Monthly Archives: November 2015

I just wanna paint!

Eric and I are fortunate to work for a company that takes a holiday break at the end of the year. We’ll have a glorious 16 consecutive days off, beginning Dec. 19. What will we do with that precious time? We’ll spend it at home, DIYing, of course!

Lately I’ve been thinking about painting the living room, dining room, foyer, and interior hall. It was summer of 2004 when I last tackled that job, and if I remember correctly, it took me four months to finish it. There’s seemingly miles of trim (and 108 four-in. square panes of glass), so I can hardly expect to finish it in two weeks … but if I’m diligent, I can get a great start. Maybe good enough so that when I sit in the living room, I’ll see only newly painted surfaces and all the work still-to-be-done will be blissfully out of sight, behind me.

For the past 12 years, the living area has been Valspar Oak Grove (not a current color), a golden-brown, very Craftsman-y shade. The trim is a rich, creamy ivory. The colors look something like this … on my computer, anyway.

Oak Grove is a cozy wall color that goes well with the dark reds and greens of our furniture. But when I saw how Nicole Curtis of HGTV’s Rehab Addict painted the Minnehaha House in the first season of her show, I got it in my mind to go with something lighter the next time around, and I feel that time has come. I don’t usually fall for trends, but this room has had me admiring pale warm grays with white trim ever since. If I’m going to go there, I hope the gray trend sticks around for a while.

Formal old-house living room painted gray with white trim

Rehab Addict Minnehaha House [Ariel Photography]

While others were trashing the malls on Black Friday, I was collecting paint samples for the audition process. By the time I pick one, I’ll be able to dump all the other samples in a can and get a free gallon of Mutt Greige.

For the trim I want to use the same Chef White that I have in the kitchen and bathroom. (In person, it reads a lot whiter than this online paint chip.) Finally, all the painted woodwork in the house will be the same color. (Only the bedrooms still have natural wood trim.)


By Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend, I had paint swatches on three living room walls. Well, now I was committed. I had to paint. See how that works? (The colors don’t look true in the photo. )

FOur gray paint samples above fireplace

Four shades of gray

But here’s the rub: I don’t think any of these warm gray shades are going to go well with my dining room wallpaper. Shortly after I painted last time, I put up this William Morris-like wallpaper above the plate rail … not to everyone’s taste, but I’ve always loved its acanthus ebullience. The colors tie together all the colors in my house. Fitting the paper around the door and window trim was a tough job, and I don’t want to take it down.

Acanthus wallpaper

Too bad if you don’t love this wallpaper!

I’ll see how it looks, but I’m pretty sure any color I pick will be too light and too gray to complement the wallpaper’s bronze background. That will leave me with four choices:

  1. Leave the paper even though it doesn’t go with the paint. This will eventually drive me nuts.
  2. Replace the paper with a real Bradbury and Bradbury William Morris Willow design. $$$$$
  3. Replace the paper with something historically appropriate, but less expensive.
  4. Remove the paper and paint the wall gray. Best to appeal to potential house buyers someday … blah.

I’ll figure it out later. In the meantime, I have a more pressing problem. Do you see it? Do you see that bulge in the wall’s surface, on the left?

Bumps and bulges in the wall surface

Bumps and gouges

That bubble is not stuck to the wall … and there are spots like that all over the living room. I can account for three layers of paint, but it’s far thicker than that. I believe my plaster walls are covered with a finish paper that was pasted over the finish coat of plaster. Decorative wallpaper or paint was applied on top of the finish paper. There’s only one way to tell. Here’s another big crack and bulge. The thick paper/paint layer is peeling away from the wall at the wood trim. Look closely and you can see the crack extending up to the picture molding to the left and another crack above the door trim.


We gingerly pulled off a piece. The finish coat of plaster came away with the paper and paint! That’s why it looked so thick. And that’s what I was afraid would happen. Now we know why the surface was cracked.

Finish coat of plaster pulled off to reveal brown coat

Right down to the brown coat

What you see above is the rough undercoat of the plaster, called the brown coat. Because it’s … brown. Sometimes animal hair was added to this brown coat for strength, but ours does not have animal hair.

I dissected the brittle plaster chunks as best I could: finish plaster, finish paper, and several coats of paint. The earliest paint seems to be a sick shade of pale green. The same color I turned when I realized the extent of the problem.

Chips of plaster, finish paper, and paint

What’s in this stuff?

