Thursday, September 29, 2011

Let There Be Light

Every day that I don't blow myself up is a divine miracle and someone should report it to the Vatican. Or whatever you do when miracles happen.

So I've gotten pretty good at rewiring old lamps, right? I've done several successfully and I'm getting more comfortable with electricity which normally scares me to death. When I finished rewiring my last lamp I even plugged it in barefoot. For all the other ones I made sure I was wearing my tennis shoes with the thick rubber soles while I held the plug with 2 fingers and didn't touch anything else.

Now that lamps are old hat I decided I could venture out into other areas, like Christmas lights. I've been working on a landscape lighting project for our yard over the past couple of months. It has taken that long to collect all the thrift store light fixture covers that I need.

I first saw this idea on Pinterest when someone pinned this picture from a blog called The Art of Doing Stuff.

Pretty darn clever, right? I see these glass dome thingies all the time at junk stores and they sell for $.50 to around $2.00 each, depending on the size. I have strands of Christmas lights out the wazoo so I was pretty confident I could pull this off.

I started collecting orbs and playing around with how I wanted them positioned. I tried them in clusters but that made them look like space ships to me so I just lined them up as I collected them and I put a string of icicle lights under them for a visual. As I continued to collect and experiment, I discovered there was a problem.

The problem I ran into is the lights. I wanted the orbs to be spaced at least a couple of feet apart but your average string of Christmas lights has bulbs that are spaced every couple of inches and I didn't want random lights to show between my orbs. I thought about burying the bulbs between the orbs under the mulch but I was afraid I would be constantly recovering them so they wouldn't show. The only solution I could see was to eliminate some bulbs.

My strands are the kind that if one bulb burns out the rest stay lit, but if you pull one out of the socket the whole strand goes dead. I thought about just taking a pair of pliers and breaking off the bulbs I didn't need. Their stems would still be in the socket so it wouldn't break the circuit and the rest of the lights would work. But something (rare common sense maybe?) told me that probably wasn't a good idea.

Plan B was to use my newfound electrical skills. I was going to snip off the sockets I didn't want, strip the wires, splice them together, cover with electrical tape and call myself a genius. That seemed like such a simple solution to me. It made perfect sense and I just didn't see any reason why it wouldn't work.

For some strange reason I ran my idea past Jayson before I actually did it. I have no idea why I even mentioned it to him since that's not my standard m.o. I usually get an idea, jump into it head first, then wait for Jayson to drive me to the emergency room. It's a system that works for us.

Even though Jayson is probably not quite as electrically skilled as I am (ahem) he's still pretty handy and he knows stuff. He thought my splicing idea would probably work but he didn't think it would be safe. I fully intended to do it anyway since I was just asking for his opinion not his permission. But after chewing on it for a couple of days I conceded that he was probably right. Considering the number of sockets I was planning to remove plus the fact that these light would be outside in the elements and held together by electrical tape, it probably wouldn't be wise.

I knew I had to come up with Plan C because I already bought 15 glass domes and I wasn't about to let my 20 bucks go to waste. When I tossed my test-strand of icicle lights back into the Christmas light bin in the garage, I notice several strands of those big Christmas lights that we used to put around the outside of the house. I think they're called C9 bulbs? They're just old fashioned outdoor Christmas lights and we have several strands with clear bulbs.

Score! I couldn't untangle those suckers fast enough. These are kind where it doesn't matter if a bulb is burned out or missing. I could just remove the ones I didn't want. Plus we have lots of those metal stem thingies that you poke into the ground to hold the bulb upright.

I grabbed 2 light strands and headed for the power strip that was plugged in next to the front door. The first strand made sort of a buzzing noise when I first plugged it in but then the noise stopped and it seemed to work fine. I thought maybe it had something to do with the lights being stored in the garage for several years.  I unplugged them then went to work arranging my globes and securing the bulbs under each one.
The drought killed our yard. I hope it comes back.
I plugged the lights back in, took a moment to admire the effect, then plugged the second strand into the power strip to test it. The lights lit up, it made the same buzzing noise as the first strand, then it died. I turned off the power strip, unplugged the strand, then spent half an hour scavenging fuses from other strands because I couldn't find my little box of extra fuses.

