01 Sep

Halves & Have Nots

I’ve heard it said that you don’t know someone until you’ve lived with them. Some folks would argue that living together isn’t enough since people change after marriage. Half of all marriages end in divorce and I’d bet those couples learned things about their “better half” they’d never have known otherwise.


We met in person the second week of September. Dave moved in two months later. He’d just gotten out of the military and it made sense to share the bills since we planned to stay together after the baby was born. The following September we said ‘I do’ in front of a handful of family, friends and our 8-week old son. We moved five times before the divorce was final in April, seven years later.


I rented an apartment on the third floor. I dated four different guys, two of them seriously. I played ‘Mom’ twenty-six weekends a year for six years. And then I remarried my ex-husband.

Now, listen. I know what you’re thinking. Why would I reinvent the wheel? Especially when I already knew it was prone to blowing. Here’s the thing – as bad as I was at being married, I was worse at being divorced.


After dating everyone else’s ex-husband I realized maybe mine wasn’t so bad. I mean, he did go to work every day. And he had a stable job. He didn’t stop off at the bar or strip club or dog track on his way home. Other women never, ever texted his phone. Sure, he snored and missed the laundry basket every single time but his ex-wife was awesome and I didn’t hate his kid. Really, in comparison he was sort of a catch.

When you remarry your ex you get half of your stuff back.

Things were good for the first four years. We picked up right where we’d left off and didn’t talk much about the time in between. Our son was in high school; I worked from home and the house was large enough to give us space apart. We got another dog and started planning for the future.

But then something changed.

I don’t know when it happened and I can’t tell you why but sometime over the last year my husband remembered why he let me leave in the first place. I thought maybe it was a mid-life crisis when he paid $2500 for a mattress for the spare room. At our counseling sessions, he insisted he was willing to work things out but then he’d hole up in the other room for days. I didn’t care for the silence but I wasn’t willing to admit knowing exactly what he was going through. Four months ago I hired a divorce attorney. Six weeks later Dave moved out of state. Next month my son will leave for the military and I’ll find myself alone on the other side once again.


Looking back, I can’t say I know much more now about the man I married even after divorcing him twice. I do have a better handle on who I am, who I’m not and who I want to become.

When you divorce someone, you get the other half of yourself back.

And so, as I move into a new phase I think it’s cool to be a part of the promotion for HBO’s new series DIVORCE starring Sarah Jessica Parker and Thomas Haden Church that premieres Sunday, October 9th at 10pm. It’s the story of a very, very long divorce, the show follows Frances and Robert as they grapple with the fallout from their failing marriage, not just for themselves, but also for their children and friends, ranging from awkward public encounters to difficult private therapy sessions. You can learn more about DIVORCE via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.

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15 Feb

Preparing Furniture for Flipping

Earlier this morning I got a message from a friend asking how to strip and stain a rocker she found curbside. She’s wanting to redo the chair as a gift for her soon-to-be-born grandchild’s nursery. The baby is due in April. Here’s a photo of what she’ll be working with:

free chair from curb

All in all I’d say it’s a pretty great find – definitely something I’d have swung over to the side of the road and chucked in the back of my SUV. The structure appears to be sound, it’s not missing any rungs or spindles and the lines on the arms and back are gorgeous.

Sure, the upholstery has seen better days and the finish is worn away but hey, it was free.

So, Gloria asked “What is the easiest way / product to strip a chair?”

When I zoomed in to check the condition of the finish things got hairy.

fuzzy spindles

Like, I literally saw hair on the wood.

Without knowing what the former owner had done I can only speculate that either this chair back had previously been padded and upholstered or it sat in a chicken coop. I can’t be certain. Either way the wood was sticky and it wound up feathered.

Gloria had already attempted to clean up the chair top with acetone and a wimpy stripper. While the furry gunk did eventually come off, at that rate it was working the kid would be walking before she finished. So, she turned to me for help.

Getting Ready to Get Ready to Refinish

Any time I prepare a piece of furniture to be made-over (regardless if its real wood or fake and whether I plan to paint or stain it) I always, always, always start with a good cleaning and let it air dry. Even if the very next step would be to strip the existing finish, removing as much dirt and debris first is the way to go.

Think about it, when you go to the salon for a haircut or highlight what’s the very first thing they do? Exactly.

For Glo’s chair I told her to grab some 000 steel wool, dip that into mineral spirits and wipe the entire thing down along the grain. Steel wool can and will gouge the wood so it’s important not to cause unnecessary work for yourself. Next, she’s going to want to use real chemicals to remove the tar and feathers.

