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Wherein Aunt Toby Gets Annoyed.

You know, your dear Aunty has moments when putting a fork in my eye seems entirely appropriate. After posting about the ottoman project (see the last three posts), I was in one of those massive home center/lumber yard/hardware store/garden supply places (you know who you are) and I picked up a magazine (one which is based on a national home rehab show, I might add) and lo! And behold!

The first project in the magazine was on building a storage ottoman. Just one of those moments where the cosmos comes together and finds that the locus of all points is in upholstered ottomans. It happens. And then your dear Aunty read the article and it was ‘fork in the eye’ time.

Not only did the writer (and I assume this came out of the editor’s files or got thrown at a junior staff member like some sort of piece of old meat — “Hey, Mergatroid – you want some clips? Here: write this up!” – Don’t laugh; it happens; my first real publishing was just such an article on electric and composting toilets for a no longer extant home magazine published by Rodale Press) do up a nice neat tidy article with a graphic, a cut list, and an estimated cost; the article also included other offerings from various retail sites with the final estimation that it was not worth even trying to do it. Literally, it came down to: “Don’t bother; this is beyond you; just buy one of these.”

Cue the violins from “Psycho”.

The estimate in the article was $200-$300 for the ottoman.

Hello? What were they upholstering this in – the skins of extinct Mongolian wombats? Holy Hannah.

Now, I have to admit – I didn’t save every single little receipt for this ottoman but I can tell you that it did not cost $300. It did not cost even $200. I don’t even think I put $100 in materials into this.
The feet cost me $3.79 each (plus tax). The plates for the feet cost me $.50 each because Lowes was putting in a new style. The half a batt of padding was about $7 and the upholstery fabric was about $15.00. The cover-your-own buttons were two packages at $5.00 each, so that is $10. The piping was approximately $5.00. And I have to admit that the DH made the box out of scrap lumber that we had around, but if we’d had to have bought a piece of pine 1″x12″, we’d have spent less than $20 for that. All told: $53.20. And I’ll throw in some extra just in case I’ve forgotten something and am not taking stuff into effect because we have a staple gun and staples and thread and needles in the house already – I’ll just say $75.00.

$200-$300. And they are also saying that in terms of difficulty, it’s ‘moderate’. I have to admit something here: My experience in terms of upholstery is minimal at best. I moved from the kitchen chair to the ottoman because it’s flat surfaces and I figured if I could do this, anyone can do it. Seriously. If someone asked me what a ‘moderately difficult’ upholstery project would be, I’d have to say that it would be something like a small upholstered chair that needed small repairs and a slipcover. ‘Difficult’ or ‘challenging’ would be something like having to tear down a chair or a couch to the frame and doing the whole web/re-springing/creating entirely new cushions, etc. sort of project. So, I think calling an ottoman a ‘moderate’ difficulty project and estimating the cost to do it at $200-#300 is vastly over the top. Even with putting in a hunk of ‘piano hinge’ and one of those children’s toybox supports, it’s over the top (plus there are other methods of doing this and I’ll be damned if I don’t do it sooner than later just to show you it can be done). OK – and if you want to see the article and the cut list and so on, see here: How to build a storage ottoman

And it is frankly that sort of thing that a) drives me crazy (cue the violins) and b) makes me a bit angry because I feel it discourages people from doing things for themselves. I can see readers looking at that article and saying to themselves, “Oh, I can’t afford that and it looks too difficult and hard – I’ll just go down to Target or Home Goods or something and buy one there.”

And they do. And it’s from China and was probably made by a 13 year old kid with a pneumatic nailer who’s sleeping on a floor in a dormitory and being fed a half a cup of rice a day and is making $10 a week, if that.

Trust me: If I can do this, YOU can do this. Seriously. If you don’t have a saw at home, you can get the guys at the home center to cut the pieces of wood to size (Use the wood cut list from the article, or I’ll get you mine – btw, you don’t have to use birch-faced plywood: you’re upholstering it. Regular plywood will work fine, as will 1″x12″ pine boards. Birch-faced plywood is used for making furniture which you want to stain, so that you want an outside surface that looks really nice. Birch-faced plywood is what custom kitchen cabinet guys use). After that, just follow my tool list and instructions.

