When I Get Bored, I Paint.

by Lisa Lombardi in ,

I have a problem with sitting still.

Faced with a weekend of no plans, I find myself physically incapable of just sleeping in, vegging out, and watching endless amounts of garbage TV. Don't get me wrong — I can work my way through a random series just as well as the next gal, but it's always accompanied by some chore, some project, some other task.

That's how I ended up painting my coffee cart a few weeks ago.

In the midst of my flurry of little projects, I began toying with the idea of adding some more color to my apartment. Yes, the photos helped, but the fact remains that I live in a giant, beige box filled with endless amounts of light-colored wood. Painting the walls is too large of a cost and undertaking, but I could paint more furniture. And after my dresser project, I've fallen ever more in love with the idea of a deep, rich navy as a neutral. So I decided to paint my cart to match.

Nothing like some quality time in the dungeon, listening to My Favorite Murder, and inhaling paint fumes. Best weekend ever.

I like.

About Time

by Lisa Lombardi in ,

Most people start off the new year with resolutions like "lose weight," "learn to play the guitar," or "kiss more boys" (just me?). I kicked off 2017 with the realization that I've been in my new apartment for almost six months and it was still missing some key elements. It was livable, sure. But was it at its most functional? More importantly, was it in a state where I'd want to have people over?

The looming milestone was enough to finally light a fire under my ass to pull the trigger on some stuff that never felt important enough in the midst of Christmas shopping and anxiety-inducing credit card bills. First things first: it was time to go to IKEA.

It's important to have a game plan before even stepping foot inside the giant warehouse, and this was mine: (1) replace the broken frame that was part of my postcard gallery wall, (2) get a better organization option for my makeup, and (possibly) (3) get some more plants.

#1: got it. #2: accomplished

With the exit in sight, there's where my resolve unraveled. I had tried to resist throwing other stuff into my bag during the long walk through the showroom, but when I spotted the large square option in the Ribba frame series, I knew it'd be a great option for the wall next to the fridge. (The print I had hung originally just looked too dinky.)

And hey, while I was at it, why not snag two more to hang near the closet? They might not be noticeably visible all the time, but open wall space is limited in my apartment, so I want to take advantage wherever I can. I hobbled to the cash register with three more Ribbas than planned.

So, now that I got these frames, I needed something to put in them. After polling friends and family, I landed on these three faves from my travels:

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon

Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park

I compared a few options, but ultimately went with prints from Walgreens (CVS, Snapfish, and Target were also in the running), and I was very pleased with how they turned out.

Trying to narrow down my favorite photos to just these three reminded of how many great shots I had that I also wanted to be able to display. I toyed with the idea of getting three or four smaller frames to perch on the ledge by my stairs, but worried that they'd look crowded and bulky.

One of my coworkers had some prints from Artifact Uprising and Parabo Press on her desk, and I really liked the square format on thicker paper, complete with a white border. This style would allow me to show off photos without necessarily needing to frame them, so it seemed like the perfect solution. I ordered from Parabo Press because they were running a promotion that allowed me to get 25 larger-format prints for just $5, plus shipping. Sold.

Based on the quality of photos that I received (along with the thoughtful packaging job), I'd highly recommend trying Parabo Press, especially if you have some favorite Instagram pics you want to print. 

Now that I had the prints, the remaining issue was: how to display them? 

I had this idea to make a little ledge that would prop up several photos at a time, but wasn't exactly sure how to pull this off. During a little Friday night visit to the Home Depot (isn't that how everyone spends their Friday night?), I saw my solution: two squared-off dowels and a narrow strip of wood cut down to size.

The dowels were about three feet long, which fit my space perfectly, and I used the in-store saw to cut down the wooden strip to match. At home, I applied some stain I had, and then glued the dowels to the wooden strip, which acted as the base. All done, I had a thin opening between the two dowels that allowed the photos to easily rest upright. Total cost? Probably less than $5, assuming you have glue and stain on hand (or don't care about staining).

Last on my list of frenzied updates was based on a suggestion from my mom. While visiting, she mentioned that a shelf in the bathroom might be a nice addition, and I was getting sick of moving my makeup tray every time I needed to throw laundry in the hamper, so I started to think maybe she was onto something.

