Awaken your Obsessive-Compulsive Tendencies with Open Shelves in the Kitchen

Growing up, my family was not poor, but we sure shopped like it. We bought groceries either at Aldi or in the generic section of the “normal” grocery store.


A man who is not my father shopping the generic aisle

While other moms filled their carts with Micro-Magic™ Microwave Milkshakes or Smurf-Berry Crunch Cereal®, we enjoyed the minimalist delights of what was called “Plain Label” food:

SONY DSCThe food inside wasn’t necessarily bad; my brothers and I hit most of our developmental milestones. The cheapness was in the conspicuous lack of marketing: no advertising, no splashy labels, no celebrity spokesmodels or cartoon character endorsements.

I’d like to think that the modest packaging also nourished my budding minimalist aesthetics. Unlike most others who were disaffected teenagers in the 1990s, I have no tattoos; I don’t wear jewelry or graphic t-shirts. North Face® jackets give me the creeps.

Which brings me to my new kitchen, and the open shelves we just added for extra storage:

IMG_5833Oh wait, don’t pay attention to this shelf on the back wall; it’s a discreet hang out for breakfast cereal and hard liquor – the bookends of any good day.  Let’s instead focus on the shelf above the stove, where we’ve been storing spices and dry goods:

IMG_5834Generally, I adore the airy, exhibitionist look of open shelves. But the visual cacophony*  of labels and gharish packaging gives my Inner Minimalist a migraine. See how these aggressively incongruous spices mock me!

So how did I reconcile my Inner Minimalist with my Inner Exhibitionist? By channeling my Latent Inner Obsessive Compulsive!  And what’s more OCD than cramming things in little jars and labeling them?

Using the Projectophile technique, you won’t have to spend thousands of dollars on fancy  glass containers at a certain store that I won’t name that only sells Containers. The only thing to buy is this little gadget, for about $18:

IMG_5824A personal label-maker! (not for use in industrial, government or military settings).

STEP ONE – SPICES:  Hopefully, you have a wonderful friend like Karen, who remembers you complaining about your Spice Crisis. After a recent Sunday morning run, Karen alerted me to a pile of fancy glass spice jars spilling out of a nearby trash can. “This looks like a hasty break up to me,” Karen reported. I scrubbed them out and lined them up for their Spice Class Photo:

IMG_5849Simply add your spices to the appropriate jars. Doesn’t the thyme on the left look so much better?

THYME BEFORE AND AFTERTake this opportunity to expel expired spices. Seriously, I don’t even remember buying this mace. Was it for soup or for self-defense?  Or self-defense soup?

IMG_5857For bulkier spices that don’t fit into your new jars, simply strip off the original label and replace with your own (shhh —  nobody will know it’s plastic!):

IMG_5855The label-stripping method even works for big cardboard cylinders:

IMG_5854STEP TWO – DRY GOODS:  If you’re like me, you store your beans, rice, oatmeal and other bulk grains in slouchy plastic bags that fall on your head every time you open a cabinet. In a moment of frustration, perhaps you tossed all those little bags into a bigger bin, and then promptly forgot about them.

For example, did you know that we owned quinoa?** Neither did I.

quinoa sad sack collage_arrowJust look at this sad sack! What’s sadder than a sagging, forgotten bag of South American super food? No wonder we never eat this stuff (and have been diagnosed with a chronic superness deficiency).

To achieve this look, simply start hoarding all your used glass jars — jelly, pickles, olives, spaghetti sauce. After a good scrub, dump your dry goods into the jars and slap on the appropriate label.

IMG_5844BEFORE AFTERYou may be shocked to discover how much of your total diet is made up of pickles and jelly (mine is about 37%).

PRO-TIP:  Tell your mother that you happen to like green olives. Then every time you visit, she will send you home with several half-gallon jars, plus a big bar of dark chocolate for your husband. Never ask her why he gets chocolate while you get olives, because the jar is so perfect for storing oatmeal.  Then eat the chocolate while he’s at work.

IMG_5882Once you’ve completed your transformation, step back and enjoy the view. Your kitchen shelves are now almost as nice as a Generic Food aisle from 1979!