I had a feeling I might run across some bad fuses but that's an easy fix. It took another half hour to change out the fuses because I had trouble prying the old ones out without shattering them. Plus I discovered that 2 identical looking strands of lights don't necessarily use the same size fuse.

Once strand #2 had new fuses installed I plugged it in, turned on the power strip, and saw smoke coming out of the first socket on the strand. I quickly turned off the power strip, removed the bulbs from the strand then tossed it in the trash. It was obviously defective.

This meant untangling another string of lights and checking the fuse which turned into another tedious half hour. Once I had what appeared to be an acceptable string of lights, I plugged it into the power strip where my one good strand was still plugged in, then I sort of cautiously flipped the switch on the strip. I was really hoping I didn't see smoke again.

There was no smoke this time but there was a much louder buzzing sound right before all the bulbs on both strands started flickering and the power strip turned itself off, as it's designed to do when something isn't right.

I immediately realized there was nothing wrong with either strand of lights, it was the power strip the whole time. I unplugged the lights then unplugged the strip to examine it. It was a heavy duty black power strip with a bright yellow cord and it looked fine to me.

I turned it over to examine the back and that's when I saw it. "CAUTION: FOR INDOOR USE ONLY."

Oh. That power strip has been outside in my flower bed for the past couple of months, probably filling up with water every time it rained, which fortunately hasn't been that often. And there I was, repeatedly plugging Christmas lights into it when they're already just a fire waiting to happen.

In my own defense, the power strip is black and yellow and heavy and it looks like one of those outdoor extension cords. I thought it was an outdoor power strip. I can admit when I am an idiot but this time I think the manufacturer of that power strip is at least partially responsible due to their deceptive product design.

I have a basket of extension cords and power strips in the house so went through it looking for one that specifically said it could be used outside. They were all for indoor use only. I have a box of outdoor extension cords in the garage and found several that would have worked but I really wanted to be able to plug both light strands into one cord without using any kind of dangerous adapters.

In the bottom of the box I found an outdoor extension cord with 3 outlets attached. It's the only one we have. I think we may have bought it specifically for Christmas lights several years ago. I was so excited, I grabbed the nearest sharp instrument I could find to cut off the cable tie I'd used to hold it together.

The nearest sharp instrument happened to be Jayson's Jack The Ripper Knife. It looks like this one and I think it's actually a linoleum knife but for some reason it just makes me think of Jack the Ripper.

I know what you're thinking and no, I didn't cut myself. I carefully slid the curved blade under the zip tie then pulled the knife away from my body. It sliced through the plastic tie like I had planned, but it also sliced through a section of the extension cord, which I had not planned. It went all the way through the outer covering of the cord and I could see a tiny piece of what looked like internal wires that were also covered. In other words, there wasn't any naked metal showing so I figured I could just wrap it with electrical tape and pretend it never happened.

I plugged both strands of my new landscape lighting into my definitely not severed extension cord. When I plugged the cord into the wall there was no buzzing sound and the lights on both strands were actually much brighter now! I tell you, I'm an electrical genius.

I'll have to take an after dark picture another day since we're having a little thunderstorm right now and I don't want to jinx my stay of electrocution.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Important Information About Hair Loss

I wrote a bunch of stuff about shopping and my new coffeemaker and some other things I got from Amazon, but I decided that no one really cares about all that when we could be talking about body hair instead. Am I right?

Here is part, probably the most important part, of my recent Amazon order:
It was cheaper on Amazon than at Wal Mart, even with shipping.

There is a good reason that I'm sharing my Nair purchase with you. I decided to try it after visiting my mother a few weeks ago. She recently started using it after nearly bleeding half to death from a razor nick in the shower. I don't want to be too gross or anything but old people get varicose veins and if you try to shave over them... Well, you get the idea.

I don't have varicose veins but I'm not opposed to trying new products that might make my grooming routine easier. Not that it's a huge chore but still...

Actually, I tried Nair back its 'short shorts' days. All it did then was give me a rash. My legs were still hairy but hairy with a rash which didn't do a whole lot for my self esteem.

Imagine being 13 with braces, a head gear and brand new seeping pustules all over the skinny pasty white legs you inherited from your Lithuanian father that are also covered with the thick black hair you got from your Lebanese mother.

