Category Archives: home improvement

busy busy busy

No time to blog today.

Nope today I must journey into the city and procure ski gear for all the bodies in my house that exploded with growth this year.

(that would be everybody) 

Why need this be done TODAY when the forecast shows absolutely NO SNOW for the next THREE WEEKS?

Because, this way me getting ready for winter wont jinx things.

It’s Murphy’s law. Be prepared for weather and it wont come. You can count on it.

Enter my genius logic:

It can’t possibly snow less than NOT AT ALL right?

(are you reading this mother nature? HA!)

So, today I’ll be busy shopping.

And that is why no blog, because of my kids. And the weather.

It is absolutely NOT because I’ve been occupied for the last month DIYing. Nope not that.

No, it is not because – when faced with an empty house after being away – I decided to shun the furniture store and build everything we’ll sleep, sit, eat, and watch movies on…by myself.

Not true.

However, since I’ve not the time to humor you with words today, I will share with you all the projects that have (not) diverted my brain (hands, feet, shoulders…) as of late.

Slide show please:

Table (in case that isn’t clear):

Table. (Just in case that wasn't clear)

Couch, interrupted. There will be more pillows and another layer of fabric once I decide on colors – an area I’ve NO aptitude for and welcome ALL advice on…

Couch, interrupted. There more pillows and another layer of fabric once I decided on colors - something I'm horrible at and WELCOME all advice on


Bed. Bed frames are rarely photograph worthy (this one isn’t anyway) but I’m very happy with how the legs turned out. Nice?

Bed. Beds are easy and not photograph worthy, but this one has nice legs...don't you think?

As you can see it was all quite doable. I should have had time to blog, even after Saturday rolled around and I felt a need to upgrade the bar.

Old Bar (and help!)


(The real reason Mowgli works in a field that requires frequent travel? To get away from this?)

I’m reasonably sure Mowgli volunteered for a month in Korea the second we finished this project but, it still might just be worth it.

New Bar! 

New bar.

Lovely isn’t it? Especially when experienced from my position. This is primarily my work space you know.

Me Working:

Me working


Anyway, there you have it. My apologies. I promise to be funny soon.

Well, I certainly wont be SKIING. I can tell you that much…

Have a great week!


Stages of Grief: some assembly required

This weekend was amazing. I went to a theme park, road a rollercoaster, ate dark chocolate cake with strawberries for dinner, had martinis in a castle and then slept in a king sized bed with extra pillows and soft sheets that someone else was responsible to launder.

Pretty great, right?

Then is this happened.


On the other side of that shot was little me: IKEA virgin. Though you can’t see me I promise I looked just like this  O.O  In fact, the last time I was so enthusiastic about entering a place I was two feet tall and wearing mouse ears with my name on them.

I was excited.

Then I went inside.

I don’t know if it was the clash of expectation to reality or just the plain truth that I am THE WORST SHOPPER IN THE WORLD but my IKEA experience was kind of traumatic.

5 minutes in the door *POOF* I lost my family. Cellular signal was so weak my desperate texts to Mowgli ran with a 3 minute delay.

“I’m in kitchens” “I’m in kitchens, where are you?” “Looking at office chairs.” “Is that you by the clock display?” “I’m near the vat of towels. I don’t see you.” “Wait. That was someone else. I’m going up.” “Why, I’m down?”

You get the picture.

At one point the boys and I reconnected and (feeling a bit like the Russians at Stalingrad) I sent the three of them out again to find their father in the chaos.

Only two returned.

After that came tears, some arguing, a minor skirmish as well as several (SEVERAL) shopping cart near collisions. I do not believe a good time was had by anyone and that night I slept in the liquor cabinet.

Don’t judge. 

It was not the experience I expected to have.

Upon reflection I realized my trip through IKEA bore a striking resemblance to the mental journey a person makes when trying to process a great tragedy:

Step one: Denial

The store can’t be this big. It can’t. I saw it from the outside. Around the next corner will be a checkout counter and the exit, I’m sure….

Step two: Anger

NO MORE! Enough with the shelves, and couches and storage units! Stop tempting me! Three dozen different coffee tables?! Are you kidding me?!

