Archived Ideas for ‘Uncategorized’

IDEA 99: BE FLEXIBLE

Oct
2018

It’s already October. The temps have been dipped long enough that it seems like they may not recover, and there have been more clouds and rain than sun in a very long time.

My mission starting the beginning of the year was to take a year off work and spend the summer working on our multi family vacation home. (This is my fourth post about it, if you want to go back and read!) Every August we have a big family reunion and while we enjoy doing most of the cooking and eating outside, finding places to sleep can be hard. A little tiny piece of me thought if the building was enclosed by then we could have a grand camp-out on the floor. Spoiler alert: that didn’t happen. In August the top floor of the house was still missing, so there were a lot of tents pitched.

We hired an amazing local contractor to build the shell and we were planning on taking it from there, thankyouverymuch. We reasoned we’ve (well, my husband has) put in electrical, we’ve (well, him again) has done lots of plumbing. As long as the big boys put up walls and a roof, we would spend (in my view) a magical, worry-free summer hanging and mudding drywall, laying wood floors, painting, tiling, etc, etc etc.

Obviously it didn’t quite turn out that way. In precious few weeks I will be forced to go back to civilization and furnace heat, and we haven’t laid a single tile, painted a single wall, placed a single floorboard.

The first mishap happened when the site was still dirt. Since we wanted a shower in the basement, the plumber dug and buried the first pipes in the ground. Many weeks later, the walls went up around them and I could see that the drain pipe was not where it was supposed to be and now the drain wouldn’t be centered in the shower. It’s really important (to me, anyway) to have the drain centered. And one of the walls could not move as it had the stack in it. So, I asked for the other wall to move in and lost several inches of space in the shower (which we gained in the rest of the bathroom). By the time I finally saw the plumber again I mentioned the error and he said when he was digging he came upon a huge bolder that couldn’t be moved. So he put the pipe as far over as he could. In the end, I think improvising an alternative plan saved us all from a lot of stress and heartache.

So began the process of flexing.

My summer of DIY became my summer of watching DIY videos while being available if needed, and posting the progress on Instagram. 

As the walls went up it was easier to see what I had designed. Occasionally, there would be something that just didn’t look right. Sometimes it was because the carpenters went off the plan. Sometimes it was that they stuck to the plan but it just didn’t work the way it was supposed to. Sometimes it was just because code said it had to be that way. With such a wonderful, professional crew, we had a lot of communication, and whether it was my boo-boo, theirs, or nobody’s, we talked it through and came up with solutions.

Probably the biggest turn was that I realized I was dreaming if I thought we could string the electric (or heating ducts and vents or plumbing pipes). OK I knew we couldn’t do the plumbing pipes-that was on the contractor’s list already. But since these other things were not included in our contract, I received a trial-by-fire education on how to be the contractor and hire subs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

At one point, my brother climbed a ladder to look out the second floor and asked why the hell I hadn’t designed more windows in the front where the view was breathtaking. I had put big windows on the main floor below, but the upstairs had bedrooms so I had treated them more traditionally.

The original window plan:

Fortunately, I had two windows I wasn’t planning on using. I had designed them in and then found out they came too close to the floor for code. The upper walls hadn’t been framed in yet, so I got back on the computer and found that I could create a pretty, and very window-fied wall by using one of the big windows flanked by what had been marked for the front and back bedrooms. With the shorter windows on each side I could raise the bottoms to fit within code and it didn’t look odd because the smaller windows justified the height of the lower edges. Then I used the other large one in the back where it neatly framed a giant oak tree. You don’t really notice it’s riding quite high in the room (almost to the ceiling). All you notice is the magnificent tree.

The new window plan:

The morning I went down to the build site to ask the carpenter about the change, I was pretty nervous. Even if I don’t have it all under control, I like to pretend I do, and to admit I was changing my mind on such a big thing felt kind of irresponsible at best, and indecisive at the worst. I brought down a loaf of zucchini bread and a copy of my new plan. Luckily the contractor had beat me to it (he texted the head carpenter after I had texted him). “It’ll work”. Is all my carpenter said to me, and then “We all wondered why the hell you didn’t design in bigger windows up there.”

