Impulse Buying at the Hardware Store

We received a couple of great suggestions as to what to do with our True Value sweepstakes booty, such as a compound miter saw (which we don’t have) and a RotoZip tool.

Earlier this week we went to True Value Hardware in Wilmette to browse and see what they had to offer. The shelves were packed with DIY goodies.

We grabbed a few things that we “needed” right away:

  • Replacement wire for a weed whip
  • Mason jars for canning (I don’t have the slightest idea how to can vegetables, but first I’m going to try making sauerkraut — yes, sauerkraut — with the abundance of cabbage from our CSA)
  • Bona hardwood floor cleaner
  • Ready-Strip paint stripper for the paint the PO dripped on the masonry
  • Wheelbarrow hanger-upper thing for when we get around to organizing the garage
  • Weber Charcoal Chimney Starter. Ours recently bit the dust, and we don’t grill using charcoal fluid. This, IMO, is the best thing — grilled food without the lighter fluid flavor!

We’ll probably purchase a palm sander since we only have a belt sander, and may also get the RotoZip. A friend of ours owns two compound miter saws, so we’ll probably just borrow one of his for now. Either way, I’m sure we’ll have no problem spending it all.

Dog Days of Summer

We’ve been lying low lately and not working on many projects, per se.

Pete finally hooked up the rain barrels, now that it’s almost the end of summer. We had been holding off on those because we were going to build something to elevate the barrels so the water would have better flow. We aren’t sure they will remain where we put them, so we decided to just hook them up and worry about elevating them later.

We still haven’t sowed our native grass seed. I was going to do that last weekend but didn’t get around to it. So, why don’t we play a guessing game in the meantime?

Tell me, how many seeds of each grass do you think there are here?


Winner gets bragging rights and the satisfaction of guessing correctly. Sorry, that’s all I can offer.

My Kind of Town

Last Saturday night we were on board the Evening Star, cruising up and down the Chicago River and out to Lake Michigan. It was a beautiful night — a little cool for August, but pleasant nonetheless.

There are so many things I love about Chicago, and the view of the skyline is just one of them.


While Navy Pier, the brightly lit area in the foreground, is a popular tourist destination, it’s not high on my list of places to go. It has a number of attractions for families, though, like the Ferris Wheel and Children’s Museum, and is also the home of the Chicago Shakespeare Theater.

Although the beer garden at the end of the pier can be fun on a hot summer night, in general there are much better places to eat in Chicago than on Navy Pier — most of the restaurants there are chains.

In my opinion the best thing about Navy Pier is the incredible fireworks display on Wednesdays and Saturdays from Memorial Day through Labor Day, and on Saturday night we had a front-row seat.



Really, what made this night extra special is the reason we were on the boat: to celebrate the wedding of Pete’s sister, Terri.

Terri is not just my sister-in-law — she and I have been friends since high school. We both went on to the same university, initially living in the same dorm (but thankfully not as roommates). We’ve remained close friends throughout everything we’ve both been through, including my marriage to her brother (which neither of us ever could have imagined!).

We are just thrilled for her and her new husband, Joe. It couldn’t have been a more perfect night in the city we love.

More on CKW

My astute brother-in-law, Bob, sent me a little more information on CKW, or Cicada Killer Wasps. Turns out they are considered to be a beneficial insect after all! According to Wikipedia,

Cicada killers exert a natural control on cicada populations and thus may directly benefit the deciduous trees upon which cicadas feed.

As he points out, they’re Tree Huggers. I’m okay with that, although I still cringe at their killing methods.

I did manage to get a couple of close-ups as one feverishly tried to dig in our freshly laid compost:

That is one big Mother! I believe I saw a male hovering around, and he was about half her size.

According to the sources, they like well-drained soil. I guess that’s a compliment, but I still really don’t want them hovering around our patio.

To keep them out of your yard, experts suggest that you keep the area that the wasps favor on the wet side so as to make them think their burrow will flood.

Sounds like a plan.

Storm Stats

In yesterday’s Chicago Tribune, they reported the statistics from Monday night’s incredible storm:

  • Number of lightning strikes across northern Illinois: 90,000
  • Period of time it usually takes to record that number of lightning strikes in Chicagoland: 6 months
  • Number of lightning strikes per minute at the storm’s peak: 800

The lightning strike count only includes those that hit the ground. Amazing.

Luck of the Draw

As you may have heard by now, we were one of the lucky winners in the “Look What I Did” sweepstakes sponsored by True Value. Before you look at our entry and think, “What?! They won for THAT??, this was not a contest based on aesthetics or project difficulty or anything else, other than my post was randomly picked from the pool of tagged entries.

Although we worked very hard on our Patio project and it has come a very long way, our outdoor space is far from complete. Had it been a “beauty” contest of sorts, I’m sure we would not have won.

But I think the point of this was not to subjectively decide who had the best idea or overcame the most difficulties, but to reward all of the DIYers who dedicate themselves to:

  • undoing past homeowner blunders;
  • improving their surroundings; restoring their home to its former glory;
  • enjoying (for the most part) the process and the hard work; and then
  • relating that story for all to learn from their mistakes, to spark ideas, or to gain support from others when it gets to be too much.

