Ask the grumpies: Thanksgiving garage decorations?

kt asks:

Any decor ideas for Garage Thanksgiving?

I love this question!  We’re not really into decorating, so we won’t be doing anything… but….the idea is lovely.

Definitely cinnamon brooms.  I’d probably go for some potpourri action too, or if you have an induction stove I’d put a big pot of heavily spiced apple cider on it to add to the fall fragrance.  Things to make the garage smell less garage-like and more holiday-like.

I asked one of my friends who loves home decor.  Here’s her advice:

I’d set up a table and decorate it like an inside table.  I’d probably get old throw rugs for the ground.  I’d light candles.  Pumpkins.  Mums.

Here’s a google image search on the topic.

Here’s some suggestions for repurposing things that are already in your garage (assuming you don’t just like, keep cars in there).

Someone made a video (the end result is impressive, I think):

Grumpy Nation, I am sure most if not all of you are better at this than we are.  What suggestions do you have for decorating a garage for Thanksgiving or just keeping the air flowing while you eat with loved ones that don’t live with you?  (If we do Thanksgiving with my sister it will be on the deck or in the patio, depending on the weather.)

Adventures in Garage Door opening

Our 25 year old garage door opener remotes suddenly stopped working when trying to close the door.  They still work with garage door opening, which is good, but not closing.  Every once and a while it will allow a close, but mostly not at all.  Otherwise it works fine, and the base garage door button works to open and close all the time.

So we looked online and Google (or in DH’s case, Duck Duck Go) was like, you can do this yourself, but do you really want to?  Google said, expect to pay something like $250 for parts for a top of the line opener and $250 for labor.  More if you want to change out the springs and rollers.

So we brought someone out for an estimate.  He said $1K.  Less for a cheaper opener (so, $850 for a $150 opener).  More if we want to replace the entire system.  (He also said probably the reason we’re having the problem we’re having is someone in our neighborhood got a fancy new electronic gadget that interferes with our signals, which isn’t really fixable– you just have to replace the entire thing).

$1K is definitely over-charging.  There is another place in town with no reviews but DH decided rather than call them out, he’d just make this a fun labor day weekend bonding experience with DC1.

So he ordered a new garage door opener from Home Depot (not sponsored) and picked it up curbside.  After some contemplation he decided he wanted an opener that is quieter and opens faster even if it requires annual maintenance (I would not have made this choice– I would have gone with doesn’t require me to do anything even if it’s slow and loud).  Apparently he got a screw drive, which is the quickest of three types and quieter than the chain (the belt drive is quietist):  chain, belt drive, and screw drive.  He also says he likes screw drives because they’re used in his 3d printer and in robots and although he is not technically a mechanical engineer, he sometimes has played one professionally and in graduate school and he appreciates the technology.  Appreciating the technology drives a lot of our big purchases in Casa Grumpy.  (I would have picked the chain because we’ve got a chain and it seems pretty durable.)  Total cost:  $235.

When he started taking the old opener down, he realized that the builder made a mistake in terms of reinforcement in the middle of the garage door– they misjudged where the middle was, so the studs/joint were too far to the left.  The previous garage door installer just bolted it into the left side and left the right side completely unbolted.  So DH added another piece of wood with wood glue and a bracket (there are physics involved).  He plans to reinforce later.

There were a number of other problems.  Bolts that were put in super tight.  Wires that were too short that he had to extend (he soldered one and capped the rest).  The new opener is a different size so the brackets had to be swapped out and moved. He forgot a screw after putting it in and had to take it out and put it back in again.

All told it took about 7 hours.  DC1 helped off and on, which should be a good learning experience(?)  And now we have a working garage door opener!

DH is thinking about changing out the rollers but not the springs later.  Rollers would be like $25.  We’ll see if it happens.

The new opener is definitely faster than the old one.  DH says it isn’t as loud, but it seems plenty loud to me.

Have you ever had to replace a garage door opener?  Did you pay someone or do it yourself?

We hired a handyman

In the Before-Times, we had some rotting wood.  One of the side doors to the garage was rotting.  Our shed had seen better days.  Some of the boards in our deck needed replacing.