So, instead of drywalling, painting, and putting in a kitchen and bathrooms this fall, I’ll be lucky if the subs’ portion gets finished so I can head back to civilization for the winter. And instead of putting on finishing touches in the spring it will be an all-out major do, pretty much starting from an empty shell. But I look forward to finally being able to put some of the things I learned in the DIY videos to use.

And, yeah, I’ll be taking another year off work.

IDEA 98: OUTWIT THE WEATHER

Jun
2018

Weather_Light

Welcome to the continuing saga of the Up North House. This is the third post chronicling the inspiration, design and build of our multi family vacation house.

There’s one thing about building in the north. The weather is brutal. Winds to be reckoned with blow sand (in the summer) snow (in the winter) and ice, hail and rain all the other times of the year.

That’s why as we build a family place to last for many future generations, we are embracing materials that can withstand just about anything for just about forever.

The house will be sided in a material usually reserved around these parts for barns. It’s corrugated metal with a coating to resist rust. I read that it’s quite the thing in remote areas of Iceland. And why not use it?

Weather_siding

I love the rural aesthetic for up here, and the design of the house is based on the lovely barns dotting this landscape. It will be a house. But we will try our best to honor the bucolic, farm-y feel of the area.

End view:

Weather_East


Side view:

Weather_South

The very first things we purchased for the house were two beautiful full-view doors with Douglas fir on the inside and a natty overcoat of barn red cladding on the outside.

Weather_Door

We got these, used, for a song. And like everything about the design, they are simple, beautiful and since they will never need repainting, zero maintenance.

Typical for this area, our roof will be metal as well. You can see how the water beads right up, and with our 12:12 pitch roof, the snow will slide right off too.

Weather_roof_CU

One of the favorite choices so far are these beautiful barn lights we bought for over the doors. The galvanized metal has the dual role of not just weathering the storms, but looking just right: serviceable, with sweet barn character.

Weather_Barn_Lights

We’ve only just started, but as we continue to work, you can follow the progress of the build on Instagram #conboyhouseupnorth.

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IDEA 96: HONOR A MEMORY

May
2018

Charlie Bird_CU_LR

As a kid my siblings and I spent many summer days on the shores of Lake Michigan. My father was born in Northern Michigan, and his family’s farmhouse, a quarter mile from the bluffs, was our vacation home.

One summer day in my childhood, we were exploring the beach. And we found a seagull struggling to free himself from a tangle of fishing line. The three pronged hook had pierced and caught the web of his foot as well as one of his wings. He must have tried to peck his way free as the third prong was now stuck through his bill.

My dad was able to free the hooks and untangle the bird, a favor that was rewarded with a bite on the hand. But it was clear the gull was not able to fly. By the time we were heading back south, our patient hadn’t improved, so we brought him back home with us. He was dubbed “Charlie Bird”. And as our city home was on a large natural pond, we figured we would try nursing him back to health there. My mom fed him tunafish until a naturalist friend told her he’d much prefer a fish from the pond (which he gulped down without hesitation). His physical therapy was administered by my brother leading him by leash down to the pond where Charlie would swim out and be gently pulled back.

Charlie’s time spent with us inspired my artist mom to create a mosaic of him. With broken pieces of colored tile, my mom depicted Charlie with wings spread wide in a perfect picture of natural energy and freedom. I imagine this is Charlie, right when he was freed from his shackles and ready to bite the hand that freed him!


