Sink ‘r’ swim

Sink

Before starting a home improvement project do you ever step back, assess the situation, and think, “Piece o’ cake”? And then get smack in the middle of it and think, “Ugh – I shoulda had a piece o’ cake instead.” And then after you finally finish it, stand back admiringly, and say, “That wasn’t so bad – I deserve a piece o’ cake.”

Me, too.

If, so far, this post sounds like a clever segue into a recipe for cake, then I’ve led you horribly astray. Although a piece o’ cake sounds good about now. Anyway…

After finally reaching the end of my rope, wits, and patience, I decided to stop sopping up the puddle of water that always collected around my kitchen sink due to a leaky faucet and do something permanent about it.

Plumbing is one of those home improvement tasks I try to avoid doing myself. I can paint and plant and put in a ceiling fan or a new electrical outlet, but I’m always wary when it comes to dealing with water. If the paint color isn’t right or the outlet doesn’t work at least you don’t have to replace all the ruined floors due to a leak. So it was with more than a little trepidation and hand-wringing that I broke out the tools for plumb-a-palooza 2012.

I started by systematically pulling the guts out of the old faucet thinking I might be able to get by with just replacing a washer or a stem or something. Let me just say “yuk” at what I found. I don’t know how all that slimy, grimy, greasy black goo had managed to manifest itself inside that sealed faucet (!), but it was obvious that repairing it would be akin to gilding a 1978 AMC Pacer with pure gold. It would:

  1. Take a lot of time.
  2. No doubt involve tears and bloodshed at some point.
  3. Still end up looking old and tacky when it was finished.

Yea – ready or not, it was time for a new faucet.

The good news was that I had a cool new Price Pfister faucet stashed under my bed. (So – where do you keep your spare faucets?) I purchased it at Lowe’s some time ago in a fit of blue-sky home project planning and had just never gotten up the nerve to try and switch it out with the old (and as I had just discovered) decrepit one. At least having a new faucet on hand meant that it had already been paid for and that I didn’t have to go wandering up and down the plumbing fixtures aisle somewhere playing the “this one or that one” game for the next hour or so.

Sink-r-swimSo before I had time to reconsider and chicken out, I had cleared everything out of the cabinet under the sink and, armed with a wrench and a work light, squeezed up in there and began to try to remove the old faucet. How hard could it be, right?

Famous last words.

Let me just warn you right now that the slimy, cankered faucet innards were not the only gross sight I was going to have the pleasure of seeing that day.

One of the wonderful things about stainless steel is its resistance to corrosion; however, the stuff that tends to be attached to stainless steel, such as faucet nuts and other metal ephemera are – at least by my experience that Saturday morning – not. (Resistant to corrosion, that is.)

As I began to try to remove the metal nut that was holding the soap dispenser to the bottom of the sink, it was so rusted that it literally crumbled apart in my hands. Ditto to whatever was holding the old faucet in place. (It was hard to tell – coulda been a metal nut, coulda been a stale, burnt mini bagel.) I backed out of the cabinet with flecks of rust in my hair and realized that my only option was – you guessed it – buy a new sink. (Actually, I’m guessing the title of this post and the shiny new sink photo at the top kinda gave that away.)

Unfortunately, now I had to play “this one or that one” in the plumbing fixtures aisle; fortunately, the selection of sinks isn’t quite as large as the selection of faucets, so it didn’t take that long. Plus, budgetary concerns sort of helped narrow the guest list down considerably.

So within a half hour, I was leaving Lowe’s with a new Kohler double stainless steel sink (pictured above), new PVC pipe for the trap, a pair of new sink strainers, some silicone caulk, and some plumber’s putty. (Plumber’s putty is used between the strainers and the sink to keep them from leaking. Think of it as Play-Doh without all the pretty colors.)

I could have reused the existing PVC pipe, but when I unhooked everything and looked inside the pipe, I was greeted by gross vision #3. Let’s just say that years of less-than-efficient garbage disposal action (or inaction) had resulted in layers of icky foodstuff caked up inside the pipe. The good news is I finally found from whence that unpleasant odor in my kitchen had been emanating…

Although the directions that came with the sink were pretty straightforward (and in English, Spanish, and French, allowing me to make a mess in multiple languages), I still felt compelled to consult a homeowner’s greatest resource – YouTube.

