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*

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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.

Fall in

Fallen

You can keep your turning leaves and “autumn-in-the-air” feelings – just give me fall in Florida. I know our temperatures in the 80s during the day and 60s at night may seem more like summer where some of you are from, but here in Central Florida we’re starting to wear long sleeves around the house and see if our sweaters are still in fashion after being relegated to the back of the closet for the past several months.

This is weather that begs for open windows, inviting those balmy breezes visiting from the coast to empty the house of pent-up, conditioned air. Shelves are just begging to be prowled in hopes of finding a favorite book to sit and read or re-read on the porch.

Outdoor chores can be put on hold, even skipping a weekend (or two) mowing the yard. No one will notice – or care.

This is weather for homemade soup, hot cereal, baked squash, and sweet potatoes. The grill even invites you to hang out and enjoy the smoky aromas without being forced to escape indoors to avoid the combined bane of fire and humidity.

And then there are the sunsets – brilliantly-hued displays replete with crepuscular rays highlighting the fallen Florida sky. (Sunset photo taken by my multi-talented friend, John Pricone.)

If you’ve never been to Central Florida in October, start planning next year’s trip. If you’re a theme park fan, you’ll find lower room rates and fewer guests competing for a ride on Space Mountain. If you love the pool or beach, you’ll find the weather to be perfect for dips in either.

So what’re you waitin’ for? Fall in…

Draft dodging

Finished doorI know I’m totally spoiling the plot of this post by showing you the picture right up front of the new french doors that now grace the exit off the scullery here at the Lizard Lounge, but had I opened with a picture of the old sliding glass door it replaced it’s doubtful that even that oh-so-catchy title would have made you pause.

Poor sliding door – and poor anybody who tried to open and close it. No amount of slicky stuff squirted or sprayed in the sliding track made that chore any easier, either; it just caused it to gather lint and dirt and look kind of gross.

Additionally, said door was about as airtight as a bag of oranges. (Wha..? Oh you know – they come in those open-weave mesh bags.) Even new sliding doors aren’t known for their energy efficiency; and since this one was anything but new, I may as well have just flung wide the doors and windows and offered to air condition the entire neighborhood.

The worst thing, though, was the lack of security. None of the latches worked and the only way to secure it was through a network of security bars and pins inserted in and around the frame. Rather than undo all that stuff to open it each time I wanted to go out to the carport, I found it easier to just go out the front door and walk around to the back of the house. (That’s actually not very far, since my house is about as big as a hat box. But still – it was annoying.)

In progressAfter 10 years of pushing, pulling, tugging, lubricating, greasing, wedging, scotching and, in effect, pushing tens and twenties out through the cracks between the door and the frame, I finally broke down and purchased new doors, including the installation, from my local Home Depot.

A nice young man named Jeremy (I totally sounded like my granny there) did the installation in just a few hours – with no assistance, I might add, except for me plying him with ice water trying to keep him alive in the heat we’ve been having lately (at least until he finished the job).

As you can see from the photo at the top, he did a bang-up job. They’re great looking, tight, double-locked, and open and close with the greatest of ease. I merely have to walk by them at a moderate pace when they’re open and the breeze from my wake will blow them right shut. And a single finger or a little well-aimed hip action applied to the levered door handle will open them right back up again. I can make my way out to the grill with both hands full of chicken or skewers of shrimp and leave nary a greasy paw print anywhere.

Speaking of doors, in the New Testament of the Bible, Matthew (7:7) and Luke (11:9) both tell us that, in order to be saved, we only have to “…knock and the door will be opened to you.” In the days leading up to my salvation a few months back, I had the worst time getting my arms around the simplicity of God’s offer of salvation. Those ever-present forces of evil had me paralyzed with their lies. In effect, they had me convinced that that door was totally locked to me, that I wouldn’t know the secret knock, or be able to say the password correctly, or that I would knock and no one would be there.

