Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Reviving Outdoor Furniture

I've held onto a few pieces of decent-quality white plastic patio furniture for years, because it felt wasteful to chuck them when they were still perfectly serviceable.  Every year, I'd notice that they looked dingier and more disgusting, and every year I'd say, "This year I'll replace those pieces."  I'm so glad I didn't!  They look brand new now!  Here's how.

Scrubbed, but never PRETTY.
Earlier this summer, I was amazed by a blog post at one of my favorite blogs (In My Own Style) about cleaning outdoor furniture (http://inmyownstyle.com/2012/05/cleaning-outdoor-decks-and-patios-in-style.html).  Diane showed how using Tilex or Clorox outdoor cleaning products took those white plastic chairs from gray to grand (alliteration!)  I have scrubbed outdoor furniture with all manner of products and was never satisfied with the gray left behind.  After reading Diane's post, I gave it a try (and as you can read in her comments section, I found a shortcut.)

Friday, I did it again, with equally successful results.  Now, please don't judge.  I was not intending to do a blog post about scrubbing this chair, but halfway through, I was so excited by the results that I couldn't bear NOT to share it with you, so I dropped everything, ran inside, grabbed the camera, and took a few shots, including my first ever video (which I intended to do without audio, then ever-so-tentatively, decided to say a few words, and now I wish I could do it again, so please bear with me and be kind.)  (I don't normally write in sentence fragments, nor do I normally write run-ons.  Sorry.)

Here's the trick:  Steel wool and bleach water.  The gray wipes right off.

Scrubbing...actually, it's more like wiping.  Not a lot of effort involved.
 Here's the video; it's short, I promise:

And here's an "after" shot of the chair half-way scrubbed.  Amazing, don't you agree?

The bowl on the chair is our small cleaning bucket (Here's an aside:  It's our puke bucket, too.  When I was little and had to be sick, I was offered either the toilet or a garbage can.  The garbage cans were never what one could call clean so it made being sick an even worse experience.  This blue bowl was handy one day years ago when one of us was sick; it's been the puke bucket ever since.  My kids were horrified the day they came home and Grammy had made a salad for dinner in the bowl; luckily their manners and instinct told them to not make a fuss.  Ever since, the bowl has not lived in the cupboard with the rest of the bowls but instead under the sink with its good friend scrub brush, and it hasn't made a food reappearance since!  Grammy was understandably confused about why we were a little disconcerted about the salad, but after thinking it over, commented that a puke bowl seems much nicer than a trash can.  I agree.)

Here are the materials you need for your amazing chair transformation:  household bleach (a glug into a medium sized bowl of water), about 6 pads of steel wool (I had this on hand in my furniture refinishing supplies.  If you've never used steel wool, you can buy it in the painting/staining section; it's inexpensive and comes in a large package.)  Finally, you'll want rubber gloves - because of the steel wool and the bleach.  (If you plan ahead, you can put a thick cream on your hands before beginning; the heat inside the gloves makes the lotion sink deep into your skin.  Lovely.)

Here is one of the chairs I did the day I read Diane's post about cleaning outdoor furniture.

Supplies on another plastic piece of furniture that I spray painted because I thought it would always be GRAY.

Here's the end result (with apologies for the bad photo quality.  As we say in Oklahoma, it was fixin' to rain and was overcast, and I wasn't complaining!)  The whole chair (underneath, back, legs, and all) took less than 45 minutes, and that was with stopping to do a mini-photo-shoot.  Now, for some of you, it's already the end of summer, so you'll be putting your patio furniture up for the season, but for those of us who live where summer lingers (I think "Oklahoma" is an old Indian word for "Land Where it is Ungodly Hot for Far Too Many Months Each Year") it's only now cool enough to actually go out and tackle a project like this.  (It's 96 degrees here today, for example.)  Whether you clean them soon or next spring, easy supplies and minimal effort can make your furniture live again to see another season?  Better than throwing it away, right?

And now for a cold beverage in my clean chair...ahhhhh.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Something I've Read Lately: The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure

Did you live in "LauraWorld" when you were growing up?  Chances are, if you're as old as I am, your LauraWorld was based on repeated re-readings of the Little House books, while if you're a few years younger than I, your LauraWorld starred Michael Landon and Melissa Gilbert.  Either way, LauraWorld was largely a happy place: simple, comfortable, and filled with Pa's fiddle music and adventures on the big prairie.