Whatever shall I do? More choices:

  1. Pretend there is no problem and paint over it like I have twice before. Ha ha.
  2. Try to carefully peel the buckled areas off without disturbing the base coat of plaster or areas that have not separated. Then apply a new finish coat to match the level of nearby finished surfaces. Someday when it’s done, paint the wall gray. (Will gray still be in style by 2020?)
  3. When the going gets tough, hire a plasterer. $$$$

Of course, I know the answer. I have to keep my eyes on the prize. On a positive note, this condition exists only in the living room (I think), and the living room has only three walls, much of which are windows and fireplace. So I’m hoping the damage is fairly contained [weak laughter]. Stay tuned.

Here are the colors we’ve chosen—ceiling, walls, and trim. What do you think?

Why does every old-house project have to turn into a huge @#$#$% production?? [Sob] … I just wanna paint!!

Green ginkgo leaf with 1913 - 2013 below it


Is KonMari out to get me?

I see it so often on the Internet and in the media … I think the universe is poking me: Declutter. Eric and I aren’t the worst packrats—we haven’t starred on Hoarders yet, but we have a ton of stuff. Okay, several tons. On the tidy-to-trashy scale, we’re probably at the apex of the bell curve. I have a select few friends who keep semi-spotless houses, but truthfully, I think most of us struggle.

Eric and I have so many fine excuses: We’re two collection-prone, sentimental people living in a small house with 1913-sized closets and a Model T-sized garage. We are burdened by our parents’ possessions, which we haven’t dealt with even though our folks have been gone for years. Work takes up too much of our time … yada yada yada.

Like most people, I want to do better. So it was with a flicker of hope that I picked up this book while we were shopping at Costco. I had to find out what all the fuss was about.

Book cover "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up"

I tossed the book on the dining room table with the rest of the clutter. After three weeks, was it my imagination, or did the tabletop looked somewhat cleaner? Curious, I began reading.

Author and Japanese tidying guru Marie Kondo is nothing like me. She’s been obsessed with tidying since she was five years old. Five! I was already collecting sentimental junk when I was five. When she was in junior high, she’d rush home from school to spend hours organizing a cabinet. When I was in junior high, I collected more junk. I haven’t changed much, but I know we must get the upper hand if we are ever to move to another house. Yes, Kondo is an obsessive-compulsive tidier and seems a little one-dimensional, but to her credit, she’s created a culture of tidy “Konverts” in Japan, and since her book about the Kon-Mari Method was released here, she’s taking over the U.S.

Kondo dictates some strict tidying rules.

  1. Tidy your entire house at once, not room-by-room.
  2. Do it in category order: ALL of your clothes, then your books, then papers, then miscellany, and finally, mementos.
  3. Handle each item and keep it only if it “sparks joy.” If it doesn’t, thank it for its service, and discard or donate it.
  4. Do all your discarding before you seek storage solutions.
  5. Tidy your house “all in one go,” which can mean in a few hours to over six months, depending on size.

In the end, you’ll be left with a small fraction of your former belongings—only the pieces that you really love. It sounds tempting … but I have a lot of items, and I suspect a lot of them would spark joy.

As I read Kondo’s rules and some pretty out-there claims, such as living in a tidy house may help you lose weight (because nothing’s left in the fridge?). I grew skeptical and even resentful. Discarding? You want me to toss everything that doesn’t bring me joy? I’ll show you discarding! I imagined her book here.

Book in garbage can

I get a little testy when told what to do

Kondo even encourages you to discard her book if you don’t like it. Of course, you know I would never throw out a book! I’d file it in the library and keep it for life. The thought that she would frown if I kept her book even though it didn’t bring me joy made me smile. Bwahaha!

Despite Kondo’s warnings that ignoring her rules will spell certain failure, I decided to dip a toe into the KonMari Kool-Aid and try an itty-bitty test. I’d tidy only one measly drawer. I had to find out if I felt any joy when I held my clothes, and if folding clothes to the right dimension would be, as she promised, addictively fun. So, I present … my drawer of tank tops.

Top drawer of dresser full of tank tops

Maxed out with tanks

My work uniform consists of various colored pants and a tank top or tee, topped off with a sweater. All the tank tops live in the top drawer of one of my mom-and-pop dressers. Three stacks of tops fit in the drawer, which was full to bursting. I couldn’t stuff even one more top into it.

