I wear, I dye, I wear again!*

I am not sure what I did to my favorite sweater to cause these bleached spots on the neck. Maybe the bezoyl peroxide I slather on every morning? But why is nothing else ever bleached? Who knows. Laundry mysteries. I never lose socks so I guess something weird has to happen to my clothes.

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This sweater, which I stalked through Kohl’s until the day it was on sale enough for me to justify to myself buying a brand-new (not thrifted) garment, has been languishing at the bottom of a drawer since I noticed the weird pink blotches on its neck.

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Today I popped in at Jo-Ann’s a got a cheap packet of Rit Pearl Grey dye and decided to give it a go. If I can’t fix it, well, I wasn’t wearing it anyway.

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I mixed it up per the instructions on Rit’s website and dabbed the dye carefully on the ribbed neckband. I don’t know why I started on the inside, but I painted the outside, too. I was really afraid the dye would wick into the sweater itself from the neckband but it really stayed where I put it! This surprised me because the dye was the consistency of water and the sweater is 100% cotton.

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I was very careful, as I worked, not to let any dyed portions touch any portions of the sweater that I didn’t want dyed.

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After the dye sat for 20 minutes I washed the sweater as normal. Here it is blocked out on an old towel to dry. There’s a tiny blotch of dye on the shoulder where the neckband rested on some of the yellow fabric while the washer was filling, but it’s not too noticeable. Looks like lint. I call it a win!

— Amanda

*Please see Mad Max: Fury Road. Please.

Before and after: front yard edging

I love before and after photos, even of the most mundane projects. These photos show the driveway and foundation planting edging I moved this weekend. It may not look like much, but 12-18 hours of digging sod by hand, grubbing weeds, chasing down dead TV cables cut by the previous owners (grrr), and meticulously arranging heavy concrete edging blocks has done a number on my back.

before and after edging 2I opted to reuse the scalloped concrete edgers because they are in every yard in the neighborhood. Given my druthers I’d be using something fancier but A) I’m broooooooke and B) fancy things are not at all in keeping with the style of my home or those around it. My neighborhood isn’t exactly run-down but neither is it the kind of place where vinyl fencing or stone veneers fit in.

before and after edging 3I moved the edging along the driveway (AGAIN) because the previous edging was getting run over by trucks and heavy equipment alike, there being several tons more machinery in our drive than anyone ever intended. I have ceded another 18 inches of the yard to the driveway and firmly stated (no less than five times) that this is the last border treaty I am willing to broker and that any more incursions into my yard will be met with force.

before and after edging 1I moved the edging along the foundation bed for several reasons. The narrowness of the bed meant that only small perennials could be grown in it, which cannot be seen from the road. A deeper bed allows me to go crazy on install more shrubs, which will improve the curb appeal since they will be visible from the street. Also, the existing edging was not even close to straight and meandered like a snake. The new edging cuts a straight line, perfectly parallel to the house. If I have done my math correctly the second set of stairs I am going to install on the porch will fall into line, as well.

I carefully hand-pulled all the weeds around the base of our meter and disconnected the cut cables after conferring with the handyman across the street. I will never understand why the previous owners physically cut all the phone and TV wires and cables that used to feed into the house – and I am especially stymied to discover that it happened more than once! When Lee and I were kneeling in my freshly dug bed playing NCIS over the remains of previous utilities we saw that new TV cable had been run three times to replace previously snipped wires. These cables were not accidentally severed by a shovel – they were cleanly severed at the junction box on the pole or where they should have entered the house.

before and after edging 4Before digging out this extension I contacted our local electrical utility to get their OK. I wanted to be sure that I wasn’t going to violate any rules (or just be generally bothersome) with my crazy plan. That plan is to build a tiny little pergola-style arch over the meter pole and grow a pretty vine over it – something fairly polite like runner beans or clematis, not something beefy and destructive like wisteria. They said that they didn’t care what I did to the top or sides as long as they had 36 inches of clearance at the front in which to read the meter and access the boxes (which are hinged at the top and not the sides). I am assuming that the same applies to the phone and internet boxes on the back (which is generous because they actually require much less access space).

— Amanda

Before and after: shower curtain

before after shower curtains wordsThis isn’t a tutorial because my sewing skills are actually pretty rudimentary, so no one would profit from me passing on the details of how I made this thing. But hey – I made this thing!

The old shower curtain.

The old shower curtain.

