A quick fix-up for the new year

Bulletin board on legs

Some weeks ago my husband decided to walk to meet our older son at the end of his evening shift at the local library. He noticed an old hinged bulletin board propped against a wall in the vestibule and discovered that it was tagged for removal. We were welcome to it if we could take it away, so the next morning when we were out running errands we stopped by and strapped it to the roof of the car.

If there is one thing that comes naturally to our family (apart from bickering and other such family past-times), it is reusing things and giving old things new life, and we’ve often brought home curbside finds and fixed them up. My husband saw great potential in this old-fashioned notice board as a resource in our homeschooling efforts, and he was quite right. As it has legs and is hinged, it’s able to act as a room divider while also serving as a place to organize a variety of pictures, lists and resources.

The front of the cork, intended for pinning items, is still in reasonably good shape, but the backs of the two boards are looking worn and faded. Covering them in fabric that I’ve had lying around for several years (left over from a duvet cover project for one of my children’s rooms) took mere minutes: my husband handled the chisels to gently prise out the boards, I measured and cut the fabric, and then my youngest wielded the stapler as we affixed the fabric to the first board. He decided to move on to playing with the dog while I completed the second board, and we were done before we knew it. My kind of craft project, completed not long after starting!

Old bulletin board with fabric covering

I wasn’t kidding about pressing this great, no-cost find into service as a room divider either; we have a room in the lower level of our home that has been, well, pretty chaotic since moving in two years ago. It has been chugging along in its rag-tag way as a combination playroom/guest bedroom where we also set up our seed trays in the late winter, and can often be found in different states of disarray.

Fortunately both my husband and I became fed up with this state of affairs at about the same time and over the holidays we finally set about doing a big purge/tidy, figuring out storage requirements for the space, and putting up pictures. It’s by no means ‘done’ (a much needed bookcase will be built in to an alcove in the room over the next couple of weeks), but it looks so much better and is now a great alternate space for hanging out. And the new bulletin board/room divider helps to hide any temporary toy messes over in the corner, which makes us happy.

Room with chair and room divider

To finish the project off we’ll want to address the water-stained legs and polish up the wood frame, but this piece is already adding some much needed cheer while also serving a very practical purpose. Time to go pin up those times tables and worksheets!

If you’ve got a favourite or recent second-hand find/fix-up project that you’re feeling good about, do tell!

Unexpected gifts

Cat chalkboard from Booth Design England

My youngest son likes to surprise me with little gifts and gestures. He’s both young and old for his years at the same time, and is naturally generous. For a boy of nine, he’s often surprisingly subtle in his delivery. Such as when I came out to my kitchen one morning and found these beauties from our greenhouse, just waiting for me.

Small basket of tomatoes and a bunch of kale

Sometimes he’s more forthcoming, but I just don’t get his cues. Like one day recently when I talked to him on the phone when I was in the ‘big city’ for a day of meetings, and he kept asking if I’d checked the mail box. I didn’t catch on until the next day when I found this at the back of it, behind the leaflets and letters. And he never said a word.

Christmas decoration made from an old CD

Naturally, I made a fuss when I finally found it and made sure he knew how lovely I thought it was, all the while feeling guilty that I was daft enough not to pick up on the anxious queries about checking the post. Anyone else doing any distracted mothering?

All this may explain why he was a little bit more direct in his approach recently when he had occasion to give me several tiny stubs of chalk to use on my little chalkboard in our mudroom. He’d pilfered these used up bits in class and figured I needed chalk, as I hadn’t use the board in a number of months (he was right). We had a little chat about whether his teachers knew properly about his decision to relieve them of these little leftovers, which was a good conversation to have. The little devil clearly hadn’t asked. Though it’s hard to imagine any busy teacher with boxes of chalk at their disposal missing these miniature stubs nearly as much as I love them. Right?

Chalk ends on ledge of cat chalkboard

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Incidentally, the cat chalkboard was a thrift store find costing no more than 50 cents, if I recall correctly. Taking these photos was the first time I noticed the name of the company that produces them at the base of the chalkboard, Booth Design England. Now I’m wishing I had little children again so I could justify buying this one.

And no, I still haven’t planted the damn garlic.

