Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A modest Christmas

I've shown you pictures of our mantle and table decorated for Christmas--and that's almost all the decorating we've decided to do this year.  This is our first Christmas with a house, and I don't see a need to buy all of our Christmas decorations all at once.  I made an early decision that we wouldn't buy a tree this year.

But doesn't this ladder-as-Christmas tree from the cb2 catalog seem just perfect for our current lives?

I decided that I would buy a nice big wreath for our front door, and maybe 5 smaller ones for our front windows.  I've always loved the look of a house with white siding, black or green shutters, and lighted wreaths hanging in each window.  (Even before we bought a house with that color scheme!)

And then I discovered that I'm a total wreath snob.  And a cheap-skate.  Bad combination.  I blame my upbringing.  My parents' yard is several acres, full of plants that make for perfect Christmas decorations--boxwood, holly, magnolia, hemlock, nandina....  I'm used to producing wreaths that would cost at least $50 if bought in a store for just the cost of a wreath form and some ribbon.  Which means I'm stuck now that I'm far from my parents, and the stores are full of expensive wreaths that just look terribly fake to my eyes.  (I know it's only going to be seen from 30 feet away on the street, and that will make--almost--all the difference, but still....)

So wreath shopping was a bust, but I still wanted to do something to announce our Christmas spirit to the neighborhood.  So I grabbed my large spool of ribbon, and less than $2 later:

I think the boxwood and it's bow look better with a coating of snow and from this unexpected angle, don't you?

I got the boxwood from P's brother's place last month.  They're a little small to make an impression now, but hopefully they'll be more striking next Christmas.  I'm planning on having them around for the long haul! 

That's why I didn't plant them in the large fiberglass pots I normally have by our front stairs--I didn't want to dig up the boxwood next spring when it's time for colorful annuals.  So I picked up a pair of galvanized metal pails from our local hardware store and drilled a few holes in the bottom for drainage.  Then I worried about rust around the holes, and called P for advice.  He sensibly pointed out that I had a half a can of spray paint that promised to prevent rust for exterior applications--and that it happened to be silver, at that!  I put a thick coat on the bottom.

We'll see how long the pails last before they rust too noticeably--this is definitely an experiment!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Snow day!

We got about two inches of snow last night.  I know most of you are laughing at us for finding this remarkable--so are we.  This is our first winter here, and we hail from parts much farther north.  Still, two inches is about as much snow as this place ever sees--so I figured I should immortalize it.

Since 1. no one knows what to do with snow, 2. the town seems to have only one snowplow, and only about one salt shaker's worth of salt, and 3. the whole town is built into the side of a hill, making for steep roads and difficult traction; all the schools are cancelled, and both of our workplaces are closed today.  Snow day!

By 10 this morning, we could have gotten out without much trouble--but we live on a road with half the town's schools, so we're a plowing priority.  I can see that the side streets just neighboring us haven't been touched yet.  We'll see if school's back on tomorrow or not.

We're enjoying the time to work on our Christmas to-do lists--homemade gifts, wrapping, etc.

I hope you're enjoying your Monday as much as we are!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Just because

I've been looking at house inspiration pictures for months, thinking, "What a lovely exotic fern!  Where would I get a fern that lovely?  All I can find are the 'normal' looking ferns."

Turns out the answer was right under my nose.  There's a florist/greenhouse just a few blocks from our house, but I never went in there until a few weeks ago.  That's where all the different varieties of ferns had been hiding!  And all of the really nice, healthy poinsettias.

I dragged P in on black Friday to buy a poinsettia for my cubicle, and forced him to ooh and aah over the ferns with me.  So a week and a half later, he went back and picked on up for me.  Just because.

Isn't he the sweetest?

It's a moss fern.  Isn't it lovely?

I replanted it in an extra IKEA planter basket I had on hand--texture on texture!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Christmas mantle

P spent the weekend down in the crawl space.  I know he wants to tell you about everything he's been doing down there--he has been taking lots of pictures, and has promised a guest post.

Before he disappeared, he was kind enough to drive lots of thumbtacks into the underside of our mantle, so I could create this:

The silver bead garland, string of twinkle lights, and poinsettia (of course) were the only new purchases--everything else I had on hand.  The twinkle lights were Martha Stewart for Home Depot, warm white LEDs.  They were rather more expensive than the other brand of LEDs available, but I'm very happy with them.  Some LED Christmas lights cast a very blue light--these blend in much better with the color of light given off by the tea lights.