* This word was specifically chosen to annoy my husband.
**  Yes, I had to look up how to spell quinoa. Unfortunately, there is no spell check on the Dymo® LetraTag® Personal Label Maker.

“Love is…” For Married People

This weekend Scott and I will celebrate our anniversary: 7 years married and 11 years in each others’ lives. Yes, we were smart enough to get married on the 4th anniversary of the day we met, so there’s only one day to remember. You see, we’re practical in that way.

wedding photo We’re also strong believers in the practice of Married Love. Not the moody, slippery, transparent love of Jennifer Aniston movies, or jewelry store commercials.  Married Love is doing a few little things every day to make your fellow Married Person happy; to make his day a little easier, to make her glad she married YOU.

Sometimes my mother-in-law will clip a comic called “Love Is…” out of the paper and mail it to us. “Love Is…” follows the trials and tribulations of two naked 6-year-olds in love. Occasionally one of them dies, or goes off to war, but their love remains strong.

To celebrate our decade of Married Love, I broke some copyright laws to imagine if Scott and I were those two naked 6-year-olds. These are just a fraction of the little things he does for me every day, or at least the ones I can tell you about on the Internet:

in bedrestaurantcomputerbikesassnotbigenoughcoffee

paintinggrandpatvthriftinghair combingdreamsbathtimeHappy Anniversary, my Love!

Too Weird to Scan? A Revolutionary New Approach to Choosing Paint Color

Yesterday I described our little Babushka kitchen makeover – new lights, shelving and a coat of paint.  I’m particularly proud of the paint color – bold enough to push me out of my comfort zone. But most of all, I’m excited about the new process I’ve discovered for choosing paint colors.

First, a confession: While I’m absolutely confident in making major life decisions, I completely freeze up when it comes to deciding stuff that basically doesn’t matter – like paint color. My color-picking routine is taping 20 swatches to a wall and staring at them and agonizing for weeks on end. Even then, I only get it right about 50% of the time.

IMG_5256Then, a few weeks ago, I was reheating a cup of coffee, which is how I spend most of a typical day. I watched my favorte mid-Century Fiestaware mug slowly twirl on its carosel in the yellow spotlight of the microwave, and then it hit me:
I need my kitchen to be the color of this coffee mug.

IMG_2272The problem was, none of the paint colors taped to my kitchen door even came close to that Fiestaware mug. Then a friend of mine let me in on a little secret: The local paint store can scan that mug and match the color! My pal Holly – professional purveyor of vintage clothing — told me she even got them to scan a manequin arm so she could touch up its paint color.  My ignorance was blissfully shattered.

Sure enough, the boys at my local chain paint store were able to scan the mug and formulate my custom paint color. They even dropped a sample blob on the bottom of the cup to test for matchiness:

IMG_5802I was thrilled! My kitchen’s combination of dark walnut floors and seafoam green walls makes me feel like I’m living inside of a 1950s coffee mug. Which isn’t nearly as terrifying as it sounds.

IMG_5794But Holly’s manequin arm story got me thinking – are there any limits to what you can get them to scan at the paint store?

To find out, I called up about 30 paint stores, mostly in Chicago (plus a couple in the suburbs, in St. Louis and in New York City).

First, I confirmed that each store possessed a machine that could scan items to match their color. An overwhelmingly enthusiastic employee at a paint store on the south side of Chicago (87th and Pulaski), explained it to me this way:

It’s like an x-ray machine, but it looks like a shoe! We shoot an x-ray on [your object] and the computer will tell me how to make the formula, for REAL! The machine is like, really really on. Like, it’s just ON.

I’ve lived with enough superhero fans to know that when x-ray technology falls into the wrong hands [at the paint store], the result can only be a [paint-related] super hero, or even super villain. And if we don’t give this Paint Villain a jazillion dollars, he’ll threaten to “cover the earth” with a thick, blood-like paint, just like the logo of this unnamed paint store!

cover the earth

The villain has also pushed the earth off of its normal north-south axis, which will inevitably cause tsunamis, widespread crop failure and toilets to flush the wrong way. The southern tip of Africa will dip into the Antarctic Circle. And that’s BEFORE the paint smothers us all in the end.

