DIYDon’ts and other spare time disasters

Hello! My father—you know, that guy you know as Mir’s Dad—was here to see the play (which was, I think, pretty much a success despite some, er, challenges), and during that time he asked when I was going to blog again, and I was all, “Dude, I am BUSY, with this SHOW and STUFF” and he let it go. But then he called me last week and toward the end of the call he said, “Well, that’s all. Just checking in. Also you do know you need to blog at least occasionally so I have something to read, right?” He wasn’t much for guilt trips when I was growing up, but geez, he’s making up for lost time now.

Hi, Dad! Here I am! Still without any earth-shattering news or happenings, but when has that ever stopped me?

When we last left off talking about The Children (subtitle: But They’re Adults Now And That’s Pretty Weird), the spring semester was just beginning. Off they went, like autonomous adult-like beings, and then I disappeared and never updated. Tralala! I mean, oops. They were just home for spring break, sort of. Both of them were only here for a few days, because apparently they have LIVES and OTHER THINGS TO DO and whatnot. Details. But the point here is that I blinked and the semester is suddenly half over, and—come closer, I don’t want to say it too loudly—everyone seems okay. Good, even. Good-ish, certainly. There’s no denying that after close to 20 (!!!) years of centering my life on these two knuckleheads, I’m now free to take an enormous chunk of my time and energy and place it elsewhere.

It’s incredibly freeing. I feel AMAZING!

Haaaaaaaaahahahahaha, just kidding. It’s terrifying. I have taken up other things to ruin now that my offspring have escaped.

There was a while there, of course, when they were gone and the show was all-consuming and I didn’t have time for much of anything else. Otto took to greeting me with, “Oh, I think I remember you… vaguely…” whenever I saw him, so it was pretty clear I didn’t have time for much of anything else. “Self,” I said to myself, “what I need to do when this show is over is pay some attention to actual work stuff and also carve out some time to nurture my marriage, which had taken the back burner for… um, forever, while Other Life Things have intervened.”

Because I am nothing if not logical, I then promptly accepted a volunteer committee-head position which shouldn’t require more than, oh, eight billion hours or so to manage. In the last couple of months I have acquainted myself with the history and paperwork and mechanisms involved in said position, sent out a ton of apology emails to people who are angry at the person who used to hold this position, and also assembled a kick-ass committee whose hard work and awesome insights got me proposing a bunch of major changes because apparently this job was not enough work before we figured out how to make it even more complicated.

And then I kind of fell down a rabbit hole with my shoes. My show shoes, to be specific. These shoes:

Remember the Costume Nazi? One of the very first things she declared when arriving the first time was “I don’t do shoes.” Which… okay? I guess? She gave us some parameters and told us to find our own shoes. Alrighty. I went thrifting several times and found nothing, which is SO WEIRD, because why aren’t my local thrift stores well stocked with late-1930’s era-esque shoes in drab colors? I ended up buying the above-pictured shoes off of Poshmark for more than I really wanted to spend on a costume shoe, but reasoning that if I had to wear heels, I might as well get a decent shoe that wouldn’t make my feet hurt. The good news is that these shoes are super-comfy and fit the bill for my character. The bad news is that I hate taupe. Perfect for Kate, terrible for Mir. But I spent Real Money, you see. I got a great deal, but still.

So, the show ended, and in my copious spare time (haaaaaaaa) I started watching YouTube videos and reading Instructables about dyeing leather. Because I love these shoes! I just hate taupe! And surely I could dye them a fun color. I mean, the Internet told me it’s simple!

Spoiler alert: It’s not as simple as the Internet would lead you to believe. Shocking, I know.

Long story a little bit shorter: I probably spent as much money on leather stripper and dye and polish as I spent on the shoes in the first place, and I ruined a bunch of towels and rags in the process, AND I am not entirely happy with how they came out (because applying leather dye evenly is challenging, it turns out)—I am really selling this experience to you, right? Like you are going to run out and dye your own shoes ASAP after this?—but my shoes are no longer taupe.