Charlie Bird_3


On a trip home to my parents house, I was reminded of this amazing mid-century work of art. It’s an image so familiar to me, yet I hadn’t thought of it in years. We are now building a communal kitchen with sleeping quarters on the “Up North” land and this Charlie Bird mosaic will be featured prominently. I’ll create a color palette pulling from the blues, greens, whites, darks and grays. The vibe will be simple and natural. Like the sand, the trees and the wildlife we came to love, the house will let nature in and not be so delicate as to be wrecked by sand dragged in on bare feet or water from wet swimsuits (or feathers). The windows will be more about what you are seeing outside than architectural details inside. The spaces will be big and welcoming, as we rarely congregate with less than 20 people. The surfaces will be low maintenance, (who wants to spend all our vacation repainting). The house will be more about accommodating the people that gather than about it’s own self. But it will be designed with simplicity, and good, smart, frugal but beautiful ideas.


Charlie Bird_CU_2_LR

This Charlie Bird mosaic may not be the sole inspiration for this project. But it’s influence, both as art and as memory, will be honored and fondly felt.

IDEA 95: GET CREATIVE WITH 2X4s

Mar
2018

2x4_Bench_Top

A few weeks ago my husband and I decided we needed to get out of the frozen tundra, so we took a road trip south to Wakulla Springs near Tallahassee Florida. It was there, on a hike, that I came across this beautiful, elegantly designed bench made entirely from 2x4s.

2x4_Bench_3-4

There wasn’t an ounce of give in the bench. It was permanently fastened in place, presumably the legs were set into poured cement footings underground, much like a fence post would be.

2x4_Bench_End

It goes without saying, this solution was as sturdy as you like. After all, the 2×4 is the building block of most every house and building on the block. But what I really loved was the thoughtful way the bench was conceived, using no more and no less wood than was absolutely perfect.

And it made me wonder what else could be made out of 2x4s. So, of course, I Googled it.

I shouldn’t be surprised that there are tons of posts about making things from 2x4s. After all, this is such an available and affordable source for wood. A 2×4 costs about $3. And it can be easily bought, brought home in your car, and cut up.

But in my opinion there is a big difference in the project ideas out there. And I decided to collect and present to you MY idea of the coolest 2×4 projects. My criteria includes:

•Finished piece has to be attractive, and un-2×4-like. (Crates, picnic tables and things like that are items I consider to be too 2×4-like).

•There has to be a reason to use a 2×4 as opposed to another form of wood (many designs call for slicing the 2×4 to make it into boards. In my book that’s too hard, and I would just buy boards. Or carving it into fancy moulding-again would make more sense just to buy the right molding).

•It can’t just be things cut into chunks and painted to look cute. (These are fine, but they’re more about the painting and less about the 2×4).

I noticed many (but not all) these tutorials “square up” the 2×4 first. I think removing those rounded edges looks awesome and makes a huge difference.

So, here are a few projects some amazingly clever people are doing out there. In each case I’m linking to their tutorial as they need to get credit for such fine ideas!

2x4_Vase_Shanty_2

This beautiful vase idea is so elegant. You may say it broke one of my rules as this is not a 2×4, it’s actually a 2×6. But I think it would be lovely in a 2×4, and IMO even nicer if you sharpened the corners so they were perfectly crisp. But kudos to Shanty Chic for the idea and tutorial.

Here is another vase, this one a little more complicated to make, but equally elegant. Find the tutorial for this one here.

2x4_SQ_Vase_inf

I love how this coffee table manages to be 2×4 and modern sculpture all at once. Find how to make it here.

2x4_Coffee_Table

The couple who made it was inspired by this table. I thought it very astute of them to make the connection between this table and their coffee table need.

2x4_SQ_Table

2x4_Modern Bench

As the tutorial says: Less is more! This bench shows how classy the 2×4 looks when the edges are sharpened. And I love how the interlaced wood makes for a dovetail joint look. This thing is gorgeous.

I absolutely love this lamp idea. If anyone makes this please send me the photo! So far there is just the drawing. Find the brilliant tutorial here.

2x4_TALL_Lamp

What’s not to love about this extremely minimal wine rack? I would probably sharpen up the edges and put the paint or stain inside the drilled holes as well. While I love the 2×4 idea, I would also want to hide its identity just a little more!

