Category Archives: Odd projects

Repurposed, Part 2: Typesetters drawers

Back in days of the letterpress, moveable type was composed by hand for each page of print publications. Cast metal letters or symbols were used to create text.

The cast metal “sorts” were stored in typesetters drawers — long wooden boxes with many compartments. Eventually, the letterpress was replaced by advances in publishing and the typesetters drawers were relegated to dusty corners in  antique shops and attics — including the one at the top of our house.

As our daughters acquired tiny items — dubbed “goofy little miniatures” by one of them — we dusted off the typesetters drawers, added a few coats of varnish, and hung them on their bedroom walls. They filled them with assorted cherished (excuse me, “goofy”) items, thus saving shelf space for often equally goofy, but larger, items.

Over Christmas, our daughters were discussing various options for storing jewelry. The youngest wanted to find a way to store — and display — her jewelry, to avoid the usual jumble of necklaces, bracelets, and earrings.

Repurposing is a longheld tradition in both of our families — our parents would simply have called it reusing items that had plenty of life in them. Apparently, this tendency has been passed on to the next generation, because daughter number two came up with this perfect solution for her jewelry quandary.APS1 APS2 APS3 APS5














According to this year’s found money count, the economy is picking up

Ben Bernanke and all the other economists notwithstanding, I am here to tell you that the economy is picking up. I know this for a fact. Truly. I have proof.

On New Year’s Day, my husband dumped out the jar of coins and dollar bills that we have found on the ground over the past year. We’ve been doing this since 2007. Annual totals have ranged from $27.80 in 2010 to our all-time low of $9.01 in 2011.

At the end of the counting on Jan. 1, we had our proof. This year’s take was $19.84, which means that we more than doubled last year’s. So there you have it. The economy is so much better that people are dropping more money and/or picking up less. Whatever…we’ve got a pile and are planning our celebratory dinner out.

After all, we’ve worked hard for this. Our walks and bike rides have taken us through freezing temps, ice, snow, heat, humidity, as well glorious days when the weather is so perfect you can hardly bear to go indoors. And all the while, our eyes were scanning the ground for that elusive penny or — rare — dollar bill.

This is what found money looks like. Pretty shiny, eh?


This old house

We live in an old house. Old as in at least 90 years old. Maybe older. Here’s the thing about an old house. It’s old. Things go wrong. Things need to be fixed. While this is probably also true of new houses, I’ve never lived in one so I have what might be considered a convoluted vision of perfect living spaces. New pipes. Reliable heat. Bright, shiny faucets.

So anyway, one week ago things fell apart. It’s never just one thing…in this case, there were two.

Here’s how this scenario played out. Friday night, as we were cleaning the house, I heard the hubs groan and mumble something from the basement. It didn’t sound good. It wasn’t. The original (read: old) cast iron sewage line from the toilets, shower and bathroom sinks, had sprung a leak.

Fortunately, there is a nearby drain. Unfortunately, the drain had backed up and it wasn’t pretty. So we mopped up the mess and sent an SOS to our favorite plumber. The on-call employee and his lucky wife stopped by after their dinner out. He gave us his evaluation of what was going on and what we could do, which basically came down to flushing the toilets and taking showers only when necessary. Oh, and keep a mop and bucket nearby.  Until Monday…

Because on Monday, the same plumbing/heating company was installing our new furnace and could then determine how best to fix the pipe/drain problem. In the meantime…

We took care flushing only when necessary. At one point, the hubs announced he was running up to the town hall — I assumed he needed to pick up something from his office. But no. There’s a nice restroom there…with working toilets.

Saturday evening, instead of our planned sushi birthday celebration, we stayed home to clean up yet another flooding. Too many showers at once had overwhelmed the drain. Sunday was more of the same, although we’d learned our lesson. No more back to back showers.

Monday morning, the hubs headed off for Cincinnati at 5 a.m., while I waited impatiently for 6 a.m. so I could head to the gym. Not only is there an indoor running track which saved me from a drenching run in a cold rain, but there are also hot showers and working toilets!

After three days of this, one’s brain gets stuck on one reality of life. Where is the nearest bathroom? And yes, I did think of all of those affected by recent natural disasters and realized how lucky I was to have alternatives.

And yet….home alone Monday night, having heard the various possibilities of what could be causing the blocked drain, dollar signs flashed through my mind…a veritable slot machine racking up the possibilities.

