Five Home Purchases We Never Regretted

Please pay for your purchases and get out. And come again!

- Apu

It’s still unseasonably cold here–just stupidly cold for November–and I’ve never been more thankful for our super-thick goose-down duvet. If this duvet is anything to go by, geese must feel pretty comfortable in the cold. Except for their feet.

What the hell is this stuff? (via)

Look at my chilly foot. Look at it! (via)

After a few years of living in an old house in Minnesota, we splurged on the biggest, coziest duvet I could find. I ordered from Old Europe Duvet (which, unexpectedly, is actually a Canadian company).

We bought a king-sized (for a queen bed), 12″ deep goose down duvet. Instead of stitched-through cold spots, this thing has internal baffles so the whole thing fluffs up like an angry cat at the least shake. Over a dozen or so years, it does not seem to have lost much of its filling, and is just as great to snuggle into as it was when we got it–despite having been hauled in suitcases for transatlantic moves and used as a fort by nephews.

I’ve been trying to get ahead on the holiday shopping, so while I was appreciatively cowering under the duvet, I started thinking about other things we’ve bought for this place that turned out to be completely worth the price. While it’s this cold…

1. Extremely Cozy Down-Filled Duvet

…tops my list! This duvet is maybe more of an investment than a gift (or a REALLY GREAT gift). But if you are looking for something more affordable and yet completely terrific, how about these?

2. Silicon Oven Mitts

We’ve always cooked a lot, but silicon oven gloves made cooking better.

Norpro Oven Mitt

Norpro Oven Mitt (ours are red, though)

If you are a messy cook like me (not like Kevin — he’s more pro than I am), it’s easy for a fabric oven pad to get wet and a wet oven mitt lets the heat straight through. Plus fabric is bulky to store and wears thin. Silicon is a better insulator, and getting wet is no problem (although you might want a seamless molded pair for canning if you are into that). Plus, they just seem indestructible. I like our Norpro mitts because the raised pattern gives extra grip. You can find silicon oven gloves online, in kitchen shops, and in big box stores. They are cheap — $10-20 range — but awesome. Plus, you regain a lot of kitchen drawer space.

3. Shower Wall Bar

I’m not sure how gift-y this is. You’d have to know the recipient well. Probably, you’d have to be living with him or her. If you are doing so, and if the would-be recipient likes showers, consider this:

We have a similar Delta model in our main bathroom. A builder friend suggested it, saying it would make us “feel rich.” I was skeptical that spending $90 was going to make me feel anything other than that much poorer, but I looove it. The detachable shower head is nice, but the bar is the cool thing. The sturdy mount for the shower head can be repositioned all along the bar by simply sliding it. And the angle can be changed at any level. Kev’s tall and I am not, so he wants the shower much higher than I do. With this thing, that’s no problem. We got ours at Lowe’s, but any of the likely suspects should have something similar.

4. Decorative Rain Gauge

If you garden, you know it’s important to have a clue about precipitation. A few years ago, the Kev gave me the World’s Coolest Rain Gauge. That’s the actual product name. While I haven’t seen ALL the rain gauges, this one is pretty dang cool.

World's Coolest Rain Gauge

World’s Coolest Rain Gauge

It’s really well made, which is not something I knew I wanted in a rain gauge, but life is full of surprises! The basin is solid copper, and the stand is heavy-duty. The gauge itself is a float inside the copper tube; as the rain collects, the float moves up. It’s pretty accurate, and when it hasn’t rained, it’s a nice garden ornament. The website now has a freestanding version, and the company is going to be bringing out resin gauges next year. These can be found on Amazon, Uncommon Goods, and garden sites online (look around, because I’ve seen them from $30 to $50).

5. Marble Cheese Board

Ok, I started to make this one “miter saw” because that’s one power tool that really makes me feel like I know what I’m doing! A high-quality miter saw is a fine thing, but it’s probably something you buy for yourself. A marble cheese board, on the other hand, is an affordable (and less injury-related) gift.

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This cheese board and knife set is currently on mega-sale at Macy’s: $27.99 down from $70

We have a white marble cheese board we received as a gift sometime last century. Even if we’re just having some nibbles, it lends a sense of occasion. And marble is great for cheese at parties — it stays cool so soft cheeses keep their shapes better. Durable, classic, functional, and a great gift. Marble cheese boards look expensive, but you can pick them up for around $20 without looking too hard (try Amazon and Overstock).