Don’t be discouraged by stuff like this though. Just infuriates me…

More Appliance Fixing: Humidifier

One of the things the DH and I did this year, was look at our heating situation. We have an old oil furnace at Chez Siberia and even without the issue of ‘buying foreign oil’, the thing is old. But replacing it would not change several issues involved with furnaces in houses:
1) They are all electric started so when we lost our power in the winter time, we also lost the heat.
2) Replacing it with a more efficient oil furnace would only make our burning foreign oil even more efficient. Cleaner, but still foreign.

So, we replaced our major source of heat in the house with a wood pellet stove in the living room with the oil furnace as a back up in case the weather got so horribly cold that we could not keep the house warm enough.

The is just one problem with wood heat – it’s dry. Really really dry. Like dries out your nose and your skin and makes you cough and gives you winter itch dry. So, we needed a source of moisture. (more…)

Forget the Cookies! Bake a Cake!

So, in our last class, we investigated the relationship between fats which are solid at room temperature and their behaviors when combined with sugar and flour and baked. Everyone got that? Good. We will move on.

That was all in the service of science, of course (which is why the ‘o cookies’ disappeared like snow off a dike by Tuesday…). Today’s discussion is much more up my alley because frankly, Aunt Toby doesn’t like having to fuss with all of that. Any baked good that requires that level of diddling around with doesn’t get made at Chez Siberia very often (read that: the only time. If anyone lusts after homemade ‘o cookies’, they will have to make them). But, I digress.

At this point in the year, people have been fiddling around with cookie cutters, jimmies and egg wash for the past several weeks, tinning things up to give as gifts and so on. People have been eating decorated cookies since Thanksgiving and will continue to do so until they run out, which will probably be after New Years. If you have missed out on this ‘cookie steamroller’, good for you. If you want to give a gift that someone will thank you for in March, read on.

Forget the damn Santa cookies; make a pound cake (more…)

Where Chemistry Meets the Kitchen: Cookies

This is not a discussion about the frontiers of candy versus cookies versus bars versus cakes. Aunt Toby is saving that for another time. Today’s discussion has to do with one type of cookie, and what makes that cookie ‘work’ versus other sorts of cookies.

It all comes down to fat. (more…)

Worth The Fixing

One of the aspects of our consumer economy is frankly the way we treat everything as disposable. Whether it’s clothing, kitchen equipment, or furniture, a lot of it is made so badly and cheaply that fixing things that go wrong is either impossible (you can’t get to the guts of the thing) or the parts to fix it with are more expensive than what you paid for it. But sometimes it’s worth it. Here are two examples:

Meat thermometer. (more…)

Beer Makes Bread? Sort of.

This past week, my younger daughter put up a note on her Facebook page about smelling ale and it making her want to bake bread. And I thought, “hunh…is there enough yeast still left in beer or ale to do that?” Now, scientifically, what happens with beer or wine for that matter is that the yeast that gets put in eats up all the sugar, produces CO2 and alcohol as a byproduct and once the alcohol level gets high enough (for the particular strain of yeast – all of them are different and some wine yeasts can produce as much as 15% alcohol by volume before they conk out), the yeast get killed off. (more…)

Books Worth Having: General Self-Sufficiency

When the DH and I were first married and moved to our first (rented) house in the country, our self-sufficiency skills were pretty meager. I had done a little bit of vegetable gardening at my parents’ house, under tutelage at the level of “just buy a bag of Scotts™ Turf-Builder and throw it out there”. My mom was definitely from the ‘buy a plant and find a hole to put it in” school. (more…)

Saving Money Creatively With Kids

One of the ‘not such a secret’ ways to saving money is first not spending it. The second half is actually taking the money you are not spending and putting it in an account someplace so that you aren’t just substituting ‘not spending’ on xxx for ‘spending on’ y. But some things are hard to give up, especially if you are in a married situation (with or without kids) and both halves of the couple are working full time outside the living unit. Life gets busy and then it gets really really easy to just call up the other person at 4:45 p.m. and say, “I forgot to take anything out; let’s go to …..” (more…)

Turning a Sweater into a Vee-Neck

I know a lot of people out there LOVE to go to thrift and consignment shops. Sometimes it’s for the bargain hunting and sometimes, it’s for vintage. But sometimes, what they’ve got is…just…not….perfect. And yes, Aunt Toby knows I covered this sort of thing before, but I think it bears repeating and re-demonstrating, which is when things are not perfect, (more…)

A heel you can fix

Aunt Toby has written about shoes and the total unfairness of it all vis a vis men’s shoes vs. women’s shoes cost of shoes

But here is as good an example and demonstration of the unfairness of it. (more…)

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