And also, we do not particularly enjoy painting.  We have all (minus DC2) put in time painting this deck of ours over the years and it’s just not our favorite way to spend a weekend.

One of my colleagues had mentioned that he had a handy-man he liked who would do ANYTHING, no matter how small the job.  Mostly he was always pushing doing unlicensed plumbing at less than cost.  (Looking him up online, there’s a DUI, so perhaps he was previously licensed.)  But he always did a reasonably good job (better than my colleague could do anyway) and was pretty cheap.

And so when DH complained about wood rot, I kept saying, look, there’s no need for you to do this yourself if you don’t want to.  We are rich.  Let us hire this guy my colleague recommended.

So we started with the door and he did a great job and it wasn’t too expensive.  Half up front to buy parts, half after to pay for labor.  Then he and his crew basically refaced our entire shed– they just built a shed-like structure around the original walls.  Both of these things look great to my untrained eye, and DH was also pleased.  Those two items cost $2434.50 according to my records.

Then we called them back later after it stopped raining (in the After-Times) and they replaced boards in the deck and repainted it.  That has cost $1125.75– last time we had professional painters come out to just paint it was $600, and when we did a back of the envelope including the cost of the boards, we were expecting another $600 in parts and labor for that, so this seems pretty reasonable.  DH communicated outside with him masked up but the handyman (and high school daughter and other crew person) without masks. : /  I still think this was less risky than a trip to Home Depot would have been, though maybe a bit more risky than if we’d been able to do curbside with the wood, but some of those boards were pretty long so we’d probably have had to rent a truck.  And it’s good to spread money around locally?

The wood replacing is better than DH’s attempts (though probably equally good compared with the board we replaced with DH’s dad many years back.)  The deck paint job isn’t as even as we’d like, but they also didn’t stain our walls like we do.  DH may repaint a couple of the boards where half the board seems to have more coats than the other half.  (We could call them back to fix it, but it seems unnecessary.  Plus it keeps raining.)

It is definitely nice being able to outsource jobs that you don’t want to do.

Do you have a handy-person you like to use?  What kinds of things do you outsource?

How often do you flip your bed?

We try to flip it once a month, though sometimes we don’t and we flip it when it starts getting uncomfortable.

How often do you flip yours?

Adventures in cleaning out the dryer vent

One of the things you might do around the house while working from home these next few weeks is home repair.  But be careful that you don’t get injured!  Now is not a great time to have to go to the emergency room!

We had been noticing that our dryer was taking longer and longer to get things dry.  DH thought maybe our lint tube thingy was clogged again.

Ewww lint clogged tubes

So he vacuumed all the lint areas in the dryer and then bought a snake from home depot and snaked as far as he could snake.  And some stuff came out.  But that just made things worse– he managed to complete clog the tube so no air would come out.

Unfortunately instead of doing something sensible like venting out to the side into our driveway, our dryer vent takes a long tortuous path up and sideways and up to vent in the roof.  That results in a weird little built-out above the cabinets in our utility room.  DH had to take that apart to get to the vent.  Afterwards he had to close it up and paint over it again, but the only picture I have of that has too much of him in it to be anonymous (though you might just think I’m living with a celebrity since he does have a famous look-a-like).

How stupid is this when the driveway is like right there to the right?

Sadly, even after taking this part apart, air still wasn’t going through. Nothing was working. So we did two things.  First, we took the dryer completely apart.  It was clogged and disgusting.  I don’t think this picture fully captures the cloggedness– this is like 70% packed hard dryer lint by volume.  It took effort to pull it all out.

Caked dryer innards.

A grocery bag full of lint from the dryer.

Then, nothing worked to unclog the tube.  DH tried some dumb stuff like taping a box fan in a garbage bag to it (I’m like that does not seem like it could possibly be powerful enough to do anything, but hey, you’re the engineer) and started worrying he’d created a dangerous fire hazard while I determined that if you want someone to fix this for you, you need to hire a chimney sweep company (some plumbers will do it too, but it’s mainly a chimney sweep thing), but none of the sweep companies in a 90 mile radius online serviced our county.  I left a message for one (this being a Sunday when DH tried it), but by the time they called back the next week we’d already solved the problem ourselves.