By the way, this is not a sponsored post; if we ever do a sponsored post, we’ll give you a big tap-dancing, spoon-playing, bells-and-whistles notice! We just like these things, and if you are looking for gift ideas, these are good ones that stand the test of time.

Posted in Bathroom, Decor, Food & Drink, Kitchen | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Roman Shade Roulette

All these questions! Is a little blind faith too much to ask?

- Sunday School Teacher

Time to revisit the DIY roman shade I made earlier this year (I’m also updating that post in detail to make sure the whole story is available there as well).

Executive Summary: As executed, it’s a d’oh!

homer-doh

After I finished the first blog-documented one, I became busy on other projects, and it took a while to get back to the other shade for that room. As time went on, I realized that I was stalling because I was not entirely happy with how the first shade operated. Basically, the model for the shade is a good one…if the shade is only one or two thin layers of fabric (the Little Green Notebook instructions used two thin layers). I also like the changes I made to the design (untying the cords rather than cutting, sewing rather than gluing important connections, and leaving an allowance to cover the mounting hardware). I believe the changes will make the unit more durable when implemented with a lightweight shade.

So I’m not trash-talking the overall project idea at all! What I AM saying is that, in my experience this project does not lend itself to a thicker shade including a black-out liner. When I first retracted the shade, I reported that it was bunchy because of the extra fabric.

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That was easy to deal with by briefly fiddling with the folds so they fell better. This turned out to be a bit of a hassle, but no huge deal.

Not quite so bunchy.

But there was a fundamental issue I had not considered: the cords and mechanism are not really strong enough to deal with the lining’s extra weight. Miniblind slats are very lightweight, and so is a single-ply fabric blind. Every time I raise this shade, I think something is going to break. The whole thing just feels like it’s under too much physical stress. I’m loathe to raise the thing, and even less willing to de-bunch the folds because of my concern that I’m going to yank out one of the cords.

Jenny at LGN says that black-out lining could be included, so she has perhaps made a shade with a lining that worked well (I’ll check with her, but she’s a Real Blogger and Actual Designer, ergo very busy). If I hear back from Jenny and she has any tips, I will update this post — meanwhile, if anyone out there has ideas, please advise!

I have the base and the lift bar for the second shade, and I can probably reuse the base for the original unit with a lighter shade. I may do a lighter-weight shade and install them in Ben’s room, which is blind-deficient and has windows of the same size.

I have a replacement plan for the windows in our room — more on that soon. BECAUSE I KNOW YOU CAN’T WAIT!!! IT’S VERY EXCITING STUFF!!!

Posted in D'oh!, Decor, Windows & Doors | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Holiday Gift Ideas for the Lady DIYer

Homer: You really thought I’d forgot, didn’t you?
Bart: Oh, right. What did you get her, Dad?
Lisa: Yeah, whatcha get?
Homer: A very thoughtful gift. But it’s a surprise! You know it’s such a beautiful morning, I think I’ll take a little stroll around the block.

It snowed. Even though this is the tundra, it’s early for snow. We haven’t even cleaned the gutters yet.

The only ok thing about early snow is that it makes early holiday shopping music feel less ridiculous. And after all, the holidays are coming. If you are buying for your DIY-loving wife, girlfriend, mom, or sister, here’s a list of gift ideas that goes beyond the pink-handled tool set. (Seriously. Don’t buy that.)

1. Coveralls or Overalls That Fit

I ran across Rosies Workwear (the lack of apostrophe is intentional) while prepping this article. How did I never find this place before?

process

The founder of the company took a welding class and discovered that the coveralls available bunched up, causing a safety issue. The company offers coveralls (like the cool denim version above) and overalls made for women. They are rugged and have sewn-in knee pads. (If you stop over, check out the gallery of customers wearing Rosie gear.) The site also offers that iconic polka-dot bandana the model is wearing!

2. Phillips-Head Earrings

Kevin gave me a pair of these lovely silver earrings from Uncommon Goods for my birthday this year.

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I looooove them! They are petite and comfortable, and the design is understated — they are a great way to wear what I love to do. (The same artist also makes pieces including level bubbles and rulers — definitely check it out.)

