Is Batman the Original DIYer?

Is the Caped Crusader the first or perhaps the most creative DIYer?

DIY has come to mean so much more than it used to. Historically, the word is associated with home projects.  Now we use it to refer to crafts, cooking, decorating projects, home  improvement, and so much more.

I have been thinking a lot about this use of this word as I decide what my blog will really be about. I had a thought the other day that made me chuckle. Bear with the nerd inside me.

Is Batman the original DIYer?

I don’t claim to be an expert in any of this, so I welcome new information whether it proves me wrong or supports this idea. Another side note: comics are like mythology. There are tons of versions and stories, so I am picking the Batman lore that supports my theory.

Batman’s parents were murdered when he was just a boy. He grows up, with the help of his Butler Alfred, determined to solve crimes in Gotham. He goes abroad to develop skills from experts, but some things he has to do himself.

Batcave

He needed a place to develope skills and tools, so he DIYed the caverns below his home, Wayne Manor, into the Batcave. From rock cavern full of bats to high tech lair! “The cave itself is a natural cavern beneath Wayne Manor; all you really need to do is run some power lines and some ventilation … it’s not like that requires a lot of contractors” (John Bode in  Batman Convo). Batman did have tons of money, so his motivation to DIY was secrecy! We all have our reasons.

Utility Belt

He needed tools to fight crime, so he DIYed them. A utility belt complete with tools of every shape and size. “The exact contents of this belt are not known because Batman usually changes it to suit his needs. His uncanny ability to carry unusually appropriate tools is legendary” (Batman Wikia). Isn’t this what all DIYers do? You have a space that won’t hold a piece of furniture you can buy in a store, so you build it. The vase you want for your kitchen is too expensive, so you spraypaint one to look like it. Batman needed specific tools for his exploits, so he built them.

Batagadgets

Final argument for any skeptics. Batman does have money, and he may have paid for the original parts of his tools, but then he styles them, “Most of batgadgets aren’t really fully identifiable as batgadgets until they are styled, so they can be produced by any contractor – just as workers at FoxConn have no idea that components X Y and Z they are making are actually designed for the new iPhone” (DVK in Exile in Batman Convo). Again, even if he pays for pieces, just like a DIYer he makes it his own. A DIY project can be a re-fashion. It doesn’t have to be something brand new. Batman needs tools that are individualized and match his style, so he builds and adjusts them!

Isn’t this exactly what a DIYer does?!?! We see a problem and we solve it OURSELVES. We do not call and pay a professional. We seek information, and we figure it out. Batman is one badass DIYer.

BBQ Bonanza!

Party Hardy!

DIY BBQ

I know lots of people who choose to eat in rather than out. My husband and I almost always make this choice. We have found that it is frequently even cheaper to feed a bunch of our friends than go out the two of us. This is probably something we all know, but we choose to ignore it because it takes more time and work.

This weekend we had a few people over and I served burgers, bratwurst, fruit salad, potato salad, and crackers with dip. I am proud of my hard work, so I’ll chronicle it below!

The Menu

Hamburgers –

Ingredients:
  • 2 pounds of burger thawed
  • A few drops of Worcestershire sauce for each burger
  • Montreal steak seasoning
Anecdote:

Divide the burger into the number of patties you need, and season with worcestershire and montreal. Put on as much as you like. I always do five drops of sauce and two shakes of seasoning. I like to prepare my burgers thirty minutes before grilling, so the spices really soak in.

My husband and I buy half of a cow every other year. It is a large investment at first, but ultimately we save a lot of money on our beef. The meet comes to $3.50 a pound and that is for burgers, roasts, stew meat, and even the New York strip steaks! We save a ton, and we get great cuts that I normally wouldn’t even buy.

Bratwurst-

Ingredients:
  • 6 Bratwurst uncooked
  • 1 can cheap beer (I used Coors Light this time.)
Anecdote:

Put the Bratwurst in a pot that fits them tightly. Pour the beer over the brats. Add water to cover the brats all the way. The tight pot is important because you want less water than beer. Boil this for 15 minutes, and then move it to the grill until it is cooked all of the way through. Yummy!

