The Evolution of a Door: The Misadventures of a Would-be DIY’er

Madison Avenue thinks it knows what presents women wish for. They tell us through commercials all the time. What love token should you give a lady? Give her diamonds. Give her shoes. Give her a new car.  Well, Madison Avenue never heard of me.
I wanted a new front door.
Door, the First
In all fairness, I’ve wanted one for the past 27 years. Our little house came with a rather standard, wooden door; one that let in the weather, but kept out the light. Can’t say I liked it much. Matter of fact, I hated the thing. But, with one thing and another, the door never got replaced when we were a double-income family.  Now that we’re living on one, what were the chances my front door could change?
You’d be surprised.

Not that it was easy.  First off entry doors aren’t cheap, at least entry doors that have lots of glass.  Go ahead, google “3/4 lite entry door”. and you’ll see what I’m talking about.  I’ll wait.

Scary, isn’t it?

Well, I started scouring.  Craig’s List, LetGo, Facebook selling, you name it.  And I finally found this beauty at a price we could afford.  Only one small issue.  Can you guess what it was?
Yup.  We had to install it ourselves.
Now, you wouldn’t call us natural DIY-ers.  Actually, we’re probably closer to DDIY-ers (Don’t Do It Yourself).  But if I wanted a new door, this was the only option.  So, after Googling, You-Tubeing and streaming all the home improvement video I could find, I figured we were ready.
See what happens when you leave a
wife alone with a hammer?

The first part, (obviously) was removing the old door’s trim, molding, and frame, then the door, itself. That’s when I discovered my husband’s favorite DIY hack.  See, he doesn’t like doing this stuff so, whenever we ran into a problem, he went to the store. Always. And while he was gone, I’d get so impatient waiting for him, I work out the solution myself.  By noon, he’d been to the hardware store 3 times, and I had the door out of the frame.

The next part was the doozy because, it turns out, doors are like Goldilocks. For them to open and close in their frames, their plumb, level, and balance must be j-u-u-u-ust right. Close is not good enough, as we learned. We got the framed door into the spot, shoved in skinny wedges of wood called shims to keep it straight, and nailed everything into place. It looked great from the outside, but the damn thing wouldn’t open or close without a fight. And, once shut, it wouldn’t sit flat in the frame. My sis called about that time, asking how the project was going.  I said, “It’s not really functioning as a door right now, but the light is beautiful.”  My husband swore and said he had to go back to the store. And I sat down to study the problem. 
Is it the house or 
the door that’s tilted?

Turns out that doors function on reverse psychology.  If you need them to come up in the top left corner, you have to adjust the bottom, right part.  And vice versa.  I also learned there are two kinds of skims: some go between the door frame and walls and others go between the hinge and frame.  It’s a tricky business.  So, by tightening and nudging, making tiny adjustments, adding and pulling out shims, the door eventually straightened itself into the frame.  Finally, I was ready for hardware, just as my husband pulled back into the driveway.
In order to save money, I planned to remove the old handle and lock and transfer them to the new door, but the hardware had other ideas.  A tiny screw went flying while I unloosened the old handle and I haven’t seen it since.  One of those teensy, one-of-a-kind screws, of course.  Now I had to go to the hardware store, to buy a new handle and lock. These cost half as much as the new door but I must admit they look nice.

All told, it took almost a whole week to finish up (and the spray-on foam insulation made a mess) but the new door is magnificent.  It looks like it was made for the house.  And Sis, continuing in her role as Best Sibling Ever sent two flanking planters as an early Christmas gift, either for me or the Door, I’m not really sure which.  The sawdust is cleaned up, our pulled muscles have healed, and almost all the tools are back in place.  And the light shining through is magnificent.

So be careful what you wish for if you want a new door. Diamonds might be an easier, cheaper gift. But, then again, nothing in Zales’s catalog has this way of saying, “Welcome Home.”

End of Summer Report Card

“I’m just a Summer Girl,
Living in a Summer World…”

The only thing is, Summer is ending.

That much is obvious, even without the store displays of Halloween Costumes and Football gear. Days are shortening, outside light is yellowing, and the trees have begun their annual game of pelting our metal roof with nuts. (it’s amazing how something that small can make that large a noise!) Autumn is coming again, and it’s time to take stock of what did and didn’t happen this Summer.

See More of Friends and Family: Well, yes and no.  Sadly, I missed my High School Reunion again, and I only hope my classmates and hometown will forgive me. On the other hand, my nephew came to see us in June, and I talked with my sister almost every day, which is very good.  Our folks would never have believed we’ve learned to be sisters and friends.