Anyway, then I asked the staff at each paint store:
Here’s what they described:

  • A toenail. (“She just swung her bare foot right up on the counter and told us to scan it”)
  • A closet door
  • A chair
  • An entire car door
  • A baby’s shirt while the baby was still wearing it
  • A garden gnome
  • Very large piece of a wall
  • Plastic Hot Wheels cars
  • Photograph of a “loved one”
  • A very dirty comforter
  • Live flowers
  • A pizza
  • Women’s panties (several stores claimed this)
  • Shoestrings on a child’s shoe (child still wearing them)
  • “Something that I can’t say over the phone. If you come to the store and ask me in person I will tell you.”
  • A brick
  • A shower curtain
  • The bumper of a truck. “Guy popped the back door of his truck and carried it in like it was nuthin.”
  • The cord from a cell phone
  • Old towels
  • Curtain rods
  • A jar of spices
  • A bed frame
  • A Banana peel

And finally, the award for “Most Unnecessarily Diplomatic Answer” goes to this fellow from the south side of St. Louis:

People bring me all sorts of things. I don’t judge, ma’am. It’s not up to me to decide what’s weird and what’s not weird. I’m a paint professional and I respect people’s choices.

Swooon – I think I’ve finally found my paint-themed super hero!

A Bucket of Paint + a Trip to IKEA: Babushka Kitchen Gets a $200 Makeover

For those of you just tuning in, Babushka is the code name we’ve affectionately given the old Polish lady who lived in our house for the last 60 years. We don’t know much about her, but the evidence suggests that Babushka loved carpets and curtains and sickly shades of jaundiced pink. Like us, Babushka had three kids, and since they are adults now (Scott met them and says they seem healthy), presumably she fed them, but without the benefit of counter space or proper kitchen storage. The kitchen when we first toured the house, in August. And yes, this is the photo that the realtor used: kitchenThe kitchen right after we bought it: IMG_5215


You’d never guess that window on the left faces a brick wall.

Our first dinner in the new house, before we moved — Chinese takeout eaten on the oven door. Babushka left the pink chairs, which we still use: IMG_5192We started with the one job we HAD to do before we moved in — pull up that tile and refinish the gorgeous maple floors beneath. IMG_5193Since our floor crew didn’t finish until the day before we moved, we just bought a fridge and made the best of our little kitchen.   Then, about a month in, I couldn’t take it any more: The bad lighting, the lack of storage space, the greasy-pink color scheme, the hole in the ceiling. We’re in no position for a full renovation, so I headed to the paint store with my favorite coffee mug, and sent the two oldest males to IKEA to buy about $100 worth of shelves, hooks and task lighting.

But first, a wee bit of destruction (my favorite!) — removing the mysterious wooden rail that ran along the entire perimeter of the kitchen, about 5 feet up.  The rail put up a good fight against my chisel and crowbar; I’m not sure it was a fair fight, since the rail had 4 coats of paint to defend itself, plus scary 3-inch nails holding it in place. IMG_5644 The euphoria of victory wore off when I realized I’d need to apply 5 coats of joint compound to hide the wall canal I left behind.  Nothing I can’t survive with a comfy pair of sweatpants and 12 continuous hours of podcasts. IMG_5651Meanwhile, Scott drilled a square of drywall over a mysterious hole in the kitchen ceiling, probably caused by the formerly leaking upstairs toilet. The toilet leaking into the kitchen. Think about that for a moment. IMG_5648While Scott was up there, I handed him bucket of TSP solution so he could wash 50 years of kitchen grease off the ceiling and upper walls: IMG_5451PRO-TIP: When buying a fixer-upper house (especially with high ceilings), make sure you are significantly shorter than your DIY Partner. The taller person always gets stuck hanging drywall into the ceiling, and washing the ceiling, and painting the ceiling, and …. well, you get the idea.