I am now the proud owner of turquoise shoes, and although I have only worn them out once so far (with jeans and a fun top, rather than the dowdy shirtdresses they were originally procured for), they please me. It could be some kind of DIY Stockholm Syndrome thing (I spent forever on them, OF COURSE I LOVE THEM, WHY ARE YOU LOOKING AT ME LIKE THAT) but I’ll take it.

And because THAT was so much fun and I had, by that point, discovered the wonderful world of funky-colored leather products, I then spent an entire evening rejuvenating my favorite purse. It’s been about five years, now, since I stumbled upon a purple Coach purse while shopping for a sensible black bag, and I have carried that purse every single day since. About a year ago I noticed that the leather was losing its beautiful berry color along stress points and creases, and my research suggested that 1) no leather cream in the proper color exists in the wild and 2) you can send a Coach bag in for “repair services” but given the cost of most of their stuff and the fact that their website doesn’t give you ANY idea how they price repairs, I was reluctant to go that route. After doing my shoes and learning all about what people consider The Best Leather Dye and The Best Leather Polish (Angelus and Meltonian, respectively, in case you care), I also managed to hunt down some (discontinued) Meltonian cream in Raspberry, which turned out to be a perfect match for my bag. Huzzah!

That particular project was perfect and might cause you to believe I restore stuff all the time and know what I’m doing, so naturally I neglected to take a before picture and the after picture just looks like, well, a uniformly-colored purse, big whoop. Just please IMAGINE how before I spent an evening polishing said bag with a toothbrush and the aforementioned unicorn leather cream, my purse looked 100 years old, and now it looks nearly new again.

My shoes were done. My purse was restored. And now I could focus on my husband, and my career, and everything else. Right? Right!

Meanwhile, down at Tinytown College… my PRECIOUS BABY GIRL went and signed a lease to move off-campus next year. It was a long negotiation in every way possible (between her and us, between her and the place she’s renting, because the reality of the situation and my brain screaming SHE’S A TODDLER HOW IS THIS HAPPENING?), but I think it’s going to be good. She doesn’t move until next summer but the metaphorical ink hadn’t even dried on the paperwork before Chickadee was scouting for furniture and presenting me with lists of demands. Er, requests. And that’s fine. She wants something fairly specific in a dresser and I kept saying, “There’s loads of time, keep looking around, we can always paint something,” and sort of brushing her off.

Then one day a dresser popped up in my feed that looked like it matched the bed in Monkey’s room in both style and color. (I know, I know. Hear me out!) I messaged back and forth with the seller and then we went to go look at it, and to my dismay the color wasn’t quite right. Also, it was a lot more dinged up than the listing pic had made it look. BUT. It was HUGE and well-built and solid wood and priced reasonably, so we went ahead and bought it. I was certain that I could strip the varnish and deal with the scratches and restain it and have something that looked really nice in Monkey’s room. AND THEN… Chickadee could have his old dresser. (Fun fact: That dresser in Monkey’s room was purchased by me, secondhand, when I started grad school. I suspect it came from This End Up; remember when they were just pine stuff? They appear to have gotten fancier since then. Anyway, this dresser is not exactly a fancy piece, but I’d say it’s been a workhorse, especially if you amortize the cost over all these years. BUT. Monkey is now tall enough that the drawers are just a wee bit undersized for his jeans. Not a life-or-death issue, but I think I had it in the back of my head that he should get an upgrade at some point.)

We got the dresser home and I plunged back into the DIY rabbit hole. Oh, it would be so easy and simple! No problem! Otto was headed out to buy some home repair stuff a few days later and I gave him a list of the things I would need for my “simple” project.

Again, I KNOW YOU WILL BE SHOCKED, but it was not quite so simple.

First of all, I decided to go with a chemical stripper, not realizing that when you chemically strip the finish off of a piece of furniture, what you end up scraping off is like… brown ooblek. It’s sticky and disgusting and gets EVERYWHERE. I was using a stripper instead of sanding because I thought sanding would make a big mess. By the end of this debacle I was wishing for sawdust over rolled up bits of brown goo all over the garage, the dresser, me, etc. Blech.