2x4_TALL_WineRack

While we’re talking simple, these 2x4s are cut and attached to form stair steps for the spice bottles to be displayed. While the idea is simple, I like how care was taken to finish the project in a clean white semi-gloss, and the bottles were labeled so the spice names can be read in any row.

2x4_SQ_Easy TieredNOTYPE

Anyone who follows my posts knows I just love a project that looks far more expensive or difficult than it was. I can’t wait to try out some of these!

IDEA 86: DARE TO COMMUNICATE

Jul
2016

July_Note

You never know where the next inspiration is going to come from.

Recently, I was traveling and stayed at one of those chain motels with the free breakfast included (what’s not to love about that?) So, I was already happy about getting a free banana, when I saw that someone had hand-written a note of well wishes on every one. Generally, the notes were all a variation of “Have a great day”, I chose “Soar with the eagles”, which inexplicably lifted the next couple hundred miles of my road trip.

It occurred to me how simple, yet powerful these little unexpected ball-point moments of inspiration had been, from one stranger to another, placed ingeniously on the part of the fruit that would be stripped off and thrown out anyway.

It suddenly made me nostalgic for the days I used to pack lunches for school. Wouldn’t this be a fun way to remind a child that his lunch was lovingly packed? (Or to pontificate on the importance of potassium–whichever is your whim).

So, in this world of email, text and instant messaging, I dare you to try zagging when others zig. Pick up a ball-point pen and a piece of food and have at it! And while you’re at it, Soar with the eagles!


IDEA 85: MAKE YOUR MARK

Jun
2016

Mark_Lilly

My extended family has been congregating on our family farmland for many summers. And the highlights of the reunions are the beautiful big meals, prepared, served and enjoyed outdoors.

Mark_party_scene

A handsome open-air structure, made by my brothers and cousins hosts the meals, and several years ago we replaced the mismatched tables and chairs with something sturdy enough to survive the northern Michigan winters.

Mark_tables and benches

My brother made the simplest of designs and all hands helped out to build the iconic tables and benches.

Mark_Table_end

With all the materials (treated lumber and screws) coming from the lumber yard, the solution is smart, elegant and very cost effective.

Mark_Ben

Even better, each kid who put a bench together got to burn his or her name in the bottom, proof that they pitched in and deserve their place as a crucial piece of this family.

Mark_Mad

The otherwise humble tableau is dressed up with our well worn and faded tablecloths.

Mark_tablecloths

And, of course, lots of helpers make amazing food and natural decor.

Mark_wildflowersMark_napkinMark_GrillMark_Menu2Mark_Picnic_food

It’s an annual ritual, that none of us could imagine going without. I say, take a stand. Embrace a tradition. And make your mark.



IDEA 78: PRESERVE THE SUMMER

Jul
2015

Strawberry_Box

Who knows. Maybe this post would be better in mid-winter. Because right now it borders on the obvious. But if it hadn’t occurred to you to go out and pick fresh berries, maybe this will serve a purpose.

Wyatt's_strawberries

I am a strawberry lover. My earliest taste memories include that sweet warm sensation that explodes in your mouth at the first bite of a freshly picked strawberry. But I have to admit, it was never at the top of my weekend list to go to a “U-Pick” and harvest fruit.

But I’m married to a consummate gardener. And the least I can do to thank him for the beautiful work he does in our yard is be a good sport about field trips to the berry farm in the hot sun.

And of course I’m so happy I went.

Pick_Strawberries

I think the best part was seeing my otherwise indifferent husband having such a ball. I swear he was not going to leave as long as there were still so many berries left to pick. We came home with about 20 pounds of berries, which of course is way more than we could consume before they would begin to wilt.

Most people in this situation would have a plan to can or jar. But that was not in the cards for the rest of our weekend. We washed everything, then divided them into three categories: Eat now, Put in the fridge and Freeze. If you go online to find berry freezing techniques you’ll find half a dozen, some of which involve slicing and adding sugar. We chose what seemed best for us. After washing, the tops were cut straight off and the berries were placed to dry on paper towels. They were then transferred to cookie sheets lined with wax paper, cut edge down.