Here’s a closeup of the kitchen wall after what appears to be 50 years of drinking, smoking, hitchhiking, and bar fights* (before and after a TSP scrub): TSP_beforeandafterAfter the big scrub-down, we gave everything a nice coat of white primer.  The next day, we painted the ceiling a crisp white, and the walls the color of my favorite Mid-Century Fiestaware® coffee mug: IMG_5652 IMG_5672When the paint was barely dry, I hung these three IKEA Grundtal wall shelves in the formerly useless corner between the windows (Babushka put her fridge there, blocking the back window). These shelves ain’t pretty, but stainless steel fits effortlessly into any kitchen. More importantly, they’re cheap, lightweight, easy to install, and hold nearly 40 pounds of stuff: IMG_5668Next we hung this lovely white IKEA Varde shelf. In contrast to its Grundtal cousins, the Varde is heavy, awkward and useless, weighing more than it can hold.  But it sure is pretty above our gleaming white 1957 stove: IMG_5673Finally, we mounted a couple of LED light strips under the original cabinets to brighten the sink area. And I dare say that now, we’ve got a mostly functioning kitchen.  Let’s take a tour! Here’s that shelf above the stove, now charmingly cluttered: IMG_5790Until we can figure out something better, we just wedged an old IKEA Micke desk between the stove and the fridge.  The stool we found in the alley behind our last apartment. IMG_5804Note that I was in the middle of making dinner when I snapped these pics, hence all the food preparation that seems to be going on.  The light just seemed right.  IMG_5810If we swing around to the other wall, you’ll see that my beloved Upcycled Recycling Center has finally found a home in the Babuska kitchen! Traveling along the west wall, you’ll see that there’s enough free space for a “breakfast nook” — our patio table, plus the two pink chairs that Babushka left behind. Note that since the coffee cups match the wall, they virtually disappear in your hand. For whatever that’s worth: IMG_5792And the old Kelvinator Kabients couldn’t be more thrilled to be surrounded by green, picking up the undertones of their glass doors. And that under-cabinet lighting makes dishwashing almost tolerable! IMG_5806IMG_5798(artwork courtesy of Matt Avery/ PSA) IMG_5803We’re pretty happy with our little makeover, which (not counting the floors), cost about $200 total.  The paint color- while period-appropriate– pushed me out of my comfort zone, and I couldn’t be more thrilled.

If you’re wondering how we got to that color, and how you can magically turn your favorite object into a bucket of paint, tune in tomorrow….!

* Unfortunately, I’ve engaged in all of these activities at least once, and I hope I don’t end up looking like that kitchen wall when I’m 50.

Everyone’s a Winner at the Super Bowl of Snacks

Welcome to Projectophile’s annual installment of the Super Bowl of Snacks! Loyal readers may recall the concept from last year –a party for your friends who love snacks and beer, but not football. For the second year in a row, we’ve turned the art of snacking into a friendly competition, with awards for Best Snack in Five Categories. And since this is a DIY blog, I’ll show you how to make prizes out of regular household items. Or, skip the tutorial for a rundown of this year’s winners.


My 20-Layer Dip — the Burj Khalifa of snacks.

12 feet of Bright Orange Ribbon
Packing Tape (“poor man’s laminating machine”)
Paper Clips
Plastic Heart
Box of Mac-n-cheese
Aluminum Foil
Old Chisel
Orange Spray Paint
“Cheese” Balls and Doritos (or equivalent)
Polycrylic spray or shellac
Hot Glue Gun

MOST ORANGE: I really struggled with how to materialize the concept of orange. What’s the most orange thing you can think of? An orange? Too healthy. John Boehner? An Oompla Loompa? Both too creepy for a light-hearted snack party.

Then, the idea hit me as I was rolling down the pasta aisle at Aldi. The packet of “cheese” powder that comes in a box of Mac-n-Cheese. As far as I can tell, it’s just orange food coloring, salt and sawdust. Mixed with a stick of melted butter and some noodles, it’s a meal, according to the USDA.

IMG_5687To make the award, remove the packet of cheese powder from the box and stick a paper clip through the top, careful not to puncture the pouch itself. If you expect things to get a little rowdy, reinforce the hole with clear packing tape.