As it turns out, those evil forces guys were all wrong (duh – they’re not known for their truthiness); the only password I had to know was “I believe” and the secret knock wasn’t secret at all. Oh, and there was a door prize: the gift of salvation and of God’s grace, resulting in a previously unimagined life full of joy and fellowship with Him here on Earth and an eternal one spent in His presence after that. (That’s way better than getting that big over-sized check from Ed McMahan after winning the Publisher’s Clearinghouse Sweepstakes.)

God didn’t want to make the way to salvation hard, like opening that old sliding door. He wanted it to be something anyone could understand and do, like opening this new door that Jeremy installed for me – something that could be done with one finger or a little well-aimed hip action.

Knock and believe – simple as that. And the result? Just like the Lizard Lounge, the new me is now airtight and secure.

And not a day goes by that I don’t thank the Lord for that.

It’s time

Ficus in all its gloryIt’s been a time of loss here at the Lizard Lounge these past few months. Someone very dear to me passed away in December, someone who lived here at the Lounge for many years and helped give this little house light and life. Add to that the loss of both my sweet Yorkshire Terriers who were, for all intents and purposes, my children, and you can imagine how quiet it’s been around here of late.

There has also been an inordinate amount of loss amongst the flora here on the grounds of the Lounge. The unusual cold snap we experienced here in Central Florida this past winter took with it a goodly number of the plants that I’ve tended and nurtured over the years, many from saplings. The Weeping Fig or Benjamin’s Fig (Ficus benjamina) that adorned the northwest corner of the Lounge is one of those losses that I’m taking particularly hard. (The photo to the right was taken last fall at the height of its glory.)

Typically an indoor plant, this particular ficus flourished outdoors for 10 years here in zone 9B Florida. Although it reached a height of 25′ before it was struck down, it was a mere 6′ tall and still living in a pot when it rode the 45 miles from Orlando to Winter Haven in the back of a Chrysler LeBaron convertible, a car belonging to the former co-resident of the Lizard Lounge mentioned above.

TrimmingSince Weeping Figs can drop their leaves at the slightest provocation – a cross look or an unkind word even – I didn’t worry too much when I discovered it standing bare just a few days after the freeze. “It’ll put back out – it always does,” I thought. After five months without a bud, however, I finally gave up hope, resigning myself to the fact that it was gone for good. I spent a couple of hours today removing the branches by hand before renting a chain saw to finish taking down the trunk.

I couldn’t help but imagine a connection between the loss of that tree and that of the owner of the little convertible that transported it down here. While the banana plants and crape myrtles in the yard may all be my babies, the ficus was his. It grew right outside his bedroom window in the spot he selected 10 years ago. He never stopped marveling at the fact that the tree that loomed up and over his bedroom was the same one that he steadied with one hand while steering his convertible with the other.

They were both larger than life.

Although at the top of this post I proclaimed the past few months to be a time of loss, it’s also been a time of life. A little over a month ago, I became a Christian and began walking in the newness of life that’s only possible through Jesus Christ. With God’s gift of grace and salvation has come much growth and healing. That pretty much puts everything else in perspective.

New lifeBut there’s even more; salvation was just the beginning – God continues to find ways to “surprise and delight” me. As I was preparing to finish taking down the lost ficus this afternoon, I knelt down to begin the final cut with the chain saw. And there I saw it: around the base of that dead tree was new growth, the tiniest beginnings of life, the determined start of a whole new tree. Surprise… delight…

The book of Ecclesiastes tells us that there is a time for everything – to be born, to die; to plant, to uproot; to cry, to laugh; to mourn, to dance – a time for everything.

I think it’s finally time to dance. The driver of that convertible certainly did his share of dancing – and I’m pretty sure he would have wanted it this way.

O Tannenbaum: Themes like Christmas

024_21AA themed Christmas tree can definitely lend a designer touch to your holiday decor; plus, the possibilities are endless. Christmas tree themes can be based around a color scheme, materials, or subject matter. Here are some theme ideas:

Color scheme

Collecting ornaments in only one, two, or three colors is a simple and effective way to theme your tree. In the photo to the right you’ll see a tree I decorated a few years ago with Christmas balls in jewel-tone colors that I tucked into the tree branches in clusters of two or three. Instead of ribbon I used some wide, silver glittered net that I wove around the tree. With the addition of purple and white lights, silk ivy, and the peacock, I then it’s quite fetching.

