Make-It Monday: DIY phone speakers

Several weeks ago, I wandered down the book aisle at Lowe’s. The book aisle is the main reason I can’t be trusted at a hardware store without adult supervision. I start thumbing through some home-improvement book, thinking about all the stuff I’d like to learn to do, and the next thing you know, Ron is coming home from work to find the bathroom sink on the curb and me sitting on the bathroom floor with a wrench in my hand, tightening the supply-line valves on our brand-new faucets. (This has happened twice, and given the condition of our current vanity, I think the odds are fairly high it’s going to happen again as soon as I find a sink I like.)

Ron was with me this time, so I just came home with a copy of 5-Gallon Bucket Book by Chris Peterson.

Anybody who’s ever walked through a feed store with me already knows I can’t resist a 5-gallon bucket. They’re just so bloody practical. I’ve got one I use for cleaning the pond, one for cleaning the quail pen, one in the backyard that Ron uses as a dog-poop receptacle, one for mixing laundry detergent, one with a spigot attached for filtering honey, one in the basement for mixing cold-process soap, two on the porch for growing plants, and one tucked in a cabinet for use as a trash can.

Some of the projects in 5-Gallon Bucket Book are kind of goofy, but some seemed practical (swamp cooler, pond filter, worm bin), and a handful were intriguing enough, I thought they might be worth trying later.

One of the intriguing projects was an acoustic speaker dock, which I built last week from a pair of buckets, a 10-inch length of 2-inch PVC pipe, and a couple of PVC slip couplings.

The instructions called for sealing the whole thing with PVC cement and silicone caulk, but I skipped that step so I can disassemble the system and store it easily when I’m not using it.

I think the finished product — pictured above (minus the iPhone itself, which I used to take the photo) — works pretty well for listening to Joni Mitchell while I’m cleaning the house on a lazy Saturday afternoon, and it would make a killer science-fair project for one of my nieces or nephews in a few years.

Emily

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Sunday Self-Care: A virtual ride down Route 66

I have kind of a long-term goal — nothing really pressing, but just something I’ve thought might be cool to do — of pedaling the equivalent of the length of Route 66 on our stationary bike. About a year ago, I got on Google Maps and planned rides in increments of anywhere from 7 to 35 miles, following the road from landmark to landmark. I entered that information into Excel, printed out a chart, and hung it in the basement, where it’s been sitting, mostly ignored, for months. I noticed it a couple of weeks ago when I was testing out the new bike Ron bought after the old one broke down, and I decided to give it another go, just for fun.

I’ve logged over 100 miles in the past couple of weeks. It was easier than I expected, even with the tension turned up on the bike, and it’s a comfortable way to burn a few calories and generate a few much-needed endorphins while I wait for spring.

I don’t have the time, money, or endurance to go out and take a real ride down Route 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles right now, but this virtual trip is kind of a nice way to revisit favorite attractions in my head and daydream about where I’d like to explore on our next road trip.

By the way, 100 miles puts me somewhere south of the Route 66 Museum in Pontiac. If I were really on Route 66, I’d have started at the “Begin 66” sign in Chicago and passed the Berwyn Route 66 Museum, the site of the late, great Wishing Well Motel, Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket, White Fence Farm, Haunted Trails, Route 66 Raceway, the Gemini Giant (pictured above), the site of the fabulous Riviera Roadhouse, Ambler’s Texaco, Odell Station, and the Pontiac Route 66 Museum.

Emily

Eco-Saturday: Incense energy audit

Want to find all the spots in your house that are making your furnace work overtime? Grab a stick of incense and a lighter and spend a few minutes performing a sort of informal energy audit. Here’s how:

1. Shut off the furnace and any fans you might have running.
2. Raise all the blinds and pull back the curtains.
3. Light a stick of incense. Holding it very steady, pass it around the edges of all your windows, doors leading to unheated spaces, and electrical outlets and switches on exterior walls. Use a slow, steady motion, and pull the stick away from the burning end rather than pushing toward it. As you move, watch the smoke. It should rise smoothly from the burning end of the stick. If it shimmies, pulses, or otherwise appears to be disturbed, you have an air leak that needs to be sealed. (You’ll also want to pay attention to the burning end, taking care to keep it from touching curtains or other flammable materials, and be sure to have something handy to use as an ashtray as you work.)
4. Make a note of all the places you found leaks, and find an appropriate method to seal them.

If you find leaks around windows, the easiest solution is to seal them with plastic film; if you’re feeling ambitious, you can also insulate the panes themselves with bubble wrap or make Roman shades out of blankets to put an extra layer of warmth between the great outdoors and your living space. You can plug leaks under doors with an inexpensive DIY draft stopper made from rice and fabric remnants. You can buy insulating shields for electrical outlets and light switches, but I prefer to make my own for free out of the polystyrene trays that come with meat and some produce at the grocery store.

