Sunday, November 11, 2012

Home is where the homey is

I've now owned the Frankenhouse for a little over a year.  Time has passed; work has been invested by many people.  Time and hands have combined to start shaping the house into a home.   Because you know-- a house is one thing; a home is another.  

To make my home even homier, I wanted to decorate for Thanksgiving.  I love the fall.  Or, well-- having grown up in Phoenix and living now in LA, I should say that what I love is the idea of fall, the theory of a crisp autumn breeze.  I know that places with seasons exist.  I know that somewhere, there are trees with leaves, and around this time of year those leaves change color.  I know this mostly because I lived in New York City for two years right after college, and in the fall, riding the 86th Street crosstown bus was one of my favorite things to do because the bus went through Central Park and all the trees would amaze me with color, like this:

New York, a land of actual seasons

Even though I can't have fall foliage, and this year it was in the 90s up until last week, I was determined to make my house feel autumnal and homey.  I went to Costs Plus and Michael's for homey home decorating inspiration.  This proved harder than I thought it would be.  Why is it so hard to find Thanksgiving decorations?  It's like somehow, in the Retail Mind, we all go from Halloween directly to Christmas.  Why, why, why?  Why do we skip this one truly autumn holiday moment?  At one point in my shopping expedition, I looked up and felt relief when I saw this sign:

--only to discover that this was the area of the store with Christmas decorations. 

Somehow, in these slim pickings, I needed to find decorations for my dining room table and my fireplace mantle.   Among the options I encountered were:

Enormous-nervous pinecone turkey?
Delightful, but no.
Irresistible!  This turkey is a star!
But, I mean-- no.
Do I want fake assorted squash?
I mean, maybe...
No.  No, not for me.  I'm still working out my feelings on decorative food.

Oh my gosh, it's a draw-your-own-turkey!
This is awesome, and if I had kids I'd totally bring these home!
But as much as I like these, I can't use them.
(Also-- did this turkey just make out with another turkey?)

Cute as these things were, they weren't really fitting the bill.  I also found a lot of word-based art.  You kind of have to give it to word art-- whether or not it's your thing, it's the homiest, coziest, snuggliest way to decorate.  

This is pumpkin-like!
This is also fall-ish and pumpkin-referencing!

"Bless Our Home" is a really nice sentiment.  But, as homey as word art is, I think it's not my thing.  It's not just these words-- somehow, I don't find myself wanting to use any words as adornment. 

After a couple hours of hemming, hawing, deciding, and re-deciding, I found some lovely fall candles, hurricane candle holders that were on sale, a table runner, and some garlands and supplemental fake plants. (Because somehow, even though I can't do decorative food, turns out I can handle plastic plants.)  I ended up with a dining room table and fireplace mantle that now look like this:

Fall table

Fall hearth

Recognize that plastic plant?
It's amaranth!

I am totally into these strange Saturday Evening Post-style Thanksgiving paper bucket things.
The candles are 'Mexican Pumpkin Pie Spice' scented.
I'm pretty sure 'Mexican Pumpkin Pie' is not a real thing.
But they smell so goooood.
Given the limited selection, I'm pretty happy with the way the fireplace mantle turned out.  The table though...I feel like it could use a little extra something, but I'm not sure what.  I could put something (flowers, maybe?) inside the pumpkin centerpiece; I could scatter decorative vegetables or pine cones around the candles and pumpkin.  I'm not sure.  What do you think?  I probably won't add to it for this season, but I'll keep my eyes open for something that will work next year.

And then, in a few weeks, it'll be time for Christmas decorating!  Luckily, I know just which store aisles to visit for Christmas-style homey.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

PICS OF THE HOOD: Sad Man-Chicken

A story, in pictures, to be told of a street called Figueroa.

Sunny day, not much traffic, walking along...
wait a second...
what's that...
That thing on the roof, across the street?

Looks like there's a note, written in the concrete 
(sometimes this happens in my hood):

Oh, a BiRd?  Thisaway, and thataway...

That thing, up on the roof of that Salvadoran restaurant?  It's a bird, yes, but...
it seems to be more than just a bird.
Is that a chicken...
wearing a shirt?  

No! It's a sad-eyed man-chicken! With broad shoulders and strong arms and
delicately articulated fingers that gingerly balance a family-size bucket against his chest.
Gaze into his unhappy eyes and see his man-chicken soul!

Does he know, on some animal level, that his fellow chickens kicked it in that bucket?
Or is he more man than chicken, and his sadness derives from a human consciousness of his interspecies state?

His eyes, they plead.
"Forgive me," they say.  "For I have eaten so much chicken that I became one."