I have had an eye out for a new shower curtain for quite some time because the old one (which was a wedding present to us 7 years ago) was faded and stained. As with many consumer goods, the ones in my price range were gaudy and hideous and the simple, attractive ones were laughably expensive. So I wasn’t having much luck. But I had a little birthday money left over last week when I went to the thrift store and among the other scores that day I found a like-new queen size sheet orphaned from its set (no matching fitted sheet or pillowcases in sight) with thin, bold stripes in just the grassy shade of green I was looking for – not mossy, not chartreuse. Finally.

The new shower curtain.

The new shower curtain.

I trimmed and hemmed it down to the size of the old curtain and inexpertly smooshed some grommets in place for the rings and the result looks pretty good! The little areas of perpendicular stripes on the top outer corners are double-thickness patches I added for Matt to use as handles. Other than the inevitable sun-fading, the biggest trouble I had with the old curtain was that Matt’s grubby logger fingers left indelible smudges at those two corners that no amount of pre-treating or color-safe bleach could expunge. If he can keep his filthy hands off the rest of the curtain I can pretty easily remove and replace the patches, hopefully giving this curtain as long a life as the last one enjoyed – but with a more graceful decline.

— Amanda

Stairway to heaven?

One item on the unbelievably long list of steps to revamp the front yard was “stairs through front bed”. Before the front bed was brought back under cultivation folks tramped willy-nilly through it, oblivious to the fact that expensive shrubs and perennials slumbered under the knee-high grass and weeds. No amount of shrieking at the menfolk could stop them. Now I have proper stairs: a clearly delineated path through the ever-more-beautiful garden that has been transformed from the bane of my life to my pride and joy. Anybody tries to blaze their own trail now gets pummeled with whatever I have handy — firewood, BB gun, shovel, rolling pin. Be ye warned!

On Saturday night I laid out the path from the front door through the yard and bed. I used the really-long-measuring-tape-and-knotted-string trick for folks who shy away from the Pythagorean theorem to ensure that my very long rectangle was both “square” (that is, had four 90-degree corners) and perpendicular to the house. Overhead the sun was going down rather spectacularly.

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Cue the choir.

Yesterday I got the treads carved out, the scrap wood 4 x 4 risers cut and placed, and the landscape fabric pinned down. By that time it was past noon and well over 80 degrees. I wanted desperately to be done but I couldn’t manage it. I went inside, drank 2 quarts of instant lemonade, consumed an entire honeydew melon, and took a 2 hour nap.

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This morning I finished the project. I installed little side blocks to keep the gently mounded soil on either side of the treads from falling back in, redistributed all the displaced soil, planted the four new plants I had been holding back because I wanted them near these stairs, and filled the treads with bark mulch.6e5b5-dscf5092

Eventually the front yard will be stripped of grass and a grid of raised beds will go down in its place. Open ground will be covered with more landscaping fabric and wood chips. I opted for wood chips because as nice as pea gravel and decomposed granite look in gardening magazines they can be expensive, they are heavy, and they travel (pea gravel especially refuses to stay put). Bark mulch and wood chips are gloriously free and abundant when one is married to a logger and lives next door to a would-be arborist. They don’t pack as well as, say, crushed rock, but they do eventually compress. They need replacing and topping off, but, again: free and plentiful. Also, they retain moisture and are soft and quiet to walk on. I passed on the idea of pavers and/or bricks because I think the garden should be in keeping with the style of the house. My house is very plain and simple. A formal garden, no matter how well designed and maintained, would be terribly at odds with my plain Jane home. But I think a potager, softened at the edges with a cottagey sort of garden would be just right.

— Amanda

Make a $40 wreath for $5

I have lamented the high price of fake flower wreaths in a previous post. I like having a seasonal accent on the front of the house, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to pay as much for it as I would for a date night dinner at the local Greek-Italian pasta house. If have fifty bucks to spare you can bet I’m opting for dim lighting, all-you-can-eat garlic bread, and a trough of Alfredo over a sprig of plastic cheer.

But today was my lucky day. I was in the neighborhood so I dropped in at Jo-Ann to see if they had anything that wasn’t laughable in the clearance bin. Fall stuff is moving in (and at Jo-Ann fall means Halloween, which takes over half the store) so spring and summer stuff is getting shunted off to the land of cut-throat price reduction. In and amongst the fluorescent peonies, washed-out miniature daffodils, and psychedelic gerbera daisies I chanced upon thee bunches of really good looking red geraniums. Score! I have a big basket of real red geraniums hanging from the eave, so this was fitting. Also, they were marked down from $5.99 a bunch to $1.49 a bunch. Even better.

