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.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

It will indeed be a weekend of labor.

I've got all kinds of projects going on, both indoors and out.  This Labor Day weekend, which starts right now for me, I plan to just throw myself into the work.
But because I can't just live my life in any sort of normal way, I've had a confusing situation with men going on.  Still sorting it all through, but some of the fun parts include a wine tasting with someone who was helping me on one of the projects.   I saw an ad for a company that sends this kit for $6.95 and then, after you compare them two at a time and rate them, they send you a wine profile and monthly boxes of wine tailored to you.  I opted out before the first shipment (I'll pick my own wines, thanks), but enjoyed the game and was unsurprised to hear I like full-bodied, fruity red wines. And hey, now I have a set of cute little bud vases.
Dinner with someone else at a bistro downtown.  After dinner the waitress asked if it was separate checks and he said, "I'll get it - it's her birthday."  We both laughed because that was not close to the truth.  I turned to the waitress to tell her it wasn't really my birthday but she was already saying, "Then you get a dessert!"  And would I care for their dark chocolate torte with raspberry sauce?  Well, heck yeah- it's my birthday!
I also had a couple of nice dinners out with yet another someone else, one of which included this amazing architectural version of tuna salad: raw ahi tuna, lump crab meat, romaine, roasted red peppers, avocado, pineapple, mango, tortilla straws and a citrus-soy glaze.  We had a dozen PEI oysters on the half shell as an appetizer and a bottle of rioja. I just don't get tired of food like that.
A friend visiting last night, who paints and sculpts, sat in my living room and said, "You have a very particular aesthetic, and stay true to it.  I can't believe you aren't a painter."  Then he looked at me and said, "Or maybe you are and you just don't know it."  There was something about that way of thinking about it that I loved.

But now, the yard is calling me.  I have work to do.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

No real "before" on this project.

As this house has only a single car garage, I decided to have a gardening shed made.  It's one of those Amish-built, made-to-order companies. Well, mostly made-to-order.  When I was sitting down with the guy, we had this conversation:
Me: "I want a shed that is 10 by 8 feet."
Him: "We don't make 10 by 8.  But you can get 8 by 10."
Me: "You do know that's the same thing, right?"

Turns out, it matters in terms of door placement.  So I went with an 8X8 shed because I didn't want it to intrude onto the neighbor's property.  With this company you pick things like number and size of windows, type of door, roofing materials, paint, shelving and so on. Most people go with a barn style or a windowless utility shed.  Me, I wanted one that looked like a little cottage. Once made, it was delivered on a big truck and maneuvered into place, carefully avoiding a couple of small dogwoods. The delivery guy was exceedingly careful with the low hanging hemlock boughs.  He gathered the rhododendron limbs and pulled them to the side and said, "Will you hold her back for me?"  Her.
The inside was unfinished wood, so I used paint I'd found in the garage to make it a light yellow inside.  I had a work bench built with a shelf under it and I brought the enamel topped table I found at my last house.
I ordered windows on all three sides plus a door with a window for maximal light.  The three windows in the walls open and are screened. I added a clip on fan after these pictures to move air around when I'm working in there.  And the hemlocks keep it nice and shaded. I also had the electrician run a wire to the shed and add an outlet. I put in a light over the bench and added a remote battery-operated light switch at the doorway. On that shelf, the batteries for the mower and weed whacker are kept charging.  That wooden sign used to hang on my pig's pen when I was a kid. I had an American Yorkshire named Rosie because I wanted a pink pig like Wilbur in Charlotte's Web.
Hooks and so on hold various gardening tools.  I made some sheer curtains that can be closed when I am not in it so the tools aren't an invitation for a break-in.  And hung up the little Tibetan prayer flags.
Bird-feeding station is right by the front door, with bins of seed and corn for the squirrels.
Today I transplanted two gold mop false cypress bushes from the front bed because I don't like yellow plants in sunny areas.  I also put down some flagstone and will fill in with dirt and plant some groundcover (moss, maybe) in between the stones.  I bought and painted numbers that match the ones on the house and added a 1/2.  I felt like the shed needed a number of its own. One little ceramic tree frog later and I think you'll have to agree it's the cutest little gardening shed in the world.