So… the second thing we tried, the one that solved the problem was buying an electric leaf blower.  Now, I HATE leaf blowers with a fiery passion and we continuously remind our lawn service that we don’t want the sidewalks blown (at least they asked this year instead of just “forgetting”).  But… we needed the clog fixed before something sparked a fire and we had loads of laundry to do!  And an electric leaf blower was probably going to be less expensive than hiring someone from the nearest city and paying time for driving out here.  (Why electric:  because we don’t want a gas motor running inside the house, the same reason we had to run a generator outside the house that time DH forgot to get our electricity turned back on over 4th of July weekend.)  Buying the leafblower was just a little more expensive than renting and saved a trip back to home depot.  It is now in our shed for the next time we need to unclog something.

The electric leaf blower was impressive.  It looked like it was snowing.  Worked like a charm in only a few minutes.

After the bulk had floated down and been captured for disposal. Some still remains on the roof.

Lint snow on our plants. In our driveway. Where it the vent could have just, you know, vented.

And… now our laundry dries in 50-60 minutes again.  Even full up.  WHEW.

Though this whole debacle did add a lot of dust to the house and DC2 and I both got hives and had to take Zyrtec until DH and DC1 vacuumed/wiped everything down.  Perhaps we should have taken the dryer apart outside and started with the electric leaf blower.

Disclaimer:  If you try this at home, please read up a lot on how best to do it and for goodness sakes, do not do anything that could get you injured.  At least not until the covid-19 vaccine is available (12-18 months from now…) and you’ve gotten it.

Is it time to buy a new clothes washer?

We have had our fancy front-loading Frigidaire clothes washer for almost as long as we’ve been in this house, well over a decade.  (It took a couple months to save up to buy nice appliances, so we spent some time going to the laundromat after moving here rather than buying the cheapest models right away.)

Throughout this time, DH has replaced the electronic board, the motor, the door handle, and I’m probably forgetting what else.

Most recently the washer developed an internal leak which we discovered this summer after getting back from a week long conference/vacation and finding the drum partly full of water.  DH replaced the internal part that the leak likely sprung from, but the occasional load of laundry still smells musty.*  Worse than that, I appear to be heavily allergic to whatever is causing the must smell– I develop instant hives, particularly on my stomach area, and lately have been fearful of putting on clothing.  Our first step was to follow online instructions for cleaning and we did a hot vinegar load.  Then we did a hot bleach load.  Then DH did a deep clean of every part of the washer that didn’t involve taking it apart (likely the problem is something yucky still underneath the drum).  Most loads now are fine, especially when I also add vinegar in the fabric softener/bleach inputs.  But there are enough occasional loads that are somewhat off that I currently have ugly looking red marks where my pants hit my stomach.

DH’s final attempt was to do a load with an industrial solvent called CLR (for Calcium, Lime, and Rust).  Since then I’ve been able to wear clothing that’s been washed, but I’m (understandably, I think) still worried.  Plus the clothes washer itself still doesn’t smell great all the time.  (I wonder if we should suspect another leak…)

Now, DH could take apart the entire clothes washer and give it a thorough internal scrub… but it would eat up a weekend and who knows what the next thing to break will be.  (We could also pay someone to clean it, but I suspect a repair person would just tell us to get a new machine.)

I am really tempted to just get a new machine.  DH had decided if the CLR load didn’t result in wearable shirts for me that he would buy a new one over the weekend while I was gone at a conference.  But then I was fine with the next load.  So now we’re undecided.  Figuring out what front-loading washer to buy next is going to be a pain.  None of the “best of” lists seem to agree with each other, and I think we probably *don’t* want a smart model because I am willing to be that will be the part that breaks first while being non-trivial to repair.  But who knows, maybe we do?

We still have our ancient refrigerator.

How do you decide to get new appliances like washing machines?  If you can afford it, is removing potential emotional distress a viable reason?  (But what about the potential distress from potentially buying an expensive new lemon?)

*Between loads we leave all the doors open to air out, and always have.  We’ve been using best practices to avoid must problems.  DH reads the manual to whatever new appliance we get and follows it.