Strawberry_tray_freeze

These trays were thoroughly frozen.

Strawberries_frozen

Then the berries were popped off into vacuum bags.

Strawberries_frozen_bag

The air was sucked out, and the bags sealed and popped back in the freezer.

Strawberries_vacuum

Strawberries_vacuum_2

According to the recipe, these will be good for the next six months. So right now I’m planning on making strawberry muffins the first morning I wake up to a new snowfall. And remember that tangy sweet smell, and bending in the hot sun, and watching my husband as he systematically attempts to harvest every last plump berry.

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IDEA 73: SHARE

Aug
2014

TallTales_crop_cover

When you are mom, you are so busy, it’s hard to even think about anything beyond this day, and the problem that’s in front of you right now. But somehow, maybe in the middle of nap time, take a moment to think back about something you loved as a child that you could share with your little one.

TallTales_inside_cov

Here’s the deal. One day they will be off to college, or otherwise moving away from you. At that time you may think to yourself, “Did I give them part of me?”

When my middle son moved out, I heard he served a “guest” canned peaches, still in the can, straight from the frige, with a fork sticking out of them. On hearing this, my first thought was NOT “Gee, why didn’t you put them in a dish?”  What I thought was, “Did I serve food that became part of this boy’s comfort?”

What are those things that you will share with your kids? Things that were part of you. Things that comforted you as a child, that you will give to them?

I had “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” sung to me by my mom. And I had The Tall Book of Make Believe. Being the youngest of four kids, I didn’t have many things that were mine alone. But the “Tall Tales” book was one. My middle brother drew on some of the pages. And the spine has long been held together with electrical tape. But to this day I cannot read Moon Song or the Land of Counterpane without going straight back to a very safe and simple place.

So, if you have small children, I know. You are so busy. But it goes so fast. What’s something from your childhood that helped you? Bring that thing into their young lives. After all, you may not have had time to realize it yet, but that’s what it’s all about.

TallTales_L_of_C_3

TallTales_L_of_C_CU

TallTales_Moon_Song

TallTales_What_I_would_do

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IDEA 72: THEN, ONE DAY, LET THEM GO

Jul
2014

Boys_Bike_Wave

Last summer, my 19 year old son Ben announced that the next week he and his friend Will were going to ride their bikes to California. He told us this with the same lack of pageantry you would announce you were going to walk up to the store to buy a candy bar.

I wondered if over at Will’s house they had any more warning or explanation of a plan. When we drove Ben to Will’s house, the location of the “send off,” we saw that no, indeed, there had been no more planning over there.

We arrived on the scene to witness Will’s dad explaining that it would be very easy and quite practical to strap a small tent onto Will’s bike. This recommendation offered, because the boys had discerned they would not need sleeping bags (it was California, and therefore a warm place), or pillows (apparently pillows are for sissies), or a change of clothes.

When I asked if it wouldn’t be a good idea to bring an extra T-shirt, Ben’s answer was they could wash their shirts out in a stream. When I suggested he might bring an extra shirt to wear while the stream-washed shirt was drying, Ben saw the wisdom in this, and acquiesced to bring a second T-shirt.

It was heart-warming to see Will’s parents attempting similar suggestions. Somehow they managed to convince the boys to take their ancient second car to get to the west coast so that they might have a hope of, at the very least, getting out of Minnesota. The parents were planning on selling the car anyway (or donating it). The boys had permission to sell the car once they got to California if they wanted to. Or, if it broke down, they did not have to bring it back, but needed to remember to have it towed somewhere.

The plan was to sleep in hammocks, which they had purchased the week before, (but hadn’t actually tried out yet). We all thought, even if the ancient second car completely broke down, it might still offer protection from the weather, and a softish place to sleep.