3. Boogie Board

The Boogie Board is handy to have around during a project for quick sketches and notes. You can write on it with a stylus, or just your finger. We got one of these for Mary the landscaper a couple of years ago, and she keeps it in her truck for quick notes, lists, and calculations.

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What it doesn’t do is save or export your scribbles, so be sure to take a picture if you want to refer back later. Tablets will certainly let you do this, but not for under $30!

4. Good Safety Googles

I usually end up looking like a droopy owl when I wear safety googles. I would love a pair like these from DeWalt — according to the reviews, they actually adjust to fit and stay in place. And they don’t fog up. Plus, everyone can use another pair of safety googles.

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5.  Heavy-Duty (but Pretty) Hand Soap

First thing, be CERTAIN that your recipient is not going to be offended by receiving SOAP as a gift. Got that? All righty, then. Pumice-based soaps (like Lava and Orange Goop) are an important part of the shop, but they can dry out hands and cuticles. So what about a gift set like this?

 

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These fancy French gardeners’ soaps have essential oils and include corn meal instead of lava. It’s still exfoliating, but not quite so rough-and-tumble. I doubt that these would replace Lava for those times your lady friend rebuilds an engine, but it will do it most other times.

Need other gift ideas? Check out:

Or, for a personalized gift you can make yourself, try DIY Instagram Coasters from Little House on the Corner.

Happy shopping!

Posted in Family, Romance | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Slow Drain (Maintenance)

Reverend Lovejoy: God didn’t burn your house down, but he was working in the hearts of your friends be they Christian, Jew, or . . . miscellaneous.
Apu: Hindu. There are seven hundred million of us!
Reverend Lovejoy: Aw, that’s super.

When I was a college sophomore, I lived with a friend in an off-campus apartment. The bathtub drain was always slow, but over the semester it became slower…and slower…and finally stopped completely, leaving about six inches of water.

funny-cat-do-not-want-bath

After many overwrought calls to management, some guy came with a snake; the drain worked for two whole days. Then we contacted the owner. I explained the situation and asked for a repair and a small rent credit. He laughed and responded, “Well, you see, I’m a [adherent of a major Western religion], and we don’t believe that money is the answer to every problem.”

facepalm

To which I should have replied, “News flash: NOBODY believes that!” and “How does this doctrinal conversation get this drain fixed?” There should be a special place in Dork Town for people who use their supposed religion to weasel out of their commercial obligations.

There was a happy ending, though: eventually, I found the guy’s home phone number, which annoyed him enough that he sent an actual plumber over. The liberal arts weren’t a harsh enough mistress to stop me from harassing the landlord!

I hadn’t thought about that super-special time in years, but I recently noticed that I was wading while taking showers in our main bathroom. Just a bit. And maybe a bit more. I kept ignoring it, because we have one of those push/pop-up drains, and I did not know how to remove it.

pop-up drain stopper

I preferred to rationalize it rather than spend two minutes figuring it out. Water is good for feet, right??

Moisture is the essence of wetness, and wetness is the essence of beauty.

Moisture is the essence of wetness, and wetness is the essence of beauty. – Derek Zoolander

Once my feet were well-moisturized but before I developed trench-foot, I looked into what to do. Turns out, it is super-easy to remove a pop-up drain stopper. Just turn the top of the drain counter-clockwise (UK: anti-clockwise — for some reason, I adore the term “anti-clockwise”) by hand. You might have to unscrew it for quite a while, but it will come loose. Depending on the brand, either the whole top of the unit will lift out, or just the cover. In the latter case, there will be a slot to loosen up the rest of the top using a blade screwdriver.

pop-up drain stop

The unit looks something like this. Put the thread back into the hole in the drain to screw it back in.

Now, you can root around in the drain mouth to your heart’s content! All the hair that had fallen out of my head since 1981 seemed to be in the drain. I didn’t take a picture.

You can also replace the rubber “skirt” that makes the seal if it is degraded — it’s sold as a separate part, as well as with the whole unit. Our problem was entirely hair-related, so I didn’t need to change out the seal.

Once you’ve cleaned it out, simply reinsert the top and screw it back down. It’s so luxurious not to be standing in water during a shower! Simple pleasures.

