Monthly Archives: November 2012



PB296094 730x547 Hibernation

In the midst of this hustle-bustle, hurry-hurry season, I find myself slowing down.

Oh, there is much to do. Posts to write. Presents to choose. Schedules to plan. A tree to be decorated.

But I am oddly slow right now, to the point of being stopped.

All I’ve really been able to bring myself to do this week is read and sip tea and soak in the tub and play with crafty little projects and eat the remains of the fantastic flourless cake Cane made for Thanksgiving (on Monday, because that’s the kind of Thanksgiving it was this year).

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I’ve decided it’s all just fine.

We are turning to the season of long nights and cold days.

It is time to slow down. Fill our hands with something soft and our bellies with something warm*.

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Savor a long conversation in the late light of an almost-winter afternoon.

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We don’t have much planned for this weekend. A little crafting, a little tree decorating, maybe a movie. Or maybe just a good long nap with a warm companion (or two).

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We hope you have a good one, full of whatever fills you up.

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*Recipes we’ve linked to (in the text above) are gluten-free. Flourless cake from Real Simple and Corn and Tomato soup from Our Best Bites via Wabi-Sabi Home and Garden. They are both amazing.

Sharing this post with a new find, Chatting at the Sky.

A cornucopia of thrift store art

A cornucopia of thrift store art

I know the online world is all about Christmas now, but we’re still in Thanksgiving mode around here. (Next weekend we’ll put up the tree and shift gears.) And one thing I’m feeling thankful for today is a recent thrift store score of art that reminds me of things for which I’m most grateful.

Thrifting can be a bit of a feast or famine thing. Sometimes I make the rounds of my usual haunts and come up completely empty. No cool rugs, or awesomely awful lamps, or funky retro chairs to fuel my chair addiction.

rug filling frame 730x547 A cornucopia of thrift store art

This is probably my favorite thrifting find from the past year. And to think that I almost let it get away!

But sometimes, when I least expect it–when I’m  just stopping in for a real quick, what-the-hell, I’m on my way to pick up a child from her robotics meeting and I’ve got an extra 10 minutes on my hands visit–it’s like I’ve hit the thrifting equivalent of an all-you-can-eat buffet in Vegas.

PB245989 730x547 A cornucopia of thrift store art

This is BJ’s Auction House. See that head painted on the bright yellow starburst above the door? That’s BJ. He’s got a very…direct selling style. The first time I came in, I was was looking at a cabinet, and he swooped in:

“You like that cabinet? That’s a great cabinet. Price says $225, but I’ll sell it to you today for $175.”

“Oh,” I said, “I don’t know. I’ve just started looking.”

“Well, $175 is the price today. It won’t be the price tomorrow. You come back tomorrow and it’ll be $225. I don’t have time for people to wait around. You won’t find something like this for $175 anywhere else. And you won’t find it for $175 here either if you come back tomorrow.”

OK, then.

While I love the tons of stuff he has crammed into a sort of maze configuration inside that rectangle of a building, I usually only go in there if I’m looking for something specific–because, frankly, BJ makes me a bit nervous. (I would’ve loved to have taken some interior shots to share with you, but I didn’t want to explain to him why I wanted them.)

Anyway, I stopped in late one afternoon recently because we’re still on the hunt for art to hang on our entry walls. We’re especially interested in portraits. I’ve been smitten with the idea of portraits ever since I read this post from Lisa and almost immediately found Edgar.

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This is Edgar (named so because of his resemblance to Poe), who’s currently hanging out in our newly-renovated master bathroom.

And right out front, there was a bin with $5 art in it. Every piece of art, only $5 each.

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There were actually about 3 of these containers of $5 art.

My first find? A portrait, of course. (When the gods are smiling on you, they tend to smile big.)

PB185933 730x547 A cornucopia of thrift store art

This is an interesting piece. It’s a painting, but he’s painted on cardboard. Maybe he began as a paint-by-number? But if so, whoever painted him seems to have gone beyond the standard PBN limits, particularly in the face.

PB245974 730x547 A cornucopia of thrift store art

I brought him home because I really liked the way he’s painted, not because of the subject matter. We’re calling him Jesus–because, well, he looks like Jesus–but I don’t know if he really is Jesus.

To Grace, it doesn’t much matter. She has declared him way beyond all acceptable limits of weirdness (even for our house, which is saying something in her book :-)), and asked that we not display him in a public place. She is afraid it might look like we’re mocking Jesus, and that might offend some of her friends. (Mocking wouldn’t be our purpose at all–we’re not admirers of hipster irony–but I can see her point.)

After our experiences with the retro sofa that the kids hated, we’re trying to be more sensitive to their preferences. I appreciate having a chance for a bit of a do-over when it comes to the kids and our evolving home. While I love our eclectic collection of paintings and think Jesus fits right in, this is Grace’s home, too. I want her to be comfortable in it and feel good about inviting her friends in. Thus, I took Jesus down from the entryway wall, and he’s currently living in a corner of our bedroom, waiting for me to hang him on the wall.

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I’m perfectly fine with having him live there for now. I think that if he were in the entry, part of a collection of other portraits and colorful paintings, he might fit in quite nicely, to the point that even Grace could tolerate him. We’ll see what happens with him.

Which brings us to the next painting:  A black-and-white still life.

PB185943 730x547 A cornucopia of thrift store art

I came home with this one because it’s nicely painted and–being black-and-white–isn’t your typical still life. (Craftsmanship and originality are two of our criteria for thrift store art.)

Although I like this painting, it’s the least-favorite of my finds from that day, which is what made it kind of OK (or at least, not tragic) that I put a hole through it when I dropped it on the way into the house. (I was carrying too many frames at one time.)

PB245979 730x547 A cornucopia of thrift store art

I think I can repair it. If you’ve been following Alice’s adventures in painting restoration over at Bohemian Hellhole, you know that this little tear is very small potatoes in the painting repair field.