While I was at Home Depot, I wandered to the lumber section and started chatting with my new best friend, Chet. I described my project, and stressed how little wood I needed and that I'd be interested in the cheapest option possible. He found me a damaged board that was completely fine on one end — one that he wouldn't be able to sell as-is — and cut off the end for me. I think I was only charged a couple bucks for it.

This brings me to my hardware store lesson #2 (number one is always bring your own measuring tape): don't be afraid to talk to the people who work there. There are a lot of idiots who won't know anything, but there will always be at least one or two gems who will go out of their way to help you out.

I picked up two metal brackets that looked cool, brought home my piece of wood, sanded and stained it, and then I was ready. Time to hang it. 

Just one problem: the "cool design" of the brackets made one of the screw holes near impossible to access, and the instructions on the back were nothing but (inaccurate) pictures. (Give me words, people!)

So, I did what I always do when faced with a puzzling dilemma: I called my dad.

While we were chatting, I had a revelation and figured out the bracket problem, so my dad moved on to trying to tell me how to go about screwing the holes.

Whoa, whoa, whoa, father. Let's put a pause on the mansplaining here. I know what an anchor is. I know how to use an electric drill.

"Okay, but when you're drilling into the board itself, you want to be careful or else you'll go all the way through, so you should —" he tried to tell me.

"— put a piece of tape on the drill bit to indicate just how far I should drill. I know, I know," I said. "Dad, do you know who you're talking to, here? I'm Lisa freakin' Lombardi, man."

I'm don't think he'd ever been more proud.

It's totally true that the small victories are just as important as the big ones.

Dresser Shenanigans

by Lisa Lombardi in ,

Like most of my more ridiculous ideas, it started with asking Katie for help.

You might recall Katie as the recipient of my infamous jellypenis painting. The fact that she proudly displays this in her apartment says a lot about her willingness to put up with my idiotic schemes.

"Can you do me a favor?"

I innocently tested the waters and then quickly launched into the backstory.

"So I was supposed to pick up this dresser from Craigslist last night, but the girl changed the pickup time and I wouldn't have had anyone to help me unload my car at that point. And I needed my car empty to pick up those chairs the next day. So I had to cancel our arrangement...but the dresser is still for sale. And she's moving out tomorrow. And I still want it."

And, more importantly, I felt like the seller might be willing to agree to a lower price than we had arranged, since she was getting down to the wire. But I had already tried negotiating, and then bailed, so I didn't have the best track record with this person.

"So...you want me to respond to the Craigslist ad for you?" Katie asked.

She just gets me.

This is the dresser I was obsessed with.

My job often requires me to scope out competitor furniture retailers, and when I stumbled upon this dresser from Land of Nod, I was hooked. 

It was bold. It was glamorous yet handsome. It was the low, wide style I was looking for. (Though, okay, probably bigger than I realistically needed.)

It was eleven-hundred-freaking-dollars.

After watching it for months, I knew there was no way it would ever drop into what I would consider an acceptable price range. So I went with Plan B: find a campaign-style dresser on Craigslist and treat it to a fresh coat of paint.

That's how I ended up outside an apartment building in Somerville on a Thursday evening, prepared to introduce myself as Kathryn.

I shouldn't have worried. The girl was so relieved to get rid of the thing that she simply opened the door and led me upstairs without confirming who I was. (Fabulous. I'm terrible at lying.)

If you were reading the blog of a normal, sane person, the next step would be to take the dresser home. This, however, is my blog. So, like the weirdo I am, I then drove on to a hockey game in downtown Boston, where I deposited my car (filled to capacity with an old dresser and drawers) in the sketchiest parking lot ever. And I went to see my Red Wings crush the Bruins.

Maybe it was the rush of the win. Maybe it was all those extra sessions of Kick It class. Maybe it was a tear in the space-time continuum. I honestly have no explanation for how it happened, but it did: when I got home from the game, I unloaded the dresser and carried it into my apartment. By myself.

To provide a little context for this anomaly, you should know that my nickname during high school summer softball was "Twig." Friends have been known to refer to me as "tiny."

You know those stories about moms who lift cars off their kids in moments of extreme stress? Me, I lift heavy pieces of furniture when I know I need to drive my car to a date the next day.