Posted in American vs English, Bathroom, D'oh!, Plumbing, Repair & Maintenance | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Phony Pony

Hug me, squeeze me, tug at my fur!

- Waylon Smithers

Some decades ago, my mother scored a couple of chairs cast out of some bigwig’s office. Now they live with us, including this rattily slipcovered one in our living room.

chair before collage

Well, it’s on the porch here. It’s surprisingly hard to find a place to photograph a dang chair.

Although I’m slipcover-mad, it didn’t work here. Wrong fabric, wrong kind of chair.

When considering redoing it, I thought, “How about faux pony/cow hide? Juxtaposed against the more traditional motif? That could be fun and different!” Then I saw this tour on Apartment Therapy:

Whatever, AT. The tour was published on October 12, and I ordered my fabric October 10, which makes my idea totally unique and not at all informed by Le Corbusier or every Western film ever made.

I ordered two yards of faux fur from the Online Fabric Store for $7.20/yard. Why faux? Because this is a lark — it’s not worth spending real money. Besides, if I want to sit on a pony or a cow, I’ll sit on one.

What a cow! (via)

But not this one. Too scary. (via)

First thing was to remove the slipcover. I found the seat screws were missing, so diassembly was easier than expected.

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Thirty seconds later…

I cleaned everything, then used pinking shears to cut a piece for the seat to run back to front, overlapping the underside by a couple of inches. I left a seam allowance on the sides. After inverting the fabric and pinning it to the cushion, I cut side pieces and pinned those to the top.

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Too many pins, too much seam allowance.

I sewed it all together using a heavy-duty needle and thread. This bit of sewing avoids bulky folds for a smoother top. After sewing, I flipped it outside-right and pulled it over the cushion firmly (fitted but not straining).

STAPLE GUN TIME! I cut strips of uncorrogated cardboard about a half-inch wide (cereal boxes are good). With the cushion face-down, I pulled the fabric evenly around the base. Putting a cardboard strip over the fabric, I stapled through the cardboard and fabric into the wood. The cardboard spreads the pressure, reducing wear on the fabric that can cause rips.

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I trimmed off the extra fabric. Seat DONE.

Next, the back. This chair originally had an open back; I previously added strapping to support a back cushion.

Strapping backlit; the top bar is padded out with batting, and then the whole thing is smoothed over with muslin. And cat hair.

You can see the strapping pretty well here. It’s just stapled to the frame multiple times. The top bar is padded out with batting, and then the whole thing is smoothed over with muslin. And cat hair.

I sewed double D-loops onto the straps for cushion anchors.

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Late night reupholstery = mood lighting

To do the back cover, I cut a long piece to wrap around the entire back. I folded the edges under to make the piece the right width, and tacked it with a few hand stitches. Starting at the inside bottom frame, I stapled the fabric to the frame (with cardboard; see bottom of photo above). At the top, I flopped the piece over and stapled that down inside the back above the initial staples. The piece is flat but not super-taut because it will need to move with the cushion slightly. A few side stitches helped keep it neat.

khjk

Far from perfect, but it’s the BACK.

I made a simple cover for the back cushion. To attach it, I sewed a piece of grosgrain into each back side seam (about 3/4 of the way “up”) so there was at least a foot dangling outside the cushion. I reinforced the seams and hemmed the ends, then whip-stitched the cushion inside.

cushion tether

I ran the ribbons through the D-clips belt-style to hold the cushion in place.

cushion tether rings

Done!

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Here’s the seam on the side of the cushion.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd here’s the chair with its usual occupant.

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Before I close, thanks to my lovely mother, who gave me the name for this post, and a memorably funny moment on the phone earlier this week:

Me: I’m recovering that occasional chair in the living room.

Mom: Oh, yeah? I love those chairs. With what?

Me: Fake pony fur.

*long pause*

Mom: You’re kidding, right?

I could never shake Mom’s cool when I was trying! How could I know that fake fur upholstery was her line in the sand?!

Posted in Before & After, Decor, Furniture | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

How’s THAT Working Out? Floating Bedside Table

Traffic on our tiny blog went to Statistical Outlier City this weekend when Apartment Therapy featured our nightstand project.

Thanks for including us, Apartment Therapy! What a nice surprise!