The "votive holders" are actually drinking glasses, and not technically "Christmas" items--they just look that way when lined up together.  (The green ones were a wedding gift; the red ones were my grandmother's.  She used to line them up on a shelf in front of a window, because she liked the way the light shone through them.)

I've had the mini tree and it's ornaments so long that I can't remember when my mom mailed them to me.  College dorm?  First grad school apartment?  The presents are actual gifts--someone requested some very conveniently sized presents this year.  :-)  Hopefully she doesn't mind me using them first!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Deck the table

Teaching my sister-in-law to quilt a table runner last month inspired me to make a Christmas runner of my own.  I finally finished binding it this week, so P would be greeted by a nice holiday table when he got back from his business trip yesterday.

The bowl in the middle contains a batch of popcorn balls my grandmother just mailed us.  They're fantastic!  My grandmother usually makes them as a Halloween treat, but they're totally working for me as a Christmas mood-setter this year.  I guess they make me think of family, and excited about getting to see them in a few weeks.

The runner is reversible for a more subdued look.  I'm pretty pleased with the quilting pattern I used:

I'll be working on more holiday decorating this weekend, so there should be more pictures next week!

Hope you're enjoying your December!

Dare to DIYVisit

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Hall bath: "finished" product

I've been bad about beginning to tell you stories of what we did this spring and summer, and then neglecting to finish them.  Sorry about that.  I'll try to do better.

Let's begin by wrapping up the hall bath, shall we?  To refresh your memories, we started here:

And then we (okay, I) demolished the bathroom in our (my) attempts to get the wallpaper off.

So the wall was in really rough shape.  P was going to have to skim coat it, but he was annoyed and disgusted by the whole thing, so the project languished for a few months.  To be precise, he just wanted to rip the walls down and start over.  I thought that was an unnecessary amount of work and expense.  He thought I didn't understand how much work was involved in skim coating walls that were that bad, and how obnoxious it was to work in such a small space.  Plus he was convinced that there was other stuff wrong with the walls that we hadn't yet put our fingers on, and what was the point in putting all that effort into fixing walls that wouldn't ever be made quite right?

Plus, he didn't like the tile.  Maybe I should have started there.

But I won, and he finally skim coated the walls.  My parents visiting in mid-August provided a good deadline for us to pull the place together.

So, without further ado: 

The color is Benjamin Moore's Healing Aloe, and I'm in love.  Very peaceful.

The color is a little more accurate in the above picture--it's predominately green, but with strong elements of blue and gray. 

I'm not sure why I didn't bother to put the globe over the bulb for the photo.  It generally doesn't live there because there's not enough clearance for the medicine cabinet to open with the globe on.  No joke--that swings out to reveal a medicine cabinet!  I really worked to select a fixture where the bulbs didn't hang straight down from the electrical box, so that the mirror would clear.  So I was pretty annoyed to discover that even this one didn't work.

What do you think I should do about this?  Options:
  • Who needs a globe?
  • Who needs a medicine cabinet?  Just block it, and keep toiletries on the counter, and overflow in the closet (directly opposite the sink).  (FYI, right now I'm practicing a combination of 1 and 2--I haven't bothered to put the globe on, nor do I bother to put my stuff away unless company is coming.)  See the closet in the reflection?

  • Get a new fixture.  This one was cheap, and I'm not in love.
  • Make P move the electrical box that the fixture is wired into to allow more clearance.
  • Get a normal-looking (and normal sized) medicine cabinet.  I find this one charmingly quirky; P finds it ugly.
Anyway, proceeding with the tour.  Our new bathroom fan:

You might not be impressed.  You would be if you knew how much work went into getting it installed.  This one requires a smaller hole in the ceiling than it's predecessor, so P had some surprisingly difficult patching work to do.  (And that's why we were so excited that all our master bathroom fan needed was a coat of spray paint.)

Why replace the fan, you ask?  We almost didn't--neither of us had a huge problem with the old one.  But both of us had this nagging feeling that there was something wrong with it--something with the wiring that might burn down our house.  We each developed this feeling independently, and were very surprised to find that the other felt the same.  So bye-bye, fan. 

(Note: P then got out his electrical meters, and found some very disturbing measurements.  There's a significant amount of voltage floating around in those wires, even when the light switches are off.  Bad sign.  We haven't retested since installing the new fixture, but that probably didn't solve the problem.  It's more likely that the house's original wiring needs some updating.)