I doubt I will put as much care into this painting as Alice has put into hers. I’m much more likely to stick some duct tape on the back and call it all good. But I’m very thankful for all the bloggers I’ve encountered over the past year (far too many to link to them all) who have taught me so many things about how to improve our home and our lives. 

Art piece #3 is not a painting. It’s an engraving:

PB245980 730x547 A cornucopia of thrift store art

What makes this one so cool (to me) is that it’s a portrait of Hazel Hall.

If you’re not an Oregonian, you probably don’t know who Hazel Hall is. (OK, even if you are an Oregonian, you probably don’t know who she is.) She’s been called the Emily Dickinson of Oregon.

After a bout of scarlet fever at the age of 12, she spent the rest of her life in a wheelchair, living (like Dickinson) in an upstairs bedroom of her parents’ house, where she wrote poetry. She also did needlework to earn money, and she died before turning 40 (in 1924).

It is her poems about needlework that are her most famous, and haunting:

After Embroidering

I can take mercerized cotton
And made a never flower beautiful
By thinking of tulips growing in window boxes;
I can work into cloth
A certain hushed softness
From an imagined scrutiny
Of a lily’s skin,
And embroider conventional designs the better
For thinking of brick garden paths.

But if I go farther,
If I follow the path,
Fling out the gate,
Plunge one breathless thought over an horizon…
My hands lose their cunning.

(From Selected Poems by Hazel Hall, Ahsahta  Press, 1980)

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The portrait is an engraving from a plaque now on the front of Hall’s Portland home. A notation at the bottom says that it is the artist’s proof, and it’s been professionally framed. I cannot make out the artist’s name (and couldn’t determine it through some internet research).

PB245981 730x547 A cornucopia of thrift store art

I suppose all of that is important, but I love this one because it is a portrait of Hall, who created what art she could with the limited resources available to her.

I have wished often in my life that I had more time to create poetry and art; Hall’s portrait reminds me that there is a long tradition of women who have struggled to find balance between their artistic wants and their economic needs. I’m not thankful that it remains so difficult for women to live full creative lives, but there is comfort in a reminder that all of us who struggle to do so are in very good company.

My admiration for women who create whatever art they can is why I have a special fondness for works of fiber art (so often the media used by women), and why this last piece is probably my favorite of the 4 I took home from BJ’s last week:

PB185956 730x699 A cornucopia of thrift store art

Like the landscape painting I found last summer, it came with notes on the back that made me fall in love with it:

PB185952 730x547 A cornucopia of thrift store art

PB185953 730x547 A cornucopia of thrift store art

Part of me is sad that this piece, obviously once valued by the artist’s family, somehow ended up in a thrift store bargain bin. But another part of me is just grateful to have been the one to find it there.

I love that every time I look at this, I’m reminded of Hall’s words, how her “never flowers” embody the real ones that live in her memory–just as these flowers grew from a sketch of living flowers. I love that Eleanor Roos made this the year before she died at the age of 88, reminding me that we can remain creative for our whole lives.

PB185961 730x547 A cornucopia of thrift store art

I’m grateful for the convergences among so many things we bring into our home that make each piece more meaningful than any could be on their own–that this cornucopia of unexpected art helped me see so much that I have to be grateful for.

PB185935 730x472 A cornucopia of thrift store art

We hope you’ve had a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend, with plenty to be thankful for. We’d love to hear all about it–or about why you thrift, or how you thrift, or how art makes the cut into your home, or how you reconcile different artistic tastes within one household, or how you satisfy your creative desires. Or about anything, really. We just like a good conversation, you know?

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Linking to Pancakes & French Fries for the William Morris Project.

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DIY your own stair tread gauge <small class="subtitle"> How to cut stair treads without measuring. Not even once!</small>

DIY your own stair tread gauge How to cut stair treads without measuring. Not even once!

A few posts back we wrote about our first big push on renovating our entry stairs.

Back when we moved in, they looked like this:

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Some of you may remember my stairway tantrum. I came home one day last spring and decided I’d had enough. The carpet on our stairway had to go right that moment. I proceeded to rip it all out while nobody was home.

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Rita caught me with the camera when she came in.

Thankfully Rita has a good sense of humor and is fairly flexible. She gave me a bit of a smile and understood completely where I was coming from. The carpet was light gray and looked horrible. The kids would track mud all over it coming in during the rainy season. Even though it was just banged up construction grade wood under the carpet I liked it way better than the horrible carpet.

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Rita tried to fix them up with some paint. It didn’t look great, but I still liked this better than the carpet.

Since then we’ve had quite a few conversations about how we were going to tackle the stairs. We experimented with some materials and got far enough along in our thinking to begin the project. I’m fairly certain they will turn out a bit like our bathroom–way different than we had first imagined, but in the end better and more interesting.

We’ll put up a post soon on our thinking process and how we got to this starting point. Just like our bathroom remodel it involved lots of coffee shops, neighborhood walks, glasses of wine, and nice dinners to get to this point. Really tough work but worth it in the end. icon smile DIY your own stair tread gauge

Today, though, I just want to quickly share something that made the first part of this project really easy.

DIY stair tread gauge 730x547 DIY your own stair tread gauge


In case it’s not obvious what this is, it’s a stair measure tool created to make cutting new treads foolproof. I can’t take credit for the idea because I saw it on the internets somewhere. (Can’t quite remember where?) The nice thing about the tool is that it takes away all need to measure lengths and angles.

A big problem with cutting stair treads is that every one is slightly different in length. If you are anything like me, remembering which lines are 8ths and which are 16ths never seems to stick. I end up remembering it like “3 lines past the half way mark” or something like that. The other issue is that when you take a tape measure to get the distance between two verticals like stair walls you have to bend the tape measure at the end and I can never quite tell the exact distance. (I’m sure there’s a trick to it but I don’t know what it is.)

