Saturday, October 26, 2013


The journey to a handmade china cabinet begins, as so many journeys do, with a single step trip to Home Depot. Dad and I spent an entire afternoon shopping for materials and considering the upsides and downsides of all kinds of wood, from pine to redwood to the entire contents of our local lumberyard's Unaffordable Hardwoods aisle. We eventually decided to make what we could from poplar, which at the time mostly reminded me of the most underrated Anne of Green Gables book, but is also apparently a good cabinetry-grade wood; we also chose three-quarter-inch AB plywood (top-quality on one side, slightly messier on the other) for the bigger pieces, plus a starter course of twelve feet of quarter-round molding for trim and internal supports.

Sadly, nobody had anticipated the vast market for people turning old gun cabinets into china cabinets, and thought to make all these pieces in exactly the sizes I needed. It turns out cabinetry is like sewing in that way: before the putting-together phase comes a lot of prep. Dad and I spent at least a month of weekends prepping wood. We measured and marked. We re-measured and re-marked. We ripped boards the long way, then cut them off the short way. We rasped. We sanded. We checked for square corners again and again and again. In one case, we did it all wrong, and made an emergency trip to Home Depot. I made friends with the electric sander and the miter saw and sometimes the table saw, especially if its friend the ripping guide was present. (One way cabinetry is not like sewing: sewing machines sew straight on their own.) In total, I got more sawdust in my sinuses than I would previously have associated with the average weekend project.

Let's face it: wood prep isn't that photogenic. It's exacting, precise work, minus the satisfaction of putting stuff together (and having it stay that way). I'm glad it's mostly over--but I'm also glad I did it. Back when I was hunting for a china cabinet, before I ever laid eyes on this $25 worth of plywood gun-cabinet glory, I knew I wanted something unique and interesting and personal--and now I feel like I really know my materials. I know where they're square (and, more importantly, where they're not square), where there used to be dings and scuffs and the occasional saw-burn mark, how deep that little knot actually went, and how much sanding it took to get it out, and how far I distributed the divot to make it less noticeable. Despite the assembly portion of the process, this is no IKEA purchase* (Bonus: Don't just assemble your furniture; complicate your life by cutting all the wood first! This is what they call WINNING). Maybe I'm just turning into Gwyneth Paltrow or something, and will now be required to name my kid something like Plate McGee, but I like that this cabinet and I are feelin' each other now.

Next up: Let's put stuff together (and have it stay that way)!

*Nothing against IKEA purchases; without them, I would have no place to sit/eat/keep anything. But: you know. Something should be made from real wood and weigh less than Andre the Giant.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Demolition Derby

Hey, remember this project? My dad and I are trying to make this, a $25 gun rack I bought from a friend's grandparents...

...into something like this, which will hold my dishes and be a generally adorable addition to my dining room:

Structurally, the biggest part of this project requires deepening the bottom half of the cabinet and replacing the existing drawers with cabinet doors—essentially, we're building a new exterior around the old bottom half and replacing the bottom and the interior shelf. And what has to happen before a new exterior? The old parts have to go!

Like so:

Some of the demolition was satisfying Hulk-smashy hammer work, but the point wasn't to destroy the entire cabinet—I needed to clear out the innards but leave the frame intact and the gun-rest portion pristine. (Well, as pristine as the amazingly crusty piece of fabric inside allows.) My desire to ironically hang my teacups above the rifle rests is, after all, pretty much the point of this entire project.

 So there was some of this:

And a lot of this:

The shelves weren't made of solid boards—they were balsa wood, held apart by other balsa wood glued in as spacers. Sneaky, yet inexplicable!

To preserve the surface of the cabinet, I hammered all the existing nails out from the inside and picked out a few staples, and also nearly ended up at Kaiser for a tetanus shot, saved by the grace of God and the squishy soles of my construction-inappropriate footwear. ("Hey, why is that board stuck to my shoe?")

But at the end of the afternoon, I had it: a cleaned-out cabinet bottom, ready for its new frame, and no nails in my feet. I'm calling it a victory.

Next up: In which I learn to use the power saw!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Annie Get Your Sunday China

A few weeks ago, I bought a gun cabinet. It's going to live in my dining room, and it's going to be the best.

It's for, you know, all...the guns that I...own?

(Don't be ridiculous. I don't own any guns.)

