Monthly Archives: August 2013

What’s a Bay Window Without a Bench?

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Our house has a wide open space flowing from the kitchen to the family room at the back of the house. The formal dining room is actually in the front living room, but we never use it as such because it is carpeted, and no one in their right mind with kids eats over carpet. The kitchen has enough space for a table in a sort of breakfast nook, so we eat there. It has a sliding door to the back patio so it is a little tight, but it works.

The family room is naturally divided into two separate spaces. The middle space is deeper and has a bay window. The far side has the fireplace at the end with shelves on both sides and a large window to the backyard. Since a family room is the less formal space in the house where good friends and family can hang out, lets be honest and admit it revolves around comfortable couches and the tv.

So our first dilemma was where to put the tv. The first option was on a stand in the bay window, but it is never a good idea to backlight the tv with large windows. It would be good spot because we would be able to see the tv while working in the kitchen, but we just couldn't waste a bay window like that.

The second choice was above the fireplace. Our fireplace is up off the ground with a concrete bench, so the tv would be way too high. You would need a recliner just to watch tv without straining your neck. The final option was on the inside wall of the fireplace room. You can't see the tv from the kitchen, but we could live with that. So now the tv is placed, the couches naturally went around the tv. This left the middle area open and empty. The room had no built in lighting apart from one pot light aimed at the fireplace so it was both dark and empty.

Remember, this is a rental, so I can't build anything permanent. With that in mind, one of my first projects in the house was a window bench for the bay window. I did it in one evening with a 2×4 frame and plywood base and seat. I framed it in pine and painted the whole thing. The original idea was to get foam and fabric and make a cushion for the top. Of course, this never happened, so I had an ugly plywood bench. I left the front open, which is great for books and storage, but the top needed some serious help.

I have a friend who bought an older home and they had to redo some of the hardwood floor. He let me take all of the solid oak pieces that they tore out. It was all sitting in a pile in my garage and I decided the oak would look great on my bench.

After many hours of pulling nails and sanding, I had a pile large enough to cover the top of the bench. But just covering it in oak isn't enough for me. Oh no. I wanted the bench to be a unique reading nook, so with that in mind I decided to incorporate hard bound books into the top. I went to the thrift store and found hard bound books with interesting covers.

I also couldn't just put plain old oak down either. I wanted it to be multicolored without having to buy a bunch of stain, so I made my own vinegar based stains. I'll talk more about that process in a later post. With the boards stained and prepped, I began the installation. There was a lot of mixing and matching and cutting, but in the end it came together great. Three coats of varnish later, the top was done.

Now for the face. I couldn't just leave it white. To get the books to fit on the top I had to take out extra pages until they were the right thickness. So I decided to use the extra pages and decoupage glue to cover the face of the bench. I think the hardest part was to avoid getting glue on the carpet!

In the end, I had a great looking bay window bench that is completely removable from the room. Will I take it with me? I don't know. Maybe I'll ask the next tenants if they want it, maybe I'll take it. It will be hard to let it go, but when will I ever live in a house with a bay window of the same dimensions? In the meantime, we will enjoy it. Finally, that middle room has an identity. Let me know what you think in the comments.

 

My Back No Longer Hates Camping

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Do you love the outdoors and love camping, waking up with the sun, the sound of birds in the morning and crickets and frogs at night? Do you find the fresh air invigorating and cold (properly filtered) mountain stream water refreshing? Did you grow up camping with your family and maybe even with a scout troop? Did you vow to teach your children the joys of camping? Did you reach a certain age, and after a night spent in a sleeping bag on top of a pad, get up to find you could barely walk from the stiffness and back pain? That could ruin anyone's motivation to continue venturing into the great outdoors.

Some of you never have and never will be phased by hard, uneven, rocky ground. My hat is off to you, though tinged with a bit of jealousy. It didn't take my back long to revolt. I don't think my back waited until I hit thirty to firmly insist I never ever try to trick it into thinking a half inch foam pad is the same as a plush memory foam or pillow top mattress. My back drove it's point home very effectively with knots and pain only a sadistic massage therapist would relish kneading out.

Just as with all problems in life, there are many solutions. For many, the back revolt coincides with a time when you are finally secure in a good job and the income is generous and steady. You are a grown-up now and worked hard to get through school and suffer through multiple job interviews. You have a mortgage, two cars, and 2.5 kids. It only make sense that you drive your new pickup truck or SUV down to the RV lot and take out essentially a second mortgage on a fifth wheel, trailer, motor home, or camper that you will use at least twice a year. Hopefully you could see the sarcasm dripping from the last few sentences, because that is just crazy. What is the point of buying a house on wheels? If you don't want to leave your house, then just stay home.

You are not the type to blow your investments and savings on a trailer, so you decide the way to continue camping and still be comfortable is to buy cots and air mattresses. They are a bit pricey, but don't require a loan officer. Of course you also need a tent large enough to accommodate the new camp furniture. These are not bad options for car camping. They take up a lot of room in your garage or storage shed, but the mattress is well worth the struggle of packing and blowing up when it's time to settle down. Hopefully you like campsites with neighbors and close quarters, because there is no way you are hiking all of that gear in. If you aren't like me, you won't end up with the loud drunk party in the site to your left and the very vocal middle of the night amorous couple in the site to your right.