Our original plan was to replace the ugly yellow toilet seat.  Why put a gold toilet seat on a white toilet?  Then the toilet died on us.  It probably just needed some part replaced, and we probably could have done it for under $20.  I say "probably" because we didn't bother to even diagnose the problem.  Instead, we just replaced it:
Why spend $200 when we could have just spent $20? 
  1. P really wanted a fancy new toilet with all the modern comfort features: chair height and an elongated bowl.  Personally, I don't really notice the difference, but he's in love.
  2. And this one's the biggie: our old toilet used something in the range of 4-5 gallons of water per flush.  This one uses only 1.28 gallons, yet still manages to have a much more powerful flush that is much less prone to clogging.  (P has been testing capacity by throwing paper towels in after cleaning the bathroom.  So far, he hasn't managed to find its upper limit.  I'm not sure I want to be around when he does.)  This is one of those great moments when what's good for the environment is good for us.
We highly recommend this toilet, if anyone out there is shopping for one.  It's an American Standard Cadet 3.  Not only do we have no complaints after using it for 5 months, but we like it so much that we bought a second one for the master bath.  That toilet was perfectly functional, but a water hog, and since we had to remove it anyway to install the flooring, we just put a new one in then.

Our only complaint was the super-cheap toilet seat it came with--why go to all that trouble and expense for a new toilet and then cheap out on the seat, right?  So we sent the brand new seat to to Habitat ReStore, and picked up this one instead.  Turns out the modern hinges are much easier to clean than the old ones--just as promised.

Enough potty talk--and that completes our tour.  Next time I'll tell you about all the changes we still hope to make in here.

Monday, November 29, 2010

We can't have a party without balloons!

As you surmised from the picture, we hosted Thanksgiving dinner at our place last week.  There's always lots to do before having guests over--removing all of the papers from the kitchen table, straightening up the kitchen, removing the construction equipment from the kitchen...wait, other people don't do that?

I had an additional mission: get rid of the ugly board covering the fireplace.

The problem is that we don't have a damper in our chimney--so that ugly board was the only thing prevent our warm house air from flying up the chimney and heating the whole neighborhood.  And to add insult injury, the board wasn't doing a very good job of it.  It wasn't particularly airtight.  When the air conditioner switched on this past summer, we could often smell chimney soot.  Ick.

Ideally, we should install a damper.  But that's really far down on our very long project list.  So I figured that the ugly and not-very-good-at-its-job board would remain in place for a very long time.

That is, until my friend had the local utility company out to do an energy audit at her house.  And he told her that, even though her chimney has a damper, she really should also install a chimney balloon.

What's a chimney balloon?  Basically, it's exactly like it sounds: a balloon that's inflated inside the chimney to prevent nice warm heated air from leaking out of your house.

Cool!  Sign me up!  Where do I get one?

Google, apparently.  I'm always a little edgy about ordering from a website I've never heard of like  (.us?  Who does that), so I picked it up from a third-party seller on much more reputable.  (This one, if you're interested.)

It arrived, looking so darn gimmicky that I have to admit that I never would have ordered it if the man from our very reputable local utility hadn't recommended it:

I have to admit--this was the first time I had gotten up close and personal with our chimney.  I was surprised to find how narrow it was.  Is everyone's chimney this small?  Or are we special?

Inserting the chimney balloon was not as clean and easy an operation as I expected.  After a few tentative forays, I quickly realized that some specialized gear was required:

I totally would have gone for a dust mask, too, but it's hard to blow up a balloon while wearing something over your mouth.  :-)

Now either my chimney was far smaller than usual, or I was a little too determined and shoved the balloon farther up than the manufacturer intended.  Long instructions with some diagrams definitely would have been handy.  It took me a few tries to get it positioned so that it filled in all of the corners and gaps--and I'm still not at all certain I've got an airtight seal going.  (Which is why I totally need this thermal leak detector--but surely a product that advanced can't actually work if it only costs $30?)