Add to that the fact that the edges are rarely perfectly square and you have a tough situation. Imagine having to measure each tread’s length and the angles on both sides? Then try to transcribe that to the treads and cut them right. I could never get that done, and treads are expensive so making mistakes on this would be very costly. The stair measure tool fixed all that for me.

Looking for solutions to this problem, I found this:

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Here’s a commercial version of the stair measure tool. No reason to buy one though. It took me about 20 minutes and about a dollars worth of hardware to make one that works just as well.

With a bit of research I found a home made stair tread measure tool that gives you the length and angles in one easy step. No need to use a tape measure or figure out those pesky fractions.

So how does it work? Basically, it’s a couple of triangles attached to a center piece. The triangles are movable. They can go in and out and they can angle. You simply place the tool in place, loosen the wing nuts, slide it out and make it touch the outward edges of your stair well, and lock down the nuts. Once you do that you carefully remove the tool and place it on one of your treads and trace your lines where you need to cut.

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Here I am using the tool to measure for a stair tread. Just loosen the wing nuts and slide the triangles out until they flush with the wall. Then tighten down the wing nuts and remove the tool.

How to make your own stair tread gauge

First, you’ll need to assemble/create a few parts:

Here are the parts:

  1. 2 wing nuts, 4 washers, and 2 bolts.
  2. 2 triangle shapes. I made mine from scrap wood. The side of the triangle that faces the wall is the same depth as the stair tread.
  3. 1 center section. Length will vary depending on the width of your stairwell. To figure out how long it should be, place your two triangles on the step at the stair edges. Measure the approximate length from the center of one triangle to the other and cut your board to this length.
  4. 2 spacer pieces that will go under the triangle to keep the bolt up off of the tread. This makes it easier to trace the line. The spacers should be about the same length as the widest side of the triangles. They need to be thick enough to keep the bolt off the stair.
tread gauge parts DIY your own stair tread gauge

Here’s how to assemble it:

1. Use a drill or jigsaw to wallow out a hole in each triangle. I made my hole about an inch long. This will allow the triangles to pivot and move in and out. It doesn’t need to be a big hole because there won’t be that much difference in tread lengths. (There was only about a 1/4 inch difference in our stairs.)

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This is an important part. You can see how the hole where the bolt runs through is wallowed out. This allows for the movement and adjustment of the triangle piece.

2. Lay everything out on your stairs (center piece and two triangles) and dry-fit your tool. Use a pencil to make a mark through your hold (in step 1) that you’ll use to know where to drill your holes in the center piece. (See parts photo above.) Drill those holes.

3. Attach the triangles to the center piece, using a bolt, two washers (one on each side of the triangle), and a wing nut. The wing nut needs to go on the top so you can easily tighten and loosen it while you’re using the tool.

4. Nail the spacers to the ends of the triangles.

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Here’s another important detail. I found that I needed to put a spacer under the edges of the triangle pieced so that the bottom of the bolt didn’t touch when I was measuring and drawing my lines on the treads. This raised the center part of the tool up enough to keep it flat.

As I said above, you simply place the tool on the tread, loosen the wing nuts, slide the triangles out and fit the ends snugly against the sides of the stairwell, and then tighten the wingnuts down.

Then, you put the gauge on your tread, and mark your cut lines.

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I cut all my treads with a compound miter saw. The advantage of this saw is that it allows you to make angle cuts easily if the walls aren’t exactly straight. These saws can be expensive, but Harbor Freight has one for less than 200 bucks. It’s been a good buy so far. I’ve used it quite a bit and like the way it works.

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Here’s a photo of me cutting a tread with the Harbor Freight miter saw. It worked great and made quick work of the cutting. Yes, that is my cool yellow scooter in the background. And, no you can’t borrow it. :)

Our first tread fit nice and snug. I had to bang it into place with the palm of my hand. No gaps at all. Once I finished the first step, it took less than an hour to measure and cut the remaining ones.

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Why is the first tread in the middle of the stairs? Not sure…

This tool really was what made the difference in me thinking I could tackle cutting and installing stair treads. Without it I don’t think I’d have been comfortable doing it at all. Sometimes the right tool is important.

We’ll be doing another short post soon on how we installed the treads and risers. In the meantime, here’s a sneak peek of where we’re at in this project:

reclaimed wood risers DIY your own stair tread gauge

Yes, we love these. Still have more to do on this project, but we’re really happy with how it’s turning out.

Way back in college I worked in a woodworking shop for a couple of years. I didn’t get to use the power tools much. I was mostly the guy who did the final assembly and finish. I did learn some valuable things from the guys though.

Often when they had a woodworking task that was repetitive they’d create what they called a jig. It’s a tool designed for a specific job used to reduce repetitive tasks. This tool is an example of that. The idea of the jig is that it keeps you from having to repeat the same measurements over and over again. The jig reduces the chances of mistakes and it is more efficient in the end. Plus I never had to deal with all those pesky lines on the tape measure.

How about you?

Have you created any tools or jigs that save you time in the long run? Any great tips on how to make a stairwell look great? You know we always like hearing your tips and ideas.


Not just another sweater stocking Repurposing a treasured heirloom

I am a staunch believer in No Christmas Before Thanksgiving. In fact, I’m a bit of a crankypants on the subject. (Just ask our kids.)

I believe in giving all of Thanksgiving weekend to Thanksgiving–no Black Friday shopping, no wreath hanging, no Christmas nothing around here until the last piece of pumpkin pie is gone.

comic Not just another sweater stocking

From via No Christmas Before Thanksgiving Facebook page.

I wanted to be a purist about it all here on the blog, too, but I’m going to break my own rule a bit today. Because–while, yes, this is a tutorial on making a Christmas stocking from a sweater–this is really a post about gratitude and appreciation, which is what Thanksgiving is all about.

stocking header1 730x973 Not just another sweater stocking

This post is a revision of one we originally published last December, but most of you weren’t reading us then, so we thought we’d run it again.

