Monday, September 29, 2014

How do birthdays roll around so quickly?

My week started with a bunch of flowers from a friend of mine sitting on my doorstep,  which may be how all birthday weeks should start.
On Saturday night, I got taken out to dinner.  We went first to a rooftop bar I'd wanted to go to, for a glass of wine before dinner.  The tables were tiled with beer lids.  The atmosphere was a little on the hipster side, but I was glad to be there.  And enjoyed the moment when my date pulled a necklace out of his pocket that he'd picked up for me in Africa.
And enjoyed another moment even more when we went back down stairs to find a place for dinner. The rooftop bar is reached through an enclosed staircase with doors on either end, so it is private.  On our way down, I said, "Hey, check it out," and when he turned to look, hiked up my shirt to show him the lacy corset I had on underneath. His reaction was comical.  He said flatly, "Oh my God," and leaned his head back against the wall for a second with his eyes shut.  Then opened them and said, "Do that again."  I think I caught him off guard and overwhelmed him.  But only momentarily.
We had dinner at an outdoor table.  Pita bread with crawdad dip as an appetizer and a bottle of pinot grigio. I had salmon as my entree. Then home where I had a bottle of birthday champagne chilling. Very nice night.
He left after breakfast, but came back that evening for the neighborhood block party.  I am just loving this neighborhood - it's incredibly friendly.  I asked the landscape architect who organized the party to let me know if he saw me doing anything stupid with my yard and he looked pained. I could see he was debating whether to say anything.  I promised him I wouldn't be offended and he finally told me he'd seen me putting black plastic down...  I quickly assured him it had been down temporarily to kill off grass but that I'd pulled it up before layering cardboard, compost and mulch and would never leave plastic on the ground.  He was mightily relieved to hear that and apparently had been fretting about it!  He liked my inclination toward a great variety in plants and we talked some about gardening in general.
I'd also invited my friend who lives in a different part of the neighborhood, the one I walk with and who'd brought me flowers, to the block.  She made these cute (and delicious) mini chocolate cheesecakes and today I invited my younger son to come over and join us for dessert.  And then they both reluctantly sang me the birthday song when I said, "Okay, y'all have to sing 'Happy Birthday' to me." Later, yet another friend came by to have a glass of wine and talk for a while. All in all, I feel like I'm off to a good start with this year.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The fall planting begins.

Over the last two evenings, I worked in the yard from the time I got home until it was too dark to see what I was doing. I've planted an array of bulbs - 67 pink, black, and apricot tulips, 10 saffron crocuses, 24 purple, blue and pink hyacinths, 13 pink daffodils, 6 mystery rhizomes (brought from the old house but I can't remember what they are), 24 Alpine rosy bells, 20 striped crocuses, 12 nymph gladioli, 12 Oriental lilies, 40 mountain lilies, a dwarf iris, and a purple de oro daylily. In addition, I put in some coneflowers, a peony, six ajuga plants, and 5 liriope. And dug up a small dead tree and transplanted the Harry Lauder's walking stick in its spot.  And loved every minute of the work. But tomorrow I've got 12 people scheduled from 8am until 7pm, which means I'll leave here about 6:30 in the morning and get home close to 8:00 at night.  It'll likely be the weekend before I get around to blogs, but in the meantime, one of my smaller outdoor projects:
After I'd uncovered the water meter from where I'd accidentally buried it and encircled it with stones, I decided it needed a little sprucing up.  Since it is smack in the middle of my flower bed, I wanted something plant-related. I traced ivy vines onto paper and cut them out.
I used that as a stencil and spray painted the leaves and vines pattern with green Rustoleum.
Then found a silver paint pen and used it to outline and draw in veins. What? That meter cover is City property?  Well, we'll just see if I get any complaints.  I like to think the meter reader is going to think of it as a nice change of pace.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

And it may seem like all work, but it isn't.

I've been spending a fair amount of time with a man who brought me back this hand-painted runner from a trip to South Africa. (Those little carved animals around the vase are from my own trip to Tanzania several years ago.)  Although I didn't even have the table before he left for that trip, it magically fit perfectly.
One of our nights was a dinner I cooked in on a week night.  He texted before arriving to ask what he could bring.  My text back: "Just get your ass over here."  And I will say, there is something especially lovely about hearing the next morning, "I'm going to wash the dishes while you take a shower."
And a night out last night, with the chance to get dressed up a little. I'd bought this dress out of season a while back and enjoyed getting a chance to wear it.  We decided to go out for sushi, a favorite of both of ours.
This is what happens when I say, "You always pick out things I like, so why don't you go ahead and order for us."  Edamame, a bottle of pinot noir, and an absurd amount of sushi. The only one I requested before he ordered was the ones with salmon roe.  Little bursts of the ocean on your tongue. All of it was good, but the white tuna was so tender it was like butter.
I'm not ready to say much about this relationship yet, except that it feels like home.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

I keep the neighbors entertained.