Learn to DIY on a Dime: Check.  So, I’m a slave to all of those H&G/DIY shows/pictures/ideas, a truth that frightens my husband no end. (His lawn and garden dreams involve Astroturfing the yard.) The only thing is, we haven’t got the budget for hiring Home Improvement teams.  So this summer I became less afraid of power tools and more conscious of a penny these days, and I’ve put that to work around our house.

After restoring a trunk and subdividing a Five Dollar Fern into Four, I used $25.00 in paint, cloth, and misc. to update the rest of front porch furniture.  My Porch is important to me: it’s a fourth of our home’s entire footprint and more relaxing than a pitcher of martinis but, decor-wise, it needed some help.  The old desk I had out there left long ago, and the porch swing’s cushions didn’t fit the swing. So I restored the surface of the old, white, resin, patio table, and added a painted and recovered, thrift-store chair to make a tea-and-snacks spot at one end…

…and used the rest of the fabric to cover the severed sections of the chaise-lounge cushion covering the Porch Swing at the other end. Granted, I’m no pretender to the Fixer Upper Show, but the Porch is, once again, a comfortable, sweet place to be and I did it without breaking the bank. Next, I’m turning a felled tree into rustic pavers for a stepping stone path.

Continue to Work on Health and Weight: Yup, although I think my days of faster weight loss are done.  I’ve got a much lower BMI and resting heart rate now, so I really have to work to get the calorie-engine going.  Luckily, this summer I re-discovered one of the physical activities I enjoyed as a kid: swimming!

For 27 years, I’ve lived within a stone’s throw of a beautiful community pool and never used it! That changed this year and, once I got over my bathing suit inhibitions, I realized (a) no one at the pool was looking at me, even when I accidentally wore my suit inside-out and (b) swimming is too much fun to give up, just because of age and flab.  At any rate, it helped me drop and keep off another 10 pounds. Blouses I bought, but couldn’t button, back in April are suitable for public wearing now!

Re-entered the work force: Not yet, although I’m still trying. Well, the ideal job, like the ideal weight, doesn’t just appear; you have to go out and get it.

Actually experiencing Summer: This was my greatest wish.  For years, I always seemed to miss participating in Summer, either through circumstance or choice, and I’ve felt back about that. After all, each of us has only so many summers in a lifetime, and it’s a shame to skip any of life’s rides. So I participated in Summer everywhere that I could, gardening and grilling, getting a tan and even jumping off the High Dive. (Which only gets more frightening with Age.) And, now that it’s September, I plan to enjoy Fall to the Fullest.  I hope you have a Great Autumn too.

Assaulting a Boston Fern: Confessions of a Broke H&Ger (Part 1)

It’s time to come clean

First Confession: I’m a lifestyle/Home & Garden nut. Even though I nearly flunked Home Ec (twice!) growing up, I really love a pretty house. Ditto, lawn, and garden.  Set me inside a home-improvement store and I will happily spend us into the poorhouse. 
Second Confession: We’re already too close to the poorhouse for me to do much home-improvement.
Hey, that’s how it goes.  When my husband and I both worked, we had the cash for decorating but no time. Now I have the time and energy needed but insufficient valuta for the home-improvement store.  What’s an H&G addict to do?
Answer: Find a cheaper choice.
For example, I’ve always loved the look of potted ferns. They say “summer” when I see them  on a front porch. But have you priced those suckers lately? Anywhere between $10-$50 bucks each.  And I wanted at least four ferns, two to hang and two to stand.  Given that price tag, I figured my house would stay fernless this summer.