In addition to giving me the warm fuzzies, the shout-out also prompted me to provide an update on the project, which I’ve been meaning to do for a while. Would we do it again? Yes! It’s so functional for our space.

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As of yesterday morning, in its typical unstyled state.

A commenter on AT noted that floating shelves preempt storage that would otherwise be allowed by a standing piece of furniture. That is absolutely true in most cases! Here, though, the floatingness allows Kev to access drawers in the storage bed easily. That provides more storage and storage access than we would otherwise have with a regular bedside table. From a use-of-space perspective, this unit has been very helpful.

The unit ends up having a lot more weight on it on a regular basis than shown in the original post. As you can see, there’s a stack of books and magazines, as well as a collection of small electronics and glasses. Sometimes, it holds even more books, electronics, or cats. It’s not a large surface area (ergo stacking), but it’s securely fastened, so there hasn’t been any sagging.

Kev likes having the drawer, but if I had it to do over, I would try to find an end table with drawer runners. This drawer just runs on wooden supports, just as a lot of furniture does (including our storage bed). That’s fine if you are pulling the drawer straight out, but as a bedSIDE table, Kev is typically opening it from bed, which means the drawer tends to be pulled slightly to the side. The result is that the drawer sometimes jams and doesn’t fit neatly back in its space without jiggling. It’s a minor point, but worth noting.

Another thing I would pay more attention to is the leg cuts. On the right side, my cut to remove the leg was slightly (unintentionally) angled. I sanded that off a bit, and it looks ok, but I notice it when I’m on that side of the room. Everyone has their own tolerance for that sort of thing, but I wish I had taken more care with that cut or spent more time evening it up. I could go back to it, but it’s a low priority.

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But these are very minor issues. The project is a keeper, especially if you are working with a storage bed. If you’ve converted a nightstand to be wall-mounted, send us a picture — we’d love to see it!

Posted in Before & After, Decor, Furniture | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Bye-Bye, Butterfly

Do the wing thing!

- Bart Simpson

We saw probably the last monarch butterfly of the season weekend before last. Monarchs migrate south when the weather turns cooler — you may have seen the recent item about a monarch cloud confusing weather radar in Missouri. Despite radar-confounding swarms, though, monarchs are “near threatened” as a species, meaning they are at risk.

milkweed monarch full

Monarch on milkweed flowers

Habitat loss is the major issue. While many flowers provide nectar, monarchs can only use milkweed as a host plant for eggs, so no milkweed, no new butterflies. Most people see milkweed as a weed (it’s right there in the name!), with the result that there are far fewer host plants than when it grew everywhere wild. Between that and other stresses, it’s tough out there for a butterfly.

Buddleia is good for nectar, but not for eggs

Buddleia is good for nectar, but not for eggs

That’s all a shame, because thing one, milkweed is easy to grow, and thing two, it’s pretty!

On the easy-to-grow front, milkweed is a prime candidate for winter sowing. There could NOT be an easier way to start plants for the spring.

Milkweed (and weed-weed) seedlings from 2014 winter sowing

Milkweed (and weed-weed) seedlings from 2014 winter sowing

All you need are seeds (and dirt and a milk jug). Lots of places want you to have milkweed seeds:

There are many different milkweed (Latin name: asclepias) varieties. Monarch Joint Venture has a terrific guide showing which milkweeds grow best where. We mainly grow Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) and Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa), although I started some Common Milkweed this year (the seedlings above, Asclepias syriaca) that will be well-established next year.

Monarch on Swamp Milkweed

Monarch on Swamp Milkweed

Bees like it too!

Bees like it too!

All varieties are attractive plants. Swamp Milkweed is about a meter tall and very upright, good for the back of the border. It’s easy to care for, and has a long bloom season, with these beautiful pink flower clusters.

Butterfly Weed, on the other hand, is a shorter variety, maybe about a foot tall. It makes an excellent screen plant around the feet of clematis vines. I’ve seen it marketed as “Butterfly Flower” and “Orange Glory Flower” but it’s still a milkweed variety. Orange is my favorite, but it is also sold in a range of flower colors.

Monarch butterfly on butterfly weed. Photo by Randy Loftus, USFWS

Monarch butterfly on butterfly weed (Randy Loftus, USFWS)

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Orange butterfly weed in the middle, planted in front of the purple clematis

Keep in mind, these are host plants, so if you see caterpillar bite marks on leaves, that just means you are doing it right!