Step three: Bargaining

Dear God if you get me out of this store with some money left in our account I promise to never shop again.

Step four: Depression

Our cart is full and we haven’t hit the clearance aisle yet… *sobs*

Then finally,

Step five: Acceptance

We are broke. Penniless. We are organized and outfitted, stylish and hip but it will be crackers and water for a month. If only I’d spent more time with that last paycheck before it left. If only I let it know how much it meant to me…

Was it worth it? Well the place looks great. There are little adorable homes for everything. I’ll have everyone over for tea to show it off…

once we can afford tea again…

shouldn’t be long now…







Crawling out of a remodel hole.

Deciding to remodel your home is a bit like choosing to bring a child into the world. There are months of mounting anticipation with good days and bad days that peak in the euphoric elation of a precious new addition to your life.

And there’s labor: the uncertain period of blindingly painful, physically exhausting, struggle to get it done.

For the last two weeks Mowgli and I (and a couple brilliantly talented craftsmen) have been in labor.

Our focus: improving the Kitchen and laundry. The two workhorses of any western home. The two rooms you use the most. Both. At the same time.
(Because we’re stupid.)

Minimalist style, it's purest form
Minimalist style, it’s purest form

It’s been… an experience.

Day one we stripped the kitchen of ALL work surfaces, including the sink. This took the dishwasher out of play for an unspecified number of meals and forced us to make a few adjustments to the dining routine: Paper plates and hand washing in the tiny bar sink.

(Thank GOD we drink or it would have been back-breaking bath tub washes every night).

Moments before the drywaller barked at me "get those out of there!"
Moments before the drywaller barked at me “get those out of there!”

The laundry, on the other hand, was completely gutted.


No wash. No dry.



At first, the disabled lifestyle brought on a fit of nostalgia.
“This is just like when we lived in Russia!” We sang. (Weee!)
A few days later however, the same words came out with a slight kill-me-now growl. “This is just like when we lived in Russia!”

And then, as it is when two people try to care for the demands of an infant with limited resources, our life became a minefield of argument starters.

“Well if you weren’t so cheap, the bar would have had a dishwasher, not just a sink.”

“What do you mean there are only two restaurants in town that will deliver? What kind of backwoods hollow did you bring me to?”

“Clean underwear every day? What are you, royalty?”
(I know, I know, first world problems.)

Luckily, time marches on and projects do end. While we’re not out of the woods yet, the baby is gaining independence rapidly. The dishwasher is back and we expect to re-open the laundry Wednesday (52 hours to go…).

Mowgli and I will survive, I know but… 

I have a question about the kids…

A few days ago the 9 year old switched from chocolate milk in the morning to black tea (coffee was too bitter) and the 12 year old began referring to Mowgli and I by our first names.

But that’s not uncommon right? When a new time sucking member is introduced to a family the older siblings enter a normal phase of coerced adulthood? Don’t they? Should I worry?

This project isn’t over.

Do we  start hiding the car keys? The beer?

Hold that though, I’ve got to run. The baby’s crying…


The vision of a craftsman
The vision of a craftsman












Washer woes


Friday the washing machine began acting up again.

It does that from time to time, it’s hardly cause for alarm. It likes to complain. A lot. But though it does, in the end it always cleans so we’ve taken to receive each new spasm as simply another warning from a hypochondriac unit with a work allergy.

“I’m failing! You should replace me!” It would cry. We happily ignored it.

Why run out and spend money on a new machine when, for the most part, the one we had still worked? If it died, it died, we’d replace it then. Until that time, we would wait.

Contrary to popular opinion, good things do not come to those who wait.

What comes to those who wait is the discovery that their “finicky” washing machine is in fact possessed machinery that has been watching and waiting for the right time to launch an attack.  

Arriving home after a weekend of camping, with mountains of dirty clothes in hand, who greeted me at the laundry room door? Well, I don’t know exactly but she said we should call her Cybil.

