far this year.

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The tomatoes are usually my bumper crop. I’ve planted one more plant every year I’ve been gardening, so this year I planted five, all different species, and just assumed they’d continue to kick ass in the late summer. But not so, my friends, not so. Both my Early Girl and my Better Boy–the quick-to-ripen sauce tomatoes I had depended on for early and bulk harvesting–died miserable deaths. The Early Girl was a total loss. The Better Boy I managed to coax back to life, but it’s so stunted that it’ll likely never produce at the rate of the others. Fortunately, the Beefsteak, Cherry Reds, and Black Prince are all healthy and doing fine. As far as I can see, the dead plants were victims of a combination of too much heat and over-watering, a sin I committed to compensate for the heat.

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The corn is doing… ok. My mistake last year was not planting enough to cross-pollinate. This year I think I definitely have some cross-pollination going on, but they’re stunted. I think this is another problem we can chalk up to the unusually hot summer we’ve had so far. But I think there might also be a nitrogen deficiency in the soil. This is what I get for not listening to my elders. Next year I’m going to plant the corn, squash, and beans in the traditional Three Sisters method, which will hopefully give the corn the nutrients and structure they need to grow strong and tall.

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My carrots are actually the stars of the garden right now! They’re healthy and flourishing. But I didn’t do a good enough job of properly staggering the planting. So the first planting is completely overshadowing the second planting, which means I’m likely going to get one big carrot harvest and then nothing (or wee little carrots) later on in the fall.

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That right there is two zucchini plants completely encircling an entire garden bed. Normal zucchini behavior, right? Right. Except that ain’t zucchini. It’s cousa squash, a Middle Eastern squash that looks like this:

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Fortunately, cousa can be used exactly like zucchini, and while its skin is a bit thinner and it tastes a mite sweeter, the difference is pretty negligible. Only problem is the cousa plant doesn’t bear fruit as often as a zucchini plant does. And yes, while you can joke about how we were up to our eyeballs in zucchini last year, I had actually planned for that kind of high yield. I had all kinds of uses for a deluge of zucchini!

So how the hell did this interloping cousa invade my garden when I wanted zucchini instead? Well I’ll tell you. Last year my friend Rachel accidentally and mysteriously grew a cousa (still no explanation as to how or why). She gave it to me to try. I forgot about it until it wasn’t any good anymore, and tossed the whole thing in my compost bin… where it germinated all winter long. This spring, after I added  fresh compost to my garden and before I planted my seeds, I noticed what I thought were dozens of volunteer zucchini plants popping out of the garden. The horror. 

So naturally, I pulled most of them and left two to mature, not bothering to plant any of my actual zucchini seeds. Imagine my surprise when these plants that look almost exactly like zucchini plants started producing cousa instead! I had to google image search to even figure out what they were! And now I’m stuck with the buggers. Composting lesson learned.

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My herbs are kicking ass, but they used to share a garden bed with my spinach and lettuce, which, again… I did not stagger correctly. So they pretty much all matured and went to seed at once, almost faster than I could use them. I managed to freeze some spinach, but we definitely didn’t get as much out of the lettuce as I was hoping.

On top of that, it’s been impossible to plant more spinach and lettuce seeds because of the heat, even with my awesome sun shades. We had 100 degree heat through pretty much all of July, and the garden did not like it. My cherry tree bought the farm (picture too gruesome for public consumption).

Overall I’m taking this year’s garden as a learning experience. I was perhaps a little too ambitious to be as successful as I was hoping, but hey–every gardener has bad years, right? At least I’m not a subsistence farmer living in the Dustbowl circa 1930.

The bedroom continues to adultify

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Now that we have a gorgeous hand-crafted king-size bed, it’s time to scrap our old free/yard sale mismatched nightstands and make some that perfectly match the bed. It’s almost not worth doing a before and after, but honor demands, so…

Fugly, right? On their own they’re not terrible, they just don’t match the space nor the bed at all. The smaller of the two was my bedroom nightstand growing up and has gotten a little battered after multiple moves. The other was a yard sale purchase, like… 8 years ago… that was mostly used by our old roommate Catey… and has definitely seen better days.