Still, I decided that the situation was good enough for the time being, and look!  a nice, pretty fireplace for our Thanksgiving dinner.*

P still intends to install a damper someday, but now we can both live with the fact that that's about two years down on our to-do list.  :-)

*Yes, the easier and cheaper solution would have been to just light a fire at dinnertime.  But since our high on Thanksgiving day was nearly 70, we decided to skip broiling our guests.  And please note: every piece of packing on the chimney balloon is covered with warnings to remove it before lighting a fire.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

A belated but happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!  Hopefully you're still enjoying time off of work and with family!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Baby's first big rig

How could I have forgotten to upload these pictures from our weekend away?  P's brother has a big rig--though it's not insured, so it doesn't really go out much.  Why does he have a big rig, you ask?  Well, he was approached with a great deal on a used truck, and who doesn't love a deal?

So P got to drive his first rig:

Friday, November 12, 2010

By request

P is a very good sport about letting me talk about him on here.  So when I received an email from him entitled "blog requests," I figured I should take heed.  Especially when the body consisted of:

"Picture of you on the mower

Picture of our nephew trying to tie my boot.

Sawzall taken to our dogwood."
I like being married to a guy who's easy to please.  :-)
(Plus, yesterday was his birthday--I'm not allowed to say "no" to anything this week.)
So, without further ado:

Here I am attempting to drive P's brother's $10,000 zero-turn lawnmower.  I think the bluebook on this must be higher than the values of both my car and P's truck combined.  (Don't worry--it's a commercial vehicle, not just for his own yard.) 
But speaking of the yard, it is the one my sister-in-law uses for their own house.  Luckily the blades weren't down, because it takes some practice to drive it smoothly around curves.  Not really my thing, since I'm proud of myself for having learned to use a push mower just last month.  I've got a long way to go to work up to this beast.

However, someone else is entirely ready: not only does our two-year old nephew love it, he knows more about operating it than either P or I do.  Not saying much when it comes to me, but scary with P--the guy knows his lawnmowers.  The little tyke knows every next step with the mower--but thankfully lacks the dexterity and strength to complete them.  P drove the mower around with the kid on his lap, and when he wanted to complete an operation, he could just look down and see which button or lever it was little A was reaching for.  The kid's going to be scary when he gets a little older--like three.

But for now, he has this amazing attitude--he tries everything for himself, and after a minute, he know when he's outmanned, and looks up, and says, "Help?"

Putting on P's work boots for him was one of those moments:

These final pictures are back in our own yard.  We had a (very) dead dogwood tree that needed to be cut down.  It didn't seem worth it to put gas in the chainsaw for such a small tree.  P is very diligent about not leaving gas in the chainsaw for more than a month.  (And what does he do with the old gas?  It goes in his truck, unless his tank is full, and then he wants to put it in my car.  And I give him the evil eye and say if it's not good enough for the saw, why should I let him put it in my far more expensive car?  Back to the story....)  We knew we wouldn't use the saw again for quite some time.

I came up with the brilliant idea of just using the sawzall.  I'm not used to having a yard so small that I can just run an extension cord anywhere it's needed.  Very convenient.  P was totally game, so:

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Weekend freebies and purchases

P and I spent the weekend visiting his older brother, A.  I've mentioned before that A runs a landscaping business.  He also maintains a nursery, of sorts, of plants that he may use in future installs.  Being the great guy he is, A toured me around the place and allowed me to take whatever I wanted.  I insisted that I just wanted one hydrangea; A wisely insisted that we take our own pickup so we would be sure that my selections would fit.

The final total came out somewhere between my and A's projections:

Plants never look very impressive when photographed against a background of grass. What you (sort of) see here is my hydrangea, plus a swamp magnolia, a chaste tree, some irises, a pair of knockout roses (a has promised me the moon and the stars on these--no need to spray, plus will bloom during unseasonably warm spells in the winter), a few southern shield ferns (which A assures me will grow in full sun, unlike most ferns), a few boxwood, and a butterfly bush.  Don't think I missed anything there...

I other garden news, I made all the right calls in regards to the weekend's freeze!  The pepper plants andthe basil are done in, so it was good I did a full harvest there.  The lettuce, beets, chard and radishes are all still going strong.  The jury remains out on the kale and leek seeds.  Give up on the garden?  Pah! 

A's wife T and I went to a local quilting store, and I came home with all this:

I'm hoping to make a holiday table runner from the fabrics on the left, those on the right are for other projects--or just to build my stash.