What’s a porch without hanging ferns? A sad thing indded
Then, Sunday before last, I noticed my local hardware store was having a garden sale. Big racks of season ending plants were displayed in the parking lot, going including ferns for $5 bucks apiece.  I picked out the biggest, handed over five bucks and the salesman popped it into my jeep. I had a stack of old planters in the garage and an idea in my little head. If I could sub-divide this baby, I might have enough to fill two or three planters for the front porch. 
I didn’t realize just how big the fernster was until I tried to wrestle it out of the jeep.  This was a Jolly Green Giant of a fern, a botanical monster, and wider at the top than me.  Still, I reasoned, as I searched for plant dividing instructions on the ‘net, a plant this big should suit my purpose, provided I could sub-divide it.
The last of the 45 lb. ferns
The internet said all I had to do was draw Jolly out of his pot and saw his root ball into manageable portions with a serrated knife. Sounds easy? It wasn’t! For the next 40 minutes, I hacked away at his foliage, while the roots stubbornly clung together. None of my serrated knives were long enough to cleanly divide that monster or sharp enough to slice through the roots. I eventually managed to divide and conquer but afterward, the cutting table looked like a gardening disaster and I wanted to wash my hands for an hour and repeat the Act of Contrition.
A cat sleeps by the scene of the crime!
Even subdivided, the JGG was still too big for the planters. Still, once I got his quartered remains replanted into the new pots, (complete with new soil, plant food, and water) and cleaned up the scene of the crime, things looked a bit better.  I called my sister, a real garden guru, and asked for her advice.
Bern, Verne, Sterne & LuCerne: The Four Big Greens
“Mist them,” she said promptly. “Every day for a month. Ferns need to be misted.”
I was this close to saying, “Are you saying I need a mister, sister, to spritz the dad-burn fern?” but I didn’t. I was too tired. 
Eleven days have passed and the first shock is over for me and the fern, now known collectively as Bern, Verne, Sterne and Lucerne, the four Big Greens.  They require lots of misting and so much attention I’m beginning to wish I’d kept my money in my pocket. Still, they are behaving and starting to unfurl new fiddleheads which means, I suppose, they are happy.  And the porch looks pretty nice for five bucks.
What are your penny-conscious decorating stories?

The Old, Family Porch Rocking Chair

Great Uncles and Nephews
(The only record of my family on the porch)

The bare edge of the rocker is at the left

My dad’s family lived in a house with a front porch they never used. I mean they never used it during my lifetime.  When we visited, we always parked in the side yard and used the kitchen door for our exits and entrances. (Some farm families do that; the kitchen is the heart of the house and everyone’s go-to spot before and after the fields.)  All the indoor rooms were lived in but the front porch, with its wrought iron supports and cement floor was just not a comfortable place. The only decorations I remember seeing on the porch were some Elephant Ears growing out of coffee cans and the only seats were some wooden rocking chairs that could put splinters in your thighs if you sat in them. These chairs were hard and unfinished and the antithesis of comfort. Alone, they were enough to turn me into someone who hated porches.
Luckily that didn’t work because my adult home came equipped with a porch that I wouldn’t change for the world.  Running the length of the house it feels like acres of space and from the first, I wanted to equip it with rockers; big, beautiful, polished, wide rockers like they sell in Cracker Barrel stores.  Of course when we moved in, we couldn’t afford Cracker Barrel’s furniture but I was willing to wait.  Someday those generous machines for sitting would surely grace my porch.
The porch rocker in its natural state:
distressed but not depressed.

In June my husband claimed he had found me the perfect birthday present.  No, it wasn’t what I asked for (he said) but it was exactly what I wanted.  He was sure of it.  Then, he presented it with all of the pride of a little boy showing something he’d made in Scouts.  It was a wooden rocking chair,  narrow, unpainted and splintery, just like the ones on the old front porch.

So how do you tell a husband you hate his present?  How do you point out the differences between your dream chair and what he found for you?  I’ve got to tell you, I couldn’t.  Instead, I coated it with spray paint, stuck it on the front porch and mentally declared I’d never sit in it.
Then Hurricane Ivan hit.  
You may not believe it, but when a Grade 3 storm hits the coast, we feel it 280 miles north.  The wind and rain took out the power and the only place to wait out the storm with enough light was on the porch.  I sank my rear end into the depths of an Adirondack chair and stared at the world now over my knees. Hubby sat down in the chair he gave me and began to rock. For hours I tried to converse with a spouse whose head was three feet above mine. I was miserable but he was obviously comfortable. And, because he was wearing blue jeans, he seemed immune to splinters.  Was I wrong about the old porch rocker?

Ready for another 10 years of weather

Of course I was, on so many levels.  Not only was I ungrateful brat when my husband was trying to please me, I was ignoring the heritage on both sides of our marriage.  Both of our families grubbed a life from the land, his in Alabama and mine in Oklahoma and neither one had money for polished, front-porch rockers. When the long days were finished and they needed a breeze, our grandparents rested in rough wooden porch rockers like this, at least until they got air-conditioning. They hoped we’d find an easier life and we have, but at base, we are still country people and my husband’s chair was the perfect choice for the porch. It’s a part of our lives.

My birthday rocker still graces the front porch and today he got a fresh coat of paint. Nothing too fancy because he is what he is, a chair designed to withstand rough weather.  He’s actually quite comfortable and sturdier than he looks.  And now that I’ve lost some weight, it turns out he’s not  narrow at all.  In the decades he’s spent with us he’s held cats, friends, guests, tools and groceries and I expect he’ll hold us for the rest of our days.  It turns out, I didn’t need to get the porch rocker I valued.  I just needed to grow up enough to value the porch rocker I have.