All the milkweeds are versatile and easy-care plants that lend themselves to any type of garden. If you garden in North America, find a variety you like and plant a few. Monarchs are expert at finding milkweed — you will be rewarded by many visits. Plus, it just feels good helping a friend in need.

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A Home Decor Drinking Game

Marge: Have you been drinking?
Homer: No! Well, ten beers.

If you’ve ever seen the original Bob Newhart Show, you’ve probably heard of the “Bob” game.

 

Tangent: If you haven’t seen this 1970s classic, you might recognize Carol’s voice. That’s Marcia Wallace, the actress who voiced Edna Krabappel until her death a year ago this week.

mrs k

Back on topic: the “Bob” game in its simplest form involves everyone taking a drink whenever anyone on the show says “Bob.” But the show used everyone’s name frequently (as in the clip above), so an alternate version involves everyone picking a name of a major character and taking a drink whenever that character’s name is used. I never played this game, because I didn’t go to college in the 1970s. But it was still legendary by the time I did go!

Still on topic (bear with me): Here’s a picture of our main bathroom.

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What’s that on the bath ledge?? Well, it used to be a real orchid, but now it’s a fake. I know that’s anathema to many, but given my real orchid experience, I’m ok with it! My original orchid was purchased while in flower. Floral suppliers know what they are doing–they get the orchids to bloom and sell them while they are all showy. I decidedly do not know what I am doing with even an “easy care” orchid, such as our original plant. I certainly kept it alive for several years, but after that initial flowering died back, it did not rebloom, despite my research and fussing over it. The plant itself was very healthy, but orchids…let’s just say they aren’t grown for their foliage.

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No one’s looking at you, leaves. (via)

It is supposed to be easy to get the popular phalaenopsis orchid plant to rebloom (I’m sure many of you have done it), but an informal poll of our friends who bought them or received them as gifts indicates a low success rate. I finally gave away my set of orchid leaves to someone who later chucked it because she couldn’t get it to bloom either.

If you use a faux orchid, small and simple is the way to go. Too many fakes are so large and exuberant as to be unbelievable. My small fake originally had more leaves and another two flower scapes, which I trimmed out. People ask me how I keep it so healthy!

You see many, MANY orchids in blog and decor photos. I call them Obligatory Orchids (OOs), while calling mine an Obligatory Fake Orchid (OFO). (I’m guessing there are more OFOs than bloggers will admit to.) Whether real or a good fake, they add a touch of height, drama, and luxury to a room. Judging by the internet, a lot of people agree.

Screenshot from image search for "interior decor vignette" -- at screen size, I saw four in this sample.

Screenshot from image search for “interior decor vignette” — at screen size, I saw four in this sample.

So here’s the drinking game idea: go to Pinterest or Houzz or the “decor” section of a magazine site. Scroll through the pictures. When someone in the group spies an OO or OFO, everyone else takes a drink. Or vice versa, depending on the goal of the evening. Or play for money. Kev and I played for M&Ms the other night, and I was the OW (Obligatory Winner).

Winter is coming. Consider this another entertainment option for the long, cold nights!

Posted in Decor | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Rain Barrels: Truth is More Work Than Fiction

Right as rain! Or, as we say around here, “left” as rain!

- Ned Flanders

I originally named this post “What Hippies Don’t Want You to Know About Rain Barrels” but I didn’t want to attract real-life Cartman types.

cartman-hippies

The Kev and I certainly have some hippified leanings. Our rain barrels are part of that — we are harvesting the natural water from the bountiful sky to provide for the flowers that sustain the birds and butterflies! It’s all part of the beautiful, ever-turning wheel of the universe!

homer hippie

Yeah, it is.

Until you realize…that water ain’t gonna move itself.

Just because you save up 55 gallons of water in a barrel doesn’t mean the plants that need it are anywhere nearby. Commercially produced rain barrels come with a fairly short hose for filling up watering cans and buckets to take the water to the plants.

One of our rain barrels in place.

One of ours. The supply hose (the smaller hose to the right) is only as long as the barrel is tall.