I’m firmly convinced that there is nothing that one can’t find on YouTube. From stupid cat videos to instructions on how to do the lambada, it’s all there. I imagine that if I ever find myself needing to deliver a baby or make a Princess Leia costume, all I need is an internet connection and I’m good to go.

Case in point – this very helpful video featuring a smiling Lowe’s handyman with step-by-step instructions on replacing your kitchen sink:

Anyway, after caulking, puttying, repiping, temper tantrums, prayers, and contorting my body into all sorts of unnatural positions to wedge myself inside the cabinet and hook everything up, I finally have a new sink with drain pipes free from last night’s dinner and a faucet that is tres cool – and doesn’t leak.

Piece o’ cake.

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You say you want a resolution? Well, um…no.

Case closed

For the record, New Year’s resolution are for the birds.

Come on – you know you’re with me on that.

Last January, I determinedly posted a list of 11 home and garden projects that I intended to complete here at the Lizard Lounge this past year, complete with photographic documentation of their current needy state.

At final count, I finished five of them.

In my defense… Oh forget it – there really isn’t a good defense.

Actually, as it turns out I’m ahead of the curve. Out of the 45% of Americans who set New Year’s resolutions, about half have “infrequent success”. (My apologies to my readers in Yugoslavia – I’m still looking for statistics for you guys.) I would call completing 5 out of 11 projects infrequently successful.

Plus, that number doesn’t count all the non-documented projects I completed around here. I repaired a leaking washing machine, installed a new ice maker, bought a new stove, deep-cleaned my garbage disposal, and totally reorganized all my Christmas stuff. (While that may seem a simple task, you can read here, here, here, and here to see how many deck-o-rations I have.) I also read the Bible all the way through and survived twice daily traffic on I-4. That’s gotta count for something.

Maybe the problem lies in the whole idea of actually writing one’s resolutions down and putting them out there for everyone to see. The closer to the end of the year you get without much being done the more it sort of sucks the joy right out of it for you.

Or maybe resolutions ought to be more personally and spiritually beneficial, like actually limiting Facebook time to just once a week and filling those previously squandered hours with writing and arranging music and starting that second blog that’s been on my heart for some time now and flossing. Not that by putting any of these things in writing am I committing to actually fulfilling them in 2012 or anything. (Don’t wanna go down that road again…)

Anyway, at least I’ve already got the jump on six projects I may (or may not) complete next year around here. No promises.

As far as 2011 projects, in addition to a new window seat cushion, a new front door (I know, I know – those two really just involved shopping and writing a check to someone else, even though my friend Katy tried to make me feel like less of a loser by trying to convince me that shopping for fabric can be extremely trying. I love that gal…), and a new piano bench, I also finished painting all the unpainted spots on the exterior of the Lounge, and got my bookcase clutter under control.

Cornered

Cornered

I’ll start with the painting project.

My key learning (as we like to say at work) when painting the corner of the house shown in the photo (to the right) is that cheap-o foam paint brushes from Walmart are great for painting brick. You can easily shove paint in all the cracks and crevices, and, once you’re finished, just toss what’s left of the brush in the garbage; no clean up is necessary. (Unless, like me, you end up just pulling the sponge part off the handle and using your fingers to squish the paint in place.)

In addition to the new coat of exterior paint, I also remulched and added some river pebbles to that corner planting bed and installed a fountain, given to me by my dear friend George.

The interesting thing to me, though, as I compared the before and after photos, is how much that Chinese Fan Palm has grown this past year. (I especially noticed that as I tried to climb back there to paint.) If it had been this tall last January, I may not have bothered. Just sayin’…

Case Closed

View 1My final project involves the bookcases in my… well, bookcase room. (You may recall that I built these in the wake of Hurricane Charlie a few years ago.) I’m really pleased with how they turned out, even though it was really tedious and a potential safety hazard.

I had decided that, in addition to busting all the clutter that had accumulated, I would paint the backs a shade darker than the wall color (see the photo at the top and to the right). This involved taking everything off the shelves, taping the sides up so they wouldn’t get painted along with the backs, and removing the shelves themselves. Imagine all those books (many of which I’ve since donated to my church library and Goodwill) and shelves lying about in precarious stacks on the floor throughout that room. When George came down on Thanksgiving, I issued him a GPS and a survival kit in case he got lost on the way to the kitchen.