Enjoy this short retro commercial while I go take an Ativan.

Anyway, in the shower this morning as I was totally not reliving the nightmare that was my youth, I was thinking about some of the precious few advantages to aging. Varicose veins are not one of them but fortunately I don't have those to complain about yet.

One aging side effect that I am glad to have is hair loss. As I mentioned before, my mother is Lebanese. It would have been nice to inherit her dark olive skin but instead all I got was her ability to grow little afros on various parts of my body.

As I've gotten older I've noticed that some of my follicles are not producing with the rapaciousness they once did. Yeah, my friend Roget helped me out with that one. The hair on my head seems just as thick as ever and to be honest I wouldn't mind just a little thinning up there. But I am experiencing noticeable thinning in the hair on my legs. In fact, it pretty much doesn't even grow on my thighs anymore.

The phenomenon is bittersweet, however, since smooth silky thighs aren't much of a benefit to me at this point in my life. They could have served me well 20 years ago but nnnoooo. At that time I was busy nursing rash after rash caused by the depilatory experiments I performed in an attempt to corral my bikini line, which extended from my actual bikini line to my kneecaps...where it then turned into bangs.

Ativan break.

Back to my shower thoughts this morning. As I was considering what a blessing and a waste it is to have smooth thighs that rarely see the light of day, I remembered a dinner conversation from about 20 years ago. I hope I don't offend anyone by sharing this. It's actually a funny and fond memory for me even though it was a

Jayson and I hadn't been married very long, I don't even remember if Taylor existed yet. We were having dinner at his parents' house in Florida along with a couple of his aunts, uncles and his grandmother, Grandma Flo. I think her husband, Grandpa Russell, had already passed away by this time because I don't remember him there.

I'm not sure how the conversation started but somehow the subject of body hair came up. This is one time that I'm pretty sure I didn't instigate the inappropriate topic since Jayson and I hadn't been married long and I didn't really know his family very well. So I'm pretty sure it wasn't me. I think.

The women started talking about aging and about how they didn't have to shave their legs as often since the hair sort of falls out when you get older. I had a similar conversation with another grandmother years before this so I was aware that it happened. I was much younger than the other ladies but I knew stuff, I could still participate.

Then someone, I can't remember exactly who, made the comment, "Yeah, and that's not the only place it falls out." The comment wasn't followed by a wink or a nudge but it didn't have to be. They all knew what she was saying and I did too even though this was the first time I'd heard it. I knew about the legs and the thinning hair on your head but one told me about this.

I looked over at Grandma Flo who I guess was in her 70s at the time and she was nodding with that wise and knowing look that grandmothers often have on their faces. I set down my fork and concentrated on not forming any mental pictures to go along with the frightening turn our conversation had taken.

Then, to my horror, Grandma Flo said, "No one ever told me that could happen when you get older. When I first noticed it disappearing "down there" I just thought it was because Russell was rubbing it too much."

I never saw it coming. I think I spewed tea out of my nose and wet my pants. She wasn't *my* grandmother but she was *a* grandmother and you just rarely expect them to be that...candid. I decided then and there that I liked Grandma Flo. Even though I didn't know her well I was very fond of her and this hilariously bizarre dinner conversation is one of the reasons why.

Grandma Flo passed away a few years ago and I hope this doesn't seem disrespectful toward her because I certainly don't mean for it to be. She was a neat lady, I liked her.

There was another equally bizarre conversation at dinner that night but I can't share that one yet. The parties involved are still alive. See? I do sometimes have a filter. I'm sensitive to other people's feelings and respectful of their privacy. I only tell embarrassing stories about people after they've passed on. Or if I'm certain they don't know how to use the internet.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Plastic or Plastic?

If yesterday's project was a little too daunting for you, you'll love this one. Let's talk about plastic grocery bags.

I'm all about recycling and a point. That point is as long as it isn't too terribly inconvenient for me. For instance if we didn't have curbside recycling, I doubt I could make myself haul my own newspapers to the recycling center on a regular basis. I would feel guilty about tossing them in the trash, but not guilty enough to schlep all the way to the recycling place which is always located in a crappy part of town. I know. I'm selfish and lazy.

