Monthly Archives: January 2015

2015 word of the year

It’s all over the blogosphere … I see it everywhere on TV and in the newspaper.  No matter how I try to block it out—lalalalala—it keeps cropping up and taunting me: DECLUTTER. Is the universe trying to tell me something?

wood door to ?

I have a lot of neatnik friends (you are probably one of them) who will cringe at what I am about to reveal. Nevertheless, DIY blogging is about honest home-improvement experiences, so in the interest of full disclosure, let’s step through this portal of mystery into … the bedroom. (Cue the Psycho music.)


Now, I have never claimed to be a great housekeeper. Some (you’re thinking most) of what you see can be chalked up to that. However, I maintain that it’s largely because we are sorely lacking in closet space in this little bungalow. One hundred years ago, people didn’t have a lot of clothes. I, on the other hand, have a ton of clothes. A ton. In a couple different sizes (not unusual!). I’m no fashionista, but I buy a few new things every season … and fail to get rid of the old stuff because it’s perfectly good and I’m loath to toss it. And lazy. Things must change.


And I have more shoes, Eric jokes, than Imelda Marcos. Piffle! Okay, there are shoes in the closet … in racks on the back of both doors … in a storage tub under the bed … sitting next to the bed. I have shoes I haven’t even worn yet (not unusual … is it?).


You can see that the worst of the mess is clustered around one corner of the room, near my closet door, in what I affectionately call “the heap.” The closet door is blocked by a plastic storage tub containing extra pillows, which serves as a deterrent to a certain cat who likes to do unspeakable things in closets. This has the effect of making it a pain to open the closet door … so I toss onto the heap things that I should hang up.

How many big dresser drawers can you count? TEN. Ten overstuffed, good-sized drawers. Who has three dressers in her bedroom and still has a storage problem? This gal.

I know you’ll find this surprising, but my closet, despite being outfitted with a basic organizing system, is stuffed, too. But should I ever want to air it out, it has a window! Originally, it even had a tiny wall-mounted corner sink. The pipes are still there, behind the clothes. Somewhere.

crowded closet

Does this mess bug me? Of course it does! (Even though it’s of my own making.) One’s bedroom is supposed to be a place of serene calm, not an eyesore! Clearly, the universe’s DECLUTTER message is meant for me, so here’s my plan.

  • Drawer by drawer, take everything out, purge the contents, and return the keepers to the drawer. Do the same with the closet. This should create enough room for the clothes in the heap. I have to do this in small installments so I don’t wind up with a bed covered in clothes when it’s time to hit the hay.
  • DECLUTTER and clean the built-in cabinet in the hall to make room for the blankets and pillow that are now residents of the heap.
  • Clean all surfaces. The two dressers between the windows belonged to my parents. Mom’s dresser was water-damaged when it was stored in my attic. I want to repair that … maybe give both dressers a new coat of stain and wax.
  • Paint? I last painted in 2005 … we like the minty green color, but I haven’t decided if I want to change it. Probably not.
  • Install a new ceiling fixture, possibly the light and fan that used to be in the breakfast room. Or I might buy a nice new fixture.
  • Install new white cellular shades. I already bought these, just like the ones in the library. Love ’em.
  • Lastly, the event that triggered all this ambition—we’re buying a new mattress, and Eric’s making a platform bed. We can’t wait to sleep in a nice, firm bed again!

You can see Duke in his bed in one of the pictures above. He sleeps like a puppy and snores like a man on his pillow-top, memory foam mattress, and we’re jealous. His bed  takes up nearly all available floor space, and it will stay where it is.


I know I can DECLUTTER the room, but how long will it take? I want to be done by the end of February. I had good intentions to start last weekend … but then it warmed up to over 60° and I got distracted and spent the day in the garden. But that’s okay, because I took the triangle garden from this …

triangle garden overgrown

to this:

triangle garden clean

Obviously, I am better at DECLUTTERing the garden. And since that’s also on my 2015 to-do list, it’s all good, right?







The never-ending list, 2015 version

With a new year comes the opportunity to get organized and be productive. (Is anything preventing us from doing this at any time of year? No … but it’s traditional to think about it now.) So what does her 102nd year hold for our bungalow? And how far will we get in the next 12 months? It didn’t take me long to come up with this list.