I’m really pleased with the way the bookcases turned out, though. However, once I got rid of all that no-longer-needed stuff, I discovered I have way more shelves than books.

I guess I’ll need to add “shop for shelf merchandise” to next year’s resolution list.

Or not.

Benched

Da benchI henceforth make a vow – no more self-deprecating remarks when it comes to writing about my mostly unfinished 2011 Lizard Lounge DIY project list. By now, you know I’m slow (“Hi – I’m Dusty and I’m a procrastinator.” From the room full of fellow procrastinators: “We’ll say hi to you later.”) but checking off yet another item from my list is hopefully an indication that the tide has turned. Hopefully…

I know completing the piano bench looks like a simple project, but it included upholstering and mitering and pocket screw joinery and really careful measuring, so I’m gonna up the difficulty rating to at least a “4” – maybe a “5”. (It’s my list and my rating scale – I have carte blanche to do that.) Regardless of the effort, I finally have a nice soft place to sit and play the piano and arrange, two of my most treasured pastimes.

Here is a video of me playing during the offertory at church recently (I’m not using my new bench, though). I’m playing a piano arrangement I wrote of two beautiful old hymns: “I Need Thee Every Hour” and “Grace Greater Than Our Sin”.

As you can imagine, I love to play the piano and have been doing so for almost a half-century.

Of course, I didn’t start out playing like the recording above. I had humble beginnings, playing such classics as “Yankee Doodle” with one finger and “Chopsticks” with two, as well as a lot of unrecognizable picking and pecking, but it was enough to whet my appetite for more.

I recall my mother putting little squares of white bandage tape on the keys of our small spinet piano and writing the names of the notes on them: “A”, “B”, “C”, and so on. I could still only pick out “Yankee Doodle” with one finger, but at least I knew that finger was playing C-C-D-E-C-E-D.

Once I was able to take a few lessons, though, and make the connection between what I was playing and the notes on the page, it was a whole new world. You couldn’t keep me off the piano. What with all the banging and experimentation, I’m glad my parents were longsuffering and supportive. (At least I was playing the piano and not the drums.)

All told, I probably only took about four years of lessons. Some people take piano lessons for years and vow they can’t play a note. For me I suppose my ability can only be described as a gift. (I have a friend from college who could twirl 50 hula hoops at once, all choreographed to music. Now that’s a gift.)

As soon as I was able, I began to play piano in church. Back then (he says, waxing nostalgic) everything we sang came from the hymnal. Since I had that arranger mentality even then, I seldom (OK – never) stuck to what was written. As you can imagine, there was a heaping helping of re-harmonization and ad-libbing going on. But since everyone in our church sang the melody (except for three or four altos) a new harmonic structure was no problem. Taught me a lot about music…

Suffice it to say, I love the hymns and spiritual songs I grew up with. Of course, now that I’m back in church and playing the piano again, I’m discovering there’s a whole new world of sacred music out there. I’m loving jamming on the more contemporary praise and worship tunes and can’t wait to sit in with the band, choir, and orchestra, all led by our gifted and talented worship pastor on Sunday morning. (And I promise it has nothing to do with the enormous Baldwin grand piano I’m sitting at in the video above.)

For me, serving in church is important, especially with the talent God has given me. Luke quotes Jesus as saying, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” (Luke 12:48 NIV)

I take that passage personally. Although I’ve been the one sitting on the piano bench all these years playing and practicing, I have no delusion that I developed that ability on my own. Even during those years when I would definitely describe myself as being at extreme apogee as far as a relationship with God, I readily admitted that He was the source of my musical ability. Now that I’ve turned mind, soul, and body over to Him, I can’t imagine not taking advantage of every opportunity to use what He’s given me for His honor and glory.

That’s why you’ll always find me wherever that gifted and talented worship pastor of mine asks me to be, doing whatever he needs me to do, whenever he needs me to do it.

