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.

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

A bright idea

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Before.

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After.

I have had this vase just about as long as I can remember. Maybe one of my parents remembers me buying it. I think it was allowance money spent at Pier One? Maybe one of those oddball catalogs full of dragon sculptures and hippy clothes and crystals and wall-hangings that I used to pore over.

At any rate, this thing is responsible for my lifelong obsession with the ocher yellow color I painted my living room. Good news: the color was a perfect match. Bad news: the color was a perfect match and now this lamp blends into the wall like it’s wearing camouflage.

I decided that the easy answer (given the unconscionable price of new lamps) was to move the yellow lamp into our blue bedroom and switch it with the black candlestick lamp on my nightstand. The only problem: while this lamp lights up just fine, my middle-school attempt to convert it from bouquet-holder to torch-bearer was falling apart and the whole works had gone wonky. I had drilled a hole in the vase (and even found a little plastic dingus to stuff in there to keep the cord from getting cut by the jagged potmetal of the vase body) and threaded the cord through a metal tube that acted as the neck of the lamp. To keep everything in place I filled the body with expanding construction foam. A strange choice, perhaps, but it worked dandy for more than ten years. However, after half a dozen moves and lot of abuse the expanding foam had come loose and been smooshed down so the “neck tube” rattled about and sat sideways. Also the shade had gotten lost somewhere along the way.

After a little internet research to see how the pros make vases into lamps I ran around to a few hardware stores. The solution this time was a little more sophisticated than expanding foam: I was going to use tension to hold everything in place. A threaded rod passed through the neck of the vase with a bracket on the bottom end, inside the vase, snuggled up against the vase’s shoulders. On the top side I planned to use a decorative curtain rod end as a poor man’s vase cap (since I didn’t want to order a single $3.00 part online and they didn’t carry this part in the local hardware stores). On top of that a simple hex nut was going to create tension: when I tightened the nut the whole works should come together since the twisting action would bring the nut down on the vase cap and the bracket inside the vase up towards the mouth.

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Most of my materials.

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I began to question my slippery grasp of physics after an hour of tightening, dismantling, reassembling, and tightening again. The damn thing just wouldn’t tighten! No matter how many turns I gave the nut it just kept working down the rod until it got stuck. But everything was still loose inside the vase. It took me that whole hour to realize that the problem was not in my design: it was one of my parts. The curtain rod end had a shank on it and that shank protruded down into the very shallow neck of the vase and was hitting the bracket. So when I got the nut tight the contraption was still loose because the length of the vase cap shank was preventing the bracket from reaching the shoulders of the vase.

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After that epiphany I tossed the vase cap and grabbed the first round piece of metal I found: a canning jar lid. It fit perfectly on the mouth of the vase. I drilled a hole in it, threaded all my bits and pieces back on the wire (for what felt like the dozenth time) and tightened down the nut. Aha! Just to be sure, I shook the snot out of it. It didn’t budge.

I added some new shades and voilà!

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The living room lamp now lives on my nightstand.

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And my nightstand lamp now lives in the living room.

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And here’s the mess I made. Yes, the fruit snacks were an essential tool in completing this project.

— Amanda

Before and after: kitchen floor

Behold! Look upon my floor in awe! (And reassure me that the surprisingly strong pain in my legs was worth it.)

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Before.

After.

After.

I would highly recommend these tiles to someone on a budget who wants the look of a brand new floor but doesn’t have the mathematical skills (or saintly patience) to deal with sheet vinyl. It’s cheap, plentiful, comes in easy-to-handle 12″ x 12″ tiles, is self-adhesive, and cuts easily. (If you can cut drywall you can cut this stuff. Score and snap. You don’t have to cut deep, just straight.) I installed it right over my existing sheet vinyl floor.

(But Jesus Christ will your legs hurt. Not your knees so much – contrary to logical expectations – no, the problem is not that you’ve been on your knees for the better part of a day, but that you have done approximately 1,000 squats in a day.)

Every project has its challenges. This project had its share: 1) The high spot/screw holes, 2) the loose cabinet face between the fridge and the dishwasher, and 3) the oblique angles of the infamous three-sided divider wall (the one from which I just removed all those godawful windows).

1) The people who lived here before us, who inspire me daily to invent clever and colorful new expletives, were pretty harsh on the kitchen floor. There was a burn by the stove that looks like they dropped a cinder (or a lit cigarette) and ignored it for about half an hour. There were lots of weird slashes, like they let the kids play with a box cutter. Worst of all, though, was the screw holes left over from when they had a bolt-down mini table in the corner where I am trying to put up shelves. (I assume there was a “breakfast nook.” But I suppose it’s equally likely that it was a stripper pole.) When they removed the table (or pole) they just pulled it out and left the holes in the vinyl. The underlayment is MDF, so every time I mopped the water dribbled down those holes and the MDF absorbed it and swelled, resulting in a high spot. (Had I been thinking – or had I known more about flooring 8 years ago – I would have at least caulked the holes when we moved in.)