Now listen, I’m all for being eco-friendly and kind to your 5 senses however, I also want the time I spend working on a furniture flip to be productive. That’s why my go-to get-all-the-previous-lord-only-knows-what-the-hell-someone-else-decided-to-cover-this-wood-with-crap-off concoction is Zinsser® StripFast Power Stripper. Yes, it stinks and yes, it burns BUT it works. Just cover your nose and mouth and hands and you’ll be fine.

Undressed Wood – The Right Way to Strip

Shake up the stripper and pour it into a glass container (salsa jars work great) so you can easily dip your chip brush in. Brush it on to the wood thick-ly in small 12″ x 12″ sections. The tendency will be to pour and spread over a large area but I’m telling you not to. After the existing finish bubbles up and breaks apart it will take much longer to scrape off than you think. And while you’re scraping over here the chemicals will keep reacting over there and then dry out completely. You’ll have to start over and that’s a waste of product, time and money.

Speaking of scraping, there are different types of scrapers to choose from – nylon, plastic, metal. I’m sure they all have their pros/cons so it’s really your call which you use. Personally, I prefer my Pampered Chef pan scrapers over anything else. They are easy to hold, easy to clean and never gouge my wood.

Whatever you use, be sure to have a plastic grocery bag handy so you have somewhere to scrape the gunk off in to. And because you really want to learn from my mistakes, go ahead and soak a rag with mineral spirits now. That way, if you do happen to get the super goo on your skin, you can wipe it off before it really starts to burn.

Once you’ve worked a large enough area clean, wipe it down with mineral spirits to stop the chemical reaction (use a different rag than I mentioned having on hand earlier). Keep going until everything you wanted stripped is stripped. Depending how many layers of life a piece had, it might take more than one pass to get it all removed.

Now take a break, grab a beverage and let the wood air dry for a while before coming back with 220-grit sandpaper.

Then, going along the grain, sand the wood to open it up in preparation for new stain/paint. Afterwards, I vacuum the dust off with my shop-vac. You can also brush it off with a dust brush and wipe with a tack cloth. DIY Tip: You don’t have to spend money on tack cloths. Instead, use old socks or t-shirts sprayed with adhesive tack spray. However you choose to do it, you’ll need to get the crud out of the nooks and crannies so the new finish has somewhere to go. Not doing so is equal to adding water to dirt to get mud…and that’s probably not the look you are going for.

From here there are different ways to proceed depending on your plan for your piece of furniture. Since Gloria wants to stain her rocking chair that’s the tutorial I’ll be working on next. Be sure to check back for updates and let me know if you have anything to add from your own furniture-flipping experiences.

26 Nov

What Great Bones You Have

I knew when I saw this vintage Victrola that it was going to be something special. How and to whom I hadn’t a clue but I just knew. It was missing a few key elements but it’s bones – I don’t come across pieces this old in such good shape often.

victrola cabinet

Now, you might wonder what I’ve been drinking as you think “What is she talking about? That thing is fugly! No way would I bring that into my house…”

damaged victrola

The ornamental detail, veneer and original wooden wheels were all in tact. So what if it was missing a record player, door and lid? Do you see those louvered doors that actually work? Special I tell ya.

vintage victrola

So when my chiropractor told me he was switching things up at the office, moving his exam room into a new space, I heard “I am going to need some furniture” and paid attention.

I’d already completed a Lego table that would go in there and didn’t have enough matching chairs to help him out. But when he said something about needing a place to stand at his laptop to update patient records I knew I had just the thing.

added plywood door top

Immediately, I got to work fabricating a top and door from quality plywood. Since the exam room was painted a vibrant blue the only logical color choice was black. Initially, I didn’t think I would like it but as it came together I changed my tune.

rebuilt victrola

I reinforced the bottom and added a second shelf. Before painting the new pieces, I made sure everything fit and functioned properly. Then I gave it an all over of a new favorite – Minwax Antique Oil Finish.