Fruit Salad-

Ingredients:
  • 2 peaches $1.50
  • 1 lb strawberries $2.50
  • 2 bananas $0.20 (ish)
  • 2 clementines $1 (ish)
  • 2 Tbsp Agave syrup
Anecdote:

I chopped up all of the fruit, and poured syrup on top. Yep! It was that simple!

This may seem like a silly thing to write a recipe for, but I have noticed that so many people buy a fruit tray pre-made for parties. While this is easy, it costs a lot more than cutting the fruit yourself. Frequently those trays have melons and grapes in them. These fruits are very cheap as they usually are 1-2$ per pound! In the fruit tray you probably have 3 pounds of fruit total and you paid a minimum of 10$ for it. I like to cut the fruit myself and save the money!

Potato Salad –

potato-salad
I purchased two of these!

This one I didn’t make because I found it on Manager’s special at my grocery store! This is something that I do a lot. The tags are yellow and easy to spot. Having a manager’s special tag means that the food is nearing its expiration. If you are serving the food that day, or even in the next couple, it is usually perfectly fine! This made the potato salad half of its normal price! I put it in a bowl to make it look homemade.

 

cracker-dipCrackers and Dip –

I always buy my crackers at Costco because they are way cheaper. I always have crackers in the pantry and for this I just pulled out a tube. The dip was another Manager’s special score. At half price, the parmesan, pepper dip was amazing!

MONIES –

Keep in mind that I had some things in the pantry because I purchased them in bulk. I will estimate their cost, but I will probably be a bit off with them. I also didn’t factor sauce and spice prices as I used very little.

  • Burgers – $7
  • Burger toppings
    • Cheese – $1
    • Tomato $1
    • Onion $0.50
    • Lettuce $0.50
  • Bratwurst – $3
  • Can of Beer – $1
  • Fruit Salad- $5.20
  • Potato Salad – $3
  • Crackers – $1 (ish. They were bought in bulk).
  • Parmesan Pepper Dip – $2

TOTAL – $25.20

For this total we fed six adults dinner! My husband and I would spend about that same amount eating out at a fancy fast food restaurant.

TIME – 1 hour to prep it all!

THE BREAKDOWN

If you can multi-task, you can easily finish this all in one hour. I started by prepping the burgers, so they marinated for 30 minutes. I then put the bratwurst on the stove in the beer. While they were cooking, I cut up the fruit salad and put it in a bowl. By the time I finished the fruit salad it was about time to put the burgers on the grill. I cut up the burger toppings while burgers grilled, and after about 10 minutes of the burgers grilling I added the bratwurst. (The bratwurst take less time on the grill since they were already boiled.) While the meat was finishing, I put the potato salad in a bowl, and got the crackers and dip set out. As soon as the meat was done, I set in on the buffet and we were ready to go. Since guests are generally fashionably late I timed things so that the meat would be ready 15 minutes after our start time.
All of this cost $25.20, and took one hour to accomplish! We did serve beer as well, but I don’t have to tell you that it is cheaper bought by the case then bought in a restaurant. DIY BBQ SUCCESS!

Oldies but Goodies

DIY Intimidation

My definition:

DIY Intimidation – the terror felt when a DIYer looks at a project, and is unsure of where to begin. This affliction can be caused by large projects, inexperience with the type of project, worry about judgement, etc.

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Finished product

Here is my latest DIY project. As I mentioned in my explanation of Why I DIY, I do love new furniture even though I am always trying not to spend money. My husband’s grandfather passed away last year, and left behind many beautiful antiques.

One antique that I fell in love with was a buffet. The piece is huge, and had seen lots of love through the years. The top was stained with water rings, and had many areas where the varnish had come off completely. The sides were in fairly good shape. The only issues were with bubbling varnish and nicks.