Gardeners often want to set up a rain barrel to provide trickle irrigation to a sizable area by hooking up a longer line. I asked my sister-in-law Mary (a professional landscaper and lifelong gardener) if she thought this technique could work in any sort of reliable way.

“Sure,” she said, “if you’re a WIZARD.”

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Rain barrels are generally elevated slightly to help maintain pressure when you are emptying the barrel into buckets and watering cans. A single, elevated barrel will have good pressure for at least the first half of a full barrel — unscientifically, it seems about like a bathroom faucet on nearly full. But that goes by quickly, leaving diminishing pressure for the second half of the supply. (You can add a solar-powered pump, but that has its own prerequisites, including “is my rain barrel in the sun?”)

Using a trickle hose or series of sprinklers, the pressure needs to be constant to provide water to the end of the run (as it is when supplied from an outside faucet). I contacted my engineer brother (a/k/a Angry Dad) for a formula to show the hows and whys. He replied:

200px-Angry_DadYeah, it has to do with internal friction of the pipe, liquid pressure/density and some other factors. You would need a reference book to get the hose information.

That’s more work than I’m going to do for y’all, sorry. You’ll just have to trust my experience when I say that barrel water runs out fast and doesn’t have enough pressure to make it all the way to the end of the run for long.

(Some folks link a series of barrels from a single downspout. This technique can provide more water for gravity-driven irrigation. The bigger the cache, the better, but there are safety issues with large cisterns, and aesthetic reasons to avoid a stack of barrels next to your house. I’m not THAT much of a hippie.)

Ok, why am I being such a harpy about rain barrels when I claim to like and have several of them? Because it’s a shame to have a rain barrel and just leave it to breed mosquitoes. You should know what you are getting yourself into, which is something like this:

NGS Picture ID:599932

Rain barrels will turn you and your family into stylish Dutch women.

Here’s what I do:

Rotate watering cans. I fill up one large watering can/bucket, then I leave the hose open in the next watering can/bucket to fill up while I schlep the first container to the targeted planting. Generally, I return to the barrel about the time the next container is full, and then I swap them. Schlep, swap, schlep, swap. Fortunately, you’re probably only doing a few runs each time, because that could get old in a hurry! I try to put my container plants on a geographically logical rotation so that I don’t need to do too many at a time.

Be strategic about your plantings. If you have something that needs a fair bit of water (I’m looking at you, Endless Summer hydrangea), think about planting it relatively near a rain barrel. My hydrangeas and I get on much better since I moved them closer to the barrel. Watering them isn’t a panic-driven chore anymore.

(via)

Land’s sake! I’m a hyDRANGea, and I simply MUST droop! Do bring me a bucket of water. (via)

Choose watering cans and buckets that are comfortable to carry. I had a watering can that was really cute, but it made a crease in my hand every time I carried it. Now I have a cheap two-gallon unit made from recycled plastic that adds very little weight to the endeavor. I alternate that with whatever milk jugs I am rinsing for eventual winter sowing use, or with a two- to three-gallon bucket.

Rain barrels are a smart idea — they save water, reduce stormwater run-off, and maximize a natural resource — plus, they provide a HECK OF A WORK-OUT. Embrace all the benefits of the barrel!

(If you already have barrels, don’t forget to prep them for winter soon.)

Posted in D'oh!, Outdoor Building Projects, Repair & Maintenance, Yard & Garden | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Keeping the DIY Dollar

Silly customer! You cannot hurt a Twinkie!

- Apu

When we were shopping for our dishwasher (now installed, about which more soon), I eliminated a specific large manufacturer from all our searches. I accidentally read specifications for one dishwasher from this maker, but I discarded it from consideration based on our past experience. (I’m not mentioning the name of the manufacturer because I haven’t contacted them to be involved in this post.)

When we originally remodeled the kitchen in 2002, we bought a new range (UK: cooker) by this maker. In 2010, it failed. DRAMATICALLY.

housewife_with_oven_fire516x350

Here is the email I sent to customer service (the model number and purchase information were included in the subject line):

Hello! This evening, I was baking a frozen lasagne at 400 degrees for 90 minutes according to package instructions. At about the 70th minute, the oven started to beep and display “FI.” I quickly discovered that “FI” stood for “FIRE” because the edges of the lasagne and the bakable package tray were, indeed, on fire. I turned the oven off and removed and extinguished the lasagne. Having turned the oven off, I assumed it was OFF (as in “not on”), but within two minutes, it started beeping and flashing “FI” again. I opened the oven to find that the broiler element was on full blast despite the oven having been turned off, causing the oven to smoke (also despite the fact that I never turned on the broiler). I hit the “cancel” button several times, but it stayed on. At that point, I sprinted to the breaker box and turned the whole oven circuit off.