You want to backpack in to your camp site while still saving your back from the horribly uncomfortable rocky ground. Therefore, you decide to look at hammocks. Your friend tells you they are a bad idea because you'll end up sleeping in a “U” shape. Your friend, of course, has never actually slept in a backpacking hammock. I vow to you here and now, if you buy a good quality backpacking hammock, it will change your life forever. You will sleep like a baby and look forward to camping to catch up on sleep.

I use a Hennessy Hammock and wouldn't trade it for the world. It is designed so you sleep at a diagonal. If you do, you can lay completely flat. You can even sleep on your side very comfortably. The HH I have uses a bottom entry Velcro system and includes mosquito netting and a rain fly. It is essentially a hanging tent. It has minimal impact on the environment because it is off the ground and the straps are safe for trees. You can buy different size straps to match the most common tree trunk sizes in your area or do as I do and use ENO slap straps which are adjustable to different size trunks. Sleeping in the HH is extremely comfortable and the nature of the material and design provides give to parts of your body that need it and support to others. It packs up nice and small and is great for backpacking. I've used mine in heat, cold, rain, and snow and have been perfectly comfortable. HH has under pads and insulation for cold weather, but I have found that using a reflective bubble type windshield screen and a small fleece blanket work really well to protect you from cold air flowing underneath the hammock.

It is also possible to make your own hammock out of parachute nylon and 550 or parachute cord. Homemade hammocks tend to use the cocoon type design to protect you from the elements. This is great, but I can't give up the built in bug and rain protection in my Hennessy Hammock.

Don't let old age and stiff muscles stop you from adventure. Try out a Heneessy Hammock and change your life. Check out their website for great information and informative videos. When you do, let me know how it goes in the comments below or feel free to ask any questions.

 

What Did We Plant There Again?

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If you are like me, you are gung-ho every spring to plant your garden. You go and pick up seeds for all of the good things you want to grow and grab potting soil and starts. You watch the forecast for warmer days and get all set to go. You till the earth and pull weeds making everything just perfect. Planting day finally arrives and you get your kids or spouse to come outside and help you out. You have your early plants like peas, radishes, and lettuce that you plant outside and the rest you plant in pots which you will nurture indoors or, if you are lucky, your greenhouse. This year I got a little pop-up greenhouse which has been awesome.

If you are really organized, you have Popsicle sticks or little plastic markers that you label and stick in the ground or pots to help you remember what you planted. You are feeling really good about your efforts and can't wait till they start to grow. You check everyday and take pictures when you finally see green poking out of the soil. It's still spring, so the weather changes and there are nights you are worried it will be too cold. It rains and may even snow. But finally all of your loving effort pays off and the plants start to really take hold.

It's been a few weeks now, so you are starting to forget what you planted where and in which pot. No worries, you made labels. You go to read the labels and find them blank. But you used a permanent marker! What happened? Outside happened that's what. The writing faded or washed off and now you have no idea what is where. Some plants are easy, but others not so much. If only you had done something a little more permanent! If only you had read this article first!

Go to the thrift store and buy all of the interesting looking old silverware: knives, spoons, forks, it doesn't matter. Next find an engraver. If you don't have one, which I didn't, ask around. Maybe there is one sitting on the back shelf at your office long forgotten, that you could borrow. You will be surprised. There is someone in your group of friends who has or knows someone with an engraver. If not, you can always use a Dremel or other rotary tool. What self respecting DIYer doesn't have one of those?

Using whatever script you choose, label each piece with the name of a vegetable in your garden and use it to mark your seeds. It's permanent and Is unique. The biggest drawback is the lack of contrast between the silverware and the engraving. I tried spray painting the item and then engraving. It turned out pretty cool and was a great option.

Mystery plant problem solved! What are you waiting for? Run out to your local thrift stir and get started. Check out the video below for more details and let me know what you think in the comments.

 

So You Want to Write a Book, Just Like Everybody Else

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It seems everyone has aspirations to write a book. Does that mean everyone has something totally interesting and unique to say that the world needs to hear? Ummm, I think not. If the comments section of blogs and news sites are any indication, there are people who should never be allowed to type anything readable by the general public, and not just because of atrocious grammar and spelling. Some people are just ignorant. Of the people who claim they want to write a book, how many of those actually sit down and take the time to write the first chapter, or even the first page? Not many.

Have you ever been to a library and just wandered through the aisles trying to take in the sheer number of books on the shelves? Maybe your local public library isn't that impressive, but think of a university library. There are hundreds if not thousands of books on the shelves that have never been checked out. And it is probably getting worse instead of better. There is no need to check out that obscure book for a school paper when the same information is easily found on the Internet. Even if you can surmount the odds of getting your brilliant book accepted by a publisher, you and your editor may be the only two people who ever read it. Oh, and your mom. She'll read it just because you wrote it.

