Saturday, June 24, 2017

Can You Really Do It Yourself?

We had the plumber over the other day to fix several leaky faucets, and when I called him on the telephone he barely remembered who I was. When he showed up on my doorstep, he said that he had assumed I had found another plumber, because it had been over four years since we had needed him.

As we chatted, he told me that some of his customers call him several times a year, and many of the visits could have been prevented. 

This got me thinking - what should we tackle ourselves, what should we know, and when is it time to bring in the professionals? 

At the very least, we should all know how to turn off the main water valve for the house, and where the individual turn off valves are for each faucet. Why not ask your plumber to give you a tour next time he visits?

Unclogging a Toilet 
This is not fun at all, but if it's (how can I say this delicately?) an organic clog, then there are plenty of (easy) non-chemical ideas you can try before you call the plumber.  
Turn the water off behind the tank, open the window, put on your grungy clothes, boil some hot water (not for tea, for your toilet) then click here for some simple solutions. 

Leaky Faucet 
I will take the end bit off a faucet, but I won't dismantle an entire unit
No matter how many times they tell me to carefully line up the parts, and reassemble them in reverse order, I can never get it back together, but if it is a small, rubber washer inside the water spout end, I won't hesitate to twist that bit off, take it to the hardware store, and get a replacement.

Smelly Garbage Disposal 
I don't have one, but I know they need regular maintenance, and unless it's completely broken, you should always try these simple DIY solutions first. 

Clogged Kitchen Sink or Water Leaking under the Sink  
Usually, this is caused by gunk in the "U" bend under the sink.
  • My first course of action is to tip some baking soda (a cup or so) into the drain and add a good measure of vinegar (2 - 3 cups of whatever you have handy - not balsamic) let it bubble, leave for about 20 minutes, then flush with scalding hot water. 
  • If it's still clogged, grab a bucket (to catch whatever falls out) and a flashlight, and see if you can unscrew the curled bend under the sink and investigate what is in there (you might need gloves, or want to cover your hands in plastic bags). It's a simple mechanism, that may take you a few tries to get familiar with, but you can't mess this up. For more detailed information (with pictures) go here.  

Having an older home, means that I won't mess with the wiring on my own, but I have learned a couple of useful tricks from my electrician.
  • Know where your circuit breaker is, and label it. Spend an hour or so with a friend, and have one of you turn the circuit breaker switches on and off, then label which room/area they belong to. If something goes wrong, you can check here first - turn the main on and off, and/or flick the switch on and off for the room that is giving you a problem. This is especially useful after a storm or power outage, when some don't reset themselves.
  • Screw in your light bulbs tighter than you think. I had my electrician out several times in a month, only to find that I wasn't putting my light bulbs in tight enough (!). Crazy, right? But if they aren't making a full connection they might not work, or they could jiggle loose and blow the light. I was always afraid they would break, but that has never happened.

OTHER DIY that I think most of us can do

Laying peel and stick tiles on a kitchen or bathroom floor
This is not hard - they are easy to cut, and if you're considering this, then you probably have an old, yukky floor anyway. It's not permanent, so why not give it a try

Painting a small room 
If it's a bathroom, or a small bedroom, you can do it yourself, and it is the perfect place to be daring with your color choice. Allow yourself a weekend (you might not need it, but it's better not to be rushed). Grab painters tape, small brushes, a roller, lots of music, and maybe a bottle of wine.

Spackling holes in your walls or ceiling
This is easy-as. The hardest bit is often finding the paint to touch it up afterwards. Just spackle (I like the pink spackle that dries to white) smooth, let it dry, then paint. Less is always more - you can add more layers after each one dries. Sand if needed.

Re-caulk and grout tiles
Again, your attempt might not be as perfect as a professional's, but if it's a little touch up, then give it a go. By the way, I left mine for too long once, and the water started to leak through to the downstairs ceiling, so it's worth keeping up to date with repairs. Here's a video from Martha and Home Depot that explains how to do it.   

Gutter cleaning
This depends on your home (and how tall you are). I can do some of mine, but not all, and if you can fearlessly climb a ladder with a bucket, you could give it a try. No roof walking though. 

Fix squeaky doors and hinges
Before you buy new ones, try tightening the screws, loosening the pins and coating them with petroleum jelly (Vaseline). Most recommend using a spray lubricant, like WD 40, but that is really messy, and Vaseline works great (olive oil doesn't). 

Well, that's heaps for now, but I hope this gives you some new ideas before you reach for the phone and grab your checkbook. 