My friend Laura has a black silk tree in her downstairs lounge. All of the ornaments, in various shapes, are glittery red with white marabou feather accents. It’s truly stunning and perfect in that room. Although her main tree upstairs has a more traditional Christmas theme, the variety of ornaments on that tree are also mostly red with some silver and white accents, with fountains of red and green wired beads cascading out of the top of the tree as a tree topper. Quite talented, that gal!

Materials

Another option is to decorate with ornaments made from the same type of material. For example, the ornaments on my mother’s Christmas tree are all made of glass (or clear acrylic). Christopher Radko ornaments of mouth-blown glass offer not only a chance to theme an entire tree but offer an excellent investment opportunity as well, as some of the earlier pieces have been retired and are now collector’s items. There is an entire series of Radko Disney ornaments, which leads me to the next theming category…

Subject matter

Christopher Radko's Mickey MouseThanks to Christopher Radko and Hallmark, it’s simple (albeit a tad pricey) to build an entire collection of ornaments based on a particular subject. Examples include:

Entertainment My friend Maryjo has an entire Disney tree (and you can bet that it’s loaded!). Laura loves characters from the Peanuts comic strip and has an entire tree with Peanuts ornaments. I have most all of the Star Trek space ships from Hallmark that light up and play snippets of dialogue or phaser fire sounds that hang from a small upside-down tree. Star Wars characters and vehicles are also available, as are more and more Harry Potter-themed ornaments. (I can just imagine a fun Harry Potter-themed tree sporting additional ornaments and ribbon in Gryffindor colors with a pointed Sorting Hat as a tree topper.)

Christmas characters and items Angels, snowpeople and Santas immediately come to mind and are easy to find, as are sleighs and Christmas stockings.

Music and musical instruments Several years ago I found an old violin in a thrift store and turned it into an elaborate tree topper by adding in some brass horns and ribbon. The rest of the tree sported smaller horns and musical instruments and ornaments made from photo-copies of old sheet music, folded into fans and combined with ribbon and Christmas balls. My hot glue bill was quite high that year…

War Eagle!College and/or Sports teams Combine your school spirit with your Christmas spirit and decorate a tree with school or team colors. Although you can generally find logo ornaments for larger schools and more popular teams, you may have to get creative if you want to show your support for the women’s basketball team at your local community college (although I have seen basketball and other sports equipment-shaped Christmas ornaments available in stores and catalogs). These days, you can probably find glass or plastic Christmas ball ornaments in just about any color, including that deep shade of orange that Auburn University uses. With some basic craft skills, you can create pom-poms, decorate handmade card stock megaphones, and even add a toy mascot as a tree topper.

IMG_0218et al. In an earlier post I mentioned my cowboy-themed tree. It’s decorated with styrofoam balls wrapped in red bandana print fabric, glass balls painted to look like cowhide, chili pepper lights, barbed wire garland, a buffalo plaid blanket for a tree skirt, and a red cowboy hat as a tree topper.

How about a cocktail-themed tree for your basement bar, with wine cork garlands, swizzle sticks for icicles, and stemware filled with colored beads hanging from the branches?

pumps and purseFor you fashionistas, ornaments shaped like glittery shoes and fancy pumps or handbags seem to be popping up everywhere and would make for a fun and whimsical tree.

You could easily fill a tree with teddy bear ornaments or toys or use your entire collection of Barbie dolls posed on the branches with garlands of Barbie outfits. Go nuts!

The biggest consideration in case you decide to go with some sort of theme is what to do with the clothespin reindeer your youngest made in second grade if it no longer fits in with your new collection of Swarovski Crystal angel ornaments. Of course, my solution is to have more than one tree, but I also know that not everyone has the resources or space (or energy) to do that. But if the thought of a tree filled with carefully selected ornaments chosen to fit a specific theme appeals to you, then by all means – start collecting!


