My niece joined the family on July 12th, 2010. This special young lady's mother is my younger sister, which in classic Chinese culture makes me her Jiu Jiu (舅舅) -- thus the title of this blog. Here I intend to semi-regularly post reflections, thoughts, stories, and assorted whathaveyous pertaining to our trip to China, adoption in general, and (mostly) watching my niece grow up. Since the web is a very public place, I will attempt to maintain my family's privacy while telling the story... but I invite you to follow the blog and come along for the adventure!

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Saga of the Toy Chest, Part 3

I was beginning to feel a little desperate. More and more of my time (in addition to more and more of my budget) was being taken up by what was supposed to be a cheap & simple project, and with less than a month to go I was literally starting over almost from scratch.  I had already told my family what I was doing, and just before the latest disaster had told Miri what I was going to give her for her birthday.

Nope, no pressure... sigh.

I now had to sand off all the paint I had so carefully sprayed onto all the panels, then do all the preparation I should have done to begin with, then move forward with the painting, tracing, coloring, and so on. The problem  was (very much like in school) the math; each coat of paint needed time to dry before another coat could be applied, I could only paint one side of each panel at a time, and I only had room to work on two or three panels at a time. I had finally reached the point where there were not enough hours left before the my original deadline to finish the project.

I flirted briefly with the idea of abandoning the project altogether, or at least buying something closer to the desired finished project, but knew that would be a cop-out of major proportions... not to mention that stubborn streak way down deep inside that simply would not accept losing an argument with an inanimate object. (And did I mention the terribly empty feeling in my wallet...?)

Thus it was that I began spending part of every afternoon, plus a few hours late each night after work, alternating between sanding Trogen panels and vacuuming up a seemingly infinite volume of paint dust. On some panels, I had to be extra-careful to not sand away the factory-made cutouts for hinges and other fittings, while on others I simply had to make sure I didn't accidentally change the shape of any edges or corners.

It took a week, but I finally had (mostly) all the paint removed. Musing on how the stuff wiling to jump off the Trogen on its own when I didn't want it to, but required so much work to remove when I did, I spent the next several days gently sanding off whatever it was IKEA used to kid-proof that neon yellow finish, starting with a medium-grit sanding sponge and working my way down to extra-fine. Finally, well into June, I was able to begin painting the darn thing again.

As the sanding dust in my house was replaced by bright white "dust" consisting of spray paint particles that dried in midair, the now not-so-neon yellow panels began to once again turn white; three coats of paint (and another week) later, I was ready to Olafize the panels again, starting with the front panel. This time there were no "little rough spots" or alien-looking bubble patches, and I was able to heave a sigh of relief before pushing onward.

However, there was a new problem: I was exhausted. I work a late shift, often getting home at 2:00am or later, so working on the chest after work meant I often went to bed as the sun was rising. Desperate to get the project finished, my life devolved into job - work on the chest - nap - work on the chest - job - repeat, with only an occasional interruption. This served to increase the level of insanity that had let to my undertaking the project in the first place, and it wasn't long before Mistakes Were Made.

Luckily, the one that made me realize I needed to spend more time sleeping than painting or tracing was a minor goof. As usual, I spent a little over 30 minutes carefully tracing a picture of Olaf onto one of the panels. I finished & carefully pulled everything away from the panel... and found the same all-white surface I had started with, nary a bit of Olaf anywhere in sight. I sat there too puzzled to even cuss (not like I hadn't had a lot of practice with that, lately!) and then looked at the paper I'd printed Olaf on and burst out laughing. There, on the back of the page, was a mirror image of the picture I had traced -- I was so tired, I had oh-so-carefully put the graphite paper in place with the business side facing up instead of down! I didn't even bother moving everything into the usual piles -- I just turned off the lights and went upstairs to bed.

By this time, Miri had gotten into the habit of asking, "So how's my chest coming?" any time I spoke with her.  (For a kid about to have her 6th birthday, her command of sarcasm was a little scary -- funny, but scary.)  It finally had to let her know her birthday gift would be late, and I took great pains to explain to her how hard Uncle Brian was working.  Luckily, my niece often lets me get away with things her mother didn't at the same age, so she was forgiving as long as I kept her up to date on how the project was progressing.

And it was progressing. Once I'd gotten enough sleep to think (and see) straight again, all that practice I'd had on versions 1.0 and 2.0 of the project enabled me to cruise through the remaining work. Aside from the discovery that the graphite lines I was inking over clogged up the tips of the black Sharpie pens I was using (causing me to have to buy more by the time I was done), it wasn't long before the panels were ready for clear lacquer, getting clear lacquer, or having their clear lacquer drying in preparation for the next coat. My house again reeked of spray paint and there were Trogen panels all over the place, but even as June 20th came and went I was so close to completing the chest that I could practically smell my impending success. (Or maybe it was a combination of spray paint and Sharpie ink I was smelling; by that point my olfactory nerves had all packed up and flown to Vegas without me.)