Saturday, June 3, 2017

DIY with Dandelions

When my daughter was young I used to pay her ten cents for every dandelion that she picked from the lawn. My complete laziness combined perfectly with her thinking that they were pretty, yellow flowers (and not some weed that managed to evade the lawnmower when I went over it, then pop back up just in time to send millions of seeds out into the universe).

I don't dislike dandelions at all, but I do think their seeds are prettier than the flower itself, and I would never pass up an opportunity to blow on one and make a wish. I am fascinated by the way that they always seem to right themselves as soon as they are set free - reminding me of Mary Poppins, these small fairy umbrellas stand perfectly poised for a moment, then elegantly catch a ride on the nearest breath of wind. Not caring where they go, they quickly disappear, even when the day around them seems so very still.

So, I saw a recipe for dandelion wine (which reminded me of those sweet, sunny days when my daughter could happily fill an afternoon with picking flowers) and I thought it would be fun to share some practical things that we could do with dandelions...

Dandelion Wine: This particular recipe I like because it is so simple (and I don't feel that anything to do with dandelions should be complicated). It's from Epicurious - a delightful word, supposedly made up by one of my favorite chefs, Michael Lomonico.

Dandelion Jelly: I haven't made this yet, but I will. The reviews say that you might need a bit more pectin than the recipe calls for, but they also say that it tastes good even if it doesn't set up quite as jiggly as it should.

Dandelion Salve: Any salve, cream or ointment that is made from just a few, natural ingredients is usually very good for you, and this one also has beeswax in it, so the healing properties are even better. * Please be careful about potential honey/pollen/bee allergies though - especially with young children.

Dandelion Cupcakes: Why didn't I think of this? From The Nerdy Farm Wife comes a simple recipe for just adding dandelion petals to your regular cupcake batter. It's barely even a recipe, but just a few yummy guidelines on what (and what not) to do.

Dandelion Paleo Cupcakes: This is what I would call a proper recipe. Proving that a Paleo diet doesn't have to be boring, these dandelion and lemon cupcakes (main photograph) sound delicious (in fact, everything on Andrea's site looks and sounds delicious).

Dandelion Lemonade: There is nothing like making your own homemade lemonade, and this one tastes exactly like Summer.

Preserved Dandelion Clocks: Why not capture them before they fly away, and turn those ethereal puff balls into the most delicate of garden decorations? (A fun craft for a fairy themed birthday party).

Dandelion Everything: From quesadillas to pesto and cookies, Jill over at the Prairie Homestead has sixteen of my favorite (and unexpected) dandelion recipes.

A few dandelion notes....
  • If you're using any of these recipes, please collect dandelions from your own pesticide and chemical free garden, rinse gently, and be sure that they haven't been sprayed with anything other than nature. 
  • By the way, did you know that Crayola retired their Dandelion Yellow Crayon this year? We are not quite sure why, but they did say that he had "an adventurous spirit" with "a case of wanderlust", which could be useful considering that Dandelion, at only 27 years old, seems far too young to retire. 
  • A dandelion is so nutritious that the delightful Dr. Andrew Weil affectionately calls it, the accidental vegetable

                         *Thank you to Andrea at Forest and Fauna for the main photograph.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Beautiful Moments

I knew I needed to weed the garden and mow the lawn (as well as the twenty-seven other things on my to-do list) but I baked a cake instead. Then, when I ran out to do an errand, I saw that the clematis had bloomed - when I wasn't looking, it had gone ahead and does what it does every year - without any weeding, or any care at all from me. It had become beautiful all by itself.

Perhaps I was having a moment, but it made me cry, and I caught my breath as I stopped and took a good look around the garden. I went back inside and grabbed by phone so that I could take photographs, afraid that it would all be mysteriously gone by the time I got back from the shops.

So busy in my head over the last few weeks, I had neglected some of the things that were important to me - beautiful, silly things that fed my soul, that I needed to take care of because in doing so they actually took care of me.

When I grabbed my phone, I also took the gardening scissors and some floral string. I spent the next half hour pruning and tying up the roses - they haven't flowered yet, but I know they will appreciate not being thrown around by the next storm. There is a branch over twelve foot tall that is reaching towards the top of the house, but as it is covered in rosebuds I don't have the heart to cut it down. Perhaps after they bloom.

They all grew without me. With no help, no words of encouragement, no passing glance, no special soil or fertilizer to brighten their color. They just grew. They grew into their beauty. Soon they will lose their color, they will rest, and then begin to do it all over again. And as I stepped back onto the wet grass, tears dripping down my face, it struck me that we need them far more than they need us.

Monday, May 15, 2017

A Floor Update and More DIY

I have been getting lots of questions about the Living Room floor that I finished with Safflower Oil the other week, so I thought I would answer them, and give you a quick update.