I hope you’ve enjoyed this series of Christmas tree posts, as I’ve certainly enjoyed writing them. I hope your Christmas tree(s) and your holidays are merry and bright!

O Tannenbaum: Bough wows

Ornaments

Christmas ornaments offer as much variety as the menu board at Starbucks, from bejeweled orbs and whimsical themed figurines to classic seasonal icons imagined in blown glass or brass. Even simple glass balls now come in a host of colors never before imagined as Christmas appropriate. To get an idea of the possibilities, just pay a visit to your local Hallmark store for a look at this year’s ornament collection featuring Barbie or the latest light-up Star Trek spaceship or rummage through the racks of ornaments at your local big box or specialty store. Visions of sugar plums will tap dance in your head.

Although the lights on my Christmas tree are pretty much all that can be seen from outside the Lizard Lounge, once you’re inside and are able to get up close and personal with my lavishly laden chunk of fake flora, the gold and silver ornaments of all shapes, sizes, and degrees of sparkle definitely become the stars of the show.

Whatever your own personal Christmas tree decorating scheme – even if that scheme is simply “all my ornaments, various and sundry” – here are few thoughts on effectively and beautifully displaying your treasures.

Ornamentally Ostentatious
I definitely subscribe to the “more is more” method of Christmas tree decoration. I want that baby groaning under the weight of all that glitter and sparkle. If I’m going to have to walk past the thing for almost two months (you heard me) I want to have plenty of eye candy to keep surprising and delighting me. Part of the fun of having a Christmas tree is sitting and gazing at it with just the tree lights on – and I need lots of shiny stuff to hold my interest and keep me from dozing off. To that end, my ornaments are all shapes and sizes: round, ovoid, tear drops, pear-shaped, dangly things, and one or two that are some odd sort of shape that reminds me of one of the little spaceships in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

It’s important for me to tell you that this ornament-a-palooza has definitely been a work in progress, though, because, of course, I’m poor as the little drummer boy. Which leads me to my next point…

Small parts
If you want your tree to feel as though it has a lot of ornaments – but don’t necessarily have the budget to go out and haul home an entire tree’s worth of bling in one fell swoop – supplement your one-of-a-kind ornaments with inexpensive boxed sets of 6 to 12 ornaments. By mixing these plain Jan Brady ornaments in with the more glamorous Marcias, your tree will look fuller.

With your show pieces holding court front and center and your lesser ornaments filling in the gaps, the overall effect will be lots of flash for not much cash. As your collection grows, gradually move these less talented ornaments upstage as extras (or, as suggested in the next section, further inside the tree). I’m happy to report that, after 15 years of collecting a few prize baubles a season, I’m finally at a point where I have enough “feature” ornaments that I don’t feel compelled to hang every gold or silver trinket in my ornament storage box on the tree.

A prize inside
It’s tempting to hang every ornament you own right out on the tips of your tree’s branches. After all, they’re all precious to you, right? My suggestion, however, is to commandeer the interior (and heretofore underutilized) spaces of your tree to hang some ornaments.

If you have an artificial tree like I do, you’ve probably noticed that there is typically lots of bare space deep within – so why not fill every cranny and nook? That way, every time someone walks past (including you) they discover a previously undiscovered trinket peering out through the branches. This also gives an added depth and interest to your tree, with all kinds of color and shiny stuff that just never seems to end.

The interior of your tree is also a great place to hang those sweet and sentimental treasures that may be a little time-worn or have chipped or peeling paint that you just can’t bear to part with. That little ragged collection of cotton balls and red felt that used to be Santa Clause would be perfect to hang out quietly inside and smile at passersby.

So whether your tree, like mine, is an epic spectacle boasting a cast of thousands or a more intimate indy production with a small but carefully chosen ensemble, the Christmas trinkets hanging amidst your boughs can truly be the beads and sequins on your tree’s party attire.

Next: O Tannenbaum: Themes like Christmas