Second, it turned out that this “solid wood” dresser was not. Parts were veneer, and parts of it had paint UNDERNEATH what we thought was stain, and… I can’t even describe it. It was a mess, and it quickly became clear that restaining was out of the question. Also—and this was when I began to consider “accidentally” setting this dresser on fire and walking away—after multiple hours of stripping/scraping, due to said surprise paint underneath which had been covering a plethora of wood irregularities, once alllllllllllll of that was scraped off, I still had to sand everything thoroughly. SAD TROMBONE.

And now I had to decide on paint. Monkey weighed in with “I don’t care,” so that was helpful. Meanwhile, Chickadee had already requested the old dresser be painted black, so I went with black because I was going to need black paint, anyway. And then I bought some gray, too. Because why not? And then, of course, I needed new drawer knobs for the new color scheme. And there had been at least 3 trips to the home store to return some things and buy others, by now. They were starting to look at me funny every time I walked in. And remember how this dresser was such a good deal because it was so close to what I needed to match the existing furniture and it was solid wood EXCEPT it turned out to be not close enough and also not solid wood? At least I also then spent a bunch of money on everything I needed to redo it!

Here’s a terrible picture of the listing and the finished product, side by side.

I sent the pic to Otto the day Monkey and I wrestled it up the stairs and he said “That looks great!” So then I proceeded to tell him everything that was pissing me off about it (I can see brush marks on the side! This seam isn’t quite flush and it was impossible to thoroughly paint in the teeny, tiny crack! This bit was unevenly sanded and can’t you see the little bumps over here?!) and he amended his praise to “Okay, in the photo, it looks great.” This is why I love him. Also, Monkey says “it’s fine” so as long as you only look at that little picture or view the actual dresser from far away, sure, I totally nailed it.

As for the other dresser, I haven’t started it yet. You can’t make me. (And before anyone says it: YES I HAVE HEARD OF CHALK PAINT. I wish I’d heard of it before I thought I was going to strip and stain the dresser, but whatever. SIGH.)

So, uh, that’s what I’ve been doing. This whole empty-nesting thing is considerably messier than I anticipated.


  1. Chuck

    It may not be perfect, but that dresser really does look great, Mir. I like the shoes also.

  2. Jeanie

    Well, you are one talented lady. Both the shoes and the dresser look fantastic.

  3. Caroline

    There is NOTHING you can’t do and you can’t change my mind about that! Amazing!!!

    • Mir

      STAHHHHP. Shhhhh.

  4. el-e-e

    As long as you’re not cutting things with knives or saws, I think it’s all good. DIY on! ;)

  5. Emily

    Why spend $10 when you can DIY for $100? Or something like that. Good work.

  6. Jess

    Tell me everything you know about those shoes right now! I love taupe as a color for shoes and they are adorable – I’d love to source a pair. Who makes them?

    • Mir

      They’re Earth Shoes, though a discontinued model. Like I said, I found mine on Poshmark. :)

  7. Lori O

    FAKE NEWS. There are no disasters in here. You rocked this stuff…even if getting there was hard. I’d feel bad about myself, except I would never even try any of that stuff. So instead I get to just look on at you admiringly.

  8. dad


    Thank you for blogging.
    I will continue to hone my guilt infusing skills.

    And you are amazing!

  9. Virginia

    I love the shoes and the dresser, but especially that turquoise color! You sound very much like me in that my kids too strong grown and I’m trying to figure out my next chapter. I’m doing volunteer work with the humane society. Yay us!!

  10. liz

    THOSE SHOOOOOOOOES. I would totally buy them.

    Also, the dresser looks great!

  11. Daisy

    Oh, the adventures! I hear you, loud and clear. Luckily for me (I think), darling daughter is better at the DIY tasks than I am. She, in fact, bartered a professional family photo shoot for a refinishing of a dresser, desk, and secretary piece. Furniture looks awesome, my friend’s family has some wonderful pictures (even the teenager on the spectrum smiled for her), and we’re all happy. And I didn’t have to touch anything.

  12. shan

    At first I read “snow shoes” instead of “show shoes” and had a chuckle to myself that only in the south could those shoes be considered snow shoes. LOL.

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