I took everything out of the drawer and laid it on the bed. I picked up each top, smoothed it out and folded it as Kondo advises, into a rectangle that would stand on edge in the drawer, like a filing system. Did my clothes spark joy? Nope, I can’t say that they did. They sparked “like.” They are useful and worn often, and I have some favorites, but they’re just clothes. Meh. I got rid of only two pieces.

Tank top folded into small rectangle

A more compact fold

Was folding fun? Well, it wasn’t …  unfun. Besides, I had the help of a cute guy.

Black and white cat lying on bed next to clothes

Chex makes anything fun

The fun came when I filed all the little rectangles in chromatic order in the drawer. Lo and behold—I had extra room! I can buy four or five more tank tops! The next morning I was happy to see the tops in their rainbow order, and it was a snap to find the one I wanted. No more rummaging! Okay, KonMari passed that test.

Folded tank tops stood on edge


Time for a bit tougher test: the foyer coat closet, one of three (count ’em—three!) closets in our house. You can bet it was overstuffed. Eric got fed up with it and removed all of his coats to “his” closet in the library. The top shelf groaned under a jumble of golfwear, hats, scarves, and gloves. I didn’t even know what was on the floor, and I was afraid to find out.

Crowded coat closet

This closet needs help!

I piled the mountain of coats on the back of the couch. Duke somehow knew that getting all of the coats from the closet did not mean we were going for a walk.

Boxer lying on couch covered with coats

You’re disturbing my beauty sleep

The floor wasn’t as bad as I’d thought … a shiatsu foot massager (definitely sparks joy), a hand-held vac (no joy, but useful) a couple of area rugs, and a couple of jackets that had fallen from their hangers. And two big, empty cardboard boxes.

As I sorted the coats, only six sparked joy, but they weren’t the ones that I wear most often. Could I really get along with only the six “joy” coats? Heck, no, that would leave me without a raincoat, THE most important type of coat in Western Washington! And I’d have nothing to wear working out in the yard or taking that walk with Duke. Isn’t that what the coats long past joy-sparking are for?

I didn’t time myself and I didn’t hurry, but within a couple of hours, the closet looked like this.

CLoset after tidying

I can see the floor!

So much better! Maybe there is something to the KonMari Method … or am I just cleaning?

I had trouble casting out anything that didn’t spark joy. I came to the conclusion that I’m not willing to pare my clothing down to only what sparks joy, because most of my wardrobe is somewhat this side of joy. That sounds like a pretty great excuse to buy all new clothes, if you ask me! When I look through catalogs, I’m attracted to arty designs, that I’d wear if I owned an art gallery. But in real life, I write technical documents in an office cubicle, and I work with engineering and IT wonks. I already feel like my wardrobe is a little too colorful for my office sometimes. The “joy scale” is difficult for me to apply to clothes. I know Kondo would push me to simply throw everything out, even if it left me with a single pair of underwear and an old flannel shirt.

Kondo pushes my BS button, however, when she advises emptying one’s handbag every night and storing the contents, only to pack it back up in the morning. Thank the bag for its hard work, she says, and let it rest in a spot that makes it happy. I don’t have time to round up my necessities and repack my purse in the morning!! So I hang mine from the treadmill in the dining room, where it can watch TV. (I have long thanked items for their service. I’ve imbued inanimate objects with feelings  all my life. Yup. And I have seven cats.)

Happily watching TV

Happily watching TV

While the thought of handling every item I own and disposing of half of it (or more) is totally daunting, I can’t get KonMari off my mind. I’ve read it twice. I find myself evaluating potential new possessions on that joy scale. (I just ordered three pairs of shoes sure to spark joy!) I’ve been encouraging Eric to read the book because I can’t and won’t sort his belongings. He’ll have to be on board. Wait—I’m talking like I’m going to do this! What’s happening here?? Has the KonMari Method brainwashed me?

Eric is currently cleaning and organizing his basement shop, a big and desperately needed project that is consuming many hours. Whenever he heads downstairs I remind him to keep only what sparks joy.  So far, he hasn’t hauled me to the dump, so I guess I’ll be back to blog another day.

Green ginkgo leaf with 1913 - 2013 below it

Attack of the Drosophila

We are under siege. Because of our abnormally hot and dry summer, western Washington State is suffering from a fierce assault from fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster). These common little pests are always annoying, but this year they are making headlines and appearing on TV news. We’ve been held hostage for weeks now, and despite our best guerrilla warfare tactics, I fear we’re losing the battle.