Now, if you’re looking for a quick and easy tutorial on how to whip up a Christmas stocking out of an old sweater, that’s not what this one is. (If that’s what you’re after, I encourage you to go here.)

This is a tutorial on how to make a Christmas stocking out of a cherished sweater, with the kind of careful attention that went into the making of the original piece.  It is also a tribute to my grandma, who kept me warm for years with her works of fiber art.

grandma rita xmas 365x511 Not just another sweater stocking

Unfortunately, I’m not wearing one of her sweaters in this picture from more than a few Christmases past (gotta like the Harry Potteresque glasses)–but you can see that she has other ways of keeping me warm, as well.

 A little background

My grandma will be turning 96 in February, and it’s been more than a few years now since she’s put her needles down.  (And yes, this is the same Grandma with the fabulous house I shared this summer.)

blue sweater 730x547 Not just another sweater stocking

This is me last winter, modeling the sweater Grandma made for me when I was a freshman in college.

Sadly, most of her sweaters are gone now.  But in addition to the one above, I have two others I’ve held onto through two marriages and six moves:

green sweater before 730x547 Not just another sweater stocking

You’ll see this sweater a lot in this post, in varying shades of green/blue. Its true color is a deep, almost teal-ish green.

red sweater before 730x547 Not just another sweater stocking

Last year after Cane and I combined our households, drowning in tons of stuff we realized we didn’t need, I wondered what to do with these sweaters I haven’t worn in years and probably won’t wear again. (They just don’t fit me now.)

I was reading a lot about decluttering and simplifying.  Most minimalist writers recommend letting go of pieces that have only sentimental value, even family heirlooms.  They often suggest taking pictures to remember the items and passing them on to someone who might use them.

Much as I’d come to appreciate a life with less, I just couldn’t let these sweaters go.  I put them back in their box and resolved to think about it later.

One night last December, looking at our stockings hanging from our mantel, I had a brilliant idea, one I was sure no one had ever had before:  I could make the sweaters into Christmas stockings!  I could preserve my grandmother’s beautiful needlework and make something that will actually get used (as opposed to taking up real estate in my garage).

As it turned out, lots of people had already had this brilliant idea–leading me to understand that I am not destined to be one of the people who comes up with original brilliant ideas, at least in the area of craftiness.  (I’m OK with that, though.) One thing I’m thankful for this year is that so many of those people share what they’ve done, so that I can learn from them how to turn those ideas into reality.

So, how did I do it?

In a word:  slowly.

I will spare you all the thinking and pausing and thinking again that went into my process.  I was so worried that I’d ruin the sweaters and my chance of making stockings from them that I did a lot of thinking before I made the first cut.

My grandma’s craftsmanship is impeccable.  Her yarns are beautiful.  The idea of cutting into her sweater seemed a bit like slicing into a Van Gogh to make a collage.  I needed the thinking time to make sure I wanted to do this.  I needed the planning time to have a chance to fully examine and appreciate Grandma’s work.  I needed time to reflect on what her sweaters meant to me, and what it would mean to transform them–to make sure that was really the right thing to do.

red sweater detail 730x973 Not just another sweater stocking

When I was sure, I knew I was ready for step 1.  Or maybe 1.5.  Maybe the pausing and thinking was the true step 1.

Step 1.5:  Make a pattern.

I used my existing stocking to make a pattern, which is just a cheap red felt stocking.  This stocking has a story, too.  It’s part of a tradition from my years of marriage to my children’s dad, made the year I was pregnant with Will and Grace.

old stocking 730x973 Not just another sweater stocking

Grace had always loved my old glittery stocking, which is why it’s the one I used for the three years after her dad and I divorced.  She’s long been a fan of sparkly things, and I think she likes the story behind it:  I went a bit crazy with my stocking that year because I was in my first month of bedrest (but only the 4th month of the pregnancy).  What else was I going to do with my time?

Because of its history, I liked the idea of using it as the basis for a new stocking, but I also liked the idea of making a new stocking for the next stage of our life that we entered last year.

To make the pattern I simply traced around the stocking on tissue paper, then added a half-inch for a seam allowance.  (At this point, I thought I would be sewing the stocking on my sewing machine.  I ended up not doing that, but I’d still recommend a seam allowance.)

marking seam allowance 1 730x973 Not just another sweater stocking

I just put the measuring tape’s half-inch mark on the stocking outline and drew a short line using the top of the tape.

marking seam allowance 2 511x383 custom Not just another sweater stocking

After putting marks at intervals around the stocking, I drew the outside edge free-hand.

Step 2:  Place pattern on sweater (to see how it will all fit).

My sweaters are large enough that I’ll be able to make two stockings from each one.  The bottom edge of the sweater needs to be reserved for the cuff at the top of the stocking, which means that the body of the stocking needs to come from the upper body of the sweater.

ribbing 730x521 Not just another sweater stocking

This finished edge makes a great cuff at the top of the stocking.

Before doing anything with my grandma’s sweaters, I practiced with an old sweater Cane had put in the Goodwill pile.  I pinned on the pattern and cut it out, and then I just free-handed the cuff piece.  Doing this made me feel confident about the plan for Grandma’s sweaters.

practice sweater 730x973 Not just another sweater stocking

It wasn’t hard at all to cut up this grungy old sweater, and although I didn’t make any major goofs with it, practicing was well worth the time it took in the certainty I gained.

If the sweater has any kind of pattern to it, you’ll want to consider how you want that pattern placed on the stocking.  For the green sweater, I decided that I wanted the smooth part of the pattern at the top of the stocking, so that it would nicely set off the ribbing that would be on the cuff.

In my plan, I decided to make the cuff a sewn-on piece because I wanted it to fold over.  If you want to go a simpler route without a fold-over cuff, you can place the pattern such that the ribbing is the top of the stocking.

Step 3:  Detach sleeves and undo side seams.

As I worked with the sweater in step 2, I realized there was no way I could sew the stocking on a machine.  The sweater is too bulky.  I didn’t want to take a chance on wrecking my “fabric” somehow.  I decided that I would need to hand-sew it, using yarn to attach the pieces.