One fall years ago, we were traveling from Dallas back home to Omaha.  Tory was just old enough for us to start thinking about which chapter books we would be reading aloud to her.  (Parenting tip:  Kids need to be read aloud to from the time they are infants until past the time they can read on their own.  The books you choose should, most of the time, be slightly above their reading level.  Kids also develop in their listening skills, so when starting to read chapter books aloud, don't start with the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  Start with simpler, shorter books.  My top choices for girls and boys alike are the Ramona Quimby books by Beverly Cleary and the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder.)  Somewhere in the middle of Kansas (Andy often tends to get off the interstate and use secondary roads) I heard a query from the drivers' seat:  "Huh.  The original Little House on the Prairie is somewhere around here.  Want to see if we can find it?"  Well, YEAH.

By the time we arrived (late on a Sunday afternoon) the actual house was closed, but we looked around, read the signs, and talked with the kids about Laura and her books.  If I remember correctly, the signs at the house pointed out the fact that there are a number of "Laura Sites" scattered across the midwest, and living in Omaha, we were right in the middle of them.  My roadtrip planning began, and so did our reading aloud of the series.

I have stories to tell about our trips to the Laura Sites (tornados, anyone?) but those will have to wait for another post, because this post is about a book I read, not my travelogue.

Wendy McClure also lived in LauraWorld.  Her book (subtitle:  My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie) details her travel to the various Laura Sites and discusses the research she did into Laura and Almanzo's life together.  Having had my own experiences visiting most of the sites, I enjoyed reading Wendy's stories.  More than that, though, I especially enjoyed hearing her reminisce about growing up in LauraWorld, because that echoed my experience perfectly.  I kept wanting to pick up the phone and read passages aloud to my friends Katie and Jeanne, who also lived in LauraWorld.  (In fact, Katie BECAME Ma when her family was stationed in the Outback of Australia.  She learned how to make her own bagels and kill poisonous spiders in the yard before they got to her baby girl.  She always said, "If Ma could do it, and do it while wearing long skirts and with no electricity, I can do it.")

Parts of the book disappointed me, though.  I'm saddened that Wendy didn't seem to derive much joy from her visits to the sites.  I believe in enthusiastically embracing experiences, which, yes, makes me look a little goofy sometimes.  There is a huge difference between someone who dives in with an expectation that the experience will be enjoyable and one who stands back and stands apart for fear of looking stupid or because they need to "remain impartial in order to report."  I think Wendy held back.  I, on the other hand, was one of those women who stood in front of Pa's fiddle and cried.  I held Tory's hand while she put flowers on Laura's grave (and I cried.)  I stood below the homestead in South Dakota and got chills looking at the 5 cottonwood trees Pa planted.  This family was so much a part of my life and the stories so real to me that being there was simply thrilling.

1998 visit to Mansfield, MO
Tory (age 8) and Robin (age 5)
Wendy took her research beyond just visiting the sites, though, and her stories of churning butter, taking home a straw twist in a plastic bag and finding it in her closet months later, and spending a weekend with a group of End Timers learning to can butter are sometimes laugh-out-loud funny.  It's is also a nice tribute to her very supportive significant other.  This is a book for adults who are willing to add another perspective to their Laura experience, one that is witty, contemporary, and slightly irreverent. 

Monday, August 20, 2012

T-Shirt Quilt of Robin's years in Odyssey of the Mind

My son Robin has participated in Odyssey of the Mind (an international problem-solving competition) every year since he was in sixth grade.  This last year, his senior year of high school, he originally opted not to form a team due to the fact that he was not going to be able to attend World Finals (he and several of his teammates were all elected class officers, and the class officers speak at graduation, so he really felt he should be there to graduate with the class...and of course World Finals was the exact same time as graduation.)  At the last minute, however, he and Mason and Madi threw together a team and had a blast creating one last OM solution.

After graduation, I gathered up all the old OM t-shirts I could find (digging through teenage boy detritus, YUCK!) and started my first-ever effort at piecing a quilt.
Laying out the shirts on the guest bed

Here are a few things I learned during the process.

1.  It is a good idea (but does add to the cost) to iron on fusible interfacing to the shirts.  Use your Hobby Lobby 40% coupons to buy yards and yards of it.  When the instructions say "launder the shirts without fabric softener for better adhesion," go ahead and run a load of shirts through the washer.  It's one extra step that should make things much easier.