I have to admit that I let the piece sit in my barn for almost a year because it was so big and needed so much work I was afflicted with DIY intimidated (see definition above.) This frequently is the hurdle I have to jump when DIYing. Ideas seem really simple, but then you are standing right in front of the project and fear sets in. What if I ruin this family heirloom?!? What if I start to sand down the bubbles, and I ruin the stain everywhere?!?! What if I finish this and no one likes it?!?! -That last one is what I fear most.

Tangent: I was afraid no one would read my writing when I first decided to blog. I was worried that people would read it and hate it. I was worried my punctuation would be wrong, and I would misspell things. This is only the fifth thing I have written, but I realized WHO CARES?!?! I like writing, and I will keep doing it! I had to overcome my fear of judgement from others. Especially in a DIY situation, I have found people are just impressed that I did it, even if it isn’t perfect!

So again, WHO CARES if others don’t like the buffet? I will work on it, and I will fix it until I am satisfied.

Fixing History

Ok, so I didn’t fix history, but I did do my best to restore a piece of my husband’s family history to a workable state. I again read a few blogs, as I like to do. I am by no means an expert in re-finishing furniture though I have worked on quite a few pieces in the past.

This piece was different from others because it is valuable, and I really didn’t want to hurt it. I also wanted to maintain its integrity as an old piece. I decided only to take the top down to the wood, and just touch up the nicks on the sides. It is over one hundred years old, and I fully expect that it will look like it is over one hundred years old.

After reading an amazing blog, I found a product called TSP substitute that would remove the varnish off of the buffet. I read a lot about it before using it, and found that it can be a really destructive chemical. I donned gloves and bravely wiped it on my piece. I really didn’t see a difference, but I am guessing you needed a lot more than I was willing to use. It seemed like something that could destroy the buffet. (I do want to acknowledge that the blogger I cited above used it, and her buffet ended up looking beautiful! I am just not as daring as she is.)

Ultimately after gently rubbing on the TSP, I decided to sand everything off the top. I have sanded tons of pieces of  furniture in the past, so I was much more confident with this method. My power sander worked well, and it only took me an hour or so to get it down to the wood. On the sides, I hand sanded the bubbles and a few of the scratches.

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Here is the top. You can tell it is lighter since I sanded the entire piece down.

I then found the closest stain that I could. This piece is DARK. I have not seen many things like it, so this was a challenge. I put three coats on the top to get it to the color I wanted. I also wiped three coats over the dings and nicks to blend them into the rest of the piece.

I re-varnished the entire piece to re-seal it. This also gave an even shine.

The piece now sits happily in my family room. The only bummer is that it is HUGE! The upstairs in my house is set up a little odd. My husband and I plan to replace the carpet and tile with a unifying wood. Until then, it sits in two rooms, but looks beautiful!

Losing My Marbles… Or Grapes?

Canning Bonanza

Cooking takes me to my happy place. When I am stressed, sad, bored, worried, I cook. This year I decided to tame grape vines that are growing behind my garage. These things get big and have taken over the hill in the past, so I decided to harness their power with trellises and trimming.

I DIYed some pretty pathetic trellises with my brothers help; I grossly underestimated the strength of a determined grape. I started wrapping the big vines on to the trellis, and then went on vacation for two weeks. When I came back, the vines were everywhere. They definitely liked the trellis, but again they took over the hill. Next year, I will have to keep on top of them, and build a bigger trellis. 

img_0864
There is the trellis. You can’t see it, but there is wire spanning between those much too tiny posts.
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Taking over the hill.

I have harvested probably forty pounds of grapes from this Eden. For those of you grape aficionados, you my may be interested to know that I had two different types of grapes. One is a big concord, and the other is a small dark purple grape, I have no idea what those are! To chronicle every moment with those forty pounds of grapes would take ages, so I am breaking down the steps of my recipe to show you what I did.

Jamming Out: My recipe with Anecdotes

I used the following mix of recipes to make a delicious jam. I am not a chef by any stretch, but I have found that my food turns out best if I take the advice of several people. I used tips and ideas from the following expert, cook bloggers! Local Kitchen, Cinnamon Spice and Everything Nice, We are Not Foodies Each of these had a little something that helped me to create yummy grape jam with less sugar. If you want to try this canning insanity, I would read them all!