Want Cybil to work? You’d better keep her company while she does it. And unless you want all hell to break loose, you should forget about saving time with a larger load, Cybil is a lady, not a mule (though she’s inexplicably taken to nudity. Once we stripped half her panels off, she was almost her old self again). washer

Cybil will clean, but on her terms only and she’s kind of PC. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that. I’m just saying that flat out refusing to operate if the dial is set to “whites only” is taking things a bit far.

But honestly, all that we can deal with. The real problem now is convincing Cybil that no matter how much she sounds like a jet, she is never going to fly.

It’s not bad…

(it’s terrible, she’s been talking to the dryer)

Probably wont even shop for a replacement…

(because we can’t! Cybil is watching…)

We’ll just wait it out…

(if you don’t hear from us soon, send a priest!)




By now everyone heard of Pinterest, right? The web site harmlessly regarded as “idea central”?

Well, don’t be fooled. Pinterest is “dare-you” central, perhaps even “double-dog-dare-you-chicken” central. Yes, it is a plethora of creative ways to tweak your world into a better one. At the same time, however, it is an endless parade of what other people are brave enough to do. Spend five minutes on Pinterest and your inner voice nags… “Why don’t you do that? What are you waiting for? Look at how many people think it’s a fabulous idea.”

Of course it’s also possible that only happens to me and I’m in dire need of a Pin-tervention. You decide.

This week I re-stained my kitchen cabinets. Black with an incredibly expensive stain that some woman on Pinterest said she used on her cabinets that not only improved the looks of her home but made her more popular, added volume and sheen to her hair and removed her love handles. How could I not try it?

(It’s amazing what little regard I have for resale value.)

Then, I painted my KitchenAid. It was boring white because once upon at time that was on the only color they came in and I was tired of it. Now they come in silver, red and black right out of the box. On Pinterest the really cool people have ones with flames and flowers andDisney characters!

Is it wrong to want a full life?

This project is terrifying only because it requires you to do this to a $400 stand mixer:

Nobody panic, I was a mechanic in a previous life.

But it’s looking good so far!

I’ll get the mixer part back on


And finally, this week I unsuccessfully attempted to blow up my slow cooker.

I am one of the pathetic members of the population struggling to feed her family with only 1 oven. (Mowgli, are you reading this?) With the holidays looming this inconvenience threatens to transform my existence into culinary chaos.

Enter Pinterest spreading the rumor that it’s possible to bake yeast bread not in an oven, but in a slow cooker.

Never mind that most slow cookers advise to never, ever, never, under penalty of violent death, turn one on without first adding liquid. Never mind that the only food dryer to bake than yeast bread is crackers. Never mind that there are children in my house, watching me… People had tried this recipe and, therefore, so must I.

Happily, not only did this work, no limbs were lost.


You only live once you know.


Besides all this, Pinterest reminded me today that November is NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month, that crazy time of year when writers around the country trade grounded reality for the chance to pen an entire novel inside 30 days.

Why not? It’ll be hours before all that paint is dry.

Besides, everybody swears it’s awesome.



Who wants to live forever?



Took the family for a stroll along the shore last weekend and stumbled upon this interesting structure: 


Alaskans are fearless.

I’m curious what capital expense the owners invested in first, the sea wall or the hot tub? (Tub is on the right, inside)

Was it a tough decision?

“Oh, a sea wall would be smart, I guess, but wouldn’t an indoor hot tub be fabulous?”

Not one of the other houses on the block was so heavily fortified either and they’re all still standing. More importantly, they are all still occupied.

I can only imagine the gossip in the neighborhood the day after the wave hit.


“Morning. Bit of surf last night, eh?”

“Oh yeah, surf.”

“You see Jim-Bob’s place? What a bummer.”

“Oh yeah, bummer.”

“Wonder if he wants to sell that hot tub?”


Fearless. Alaskans are fearless. Not occasionally, but every day. Not with a hand shake, but a bear hug. Not testing the water with your toe, but diving right in. It is who they are.

And, I’ve discovered, it isn’t always a good thing.

Usually I’m the queen of “it’s your life, do what you want” but lately I’ve been having second thoughts. My kids are growing up here. Each day they suck up a little more of the can-do last frontier spirit. That’s great when my boys decided to take over gassing the car. But not so great when they hear how our friend went camping and almost didn’t come back.