Sunday, March 11, 2012

PICS OF THE HOOD: Elena's Beauty Salon

In my neighborhood, there are lots of mom-and-pop businesses.  Mom-and-pops of all stripes dot the main thoroughfare, providing all kinds of services from auto repair to tax preparation to plumbing to baked goods to, for example, haircuts.  This is how you are welcomed to Elena's Beauty Salon:

Her:  Is Johnny going to ask me to the Enchantment Under the Sea dance?  Are we going steady?  Why does he have that funny look on his face?
Him:  I VANT TO SUCK YOUR BLOOD, ah-ah-ah.

There's a lot of interesting things happening in this sign, but of course, the couple stands out to me.  Do couples...go to beauty salons together?  Do men and women typically go to the same beauty salons?  Maybe in this hood, they do.

More importantly-- who is that couple?  Did someone model for this, or was an old picture used?  If there was an actual couple who served as the basis for this storefront artwork, was the girl really that worried?  Was the guy really a formally-dressed vampire?

The world may never know.  But you have to admit-- they are both well-coiffed.  Elena did her job well.  Maybe one of these days, I'll stop by and see what Elena can do for me.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

THIS IS HOW WE DO IT: Dining Chair Recovery

Several months ago, I purchased a vintage dining set to put in my dining room, so that dining could take place.  The set was in kind-of-rough-but-definitely-salvageable shape.  Once I got the set home, I started trying to recover the chairs.  I thought it would be easy to do, because everyone and their mother is all up on the Internets these days, talking about how easy it is to do this.

Turns out, it's not that easy.  And so, I would like to take this opportunity to tell the Internets to shhhhhh about how simple this is, because this can be done incorrectly.  Granted, it may take the special kind of non-skill that I possess to make the mistakes I made in my first attempt, but still.  It's not like this is foolproof.  Obviously I'm a fool, and it wasn'

Four Mistakes Fools Might Make When Recovering Dining Chairs
  1. Buying the wrong kind of fabric.
    The first fabric I bought was just regular cotton.  Why didn't I buy upholstery fabric?  I looked at it, and thought: ooh, well that's too expensive.  This other kind will be fine.  So basically, my one moment of house frugality turned out to be entirely misplaced.
  2. Buying too much fabric.
    Somehow, I carefully measured the seats of the chairs, added a couple of inches on each side, accounted for the fact that I had 6 chairs to cover, factored in the number of inches in a yard, and concluded: I need 6 yards of fabric, just to be safe.  As it turns out, 2 yards is plenty.
  3. Buying giant 2" seat cushions.
    The the seat padding on the chairs was worn incredibly thin, so I knew I'd have to take it out and replace it.  When I was in the fabric store buying the wrong kind of fabric, I had a choice between 1" and 2" high foam cushions.  I looked at the 2" cushions and thought: ooh, that'll be so nice to sit on! And, you know, I wasn't wrong about that.  The seat turned out to be comfortable.  It also turned out to look sort of...ridiculously puffed up.  In its lap.
  4. Buying a meh fabric.
    When I looked at this fabric in the store, I thought: oooh, preeety, whimsical, breezy, colorful!-- all things I wanted in my dining room, to contrast with the lovely grey walls.  But then when I got it all done, I looked at it and thought...huh.  Cute, but...meh.


So, after attempt #1, the holidays happened, and then it took me a while to get back to it.  Finally though, this is now done!  Rachael and I could make our own how-to video now if we wanted to.  Hey world, it's so simple-- all you need is two weekends, a drive to Pasadena, a tolerance for spray glue fumes, and tetanus shots!  Cue the triumphant soundtrack...

Recovering Chairs: This Is How We Do It

  • Go to one of the anonymous fabric stores in the garment district of downtown LA, go to Michael Levine, go to Calico Corners.  Remember that store?  Maybe you used to tag along when your mom would go there, back when the stores had whole play areas for kids.  It's not like that anymore, but they have lots of fabric to choose from.  Also, they've thought ahead about this, and stocked only upholstery fabric, so you can't buy the wrong kind.  There are lots of fun places to buy the right kind of fabric on the Internets, but being a fool, I was afraid I'd order something I liked online but not in person.

    One weekend, after I'd attempted the downtown LA option, Rachael and I drove out to the Calico Corners in Pasadena.   They took my order, I bought 3 yards (you know...just to be safe), and 7 business days later, the fabric was delivered to my house.

  • The following weekend, we set up an assembly line.  For round 2 of chair recovery, I'd gone back and purchased 1" cushions, and I had batting on hand from round 1.  Rachael cut the square cushions to fit the seat's shape, spray glued the cushions in place, spray-glued batting around the edges that the cushion didn't cover, and then wrapped the whole thing in more batting.

  • Meanwhile, I got down to down to brass tacks.  Or rather, rusty nails and old staples.  The chairs had already been recovered a couple of times before, and I had to take out some of the previous fixings so there'd be room for me to staple what I needed to.

Me: Oooh, I wonder if these could give you lockjaw!
Rachael: Um, let's not find out.
  • Then, I cut the fabric, and I stapled things.  A lot.