This kind of cooking is my favorite because it is hard to do things wrong! This is the ingredient list from Cinnamon Spice and Everything Nice, just doubled. The steps are more of a mix of all of the recipes.

Ingredients:

  • 5 pounds grapes
  • 1 ½ C water
  • 2 C sugar
  • 1 box of pectin
img_0833
Aren’t they pretty? These are the little ones!

Instructions:

  1. Take all of the grapes off of stems and wash them.img_0848

I truly love canning, but let me show you how this went down. You can see the pile of grapes I started with, now I had to get them each off of the vine, and cleaned. I like to set up my laptop next to the sink and binge watch something. Stranger Things on Netflix is particularly engaging! It takes me about two hours to get 5 pounds of grapes off of the vine. Secretly, I love doing this task because it gives me a reason to watch TV and not feel guilty!

  1. Boil the grapes in the water. 40 minutes (Times vary a lot between recipes, but I am not sure you can boil too long!) 

    img_0851
    It gets a little messy!

The concord grapes smell like a freshly opened bottle of red wine, and the smell grows each time you stir them! Nirvana!

If you find them in the store, buy them!

Step 3 is optional: You can strain out all of the seeds if you want. This blog talks about powdering seeds and using them like flax seeds, though I am not skilled enough to do that! However, I will be leaving seeds in, and enjoying the crunch knowing it adds healthy benefits! It is no different than blackberries or chia seeds in smoothies, and I even put it on crunchy multi-grain bread, so you can’t tell if it’s the bread or jam crunching.

  1. Run the boiled mixture through a food processor to make the seeds tiny enough to just add crunch to your jam. (I ran the pulp through the colander again after food processing, and was able to sort out any leftover whole seeds.)

I wish that the step above went as smoothly as I wrote it, but I had a mishapl. When I went to ground the seeds, I thought, “I’ll use the blender.” Here is where any intelligent adult would have said, “STOP, No! The liquid is boiling and thus hitting that blend button will cause the top to blow off!” Unfortunately, at this point, there was no one there to give me this solid advice. I put the liquid in, hit blend, and shot jam everywhere! I mean everywhere on the cabinets, the floor, in my knife block, on my wine bottles, and all over the counter. I chuckled at my obvious stupidity, but wanted to cry realizing how much jam I lost. Don’t make this mistake. Use a food processor with the locking lid. Unfortunately, I cleaned this up before taking a picture because I originally planned to hide my blunder from the world…

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The only evidence is the purple on the mop!
  1. Return the food processed juice and pulp to the pot, and add the sugar and pectin. Simmer all of the ingredients for about 25 minutes.

Follow the experts’ tips, and put a plate in the freezer. If the boiling jam gets hard or turns to jelly when you wipe it on the plate, it is done! I made some mistakes in this step. With my forty pounds of grapes, I made lots of batches of jelly. Many of them were basically syrup not jam. You can’t tell that for sure until after it is canned and sealed. Don’t make that mistake you have to put it back in the pot and boil it again to fix this!

  1. I now followed all of the steps for canning!

Cinnamon Spice and Everything nice shows you how to just cool and store this jam. She says it lasts two months if you don’t process it.

Canning was the most successful part of this process for me. Read the directions in the pectin you buy, and you will have success!

MONIES

I am only factoring one batch of grapes here, but I bought supplies for 4-5 batches at one time so I will do my best to estimate accurately.

  • $2 for 12 pack of lids (I already had rings from last year.)
  • $2 for pectin
  • I always have sugar on hand, so I didn’t calculate that. (I bet it is 20 cents worth of sugar, since I buy it in bulk.)
  • I have all of the canning supplies already, but a basic tool kit is reasonable. Here is one for $34.99 from Target.
  • Jars can be expensive, but remember you use them from year to year. Here are Target prices, but jars are different prices depending on the size. $8-$12ish for 12

TOTAL – $14 for lids, pectin, sugar and jars

TIME – 4 hours 30 minutes (You can do two or more batches simultaneously in this time if you have enough pots).