I first considered using new yarn.  I decided, though, that I wanted the stockings to be as wholly Grandma’s work as they could be. 

That meant using yarn from the sleeves to sew the stockings, which meant I’d need to unravel them.  I wasn’t sure how to unravel a sweater, so I went looking for information and found this great tutorial from Neauveau Fiber Art.

Grandma’s work was so nicely done that it took me forever to find the yarn/thread to snip in detaching the seams.  (She used yarn in some places and thread in others.)

unraveling 730x547 Not just another sweater stocking

There was the smallest of holes where all the seams come together (in the “armpit” of the sweater). I was able to find a thread here to untie. (Sorry about the weird blue hue.  White balance was off, and I can’t recreate the shot!)

Eventually it came free, though, and I was able to unravel the sleeves to get the yarn I needed.

yarn balls 730x521 Not just another sweater stocking

I wasn’t perfect in my snipping and unraveling. That’s why I have two balls, not one.

I decided to undo the long seams at the side of the sweater so that I could lay it flat to cut out one piece of the stocking body at a time.

Step 4:  Cut out the stocking body pieces.

After laying the sweater out into one flat piece, I pinned the pattern to it.  I placed the long side of the stocking at the sweater’s edge.  I knew I’d be dealing with raw edges for much of the stocking, but I wanted to take advantage of that long finished edge.  Seemed like it would be more stable and easier to work with.  (It was.)

stocking pinned 1 730x547 Not just another sweater stocking

Then I carefully cut around the pattern. After I removed it, it looked like this:

first stocking cut 730x973 Not just another sweater stocking

It was hard for me to see the sweater like this. I had to keep reminding myself that I’d rather see Grandma’s work transformed than to see it continue to sit in a box.

I placed the pattern right in the hole left by the first piece because I want the sweater pattern to match at the seams.

If the sweater is thin enough, you might be able to cut both pieces at the same time (as I did with my practice sweater), but I didn’t try that with Grandma’s sweater.

Step 5:  Sew the two body pieces together, placing the right sides together.

For the sewing, I used a simple whip stitch.  A little quick research indicated it would be the strongest stitch.  You can learn how to do it here.

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Sewing it together with a whip stitch.

My stitching wasn’t the most beautiful or even.  I had to make a lot of stitches, particularly in the parts of the stocking that didn’t have finished edges.  This is what it looked like when I was done:

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Step 6:  Cut out the piece for the cuff.

As mentioned earlier, you’ll want to use the bottom edge of the sweater for your stocking cuff, so that you can make use of that nicely finished edge.  To know how large to make it, I first measured the top of my stocking:

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I was a little concerned about how the cuff would work because the ribbing at the bottom of the sweater made the bottom of the cuff tighter (and shorter across) than the top of the cuff.  As you can see above, the top of my stocking was 8 1/2 inches.  I decided to make the cuff piece 18 inches long, to allow for a seam and to make sure that the cuff wouldn’t be too tight.

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I trimmed that little bit hanging beyond the edge of the top piece.

Once I had the right length for the piece, I needed to make sure it was a consistent height.  I decided to make the cuff 4 inches high (from the bottom of the ribbing.  The length is determined by how large a cuff you want.  I just measured four inches at regular intervals, and marked the length with a pin.  Then I cut across the top of the pins.

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Once the piece was cut out, I folded it so that the right sides were together, and I stitched the open edges together.

Step 7:  Pin the cuff in place.

Before sewing the seam to join the two ends of the cuff, I pinned it in place to make sure that it would fit.

Just so you know, I once scored in the 2nd percentile on a test of mechanical reasoning.  That means 98% of the people who took the test scored higher than I did.  Figuring out exactly how to put the cuff together with the stocking, so that when I turned the stocking right side out the cuff would fold over the top of it, also with the right side up, took far more effort than it should have.

I’m not going to be able to explain why you need to do it this way–and maybe there are other ways this can go–but this is what I did:

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The stocking body is turned inside out. The cuff piece is also inside out. You place the cuff piece over the outside of the stocking body, with the raw edges of the cuff lined up with the raw top edge of the stocking. This means the right side of the cuff is against the wrong side of the stocking body.

And then I realized I would need a loop, so I could hang the stocking.

I thought about just sewing one onto the stocking after it was finished, but I wanted the stocking to be as well-made as I could make it.  That meant figuring out how to sew the loop into the cuff seam.

But even before that, it meant making a piece to use for a loop.

Step 8:  Knit a small piece for the hanging loop.

Because my grandma taught me the rudiments of knitting when I was 8, knitting a piece for the loop wasn’t a big deal.  I was surprised to find that my fingers had some sort of muscle memory for how to cast on stitches.  (I used yarn from unraveling the sleeve, and I have needles because my grandma gave me hers a few years ago.)  If you want to learn the basics of knitting, I like the illustrations and instructions you can find here.

I only needed to cast on 6 stitches.  Not sure how many rows I knit, but I just eyeballed it and cast off when it looked twice as long as I wanted the loop to be (because you fold it in half to make the loop).

Then I needed to figure out how to pin it into the stocking/cuff business.

Again, I’m going to spare you my painful thinking process.  This is what you need to do:

First, figure out which way you want to the toe to point when the stocking is hanging.  (It could go either way with mine because the stocking is the same on both sides.)  You’ll need to insert the loop at the seam that’s opposite of the seam that runs down to the toe.

You place the loop in between the stocking and the cuff.  The raw edges go up and the loop goes down, in between the cuff and stocking.  All the raw edges are facing up, and they’ll all get sewn together.   

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Step 9:  Sew the cuff to the stocking

This part was tricky for me.  I used a whip stitch again, but I had a hard time getting to all the loose ends sewed up.  You’ll want to make sure that you put yarn through any open loops you see.  Like this:

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You really need to get yarn through all those open loops, otherwise you’ll have holes and the sweater can unravel.

