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Beside my recliner is a little basket where I keep stuff I might need but don't want to have to get up to find.

Pen and pencil, toothpicks and floss, scissors and notepad, harmonica and remotes … and my planner.

I don't really use it as a planner. It's more a day-by-day record of stuff I've done, people I've talked to, errands I've run. Not really a diary or journal. No philosophizing to be found. Just a record. I've been writing in the little books since I bought my first house.

On one of the last pages of each volume is a list of major projects. I don't bother to list regular chores, such as tilling the gardens and mowing the lawn. Those have to be done so often I'd never be able to cross them off. And crossing things off is the whole point of a to-do list.

I've even been known to make short-term jobs lists that include things I've already done. That way I can cross them off right away and feel as though I've accomplished something. (I'm otherwise fairly sane.)

During the past 30-some years, the back-of-the-book lists have included such projects as "remodel kitchen" (three times for three different kitchens), "build deck" (also three times), "brick patio" (twice) and "rec room" (only once, but once was quite enough).

I start the list of each year's new book with whatever projects have been on that page the entire previous year but which I never got around to tackling.

I bring this up now, because this past spring I was able to cross off "game chairs." I got the one-time dining room chairs in a swap with a neighbor's daughter. I loved the new chairs but hated their muddy-green vinyl upholstery. That's why they went on the list. And they stayed on the list, year after year, because I never got around to doing anything about them.

My procrastination had everything to do with the fact that sewing is not among my useful skills. Oh, I can repair a ripped shirt or replace a button, but anything beyond that is as much a mystery to me as what makes my pickup move when I press the accelerator.

Enter my buddy, Mindy, who stayed with me for a couple of months and eventually got bored enough to mention one day that she needed a project.

Enter the chairs. You see, Mindy can sew.

And she did, re-covering not only the four chairs but the four rec room bar stools that I inherited with the house — along with their sickly orange upholstery.

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While she was doing that, I worked on the wood. I replaced broken stretchers on the stools and ebonized them, because they hadn't been exactly topnotch furniture originally and I figured black would disguise their flaws.

For the chairs, I spent days scraping and sanding and varnishing their many parts, then still more days screwing those and their newly reupholstered seats, backs and arm pads back together.

No mean feat: Each chair was held together with 37 screws in three types and four lengths. It took me an afternoon just to figure out which went where.

Now, the chairs stand proudly around the game table in the rec room. Which is why, of course, they had been called "game chairs" on the to-do list.

(Send your questions to HouseWorks, P.O. Box 81609, Lincoln, Neb. 68501 or email

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