The matte luster wipes on easily but dries hard without that shiny, plastic appearance or typical polyurethane.

painted victrola

Since little ones might be tempted to open the door, I added a catch just inside the door.

added shelving

And if Doc wants to grab something quick, he can reach right through the shutters without moving his laptop from the top.

revamped victrola

I didn’t want to cover up the original wood inside so I recommended he install a basket or something if he wanted. Otherwise, it’s painted and sealed so tossing his supplies right in works too.

repurposed record player

I just love the detail of those side floral motifs. I’m still surprised that not a single one was missing or damaged.

louvered doors

Like I said, this one is a special project. I’m so pleased it found a home with one of my favorite people – in a space where many others will also appreciate it’s great bones.

rebuilt stereo cabinet

25 Nov

How to Frame Mosaic Art


This gorgeous mosaic floral piece of art was created by my friend Arlene. After hours of cutting and gluing (and drinking and cursing no doubt) it hung proudly on her lower level bathroom wall. When she and her husband, Paul, decided to sell nearly everything in their home to move out West, they asked me to come help.

DIY Mosaic Art

As we prepped for the estate sale,  a few private sales were conducted and another friend quickly claimed the one-of-a-kind piece.

Tina wanted it to hang just inside her guest bathroom off of the garage. She was worried about doors slamming causing the heavy artwork to vibrate against the wall. Already, areas of grout had broken away from the frame and she didn’t want to risk ruining it entirely. So, she asked if I could reinforce the original frame.

When I got it home I realized that Arlene had mosaic’d right over the original sheet of glass abutting the frame. A quick web search revealed DIY versions of stained glass mosaics. Unfortunately, none of them called for removing the glass from the frame prior to grouting in place. To remove the glass art from the frame I had to break the grout seam – without damaging the piece or cracking the glass.

As usual, what should have been a simple project had gotten hairy.

add hangers to plywood backing

I measured and cut a 1/4″ thick piece of plywood to serve as the new backer board. Thinking ahead, I preinstalled D-ring hangers. And selected a decorative chair rail for the new frame.

Since there was a 1/4″ portion of un-mosaic’d glass hiding under the original frame I’d removed, I had to get creative with the router. I notched the back of the chair rail enough to fit the raw glass and some of the uneven grout lines.

route chair rail edges

Then I measured and mitered the corners at 45 degrees. Because each cut was specific to the side of the glass I was working on, I made sure to mark both trim pieces as I went along. This made final assembly much easier to complete.

miter & label corners

A quick dry-fit to confirm measurement accuracy and I was ready to attach the glass to the backer board.

dry fit frame

But I noticed that some of the plywood grain was visible through the mosaic glass chips. So, I put some black and white paper under the glass to see if it made a difference.

choose mosaic base color

Can you see the color differences? Straight down the center I noticed a complete change in the way the green glass looked. The white on the left seemed to wash the colored glass pieces out. But the black made them pop.

black painted plywood

So, I rolled on a coat of black paint leaving enough raw wood surface for later. When that dried, I squiggled on some epoxy to affix the glass to the wood surface.

apply epoxy

After setting the glass on the glue, I painted the frame white.

Apparently, I was in such a hurry to get upstairs for TGIT that I forgot to take a photo of the glass drying on the backer board so you’ll have to use your imagination. I let everything dry overnight before gluing the underside edges of the picture frame to that unpainted edge of the backer board. You’ll get much better adhesion by allowing direct wood to wood contact when using wood glue.

band clamp corners

A band clamp works well to tighten up and hold square project pieces in place as the glue sets. I had to raise the piece up to get the metal corner clamps positioned correctly. When it was dry, I sanded the joints, filling in with putty as needed.

spackle & paint

And then I added a metallic white glaze coat before waxing for the final finish.

frame mosaic art

After we got it up on her wall, Tina added some felt bumpers under the lower frame backing. That way, if someone does slam the door, she doesn’t have to worry about any damage to the wall or Arlene’s lovely artwork.

how to reframe art

24 Nov

Missing Parts & Perfect Mates

black entertainment stand

Yesterday I went to see Brian for an individual session. Last week, he wrapped up our ‘chat’ by asking me to make a list of what I wanted in a husband. The assignment was odd because, hello, I already have one of those. It’s a tad late to create The Husband List don’t you think?

And what good would it do to pen a wish list of attributes that may or may not apply to a guy I’m already hitched to? Unless I only jot down traits and qualities Dave already possesses I’m pretty sure the areas he falls short on would stick out like a sore thumb.

I’m not naïve enough to believe that if I write it down the universe will somehow make it so. If, in his professional opinion, the shrink feels I should shitcan this relationship and start over well there’s no guarantee anyone new would check all the boxes on the list either.

So, I opted not to open that can of worms. Instead, I found myself comparing my husband to discarded furniture.

