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.

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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*

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.

Daddy was right

Tomato 2

You can’t fight your roots – growing tomatoes is an old Southern boy thing.

With the addition of these Guggenheim-esque architectural elements for support and a few crushed up eggshells (for calcium, of course – who knew? Well, my daddy did…) I have tomato plants that are well on their way to providing at least a couple of containers of salsa and a good-sized salad.

And no dancing was necessary (I was kind of looking forward to that part).

If ever I would leave you

Ahh - finished

DrowningRaking leaves – the once-a-year bain of every homeowner’s existence (or that of his or her leaf-raking offspring appointee). Here in Central Florida (zone 9b), leaves tend to fall off the trees much later in the year, typically in February and March.

This year, due in part to the severity of our winter temperatures, the leaves of the live oak in the front yard of the Lizard Lounge all committed hari-kari in one fell swoop and with a vengeance and determination previously unseen. Couple the volume of that detritus with the recent rains that made it all but impossible to get out and deal with the mess earlier and, as I experienced this past weekend, there was a soggy, thick blanket of dead leafage covering a great portion of my yard and piled up under the shrubs and plants in my planting beds, bringing to mind the efforts of an over-zealous, amateur cake froster who had run out of every color but brown.

UnbaggingAlthough I’m no sissy when it comes to yard work (stop giggling out there), I do enjoy a little labor- and time-saving as much as the next guy. To both of those ends, I employed the assistance of my trusty Yard-Man lawn mower and its bagging attachment. (I know – a gas-powered device isn’t very green, but neither were those leaves.)

Rather than rake the leaves in huge piles, gather them up by hand, and stuff them into numerous curb-side lawn waste bags for the county to collect, I just let the lawnmower do all the dirty work. By running the mower around the yard, the leaves are chewed up and deposited in the bagging attachment all neat, tidy, and compact, due to the ferocity of the mower blades and the fact that I use a mulching blade.

BaggingOnce the bagging attachment is full, I just dump it directly in the plastic trash bag. As you can see in the picture, I cut the bottom out of an old red plastic yard tote and inserted it inside the plastic bag. The sturdy plastic sides of the tote keep the bag open and in place while I upend the bagging attachment full of leaves inside the wide mouth. As the bag fills up, I lift the bottomless plastic tote up, letting it rest on the mass of leaves below.

Due to the wet weather, I did have to rake a little just to loosen up the moist and compacted leaf litter so that the mower could do it’s job; but at the of the day, I ended up spending a couple of hours walking around the yard and enjoying the beautiful weather rather than wasting a whole day doing manual labor.

And that’s what life at the Lounge should be all about.

You say to-may-toe (actually, so do I)

Tomatodee and Tomatodum

I love Steel Magnolias, both the play and the movie. The lines are clever and funny and, whether being delivered by professional Hollywood actresses or local gals on the community theatre stage, always make me – and everyone around me – laugh. (I also tend to repeat those lines, probably much to the annoyance of everyone around me.) Although I don’t know any Southern women who act like the characters in the play and movie, I’m sure they exist (or existed during the time period of the original play on which the movie was based.)

Apropos to today’s post is a great line delivered by Shirley McClaine (movie version) as the sharp-tongued, take no prisoners Ouiser Boudreaux. After delivering bags of her own fresh-from-the-garden tomatoes to everyone in the beauty shop that serves as home turf to the five main characters, she explains that she doesn’t eat tomatoes; she just grows them. When one of the other characters asks her why she grows tomatoes, she replies, “I don’t know. I’m an old Southern woman. We’re suppose to wear funny old hats, ugly dresses, and grow things in the dirt. I didn’t make the rules.”