My plan is to fix them both up and sell them to partially fund the new nightstands. Which oh by the way look like this:

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Right? RIGHT? A massive improvement.

The nightstands are of Mr. Fickbonne’s design. He decided there was too much wood in the bedroom (he ain’t wrong) and he always wanted to work with metal, so here we are. Total supplies:

The longest part of the process was waiting for the stain to dry so we could assemble the nightstands. The hardest part (in my humble opinion) was removing the price tag goop and the grease from the pipes. I tried nail polish remover at first, which was just as frustrating and futile as you imagine. And then I remembered we had paint thinner and suddenly that step was done in roughly two and a half minutes.

We started with one and waited a few weeks to make the second (by then Ben had the technique down and built it on his own). Look how pretty and adultified our bedroom is looking!

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(New lamps to replace the ones I bought sophomore year of college. Yeah I’m thrifty.)

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In other news, the garden continues to flourish despite the sun’s best efforts to burn it down. We’ve had several 90-100 degree days, and it’s everything I can do to keep the plants hydrated and shaded. Our cherry tree and one of the maples look really… crispy. But thanks to our wildly efficient and water-saving rain barrel, I think they’re going to make it.

I took those photos a few weeks ago when we built the first nightstand, and the plants are even bigger now. We’ve already harvested radishes, lettuce, and spinach. All of the tomato plants have tomatoes, and the corn has just gotten too tall for its sun shade. The only thing that’s not taking off as expected are the new veggies: onions, scallions, turnips, and the herbs I planted from seeds rather than starters. I’m going to chock this one up to lack of experience for now and keep trying!

*Yes, I giggled over this for way too long because despite my best efforts, I still have the sense of humor of a thirteen-year-old boy.

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.

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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I got tired of looking at an ugly thing so I made it pretty

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Sometimes you just need to find a free, easy project for a Saturday afternoon, y’know?

Oh. You don’t know. Well then never mind! Guess it’s just me.

A few years and a few moves ago some friends gifted us an old wooden kitchen bar cart that they didn’t have room for anymore. It’s been very useful over the years (and the moves), but it’s, uh… kind of ugly. Here’s the piece of furniture in question:

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Pot rack, knife rack, bar cart, accent wall… no big deal!

Yes, it’s that thing sitting under our gorgeous hanging pot rack and next to our gorgeous butcher block in front of our gorgeous kitchen accent wall. It’s certainly very useful–the wine rack in particular! But it doesn’t quite fit the space and it’s more of a temporary solution until we can remodel the kitchen to add more counter space that wraps around that corner. (Surprise, honey! I’ve decided we’re doing major construction in the kitchen some time in the future!) Plus it was pretty banged up from all the moves, see?

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Since a kitchen remodel isn’t happening any time soon (it’s pretty far down the list under things like finishing the basement, landscaping the front yard, growing old together, and dying) we’re stuck with an ugly bar cart. Sure, I could go buy a newer, prettier bar cart. But where’s the fun in that?

So today I raided the Garage of Wonders for everything I’d need to prettify this fugly bar cart. I found everything I needed leftover from other projects. Armed with an orbital sander, a ratchet set, a phillips-head screwdriver, some Behr paint in Frost white leftover from painting the trim, some Minwax wood stain in Jacobean I used to make the bottle opener, and various and sundry rags, brushes, and painter’s tape, I set about giving this baby a new life.

Here is the result:

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Right?! So much better. Honestly, the hardest part was getting it outside because of our weirdly cramped back stairwell. The orbital sander vastly improved the surface of the wood, but it still looks nicely old-timey and vintage. Using normal latex interior house paint wasn’t the ideal choice for painting wooden furniture, but I literally didn’t want to spend a cent fixing this free piece of furniture so I used what I had. If I ever decide to paint something I care about, I’ll choose my paint more carefully. And tightening up all the nuts and bolts holding this thing together made it stop creaking, so I call that a win!

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Not bad for an afternoon of work on a budget of $0.