Step 10:  Find the holes

At this point, I turned the stocking right side out, and I was hoping there was nothing left to do but revel in the glory of my awesome project, but I discovered holes in my seams–places where the cut yard hadn’t been bound up by my seam sewing.  So I went around all the seams, poking a bit with my fingers.  If my fingers poked through, I reinforced the area with more whip stitching.

Step 11:  Revel in the glory of your awesome project.

If decoration was all I was after–cool-looking stockings that I could make easily and quickly–I’d definitely use Remodelaholic’s method (linked to at the beginning of this post).  There’s much to like about how she did it:  It is easy, it’s attractive, it’s inexpensive, and it repurposes sweaters that might otherwise end up in a landfill.

But that’s not what I was after here.  This stocking is much more to me than decoration.

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For my entire childhood, until I was in my mid-20s, I spent every Christmas Eve with my Grandma and Grandpa Ott.  It’s probably been more than 20 years since I’ve been able to do that, and while I’ve had some lovely Christmas Eves since then, none of them have really felt like Christmas Eve.  I suspect that no Christmas Eve will–at least, not in the way those early ones did.

There was something really wonderful about that constancy.  It’s been a source of sadness to me that I haven’t been able to create that kind of steady holiday tradition for my own children.  Because of marriages, divorces, and geography, their family life has been more complicated than the one I grew up  with; as a result, what my kids have done for Christmas has varied from year to year.  I know they will not attach Christmas so firmly to a particular place and to particular people as I have.

grace pie Not just another sweater stocking

We spent this particular Christmas at a bed-and-breakfast. It was nice, but not Grandma’s house.

The past few years have shown me in many ways the only constant in life is change.  A 20+ year Christmas tradition was a rare and wonderful gift, one I treasure all the more for seeing how special it was.  I don’t expect to have that again, but now, thanks to my heirloom transformation, I suspect that for the rest of my life, I will have a little piece of constancy in my Christmas–and a tangible symbol of the things that made those early Christmases so wonderful for me.

My mantel might change, and the people gathered near it might change, but I think that from here on out, I will hang from it the same stockings, made from the sweaters my Grandma made for me.  I’m sure that at times they will make me a little sad for what once was and is no more–but what I will feel more often is gratitude for all that I was given and still have.  

I think my grandma will approve.

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Wishing everyone a peaceful holiday season-

Linking to DIY Showoff.


When the walls come tumblin’ down… 15-Minute Friday progress report

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From one of my favorites:  Austin Kleon’s Steal Like an Artist

Cane and I have long been proponents of productive procrastination.

For whatever reason, we seem to be wired to procrastinate. While we work hard to get on things that need to be done, we also accept the reality of who we are. This means not necessarily fighting procrastination, but accepting it and using it for good.

That’s why I got so much done this week while I was NOT working on my 15-Minute Project of getting our paperwork/office storage areas organized and better functioning.

Cane found a sweet little owl painting for $2 last week, and we decided that we’d hang a flock of birds above our mantel.

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We moved our embroidered owl over to join New Owl and Red Bird. Grace says this is “too much owl” but we like the flock.

Previously Red Bird lived up there by himself, just propped on top of the mantel, but three birds seemed to call for actual picture hanging. That took an easy 15 minutes.

Unfortunately, hanging the pictures wreaked a little havoc with our mantel arrangement. Our big clock no longer fits on the mantel, and most of what we used to have up there no longer seemed to work.

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This was our mantel last spring. We mostly just threw some stuff up there, which I liked. Somehow, hanging paintings on the wall instead of propping them up changed the whole dynamic.

This created a big, time-sucking problem–several 15-minutes worth of problem.

True confession time:

I have never gotten the whole mantel decoration thing. I like to make fun of people who spend a lot of time on their mantels (in private, just to my own little self, because I know it’s not nice).

It’s partly that I think there are a whole lot of more important things to spend time on, but it’s partly–I had to admit this week–because I don’t know how to make a mantel look good.

So I spent one 15-minutes (or two) Googling mantel arrangements. There are lots of ideas on how to do that (and pictures to go with), but in the end it just came down to me spending another couple of 15-minutes trying a whole bunch of different stuff out.

I realized I like a fairly spare mantel, and I went with a mostly symmetrical arrangement.

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This shows you what I ended up with, but it doesn’t really capture it. Looks much better in person–because I need to learn more about photography, as well as mantel arrangement. That would also be the reason the white balance is off in almost every picture in this post, dang it!

Moving the old stuff had a bit of a chain-reaction effect. I had to find a place for the clock, which sent me back to the red bookshelf I wrote about a few weeks ago.

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The back of that shelf had never been painted, which has driven me nuts ever since we moved it to that corner. From outside you can see a small slice of the unpainted back through the window, and you can also see it through the stair railing when you come in the front door. So I got out the paint and painted the back. That was another 15 minutes.

After re-arranging the mantel, I needed a place to put the cool clay teapot Cane made years ago. So I put it with some books on the top of a storage cabinet we have in our dining room/library. I also hung our new thrift store painting there, after we decided it was a better size for that space.

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And then I hung up some sweet embroidery art in the place that Embroidered Owl used to be. Another 15 minutes.

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This has a note on the back that says it was a Christmas gift in 1975. Of course I had to get it when I saw that.

Oh, and I spent 15 minutes digging out an old mirror and hanging it above the desk I was supposed to be purging and organizing–because I read something somewhere this week about how every entry should have a mirror, but Cane said he didn’t see a place for a mirror in our entry proper.

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And sometime on Wednesday, as I was complaining to Cane that I hadn’t done a single 15 minutes on the organization project, and I wasn’t going to have anything to write a post about, and maybe I just don’t have 15 minutes a day to do this project, I realized how many 15-minutes I’d used this week on tweaking the living room.

That’s when the walls of rationalization came tumbling down, threatening the foundation of my 15-minute project:

It’s not about time at all.