The timeline for the trip was “open-ended” as Ben quit his job for the rest of the summer and announced that he may decide to stay in California a while and not sign up for school in the fall. Interesting, because I heard Will say he wanted to be back for the State Fair in August, but apparently had failed to mention this to Ben. So it was not only open-ended in the sense they hadn’t decided when to return, but even more so, since they hadn’t actually discussed their plans with each other.

Then, we four parents stood in the driveway waving, and the two boys, with bikes in ancient second car, drove away.

Boys_Bike_Car

I told all this to my girlfriends while sipping wine in the backyard at an annual summer get-together and to my amazement, a year later, when we gathered there next, everyone wanted to hear: Well? What happened on the bike trip?

So, here are some highlights. OK, this is my recollection anyway.

The first night, the boys slept in the car. The next day, the car broke down and they managed to get it into a shop and jumped on their bikes to ride around. They had been aiming to drive from Minnesota to Seattle, ditch the car, and ride down the coast to California on their bikes. The car broke down again, and this time it was irreparable. They left it, and got a bus into Seattle.

Seattle was no disappointment. They located kindred spirits and empty couches on some memo-board (or Craig’s list). They had been gone almost a week but had very few bike miles under their belts. At one point, they decided to take a hike. it was late in the day because, of course, if they were awake, it must be. They headed up a mountain trail with no water. Once they finally reached the peak, they realized they may be heading into trouble. They were far from their starting point and were losing light very quickly. They were regretting the decision (or lack thereof) to bring water, and I think there was a bear sighting.

They ran/tore back down the mountain and managed to return to their respective couches unkilled, which was fortunate, because they had a great story to tell.

At this point, the owners of the couches wanted them back, so the boys consulted the memo-board (or Craig’s List) again for a ride closer to California. They were able to secure a ride to Portland for $20. That’s $20 for the both of them. You just can’t beat Craig’s list (or the memo board) unless, of course, you have a silly concern about safety.

Portland proved to be a veritable cornucopia of opportunity. Will had relations there who put them up and fed them all kinds of home-cooked meals. Between this and their attempt to patronize every taco truck they encountered, they were not hurting for chow. But here they ran into a setback. The hike proved to be problematic to Will’s leg, so they found a clinic that would take a look. Not a big deal, but Will would have to stay off it for a few weeks.

Huh?

Remember, they are on a bicycling adventure. Or, at least it was going to start any minute.

I got a text that they were returning by train. Their bikes were packed into bike boxes and checked like big cardboard luggage.

All tolled, it had been just under two weeks. There did not appear to be a lot of bicycle riding in this adventure. And they never did set foot in California. But our boys were returning, after not too much time, and on their own accord. So, we four parents did what one might expect we would. We drove to the train station where, teary eyed, we greeted, we hugged, and did our best to hide our complete and absolute relief.

Boys_Bike_Home_Amtrak

IDEA 71: LET THEM MAKE CAKE

May
2014

Cake_maker_girl

My friend and colleague Kiersten has an amazing cookbook collection. Baking beautiful cakes and treats is her creative outlet. And a holiday does not go by without K whipping up a cake or beautiful dessert creation. That’s why it occurred to her that her young daughter Sydney might find it exciting to create a cake of her own.

Baking with young kids, we’re often left with a choice: either create our thing of beauty and suffer the consequences of angry offspring, or allow them artistic freedom and leave our idea by the wayside. That’s why this idea of Kiersten’s is so inspired. Using a box cake mix she didn’t need anyway, and leftover candies, she helped her daughter make a simple sheet cake. Once it was done, Syd was given free reign to decorate “her canvas” any way she liked. Does she want the icing black? No problem. Would she like to pile all the candy in one corner? Why not?

Cake_maker_kid

As it turned out, Syd actually had a bit of talent when it came to a pleasing distribution of deco on the cake top. But the real beauty was that she was completely in charge. That’s something that makes us all feel great. (Look at that sweet, proud face!) And, what an awesome gift to give your “big” little child.