“Saturday I had my near death experience.” She told us.

My near death experience. Mine. The one I’ve been waiting for. The one that was coming. That event that, at some point in my life, had to happen. Like getting my wisdom teeth pulled or finding that first gray hair. It sucks, but you can’t avoid it. No point crying. What are you going to do? Stop living your life?

Um, yeah. I was sort of thinking about it.

Anyway, it was only a near death experience.An actual death experience, now that’s something to write home about.


Alaskans are fearless. Maybe, just maybe Alaskan are also like cats. I sure hope they are like cats. Most of them could use a few extra lives.


Stove, a love story

I bought a new stove.

Let me rephrase that.

I Jolie, the blue ribbon champion of the frugal fair, the reigning queen of planet thriftopia , the only person ever to whittle her own knitting needles in lieu of buying a set, PAID CASH FOR A BRAND SPANKING NEW KITCHEN STOVE.

Yeah, I can’t believe it either.

My Whittled double points because I know you don't believe me.

It’s not that I don’t like spending money or owning new stuff or (bite your tongue) cooking. On the contrary I LOVE all those things. So does Mowgli. In fact, remodeling our kitchen was the first home improvement project we took on when we bought our house thirteen years ago.

Unfortunately, it will also be the last one we finish.

For good or bad, Mowgli and I have a tendency to exhaust all other resources, (time, energy, wire hangers, ductape, blood…) before resorting to the power of the almighty dollar. It’s a silly little quirk we developed when we were penniless. We’re not broke anymore, but old habits die hard. In remodeling our home, inexpensive sweat equity projects were completed swiftly while the more expensive operations lingered. And, when it comes to green back sucking expenses, a proper kitchen remodel ranks right up there with buying your own island.

This is why, though we’ve needed, wanted, longed for a new stove for, well, FOREVER, it’s taken us up to now to actually get one. Well, to get the right one anyway. See, the stove we replaced recently wasn’t the stove that came with our house. The stove that stove replaced wasn’t either. And that stove…well, let me explain…


Stove 1: the stove that came with our house. An almond four burner manual stove that was older than Donna Reed, which wasn’t a problem, and electric, which was. Thirteen years ago few things in Alaska were as expensive as electricity (milk maybe). It cost us a small fortune to boil water. Some of the meals I prepared then would have been cheaper to cook over rolls of flaming Abe’s. We converted to gas as soon as was possible, opening up our first occasion to need a new stove.

We didn’t get one.


Stove 2: the hand-me-down. Almond again and older than Fannie Farmer, which still wasn’t a problem. It was gas and that was the point. We got this stove from some friends who were also remodeling (at a much faster pace than Mowgli and I) and had offered to help us out.

Not that I’m bitching, stove 2 was free after all, but I rue the day the old beast came into our kitchen. It wouldn’t broil and the oven barely warmed enough to toast bread. The burner knobs stuck (so much so we broke one trying to turn the damn thing on) and self cleaning hadn’t been invented when the stove was manufactured. It did work, but only just. Just enough for us to suffer it a while.

I did, however, learn a valuable lesson with stove 2. Before accepting a “free, fine working” stove being replaced for the sole reason its owners were “switching to black” find out if those same owners actually ever cooked.


Stove 3: the stove I thought I wanted. Stove 2 encouraged me daily to save my pennies for its replacement, but it still did not come fast enough. When I saw stove 3, I saw my salvation. It had all the features I was looking for and, more importantly, was on sale for 50% off. I found Stove 3 at a refurbished appliance warehouse. It sparkled. It was sleek and black and beautiful and looked as though it hadn’t fried on egg.

Neither, coincidently, did the six other identical model stoves on sale that day. Six! Half a dozen wonderful stoves of my dreams at my fingertips for bargain basement prices! Six nearly new ranges that had been returned repaired and released for resale.

The operative words here? “Six” and “returned”.

Generally, it’s best to form one’s own opinions about things. Generally. When there aren’t six glaring examples of what not to buy displayed before you. Suffice it to say I will NEVER purchase ANYTHING from that manufacturer again.