One of the nicest things about my new apartment is that it comes with a huge, dark, scary storage area. I think most people would probably only venture in there to do laundry and leave it be the rest of the time, but the second my landlord showed it to me, I knew it was destined to become my own personal dungeon-slash-work room.

The entire makeover process took a few weeks. First, I needed to clean the thing, remove all the hardware, sand down the chips and scratches the best I could, and slap together a new corner using layers and layers of spackle (I don't recommend this remedy, but hey, it worked).

Once that was done, I primed it all, and then it was the moment of truth: picking the right paint color.

I'd like to say that I was smart and got a couple tester cans so I could be sure of the color before committing, but I totally didn't and bought the wrong color on the first try. Don't be like me, folks.

This is about the point where I called Katie in a panic and told myself over and over again that I was an idiot. Fun times painting!

My second pick was much, much better, and I actually only needed the small tester can to cover the entire dresser in two coats of paint. Go figure.

Meanwhile, the metal knobs, pulls, and corner pieces could use a little help. Initially, I tried just scrubbing everything with a mixture of salt and white vinegar, but that didn't have much effect. Steel wool and Barkeeper's Friend, however, did the trick.

Here's where I ended up:

It's not a perfect match for the Land of Nod one, but the influence is there! And I like that it's completely different from anything I've ever had before. (Okay, and I like that it was one-tenth the cost of the original, too.)

Now my clothes are all put away and my apartment is starting to look less like it was hit by a tornado. Can you say "progress"?

If I Can Do it, You Can: Refreshing Butcher Block

by Lisa Lombardi in ,

When I moved into my current apartment, I knew that one of the first things I needed to do was find a way to add more counter space and storage to the kitchen. If you don't recall, it used to look like this:

Don't worry, everything you need to know about is shown in the photo. That small strip of countertop where the sink is on the left? That's literally the only surface area in the entire room. Maybe satisfactory for two dudes who don't cook, but I knew it would be a problem for me. So I hunted down a coffee cart on Craigslist and a kitchen island at a garage sale, and those helped turn that depressing space into this:

That was about three years ago, and I LOVE that island. It's not really my style, but it's a total workhorse and there's no way I'd be able to feed myself without it. So, when I woke up to a forecast of crappy weather and absolutely nothing scheduled, I decided to refinish the top.

You know, as one randomly decides to do at 10:30 in the morning on a Saturday.

Some quick Googling confirmed that it's a fairly straightforward process involving my number one activity in the whole wide world: sanding! JOY. You can read the directions from a legit source here, but it basically boils down to: (1) sand with medium grit paper, (2) sand with fine grit paper, (3) sand with even finer grit paper (if you're fancy like me), and (4) wax on, wax off.

So I broke out the trusty power sander and got to work, not realizing until the dust began to fly that, maybe, I should have changed out of my pajamas first.

Eh, whatever.

Here's what the top used to look like:

Lotta rings and water marks going on there, from before I added a protective bottom to my vintage tobacco cans.

Once everything was sanded down and smooth, I wiped away the sawdust and started in with the Feed-N-Wax. Not only is it good for the butcher block, but it makes the wood look pretty and smells like oranges.

And when I was all done, the kitchen island was back to looking shiny and new! Or, at least, as new as it was when I bought it used from some family in Jamaica Plain. MAGIC.

Whoop whoop! So there you go. Adrienne thinks this is "fancy," but as you can see, if a sometimes-idiot like me can do it, pretty much anyone can. (As long as you own a power sander. Which pretty much everyone should anyway. Oh, the FUN that comes with it!)

A Few Things.

by Lisa Lombardi in ,

Happy New Year and all that jazz!

  1. I'm still alive. 
  2. I meant to get out an Operation: Christmas Cheer, Step 3 post before Christmas. Obviously, I failed at that, so let me sum up what it would have consisted of: bake delicious stuff (these turned out surprisingly well for Christmas morning) and watch Christmas movies/shows (Elf, A Muppet Christmas Carol, SNL Christmas Special: check)
  3. Aside from Christmas-related crafting, I lost a lot of my creative drive in December, and am currently fighting against my annual January-induced, month-long malaise. But I have some ideas that might be worth changing out of my pajamas and leaving the house for. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, one of my best friends has finally moved back to the States after way too many years away, and in the process of getting ready to move her stuff out of storage, she unearthed this gem:

Hi, my name is Lisa, and I'm a DIY gifter.