After my heart rate came back down, I checked to see if the oven had been recalled. It had not, but the symptoms appear to be very similar to those reported in the [recent year] recall.

I am a frequent baker and I am very familiar with this oven’s functions (except “FI” which was a new one on me!). It’s been fine until today.

Is there a new or upcoming recall on this oven? If not, how should I proceed? Does the company want to check the appliance for faults? I’m going to have houseguests in a week, and I’m going to need an oven, but I’d rather replace than repair (since it seems to want to burn down the house). Should I just buy a new oven and chalk this up to “ovens last eight years”? I’d really appreciate your guidance, because I’m not really sure what to do, having never had an oven with a “firestarter” setting before!

Thank you for any advice you can offer asap, and have a great weekend.

I did not ask for the manufacturer to replace or repair the range. I asked for their guidance and whether they wanted to look at the unit in light of similar problems.

The manufacturer responded:

It’s not under warranty anymore, and there isn’t a recall. The control unit is bad; you could pay to have it repaired. Hope you understand! Screw you.  – Customer service

I am paraphrasing, but only slightly.

helen_wait

The Kev and I both have day jobs (we blog because we love!). Mine involves quite a bit of coordination and planning with the customer service department. In that role, I used to work with a customer service manager who said, “Every customer complaint is a gift.” Although I often laughed when she said it, her point was a good one. If a customer takes the time to give you information that could teach you something, you’d be foolish to dismiss it. Instead, see if there’s a larger pattern or a process issue or a product/service gap that can be addressed. And empower customer service to do something other than just bat away issues like whiffle balls — that’s a tough job made tougher by having no discretion to create solutions.

You know what would have made me a loyal customer? Something like this:

[Paragraph 1–establish human contact/pass the Turing test] That does sound alarming! I hope you were able to find something other than the lasagne to eat last night.

[Paragraph 2–emphasize issue importance and escalation] Unfortunately, there does not appear to be a recall, but I will forward your message to the team that is responsible for considering these issues so they can review your information.

[Paragraph 3–show that the customer was heard/provide manufacturer-focused options] I appreciate your concerns and the time you took to alert us to your experience. From your description, it appears that the control unit on your range failed. The range is out of warranty, but we are improving our products all the time based on customer feedback. I’m attaching a $50 coupon that you can use toward the replacement control unit, or toward another [manufacturer] range. For fast delivery of a new unit, try [preferred vendor], or click here to find certified repair shops in your area [link].

[Paragraph 4–thank the customer] I hope this information helps you. Thank you for contacting us, and please feel free to get back in touch, with any follow-up questions or other concerns.

Probably any oven could fail in this way — that’s not really the core issue. Most people just want to be heard. I needed a new or repaired range fast, and having that issue heard (plus a small coupon) could have made my decision.

housewife-happy

I could have been this happy! Wait…no one is THIS happy.

Instead, I walked into a big box store, refused to look at the manufacturer’s units, and bought a competing product. Almost five years later, I still will not consider that maker for any appliance type. Certainly, I’m willing to hold a grudge(!), but a better customer service commitment would have brought out my loyal side.

The customer has a role to play here as well. It’s useful for complaints to be informational and concise. Messages should be polite! It’s not the customer service person’s fault, so no need to be aggressive or rude. Finally, the complaint should be clear about what is requested as an outcome. In this transaction, I was overly wordy and a little sarcastic (albeit in a peppy way), and my request meandered quite a bit, so there is improvement to be had on my side as well.

Generally, DIYers are skeptical folks who are very careful with their money, but they do spend money! Someone who is re-doing a kitchen is probably replacing a range that another family might keep longer. A little customer service savvy goes a long way toward attracting–and retaining–that kind of spending.

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Posted in American vs English, D'oh!, Electrical, Kitchen | Tagged , | 3 Comments