  • 2 hours to de-vine
  • 2 hours to cook
  • Canning takes 10 minutes to get the jam in the jar, and lids on.
  • In Colorado, where I live, you have to adjust canning/processing time for altitude, so 30 minutes per batch.

THE BREAKDOWN

The numbers are a little fuzzy, but you can decide whether it is worth it!

  • $14 – for new ingredients, lids and jar
  • 4 hours and 30 minutes of work

I made 3 pints of jam in each batch of five pounds. (Remember I started with 40 pounds of grapes so that is 8 batches!)

A pint of organic jam from target for $3.99.

After processing my forty pounds and having a great time, it will be 24 pints at $4 each that is $72. From the store it would be around $96 plus tax.

I have organic jam I made myself, and it tastes amazing! In this instance, time is what you have to give to make it happen. I think it is well worth my time to have tasty jam that is healthier than store bought. I will have jam all through winter when I am done canning, and I made it all myself! GO DIYing!

 

DIY to Own Your Paycheck

Getting High on Great Prices!

When deciding what to blog about, I kept talking to people who encouraged me to write about what I know and love. As an English teacher, I had also said this to students on a daily basis. I decided to follow my own advice, and after soul searching I decided that I know and love saving money!

I actually get an adrenaline rush when I find an amazing deal. That $1 blouse from Clothes Mentor or the $1 garage sale dog pool that is exactly what I was looking for makes me giddy. If you can look at saving money as, a game or like hitting the slots it can be incredibly exciting!

There are a lot of ways to look at deal hunting that can work for different minded people. You just have to find what motivates you. For me, saving money is enough of a motivator. You may find that you like the competition (I can find a better price. I know I can beat this price if I go somewhere else.) Perhaps you like the rush of slot machines, and feeling the money roll in when you pull the bar. (I get this feeling when I find my favorite yogurt for half the price, or the shelving I have dreamed of at a garage sale.) Even if your motivation is saving for something big or small, a vacation, a new toy, or a new car find it. Seeing the money in your bank account stay there, and grow can be an amazing feeling.

My time is priceless: Is DIY Worth it?

I DIY to see the money stay in my bank account. I love new things, household improvements and traveling. On my para educator hourly rate, I just can’t make all of that happen. DIYing is how I keep my savings full for the things I need, and still get all of the things I really want.

Merriam-Webster defines DIY as, “the activity of doing or making something (as in woodworking or home repair) without professional training or assistance; broadly :  an activity in which one does something oneself or on one’s own initiative.”

I would like to point out the words, “without professional training or assistance.” I believe that this is where people get hung up. They are afraid that doing it themselves will mean the project ends with major problems, or they just don’t know where to start. As a self proclaimed NON-EXPERT, I can assure you that this is not the case. The only person who truly knows what you like and what you want is you. You are in fact the most qualified person to carry out your projects perfectly.

In the age of YouTube and blogging, you can learn anything online. Take advantage of our technological advances. Do it Yourself with the help of the experts who are sharing their talents for free!

My major motivation for DIYing is to save money. Perhaps sometimes a professional could make a more polished end product, or fix mistakes that I fix only after experiencing failure, but I am saving tons of money. I always like to think about how much my time is worth, or if my husband is completing a job we think about how much he makes each hour versus how much we would pay someone else to do that task.

For instance, we will be having a new garage door installed next week. The installation costs $300 and we figured that my husband makes around $50 an hour at work. When I googled how long it takes to install a garage door, I got mixed results. The conversation on the Yahoo basically justifies why we are paying for the install. With two people it could take as few as two hours, but for inexperienced installers, my husband and I, it could take any length of time and we could do it wrong.

