Friday, July 7, 2017

The Backyard Playground Project: The Ridiculously Long-Overdue Update

Not long after I started this blog, I started a project. Remember this...? 

HI, indeed. It's okay if you don't remember. It was 8 years ago. 

In 2009, I took what used to be my childhood play structure, which had rotted away except for the 4x4 support poles, and started rebuilding it. But I didn't want to just make a copy of my old play structure. I wanted to take the essential elements, get creative, and make it my own.

I called this endeavor the Backyard Playground Project, and I blogged about it three times. (Part 1Part 2Part 3). And then... I never did another update. After some time went by, I thought, I'll update again when the playground structure is finished. Problem was, it's never been "finished." I'm always adding things. I may always be adding things. Forever.

But it's always bugged me that I never did another update after 2009. So today I finally went out and took pictures. Ta da! This is what the Backyard Playground Project looks like, as of July, 2017....

(Please excuse all the leaves & weeds!)

So what's been added since the last update? I'll try to go in chronological order.

I covered one of the sides of the lower clubhouse with 2x6 cedar boards. So now one side is completely walled. Another is walled except for an opening door. The third side is open, though a ladder blocks part of it. The fourth side has horizontal bars across it, but light can enter that side, and small child could crawl through the bars. 

It's a nice place to be. It's cozy and secretive without being dark and creepy.

I added two more locks to the little door inside. These have been one of the most popular features among little kids over the years. Kids love playing with those locks!

These painted wood circles on the sides of the ladder were added in early 2010, I think. A neighbor of mine was kind enough to saw a branch into 1/2 inch rounds for me, and I got some of my little cousins to paint them. I applied a sealant so the paint would not fade; then I nailed them on. They add just a touch of color.

They've really held up well, except for their bark... this is one of the few that still has its bark.

My only regret with these is that I wish I'd had the the kids (who painted them) put their names on them!

The slide was added in the early years as well. We got it at Home Depot. You may remember I was originally going to put a fireman pole there, but... for various reasons, I didn't go that route, and now there's a slide there instead. The green color of it is great because it actually sort of blends in with its surroundings. No eyesores, here!

It's not perfectly centered, as you can see, because we needed to give that cherry tree on the right some extra clearance.

I added a 2x4 across the top of the black chinup bar, for structural bracing/support reasons. I will say, this play structure seems very secure. Wobble, it does not.

Below is an example of "it's not quite finished, but here's a picture anyway"... originally what I did here was loop an old rope around these 2x4s, so it kind of looked like part of a pirate ship or something. But after a few years, the rope rotted, and I haven't replaced it yet. 

The last time my 2.5-year-old niece was here, she asked if this was a ladder. Which tells me... I need to go buy some new rope and put it on already.

I found this wooden window frame/planter at Good Will or somewhere and nailed it to one of the sides of the lower clubhouse, just for decoration.

I decided I wanted a second way for kids to climb to the upper level, so I added a "rock wall" to this side. Those "rocks" are just wood pieces that I chiseled, sanded and painted to have a rock-ish shape and color. They are attached through both their fronts and backs by screws, and can even hold my weight.

See that little dot above the door and to the left of the middle "rock"? That's a peephole, like for a front door. Kids inside the clubhouse can look and see who's at the door before unlocking it. :) (I've had some good times playing The Three Little Pigs with my little cousins.)

Remember the "HI" shape from the original picture? In the old days, there were monkey bars going across there, but during the remodel I actually used the rungs from the monkey bars to make the ladder. This time around, I installed a 6x6 cedar beam across there instead. Later, I installed two heavy-duty swing holders. That was a pain! But it's been great having a place to hang swings ever since. Years ago we picked up a bluish-green baby swing, which has gotten a lot of use....

Of course, I could have saved some money and effort by buying smaller swing hangers, if I only ever intended kids' swings to hang there. But I knew someday I'd want to get a hammock swing for me!

And so I have. 

Yeah, so this swing is currently attached with rope and is not utilizing the hangers at all, but that will soon change. I was merely testing it out today. I like it so far! Very comfy.

You may remember that one of my early aspirations was to have a marble run going along the side of the play structure. This never worked out. Long story. Ask me about it sometime if you're interested in the methods I tried and failed at.

Instead, I just added more fun things to the inside!