I will also admit that I use the plastic grocery bags from the store instead of bringing my own reusable bags with me. I really would love to do that but seriously, it's all I can do to remember to bring my debit card with me. I would constantly be forgetting the bags or using them for something else or they would be in the wash when I needed them, etc. I am clearly not mature enough for non-disposable grocery bags.

BUT...I do recycle and repurpose the plastic ones that, along with water bottles, are bringing about the end of civilization as we know it. I seen that on TV.

I saw this idea on a website that I now can't find but I've seen many different versions of it. Basically you just take an empty container that held cleaning wipes or baby wipes or any kind of pop-up wipes. You cover it with decorative paper then roll up some plastic trash bags and  put them inside. Now you have a handy pop-up dispenser for plastic grocery bags! You can keep one in your car, one under the sink in each bathroom, one in the garage, etc.

Pull out one bag and the next one pops up!
I use these bags in the bathroom trash cans so I keep a container under each bathroom sink.
Fold each side of your grocery bag to the middle.
Place the handles of the next bag under the folds at the end of the previous bag.
Roll 'em up! Keep adding bags and rolling until you have enough to fill your container.
My rolls each have 30-40 bags, enough to last at least 6 months for the bathroom trash cans.

I'm in the process of rolling up the rest of my bags so they'll be easier to store. Right now they get shoved into a bag on the floor of my pantry:

Not pretty but not really a high priority on my list of things to fix.

Need some other plastic bag storage ideas? Here are a few I found in my Google wanderings:

Bunny Ears! [via]

For those who sew. [via]

For those who don't. [via]

This gal folds hers into those little triangle footballs we played with in grade school. Middle school. High school. At the office yesterday. [via]

Another pop-up idea but maybe not quite as classy as ours. [via]

Once you get storage under control then what do you do with all those dang bags? Using them as trash bags is great but unless you generate an enormous amount of daily trash you probably still have tons of leftover bags. Here are some crafty ways you can turn plain plastic grocery bags into works of art. Well...sort of.

If you know your way around a crochet hook or a couple of knitting needles you can use your plastic bags to create your very own plarn! Plastic + Yarn. Get it? [via]

You can use your plarn to crochet a lovely decorative bowl...which I assume is not dishwasher safe. [via]

I feel sure that plarn formalwear will be all the rage this fall on the runways of Paris, Milan and...Detroit. This little number comes with a matching shawl, of course. [via]


I bet this handbag is what Olympia Dukakis had in mind when she said this in Steel Magnolias
"The only thing that separates us from the apes is our ability to accessorize."

And can't you just picture Shirley MacLaine planting tomatoes in her garden wearing this stylish hat? "Because that's what old southern women are supposed to do." 
Okay, I promise no more Steel Magnolia quotes.  [via]

We all know how image conscious some Mac users can be. 
This plarn laptop cozy would make you the envy of all the other engineers at MIT.

This cuff bracelet is actually kind of nice but I have no idea where they got bags in those colors. Mine are all brown, white, dark blue or yellow which severely limits their wearability.

I encourage you to take some time to browse this gal's website. She has truly turned trash into art. 
Her plastic sea creatures are stunning.

Those were certainly some inspiring ideas for creating a more beautiful world with plarn, but what if you don't knit or crochet? Never fear, there's hope for you yet. You can heat fuse plastic grocery sacks into a medium that can be manipulated similar to fabric. I know, it rocked my world too.

This website will give you a tutorial on how to fuse plastic bags so that you can impress your friends by making a one of a kind (OOAK for those of us in the know) tote like this.

Not to be outdone by plarn weavers, this artist makes dresses and accessories from fused bags. I am a little concerned that if I wear this dress in the summer, when I get into my car which has an interior temperature of 116 degrees my fused plastic dress might fuse to my flesh. At the very least it would create some embarrassing sweat puddles in the lap area.  [via]

Now this is a clever and even stylish use of fused bags. 
That hideous brown color even lends itself well to the coffee theme. Well done, 2 thumbs up.

Here is some more fused plastic made into some lovely floral jewelry pieces. 
Hey, that girl in the formalwear a few pictures up needs to wear this with her dress.