IMG_5713MOST UNHEALTHY:  It was a toss-up between an empty pill bottle and a comically giant syringe. Sam and I headed to Walgreens drug store for inspiration, where I stumbled upon the seasonal “Valentine’s Crap” aisle. True to the spirit of the award, I bought a plastic red heart filled with mini-Snickers bars, which Sam and I ate for after lunch.

After you’ve emptied the plastic heart, drill a tiny hole at the top and string a paper clip through it.

IMG_5681Put it back together and stick a couple of bandages across the front in a haphazard, dramatic fashion.

unhealthy 2MOST OFFENSIVE:  No, I’m not sure what this is supposed to mean, either. But I was looking for a fresh new category, and my friends John and Julie proposed it to me at a party a week before. “It could mean anything you want it to mean!” they exclaimed.

First, make a simple silver medal by cutting a circle out of cardboard, in this case an empty box of Old Style.

IMG_5682Wrap the cardboard circle in aluminum foil, and seal it with clear packing tape. And (you guessed it), poke a hole in the top and pull a paper clip through it.

Do a Google image search for “Censored” and print out one of the first five results. Do not look beyond the first five results.  Coat your “censored” printout with packing tape, and use glue or tape to stick it to your silver medal.


Poke a paper clip through the top and reinforce the whole thing with more packing tape:

IMG_5714MOST LIFELIKE/SCULPTURAL:  At our last party, we had a couple of snacks that “looked” like something else – a cake that looked like a football field for gummy bears, and a salmon pate shaped like a fish:

IMG_3257We created this category to encourage snack developers to channel their inner Jeff Koons.

jeff koons lobster2

My Inner Jeff Koons always wears white, even after Labor Day.

To create this award, I dug around in my tool box for a plastic chisel. I spray painted the bottom bright orange, creating the effect that it had been used to carefully sculpt a giant mound of Velveeta into a work of unspeakable beauty.

IMG_5692IMG_5693Now that you’ve made each of the “medals,” unroll your orange ribbon and cut it into four even strips – mine were each 3 feet long, since I had 12 feet of ribbon.

IMG_5680Use Stitch Witch to fasten the ends, then clip the medals on using the paper clips (or in the case of the chisel, through the hole at the top).

IMG_5717BEST OVERALL SNACK: Our hope was to swear in a new King or Queen of Snacks, a benevolent ruler of Greater Snackdom, the Fourth Earl of Cheese Balls. This honor was bigger than a medal – it deserved a crown. A crown of Cheesy Snacks.

IMG_5656Pour a small pile of cheese balls into a box. With one hand, jiggle the box so that the balls roll around, and use the other hand to apply a continuous spray of polycryclic. After drying for a couple of minutes, jiggle the box a little more so that the balls don’t stick to the cardboard. Repeat two or three more times until the balls feel sufficiently stiff and plasticky.

IMG_5661While the can of polycrylic is still shook up, arrange about 5 or 6 doritos on another box and spray the front of the chips. When they’re mostly dry to the touch, flip them over and spray the other side. Again, don’t let them get stuck to the box – give a little shake after a few minutes of dry time.

IMG_5659SAFETY TIP!  Keep the drying balls and chips away from your curious family. Remember that small children tend to be illiterate, and probably don’t know what “DO NOT EAT” means.* That would have been a fun call to the Poison Control Hotline: Well, you see, I was trying to make a crown out of cheese balls and Doritos and I forgot that my 3-year-old can’t read, and….”**

When the balls and chips have dried, grab a plain headband and fire up your glue gun.

IMG_5694Dab a dollop of hot glue on a cheese ball and press it against the headband until the glue dries. Alternate with Doritos to create a jewel-encrusted effect.

In a Super Bowl of Snacks, everyone’s a winner. But some are more winnier than others.

  Dang, I didn’t even get a picture of this snack, Vegan No-Cheese Dip with Spicy Vegan Soy-sage. Here’s the winner, avoiding paparazzi:
IMG_5729MOST UNHEALTHY:  Loyal readers may remember Megan, recipient of the “Snappy Birthday” plaque and perennial bringer of the best food to parties. She did it again with this simple but brilliant concoction: Caramel Cheetos.  Think about it.
IMG_5724MOST SCULPTURAL/LIFELIKE:  If you are an American born in the 1970s, there’s a good chance your name is Jen or Matt. They are actually a lovely couple in our neighborhood who surprised us all by showing up with a bag of mushrooms.  I knew Jen and Matt were fans of healthy eating, but COME ON!