This valve, which turns like a ship's wheel, was purchased at the liquidation sale for the show Grimm.  I got it on one of the last days of the sale, so it ended up being cheap, and now I have a souvenir!

These red plastic gears, picked up who-knows-where, also can spin...

This I love....

 I got it at one of those industrial antique places. I don't know what it was used for originally (if anyone knows, please lmk!) but I drilled a hole into the wood, then attached this in front of the hole. What with the depth of the metal circle and the depth of the hole I drilled, there's just enough room to hide a small object or two.

So... I think that covers everything?

Like I said before, the most popular element has been the locking door. However, the swing has gotten a lot of use. Some kids like the slide a lot. Others, especially preschoolers, seem to think it goes a bit too fast.

My niece really likes playing on the lower bar, though I can't take credit for that, since that was part of the original structure.

The rock-climbing wall has never really caught on, but I'm glad there's something there, and who knows... maybe when my nieces are a little older they'll discover it.

I had so many ideas when beginning the Backyard Playground Project in 2009. Some ideas never made it, but that's okay. I'm happy with the way it has turned out. If I could change one thing, I think I would've built some kind of steps, rather than a ladder, to reach the upper level. The ladder, with its metal rungs, is a little iffy for small kids. Oh well... recycled materials = yay!

And, of course, if I had more space, I'd expand... build a suspension bridge... go crazy....

But this is what it is.

Stay tuned for my next update in, uh, 2025!

Monday, June 12, 2017


So there's this show called Flea Market Flip, where people go to flea markets and buy junky furniture for cheap, spruce up the items with fabric or paint or whatnot, then turn around sell the things for $300 a pop at another flea market. Brilliant!

Sometime last winter, between my 17th and 18th hour of binge-watching the show, I decided I, too, needed to reupholster something. Anything. Watch out, nearby ottoman, I'm coming for ya!

Alas, I couldn't exactly recreate the creative process of the show, since flea markets are far and few between around here, but we do have a lot of thrift stores. That's where I met this little bench. He cost $6.

Now, I know the cushion may look gray in that photo, but let me assure you, it was brown. Mud brown. Stale chocolate brown. Kindergarten Carpet Square brown. It had to go. And I could do it! Sure, I'd never reupholstered anything in my life, but how hard could it be? There were even instructions on the bottom of the stool!

So first step, unscrew cushion from legs.

So far, so good. Now, to remove the staples....

Staples... that really don't want to be removed....

Not from the first layer....

And not from the second layer of 80s grandma-y goodness....

I didn't even get a picture of the orange foam layer, below that! But you can kind of see it peeking through, there.

At last, after days of prying up staples and swearing, I reached the wooden base. There were still more staples to pry out. I lost count of how many I extracted altogether, but if I had to guess I'd say 902.

After taking a two day rest from the project, it was time to begin putting on the new batting & fabric. My mother offered to help me with this. Which meant she took over. In hindsight, I think she got the easy part of the project. Or at any rate, the fun part.

For the new cushion cover, I went with some fabric I'd bought several years ago, intending to make pillow cases. We began the process of stretching and stapling.

At last, the cushion was finished. It wasn't perfect, but by that point, I didn't care. 

It was on... sort of...

The original screws in the stool now wouldn't work because we'd put so much padding on this stool. They weren't long enough to keep the cushion pinned to the frame. I had to go find longer screws in our garage, and they ended up being mismatched, but IT'S OVER NOW AND NOBODY WILL KNOW.

Except you. You will know.

So that was that. And I even had enough material left over to make a pillow case!

But I'm done with furniture projects, now. Really. Over it.

Until the next Flea Market Flip marathon, anyway....

Favorite TV Shows: June, 2017 Edition

 Favorite TV Shows: June, 2017 Edition

 (Previously: January, 2011, May, 2012May, 2013May 2014May 2015, May 2016)

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

My Top 5 Shows That Are Currently Airing (Or Have Aired Within The Past 6 Months), Regardless Of Whether Or Not I'm Caught Up With All The Episodes...