What happened is, I moved into my new apartment in January. I unpacked pretty quickly, leaving exactly one enormous moving box intact, sitting in the middle of the guest room. The box holds all of the entertaining and kitchen items I don't use every day and that don't fit in the kitchen proper: serving platters, a few pieces of good china, candlesticks, a huge bag of tealights I bought at IKEA years ago. The box taunts me. My brain says, this is going to be the coziest guest room ever! But the box says, what are you going to do, put me in the closet? OH WAIT, YOU DON'T HAVE ANY OF THOSE LEFT. To shut the box up, I've been looking for a china cabinet.

About a month ago, my mom and I stopped by some friends' estate sale, more to say hi to our friends than to buy any of their stuff. Out on the lawn stood a tall, narrow, open cabinet with no shelves and oval holes carved into the base. "That's weird," I thought. "That cabinet has no shelves." I went inside. I saw my friends. I tried to throw a ball for their Boston terrier, Zorro, who ignored me and stared into the middle distance of two opposite directions. I bought a set of dominoes and a fifty-cent paperback copy of Anna Karenina. We were just on the way out when my friend Don knocked on side of the shelfless cabinet. "Sure you don't want this?" he said. I'm pretty sure he was at least half joking. "You need a place to store your rifles." You see where this is going. With that, I knew: I did want it. It was old and paint-spattered and made mostly of cheap plywood, and it was definitely, definitely my new china cabinet.

This is how you know my dad is an above-the-call-of-duty kind of dad, and also an engineer: when I waltz into his living room on a Saturday afternoon and announce that I've bought a plywood gun cabinet and I want to turn it into a fancy place to store my trivets, his main response is to run for the graph paper. (I may have heard the words "a project!" emanate faintly from the area of his desk.) By the end of the week, we had a plan--deepen the bottom half, switch out the drawers for cabinets, find a vintage glass door, new feet, maybe some kind of curly decoration on top. Definitely a coat of paint or two.

So far, with the exception of a mostly ineffectual going-over with soap and water, the gun cabinet is the same as it was the day it moved into my parents' garage--but it won't be for long. In the coming weeks (months?), Dad and I will be taking it apart and putting it back together, and I'll be writing about it here.

As someone I know would say: A project!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Where I Am Now

Since I last wrote here, a few things have changed.

I am, by the grace of God, no longer on hold with the California Employment and Development Department. I got a job! I write things and mess with the Internet for an organization in downtown San Francisco, and eat lunch by the water when it's not too cold. That's all I'll say, because: Internet. (MAYBE I'M A SPY.) (I'm not a spy.)

I also bought and moved myself and the cat into a new home, a spacious and sunny apartment in a small building. It is, for the most part, a wonderful thing: growing tomatoes on my back stairs, grilling in my be-twinkle-lighted backyard with friends while the neighborhood goes all war-zone on the Fourth of July. It's far from fully furnished and decorated, but I'm happy to have that be a process. Better to not have my entire home look like June 2013, and who I am now, because who I am now is certain to not be who I am in a year or two. I can build slowly.

Lately, I've been spending a lot of time in my home--after a long spell of traveling and houseguests and parties to attend and parties to host and meetings at church and "meetings" at my choir pub, I am indulging my inner homebody and sheltering in place. I'm cooking simple food, and finishing some handknit socks, and watching a little TV--I just finished the new season of Arrested Development, which I enjoyed mightily but which wore out my cynicism bone for awhile. I recently taped together some cut-up paper bags and traced a sewing pattern for pajama pants, and now that the machine's out on the dining room table, I can't wait to sew ALL THE THINGS! It's been a few years since I sewed consistently, but I'm trying to brush up on my skills while I sew through some of the fabric I've been hanging onto for so long. Luckily, my friends are having children at Duggar-like rates (collectively, not individually); I can always claim that my baby-gift production requirements pushed me into it. Infants: It's all their fault!

Anyway, it's nice. Maybe I should be outside more, but I'm enjoying having a new home and spending time in it.

I just thought you should know.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013


Last Monday, I missed a phone interview with the California Employment Development Department. I don't know what happened to the pre-interview notice they promised me; I do know that when I got back from my New Year's Eve Trader Joe's run, Mary from the State of California was disappointed to have missed me. The phone number she left was unstaffed, and their email told me to call the main line. This, I now know, is the first rule of the California Employment Development Department: Don't miss a phone call with the California Employment Development Department.

Nine days and about a hundred phone-dials later--I literally called twenty-eight times yesterday--I still haven't gotten through. Sometimes, the system is up-front with me: I dial, please call back later, goodbye. Click! Other times, it leads me on. "Welcome!" it says. My heart beats fast. I have my reference number handy. Five menus and my Social Security number later...please call back later. Goodbye. Click.