Turns out, those mushrooms are made of CANDY! No, really. Meringue Mushrooms are 100% sugar, disguised as fungus.

MOST OFFENSIVE: This being Chicago, we shouldn’t be surprised that the couple who created this award category also won the prize. Their snack was so offensive that I had to censor the photo of it. Let’s just say that we all had some pretty frank conversations with our children about human reproduction. Congrats, John and Julie!
IMG_5722_CENSOREDBEST OVERALL SNACK: This snack could have won in several categories, which is why it had to claim the crown: A cheese-and-toothpick replica of the Montreal Biosphère, designed by Buckminster Fuller for the 1967 World’s Fair. Note the use of carrots and parsley for the additional details.

biosphereHowever, since winner Chris ran off to another party before the prizes were announced, the actual crown went to the second-runner-up, DONUT PIE – dreamed up by my 3-year-old and executed my me:

IMG_5719IMG_5744Which makes me, I guess, the Queen of Snacks. Congrats to all the winners!

** A couple of my more know-it-all friends have suggested that Shellac would be a safer alternative to polycrylic, since shellac is resin secreted by the female lac bug, on trees in the forests of India and Thailand, then dissolved in ethanol to create a liquid finish.

* We’re still wondering what happened to the entire pack of Trident gum he ate last year.

Craigslist Ads with Disturbing Backgrounds

Yesterday, I sold a dresser to a nice gentleman via Craigslist. He had just moved to Chicago from Las Vegas, apparently in such a hurry that he abandoned his belongings in the desert. Desperate for new home furnishings, he promptly answered the ad, borrowed a large vehicle, arrived at the agreed time, negotiated politely and brought enough cash to close the deal – a minor miracle in the parched, desolate landscape of Craigslist transactions.

But scoring a good (and desperate) customer is only one half of any Craigslist success story. The seller must provide an accurate description of the product (including measurements), a plausible back story (“we moved and don’t have room for it!”), and most of all, good photos.

I didn’t spend much time styling my dresser for the Craigslist photo shoot, but I did turn on the lights, slide all the crap off the top, and remove (or later crop) the toys and dirty laundry that surrounded it. I wanted to project a certain level of sophistication and, um, cleanliness. Was that so hard?

IMG_5632Anyone who’s ever browsed Craigslist can tell you — YES, apparently it IS that hard.

For example, here is another mom selling her kids’ dresser. As the photo clearly illustrates, there’s plenty of room for ALL your children’s belongings in this thing!
dresserWe’ve all seen the haphazardly-snapped photos of furniture in the driveway, the leftovers of a poorly-planned yard sale or the remains of a forgotten storage unit. But some Craigslist backgrounds are truly bizarre, even disturbing. For your convenience, I collected a few of the best here.*


First, let me introduce you to my favorite CL photo faux-pas – furniture on the lawn. Perhaps the light outside is better than in your garage, but a couch in your backyard suggests that those cushions are full of roly-polies** and crickets; soaked to the frame with Bartles & James.

sofa on the lawnAGAIN with the furniture on the lawn?!  Oh, wait…. Sorry, that’s just the living room carpet:

green carpetHowever, nothing says, “Get off my lawn, you damn kids!” like an electric lift chair on the front porch. Comes with complimentary bag of mints and a baseball bat:

getoff my lawnWithout a human model to demonstrate, I might have mistaken the chair below for a poorly-assembled bike. I’m still not sure how it works, but it clearly causes so much shame that the user’s identity must remain a secret:

anonymousAnd speaking of shameless, this audacious merchant is selling furniture right from his prison cell! Seller accepts PayPal, cigarettes, or cases of Cup-O-Noodles:

this ad is coming to you from a federal correctional facilityIsn’t this “antique medical stool” so charming? We got it from this old country doctor who used to perform exams on a washing machine:

medical stool on washing machineWho knows what used to live on that shelf, but I have a feeling that if I buy it, that cat is going to follow me home:

cat misses whatever was on your shelfThis was the only photo in an ad for a dining room table. You just have to believe that there’s a dining table under there. (Dining room table not guaranteed):

invisible dining room tableHEALTH AND BEAUTY:

I’ve never purchased used syringes from strangers on the internet, so I’m not sure if that dollar is there to illustrate the size or the price of the needle:

is that the priceI’m no doctor, but I would recommend moving Grandma’s bed a few feet further from the fire place. Either that, or turn off the oxygen:

fireplace bedOf course, a urine-soaked bed sheet is a very appropriate backdrop for this toilet seat!

toilet seatWheel chair for sale! Perfect for hanging out behind idling buses. Carbon monoxide alarm not included:

carbon monoxide chairThis home tanning bed is so powerful, it comes with it’s own high-capacity circuit breaker! Also doubles as a coffin.

tanning bed comes with its own fuse boxThese medical devices were developed specifically to treat the injuries of Professional (or very serious amateur) Twister Players:

twister injuriesELECTRONICS:

This laptop comes with 8GB of RAM, a 64-bit Operating System, and a small Python.

the python is for saleHOME DECOR

Nothing says “glamor” and “nouveau riche like a crystal chandelier! On a pegboard.

pegboard chandelierHowever, pegboards ARE the perfect place to display your nightmarish collection of taxidermied creatures for sale:

pegbord taxidermytaxidermy pegboardHoney, how many times have I told you not to leave the stuffed hyena on the kitchen counter?  Look, he’s splattered with spaghetti sauce again!

hyena on the kitchen counterIf you don’t teach your raccoon about the dangers or nosing around in a hornet’s nest, then who will?

racoon bee hiveIt’s a little known fact that Jesus was born in July, on a glass-topped patio table in the suburbs of Chicago:

Christmas in July on the back patioAUTOMOBILES, ETC:

I know it looks like a box of rope, but they’re actually selling half-used laundry detergent. Unless the rope IS the laundry detergent! In that case, I’ve been doing it wrong.

but really its laundry detergentBring along your shovel and Weed Wacker to test drive this gently-used (and apparently quite fertile!) El Camino.

the el camino* All these items are available for sale — RIGHT NOW — somewhere in the metro Chicago area.
**  A roly-poly is sopod crustacean of the family Armadillidiidae, sometimes called “wood lice” or “pill bugs” or “slaters” in Australia. They were frequent playmates of mine growing up.

From Crack Den to Dreamy Tent Lounge: A Teen Room Transformation

Here at the Babushka House, we’ve entered that sweet spot of settling in, where our home is now supporting basic life functions. Like the successful colonization of a distant planet – we’ve got oxygen, (grounded) electricity, heat, water, food and the ability to cook it. We can take a hot shower and and use the toilet without fear of falling through the floor. Scott and I are now quite confident in our family’s chances for survival in this strange landscape of gold-flecked wallpaper and off-pink bathrooms.

And just when it seemed safe to start the long climb up Maslow’s Hierarchy of (Domestic) Needs, to start dreaming of art and bookshelves… we got an expensive surprise.

You may recall from our first house tour that the future bedroom of Max (age 14) had an unsettling bulge in the wallpaper:

IMG_5139Like some kind of mutant plaster monster about to be born: IMG_5138At first we ignored it, blamed it on faulty glue or obese wrestling spiders. We let Max pull down all the wallpaper, to reveal two or three additional, very ancient, layers of paper and glue:


IMG_5491You can even see the ghost of a playful flower pattern seared into the plaster:

IMG_5494Don’t worry, we told Max, it’s nothing that a weekend of scraping, patching, and priming couldn’t fix. We instructed him to start picking paint colors.

But then on the first rainy day, our worst fears came dribbling down the wall – a leaky roof – so old that it needs to be completely torn off and replaced.  And worst of all, the work couldn’t start until Spring.  There was no sense in repairing that wall before the roof was sealed.  So, after making such a big deal of Max FINALLY getting his own room, this is where he slept:


The stuffed puppy makes this scene extra sad.