1.  Finish the kitchen! We don’t have far to go, but it will have to wait until summer and dry weather. I want to strip the three kitchen doors (back, attic, and basement), and that’s an outdoor job. Eric has also talked about taking the windows apart and cleaning the balance mechanisms, which means the kitchen would be wide open. Again, a task for warm weather. Painting the doors and window trim is on me, but messing with the balances is Eric’s domain. I don’t want to be to blame for ruining our windows! How confident am I that this project will be completed? 100%!

single-hung window rope

2.  Finish the side porch. All we need is a pile more lumber and a good stretch of that elusive dry weather. It’ll come.  The actual construction is Eric’s task, but I’ll be pitching in with sanding and painting. I can’t wait to see this porch completed because it’s going to be AWESOME!! Right now the porch is looking rather forlorn, wet, and forgotten. The cats are the only ones who use it. Confidence rating: 100%.

unfinished side porch

3.  Redesign the triangle garden. I’ve been dissatisfied with this garden for a couple of years, but I didn’t have the energy last spring to redo it. It’s way overgrown and looks its worst at this dismal time of year. I’m eager to get out there and at least clean it out, but every weekend day seems to cold or too wet, or we’re busy watching Seahawks football. I waste the best weather stuck in an office with no windows. Next month, winter turns the corner (as far as I’m concerned) with the Northwest Flower and Garden Show, which is sure to get my sap flowing again. Confidence rating: 100%. IF my back holds out.

overgrown triangle-shaped garden

4.  Rebuild the backyard fence. Eric reminded me to add this project. The six-foot fence along the alley and south lot line is only standing up from habit. Doesn’t it have great patina? I want to salvage the fence boards. The ones that aren’t rotten. When I pressed Eric about his confidence factor, he said, “I don’t have a choice.” Twice. Of course, Duke will help him. Confidence rating: 100%.

fence with backlit Nishiki willow

5.  Finish the attic. You didn’t even know we were working on the attic, did you? Little by little, Eric’s been working on this project, but he hasn’t done anything up there since last spring, when outdoor chores took over. Our goal is to turn the attic into an art studio/lounge/storage area. There’s a ton of work to be done up there, and I doubt we’ll finish it this year. But, I hope we make some good progress. I’ll take you up there in a future post. Not now … you’re not wearing the proper shoes. (You’re dying to see what’s up there, aren’t you?) Confidence rating: 25%.

attic stairs

6.  Repaint the living room, dining room, foyer, and interior hall. Honestly, I don’t know if I’ll get around to this, but it’s been on my mind and should be done soon. I painted the present color, Valspar Oak Grove with cream trim, in 2003. I’ve always liked it, but now I’d like to go with something lighter. I’ve been seeing a lot of pretty light grays with ivory trim, but that won’t go with my dining room wallpaper, which I love and sweated bullets to hang 15 years ago. I’ll be damned if I take it down! I dunno … I suppose I could find another Craftsman-y pattern and do it again. Or I could paint another lighter tan color that would complement the paper. We’ll see where this goes. Confidence rating: 10%.

oak brown living room wall color

7.  Paint the exterior. OMG, this will be the big one! Eric and I are debating just how much of this mammoth task we want to take on versus hire out. I don’t want to say we’re getting too old to do it ourselves, but it’s so time consuming. An old house like this, with all its trim and windows, will take a ton of prep work, and the gables are a long ways up. If we could take the summer off, maybe we could get it done … nah, probably not! Maybe we are too old for this stuff. Our house’s dirty little secret (one of them … well, not so little nor secret) is that when my ex and I painted it in 1994, we, um … never got around to painting the trim on the south side, or the high barge board on the rear gable. I spend, like, zero time on the south side of the house, so it wasn’t until our recent plumbing misadventure that I reacquainted myself with just how wretchedly BAD things look from our neighbor’s point of view.  It’s long past time to make that right. We have a new paint scheme in mind, but we have yet to test it on the house. Waiting for drier weather … again. Confidence rating: 50%. If we don’t finish (e.g., leave the south side unpainted?), I’m pretty sure we’ll at least make a start on prep work. We have to.

gable with peeling paint

8.  Finally, there’s the project that lurks behind this door. Can you guess what I’m about to tackle next? Confidence rating: 100%.

wood door to ?

Yes, there’s a lot on our plate for 2015. I know better than to think we’ll get all of this done (although, wouldn’t that be nice!). A lot of it depends on decent weather, for which we Northwesterners wait impatiently all winter and spring. We like to say that summer begins on the fifth of July, and sometimes that’s not an exaggeration. I hope we have some sun breaks long before then!

Meanwhile, the project behind the door is waiting for me right now.


Raising a stink

Sunday, January 11

As Eric and I idled away our Sunday morning drinking espressos and watching the Green Bay Packers beat the Dallas Cowboys, a knock came on the door. Bang bang! Maxwell’s silver hammer came down on our heads! “I think you have a sewage leak,” said Mel, our neighbor. We threw on our coats and went to investigate.