AIEEE ROACH in my closet

Pooping on my clothing


After DC1 was born we stopped letting the exterminator spray inside.

We’re making an exception now.

Roach poop looks like mouse droppings.

DH convinced me not to burn the house down.

We cleaned all my clothing, moved my shoes out to the patio, washed the walls, vacuumed in depth, put out roach traps, called the exterminator and he sprayed the attic, the garage, the patio, my closet, and our bathroom.

He found no other evidence of roaches, and DH only found the one roach (it was big though! and on one of my dresses!) and said that if we see any more he would bring scarier chemicals.

Also I’m allergic to roaches according to my post DC2 allergy test and am getting a lot fewer hives now.  This is the first chance I’ve had to test that allergy.  Thank goodness.  Oh man I hate them so much.  (Though to be fair I’m also allergic to dust and getting everything clean helps with that too.)

My friend says at least it wasn’t bedbugs.

DH talks about creating a screen door kludge

Here is another post from DH, this time about getting some airflow into our home office when the weather is nice (without losing our cat to the great outdoors).

Over 18 months ago, on a nice Fall day, we started talking about the possibility of putting a screen door in our office, which has a french patio door to the outside [1-door]. The office can get stuffy, and in Spring or Fall if we open the door the breeze is wonderful. Unfortunately, between cats and mosquitoes, we cannot just open the door [ed: or buy one of those dangly screens], we need a screen door there.

First plan, spend some time looking at pre-built wooden screen doors, but I couldn’t figure out how I would attach them. The door opens outward, so we could not just put a screen door on the outside. The frame around the door isn’t shaped to put a screen door on the inside, and the office is crowded enough that having anything opening inwards would be undesirable. So I gave up on just getting a screen door.

Second plan, shop the friendly-neighborhood home improvement store. Their website had a dutch door that could be purchased with a screen in the top half. Unfortunately when I talked to the representative, it was outside of my price range, something like $3k. While there I picked up a retracting screen, but when we put it up on the wall its large cylinder looked out of place on the frame. I think they also sell the magnet-close drapes, but I didn’t like the looks of those either.

Third plan, my dad came and looked it over. He’s quite the handyman, and often he has ideas that are marvels of simplicity and utility. His conclusion was to have a professional do a custom replacement for the door. That’s a good option, but I wasn’t convinced I was out of options, and a custom door replacement sounded like it could be expensive.

Final plan, make a custom screen. About a year after the third plan fizzled, I had a eureka moment when I realized we didn’t need a “screen door”, we just wanted a screen that covered the door opening [ed: that the cat couldn’t slip out through]. The hard part of this project is the constraints due to the existing door, the existing frame, and the limited space in the room. By creating a screen of the correct size, we just need a place to store it, and a way to hold it in place when in use.

The storage space is easy; with a removable screen we can just slide it behind the filing cabinet that’s right next to the door frame. After an hour or so of websurfing, I found out the holding-in-place aspect is also pretty easy via “casement clips” screwed into the door frame. All that was left was to get/make a screen (and then fix all the little things that would invariably go awry). [2-screen]

It turns out that making your own screen is really straightforward with the use of these plastic corner pieces. [3-corners] One just needs screen frame pieces, screen material, spline that holds the screen in the channel in the screen frame, and (optional but recommended) a spline tool to put it all together. [4-materials] Since this was going to be a tall screen, I went with the biggest frame pieces I could, 7/16″, and I bought extra to add a crossbar or two, along with the “crossbar clips”. To start, cut the frame pieces to the correct size (take into account the size of the corner pieces), and push in the corner pieces. [5-screenCorner] For crossbars, push the crossbar clips into pieces of frame and then the other end of the clip into the channel of the frame, where it will be held by the spline and screen. [6-crossbarConnector] Unfortunately, I was not able to find any 7/16″ crossbar clips, so I epoxied some 5/16″ clips into my 7/16″ frame. Lie the screen material over the frame. Check for any rips or cuts in the screen now (voice of experience). Then use the spline roller to push the spline into the channel, and cut off the excess screen material. There are a plethora of video guides online for this part so watch a couple to get the details. The tension in the screen holds everything together. With the screen assembled, screw the casement clips into the frame. [7-rightClip] The clips I bought use spacers so they can work for different sizes of screen frames, which was nice because on the left side of the door the door frame lip is higher than on the right side. [8-clip] Since I was worried about splitting the frame, I pre-drilled the holes and used painter’s tape to mark the approximate depth on the drill bit. [9-drillBit]