You have no idea how much it pleases me to have written that whole paragraph in the past tense.

I cut out that section,

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pulled out the loose stuff, scraped down the high spots,

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and filled the low spots.

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(With this stuff, which I actually bought for a different project.)

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Then I patched it with a piece of one of the replacement tiles. (Rather artlessly. These were literally my first cuts into the new tiles.)

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2) The cabinet side wall between the fridge and the dishwasher, as I discovered when I was back there ripping off the crappy old molding so that I could paint, is only attached to the counter top. Not to the wall or the floor or the little tiny bit of facing on the right side of the dishwasher. In the grand scheme of things this is probably not likely to ever be a real issue. But it bugged me enough to get me to spend $2.00 on a package of teeny weeny L-brackets. I used two of them to reinforce this section. I cut a little piece out of the old floor to accommodate the bottom half of the L and screwed it into the floor and the cabinet wall nice and tight. The bottom of the bracket was level with the old floor so the new tiles went right over without a divot or a bump. The top of the bracket will be hidden by the new molding. I may have to take a little notch out of it to make it lay flat but I think I can Dremel or chisel it easily.

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3) I hadn’t actually intended to tile all the way under the shelves against the troublesome wall, but when I was down there on my big fat butt I saw how shallow the area really is. Anyone on their feet – or even their knees – wouldn’t be able to see to the wall, especially when all the jars of dry foodstuffs are put back under there. I fiddled around and discovered that with some origami skills I could do this thing. I tore up the installation instruction booklets that came in each box of tiles and set them against the tiles that were already down just like I was laying a new tile and then folded and creased them where they came up against obstructions – like the oddball walls and the central support for the shelves. Then I set the paper template on a whole tile and simply cut around it. (Sorry I didn’t take pictures. I was on a roll.)

Another point that pleases me no end is my new transitions. Previously there were two different kinds: one that had a nice step to it (apparently called the “seam binder” type) and two that were gnarled, nasty, sharp little things that encased the raw edge of the carpet. They were damn near impossible to pry up without ripping the carpet because they have barbed perforations underneath (like a highly aggressive cheese grater) that bit into the carpet from underneath and the top edge had been pounded (unevenly) deep into the pile. I ended up having to cut the latter two free. My new ones (all three the same kind!) are the nice seam binder type, easy both to sweep and vacuum over.

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Before.

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After.

I had to go back to the hardware store for 8 more tiles on Tuesday (that weird-ass corner ate up a lot of partial tiles and didn’t leave big enough chunks to use anywhere else) so the project cost a little more than I predicted, but it still came in admirably low: 2 six-foot carpet transition bars @ $11.37 each plus 103 vinyl tiles at $0.88 each = $113.38 before tax. Not bad!

I still need to caulk the gaps (there were some tiles that simply couldn’t be convinced to butt up against their neighbors politely or which I couldn’t manage to cut quite straight) and install toe-kick molding (and caulk that, too). But I have a new floor!

— Amanda

Coffeemaker hotplate renewal

The kitchen floor is almost (but not quite) done thanks to a quick lunch break that turned into hours of vehicle trouble. Should be done today, though.

In the meantime, I present this largely photographic tutorial on how to fix the burned-off coating on the hotplate of your old coffeemaker:

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Here’s our old, one-button coffeemaker.

And here's the hotplate.

And here’s the hotplate.

And here's some high heat spray paint Matt left lying around.

And here’s some high heat spray paint Matt left lying around.

Let's take this outside, shall we?

Let’s take this outside, shall we?

Half a dozen very light coats later.

Half a dozen very light coats later.

Now that I’ve done this I would make two recommendations to anyone else who wants to try:

  1. Use the gloss paint so that your carafe glides, rather than catching on the matte surface.
  2. Wait 48, rather than 24 hours, before using the coffeemaker again. I burned a few little holes in my new surface where the paint was not quite dry and it bubbled.

All in all, though, a vast improvement! Mr. Coffee does a lot less hissing now.

— Amanda

It’s going down!

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One of the new floor tiles on the old flooring (which, I swear was swept before I took the picture). Also shown: my new recycled denim rug. I was going to make one but this guy was at the Goodwill a few days ago – new – for $1.99.

I got my new kitchen floor last night!

On Monday I’m installing it.

Today, I will reread all fifty bijillion articles I bookmarked and pinned on how best to peel and stick this stuff.

Aw yeeeeeeah.

— Amanda

P.S. Not excited or anything. Pfft.