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.