You won’t find every single source of wasted energy with a stick of incense, but in the absence of a professional energy audit — which can get pricey if your utility company doesn’t offer them for free — it’s a good, inexpensive jumping-off point to help you identify some of the most easily mitigated culprits. A stick of incense and an a little elbow grease can go a long way toward reining in high heating bills.

Emily

Vegetarian Friday: Cheddar soup

I’ve seen various versions of this recipe floating around online. Most of them are obscenely high-calorie, unduly complicated, make way bigger batches than anybody really wants to eat, or can’t be accessed without scrolling through somebody’s elaborately monetized blog that takes forever to load, so as usual, I glanced at ingredient lists and photos on Pinterest and then riffed on the general idea. Ron liked the results, and he never likes cream-type soups.

Ingredients
12 baby carrots
1 small potato
2 leeks
3 ribs celery
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. flour
1 bottle Newcastle or similar ale
1/2 tsp. salt
2-3 bay leaves
2 c. skim milk
2/3 c. veggie broth
4 oz. cream cheese
1 1/2 c. shredded cheddar

Chop up carrots and steam in the microwave until soft. (The easiest way to do this: Throw the carrots in a bowl with about a tablespoon of water, cover with a saucer, and nuke for 5-6 minutes.)

Chop the leeks and celery (note: Just use the white and light-green parts of the leeks — not the leaves) and saute in olive oil until soft. Add 2 tbsp. flour and cook over low heat until flour starts to brown, stirring constantly. Deglaze the pan with part of the beer, then add the rest slowly, stirring as you add it. Add salt and bay leaves.

Bring beer-leek mixture to a boil over medium heat. While beer is cooking, dice the potato and cook it in the microwave until soft. (I just poked a hole in mine, stuck it in there on the baked-potato setting, and then diced it, using a clean cloth to handle it so I didn’t burn my fingers. The peel came right off that way, and it was easier to cut.)

The carrots give the soup a yellowish tinge even before you add the cheddar.
The carrots give the soup a yellowish tinge even before you add the cheddar.

Add milk and veggie broth to the pan and simmer over low heat until the bay leaf starts to release its flavor. (You’ll know this is happening because it will suddenly start to smell awesome.) Add cream cheese and let it melt, stirring occasionally.

Remove bay leaves, stir in diced potato and cheddar cheese, and serve. Makes about 4 big servings.

Hot, thick soup and a heavy-bodied beer make a nice dinner on a cold day.
Hot, thick soup and a heavy-bodied beer make a nice dinner on a cold day.

This soup is especially nice on a cold day, accompanied by a good English or Irish beer.

Emily

Folk Thursday: Harry Belafonte

The quality of the recording is a bit dodgy, but this is magnificent. The YouTube poster says it was recorded in December 1969. Some of those wounds were still pretty fresh in December 1969 — and when Harry Belafonte sings¬†about “my old friend Martin,” he’s not just reciting lyrics; he’s remembering a¬†beloved friend, taken much too soon.

Emily

Tiny Tuesday: Storage cubes

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, our bedroom isn’t quite big enough to accommodate a queen-sized bed and a standard dresser or chest of drawers without feeling extremely cramped. For a while, I settled for plastic storage drawers, which are stackable, take up relatively little floor space, and came in handy when we moved, but they’re awfully ugly, and it didn’t take long for me to get tired of looking at them.

I found an inexpensive, attractive solution in the form of cheap storage cubes.

When I repainted the bedroom last year, I bought a six-cube unit and a set of faux-seagrass baskets to go in it and started using it as a dresser. It worked so well, I outfitted a nine-cube unit with little doors and cheap fabric bins for Ron a few months later.

My storage-cube dresser. Excuse the wonkiness. I had to shoot this from an odd angle, and the bedroom is small.
My storage-cube dresser. Excuse the wonkiness. I had to shoot this from an odd angle, and the bedroom is small.

Each cube holds less than a standard dresser drawer would, of course, but we store our bulkiest clothes in the closet (slacks and jeans on hangers and sweatshirts on hanging shelves), so we don’t need huge drawers. The cubes provide adequate storage for T-shirts, socks, underwear, and a few broomstick skirts, and their smaller footprints make them easy to tuck into spaces that would be too small for a dresser.

Ron's storage-cube dresser.
Ron’s storage-cube dresser.

I’ve seen storage cubes used in all sorts of configurations in tiny houses, where their low profile allows them to function as an inexpensive alternative to custom built-ins. A quick Pinterest search will turn up all sorts of bed frames, benches and desks fashioned from the ubiquitous shelves, and I personally have used them as nightstands, a faux-mid-century credenza, and even a stylish dog bed (which Lillian promptly snubbed in favor of curling up on our bed instead — and yes, that’s her fun-fur blankie in the top picture).

Emily

Sustainability on a shoestring