This is like the worst radio call-in contest ever.

Rumor has it the system maxes out when the on-hold wait gets longer than ten minutes. Which, okay. Let's think about this. First of all, this is a phone system for every unemployed person in the state of California. A ten-minute hold line is something you have for a popular dentist in a small town, not the social safety net for the most populous state in the union. Second, I'm a big girl. I have a phone with a speaker function. I can be on hold for more than ten minutes if it means I don't have to spend a week of my life calling this phone number. Give me twenty minutes! Half an hour! I can be on the phone all afternoon if it means you'll start sending me the benefits I applied for.

What will I do, you ask, while I wait my turn? Well, I'll search job websites. Futz with my cover letter. Sing along with your hold music. Memorize that message about Congress extending benefits. Make scrambled eggs. Watch "30 Rock" reruns. Catch up on The New Yorker. Clean my bathroom. Clean my kitchen. Clean my living room. Make sure my professional website works. See if anybody's visited my professional website. Make my bed. Check Facebook. Decide what to make for dinner. Make a grocery list. Knit. Write a thank-you note. Write a note of ungratefulness. What does it matter what I do? At the end of it, I will have spoken to someone. The social safety net will have triumphed!

Some day, EDD, I hope we can do these things together.



Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Reality Day

I would like to propose a new holiday. I like to call it Reality Day. Or the Day of Reality. Or, ooh, the Festival of Reality! Whatever we're calling it, Reality Day falls on January 2, unless January 2 falls on a weekend. Weekends go against everything Reality Day stands for.

You may have noticed that today is January 2.

Happy Reality Day!

Here's the thing: until shortly before Christmas, I had a job. It was a good one: I sat in a small, messy room, surrounded by people I liked--people I like, actually, present-tense--and wrote scripts for a comedic educational TV show/DVD series. In the middle of December, my company's financial tether ran out. I was laid off, effective immediately; I arrived at the office at 9:15 and was home, with my lunch leftovers and the fake hipster glasses I'd brought in for a sketch, by eleven.

I decided to embrace the time off. Nobody's hiring the week before Christmas, let alone the week after, so I declared my Winter Break, college-style, and applied myself conscientiously to the task of relaxing. I hung out with my parents, who are local, and with my brother, whom I don't see that often. I stayed up late with friends, playing games and drinking wine and talking, and slept in accordingly, unless I had brunch plans. I celebrated Christmas. I went to my family's cabin and read The Voyage of the Dawn Treader in front of the fire. I celebrated New Year's Day with friends and fried chicken and a mini-road trip toward dinner, watching the sun set behind the hills as I drove down Highway 101.

That was yesterday. Yesterday was Winter Break. Today is Reality Day. On Reality Day, we wake up to emails about job prospects and unemployment insurance. We brush our teeth before eleven a.m., in accordance with tradition. We ritually update our resumes and polish up our websites. We call the unemployment people, with the eager expectation of being on hold. We eat the celebratory meal of salad. We get stuff done, because that is the nature of this Reality Day holiday, and we are nothing if not enthusiastic about the holidays. ANY holidays.

It also bears mentioning that I'm days--hours, maybe!--from closing on my very first home. This is the exciting end to a long process; my offer was accepted in August, and now it's January, and if you want to talk about wallpaper or window coverings or my vision for the living room,  I can oblige you allllll daaaaay lonnnng. I'm already planning the housewarming party and daydreaming about sunny afternoons reading on the back patio. All of these happy new-home things are coming...AFTER I've scaled the mountain of paperwork, packing, cleaning, move-scheduling, electrician-calling (what kind of person, I ask you, installs a thermostat on the side of the heater?), address-changing, landlord-wrangling work. This work is not, of course, a surprise. We have hurried up and then waited, and hurried up and waited, and hurried up and waited. (Mortgage lenders also take Winter Break.) And when does it all begin? Reality Day! Hurrah! Here's some newspaper! Let's all pack something fragile!

I realize that I am not the only one celebrating Reality Day today. Millions--billions?--of people around the world are walking into cold, quiet offices today, trying to remember what exactly it is they're doing there. They're removing the holiday music from their iTunes to avoid the confluence of Shuffle and Bing Crosby in June. They're finishing up the last of the See's candy and sweeping up the last (they hope) of the Christmas tree needles from the living room floor. And this is why I think Reality Day should be afforded holiday status: we're gearing up, we're ritualizing, we're collectively adjusting. It's a thing. We're all doing it together anyway; why not build a holiday around it?

Or maybe I just want one last day to celebrate before it's really January.

Happy Reality Day.