It seems that same sort of logic explains my recent foray into tomato cultivation (except for the ugly dresses part and the fact that I plan to eat mine). Lovely, fresh tomatoes are available for purchase year-round in my grocer’s produce section, the local farmer’s market, and any number of produce stands (even a few truck tailgates and card tables set up on the side of the road). However, my dad seemed kind of surprised recently that I wasn’t growing my own, considering my attachment to the yard here at the Lizard Lounge; that, and the fact that I’m his son. (He has the greenest thumb of any gentleman gardener I know.) I figured he was right – like Ouiser Boudreaux, I didn’t make the rules: I’m old, I’m Southern, and I like to grow things in the dirt. I guess growing tomatoes is one cultural stereotype I just can’t ignore; hence, the two fledgling plants seen in the photo above.

I’m not entirely certain I’ve chosen the best variety of tomato for my needs, however. The plants I bought were of the Goliath variety, apparently a hybrid. They all kind of looked alike on the shelf at Lowe’s. I just picked a couple of plants where the tomatoes were red in the picture on the little plant information insert sticking up out of the pot.

After a little online research, though, it seems as though Goliath tomatoes actually live up to their Biblical namesake. Apparently, these tomatoes can grow as large as 1-3 pounds apiece. OMG, Becky – that’s HUGE! I probably need to start looking around for a book with 1001 ways to prepare tomatoes. Maybe I can start a homemade salsa or ketchup business or open a curb-side Bloody Mary stand.

According to my dad, successful tomato growing isn’t as easy as raising grass or shrubs. I’ll need to stake them and fertilize them and do some sort of fertility dance under the light of the moon every other Tuesday. I may end up wishing I had just bought an ugly dress instead.

I’ll keep you posted.

Spring has at least crouched

I took Dr. King’s birthday today as a holiday from work and spent it in a whirlwind of post-winter / pre-spring activity here at the Lizard Lounge. We’re tracking our daily exercise for a wellness project at work, and I will definitely be able to get tons of points to enter based on the house and yard work alone.

I started with a kitchen spring cleaning that sort of evolved into a chore-a-palooza. After sorting out the spice cabinet (Why are there three bottles of almond extract? I don’t even know what one does with almond extract.), the plastic container drawer (if there’s not a lid to match, into the garbage it goes), and several of those drawers of strange and wondrous bits of flotsam (I found a plastic container that held about 30 pairs of chopsticks; I have no comment.), I took the heating and air conditioning filter outside for cleaning. It hasn’t gotten much use lately, so it was in pretty good shape. In fact, I turned the whole unit off Saturday when temperatures hit 70 outside. (Sorry – all this beautiful weather makes me have to gloat just a little. It’s the trade-off for having to endure the stress of hurricane season.)

Once I got outside, though (shorts and a t-shirt…sorry…), one look around and it was obvious the place was in need of some TLC and had suffered from the few days of frigid temps we had around here the past couple of weeks. I’m sorry to report that the damage to the bananas originally discussed actually got worse. At this point, there’s nary a bit of green peeking through anywhere. I started to trim all the dead leaves off, but realized that, if I did, there would be nothing left but stalk. Since I suspect that brown leaves might still be able to provide at least a little photosynthesis, I’m going to leave them to their own devices without any tampering from me at this point. Time will tell…

FlattopsThe clumps of fakahatchee grass all got flat tops. Most ornamental grasses need to be cut back yearly to promote better growth and foliage. They look kind of sad now, but soon they’ll return to their original glory, sporting deep red plumes amidst the long blades of grass.

I also dug up a couple of beds of yellow canna lilies. There was nothing wrong with them, I was just never pleased with their overall performance. These actually proved to be more trouble than they’re worth. They were prone to cut worm damage, the leaves would die back and look all icky, and they tended to bloom begrudgingly. I’m currently in the market for something a little hardier to plant in their stead.

I pruned a few dead leaves and limbs and finished the day digging up the pitiful remains of a rickety chain-link fence gate. The previous owner of the lounge must have had stock in the concrete market, for the gate posts were secure enough to withstand a nuclear blast. I definitely got my work out busting, lugging, and hauling chunks of concrete out of the ground (more points for the wellness project, though).

Although it was by no means spring in Central Florida today, I certainly enjoyed this first day back out on the grounds. I wonder if Dr. King would have approved…