What a shame it would be to be “benched” by the Lord for failing to offer back to Him the ability He gave me in the first place…

Knock, knock, knockin’

Exterior shot - daylightHere it is mid-August and my eleven-item Lizard Lounge 2011 DIY project list is only two items shorter. It’s either going to be a busy last half of the year or, once again, I’m going to shove the clutter into the junk closet, dim the lights when guests come by, and try not to think about it.

The sad thing is, both of my accomplishments so far have accounted to little more than shopping. And a little painting. And test naps. And admiring (someone else’s work – not mine…). So I guess you’d be hard pressed to call it “DIY” – more like “DIBHSE” (Do it by hiring someone else).

Nevertheless, I’m more than a little tickled with my new window seat cushion (article here if you missed it the first time) and now my latest addition, a new front door. (Click here for a “before” picture.)

Love the door – love it. The light it lets into the formerly dark living room is amazing. Plus, thanks to the superb installation by Kevin Ballard and Don Courson, extraordinary craftsmen, conscientious workers, and friends from church, I no longer have to body slam the door just to get it to close tightly. After he and Don finished, Kevin and I both stood there opening and closing it over-and-over again just to hear that solid “thunk”. Kevin was satisfied and so am I.

Before my friend Larry, a fellow worship band member from church (and an extraordinary musician), hooked me up with Kevin, I thought about trying to install the door myself. Being the methodical learner that I am, I immediately did what I do best – I Googled.

Kevin and Don - with borderQuelle surprise! There was a YouTube video detailing the whole door replacement process step-by-step. It looked straightforward enough – level, shim, caulk – I could do that. Piece o’ cake.

Then the reality set in.

My YouTube “instructor” had installed a door in a wood frame house, not a concrete block house. How different was it? (Very, as it turns out.) Plus, what if I got the old door out but couldn’t get the new door in? There I would be with a big gaping hole in my living room, a situation that’s wrong on multiple levels.

As I watched Kevin and Don work that day, I realized there were a few key gaps in my door installation information that would have proven disastrous had I tried it by myself. Thankfully, I had the wisdom to solicit the help of someone who knew what they were doing. As it turns out, there’s a big difference between having information and having wisdom.

Proverbs chapter 8, verse 34 in the Bible has a great verse that I find appropriate to this particular door-related post. It says “Blessed is the man who listens to me, watching daily at my doors, waiting at my doorway.”

In this particular chapter of Proverbs, Solomon (“the wise” and author of the book) is actually talking about wisdom, speaking of it is as though it were a person. So when he says “Blessed is the man who listens to me [Wisdom]…waiting at my doorway,” it puts me in the mind of a student or scholar arriving early for class, eager to enter as soon as the door is opened so as not to miss a word.

wisdomMy pastor at church has had us praying a prayer for the past 40 days asking God for a double portion of various things, such as joy, growth for our church, etc. The part of the prayer that I (figuratively) circle and put in bold letters when I pray it (so the Lord will be sure and notice) is the part that asks God to double my wisdom.

Exterior shot - nightAgain, being the methodical learner that I am, I’m great with studying my Bible and researching and reading theological commentary. What I most desire, though, is wisdom.

Jesus’ brother James says, “If any of you lacks wisdom he should ask God…and it will be given to him.”

So even though the 40-day double-portion prayer period has ended, I’m not through with it yet. I’m still gonna be waiting at Wisdom’s doorway, knock, knock, knockin’ on Heaven’s door asking for twice as much – in bold, with a circle around it.

Now excuse me – I have to go admire Kevin and Don’s handiwork.

*Thunk*

Book nook

IMG_0730

I unabashedly confess to tackling the easiest item on my 2011 Lizard Lounge resolution project list first – a cushion for the window seat. Completing this project basically just involved shopping for upholstery fabric.

That’s kind of a no-brainer for me. My dad actually taught upholstery at the local community college until he retired. In addition to being familiar with terms like “welt” and “dust cloth”, trust me when I tell you that I’m also no stranger to the fabric store.

Growing up, my mother, steward extraordinaire of our family’s meager budget and a whiz at her Singer, sewed all of her own clothes, as well as most of my sister’s. She even made a few things for me. (Picture me in a homemade 1970s polyester leisure suit – just don’t picture it for too long…) As a result, I spent what seems like a goodly portion of my childhood in the fabric store.