Side view of fruit fly

Drosophila melanogaster [Liew Weng Keong]

The flies are mounting their offensive in the kitchen, bathroom, and living room. Thank heavens they have not ventured into the bedroom! I would have to move out.

It’s not happening just to us, or course … everyone’s battling the Drosophila invasion. Inside, outside. At home, at work. Some buildings at my workplace have even required fumigation.

They swarm around me when I sit in my favorite chair in the living room. They’re attracted to the light of table lamp. I’m attracted to the light, too, dammit, and I’m tired of competing with them (and sharing my wine).

When I walk into the bathroom, Eric hears clap-clap-thump-thump as I try to smash as many flies as I can. My record is five. For some reason, we’ve found it’s easier to smack the little devils with wet hands.

Our first line of defense is the classic fruit fly trap: a rotting banana slice in a jar, topped by an inverted paper cone taped securely around the jar’s lip. The flies crawl in, but don’t know how to crawl back out. The traps are very effective, but man, we have a lot of flies … and more hatching all the time. Needless to say, we’ve removed our bananas and we take out the garbage more often.  Occasionally I pour scalding water down our drains.

Fruit fly traps have become part of our décor. I pretend this one in the bathroom is a fragrance diffuser.

A fruit fly trap on the bathroom windowsill

A fruit fly trap in the bathroom

I’m sure dinner guests would hardly notice the additional centerpiece on the dining room table.

Fruit fly trap on dining room table

A nice addition to the table

On the table next to my chair is my favorite photo of Mom  … and a fruit fly trap.

Fruit fly trap on living room lamp table

Sorry about the Drosophila, Mom

And of course, I enjoy making espresso next to the trap in the kitchen.

Fruit fly trap on kitchen counter next to espresso machine

Yes, we have no bananas

I decided to read up and learn about the enemy. In the process, I’ve actually become, well, fond of them is too strong a phrase. Of course I still kill them at every opportunity, but I do so with more respect and empathy. I even think they’re kind of cute when they see the shadow of my hand and cock their wings vertical in alarm. Before I squash them.

I assumed that these tiny flies must have a lifespan of just a few days. Wrong! They can live for weeks, some say for months under optimal conditions. And they live for sex!

WARNING: This post contains graphic subject matter that might be unsuitable for some viewers.

It takes a fruit fly larva only eight days to turn into an adult, and once mature, it thinks of little other than sex … and maybe bananas and red wine. The adolescent males will come on to anyone (“Hey, you look like Stevie Nicks!”), even flies of another species, even other males, until they learn that it’s only the female Drosophila who will fall for their ridiculous come-on lines. If she so much as smiles at him, he serenades the girl-fly by playing a song on his wings. Isn’t that cute? More sexually experienced and suave guy-flies spend less time courting—no surprise—and cut to the chase quicker. (“Hey babe, we both know why we’re here. Wanna get it on?”) And they like to prolong sex for as long as possible—up to 20 minutes. Think about that: When you’re lifespan is a scant month, that’s a long time! Meanwhile, the tarty little girl-fly is already winking her beady red eye at a cute Drosophila across the room (“You about done? I gotta go.”).

Two fruit flies mating

Mating fruit flies [TheAlphaWolf]

When the girl-fly finally drags herself home at 6:00 a.m., she takes a couple of ibuprofen and a nap, swears off of guys for the next ten days, and gets busy laying eggs, five at a time. Up to 400 of them.

We have thrown out 11 traps during this war, each containing perhaps 50 Drosophila. That’s 550 flies. If half of those are females, then we potentially have 900,000 eggs gestating around the house somewhere. Eww … How will we ever get rid of them? I hope most of the sex has happened inside the traps! Here’s some proof—see the lovely larva?

Fruit fly trap with larva

Time to throw this trap away

I don’t want to hasten winter weather, but we need a good frost to kill these critters outside. But what’s to kill them inside? Will they keep hatching and mating all winter? Gawd …

I’m glad to report that in the past two days I think I’ve seen a slight reduction in numbers. Not a single Drosophila dove into my wine last night, although a few did a courtesy fly-over. Maybe we are winning the war after all. It sure will be nice when we can have bananas again.

Fruit fly top view

Bye-bye, fruit fly [Andre Karwath]

Green ginkgo leaf with 1913 - 2013 below it