Thursday, July 30, 2015

If You Liked It Then You Should've Put a Frame on It

After watching the first two seasons of "The Borgias" -- and one episode of season 3 (because season 2 ended on a cliffhanger and I had to see how things turned out) -- I decided it was time to stop procrastinating and start hanging some art on the wall in my upstairs hallway.
(I blogged about my ragtag art collection in my last post; click here if you missed it.)

Unfortunately, a couple of the paintings I wanted to hang weren't even framed, so I had to take care of that before I could start pounding nails into the wall. I've never framed a picture before, but, as with most things in life, I was confident I could figure it out as I went along.
The first piece I wanted to frame was this large (30" x 25") oil painting of an old country church that I'd bought at a thrift store for a few dollars.
The painting was done on a canvas board, and it was pretty beat up, especially around the corners. I wanted to give it a really simple, utilitarian frame -- nothing fancy.
I had another painting with just the kind of frame I wanted to make, so I used that as a model.
To start, I dug a couple of spare 1 x 2's out of the stash in my husband's workshop and laid the painting on top of them to mark trim lines. My plan was to attach 1 x 2's all the way around the back of the painting first and then use them to nail the frame onto.
I trimmed the 1 x 2's with a jigsaw.
Then I flipped the painting over and attached the pieces to the back of the painting using wood glue. (My husband was doubtful that the glue would hold once I started hammering the frame onto it, but as he didn't suggest an alternative way to accomplish what I needed to, I kept going -- and, just to be safe, I doubled down on the amount of glue I was using.) 
I let the glue dry overnight; then I flipped the painting back over again.
I dug through the husband's stash of leftover wood once more until I found four pieces of lath that weren't (too) warped to use as the frame.
I trimmed the lath down to size with the jigsaw, just like I did with the 1 x 2's. Then I painted the pieces with some white chalk paint that I had left over from a previous project.
I lined the painted lath up to the side of the painting and drilled holes before driving nails in (to keep the wood from splitting). Then I crossed my fingers that the glue would hold as I started pounding.
 It did. 
Here's the painting, all framed and waiting to be hung. 

Tomorrow, I'll show you the other picture I framed. And then hopefully, I'll actually get things up on the wall someday and can blog about that, too.

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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Hanging out with the Borgias

I had the day off of work last Friday and just one thing I wanted to accomplish: (finally) hang some art on the empty wall in our upstairs hallway.oil painting
All of the photos in this post are of thrift store paintings, kids' art and mementos of our travels that I've collected and (sadly) stored in closets or propped in corners (with vague plans to hang somewhere at sometime).
flowers in vase
So Friday was the day I was finally going to get everything hung.
oil painting
First thing in the morning, I rounded up all the scattered paintings and drawings to see what I had and what would fit on the empty wall.
painting of flowers
Then I checked my email. Just to make sure I didn't have anything pressing to attend to before I got bogged down with the work of hanging the art.
still life
My friends at Netflix had sent me a (third) reminder that the credit card associated with my account was close to expiring and asking me to update my user information with a new card number.
That seemed pressing. So I opened Netflix and looked for a tab to click on to update my account information. I couldn't find one. What I did find was a recommendation to watch "The Borgias," the soapy Showtime drama set in Renaissance-era Rome. fish painting
I've had that show on my "To Watch" list for almost as long as I've had hanging art in my upstairs hallway on my "To Do" list. And since I had the whole day off with nothing to do but hang art, I figured it wouldn't hurt to watch one episode -- just to see if it was any good -- before getting to work.
painting of Wisconsin capitol
Eight hours later...
... my hallway wall was still empty...
pencil sketch of barn
... and my credit card information still needed updating.
oil painting of church
But I'd watched the entire first season of "The Borgias."
So at least I was able to cross that off of my list.

Linking to:
Brag About It
The Scoop

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Life off the Grid

Some of you may have heard the town I live in -- Columbus, Wisconsin -- was hit hard by a storm early Monday morning. Thankfully, there were no tornadoes, no deaths and no injuries. Just straight line winds that the National Weather Service estimated blew through here at 90 to 110 mph. I don't mean to diminish the storm because it was scary and it left a lot of damage -- mostly to trees and power lines -- but in the grand scheme of things, it certainly could have been much worse.

For our family, the hardest part was living without electricity for 36 hours afterward. We're back on the grid now, so the story has a happy ending, but there were definitely  a few bumps along the way. Here's a condensed diary of what happened, starting at approximately 3:30 a.m. Monday:

3:30(ish) a.m.: I am startled awake by a flash of lightning, the rumble of thunder, the rattling of my bedroom windows and a strange -- and very annoying -- bleating from my cell phone. I do what any rational person does when awakened at 3:30 a.m.: I roll over and go back to sleep. My husband, who I always say can sleep through anything, proves me right, once again.

3:35(ish) a.m.: Our 20-year-old son, home from college for the summer, hearing the same annoying bleating from his cell phone, correctly identifies the noise as a tornado warning and gets out of bed to wake up his parents and tell us to take cover in the basement.