IMG_0726Back then, fabric stores strictly sold fabric and other sewing necessities – none of that arts and crafts nonsense today’s fabric stores seem to be rife with, although arts and crafts stuff would have probably made my time there a little more interesting. Mama would spend what seemed like hours in Chandler’s or Brown’s, having Mr. Chandler or Dwight, Mrs. Brown’s son, cut a yard of dotted Swiss for a top and a yard-and-a-half of some knit or the other for a jacket, while my sister and I languished among the spools of thread and drawers of patterns, knowing better than to whine, “Mama, how much longer we gonna be here?”

I actually liked the big pattern drawers, filled with envelopes of printed patterns by companies named Butterick, Simplicity, and McCalls – pattern companies still going strong more than 40 years later. Besides the patterns of skirts and dresses, the finished product of which was pictured on the pattern envelope by illustrations of lithe, sylph-like women modeling the homemade fashion, there were also patterns for costumes or stuffed toys to rifle through. Mama never made us any of those things, but it was fun passing the time imagining dressing up like Frankenstein or a caveman for Halloween.

Anyway, after purchasing the proper yardage of the fabric (pictured) at Jo-Ann, one of those fabric-cum-craft stores I previously maligned (there just doesn’t seem to be places like Chandler’s and Brown’s around anymore – even Chandler’s and Brown’s aren’t around anymore), I delivered it to Richard Carter, owner of A&E Upholstery here in Winter Haven, a fine Christian businessman and artisan who also drives a big ol’ Harley. (The term “Christian Biker” may seem like an oxymoron, but there are “F.A.I.T.H. Riders” chapters everywhere and their goal of spreading God’s word to their bike-riding brothers and sisters is inspiring.) As you can see, he did a fine job, and my six-year-old window seat is finally a welcoming spot, perfect for reading or less cerebral activities – like napping.

However, finishing this project also reminds me of one thing: so much checklist – so few checkmarks.

But it’s a start. Here’s to a great 2011.

IMG_0736

You say you want a resolution? Well, you know…

I have very few personal resolutions for the new year – perfect a recipe for calorie-free cheesecake, stop using “friend” as a verb, bring dress socks and sandals back in style – that sort of thing. Beyond that, I’m good. God has richly blessed me this past year spiritually, materially, and physically.

However, the Lizard Lounge itself could do with a little project closure, a la dude-you’ve-lived-here-ten-years-why-does-that-cabinet-door-still-not-close-all-the-way?

I’ve been reading my new friend Katy’s blog, Happy Bungalow, the story of her journey in turning a Craftsman-style house that, as she puts it, “needed a little TLC” into her “forever home”. In scrolling through her pictures and stories about the various projects she and her husband have tackled, I have to admit to turning a color I don’t look particularly good in: green (with envy). She and her husband bought this house just two years ago; during that time she’s had two children, accomplished enough DIY projects to have her own show on HGTV, hosted about 30 people or so for Thanksgiving on her newly re-done massive front porch, and is learning to sew.

Kinda makes me tired. But also inspired.

All my life I’ve managed to elevate procrastination and short attention span-age to an art. (I can easily wile away an afternoon working the LA Times crossword puzzle online.) But new years tend to bring an anticipation of change and better tomorrows.

Cue 2011!

For the balance of this post, I’m going to air the Lizard Lounge’s proverbial dirty laundry and make a pictorial confession and commitment to completing some projects that have been unfinished or on the drawing board for way too long.

Granted, my little concrete-block Florida house will never compete with Katy’s Craftsman-style home with its front porch big enough for the cast of “The Ten Commandments”, but I can definitely make the Lounge the best little concrete block Florida home west of Legoland and add a few check marks to my years-old to-do list in the process.

Starting with…
 

Bookcase clutter

difficulty rating: 3 (out of 10, with 10 being the hardest)

Bookcase

I built the bookcases in my dining room/office/library several years ago and it didn’t take long for them to become veritable catch-alls. It’s time to empty everything off, paint the backs to match the surrounding walls, touch up the paint on the shelves due to use and abuse, and totally re-organize.