T is good with a sewing machine, but didn't know the first thing about quilting.  She picked out a pattern and fabric for a small table runner, and asked me to teach her.  I figured I could teach her to piece this weekend, and she could work on that until our next visit, when we could do quilting and binding.  Well, she had the whole thing pieced and quilting, and the binding machine stichted on the top by the time we left, and was sending us pictures of the completed runner by the time we were halfway through the drive home!  What a natural!  I need to be half so diligent about finishing the handstitching on my pile of projects that's building up!

Of course, one of the highlights of the trip was getting to see our nephew, who's just turned two.  He seems to enjoy sewing just as much as T does.  Saturday morning he insisted that she sit down and sew with him--she runs the machine, and lets him pull the pins out as she goes along.  He takes this job very seriously, and meticulously places each one in the pin cushion.  What an assistant!

Monday, November 8, 2010

DIY madness

P recently went three months between haircuts, and was starting to get a little shaggy:

Since we moved back in February, we haven''t been able to find a place for him to get a decent haircut.  Granted we haven't tried too hard--every time we end up a the local Wal-Mart, even though it disappointed us last time.

P got tired of spending $15 for a haircut he didn't like.  And when he found out that his sister cuts her husband's hair herself, he decided I should do the same for him.

Thus ensued weeks of back and forth arguing, where I insisted that: 1. I had no training, 2. I had no skill, and 3. I had no inherent "eye" for hair.  Seriously--I have no artistic streak whatsoever.  Plus, his hair's tricky!  He's go a cow-lick in a very unfortunate location, that makes it hard to shape the hair on the back of his head just right.

P argued, somewhat convincingly, that what I lacked in skill I made up for in emotional involvement--I care what he looks like.  But what really won the argument for him was sheer stubbornness--I realized that if I didn't cut his hair myself, it wasn't getting done any other way.  And eventually anything I did was going to be preferable to his shaggy mop.

Plus I made him promise, over and over, that he would be okay walking around with a shaved head because I had screwed up his hair beyond repair.

P ordered himself some scissors and a trimmer, and I reviewed pictures of what he was supposed to look like--it had been so long since I had seen him with a good haircut!  Luckily, one of the best he ever received was for our wedding, so it had been well-documented:

And the haircut ended up being something of a team effort:

P was pretty pleased with the results:

According to him, it's "not the worst haircut I've ever received."  Since it was the first one I ever gave, I'll take that as a compliment.

Good thing it worked out, too--we've got another 5 or 6 to go before we break even financially, what with buying the trimmer and scissors.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Refusing to give up

The weather service is calling for our first hard freeze this weekend, and the newspaper has declared that it's time to give up on the garden.  (Digression: the television reporters were doing their best to lather everyone up into a panic about what this means for children at the school bus stop, so parents would have to tune in to find out how to dress their children in the morning.  It's just a few degrees colder than it's been!  Do you really need a television reporter to tell you how to dress your child?  And this is why I read the newspaper instead of TV news.)

I spent a while outside after work yesterday, harvesting the more fragile parts of the garden.

I'm pleasantly surprised by how long the pepper plants all stuck it out.  And my one noble basil plant, doing its best to hang on after the others gave up at light frost.  I pulled up the cosmos in the front months ago, when they were too leggy and collapsed to work in the bed, but I let the ones in the back keep going.  They've bloomed constantly from the very beginning of July through early November--what more could I ask of them?

But I'm not "giving up" on the garden, as the paper suggested.  If this weekend turns out to be an aberration, and temperatures nose up just a little, I'm hopeful that I can eek more out of it yet.  I planted my fall crops woefully late, and am determined to push my luck.  I harvested the largest lettuce leaves, but left the plants intact.  I've got some beets that have a few more weeks before they're ready to be pulled--even as babies.  My radishes are just an inch high, and my swiss chard (and second run of beets) are even smaller.  I only just planted leek and kale seeds this past weekend!  I know both should winter over (as long as it's not as cold as it was last year!)--hopefully they'll be able to germinate and grow those first tender shoots at this late date!

This is my first year in this climate zone, and my first time with a real, in-the-ground garden (as opposed to pots on the balcony), so this is all one big experiment.  But I'm excited to be pushing the boundaries--how sad would it be to give up on a garden that still had life left in it!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Painting the porch--take two

I got our paint retinted, and we put the second coat of paint on the porch today. 

To refresh your memory:


After one coat:

I don't know if anyone else can tell the difference, but we definitely like it better--and that's what matters.

At some later date, we'll paint the foundation with a similar but lighter color--probably the same color we first tried on the steps.