Don't forget home decor while you're fusing your plastic bags! You can use them to make rosettes like the ones on this wreath. This versatile piece would compliment any decor from...uh...flea market chic

No need to worry if you feel like your crafting skills might not be at the same level as some of these artists. There are ways to make lovely items from plastic grocery bags with very little advanced preparation.

Just a little cutting and gluing is all that's required to make plastic bag beads that can be used in a variety of projects such as this really nice watch band.
Move over t-shirt pom poms, plastic bags are taking over! 
Well maybe not but it's something the kids can do.
The holidays will be here before we know it so don't get left out in the cold! 
(Did you see how I did that? Cold. And the snowman. Yeah, I'm just good that way.) 
With some very simple stuffing, tying and a little Sharpie action you can dress up your holiday decor with a snowman like this! 
Okay, is it just me or does it look like he's being strangled by his scarf?
So there you have it. More than you ever wanted to know about upcycling and storing plastic grocery bags. I've poked a little fun at some of the artisans but I seriously do appreciate the talent and ingenuity that went into their creations, not to mention their efforts to keep a few plastic bags out the landfills.

The creative geniuses who make the displays for Anthropologie need to get on board with the plastic bags. In the past they've used things like cork, paper, yarn, books, milk jugs, tea bags, cupcake liners, bottles of honey, straws, marshmallows, paper cups and tons of other overlooked every day objects to create huge and stunning window displays. Cruise over to Anthropologie's Facebook page and check out their photo albums for pictures. Then send them an email and insist that they hire me immediately because as a Professional Creative Idea Thinker Upper I'm sure I could bring a lot to the table.

Monday, September 26, 2011

I only pay the pretty bills.

This post has a little something for everyone. There's a little crafting, a little organizing and a lot of OCD.

I am probably an embarrassment to most people with OCD because I am terribly inconsistent. For instance if you stay at my house, which you are welcome to do even if I don't know you very well which would make most OCDers break out in hives, you best not make a huge mistake such as putting a salad fork in the drawer slot that is clearly supposed to be for dinner forks only. For that I will toss you out on your ear.

However, I will be glad to wash some of your clothes with ours and all you have to do is pitch your dirty laundry in the general direction of the laundry room. There are bins in there for sorting dirty laundry but my family is incapable of telling the difference between lights and darks so I've learned to flex in that regard and I re-sort everything before washing. This means that there are often piles of dirty laundry on the floor waiting for their turn in the wash and I'm good with that. 

One thing I'm not good with is paying bills. I set up everything I can to be either automatically drafted out of our account or paid online because I passionately hate to have to sit down and pay them manually. However, I have discovered that I don't mind it as much if the process is pretty. Well, I guess the process can't really be pretty but the supplies can!

My overall mood and attitude are extremely sensitive to my environment, so much so that I can't function in an environment where I'm not comfortable.  This is why I do so much fru-fruing around my house. I have a very strong nesting urge and since I spend most of my time here every day I must make it a place that looks appealing to me and feels comfortable. Otherwise I won't get out of bed.

I'm going to show you my little bill-paying station or my "kitchen command center" as I've seen it referred to on some blogs. I have a lovely large office desk in my front living room but I don't use that area to pay bills because it's not an area that I'm in every day. That may sound strange but it's another little Shannon quirk. I have to have my bills and household paperwork in front of me pretty much every day or I will completely forget about them and then when I remember I will put off dealing with them because it's unpleasant and it's added effort to walk those 8 steps into the other room. I've told you before...I'm lazy. Now you know the extent of it.

Enough of that embarrassing peek into my psyche. Now I'll show you how to take a basically simple idea and turn it into something complicated and time consuming. I'm just gifted that way. Let's start with the folders I use for my paid bills.

I had a bunch of these tabbed hanging file folders left over from when I did my big paperwork overhaul a few months ago. I could have saved a huge amount of time and effort by buying the type of folders I needed for this project and the expense wouldn't have caused a huge hardship on the Green family budget. BUT...I'm all about making do with what I already have on hand.

Since these were the high quality kind and not the cheap ones, I couldn't slide the metal hangie thing out like you can on some of them. I knew I wasn't going to be hanging these and the little hangers were in my way so I just snipped them off with some wire cutters.

Then I drew a line on the front of the folder just above the tab that's on the back of the folder.        