In the photo above, you’ll see a variety of seemingly unrelated items that need new homes, including a) a tape measure, b) two moss-covered styrofoam balls that I’m not sure I can explain, c) a Star Trek phaser (not real, unfortunately), d) two cool little stainless photo frames without photos, e) a roll of brown crafts paper, f) hardware for some Roman shades I’m making (hmmm…those should be in this post, too…), and an (unmarked) iPod charging cable.

I don’t own an iPod.

Window seat cushion

difficulty rating: 2 (since all I have to do is pick out some fabric and find an upholsterer to make the cushion)

Window seat

Since we’re talking about the bookcases, this window seat would be the ideal reading spot if it wasn’t so uncomfortable. I also plan to add some sort of molding around the window as well. Which brings me to…

Undistinguished windows (interior)

difficulty rating: 5

Bare Window

Windows in houses like mine are typically just holes in the wall with no architectural interest whatsoever. Hopefully that will change in 2011 as I design (easy and fun) and build and install (neither easy nor fun) some sort of unique molding-like treatment to give the windows a more finished look. (Just patching and painting the holes above them where I took down the nasty vertical blinds would be a start.)

While we’re on windows…

Undistinguished windows (exterior)

difficulty rating: 3

Outside window

I took the cheap and tacky gray shutters down and started painting the aluminum windows the same color as the roof to give them some interest. You can see how far I got…

New front door

difficulty rating: 2 (Just like the window seat cushion, all I have to do is order it, pay for it, and let the installers do the work.)

Front Door
 

Unpainted spots

difficulty rating: 1

Unpainted wall

(If that palm would just grow a little faster…)

Junk closet cum home office

difficulty rating: 5

Closet

This is where all the “I have no idea where to put this stuff” stuff goes to die. Granted, just cleaning it out would be a start, but I also want to turn it into something akin to a home office, so practical shelves and some thought given to ergonomics have to come into play. I managed to install a grounded outlet in there without electrocuting myself or shutting down the power on the block, but I can’t get to the plug for all the junk. (I’ve got the number for Salvation Army here somewhere.)

Junk corner

difficulty rating: 7

Back corner

Just think of this as the outside equivalent of the junk closet. This will require lots of blood, sweat, tears, jackhammering, and finishing building the lounge chair (pictured) I’m 95% through with.

I’m thinking a paver patio, potting bench, and a small sun deck (and thinning those Lady palms out that have run rampant the past few months).

While I’m outside…

The once and future patio

difficulty rating: 10

Future patio

That flagstone pathway leading off the carport really needs to connect to something besides dead grass, don’t you think?

Covered piano bench seat

difficulty rating: 3

Piano bench

I built this piano bench with the intention of padding and covering the seat one day. That day has arrived.

Clothes closet

difficulty rating: 8

11_Closet

One word: yipes!


As you can see, it’s going to be a busy year at the Lizard Lounge. But if I end up next year about this time with all kinds of excuses why my to-do list has nary a checkmark and I’m still sitting on a hard seat while I play the piano, cut me a little slack – there are lots of crossword puzzles to finish.

Yipee-ki-la-la-la-la

Top o' the treeBack when I lived in roomier digs I would spend numerous pre-yuletide hours, glue gun in hand, erecting a virtual faux forest of frasier firs decorated around various themes, including a Mardi Gras-themed tree and a one-of-a-kind black tree decorated entirely in silver.

No doubt it should be evident why I was then – and am still – single…

However, the limited square footage here at the Lizard Lounge is barely adequate to support the glittering behemoth currently decking my small-scale halls, already requiring that I edge around the place turned sideways to avoid swiping a bead or bauble off onto the floor. Factor in an electricity budget that forces me to stumble around by candlelight, and you can see how I’m forced to be a bit of a reluctant humbug when it comes to additional seasonal decor.

Nevertheless, I put another tree up. (The pull of the Christmas tree siren is just too strong this year.)

This one has a Western theme. It was created years ago to complement a Southwestern-inspired bedroom (remember that ill-conceived 80s decorating trend?) and is replete with strings of chili pepper lights, a red cowboy hat I found in the attic that year, and ornaments fashioned to look like cowhide and bandanas.

I doubt this whimsical tribute to the wild, wild west would be right at home on the range, but it might at least make Tex laugh when he saw it, in spite of himself.

Cowhide and bandanas