It's not an addiction I'm particularly proud of, and I fully blame Pinterest and HGTV for feeding what was originally an innocent "Hey! I like to make things!" mindset.

I made this for Katie when I was living in Pennsylvania, working at a job I hated in a town I hated more. I had no friends, I lived alone, and I had way, waaaaaay too much free time. Katie's a marine biologist, so it's not a completely random choice of subject matter, but it wasn't until I'd finished it and proudly shared my accomplishment with Adrienne that it was pointed out to me how it bears a certain likeness to a certain part of the male anatomy. 

Yup. High on all that focused crafting excitement, I'd inadvertently made my best friend a three-foot-tall painting of a jellypenis.

This, of course, didn't stop me from giving it to her, because I have no shame. (That same year, I made Adrienne a giant wreath out of dictionary pages for her Christmas present, and had to then construct a house-shaped frankenstein box in order to ship it to her. I've been informed that it almost immediately fell to pieces upon arrival. Those were dark days.)

Nowadays, I try to rein in the urge to automatically (blindly) make someone their gift and, at the very least, pair a small-scale project (ornaments, for example) with something legit that they might actually want. I haven't managed to go cold turkey yet, but I have hope that one day I will be perfectly happy just purchasing nice things for my friends. Nice things that don't look like floating orange penises.

Unless, you know, that's what they asked for.

Operation: Christmas Cheer, Step One

by Lisa Lombardi in ,

Christmas — like birthdays, snow days and New Year's Eve — loses approximately 87% of its magic when you get old enough to start worrying more about bills than whether or not you'll get the Nerf bow and arrow set that you asked for. When you're an adult, it's a choice to get into the holiday spirit, not a given. And now, two weeks into December, after endless days of rain, missed buses, lost wallets, and long workdays, I. am. ready.

Step one for gaining some Christmas cheer: Decorate.

I know, I know. You have a million excuses not to. Christmas is less than two weeks away. Your apartment is tiny. You don't want to spend the money. Blah blah blah. The solution I came up with trumps all those complaints.

Rather than dealing with a full-sized (ha, not gonna happen) or even miniature tree, I snagged a bunch of greenery from a flower shop on my way home from work. I prefer the long needles for a simpler, more classy look, but you go with your gut. For $8, this bunch was hefty enough to perfectly fill an old, industrial-sized olive jar that I had on hand (confession: I've had this since my days of catering in college, hoarded from a food prep day. My only regret is that I didn't snag more). But let's be real, you can't just toss a bunch of branches in a jar and call it a day.

I nested a pint glass inside the jar and surrounded it with old wine corks. On the off-chance that you're not a part-time bartender and don't just have piles and piles (seriously) of these hanging around, feel free to get creative with what you have. Live in the suburbs or the sticks? Collect some pinecones, acorns, or even rocks. Depending on the size of your vessel, you could fill it with clementines — they can get pretty tiny. Even just some plain kraft paper gently crumpled could look lovely. Go crazy. There are no rules, except for maybe one: try not to spend any money.

I filled the pint glass with water to help with making my greenery last and did my best to arrange the bunch into an evenly distributed bouquet. Since my choice of greenery doesn't have very strong branches (it's mostly needles), I opted against putting lights on the tree and went with a garland of gold stars that I had instead (see, Adrienne? I hang on to your gifts, too). The lights that we had from last year's tiny tree were perfect for winding around the base of the arrangement. (If there's one thing I would be okay spending money on, it's lights. They're the secret weapon for easy Christmas decorating and an instant fix of warm and fuzzy feelings.)


Nathan bought some battery operated candles to put in the windows last year, and while I was rummaging around for those, I came across the makeshift marquee I had whipped up then, too. Up it went, along with some candy canes we've had since last December. (Seriously, does anyone actually eat those?)

Note: In my opinion, the easiest way to fill space on a blank or otherwise just awkward wall is with a clothesline arrangement. Whether it's with twine and actual clothespins or fishing line and binder clips, I've used this method in every place I've lived since college. It's great for displaying all your favorite photographs or other two-dimensional keepsakes, it's easy to switch up, and it takes about five minutes to set up. Plus, it's especially useful for holidays and special occasions.