Here's the end result:

Many lessons learned, and a dining room, ready to be dined in.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

PICS OF THE HOOD: Apologetic Enfrigolada Man

As I was walking my dog tonight (listening to this song on repeat), I realized that I should really take more pictures of my neighborhood.  Specifically, I should be better about documenting the variety of signs and other forms of display in the commercial area along the main street.  Because: 

Oh um...heeeey.  Hey, I'm just hanging out,  hawking enchiladas.  Yeah.  Listen, they wanted me to wear this hat, so...yeah no, the white pants weren't my idea either.  No, I don't think they're flattering...sigh.    

I saw this, and was inspired.  I'm officially launching a new Frankenfeature: pics of the 'hood.  This inaugural edition stars the Apologetic Enfrigolada Man.  Doesn't he look a bit chagrined?  Like you accidentally came upon him in the middle of doing something...that he wishes you hadn't caught him doing?  Or like he's a little nonplussed to be parked on the sidewalk, silently informing you of today's specials?  Maybe he's embarrassed at the sign's spelling mistake.  If he is feeling that way, my name for him is especially cutting.

It's OK, Apologetic Enfrigolada Man.  You belong right where you are, right here in my 'hood.

Sunday, January 22, 2012


Lately, I've noticed that my dryer takes for-ev-er to ddddrrrr...rrrr..r.rrrrr.....y?yy...yyy?yyyyyyyyy things. 

"Ughhh," my dryer seems to be saying.  "Do I have to?  Do I have to dry your clothes?  But I'm so disinterested."

Today, I was finally all-- LOOK HERE, dryer.  If you don't want to dry my clothes, you really should have thought about that before you became a dryer.  I am going to figure out what your deal is!  I stuck my head all the way in the dryer and peeped around.  In the back, I saw something I hadn't ever noticed before.  Curious, I looked more closely and read:

"Pull to clean lint screen"

Huh, I thought.
I guess I haven't really cleaned the lint thing in...well, how long have I lived here?
Five months?

That could be the problem, I thought.  (Because, you see-- I catch on quickly.)

I opened the lint trap, and sure enough, five months worth of lint was barely contained:

Don't most dryers, like, make a noise or something?  Don't dryers typically alert you to the presence of fire-hazard amounts of lint buildup?  Not the Frankendryer though-- he's never made a peep.  

I cleaned out the lint as thoroughly as I could.  The dryer is still a bit slow though- it still takes two full cycles to dry a load.  I wonder if there's some other maintenance step I'm missing?  Or, maybe the Frankendryer just always had other aspirations and is tired of his life heating the moisture out of my laundered clothes.  Maybe he'd rather be dressed up like a million dollar trooper?  Trying hard to look like Gary Cooper?  Maybe he'd just rather be puttin' on the ritz, Frankenstein style.  


The Iliad, a story about a brave homeowner's battle to install new windows in her old house in Troy, does not have a coda in the original Greek verse.  Here, however, a coda will serve our purposes of picking up where we left Achillesita and bringing the action to a close.

When we last tuned in, Mr. Petrov had just informed Achillesita that one side of her house was built by Dionysus, and so the walls were not even.  This meant that three window openings would have to be re-framed in order for the windows to stay in place.  What followed was a kind of electronic dance-barter, back and forth, over e-mail:

Mr. Petrov: Re-framing the windows would normally cost $2300, but since you are special and we like you, we will only charge you $1700.

Achillesita:  @$*&#!  Are you kidding me?  ARE YOU?  You're seriously going to add nearly 20% of the entire project cost on at the last minute?  Just like that?  There is no way it should cost that much, and I'm gong to get a second estimate for the work.

Mr. Petrov: You're free to get another estimate, but if you have someone else do the re-framing, we can't be held responsible for their work and thus we can't guarantee the installation.  Also, we're the only company authorized to work on the current city permit.  Just sayin'.

Achillesita:  HOW DARE YOU!  How dare you use the expression "just sayin'?!"  Ohhh, if there's one thing I hate more than hiring contractors, it's the expression 'just sayin'.  I am also not thrilled with this passive-agressive scare-me nonsense you are pulling.  I am *definitely* getting another contractor out here for the estimate.  How do you expect me to ever recommend your company to anyone?  I stick my tongue out in your general direction.

Achillesita did get a second contractor to come look at the windows.  They did need to be re-framed, he agreed.  He said he could do it for...


Heaving a heavy sigh, Achillesita pondered her next move.  She talked with her parents.

"Well," her mom said, "how about you go back to Mr. Petrov, and tell him you'll split the original amount?  That way, you split the cost of this with him 50-50.  He should have seen this, but you have to pay for some of it."

And that, as it turned out, worked like a charm.  Mr. Petrov agreed to the split, the openings were re-framed, and the new windows were finally installed.

And there was much rejoicing.  A small victory indeed.