I’ve got time, clearly. That’s not what my inability to tackle big projects is about. I’ve figured out small pieces of my project that could be done in 15 minutes. I simply chose not to do them.

It was way more fun to tweak the living room.

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When I look back at anything in my life I’ve thought I wanted to do but felt I didn’t have the time to do, I can see that it was always something I didn’t–for some reason–deep down want to do. And I can see that I’ve always found time for those things I’ve felt compelled to do. (Like write this blog. :-))

I’m glad that in the absence of actually doing my proclaimed project, I did something useful instead. Productive procrastination beats the kind I do on Facebook or Pinterest, easy.

And it may be that the whole 15 minute thing is still necessary–not because I only have small chunks of time, but because that might be the amount of time that will make it tolerable for me to work on a project I don’t really want to do. The organization project needs to get done. I’m not sure why I’m resisting it. I’m guessing I’ll become more aware of that when I actually start doing more of it.

Awareness is always a good thing. It was helpful this week to see that I really can do things I set out to do. Or, at least, that I have the resources of time I need to do them. It’s not impossible.

Not giving up yet…

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Getting our groove back Stepping out on the DIY dance floor to fix our entry stairs

Back in September, I was DIY Done.

Even small projects–such as spray-painting some thrift store candle holders–made me positively cranky.

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After painting the exterior of the house

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…and finishing all the small details of our bathroom renovation

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…I had no love for DIY left in me. At all.

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This might not seem like a big deal, but it is a problem when the big idea of your blog is that improving your home is a pathway to improving your life. Improving our home this summer (and blogging about it) did not improve our life. In fact, kinda the opposite.

As we began the school year, I told Cane I needed a break from working on the house. I didn’t want to think about projects or talk about projects, and I certainly didn’t want to do any projects.

Truthfully, I could feel nothing with a paintbrush in my hand but fatigue and resentment.

So we took the fall off. I focused on work, and soccer games, and cheerleading practice, and finding a new car, and making it to the gym. We did a few little projects, but nothing much.

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We did use some Frog tape, but not for painting. Finally organized our pantry, which felt great.

And it was good.

So good that last week, when I asked Cane what he wanted to do with our 3-day weekend and he said, “Let’s do a project together,” I found myself saying, “Yeah, let’s,” and I meant it.

We decided that as much as our master bathroom renovation has us itching to start work on the truly ugly area that is our bedroom…

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Baby blue walls, cheapy old headboard and nightstands, closet with no doors, old closet door mirror propped up on the wall, low popcorn ceiling with ugly recessed lights, horrible stained carpet, and remains of wallpaper border along the ceiling line. This room is a rabbit hole waiting for us to fall in!

…what we really want to work on is our entry way. If you’ve been with us awhile, you might remember that back in the spring, when we finished painting our living room, we declared that project done even though the entry is really part of the living room.

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You can see in this photo that the entry walls are still mint green, which is not the color of the rest of the living room.

And you might also remember that last spring, Cane tore off the carpet from the entry stairs one day, and I slapped down some awful brown paint that was not a good temporary fix.

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It is, however, the fix we’ve been living with ever since.

Although we’d love to turn the bedroom into a more pleasing retreat, we decided to tackle this area next because it is for the whole family the passage from our outside world to our inner shelter from it.

We want it to be a space that feels the way we want our whole home to feel, instead of a space that reminds us of the ways in which we aren’t quite there yet.

Thinking about it, we realized that our entry is pretty metaphorical for our life as a family right now.

Parts of it are fabulous

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(If you want the story on this light, click on the image.)

–and parts of it are soulful

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The back side of a painting hanging in the entry. There’s a story there, too–which you can also get to by clicking the image.

–and although it’s functional, it’s a bit disjointed and half-finished and just not where we really want it to be.

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We want to fix the stairs, and get the walls painted, and change the trim, and paint the door, and find a better rug, and paint the banisters (or swap them out for something cooler), and fill the walls with great thrift store art.

Instead of feeling defeated and discouraged about this, though, I’m feeling the way I felt at the beginning of the summer:  Ready to tackle something new and make good progress on this home-making project of ours.

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Cane captured me in all my paint-clothes glory right before we started working on Saturday.

We learned a few things from our missteps this summer. Before we began just ripping things up (more), Cane and I actually sat down together and made a plan. (What a great idea! :-))

1. We set a realistic goal for our weekend’s work. We decided that we’d replace the treads on the top set of our split-entry stairs and make decisions about paint/stain/colors. We wanted to paint/stain the treads before putting them in, so we had to make those decisions.

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This is what we started with on Saturday.

We figured out a chunk of the big project that we could actually finish in the weekend, so we’d end with both a sense of accomplishment and functioning stairs. After Saturday afternoon, all three kids were gone until Tuesday. It was important to us that the  stairs could be walked on by the time they return.

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For much of the weekend the stairs were like this. The treads weren’t nailed down, which allowed us to move them away from the wall as we were working. We didn’t want the kids around with the stairs like this.

2. We worked together as much as possible. In some ways this is a project of one-person jobs, but we were close to each other while we were working, and we both worked at the same times.

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Laying paint on the stair treads. I did some of this by myself while Cane was working on removing the treads, but we did some of the painting together. Helpful tip: I put a bit of the brown paint in the white primer, which made it easier to cover with the dark paint. We only needed two coats of paint.

3. We planned time for fun. We want to fill the tall walls of the entry with paintings, so we scheduled time on Sunday (while the paint on the treads was curing) to go to Portland and visit our favorite thrift/vintage shops.

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Painted school bus outside one of our favorite vintage marketplaces.

And I’m happy to report that we did it!

On Saturday we removed the old treads and made some color decisions. We picked up some new pine treads at Home Depot, which we thought we’d stain with a natural color, but when we looked at a test board we decided we want something darker.

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Below the test board, you can see some of the salvaged wood we’re planning to put on the risers. We thought the dark color did a better job of setting off the boards.