We also would have to take out the old door. I couldn’t find how long that takes, but look at the Warnings in this article “How Do I Remove My Garage Door?”, I like my fingers too much to chance this. (Although I give these guys props for their explanation, if you are going to DIY check in with these experts! I don’t want discourage anyone from DIY ever. If this seems worth it for you, always DIY!)  It just didn’t seem worth the money for US to DIY. 

Crunching the numbers can be a way that you too decide what to DIY and what to pay for. With my current job I have lots of time and not lots of money. Because of my time, I choose to DIY.

This is How We Do It!

Hail No!

To Roof or not to Roof

For some of you, the answer to this question is obvious. I know for my husband and I it was barely a discussion. Though Brad, my husband, loves to do all of our projects himself, roofing was one thing that he agreed fairly rapidly was too much. The insurance company offered us a quote for the house and barn roof that covered both done by a professional.

Roofing is something that has lots of steps, and I think it is best left to professionals. Again, I would never tell someone not to DIY, so with that said a quick breakdown.

It took roofers three days to deliver all of the materials using a huge truck with a conveyor belt system, pull the old shingles, put them in a dumpster, lay a new fabric on the roof, lay new shingles, put in new vents, and clean the yard of nails and debris.

The roofing crew was four guys, four professionals! I can’t even guess how long it would have taken two novice workers one being myself who can barely lift a pile of shingles. Getting the supplies onto the roof alone would have taken us a day.

For us, this was a DIY pass!

Let’s paint!!!

Our biggest DIY recently was to repaint our barn. We had lots of hail damage in a recent storm and the insurance company offered to pay to have some trim re-painted by a professional, giving us $1,400. We now had a decision to make; hire a professional to paint the barn, or do it ourselves and pocket some cash! We did recognize that painting a large structure would take tons of time, but we had tons of time so why not?!?!

Now, I will admit. I grossly underestimated the amount of time this project would take. I truly thought a few evenings to scrape and prep, and one solid weekend of painting and we would be good. As life has a tendency to do, it threw us a curveball. The week we planned to prep my husband had to complete a training for work that took 30 hours. If that happened during the work day, it would be no big deal, but he still had to work his normal hours doing his normal tasks so this became an at home activity. We suddenly found the prepping halted in its tracks.

I have found that life is the biggest obstacle in DIY projects. You have the idea, the excitement at the beginning gets you going, you draw it out, you talk it out, you tell everyone you know, and you might even go to get the supplies. This is where the fun stops. The reality of climbing up the ladder to scrape the barn becomes real.

As I put my first foot on the bottom rung, the thirty foot ladder shook. I do not like heights. My brain immediately started reeling. Why on earth did I agree to paint this behemoth?!?!

Once I got going, the height wasn’t so bad, and I kept reminding myself this would have cost us roughly $1,400. (My husband estimated paint and drywall for a small construction firm for seven years, so he is pretty good at estimating potential costs.) If you don’t happen to be married to an estimator, call around or even have people come out. Sometimes a little leg work can go a long way to saving you money.

So let me lay out the specifics of what we spent and saved:

The Monies

TOTAL Expenses – $170

  • $150 for 6 gallons of paint
    • 5 gallons – white part of the barn
    • 1 gallon – red trim
  • $20 or so on tape, and a few buckets to easily carry paint high up on the ladders. (We already had tons of paint brushes, and we borrowed a sprayer to do a bulk of the work.)

Time

  • 2 hours 5 days for prep
  • Saturday-Sunday (8 hour days) to finish prepping and spray
  • 4 hours to brush and roll all of the trim

So here is thing about DIY projects, numbers play a huge roll in deciding whether its worth it or not. The barn would have cost $1,400 to hire a painter, but we did it ourselves.

THE BREAKDOWN

$1,400 – from the insurance

– $170 – for the supplies

$1,230 – leftover in our pocket for our labor

Divide that $1,230 by the hours we spent which was around 30, and we got paid $41 an hour. Not bad!

Obviously the time estimate is just that, an estimate, but even if it took us a few more or less hours to me that it time well spent. I make $15 an hour as a para, so $41 an hour to paint is well worth my time!