The thrill of the second-hand find

Buying used or ‘previously-loved’ items comes naturally to us and appeals for the reasons I expects it does for many folks: it saves money, it extends the life of useful and/or beautiful items, and it’s less resource intensive. It just plain makes sense to me. This weekend seemed to be littered with great secondhand finds for us: the first was a planned purchase, the second an item from our wishlist that finally turned up, and the third a very special unexpected find.

Used children's soccer cleats

Going into this weekend I knew that my youngest son needed new soccer cleats for Monday. Our local thrift shop, which operates for the benefit of local charities, is a great resource for both ice skates and soccer cleats. Used ice skates are usually three dollars a pair, regardless of condition; the same goes for cleats. It’s a great deal for parents, creating a place to send outgrown pairs and to acquire new ones for the season. Saturday happened to be the store’s 38th anniversary and on its birthday every item in the store is always reduced to the same value in cents just for the day; so the previously loved cleats above rang in at 38 cents! I upped that a bit as all proceeds to go to charity.

Pulling an old Norco bike trailer

We had cycled into town that morning to first pick up the cleats and then visit our weekend farmers’ market, after which we had a late breakfast at the coffee shop. (Our friends at the farmers’ market have some hens for us, which is a whole other string of posts.) Next stop was our local bike shop, a wonderful place run by a local fellow in retirement; it’s clearly a labour of love and not necessarily a big money maker (though it could be, as this is one bike-loving town). We chatted a bit, bought a rearview mirror for my bike (much needed), and discussed how we might help with the repainting of a garage space recently acquired for all of the used bikes that the shop owner collects for shipment to Haiti. Having a peak at some of the other used stock on hand, my husband spied the old Norco bike trailer, pictured above. It was exactly what we’ve been needing to haul things around on our land, either pulled by mountain bike or hand-wheeled (as it has great balance and is as easy to push as it is to pull). Anything sold from second-hand stock (which is generally donated to the store anyway), the owner designates for the Haiti Bike fund, so we agreed that forty dollars seemed reasonable for the trailer and gladly added that to the pot.

The trailer has clearly had more than one life, evidenced by the makeshift half-cover, which is exactly as we will plan to use it.

Old Norco bike trailer with makeshift cover

The last find didn’t cost a penny, but was really special. We seem to find wonderful cast-offs when we’re on our bikes; we even found our television this way (who throws out a perfectly useable tube tv?). Our last errand on Saturday morning was to nip over to the supermarket for a few things. Our older son was in the lead by about a block, and as we caught up to him he was holding a model ship in his hands (the photo here shows our younger son holding the boat in the grass at home).

Model Thames barge

This boy has a passion for model-making and loves boats; he looked so excited by it. He explained that it was just sitting on the front lawn by the fire hydrant, which certainly made it sound like it was being offered, but just to be sure we suggested he knock on the front door of the house. The door was quickly answered by an elderly man who said he was absolutely welcome to it, and that was that, or so we thought. Moments later, the man’s wife came padding down the front walk and over to us on our bikes. She explained that the boat, a model of the old river barges used on the River Thames in London, had been her son’s and that he had died. ‘It’s taken me thirteen years to work up to giving that boat away’ she said – she’d left the boat on the front lawn hoping someone who wanted it would come along.

It felt pretty good being able to tell her that our son was born in London and that we’d just returned from a visit to England and had enjoyed looking at the boats on the Thames when we took a clipper upriver one day. It felt even better to be able to reassure her that fixing up the boat (which needs some repairs and TLC) would be a high priority for our son. It also seemed oddly fitting that our son recently turned 14 and that seems to correspond with the timeframe in which this lady lost her son. It was a brief, but bittersweet conversation, and we’ve since agreed that our son will write a note to her with some details about himself, where our family lives, and how he’ll fix up the boat, and put it in her mailbox. Sometimes second-hand finds have so much more to them than we can even imagine.

Boys working on model Thames barge

Homemade, recycled treehouse, quick update

This isn’t really part 4 in this series, but a quick update until I have the time to prepare a full report on the next phase building our treefort out of mostly recycled materials. The weather is getting much colder, but we really pushed things along recently. Here is a quick snapshot of the treehouse as of last weekend.

Treehouse made from mostly recycled materials