What are the odds of writing the Great American Novel? Let me put it in a bit of perspective. Take all of the people who claim they want to write a book and put them in a room. Now only those who actually start writing can move on to the next room. Huge drop! Now only those that actually write more than a chapter or two can move on, then only those who actually finish. From there take those who have the guts to show their work to someone, be it a publisher or just a friend. Your room gets even smaller still. Now here is where you can choose the traditional path of shotgunning your manuscript to every publisher you can find an address for or you can decide to go it on your own. That's right, self-publish.

That takes what amounts to a tiny percentage of the starting crowds and divides them even further. For the sake of this article, we'll travel down the self-publishing route. But don't get too excited. The self-publishing room is much more crowded. It's easier and allows you to publish your work, even if it sucks. There is no professional quality control or editor deciding if your book is marketable. It may just be the worst thing ever written and you can still publish. A very small percentage of the room will have the capital to self-publish a physical book. We'll let those hoity toity types go off into their gilded room. The rest of us will be milling about aimlessly in the self-published ebook room.

There was a time when ebooks were just a fad. Experts and bloggers predicted ebook readers would be the garage sale items of tomorrow. But with some powerful companies standing behind the ebook like Amazon, Apple, and Barnes and Noble their popularity has only grown. Those companies have also seen the importance of allowing their books to be read on multiple platforms, like ebook readers, tablets and computers. Gradually, e-readers have become a staple, recognized and accepted by the general population. They are easy enough to be used by grandma and hip enough to be used by the cool kids, or at least the cool kids who want people to know they read.

So what are your options in self-publishing your ebook? They are many, but I'll focus on the Barnes and Noble Nook store and the Amazon Kindle store. For both, it's actually a very simple process.

Each store has a similar process. You upload your ebook file and they convert it, B&N to an ePub file and Amazon to their proprietary Kindle format. You enter in your title and synopsis and upload your book cover. You enter all of your personal information into your account so they can send you any money you earn and also send you tax information at the end of the year. At first I uploaded my book to both, but it is now only in the Kindle store.

I'll tell you why. Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) offers some benefits if you commit to only sell your book on Amazon, which is called KDP Select. They allow you to add your book to the Kindle Lending Library so that anyone with the popular Prime membership can borrow your book for free or buy it and lend it to their friends. You don't directly make money when someone borrows your book, but at first the important thing is to just get people to read it. If it is good and stands on its own, they will recommend it to friends and hopefully spread the word that yours is the book to read on the beach this summer. And with KDP Select, you get a piece of the KDP Select Global Fund, which basically means you get paid a percentage of the fund each month based on the number of times people borrowed your book. It is not a direct royalty per book sold, but rather a piece of the larger pie.

With KDP Select you can also manage five promotional days per quarter. You can choose which days you want your ebook to be free and Amazon automatically adjusts the price on those days. It is a great way to once again get people to read your book. I've found, at least in my own experience, that there are downsides to free books. People tend to get all of the free books they can just to add to their collection, but don't necessarily read them. There is much greater chance someone will read a book they had to pay for.

If so, what is the optimum price point? $.99? $1.99? $5.99? That I am still trying to figure out. I can say there is a pyschological effect when charging a higher price. People tend to think it is of greater quality if it costs more, (thinks cars or clothes) but they are unwilling to gamble on an unknown author above a certain price. Maybe $5.00 is that magic number. I don't know. You can change the cost, so feel free to test things out at different price points to see what happens.

How did I end up writing a novel? Good question, although I don't really have a great answer. I was sitting in a hotel room on an extended business trip with my laptop and I opened Word and started to type. It was really that simple. I had no plot in mind, no synopsis, none of things you learn to do in school. I started to write and it just began to flow from my fingertips. The story just came out. I started writing everyday and it just grew and grew. Now I've scared you all off from ever reading my book.

“If he didn't work for months on his plot line and character development, I'm never going to read it,” she said with her nose firmly and snootily pointing towards the sky.

Guess what, the process is not the same for everyone. My book may not appeal to you or it may be your favorite book ever. You'll never know until you try. Although I had friends and family read it to help me edit, I know there are still some small things that need editing. With KDP, I can upload a newer version and it will be pushed out to everyone who has purchased the book so they can download the latest version. It is almost impossible to catch all of your own mistakes and I have found that going back a year later, when things are not so fresh in my mind, I have found mistakes that I missed multiple times before. It's about time for me to go through the entire book and make corrections. They are small and insignificant to the story, but I want my book to look professional.

Here's my chance to throw in a pitch for my book. It's called “The Flaming Grenade.” There is the normal version which I would rate at PG-13 lite and a Teen version which is a solid PG. I created the teen version so I could comfortably let my kids read it. I am pretty conservative in what I allow the kids to read, and I would let an 11-12 yr old read the teen version. The book has action, adventure, travel, love, suspense, history, and a little sci-fi/tech. Something for everyone!

For extra incentive to my blog readers, I have set my promotion period for next week, 05-09Aug13, so you can grab it for free. If you are itching to start sooner, which I recommend, you can always go ahead and buy it!

Read my book, start writing yours, and don't forget to leave positive reviews on Amazon!! Let me know what you think in the comments.