Things only worsened when another round of flooding drew me back with my mop and bucket, only to slip and fall in the mucky water. That was it. Time to take drastic measures. Recalling how we used a large coffee can when restrooms were unavailable during a trip through France and Switzerland, I lined a bucket with trash bags and headed to bed, sleeping fitfully. Let’s just say the bucket came in handy.

Tuesday arrived and with it, an angel in the form of the plumber. I was happy to go to work and let him deal with the mess. Good old-fashioned ingenuity and some plumbing knowledge fixed the problem…at least for now.

And now my dreams are filled with visions of new houses. New pipes. No need for drains. Some day.

Out with the world’s ugliest vanity….and the toilet…

It was the ugly vanity to end all ugly vanities, and after more than 20 years of gracing the tiny downstairs bathroom, it had to go. So there we were, finally attacking the floor in the bathroom. We’d ripped out the two layers of vinyl and paper-thin plywood to expose the wood floors hidden underneath. All that remained was whatever existed underneath the toilet and the vanity.

So…taking a deep breath, the hubs and I attempted to turn off the water under the sink to see if we could remove the single most offensive piece of furniture in our house. I’m not making this up. If there were a competition for ugly vanities, this one would win…hands down.

We’re not plumbers. We’re not really even wanna-be plumbers, but we (I) sometimes think I can do things I really can’t. So we turned the water back on and decided to hold off until our favorite plumber was available.

So the next morning — Sunday, of course — and just 30 minutes before the church picnic was to begin, I hopped into the shower. That’s when all you-kn0w-what broke loose. There was — according to the hubs — a leak under the vanity and he was — unsuccessfully — trying to locate the place to turn off the main water line.

Leaving a message on our plumber’s emergency line, the hubs hightailed it across the street to fetch the neighborhood man of all trades. He who can fix all. Phil came running in, a grin on his face, and a huge toolkit at his side. He assured us we didn’t need the plumber, that he could do this. He was right. Within 10 minutes, they’d located the turn-off valve.

Then came the offer we couldn’t refuse. Did we want his help removing the vanity — which, by the way, he agreed was indeed quite ugly. In a few minutes they were carrying it to the garage.


In the meantime, I inspected the toilet, wondering if I could follow my sister-in-law’s instructions for removing it. Her directions had seemed SO easy two months earlier. I knew how to turn off the water supply and I knew I’d have to replace the seal. But getting that heavy thing out flummoxed me.

Re-enter Phil, the fixer. Did I want his help removing it? Okay, by this time, I’d lost all my pride. All I could do was grin like a goofball. Within minutes, he and the hubs had the toilet in the garage.

Lovely, eh?

As he packed up his tools, I asked what we owed him. The classic Phil response… “Nothing. I like to help my neighbors.” Someday, I’ll figure out how to repay him.

In the meantime, we’re gradually beginning to believe that this project may end. It’s a slow process but when we get the sander in place, it’ll move quickly. And someday…we’ll have a nice, smooth, wood floor on which to stand while we cook.

A funny thing happened on the way to the…floor restoration

It’s funny how house projects go. Sometimes they progress quickly and other times slowly. The current kitchen floor project falls into the latter category….not for lack of interest. The interest is there. In droves.

But like Stephen Sondheim’s 1963 Broadway musical, “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum”….we’ve had our own variation on that. Yep, a (not-so-funny) thing happened on the way to the floor restoration.

In retrospect, the hubs can laugh about it. Not so much me. I still shudder when I think about it and remind him that he is never to do that to me again. In fact, I have told him that in three years, I will order his offspring to babysit him for 24 hours as he suffers through the prep for the dreaded colonoscopy. He actually listens to them.

How does a colonoscopy interfere with a floor restoration? Here’s the short version. If you’ve had a colonoscopy or live with someone who has, you know the spiel. Drink 64 ounces of a clear liquid texturized with a product that — when ingested in short order — is guaranteed to clean out your system. This is serious stuff.

Since your diet during that period is so restricted — clear liquids only — the general idea is to mix it up — pop, broth, apple juice, popsicles, water, etc. So…if it’s a hot day and you don’t drink enough liquid while your system is nearly void of all food products? Yup. Dehydration.

And what happens when one becomes dehydrated? Let’s just say, there we were upstairs — him in the loo, me in the sewing room. Suddenly, there was a loud thud, then silence. Yup. Fainted flat out. Just as he came to, his eyes rolled around, he gasped a few times and went right back down.