Before you call Child Protective Services on us, know that it was perfectly safe. Just painfully ugly. Max, never one to complain, joked that it was fun… “like sleeping in a crack house from the 1990s.”*  Ooof.

But here at Projectophile, we never let rotting infrastructure get in the way of style. My original idea was to create an exotic opium den, with colorful sheets of alternating, dizzying patterns, maybe a few velvety pillows tossed haphazardly on the floor. Upon further reflection, I realized that opium den is just an romantic phrase for crack house, and perhaps not appropriate for a young man on the cusp of adolescence. Using crisp white sheets, I devised a cheap and fun way to  to transform Max’s room from Crumbling Crack Den to Airy Bedouin Tent Lounge.

• Flat White Bed Sheets (or a different color, if you’re feeling frisky)
• Staple Gun
• Ladder
• Scissors
• Two-Armed Helper

STEP ONE – SCAVENGE THE FABRIC: Technically, you don’t have to use bedsheets. But you do need yards and yards of fabric. And unless you’ve got a Jo-Ann Fabrics coupon for 97% off, head to the bedding section at your favorite neighborhood thrift store – preferably one where items are least likely to be pockmarked with cigarette burns or… ahem… protein stains.

IMG_5483Grab as many flat white sheets as you can find… the thicker the better. If possible, examine them for stains before you leave. Most of mine were marked as either $1 or $2 a sheet, plus everything with an orange tag was 50% off.

First, pull off the thrift store tags and staples. You don’t want anyone to know your secret.

IMG_5572(OPTIONAL STEP 1.2):  If you’re not entirely comfortable with the smell of your thrifted sheets, by all means throw them in the wash. I skipped this step because: 1) my store washes everything first, and 2) we still have no dryer.

(OPTIONAL STEP 1.3): Iron the sheets. I also skipped this step because 1) I’m not sure where my iron is, and 2) I’m lazy. But it would probably look much nicer if I did.

STEP 2 – HANG THE WALLS: Like any project, we start with the easiest step. Find a boring, flat wall. Start at the bottom: hold the sheet so that the bottom edge of the fabric meets the top of the baseboards.


You gotta love a man who’s got a staple gun on his belt and a staple remover on his t-shirt. And giant rubber boots, for some reason.

Shoot a staple in about every 3 feet. We found it easier to staple the bottom, then pull the sheet up and staple the top. Don’t worry about getting all the way to the ceiling in this step. But if you found some king-sized sheets, go as far up the ceiling as you can:

IMG_5501You could probably do this project solo, but I highly recommend a duet: One to hang and one to staple. And a small child to take blurry photos of it all:

IMG_5522Continue until all the vertical walls are covered. And of course, be sure to cut and staple around outlets and vents.

PRO-TIP!!  Unless your name is Minnie Pearl, cut the tags and washing instructions off the sheets before you hang them:

IMG_5546STEP 3 – HANG THE CEILING:  This is the step that, if done correctly, will transform your space from a refugee camp into dreamlike, billowy marshmallow.  Starting in the middle of the room, staple the end of one sheet to the wall, a few inches below the ceiling. Drape the sheet across to the parallel wall and staple on the other side.


For an extreme tent-like feel, you could leave the entire sheet drooping across the middle of the room. However, we found that stapling the top sheet to the ceiling every five feet still made the room feel like the underside of a cumulus during a high-pressure system, while still being able to open the door.

IMG_5605You may also have a ceiling-mounted light fixture to deal with, and I strongly suggest that you drape the sheets over the fixture for great light diffusion – like a full moon on an overcast Spring night, or a smoggy sunrise in L.A.  Ours was particularly tricky because of an old string pull.  After we secured the sheet, I snipped a tiny hole for the string to fall through:

IMG_5566IMG_5603We surprised Max with his new room last night. Despite all my globally-inspired metaphors, he declared his room transformed simply from “Crack Den to Modern Loft.” I’ll take it.

IMG_5580IMG_5575IMG_5609View from lying down:

IMG_5597Baby brother photo bomb!


* I’m not sure how a kid born in 2000 knows so much about 1990s crack houses, so as usual, I blame the Internet.