I am truly proud to be a part of, and I must thank Aaron and Jeannie of House in Progress for creating such a wonderful community and camaraderie (perks like this are a big plus too!). Thanks goes out to True Value for sponsoring the contest as well.

I am rarely the winner of random drawings, although coincidentally the only other time I can remember winning anything was a drawing through Menards at least 15 years ago. I think I won $250 toward store merchandise, so very similar to this contest (apparently the hardware gods are in my favor).

For the Menards sweepstakes, we purchased blinds for the kitchen picture window in our previous house. It was a really large window, so window coverings were of course very expensive, as they are now. At that time my intended color scheme for the kitchen was black, white and red. I was determined to replace the ugly vinyl flooring with large black-and-white tile (in fact Pete broke my finger over that floor, but I’ll have to tell that story another time).

Never did do that black-and-white tile floor, which I’m glad about now — and he hasn’t injured me since then, unintentionally or otherwise —— but we went ahead with a red honeycomb blind for the windows.

We still had those blinds when we moved out last year, but we saw them in the garbage soon after the new owners moved in. They were probably shocked when they discovered that the blinds only came halfway down the window. We did it that way intentionally because, with the wonderful sunlight that shone in, we knew that we would never close the blinds completely. We decided that it would be silly to install blinds to cover the whole window when it was always going to be pulled at least halfway up, so why not just order it at the maximum length we wanted? It worked perfectly and I never wished that I could cover the window any further.

But the nagging question today is: what will we purchase at True Value? I’m thinking new tools — we have the basics, but a lot of our tools may be old (or we only have a manual version where a power or cordless version exists).

So tell me, if you had $300 to spend on tools (or if you’ve already bought something that you now couldn’t live without), what would be at the top of your list?

Solar Lights to the Rescue!

A major storm passed through the entire Chicagoland area last night. Morton Grove’s tornado siren went off a little after 8 pm, so we gathered up the cats and headed to the basement.

Pete turned on “God in the Box”. That’s the pet name for his little weather radio, which would tell him the wind conditions on Lake Michigan whenever he was itching to go windsurfing. (He doesn’t go much anymore, and if you ask him why I’m sure he’d blame me and my house projects.)

In any case, the computerized voice told us that there were four different tornado warnings in areas around Chicago and vicinity where funnel-like clouds were spotted.

Our power went out around 8:30 and we lit some candles because we never seem to have flashlights around with batteries that work.

2008080504The tornado warnings passed and the storm subsided for a while, but we were still without power. That’s when I looked out the window at our patio and realized that the cheap solar lights I bought at Target, along with the kinda-cheesy solar rock that Pete had teased me about, could serve as our flashlights. Brilliant!

You can see them in this blurry photo, taken earlier this summer.

The power came back around 10:30, and we had quite a light show for several hours after that from the constant flashes of lightning.

Pete has promised to never tease me again about our solar rock.

My Husband, the Rock Star

This is one of the many reasons why I love my husband:

Many times, all it takes is for me to say, “What if we…[insert idea that usually involves manual labor for him here]?”, and he usually goes with it.

This time it was creating a space for the bird feeder. We haven’t had our bird feeder up since we moved last year and were debating about whether or not to put it up at all. Finally, we decided to go ahead with it once we figured out a good spot: for the birds to be safe from predators, like others’ cats (ours aren’t allowed outside without leashes and close supervision); far enough away from the squirrels’ reach; and within close viewing distance for us.

So when we decided to incorporate it into the path near the patio, he dug right in, literally. In the 90° heat. He is usually doggedly determined when it comes to chores. Me, not so much: the slightest heat headache sends me indoors, however I tried hard to do my part and spent many hours moving leaf compost while he was at work Saturday. But overall he usually has more stamina than I for these things.

At first, we were just going to use the limestone gravel and screening for the bird feeder area, same as the path. That’s when I came up with the “What if we use the leftover flagstone?” idea. (“Rock” Star — get it? tee hee.) He jumped right in and figured out the layout. Amazingly, all of the remaining flagstone fit in there perfectly. I love it when a project comes together so nicely!

He also built an area for the fire pit/pagoda next to the patio.

We hadn’t intended to tear up this section of the garden at this point, but we ended up with way more leaf compost than we needed in the other section (so much for cubic yard calculators!). Since the compost is sitting on the parkway in the front yard, we’re kind of forced into doing this part as well.

It’s just as well that we get rid of more weeds and crabgrass sooner rather than later, but it might be iffy to plant seed at this time of year. We’re going to try it anyway. More on that, along with better photos, later.

Changes in Progress

Yes, you may have noticed that I changed the look of my blog. It’s still a work in progress, but for one thing, I needed to upgrade WordPress, and I also wanted to move into a 3-column format.

I’ve been reluctant to do it, as I know just enough to screw it up and not know how to fix it. Overall it seems to have gone smoothly, but it looks like there’s a problem with my categories. But that I can deal with.

There are still a bunch of tweaks I want to make, and I don’t know if I like the overall color scheme, but for now I need to go do some yardwork — the leaf compost is here!

Hopefully I can make more changes over the next week.

Happy Weekend!