Finally, the last set of panels was curing and all the others were stacked neatly against the dining room wall, ready for assembly.  Even the lid was done, a three-day nail-biter that saw me repeatedly stenciling - erasing - stenciling letters until everything lined up and got the Sharpie treatment in bright pink. With a smile I couldn't get rid of, for the first time in nearly three months I packed all the markers, paint pens, cans of spray paint, sanding supplies, and tools away.  I located the small plastic bag of IKEA hardware necessary to hold all the Trogen parts together (I'll leave my emotional state when I was at first unable to find the darn thing to your imagination) and was finally ready to FINISH! the project...

But first... Throughout the project, plans had been jelling for a big mid-July family get-together to celebrate a bunch of birthdays (we seem to have a genetic predisposition for the late June - early July timeframe).  Since my house was the only local family abode not saturated with feline furriness, I would be the host -- adding the need to rearrange the entire first floor to make room for relatives from three other states to my list of stressors.

Somewhere around the time I used the graphite paper backwards, a dim bulb went on over my head.  I had been scrambling to clear enough space in which to work, shoving pieces of furniture here or there and back again... but there's that big ol' queen size sleep sofa that hasn't been slept on by anyone for at least a decade... and it takes up a lot of room... and it's not even comfortable to sit on anymore... hmmm...

Thus I postponed the final assembly a couple of days until my new-found friends at 1-800-GOT-JUNK could come by and cart off the old sleep sofa (not to mention the dead 32" old-style TV that had been sitting in the middle of the living room for several months until I could find time to take it to the dump). Once it was gone, I was amazed at how much space there was, and mentally kicked myself for not doing that at the beginning of the project.

I also mentally kicked myself a few times when I went to vacuum up all the "stuff" that had accumulated under the sofa & pulled down all the paper that had protected the oak railing from paint overspray.  See all the white floor tiles in the photo? They're supposed to be cream -- and that's not dust on the base of the railing, it's a layer of fine white paint particles that required several cuss-filled hours of careful, gentle sanding to remove.

One the cleanup was done, I set about interpreting the instructional IKEA heiroglyphics. (Even when I worked there, it wasn't uncommon for one of the crew to get most of the way through assembling something only to discover a part was on backwards or upside-down.) There were a few anxious moments dealing with the lid's balky soft-close mechanism, but all the parts came together and in no more time than it would take me to trace a single Olaf picture I had a real live actual shiny white Olafized toy chest in my living room!

All that remained was to present it to the Pipsqueak. After arranging the remaining furniture, I moved the chest into the foyer area and pushed it up against the poor abused oak railing. Shortly before everyone arrived on the day of our get-together, I simply covered it with a bedsheet and made a point of ignoring it when AJ and Miri arrived.  Eventually my niece's curiosity got the best of her, giving me the chance for a very satisfying Grand Unveiling to an appropriate collection of oohs and aahs.

It had taken three solid months of sometimes physically painful work, about $160 worth of assorted supplies (including a new toy chest), and weeks of paint fume-induced headaches and/or overspray-induced sanding, but Miri had a shiny new Olaf toy chest for her things!

Lessons Learned
  1. Always prepare any surface to be painted with careful cleaning and enough light sanding to remove any surface coatings that might reject the paint you want to apply.
  2. Just because the label says your chosen paint will adhere to nearly anything, do NOT skip preparing the target surface.
  3. When the IKEA catalog says something has a clear lacquer coating... see #1 and #2 above.
  4. Make sure you fully understand the difference between (and capabilities of) ultra-fine, fine, and chisel point markers & pens, and experiment on a surface like the one you'll be using them on before spending money on an entire collection of the wrong type.
  5. Make sure you have at least 1 or 2 extras of any critical tool (e.g., black Sharpie markers for inking over pencil/graphite lines). Make that 3 or 4 extras, you can always use them for other things later.
  6. Spray paint goes everywhere no matter how carefully you aim; put at least as much effort into protecting every surface within several feet of where you're spraying as you do into any other part of the task.
  7. If you're using spray paint, think ventilation. Lots of ventilation. No, more than that.
  8. Plain white spray paint will accentuate any cracks or defects on a wooden surface. It will not make them less obvious to the human eye no matter how many coats you spray on.
  9. There's a reason cheap spray paint is cheap and expensive spray paint isn't. If you care about your project, it's worth a couple of extra bucks per can to get a good finish.
  10. Make sure you have enough room to work in comfortably; it's much easier to make a mistake when you've had to fold yourself into an odd shape just to fit into your workspace.
  11. If you're going to trace a design, print the design lightly enough to easily see which parts you have or have not yet traced.
  12. Remember Cheops' Law: "Nothing ever gets built on time or within budget."
  13. "Grease" is not the word. "Patience" is the word. (And keep your sense of humor close by.)
  14. If you can custom-make something yourself, it's a whole lot more satisfying than just gifting someone with a store-bought version.

After all the trials and tribulations, Miri's toy chest was finally gifted to her in mid-July. It is now the first week of November, and the darn thing is still sitting exactly where I put it on that day.  AJ keeps begging for more time to figure out where she's going to put it, and despite my repeated statements that it should not be added to her living room so much as replace some of its current overflowing contents, she just hasn't had the time to figure out what to do. So the Olafized Trogen sits just inside my front door, waiting anxiously (as do I) for my sister and niece to find just the right place for it in their home.  Miri comes over to visit it once in a while, and every now and then I stop to admire my own handiwork...

...but I'm really hoping Miri gets to use it at home before she goes away to college! <sigh>

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