That’s what I should have done, but instead I did a test fit after I put the frame corners in, but before I added the screen. The test fit itself went great, but since I already had the screen frame put up against the doorframe, I decided to go ahead and screw in the casement clips. Unfortunately, I underestimated the flexibility of the screen frame and how much it would bow due to the screen tension. So after installing the screen, the clips barely held the frame.

I didn’t want a strong wind to blow the screen down, so on the left side I added some spacers/bumpers at the clips. That way we could just push the screen into the doorframe and then push it to the left until the bumpers hit the wall. In that position the clips would overlap the screenframe and the screenframe would completely cover the door opening. [10-leftClipAndSpacer] I made the bumpers out of Sugru since it is durable and easy to work with. Then on the right side, I moved both casement clips to a tight fit. I used the screw tip to mark the hole placement. [11-markingHole] Then I drilled the new hole and installed the clip. [12-movedRightClip] To fill in the old screw hole, I checked to see if a golf tee would fit, but the hole was too thin. Normally I would then use woodglue as a filler, but I happened to have a hot glue gun handy, so I tried that. I’m not sure if it was a good idea, but it worked. I smoothed the surface by carefully shaving any high points with a knife edge, then I applied a coat of white paint and sanded it. [13-oneCoat] Finally I applied another three light coats of white paint. [14-threeCoats] The doorframe has some texture, so the patches aren’t noticeable, and I took the opportunity to touch up some other places where the paint had been rubbed off the doorframe.

There was one other issue, which was the top/bottom fit. The doorframe has a very slight lip where the metal plate sticks out. [15-baseLip] My plan had been to rest the screenframe on that lip, and I assumed that the casement clips would hold the frame tight all the way down to the bottom. In reality, the screenframe is flexible enough that it would just slip off and fall to the wood floor, which left a slight gap at the top of the door. First I tried adding weatherstripping foam at the top and bottom of the screen frame, but it did not seem sufficient. So I used more Sugru to add three feet [ed:  the little bump kind of foot, not the 12 inches kind of foot] to the outside face at the bottom of the screenframe, and those feet rest on the metal plate to hold the screen up. [16-foot]

Looking back, this project taught me several things about making screens, but I wouldn’t change any of the core ideas. The screen works, it looks nice enough, and it stays out of the way when not in use. If we decide to sell the place, I can just remove the casement clips and patch the holes before we show the place to buyers. Most importantly, DW [ed:  that’s me!] was right that having a screen “door” there is wonderful, and I’m glad I was finally able to make it happen.

Making a hole in the wall look pretty while still being accessible

Long-time readers may recall that a while back we got a whole-house water filter.  It was a saga.  One of the things they had to do was cut holes in the drywall, which they then taped back up.   Since one of the holes was in DH’s closet, he decided to make it prettier.  Then he wrote up this post and sent it to me.

Picture of a square hole in the wall and ugly tape marks

The hole

The plumbers had to cut into the closet to access the pipes when they installed the whole house water filter. When they were done, they just used duct tape to stick the drywall plug back in the hole. The duct tape looked pretty hacky, though luckily it is in a really out-of-the-way spot (the corner of a closet, right beside a built-in, right above the baseboard).

I like having access to pipes/manifolds, so I didn’t want to just seal/patch over the hole. I wanted a framed door, and could not figure out how to make one easily. So instead, I glued the frame (really baseboard I hand-cut to fit) to the drywall plug, added a knob (with a large washer in back to spread out the force on the drywall), and touched up the paint.

The resulting “door” looks much better, and it just pulls out. It could almost just stand up by itself, but was slightly tilting forward and would fall out, so I added a small square of velcro to the top of the frame to hold it to the wall.