Since the metal hanger thing is still firmly attached to the folder, I made a little cut in it with my wire cutters so that I could cut across the line I just drew.

I cut off the top section of the folder front going to the left only as far as the third score mark. You can see that better in some of the pictures below. This was important since my goal was to make each folder gusseted or box-bottomed.

Here is a close-up of how far over to cut. The file folders are scored this way on the front and back and you want to crease both the front and back cover at the center score mark. You'll want to glue the folder together along the crease and the two score marks next to it. The pictures explain what I mean better than my words can.

After you glue together the two score marks nearest the crease, then fold along the the next mark which is the one in the middle of both the front and back covers. You then want to crease along the next score mark in the opposite direction. I know. That makes no sense. Just look at the next picture.

Just ignore everything I said and crease the front and back of your hanging file folder so that it looks like this. 

You should know that each of the score marks on your hanging file folder is 1/4". We glued the two nearest the crease together, giving us a 1/2" tab that can be hole punched if you want to keep your folders in a binder. That left us another 1/2" to work with. We creased again at the next score mark on the front and back side, giving us a 1/4" crease on each side which makes a 1/2" space for our gusset.

Of course you can cover your folder with pretty scrapbook papers if you want to. This is optional but if you really want to make this as tedious as and complicated as possible, then I recommend you don't skip this important time consuming step.

Now you want to score a line on your folder's tab thing at the edge of the front cover and 1/2" over. You can see what I mean in the next picture.

See what I mean?

Now you want to cut a piece of scrapbook paper or cardstock to use for your gusset. I cut mine 2" wide and the same length as the bottom of the folder where your gusset will go...which just happens to be 8-1/2". I know, you're thinking that if the opening is only 8-1/2" wide then when you try to slide a sheet of paper in there it's going to be too narrow. Yes, that's what all the laws of physics would indicate but just trust me that for some reason it will work.

Now you want to score your gusset in the very center and 1/4" on either side of the center line.

Fold it like this. I'm not even going to mention mountain and valley folds in relation to the pattern of your paper. You'll figure it out, just make it look like this.

Now glue your gusset to the inside of the back cover. Then glue it to the inside of the front cover, folding your tab over and gluing its small scored section to the inside of the front cover as well.

Now you have a gusseted folder that will expand enough to hold a year's worth of paid electric bills or phone bills or whatever bills you have.

This is the right side where you fold the tab up and glue it under the front of the folder.

This is the left side. See how perfectly your 1/2" gusset fits in your 1/2" space?

See? Your new folder will even hold a note pad.

This is the little desk in my kitchen where I use my computer, sort mail, clip coupons, pay bills, etc. I've had that wicker organizer thing forever and it works well for this but there's actually another spot in the kitchen where I want to put it. I just have to find a table for that spot first. This works for now.

A while back I found some plain white magazine boxes at a thrift store and covered them with scrapbook paper. I put them in the wicker thing on my kitchen desk then put my new paid bill folders in each one.

I stuck little post-it tabs on them for labels and called it done.

Well, almost done. I made little boxes to hold my bill paying supplies such as envelopes, address labels, stamps, etc. These were Macaroni & Cheese boxes, I think.

This is the "to be paid" box which was Suddenly Salad in a previous life. When the mail comes in I pull out the bills then sit down and write the check for them right then. Little things can usually be paid right away but bigger things have to be mailed on a certain date so that it doesn't screw up our budget. I usually know the date but if I don't I write it where the stamp would go then put it in this box until it's time to mail it.

Having our bills on the counter and in my face every day helps me to keep better track of them. And not just bills either. I have some folders in here for bank statements, insurance EOBs, and other mail that we get regularly that will stack up if I don't file it away immediately. Filing is easy to do when the file is within arms reach of where I sit for at least a couple of hours every day.

In case you were wondering, I hide phone books in here.

I was going to show you my junk drawer but I'll have to save that for another post since this one is so long. I will say that I have more than one junk drawer and I think everyone should have more than one.  There's the regular junk drawer then the kitchen junk drawer. They don't have room specific junk in them, it's just that the kitchen accumulates more junk than any other area of the house which would overflow a single junk drawer. It's good to have options.

I should also discuss the importance of scissors and scotch tape. I have one of each in almost every room in my house. It's they key to household happiness and harmony.