Holy crap!! A cesspool was forming around poor Mel’s back stoop, which is only about 15 intimate feet from our bathroom. It smelled awful. I have to say, though, that when Eric graded the side of our house to drain away from our foundation, he did a magnificent job. (Ours is the house on the left—the one that cries out to be painted.)

pool of sewage between houses

sewage around back stoop

Of course, it had to be a Sunday. Eric called one of those 24/7 rooter services that don’t charge extra for weekends. Then we went to Costco to shop in denial until the plumbers were scheduled to arrive.

By running the water, we could plainly see where it was burbling to the surface, straight out from our bathroom’s waste line, in the hedge that runs down the lot line. The rooterman (I made up that word … I like it) set to work draining the swamp, so to speak, and digging a pit around the spot where the waste line turned to run toward the street. A little action really turned up the volume on the smell.

repair pit full of water

The failure of the line did not surprise me. I knew that the old concrete (yes, concrete in places, clay in others) drain tiles were in bad shape, but I didn’t know that the tiles I could see in an eroded hole in the ground were sewer. I thought it was an old French drain.  Well … poop. Okay, enough with the jokes.

The estimate to fix the broken line, install a cleanout, jet the line, and scope it came in at a cool $3K … in line with the info Eric dug up online while Rooterman dug up the problem.  No one expects plumbing to be cheap, right? But … when Rooterman jetted the line, water geysered up out of another hole 40 feet downstream. So now we had two breaks a long ways apart, and a lot of bad ancient drain tile in between. Fixing the second break would more than double the price. Okay, we’re up to $6,600, and I was starting to freak. I knew that the entire line was suspect and could blow at any time. To do the job right, it should all be replaced. But replacing it all would bring the bill to nearly $11,000.00. I cried.

Rooterman worked far into the night to prepare the fixit pit for the second break. Meanwhile, Eric and I paid a late-night visit to our favorite grocery store with the clean restrooms. As we entered the store, Eric picked a penny off the ground. It had come to that.

I did not sleep much. I got up twice to look at the estimates and once more to haul my snuggly cat, Checkers, to bed for comfort. (I’m sure Eric would have comforted me had he not been sound asleep.) And then I made a decision. We’d have the two breaks repaired and wait until spring (or whenever the remaining line fails) to get a bid from our regular plumber. I finally fell asleep, imagining that I could smell the sewage through the wall … but Duke may have farted.

Monday, January 12

Come morning, Eric agreed that we’d take the “cheap”-but-risky route. After staring at 11 grand, $6600 was looking downright doable (funny how that works). We both worked from home that day, keeping an eye on progress and making trips to the grocery store every few hours. I reminded myself that the staff who worked the night shift weren’t the same folks who were working the next day … no one would recognize us. We had not showered since Saturday, and if this routine went on much longer, we would start to look—and smell—homeless.

In between bathroom runs, we reflected that although we were spending a lot of money, it felt kinda nice to sit back and let professionals do the work. This was not a DIY project. I was glad that the rootermen had fine, dry, sunny weather to work in … not the January norm in this part of the country.

worker digs second pit

broken clay sewer tile

sewer pipe on our lawn

Toward evening, Rooterman had the job sewn up. We could use our plumbing again! (Our water had never been turned off, and we could grab water for coffee and drinking, and small uses like brushing our teeth, but no showers, laundry, dishwashing, or flushing.) The excavations had to remain open until the city inspector signed the permit. We showered and flushed to our hearts’ content. There’s nothing like indoor plumbing. It’s just the greatest invention!!

new cleanouts in repair pit

Tuesday, January 13

I worked at home again and waited for the day’s action to begin. The inspector arrived before 9:00 and pronounced us good to go. I was beginning to feel like we were getting over the hump, and the sticker shock was wearing off … or resignation was setting in. Two new rootermen showed up and spent the entire day capping the new cleanouts, filling the excavations, and tamping soil. They even removed a layer of contaminated soil from Mel’s side of the hedge and hauled in clean topsoil. (We’ll buy some sod and make it look better than it did pre-spill.) By day’s end, you wouldn’t have been able to tell anything had gone wrong. Good work, guys!

finished and graded cleanouts

new topsoil next door

clean sidewalk next door

Wednesday, January 14

Our original rooterman stopped by to make sure all was well and to accept final payment. By then I was inured to the price and just wanted to put the whole episode behind me. It’s only money, right?

So that concludes our smelly adventure. If you haven’t done it lately, now would be a good time to go hug your toilet and flush a (small) flower into your sewer line as a gesture of appreciation.

finished repair




The library reveal

Let’s start 2015 with a reveal of our library! Yes, that’s right, our once-scruffy “spare room” has acquired a new name and identity. Remember where we started?

door to bathroom and windows

What began with flowered wallpaper and grungy carpet was stripped back to acanthus-patterned flooring and green walls …

green and gray linoleum rug

wallpaper and paste removed from green walls

… and ultimately reborn as this:


We’re so pleased with how it all turned out. This room really feels good, and even though we’ve been pretty much done for months, sometimes I still walk in just to admire it. I have many “favorite” things in this room, but my favorite-favorite element is the bronze ginkgo leaf stencil. Sometimes things turn out exactly as I visualized, and this is one of them. It makes the room.