Stove 4: the used stove we bought because stove 3 refused to operate the day before a very important dinner I was giving for Mowgli’s business associates. By ‘refused’ I mean stove 3 locked its oven door and would not let go. Literally. We tried everything to get it open. This was not its first tantrum. Who knew an appliance could have such attitude? Things breaking, I understand. Things threatening to ruin your livelihood is just, well, “Maximum Overdrive” (Steven King 1986. Machines come alive, not in a save-the-world kind of way. People died). Anyway, enter Stove 4. White, middle aged, blue collar, a solid worker if unattractive and a little uncultured… It worked, it got us by, it died.

Hot, hot, hot!


Stove 5: Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hal-le-e-lu-u-jah!






Old dogs, new tricks?

Two events of cosmic significance took place at camp Rishel this weekend. The first was we finally got a new front door! It is lovely white with nine adorable double paned windows that now shower our entry with light. It’s all new Christmas in August, the frame, trim, knobs, keys, and my renewed appreciation for the view outside. I have jonesed for this door for a long time. Long time. Think: years.

But this weekend’s other celestial occurrence was no less awesome and amazing. Mowgli and I installed our beautiful new door together, as a team and, for the first time ever, without wanting to kill each other.


This was not our first go at a joint project. Mowgli and I have worked together before. A lot. Matter of fact, we met on the job. Over the course of our united life we’ve been employed together on large crews, on small crews, as partners, as well as in the precarious combination of supervisor and subordinate. After all that experience there are two things we now hold as undeniable truths: One, we work wonderfully, efficiently, and cooperatively side by side, and two, we are utter crap at working together.

We have our reasons. Personally, I believe Mowgli’s attention to detail (itty bitty microscopic, totally inconsequential detail) and his tendency to put WAAYYYY too many fasteners in EVERYTHING could drive the Dali Llama into a violent rage. Mowgli, for his part, insists I have an irresponsible work ethic because I do pretty much everything in flip-flops and I may have, once or twice, accidentally left a sledgehammer on top of the ladder. (So?)

When the rare occasion forces us to work cooperatively, the minutia of matrimonial accord we have vanishes. Communication quickly erodes into something like a 9-year-old reading assembly instructions to another 9-year-old. “Pick up the left side of the door frame with your right hand. No, your right hand. No, your other right! OK, now tilt the door up. No, up. No, your other up!” It’s exhausting and, when at all possible, avoided.

Unfortunately, unless you are an octopus, installing a door is a two person job. And in our situation, an unavoidable job as well. At one time, getting a new door was a low priority “want” (the old one was ugly, dark, dented…). Then, last winter, it climbed the home improvement ranks to an absolute “need”. It’s threshold was missing. Where it once lay, protecting us from cold weather and creepy bug, was now a gaping, heat leaking hole. Last December, In an effort to gain access for a flooring project, I had ripped the old threshold out. Completely. Think: pry bar.

Did you know that a doors threshold is integral to the frame and that replacing one requires replacing the entire doorway unit? Well, it is.

On the up side, every day you don’t learn something new is a wasted day!


So, on Tuesday we bit the bullet and I brought home a new door-frame assembly. Then for the next four days we stood by silently as the tension in our house grow so thick you couldn’t cut it with a pneumatic sawzall. Did I mention that, on top of this project, we had recently decided to go low cal and had been (for the last two weeks) suspended in a perpetual state of STARVING? A good condition to work in? I think not. By Saturday morning the aroma of impending doom was inescapable.


But we did it! No tool throwing, no yelling, no cursing (well, minimal cursing and none of it at each other), no storming out of the room, no do overs, no lines in the sand, no “fine have it your way”, no “it’s my way or the highway”, no… wait, am I obsessing?

How did this happen? Maybe we’ve matured enough to deal with each other. Maybe the lack of food rendered us too weak to fight. We’ll probably never know. Our new door, with Mowgli’s 8,000 screws and three cans of spray foam insulation, is never coming out.

But it’s beautiful isn’t it?

Paint it to match?? Might just repaint the whole house.