Like most houses in this neighborhood, I have an old asphalt driveway that is cracked and pitted.  I don't actually mind it, but it and the walkway to the house were awfully uneven and the steps in pretty bad shape. However, when I got an estimate, replacing the driveway was out of my budget for now, and I decided just to focus on the walkway and the steps.
My primary goal was to divert the flow of water during rainstorms so that it wasn't pooling up at the base of the steps.  And while I was at it, repair the steps themselves.
Since I couldn't work on the bed I'd planned until the sidewalk was finished, I covered the area in heavy black plastic to start killing off the grass.  In the meantime, the contractor ripped out the old asphalt and hauled it away. As with many of my yard projects, friendly neighbors stopped by to comment on what I was doing.
The original plan was to just keep the three steps.  But then I had an idea.  I asked my contractor what he thought about eliminating the bottom step and raising the level of the sidewalk so that we could run tubing underneath it to take water from the drain all the way down the slope to the side yard.  I am going to say without any modesty that he thought this was a great plan.
Gravel in, grass roasting away under plastic.  And you can see from the driveway on the right what the old walkway looked like.
The concrete was poured the next day and I thought he did a beautiful job.  All that was left at that point was removing the wooden frames for the steps.
In the meantime, I'd looked into renting a tiller and finally decided that for the same price as a day's rent I could buy a little electric tiller. I started tilling up the dying grass in the front bed.  Photos will come as I get that bed finished up.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Another indoor project.

My old dining room table got pretty damaged in the move when I left some wet things on it, unaware that the top was a veneer over particle board.  Much warping later, lesson learned.  I set out to find a table that was all wood, but still within my budget.  I finally found one I liked on-line and ordered it.  It turned out to be much smaller than stated on the site, and had been damaged in transit. Two slightly dented corners made it clear the damned thing was NOT solid wood as they claimed, but a veneer over particle board.  It also had frosted green glass inserts in the top, which I'd taken to be placemats in the photos, but I actually liked those. I emailed to let them know it had been damaged and they refunded my money and told me if no one arrived to pick it up within a week to discard the item.  No one did and I discarded it right into my dining room as a temporary table.
While I was looking at other options, my older son suggested I build my own.  Well, I didn't know about that.  But the idea was turning around in my head and I decided on a middle way approach. The dining room table has now become my computer desk in the study/guest room. The dented corners are against the wall and not noticeable. Not bad for a free desk.
I found a guy who makes countertops and tables from wood he reclaims from old farm structures.  I sent dimensions and asked if he'd make a table top for me in lighter-colored wood.  In the meantime, after looking at various table leg options, I ordered a set of iron hairpin legs.  They were introduced in 1941, and seemed like a good style fit for my 1945 home.  I bought a can of Rustoleum in hammered bronze and painted them.  When the table top arrived it weighed 85 pounds and I had a hell of a time getting it into the house.  But once in, the legs were easy enough to attach.
The wood is a yellow pine from a tobacco curing shed on an old homestead in Davidson County, NC, just south of the Winston-Salem area.  I was told that the wood had been cut and milled on the property more than a century ago. You can see the band saw marks in the surface of the wood.  I love the rich history of it and it looks like an old farm table to me. I got it finished just in time for my younger son's visit home for lunch yesterday.
Tobacco killed both my grandfathers.  One died from lung cancer, one from emphysema.  It was hard seeing them suffer so much. The wood that once helped produce a substance that took the lives of two people I loved now serves to help nourish others I love.  Including those men's great-grandsons. It feels karmically redemptive.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Bath update.