C’mon, I’ll show you around. Next to the door from the dining room is my old secretary, an heirloom from my dad’s family, which he refinished as a gift for my twelfth birthday. One of these days I’ll reorganize the interior’s cubbies.

north wall with secretary and sewing machine

interior cubbies in secretary

Atop the secretary is a 1961 National Geographic globe.

1961 globe

When I designed this room in my mind, I forgot to account for my sewing machine. I seldom sew anymore (when I was younger I made almost all my clothes), but when you need a sewing machine, you don’t want to hassle with getting it out of storage and setting it up. Besides, the antique Singer cabinet (not rare) is too nice to stash away. The addition of the sewing machine and the sewing cabinet wedged next to it makes the room more crowded than I’d like. I wanted to buy one of those sproingy leather Poang chairs from IKEA (sooo comfortable) and make a reading corner here … but oh, well.

antique SInger sewing machine cabinet

You’ve already seen the bookcases and Mom’s 1935 typewriter, but I’ve added some details. The green acanthus felt-base flooring  makes better art than floor covering at this point. Had to save a scrap for posterity! The green and yellow slag glass lamp is one of my earliest memories from my great-grandmother’s lake house in Delafield, Wisconsin (she sold the place when I was three). I used it as a lamp on my desk as a little kid (can you believe my folks trusted me with it?), and it survived unscathed until two years ago. When Eric and I were on vacation, we got a call from our housesitter that the cats had caused an accident and smashed not one, but two antique lamps. (Our cats tend to have Risky Business-type parties when we go away.) Eric had the glass replaced for my birthday, and now I can’t tell what’s new and what’s original. The lamp is just posing for this photo. We will clip it to the bookcase to prevent another disaster, because neither it nor the cats will survive another fall—physically or financially.

glass lamp, art and old typewriter

Battery-operated LED lights under the original glass bedroom ceiling fixtures create a nice glow on top the tall bookcase. Same with the glass electric insulators on the next shelf. This library has ambiance!

LED lights under ceiling fixtures shades

The window wall is also crowded with furniture. We simply have too much for this little house, I admit. I would rather have another bookcase here, but this room is where Eric stores his clothes because I have hogged all our bedroom space.

The weaving is Zapotec.

chest of drawers

What’s that, you ask? It’s an antique wooden executive desk telephone. Why yes, it’s been made into a lamp—isn’t that normal? Apparently there was a time in my family when if something stood still long enough, it got made into a lamp. I intend to take the lamp works out of it. Once I get inside, I hope to learn more about the telephone. I have not found anything like it online. It’s sitting on a Corticelli Silk thread retail display box, which was a gift from a friend long before I became a crazy cat lady. Eric and I both have collections of old wooden boxes, some stacked at left (including—what else?—a library card catalog). My parents brought the soapstone carving of a walrus hunter back from Alaska. Not my favorite scene, but interesting nonetheless.

wooden phone and thread display box

The rest of the window wall is devoted to Eric’s desk and computer equipment.

window wall with desk

One day when Eric and I were rummaging around in one of his storage units, I spied this awesome Moderne desk. WHAT was it doing languishing in storage instead of in our house?? So it came home with us to live in the library. It’s a Leopold from about 1935 (same year as my typewriter!) and it belonged to his grandfather. I’m so happy we rescued it.

1935 Leopold desk

Leopold desk label

On the wall above the printer is our 2014 art splurge: a linoleum block print, Colvos Passage—Late Summer, by renown Northwest artist Yoshiko Yamamoto. We fell in love with this triptych years ago, but it was out of print for some time. When we saw it again at the Bellevue Arts Festival last summer, we pounced on it. No regrets.

yamamoto block print

Other improvements include Levelor cellular shades that operate from the top or bottom. They’re a close match to the wall color and really help with temperature regulation, not to mention blocking the view of the neighbor’s back door. And we changed out the woefully inadequate single-bulb ceiling fixture (its green shade is on the bookcase). Now we have plenty of light. I wanted something with a vintage vibe but a modern edge.

ceiling fixture

And of course, there’s that fabulous rug that pulls it all together with just the right colors …

boxer sleeping on patterned rug

Are we really done? Oh heck, of course not! We still need our electrician to rewire the room (we are still running on an extension cord from the single outlet). Because of that, we haven’t tackled the closet, which is unfortunate for Eric. But the room itself is DONE.

So, what do you think of our bungalow library? Want to ask Marian the librarian for a library card and come hang out?