I’m pretty happy with the way it turned out. If I were to do it again: 1) I found it hard to cut the 45 degree angles on the baseboard by hand since we don’t have a table saw, so I would see if I could get Home Depot to cut at least a couple of them nicely, and 2) I don’t like the way the velcro is visible from the top and it results in a gap between the frame and the wall, so I would probably try removing the velcro and instead placing some kind of foam around the drywall plug so that it would be held in the hole by the force of the foam around it. I should probably still go around that corner of the closet with putty to fill in the various little gaps.

So I (#1) think that’s pretty cool.  I don’t normally pay much attention to aesthetics, but this is a really nice example of form follows function.  We had long discussions about how to make this area look nicer while still allowing access, and, importantly, letting future home-owners/renters know that there’s something important back there should they need access (say there’s a leak or a plug).  Making an actual door would be too much effort and would probably allow drafts in (given hinges etc.), but this looks like a door so it signals that there’s something behind there, while still looking pretty.  We also discussed the merits of velcro vs. magnets, but magnets are potentially more dangerous (given kids and animals), and it’s not like this is going to be opened and closed frequently enough to make the velcro wear out.

Help me with countertops! (Please?)

Grumpy Nation!  I need your help!

So… we want to have countertops made out of quartz (or granite) that look like marble.

There are… options.

Which one?

Home Depot has two companies that make quartz.  One is Silestone and the other is Viatera.  Here’s the pictures we took at Home Depot and then the one on the right is the two Viatera samples we picked up (they didn’t have any other samples — that third picture shows minuet, a quarter, then rococo, and they’re on top of our current terrible countertop).

The main difference between the different kinds of marble-ish quartz seems to be density and darkness of the grey lines.  Rococo is busier than Minuet.  White Arabesque is busier than Snow Ibiza and so on.

Also there’s two different types of marble that the quartz is trying to imitate.  Calacatta marble is the one with the fat long marbling– it reminds me of bathrooms more than kitchens, and the quartz example counter at Home Depot looked like formica to me (though oddly, there was a great looking formica knockoff– if only you couldn’t see the seams).  I like Carerra style marble instead– that’s the one with the shorter lines.  (I guess there’s also statuary marble, but I haven’t seen any quartz knock-offs for that– probably some of what I think is Calacatta is actually imitating statuary, but without any additional color.)

One problem that I have is that I cannot extrapolate those small samples to an entire counter.  Are the busy ones too busy?  The sparse ones too sparse?

Viatera has a great webpage with lots of pictures of their different options.  When you click on a stone, it shows you a slab and pictures of completed counters.  The Silestone page is a nightmare to navigate.   (I am also really irritated with a half-dressed Cindy Crawford [only wearing a top, for tops on tops, get it?] sitting on a kitchen counter on their first page and if you accidentally click it, you see a guy WEARING SHOES standing on top of another counter.  I MAKE FOOD ON THAT COUNTER.   GET OFF.  Also, WTF, aren’t women making most of these design decisions?  Supermodels are not doing it for me.)

I found a fantastic discussion on a houzz forum with pictures talking about quartz alternatives for marble.

The prices in the first picture are mostly the “non-sale” prices because apparently there’s some kind of sale going on, but it isn’t an easy to explain one, so I don’t actually know how much they cost or even their prices compared to each other.

What should I be thinking about as we decide on a countertop design?  How are we going to decide among all of these different kinds?

How thick?

The internet thinks I should be choosing between 2 cm with 3 cm edging or just straight up 3cm.  But home depot only seems to have 2 cm and 4 cm?  I’m not really sure that’s true though… How should we decide on thickness?


Almost all the kitchen countertops we’ve seen online have either sharp rectangular corners or softer “eased” rectangular corners.  But there’s a huge wealth of different edging options. Should we just do what everyone else is doing or are there benefits to other forms of edging?

Other recommendations?

We have no idea what we’re doing.  Any suggestions on counterops would be highly welcome?

Grumpy nation!  Help a grumpeteer out!

p.s.  Several of my colleagues have built their houses from scratch and that sounds like a nightmare.  I get anxious just imagining it!