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To make the bunches into a wreath my first move was to cut them apart into their various parts. I snipped the bunches just above the point at which all the stems were fused into one ugly plastic knob.

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Here’s all bits that went into one bunch. These were nice, full, bushy bunches, which made them ideal for my project.

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After they were all taken apart I wired the bits back together like a garland by wrapping around the stems with fine gauge wire.

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And then joined the ends of the garland by overlapping them and wrapping a whole lot more. Since all my stems were also wired I didn’t need any additional reinforcement (like a grapevine wreath or a circle of thicker gauge wire).

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Ta da! (Or should I say DING!) I now have four wreaths, one for each season, which by my own twisted logic makes me an adult.

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As always, please ignore the bird poop. I just washed it off over the weekend and couldn’t be bothered to do it again for the photo.

The end result is virtually indistinguishable from the geranium wreath Jo-Ann was selling in April for $39.99. Except that mine actually has more flowers. (Neener neener ha ha.)

— Amanda

Fixing Karl’s butt, Part 2: Rewiring

Every Volvo forum has a mass of threads and tutorials on this topic: 240 series tailgate wiring. (VClassics tutorial was my initial inspiration. SwedishBricks has a number of recommendations in their FAQ. The official UK Volvo Forum site has a good step-by-step. MatthewsVolvoSiteTurboBricks, and BrickBoard also have multiple threads about this.) The people who famously perfected the three-point seat belt, invented the rear-facing child seat, and were the first to make side airbags standard totally dropped the ball on the tailgate wiring of their station wagons in the 1980s and early 1990s. You may be safe in a Volvo, but your defenseless little wires are not. As we all know: you can only bend a wire so many times before it snaps. So why, I ask you, did Volvo engineers run the rear wiring harness through the tailgate hinges?

We may never know the answer to that question, but the question of how to fix the issue it pretty much universally agreed-upon by owners of 240 series Volvos the world over: reroute the wire bundles inside the car.

During the tailgate switch-out I pulled the wiring bundles through the headliner and the tailgate to the inside of the car. Yesterday I cut off all the weather-damaged bits and reconnected everything with butt connectors. (A frustrating and fiddly experience that was nowhere near as fun as I had anticipated. Every single wire had its own unique properties: some were gummy, some were brittle, some were sun-damaged, some were practically impossible to strip.)

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I did this to both sides but only photographed one.

Some folks on the Volvo boards say that without a ground back here everything runs just fine, but most agreed that they got that poltergeisty effect – random indicator lights flashing, going over a bump and having their rear wiper turn itself on, that sort of thing – and that it can also shorten the life of or outright kill the more voltage-greedy tailgate components like the washer, wiper, and demister. The original grounds (which are, of course, broken) were 12-gauge black wires that connected one half of the tailgate hinges to the other. I had to have both Matt and neighbor Lee explain grounding to me several times before I understood that what I needed to accomplish was simply a connection between the tailgate and the chassis – not a connection between the tailgate components and the chassis. This made life ever so much easier, because instead of trying to fish a wire through the narrow channel on the side edges of the tailgate I had only to drill a couple of holes to create new attachment points beside the entry and exit points of my wire bundles. I used ring connectors to attach my grounds.

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The brown wire is my new ground. I added one to the other side, too, because why not? I’m not keen on doing this twice!

Then I covered the whole lot in split wire loom tubing for the sake of looks. On TurboBricks one of the posters has uses little metal clips to hold his headliner in place (here) after what he calls his “ghetto fix”. I’ll keep my eyes peeled for something of the sort that I can clamp on there.

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Not beautiful, but not bad, either.

After all was said and done (and the battery was reconnected) I sat at the controls and flipped stuff off and on and on and off while Matt poked everything with a voltage tester. Everything is getting power . . . but nothing actually works. That’s what I’ll tackle today. Most everything should come magically back to life when I replace the fuses (half of which are missing from when we were chasing the phantom drain) and the bulbs. At worst the wiper motor may need to be replaced or rebuilt, but I’ve lived this long without one, so I don’t have strong feelings about that either way. It sure will be nice to have license plate lights again, though!