I reached for the nearest phone and in my loudest voice said, “I’m calling the squad.” Worked like a charm. He came to and said, in his best “Nelson Steiner” voice, “Don’t.” So there we sat for a half hour, waiting for his color to return and he was ready to move to the closest bed.

This was when we discovered the reason the floor project would not progress as quickly as we’d hoped. When he fainted, he injured his back — likely a pulled muscle but painful enough to prevent much physical activity.

So while he’s in recovery, I’ve stumbled a bit through the ripping up of vinyl and have come to the conclusion that the project will wait. After all, what better reason for not having to mop the floor?

This old house: From two layers of icky vinyl to the original hardwood…a work in progress

After 20 years of living in this house, we both agreed that the kitchen flooring had to go. Actually, we probably agreed on that about 10 years ago, but it’s taken 10 years to move in that direction.

About a year ago, while fiddling with the edge of the vinyl flooring, I determined that under all that ugliness must be a solid wood floor. After all, over the years, we’d unearthed gorgeous wood floors throughout the house so it just made sense that 90 years ago the builders would also have used wood in the kitchen.

Here’s the thing. When we moved into the house, there was the most horrendous multi-shaded pink carpeting (my apologies to the former owners). It took us less than a day to decide it had to go and while pulling up the corner of the carpet — yes, I tend to do this — I discovered oak floors.

So on a Sunday afternoon, after sending both daughters off to Chicago/Milwaukee to spend the week with their aunts and uncles, we began sanding the floors.

I remember this part distinctly. I grabbed the handles of the sander and took off, knowing the noisy, vibrating machine would hide the sound of my sobs and take my mind off the fact that house seemed oh so empty. My husband did his best not to roll his eyes and didn’t bother asking if I wanted him to take over.

By the time we finished two days later, the floors were clear of the black stains and ready for the polyurethane.

Now we’re back at it. The girls are in their own homes now and while both think it is a fine idea we’re doing this, neither one offered to help out. That’s okay, kiddos, we’re tough old birds.

I use the term “we” loosely, because so far all I’ve had to do is sweep. The hubs has managed to rip up nearly half of the flooring while I was at work. What we’ve discovered is that these are wider floor boards and perhaps not of the same quality as those in the other rooms. So whether the sander will produce a floor worthy of clear polyurethane or shiny floor paint remains to be seen.

Hopefully, in a few weeks, we’ll be gazing fondly at our “new” floor.

Now…before, during, and….after?
After? We’ll see…and let you know. But just for the record, this is what the floors in the living room look like.

Letter to Dad, part 2

Dear Dad,

Guess what. It’s fruit fly season again and you know what that means. We’re inundated and you know how happy that makes me. But I have to thank you for taking Fred under your wing and teaching him the fine art of fruit fly food production.

Last night I arrived home to find Fred preparing assorted berries for a pie he planned to bake. As soon as he had that in the oven, he admitted that we now had a “little fly problem”. Something in the back of my brain kicked in and I could see your grin light up your face and hear your gleeful, “Oh goody, time to make fruit fly food.”

I remember all too well those hot summer days, coming home from the pool to find you stirring something on the stove….it usually turned out to be that thick syrupy concoction. Standing on the counter nearby was a bottle with a paper cone taped to the mouth, just waiting for you to fill it with…yep…fruit fly food.

So anyway, there was Fred, pouring goop into a tall bottle with the all-too-familiar cone…with that RFP evil scientist grin down pat.

Lo and behold, this morning, the fruit flies had abandoned the countertop and windowsills for the syrup and there they were, trapped inside. Gorging, no doubt.

Dad, you taught us so many useful things, like how to trap a fruit fly, how to back a car into a tiny campsite, how to give a really good foot massage, how to watch tv and grade papers at the same time, how to make the perfect angel food cake, and how to remove the tiniest splinter from a screaming child. I still have your forceps.

I’m sure you knew, but I’m sure I never said it enough. Thanks.

Love you,


Staycation, naycation, or simplification?

Thanks to Canadian comedian Brent Butt, I am not enjoying just any old week of vacation at home. Apparently, Butt coined the term “staycation” in a 2005 episode of his “Corner Gas” television sitcom.

So….”staycation” it is. Others might argue that this is really a “naycation,” but that would mean that I didn’t leave my home. Hey, on Saturday, I’m going to venture as far as Bowling Green to run the BG Fight or Flight 5K. And yesterday, the dog and I sallied up to Findlay — in the middle of a surprise April “snowstorm”.