This little house has only one bathroom.  When I bought it, it looked like this.  Judging by the wallpaper, I assume it to be a 1980's update. Note the odd home-made light fixture, a sort of low-budget Hollywood starlet's dressing room look.  Also the tp on the back of the toilet? No holder for it, no towel rod, nothing like that. You can't really see it in the photo, but the cabinets on the left had old-fashioned doors with external brass hinges and ceramic knobs. Since the entire bathroom was painted pink at one point, bits of pink were showing through the woodwork.
Therefore, it's one of the projects that has occupied my time.  I had been considering using a cabinet company that allows you to buy unfinished cabinets or cabinet doors on-line and paint and install them yourself.  But I hated to jump in with something as big as a kitchen.  To test them out I ordered four doors for the bathroom cabinet. You send measurements (to the 1/16th of an inch) and choose the style of door and hinges.  I picked a style that mirrored the woodwork of the doors in this house. When they arrived, I drilled holes for the knobs I'd bought and painted them with three coats of white paint.
I hate dealing with wall paper.  And worse, behind it I found the upper portions of the walls riddled with mold.  I scrubbed the walls with bleach twice and put on a couple of coats of a primer that claims to be mold/mildew resistant.  I also discovered that the weird mirror/light covered the opening for an older medicine chest.
Taping off the woodwork on the cabinet was a little challenging.  And then taping the walls later so I could re-paint all the woodwork.
Because the walls were so damaged, I mixed in silica sand for a grainy texture to provide some camouflage.  The paint I'd chosen, "Fresh Praline," looked like a nice warm brown. Looked like that on the sample, anyway.  I painted a swatch on the wall and realized it was actually a color somewhere in between Dijon mustard and poop.  Nope. I went back to the store and picked out this lighter color.
Before covering up the opening, I painted a peace sign and signed my name and the date. Maybe the next remodeler will find it.
I wanted to put in a tile backsplash and border and found this great retro penny tile on clearance.  It matches the white ceramic tile in the tub and the circles echo the rounded detail on the cabinet.
Tiling is a lot of work.  Especially smooshing the grout in and then cleaning it back off.  When I was working, I was flashing back to feeding babies rice cereal, who would immediately push it back out of their mouths.  Spoon in, scrape what is ejected off their cheeks with the side of the spoon, spoon it back in.  Over and over. Except that the tiles don't bang their chubby little fists on the high chair tray and chortle with glee as they extrude the grout.
Now that the entire bathroom is in shades of tans/browns and white, with only a few green accents, towel choice was easy. I found (on sale, because that's how I operate) cotton towels that are quick-drying and so easier on the environment because they require less dryer time.
Hanging the cabinet doors was less than easy on my own.  I needed a hand to hold the door in place, a hand to get the hinge aligned, and a hand to use the screw driver.  Last time I checked, I only had two hands.  It was especially difficult balanced on a ladder.  But I did it, and the hinge adjustment worked as advertised to make them line up perfectly.  I wish I had the before photo, because this looks like a new cabinet now.
As tough as hanging the doors was, it didn't compare to installing the light fixture and mirror.  I'd re-used a black wooden frame I already had, painted it white and bought a mirror to fit.  I had a hell of a time balancing it as I affixed it to the wall.
The only interior door in the house without a glass knob was the bathroom.  It had been replaced with a shiny brass knob, probably so it could be locked.  But I discovered a company that sells replicas and was even able to get one with a lock.
And done.  I installed a towel rack, a hook for a towel by the tub, a curved shower curtain rod, toilet paper holder and hand towel ring. And put matching knobs on the shutters.  Hard to tell from the pictures, but it feels bigger and lighter in there now.  I'm looking forward to showing it to my younger son when he visits this weekend.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

I'm moved into some beyond-busy state.


Seriously, I move from one project to the next, often back and forth between them, with little time out for much of anything else. Preparing one of the flower beds, I watched as a feather floated from the sky to land in front of me in the dirt.  But it is hard for me to feel similarly at ease with all I'm trying to get done.
I did take an evening out to make dinner for a friend and her daughter. Herb-crusted salmon, potatoes with parmesan and pesto, roasted asparagus, olive bread. Mac and cheese for the little one who said (I'm told), "Mama, can we come back here? Her house is cozy." And see the tiny wine tasting bottles I'm now using as mini vases?
I got a big bunch of alstroemeria for 4 bucks at the grocery store, enough to fill the six little wine bottles and two vases.   One of which is a bottle of Buddha beer that I spray painted with hammered bronze paint.  Most of my projects, however, have been insanely time-consuming.  I plan to take pictures soon so I can post updates.
In the meantime, I'm needing to find a way to relax some.  Sit out on my deck, maybe. Near the horseshoe crab shell I scavenged at the beach a couple of years ago. Everyone has one of those on their deck, right?  Maybe with a glass of wine and my laptop, and try to catch up. Yeah.  Probably not going to happen until planting season is over.