Did your house smell of oil, and were the floors sticky afterwards?
The Living Room smelled slightly for a couple of days, but it wasn't bad at all, because I used safflower oil which is almost odor-less. The floors had a bit of oil residue for a couple of days while it soaked in, but not enough to be greasy (and I did buff the floor again the next day).
How do the floors look now? Has it lasted?
They still look great! It soaked in completely by about the third day, and the darker color is still there.
Anything that you don't like about it?
No. It seems almost embarrassing - it took hardly any time at all, cost less than five dollars, and my floors look the best they have in over fifteen years.
What about the pets? 
The dog stopped licking it after a couple of days, and the cat couldn't have cared less. Now and again, the cat eats and throws up a few geranium leaves, so if I don't clean it up right away it does seem to "strip" the oil from the wood (not sure how) but all I do is drizzle a tiny bit of safflower oil on it, and the mark is gone within a day (see photograph above).

By the way, while we're on the subject of floors, I wanted to mention a couple of other flooring projects that I have also done in my own home. These were definitely DIY worthy, made a big difference .... and took no special skills (or tools) whatsoever.

Removing Wall-to-Wall Carpet 
It sounds daunting, but all it really took was time (a lot - almost a month for me to do the entire downstairs by myself) and a bit of planning.
Wearing goggles sounded ridiculous at first, but carpet tacks, staples and dust can be unpredictable and fly in all different directions, so I really would recommend them. For more detailed information on how to properly remove wall-to-wall carpet, go here.

Installing Vinyl Floor Tiles
If your floor is not too high (I think they can have up to three layers) installing these over your existing floor is really easy. I did my kitchen floor, with the peel and stick type, and you don't have to be a math wizard (or a flooring expert) just be sure to start in the middle and work out from there. Here's a more detailed explanation of what to do.

Painting your Floor
I painted a picture of a rug in my daughter's room (on a hardwood floor) with water-based acrylic craft paint over fifteen years ago, and while we loved it at the time, when we went to remove it, we couldn't. It will take a good sanding and proper refinishing, so although it was an easy project I recommend that you do this with a bit of caution (as it might be more permanent than you would like).

For a few more DIY flooring fixes, check out this article from Apartment Therapy.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Finding Design Inspiration

Some people wake up noticing shapes and colors. The form of a pillowcase resting against the bed, the taunting remnant of a forgotten spider web, it's thread of gray holding gently onto the ceiling, and the love of a soft, crinkled face still beautiful in its sleep.

For some, life is almost a sensory overload; too much to appreciate, and not enough time - an endless array of tactile change that both delights and overwhelms. Yet we are all wired differently, and whether visual cues come to us naturally or not, I am also a firm believer in taking our inspiration from others.

If I don't know how to do something, I ask, and if I'm not sure which road to take, I'll turn on my GPS. Decorating is exactly the same. There is a wealth of information out there; thousands of moments of inspiration are given to us every single day....and most of it is free.

Here are some easy ways to find design inspiration (when it doesn't seem to be finding you).


I know it's obvious, but their job is to show us beautiful things,
 and tell us how to get them. Envy is the name of the game.Look at the color combinations they use,and read the interviews with designers.
They are usually a confident bunch,
and because they are passionate about what they do,they are more than happy to share their secrets and ideas.



Choose your favorite family photograph (this is one of mine)
 and start to really think about why you like it. 
Try to see it from an objective, creative perspective.
Is it the lines of the lamp post, the black and white background,
the blur of the snowflakes, the childish frog,
or the green shade of the umbrella? 

Junk Mail!

Even if you never buy anything from them, take a look inside the cover.
Many furniture and accessory stores add to the temptation by photographing their items in a warm and cozy home setting.
Remember when Rachel secretly bought the Apothecary table
 from Pottery Barn? Then Phoebe wanted the matching lamp?
It made us laugh, and while we don't want our home looking exactly like a page from a catalog,
it's perfectly okay to borrow ideas from them. 

Your Closet!

With our clothes, we say more about ourselves than we realize.
Lay some of your favorite clothes out on the bed,
and write down your first impression.
Are they structured, colorful, loose, casual,
similar, formal, interesting, boring?
The odds are, how you dress is an indication of what you want to project,
and how you like to live.
Your home should also be a reflection of who you are,
so ideally the two should blend.  


If I see someone wearing a coat or a lipstick that I really like, 
I compliment them.
And, if we start chatting, I might ask where they got it from.
Same goes for a friend's new coffee table,
or the freshly painted color of a house down the street.  
Knock on the door, and ask.
People are rarely offended by a compliment.