Makeshift tree? Check. Christmas lights? Check. Banner & candy canes? Check. All that was left were the snowflakes.

You learn a lot of important things in the second grade that stay with you for the rest of your life: Don't pick your nose. Stop, drop, and roll. And, most importantly, how to make some pretty sweet snowflakes with just printer paper and safety scissors.

Whether your snowflakes look like authentic cumulus offspring or bizarre, tribal-like symbols, you can take pride in knowing that, either way, they look really cool from the street.

I'll admit that the snowflakes took a little time, but then again, I'm always looking for an excuse to rewatch old episodes of obscure TV series. The rest of it, though? The tree? Took about as long as it did for me to make and enjoy a glass of hot spiced cider and bourbon. (Step 1b to cultivating Christmas cheer: booze.)

You can do it.


by Lisa Lombardi in ,

I received two responses to my chair dilemma. My lovely mother suggested that I simply paint them, to which my immediate thought was, "NEVER." A mysterious second commentator recommended that I bribe my friends with beer and have them help with the sanding. While this was a wise suggestion, I unfortunately have no friends here in Boston that have even the slightest interest in refinishing chairs, and no amount of beer in the world would change that.

So I went with plan C: chemical stripping. It all sounded so simple — paint on the stripping agent (in this case, Citristrip), wait, and then scrape off the finish. It'd be the chemical equivalent of magic, and this dilemma would be solved once and for all!

Based on the tense I'm using to describe this situation and the dead giveaway of the title of this blog post, you can probably guess that it didn't shake down like that. 

Using the tips I made from bartending all day yesterday*, I gathered the necessary supplies and got to work. All of the labels on the bottles I was using were quite ominous, so I opened a bunch of windows, tied on a bandana, donned protective glasses, and grabbed some rubber gloves. Safety first.

Then, I realized that I couldn't breathe or see, so off came the bandana and glasses. Sorry, safety. If I grow a second head or all of a sudden develop respiratory problems, we know what to blame.

The process of applying the Citristrip to the chairs took approximately one hour, or two episodes of Parks & Recreation (highly recommend: The Fight and The Bubble). First, I wiped the chairs down with a TSP solution to remove any gross stuff that would hinder the stripping process; then, I applied thick, even strokes of the Citristrip (note: the online tutorials I read suggested using cheap foam brushes to do this, but both of the ones I bought started to dissolve and fall apart within about twenty minutes of use, so I bought a cheap one with synthetic bristles that held up better). I waited about 45 minutes before trying to scrape a small section: success! The stain was definitely coming off, but the result was nowhere near as light as what I got when sanding. After scraping down as much of the chair as possible, I hit a second snag. Due to the bizarre (but very cool!) design of these chairs, there are small corners and edges that I can't really fit the scraper tool into — which was one of the big problems with the sanding, too. 

Welllllllllll, crap.

After two applications of Citristrip and vigorous scraping, the chairs are noticeably lighter, but also noticeably a mess. Even after wiping down with some mineral spirits, they're sticky and gloppy and will still require sanding.

Do I want to scream in frustration right now? Yes. I am quite downtrodden. However! I know the sanding process will go a lot faster now that several layers of stain have already been removed, and I know that the Citristrip will be handy in those smaller areas that I can't easily reach with the sander. As long as it's only small detail areas, I think I can handle breaking out smaller tools and putting in the time to get it done. 

Now I just need these two failure chairs to completely dry so I can attack with the sander. I've made a self-imposed deadline to have all the heavy-duty, messy work on these chairs done by this time next week. That means by next Sunday, I need to have the power sanders packed up and put away, the dirty drop cloth gone, and the dining room clean of sawdust and bottles of mysterious chemicals.

Challenge accepted. Now, please excuse me while I finally shower and wallow in beer and more old episodes of Parks & Recreation.


*I bartend part-time, picking up shifts at catered events whenever I need some extra funds. My personal rule is that any money I make in tips is mine to spend, guilt-free, on anything I want. Going to the movies, eating out, or — as is most likely — blowing it all at the hardware store? Totally fine. Remember that the next time you don't tip your bartender: you might be preventing her from spending her Sunday breathing in chemical fumes and getting brown goop all over her clothes. What a jerk.