The power is out at this point, so I am forced to grope in the dark for clean pants, a matching shirt and shoes. (If our house is blown to Kingdom Come, I want to make sure I am appropriately dressed when my body is found.)

3:40(ish) a.m. The power comes back on. Weather reports indicate we are under not only a tornado warning, but also a flash flood warning. The three of us head downstairs to find the flooding has already begun, at least in our old stone basement. We long jump across the standing water in the center and take refuge along the still-dry perimeter.

3:45(ish) a.m.: My husband heads back upstairs to check the weather report on TV and find a functioning flashlight so he is prepared in the event that we lose power again. I hear him in the kitchen, alternately cursing DirecTV -- their signal has a tendency to cut out during 100 mph windstorms -- and me -- for using the last of his AA batteries (he has no proof) and not buying new ones (apparently "battery buying" is a specialized skill that only I possess in our household).

4:00(ish) a.m.: The tornado warning is over. My son and I emerge from our basement bunker. My husband heads outside to check on the state of his precious trees under the dim light of his cell phone.
trees down
4:15 (ish) a.m.: I am sound asleep when my husband comes back to bed to report that various trees might be down. Or they might not be. Evidently it's hard to make out shapes in the dark with only an iPhone to light your way.

6 a.m. I wake up, make coffee and head outside to see trees are indeed down, not just in our yard but all over the neighborhood. The view from our driveway is pictured below. (There is a street buried under all those branches and power lines.)
trees down
6:30 a.m. My son wakes up and ventures out with his camera to take pictures of the storm damage. He runs into the mayor who tells him ours is the "good part" of town. The damage is much worse in some of the older neighborhoods where there were lots of big, old trees. Power is out throughout much of the city (but not in our neighborhood), and many, if not most, of the streets are impassable because of downed trees, power lines, transformers and poles.

8 a.m. I drive to work, heading north out of my driveway -- because the street to the south is blocked -- and get on the highway, where I see police cars are posted at the end of all the entrance ramps into the city to keep gawkers out and allow the cleanup to begin.
trees down
10 a.m. Utility crews cut power to our house to pick up the branches and power lines at the end of our block. (Unbeknownst to us at the time, electricity will remain out in our neighborhood for the next 36 hours while utility crews work their way across town, reconnecting service one line at a time.)
power outage
5 p.m. My husband calls me as I'm leaving work with instructions that I should stop and buy two battery-powered camping lanterns -- and enough batteries for both -- as it appears we might be without power all night.

7 p.m. With no power, I can't cook. I buy carry-out at Culver's on the edge of town instead. Apparently this is not a unique problem or solution, as the lines at the restaurant are the longest I have ever seen them.

8 p.m. My husband, son and I gather in the living room, around the glow of our battery-powered lanterns and surf the internet on our respective smartphones, much as I imagine the pioneers did 200 years ago.

8:15 p.m.: We pack the contents of our refrigerator and freezer into three coolers, which our son volunteers to drive up to my mom's house in Waupun, where she has a spare refrigerator in her garage. After dropping off our perishables, our son heads to his apartment in Milwaukee -- he has a 12-month lease, so he's stuck paying rent on the place, even though he's not living there over the summer. He spends the night there, thankful for the air conditioning and the working outlets to charge his phone and laptop with.

8:30 p.m. My husband and I deem it too hot to go upstairs to our un-air-conditioned bedroom. We both fall asleep in the living room reading by lantern light.

Tuesday, 6 a.m.: I wake up, fill the coffeepot with water and grounds and flip the switch. Nothing happens. This is truly my lowest moment. I can live without electric lights, air conditioning, refrigeration and TV. But a non-functioning coffeepot is (almost) more than I can bear.
6:05 a.m. I drive to McDonald's and buy a large black coffee. My will to live is restored.

8 a.m. I drive to work, confident that when I return home at 6 p.m., power to our house will surley have been restored, as well.

6 p.m. I return home to a still power-less house. Sigh. The good news: No power means I can't cook supper. I drive to Pick 'n' Save to buy what our family calls "Chicken in a Bag" (more commonly referred to as "broasted chicken.")
Columbus, Wisconsin
7 p.m. My husband and I stand on our porch and anxiously watch the eight utility workers and three ladder trucks working on the power lines at the end of our block. We were told the crew started working there at about 3 p.m. A downed pole had to be removed and a new one set in place before the men could even start working on the wiring, so it is a big task and one that we are hopeful, but not entirely certain, they will be able to complete, before dark.

9 p.m. A ladder truck from the Columbus Fire Department rolls into our neighborhood and parks at the end of the block, to shine a light for the utility workers who continue plugging away until...
storm damage
10:49 p.m. Little Mexico (our neighborhood's nickname) is back on the grid.

Many thanks to the men who worked well into the night to get our power restored. I've been told Columbus received mutual aid from Waterloo, Waupun, Sun Prairie, Waunakee, Lake Mills, Oconomowoc, Hartford and Markesan, and possibly others. Clearly, our small utility department couldn't have done the job alone. And it's a job that's still ongoing, as there are other parts of town that are still without power (as of this writing on Wednesday morning).