I spend most of my time in the shop. It’s in our basement and the whole space is home to tons of furniture that has been around the block a time or two. Most pieces are on their last leg. I rarely rescue stuff that has much life left according to society’s standards. When most folks look around the space all they see is junk.

The pieces hanging around my shop are usually missing something – a leg, an arm, one or more drawers, shelves, doors – but are still in salvageable condition. Some truing up here, gluing up there, swapping this part out for that one and structurally they’re as good as new. Sure, it takes a little more work to uncover their beauty but once I do I’m certain they’ve never looked better.

And then I send them out to live purposeful lives again.

You know what I don’t do during the course of any of my furniture reinventions?

Never have I written a list of what qualities I wished a dresser possessed. Nope, I haven’t ever rattled off all the things that would make a dining set ideal. I just take the pieces as they come and listen to what they have to say. What hurts? What needs fixing? Which part should be the focal point? What areas should be obscured?

I don’t waste time thinking about what isn’t there.

The art is in working with what I’ve been given. Besides, working around those missing pieces usually sparks ideas for reimagining new uses for those old items.

Let me ask you this – aside from product labeling what makes a buffet different from a tv stand?

Is it in the wood that’s used or how the wood is used? Technically, both provide a large flat surface to display things and each has ample storage to stow stuff out of sight. Either can be painted or stained to suit the décor so what is it exactly that differentiates one from the other?

Because the way I see it, I’ve got a finished buffet I have no use for.

black buffet

And I’ve got a lame tv stand taking center stage in my living room. Schematically speaking, I see no reason why the former couldn’t be modified a bit to replace the latter. Would it mean a little more work? Sure. Could mistakes be made? Certainly. Might I be happier in the end?

There’s something about spending time surrounded by the fruits of your own labor that make all the effort worthwhile.

black entertainment stand

I guess that’s why it seems more productive to see Dave like the furniture in the basement. Sure, he’s got some wear and tear and might be missing a few parts. But he has a lot of potential. With a little work and some reimagineering I’m sure he can find renewed purpose.

17 Nov

Same Trailer, Different Park

mountain trailer

Tonight, I was planning to post an update on some recently completed projects but as I was gathering my thoughts I came across a post I published just over a year ago (you can find that original post here).

Sadly, it doesn’t seem that I’ve gotten very far in the last 365 days. I’m still trying to figure out where I want this blog-thing to go. I really want to spend more time writing but my days are consumed with projects. I’ve slowed down considerably on commissioned pieces but have 17 dressers, 35 end tables, 8 dining room sets and so much more to knock out before packing the house up to get it on the market. The alternative is to liquidate my treasures or lug them to Colorado.

In some ways things are much different today than they were last November. For starters, the move is right around the corner. For 17 years I’ve said “some day I’ll live here” every time I hiked through the Garden of the Gods. Lately, all I’ve found myself saying is “Crap! I need to get that finished/started before we move”. This will be the first Christmas in a long time that I’m not somewhere in the mountains out West. It’ll be the last one we spend as a family under the same roof.

It’s crazy when I stop to think about it. Technically, we’ll be empty-nesters before I’m even 40 years old. About a month ago we started seeing a Christian counselor. Dave and I have been having issues and it was time to get some professional help. Although I always knew we’d find ourselves at this crossroad, I couldn’t have imagined how up in the air everything would be once we arrived.

Brian (the counselor) had Tyler put together a 6-month plan to prepare for his transition out of the house into the real world. He asked me to do the same. The problem is that my plan is completely dependent upon whatever happens with Dave and his job, Dave and our marriage, Tyler and his graduation, Tyler and his enlistment – I don’t have the time nor energy to come up with 12 different short-term what if scenarios. I’d also rather not focus on the precarious situation I’ve found myself in.

Against all of my mother’s wisdom I find myself at the mercy of a man. I’m sure she’s thrilled to know that I don’t have a real job. I don’t make my own money. My car isn’t even in my name. Besides, I’m not sure if I want to leave the house for the real world.

And seriously, I know that even if I had a plan it wouldn’t work out the way I envisioned anyway so I see no point forcing decisions for productivity’s sake. I’ve played that game before and where did it get me? I know I wouldn’t be any less frustrated than I’m tempted to be now. I would be no less busy and I doubt I’d be any more content with what the future held. So, I think I’ll forgo the planning process a bit longer.

I trust that when I look back six months from now I’ll find things worked themselves out. Maybe, I’ll even manage to get a few project updates posted too.