2.  Cut each shirt bigger than you think you will need at first, then completely cover the piece with interfacing.  This isn't the time to attempt frugality - it's better to cut off some of the square later than to try to deal with not enough interfacing on a piece or too small a piece or not enough room for seam allowances.  Some tutorials will tell you to cut all the shirts the same size.  I disagree.  This tutorial (http://thedixiechicken.blogspot.com/2011/08/t-shirt-quilt-tutorial-part-2.html) was super helpful and showed how to create 3 columns and then add a top row and a bottom row.  Her instructions helped me to figure out the best layout for this quilt, which included some smaller pieces and some larger pieces.

3.  The cats will want to help.  They really aren't much help.  In fact, (don't tell them I said this) they actually were sort of in the way most of the time.  In the photo above you can see Gus testing out the quilt backing while it was taped to the floor.

And here's Izzy getting ready to roll around in the batting.  Oh, look, Gus wants to play, too.  Sigh.

4.  Work from the center.  Once you have your backing taped right-side-down and your batting smoothed and cut to the correct size, you lay the top of the quilt on top and start pinning through all the layers with safety pins (from the center, smoothing and working out to the edges.)  Again, the cats wanted badly to help but just couldn't (something about their lack of opposable thumbs.)  In these pictures you can see several places where I added extra pieces of fabric to the piece of the shirts I cut too small.  All of the fabric on the front of the quilt was actually used by Robin's team at one time for costumes or sets.

The striped fabric in the lower right corner was from the Mother Time illusion - it's a crazy fabric that makes you dizzy to look at it!

The fabric on the back of the quilt was collected surreptitiously by me over the last two years, chosen to  represent the solutions Robin's team created each year.  For instance, one year (pictured below) they depicted a scientist who found a wormhole in an apple which acted as a portal to other universes, so there is a square of fabric with apples on it, and a square with sheep to remind us of the "ewe-niverse" (and the hundreds of hours the kids spent making "sheep rolls" of newspaper for Robin's sheep costume).

FOURTH PLACE at World Finals 2010!

Another piece of fabric has Easter Island heads on it; two years ago this team made walking, talking Olmec heads (almost life-sized and the coolest thing ever.)

Billy and Joel, the Olmec frat boys, walk to the competition area.

5.  Finally, no matter whether you are completely happy with the results or can point out lots of "mistakes" in the construction, a labor of love is always appreciated.

My First Post: Happy Birthday to Me!

Life lesson:  "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good."  For my 50th birthday, I am taking the plunge. For several years, I've been an avid reader of blogs and have wanted to jump in.  For the last few months I've been planning and prepping, searching for the perfect blog name and trying out different templates on Blogger.  Last week I read an article on Gretchen Rubin's blog (http://happiness-project.com/happiness_project/2009/01/your-happiness-project-dont-let-the-perfect-be-the-enemy-of-the-good/) and today, even though "it's not ready and it's not the best name and it doesn't look as good as everyone else's blog" I am letting the perfection go and giving myself the gift of "You can do this and you can always make changes later!"  Happy Birthday to me.

I have long considered myself a writer.  This is odd, since I don't really write much compared to "real" writers.  Through the years I've journaled, and I've turned our photos and my journaling into scrapbooks, but every time I've tried to write fiction I've floundered.   Perhaps one doesn't need to write fiction to be a writer?  Poetry class during my freshman year of college cured me of the thought that I could write poetry.  (It'll do that - it happened to my daughter also.)  I've read books by authors who say things like, "I am compelled to write.  My characters speak to me until I put their words and actions into my story."  Huh.  This has never happened to me.

A few years ago, my eldest child and only daughter did a 13th year of high school as a foreign exchange student in Germany.  Of course, I missed her terribly.  She had a difficult time adjusting to some aspects of her new life and was enrolled in a calculus class that was a terrible placement for her.  Having just found out about NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, see http://www.nanowrimo.org/) Tory and I both enrolled that November.  Tory (see her blog here: http://starcityrunner.blogspot.com/) actually completed her novel.  Mine, about ten chapters long, is still saved on a flash drive somewhere, probably in the junk basket under my desk.  I don't consider it a failure - it's the first time I ever really tried to write a long fiction piece, and truly, I have never written a fiction piece I actually liked, so a novel was a real stretch for me.  It was an interesting experience and I would recommend it.  Maybe I need to think about trying it again this year.  Hmmm.

Meanwhile, I have lots of great life experiences I plan to write about, many fun topics on my list, and I am excited to get going.  I have always loved teaching and have learned that a great teacher is one who is so enthusiastic about her subject that her students can't help but want to learn.  I hope you'll enjoy learning with me.