Karl has a lot of aesthetic issues to attend to, but now the only mechanical issue remaining is the reverse lights. That will be another big nasty project, and not one I can do without Matt, because it necessitates dropping the transmission to reconnect the broken wire that’s dangling out of the rear lighting cluster.

*heavy sigh*

— Amanda

Fixing Karl’s butt, Part 1: Replacing the tailgate.

Or: How to use your camera phone to fix your Volvo.

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The old tailgate. Zoom in to admire all the damage and rust.

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The “new” tailgate before I scraped, melted, and dissolved all the stickers and badges.

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Karl’s new butt! You’d never know it wasn’t the one he was born with. And yes, I will be putting the DIESEL emblem from the old tailgate onto the new one. That Karl is a diesel is quite a point of pride.

Last July, when Matt bought the big blue truck we call Bruce (after Bruce McCulloch), we went to one of the local “U-pick” junkyards to get him some new mirrors. (The ones that came with it were for hauling RVs and stuck out at least a foot farther than was necessary.) By astounding coincidence the yard also had a Volvo station wagon. That it was a wagon was shocking enough (these yards always have 240 series Volvos, but never have wagons), but it was also the same year and color as my beloved Karl. Matt talked me out of taking the chrome luggage rack (which I regret to this day even though I would never ever tie luggage to a luggage rack and just think they look hella rad) but he did help me detach the tailgate.

Karl’s tailgate has been one of the biggest troubles I’ve had with him since we adopted him. We have since discovered (thanks to a belatedly-acquired owner’s manual from eBay) that half of the issue was our own ignorance, but I still think that the Teenage Girls of Less-Than-Average Intelligence who owned Karl before me had, as usual, a lot to do with it. To sum up the issues: the tailgate wouldn’t latch for love nor money and we resorted to, I hate to admit, kicking it shut. Also one of the Teenage Girls of Less-Than-Average Intelligence was either rear ended or had backed into something at a high rate of speed because the tailgate and passenger side pillar beside it were crumpled and rusted. And finally, Volvo wagons of this vintage all share the same dumb design flaw: all the wires that power the various doodads in the tailgate (the wiper, the washer, the license plate lights, the defroster) run through the hinges. Yes, the hinges. What can any kindergartner tell you about bending a wire 3,000 times at a 90-degree angle? It snaps in half.

Yesterday I was inexplicably gripped by the need to suffer no longer the crappy tailgate. With my hair up, my vintage beads on, and still wearing my going-to-town clothes, I wandered into the driveway (ostensibly) just to see how hard it would be to switch out the locks. That part was wicked easy (the locks were held in by a simple retaining clip) and the project snowballed out of control from there. I never did change my clothes.

It turns out that, to a large extent, when you have a working part to reverse engineer you do not need a tutorial or a manual (neither of which I was able to find for this part of the project). You only need a camera phone. Stick that skinny little bad boy into the space you can hardly get your hand into and snap a picture. Voila! You now know how all that crap goes together.

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Cell phone photo of the back of the lock, inside the door, showing how the latch mechanism is hooked up. This was after I popped off the retaining clip holding in the lock.

It took me four hours and a dozen cell phone photos but I got the locks, latches, and tailgates switched out 99% by myself. (The remaining 1% was split between two semi-retired neighbor fellas who, respectively, cut down an overlong bolt that was preventing the tailgate from adjusting correctly, and allowed me to try out approximately 300 small tools which I ended up not needing to use.) In all, the project used three screwdrivers, a small hammer, three sockets, needle nose pliers, and, when a bolt I didn’t need to save turned out to be completely inaccessible by any means known to man, a very small hacksaw. Oh – and a painting ladder to hold the tailgate up while I detached and reattached it.

The tailgate now latches easily when you shut it (you don’t have to slam or kick it) and it stays latched without having to be locked. (I whooped out loud when it worked the first time and got a lump in my throat when it continued to work flawlessly the next 6,000 times I tried it.) The only non-working (mechanical) feature now is the selector switch, which in one position should have allowed the latch to work as normal and in another would have made it so that the door cannot be opened from the inside. The “new” door was missing this part altogether and Matt and I had effectively destroyed the old one. I couldn’t figure out how to fix it and I didn’t really think I needed it, so I tossed it. If ever you find yourself in the cargo area of my car I guess you’ll just have to use one of the other four doors to get out.

Stay tuned for Part 2: Rewiring!

— Amanda