1. We Bare Bears
2. The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
3. Call The Midwife
4. Jeopardy
5. Flea Market Flip

What The Above List Looked Like Last Year (May 2016):

1. The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
2. Call The Midwife
3. Rick Steves' Europe
4. Jeopardy
5. The Goldbergs

Guilty Pleasures I Like To Watch On Cable When I'm Housesitting:

1. Flea Market Flip
2. Salvage Dawgs
3. Endless Yard Sale
4. Barnwood Builders
5. Any random renovation show

Shows I've Been Watching Via Netflix, YouTube or on DVD Lately:

1. Friends (Season 3)
2. Buffy The Vampire Slayer (Season 2-3)
3. MST3K (New series)
4. Anne With An E
5. Switched At Birth (Season 1)
6. Abstract: The Art Of Design
7.  Once Upon A Time (Season 1)
8. Community (Season 5)

Shows I Need To Catch Up On/Finish Watching:

1. MST3K
2. Call The Midwife
3. Switched At Birth

Shows I'd Like To Check Out:

1. ???

Shows I Said I'd Like To Check Out Last Year:

1. Firefly (Still haven't watched it! Oh well.)

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Sometimes They Come Back

A few years ago, if you had asked me if I'd like to have one of my favorite fandoms/franchises come back into the light, I'd have given you a resounding "yes!" Remakes, reboots, sequels, updates (for brevity: "revivals")... any of these would certainly make me happy, for one or more of the following reasons:

*A revival would signify that my fandom still had value & importance.

*A revival would potentially bring new people to the fandom, increasing its overall "value."


*Something new to watch and enjoy.

For years, it seemed like everybody else's fandoms got shiny new shows, remakes, and sequels, while my fandoms sat idly back in history, remembered by few and forgotten by most. My brother's favorite franchises, in particular, always seemed to be thriving. He liked James Bond (currently at 26 films), Star Wars (8-odd films, with more to come), and Star Trek (currently clocking in at 12 movies and 6 shows).

My fandoms didn't produce as much material, and certainly not as often as my brothers' did. Mine also went through some serious dry spells. My fandoms have included Lois & Clark (canceled in 1997), Mystery Science Theater 3000 (canceled in 1999), The Pretender (2001), Harry Potter (last book in 2007; last movie in 2011), DuckTales (canceled in 1990), Indiana Jones (a 19-year film gap between films III and IV), Nancy Drew (mediocre TV movie in 2002, rotten film in 2007), Beauty and the Beast, Back To The Future, Anne Of Green Gables, Full House, and Pride & Prejudice.

Back To The Future, one my favorites (both as a kid and a young adult), had two sequels (1989 & 1990) as well as an animated TV series, so that was fortunate for us fans. I also loved Beauty and the Beast (1991), which... um, well, also had 2 sequels (horrific abominations that they are.) Another fave of mine, My Girl (1991) got a sequel in 1994, which I really liked. On the other hand, Father Of The Bride, a favorite go-to film of my preteen years, had a less-desirable sequel of its own in 1995. Father Of The Bride Part 2 may have been my first indication, at the tender age of 15, that revivals aren't always great.


Then there are remakes & updates. The two that stand out for me are The Parent Trap (original: 1961/remake: 1998) and Freaky Friday (original: 1976, remakes: 1995 and 2003). Both of the original films had a fun premise, but by the 90's, it was clear the earlier versions needed updating. The original Parent Trap has a weird, sort of flippant encounter with domestic violence, and the girls dancing to Annette Funicello records is just a bit too old-fashioned to even be quaint. The original Freaky Friday mom is stuck in an antiquated female role (Dishwashing! Cleaning! Mending! Baking!) and seems to like it, while the dad is a sexist douche. Annabel's friends say things like "far out" and one is literally named Bambi. FF's two updates both did a fair job, though I won't be surprised if another Freaky Friday comes along in the 2020s.

This is how it tended to go for most of my life. Every few years, there'd be some kind of fandom-related revival to look forward to. Even if the final product itself wasn't great, the revival could pave the way for something better. Like Indiana Jones and the Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull. The movie may have been a bummer, but its release prompted a lot of cool merchandise, including multiple LEGO sets and video games.

But within the past couple of years, something strange has been happening with my fandoms. In a short time period -- the last two years, in fact -- a bunch of my fandoms have come swarming back from the land of relative obscurity and into the limelight. Crashing, more like. All at once. So much for that "every few years" thing....