We ended up painting them with a dark brown that we already own from a different project. And then we decided that we needed to strip the piece of wood that runs up the wall next to the stairs. (It probably has some kind of official stair-part name, but we don’t know it.)

We like the warmth that natural wood brings into a space. Our plan is to remove the white trim and replace it with a simple wood quarter-round trim.

After tearing up the old treads and painting on Saturday, we decided that we needed to let the paint thoroughly dry–which meant no work on Sunday!

Instead, we went out for breakfast-for-lunch, and we hit up some of our favorite thrift/vintage stores. We were looking for art, but the first thing we got was this:

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We’re hanging this groovy retro lamp above the corner of our family room sectional. We think it was a good deal at $35. It’s in great shape and moves us a step closer to determining a color palette for that room.

We did also pick up two thrift store paintings. They’re not the best finds we’ve ever come home with, but we like them.

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Sunday we worked hard all day–but it was a good work hard.

First we did a lot of stripping and sanding–a messy job.

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How can you not love a guy who puts stripper on before he even gets dressed (and lets me take a picture of him doing so)?

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We tried this citrus-based stripper. It worked pretty well, and the best part was no fumes! Still, we also needed to do quite a bit of sanding and cleaning with mineral spirits.

We removed the white trim pieces on either side of the stairs.

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Cane measured and cut the new treads, using a really cool and clever tool he created (and will tell you more about in a separate post).

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This measures for exact length and gets the angle right for the cuts on the ends.

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While Cane was doing much of this one-person work, I was doing some painting around our fireplace. We made the stair color decision on Saturday after trying out some trim color there:

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Why, yes: Those are jack-o-lanterns still up more than a week after Halloween.

We didn’t even finish the brown section because we knew right away we wanted to go with brown rather than grey. I would show you the finished shot, but we decided after I was all done that we used the wrong brown. Going to fix that up today.

And by late afternoon, we’d met our goal: Usable stairs with new treads all nailed down and sides ready for stain/poly:

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As you can see in the left photo, we’ve still got a ways to go and the risers are next on our list. But looking down from the top, it’s much, much better!

It was a hard summer for us, in more ways than one. It felt great to be back in our old groove–having a nice mix of work and play and feeling good about our progress in turning this house into our home.

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Goofing around with my beautiful girl before getting to work on Saturday.

We’re not exactly happy about how our summer went down, but we are glad we can take what we learned about how to (not) do projects and move forward.

And you?

How was your weekend? Did you work? Play? Both? How are you feeling about the waning of fall? (It definitely felt like winter where we are this weekend!)

You know we’d love to hear from you in the comments…

And we’re linking to our favorite online gathering, the weekly William Morris project party at Pancakes & French Fries.

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15 Minute Friday: Not so easy

You know how some bloggers make everything look so easy?

And it makes you think, “Hey…I could do that.”

I could make pumpkin pie from real pumpkins.

I am going to make my own gift bags from recycled paper.

I can get my kids to cut their screen time without any blood, sweat, or tears.

Well….I’m not one of those bloggers.

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Easy isn’t quite how we roll around here.

That 15-minute Friday idea I got from Brooke?

That easy-peasy approach to tackling a major project that I hoped would be my own version of something that looks so easy you’d all run out and tackle your own Big Something? How did that go this week?

Kinda like this…

On Saturday I dug into this…

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…because I knew I had bills in there that needed to be paid.

After something like 90 frickin’ minutes, the bills were paid and I had this to show for it:

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Doesn’t look like progress, does it? And let’s not be coy here: That’s what it still looks like today, almost a week later. Because I don’t know where I’m going to put all this stuff.

Which made me so cranky that I blew off Sunday and have nothing to show for that day.

On Monday I had every intention of finding 15 minutes to just start my home organization project. But it was a beautiful, sunny afternoon, and it was just Cane and me at home, and I figured it is one of the last pretty fall days because the leaves are falling so fast now, so we decided to we really needed to take a walk…

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…and by the time we got home from our walk and made dinner and did chores I just didn’t find 15 minutes.

(See how this post about home organization just got highjacked with all those pretty fall walk pictures? Because they are so much more fun than pictures of drawers and files and cabinets…)

On Tuesday I was enthralled with the election (and everyone posting about it on Twitter and Facebook) and putting the final touches on our latest tutorial post (building a shelf with old drawers). So another day passed with no progress…

Which means that by Wednesday, I was feeling a little anxious about writing a post for Friday.

After fretting for a bit, I took Annie’s advice to start with just one thing, one important thing, and let the rest go.

I decided to start here:

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This is the inside of a desk that sits at the top of our stairs, which means it’s often a landing space for all kinds of junk.

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Which means that when we need to do a quick clean-up, that junk on the top is often swept inside:

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At one point this summer, it looked like this.

Although I don’t have a grand organizational plan–because I still don’t know all of what we even have, so how can I possibly know where it all needs to go?–I was able to decide that I want the top part of this desk to be the place for mail/bills. And nothing else.

So I used my 15 minutes to clean out everything that wasn’t related to mail/bills, and it looked like this when I was done:

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Not earth-shattering, I know. But it is progress.

What got to stay?

  • New checks
  • Stamps
  • Some pens
  • Current mail
  • A calculator
  • Thank you cards

Everything else got put somewhere else. That means some of it got shoved into another space I need to organize, but I decided to just




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This is one of the drawers in the same desk. Next week.

Did I get this task done in 15 minutes?

Not really. It was closer to 30.

But I made progress on a weeknight!

And it wasn’t terribly painful.

And it feels really good to have that one space done.

This whole thing is all about baby steps, and making a big task manageable, and keeping at it.

I for sure wasn’t perfect in my project this week,but I’m calling it a success. Which, now that I think of it, means that you just might read this post and think:

Hey, I can do that!

Now it’s your turn…

Do you take on a 15-minute project this week? Please share in the comments, and feel free to add a link if you’re blogging about it.

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