It did occur to me on Monday night that I might be verging on a temporary bout of agoraphobia, because I’d spent most of two days holed up in my sewing room. Presumably, I was completing some long overdue projects but in truth, I kept getting sidetracked.

Most of the week’s projects have involved further simplifying my life, e.g., digging up an entire perennial bed and moving half of the plants to a new bed. This might not sound simple but the whole idea was to unclutter the bed.

Today’s simplification took place while the hubs was out of town. This is usually when I do BIG projects, which is why he is sometimes leery of leaving me home alone.

Here’s the thing: our “family room” — fondly dubbed the “library” — needed a serious weeding out. Since eliminating tv from our lives, we have accumulated a massive number of old tv series on DVD…mostly stuff from the 70s and 80s, which only those in my age bracket or older will appreciate. Well, that’s not entirely true. Our 26-year-old appreciates them — so much so that she periodically swipes a season of Hart to Hart or Moonlighting.

Of course, thanks to the elder daughter, we also have many seasons of Seinfeld on hand. And yes, we watch them. Unlike her, we don’t have entire conversations memorized.








Ah, but I digress. This is what happens when one is on staycation. There is nothing to keep one grounded and focused.

So… back to the library. I made an executive decision to ditch the VCR and all of the videotapes — with the exception of BHS band and orchestra performances and about 12 years of dance recitals.








The room still seemed cluttered, so I purged all of the music CDs. Yep. The hubs has loaded all of our favorites onto his computer. Why keep them?

Lucky for us, child number 2 is a manager at Half Price Books, where they might actually buy some of the videotapes and music CDs. Apparently, vintage sells well.

Ahhh…what a great feeling. For the moment, I’m enjoying empty shelves and ignoring the fact the dust that is now all-too-visible.


An adventure in leaky pipes

This may be difficult to believe, but it appears I have proven my worth as a plumber. Because according to journalist and humorist Arthur “Bugs” Baer, “A plumber is an adventurer who traces leaky pipes to their source.”

And that folks, is exactly what I have done this week. If I have done nothing else of importance this week, I have indeed traced a leaky pipe to its source and wonder of wonders, I have conquered the leaky pipe…at least temporarily.

I really can’t take all the credit for this. After all, I wasn’t even aware that we had a leaking pipe until “Little-Miss-I’m-Trying-to-Avoid-Course-Planning” went on a reorganization/cleaning spree of our kitchen and laundry room during her Christmas break. It was she who discovered the leak.

Here’s how the conversation went:

Daughter number 1: “Mom, did you know that there is a leak in the laundry room?
Me: “Of course, I knew it. Cold air has been sneaking through the window seals since we bought the house.”
Daughter number 1: (Eye roll) “No, mom, not an air leak. There’s water on the floor.”

Oh. That. Well. Yes, I guess that would indicate a leak. Naturally, I did what any other homeowner would do: called in the big guns. As in THE PLUMBER. Unfortunately, since I couldn’t honestly classify it as an emergency, I had to settle for an appointment sometime in the next millenium. Actually, that’s an exaggeration. But a week away might as well be in the next millenium.

So as daughter number 1 headed off to her real world of researching her dissertation, she reminded me that we should probably find a temporary fix for the dreaded leaky pipe.

I tried to forget the problem but when my husband made the comment that “At least we know why the water bill is so high”, I realized it was time to do something. My Dick-Pannabecker-do-it-yourself genes kicked into full gear. Peering behind the washing machine, I found one hose dripping at the point where it connects to the washer. That was the easy part.

Armed with duct tape, a heavy strength two-gallon freezer bag, I went to work. The hubs cut strips of duct tape as I fit the freezer bag under and around the hoses and then taped them into place. (I may have to buy stock in duct tape after this week.)

Then I folded the  bag into a cone shape and added more duct tape. I placed a large wastebasket underneath the tip of the bag. Finally, I snipped a small hole at the point of the bag and water began streaming into the wastebasket.

Amazing what a little duct tape and ingenuity can do. Nine hours later, the wastebasket was half full of water. Too bad it isn’t gardening season — it would have been useful for watering the garden.

I’m trying to decide whether to make myself scarce or hang around when the plumber arrives. Maybe he’ll offer me a job. Probably not. I probably shouldn’t give up my day job…yet.