2016 & 2017

  • DuckTales: After Treasure Of The Lost Lamp in 1990, DT had a 23-year dry spell. In 2013, they remade the video game (DuckTales Remastered). Now -- oh what the heck -- they're rebooting the freaking show!!

  • Anne Of Green Gables revivals are rampant these days. Admittedly, it seems like Kevin Sullivan releases some new Anne-related product every time there's a new moon, but not counting him, just in the last decade we've had books (Before Green Gables and Looking For Anne Of Green Gables), a movie (PBS's Anne Of Green Gables, with 2 sequels planned), and a Netflix series (Anne With An 'E'). Those last two came out within the last eight months. Two entirely independent productions about the same fiery Canadian redhead in less than a year!
I'm thinking of climbing a wild cherry tree to get away from it all...

  • Full House: Only in my wildest teenage dreams could that show have come back, but it has -- as Fuller House for Netflix. It premiered in February, 2016. With 90% of the original cast on board, it is already filming season 3. I don't like it, but... it's there.

  • Mystery Science Theater 3000I could have never imagined it would be back. I resigned myself to enjoying Rifftrax in all its humorous glory. But... they brought it back. The actual show. I mean, there's a new Joel/Mike character, and the bots sound different, and Tom Servo can, um, fly now? But it's still shadows in a theater making fun of cheesy movies, as if they've been carrying on that way for 18 years, no big deal.

Finally, there's...

  • Beauty and the Beast. I loved the original. Top 3 films of all time. For years I had wanted, and thought about, a live-action version. Probably ever since they did those live-action 101 Dalmatian movies with Glenn Close in the 90s. I imagined this new BATB being darker than the original, more adult. Angsty. Romantic. Heart-wrenching. Beautiful.

Y u no like me?

Well, I do know some people who liked it!

Just the other day, it was announced that the 90's cartoon series Animaniacs may be coming back. While that show wasn't one of my personal favorites, it was important to people I know. Maybe those people are currently feeling excited. Or maybe they're feeling the way I am. Which is...


*Backs away slowly*

*Hides under a pop culture-less rock*

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Art Of The Brick: 5 Years Later

It's been a little over 5 years since the last time Nathan Sawaya's The Art Of The Brick set up shop at the Oregon Museum Of Science & Industry in Portland, Oregon....

2012                                                      2017 

Last weekend I visited OMSI to see if, and how, The Art Of The Brick had changed in those 5 years....

Well, it had changed... it had grown, to be sure. The exhibit's square footage had increased, for one thing. And there were way more pieces to enjoy.

When I first walked into the exhibit, they had us gather in a small area. Then they made us newcomers watch a 4-minute video about Mr. Sawaya's career. I imagine this was just to stagger the crowd, but I would've preferred to just walk straight in. Guess it beats standing in line, though.

When the video concluded, we were able to walk into the first part of the exhibit, where there were a bunch of LEGO-built art replicas. Mosaics, mostly. They were neat in their own way, but... I guess I prefer "the real thing" when it comes to 2D art.

But then things got more interesting. The art started becoming three-dimensional....

For some reason, I really liked that. 

I also didn't mind Sawaya's replicas of notable statues and sculptures...

Actually, pretty much all his sculptures were impressive....

This yellow guy is one of Sawaya's iconic pieces. It's so special, it even got its own room in the exhibit! Ooooh, aaaah...

This next one was cool. You could only see The Eye if you took some steps back and looked at the piece from a certain angle.

Life-sized furniture is fun!

Overall, my favorite part of The Art Of The Brick this time around was the photography exhibit called In Pieces. For this, Sawaya and his collaborators built real-size objects out of LEGO...

Then used them as props in some really cool photographs...

I probably spent the most time in this area, looking at the life-size objects and trying to find them in the photographs. What a cool idea!

OMSI's The Art Of The Brick exhibit spanned 2 levels of the museum, and it was definitely worth the extra charge ($) to see. TAOTB will only be at OMSI through May 29th, so if you haven't seen it yet -- go. Even if you saw it when it was here in 2012, go! While a few of the pieces (sculptures, etc.) were there back in 2012, a large number of the items are new this time around. There's a wide variety and a lot of it is really impressive.

The Art Of The Brick can also currently be seen in these other locations. To find out where the exhibit(s) will travel next, check out this page.