Linking to: Brag About It

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Digging into the Archives

I've been trying to catch up to the rest of the world lately, and, let me tell you, when you're a decade (or more) behind times, it's not easy.

Digital portfolios have been the norm for people who work in creative fields like I do for quite a while now, but (knock on wood) I've always had a steady job and didn't see a reason to create one of my own. My most recent portfolio dates to 1999, which means it's full of really, really old clips, and technology-wise, it's barely one generation removed from the stone tablet.
Thankfully, I still have a job, but it's no secret that the newspaper industry has been contracting -- a lot-- in recent years, and my conscience has been nagging me for quite a while to compile a digital archive of my work -- just in case (insert ominous "dun dun dun" sound effect here).

So I finally shelved my 20th century (faux-) leather-bound portfolio for good and started searching the nooks and crannies of the interwebs to ferret out some of my more recent greatest hits.
First I pieced together a portfolio of my design work, which I blogged about here. (Or you can go straight to the portfolio at if you're so inclined.)

Then I decided I should put together a separate portfolio of my writing samples. I veered into design full time in 2005, which made it a bit of a challenge to find digital copies of my old stories. A lot of my early work existed only in print, or if it was put up online, it was purged at some point over the years. But between the links I was able to exhume and a few PDFs I made, I feel like I've cobbled together enough pieces for a respectable portfolio.
You can find my new writing portfolio here. Take it out for a spin, kick the tires and (as always) please let me know if you have problems with any links or notice any typos or irregularities. I have a really good eye for catching other people's mistakes, but being my own editor is sometimes a challenge.

And for those of you who follow my blog for my insights into popsicle stick trays and quirky collectibles -- and are not interested in newspaper design or features stories -- I apologize for my off-topic tangents. I promise I will get back to my normal blogging fodder soon.

Monday, July 6, 2015

A Striped Stool

grain sack stripe
In between a parade and a picnic and some fun with friends and family over the weekend, I did a quick makeover on World's Ugliest Stool.
This is what the sad little stool looked like when I bought it at a thrift store a couple weeks ago.
Yes, I actually paid money for it -- although, in my defense, it was only $2.
removing the old upholstery
I liked the stool itself. The crazy, stained velourlike upholstery, not so much.
removing the old upholstery
I raided the husband's toolbox for a screwdriver and a pliers and stripped off the ugliness in about 5 minutes.
I considered leaving the stool unupholstered. But as I was planning to actually sit on it on a somewhat regular basis, I thought a little padding would be nice.
I would have reused the original foam if  I could have, but this is what it looked like: lots of random little pieces. The poor stool. Not only was it ugly on the outside, it was ugly on the inside, too.
Fortunately, this stool is going to replace a different one in my kitchen that is falling apart and is destined to be thrown out. So I unupholstered the old one and cannibalized the foam from it.
Then I found a scrap of drop cloth left over from some pillows I made. (I blogged about them here if you're interested.)
reupholstering a stool
I wanted to paint green stripes on the fabric -- to match the green pieces of wood under the seat -- but I didn't have the right shade in my paint box, so I attempted a custom mix with what I had on hand: a 10-year-old tester pot of Glidden Willow Leaf, a bottle of Christmassy green craft paint, another bottle of white and a bit of leftover textile medium (to keep the paint from cracking).

I'm not sure if I needed the textile medium (as I don't plan to put the fabric in the washing machine), but I already had it, so I figured I might as well use it. (Better safe than sorry.)
grain sack stripe
After mixing the paint, I taped off the center stripe and painted it.
grain sack stripe
Once the center stripe was dry, I taped off a narrower stripe on each side of it. No measuring done here; the stripes were just eyeballed. (I sure wish the eyeballing method worked better for sewing and woodworking.)
grain sack stripe
 When I was done painting the narrow stripes...
grain sack stripe
... I pulled up the tape.
grain sack stripe
 The greens were not a perfect match, but close enough.
grain sack stripe
After ironing the fabric to heat set the paint and textile medium, I centered the fabric on the foam and centered the foam on the seat.
 Then I flipped the stool over and started stapling the fabric and foam to the underside of the seat.
I trimmed off the excess foam and fabric as I stapled. Drop cloth fabric frays like crazy, so I had to be really careful when trimming it.
Fray Check
Luckily I had some Fray Check on hand. I squeezed the Fray Check onto the raw edges as I trimmed the fabric to prevent it from unraveling any more.
Hopefully it holds up.
my cat
Here's a gratuitous shot of Calvin, who was sitting in the driveway about three feet behind me the entire time I was working on this project. He's a senior citizen these days, so he doesn't do any hunting or prowling anymore; he just sits and watches me work.
grain sack stripe
 Here's the finished stool.
grain sack stripe
It was a pretty simple project that took me less than an hour from start to finish, but it's a big improvement over what it looked like before.

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