Good-bye to 2012

Popping in for a quick end of the year post to prove I'm still here. I'm looking forward to a new year and starting over with this blog. I want to make a few small changes here at Red Telly but mostly I want to get into the habit of posting on a regular basis, if for no other reason than to just have a place to record for myself what is going on in my life.

Here are a few things I hope to be blogging about in 2013:

  1. Organizational progress as I try to whip this house into something more functional, tolerable and much less cluttered. 
  2. Photography! I recently bought myself the nice DSLR camera I've been coveting for a long time, or I should say my first DSLR. There is so much to learn and it's going to be a continuing learning experience for me. I'd like to do the 365 Day Photo Challenge, but for now I think I'll call it a 30-day Photo Challenge to see how it goes. Hopefully at the end of a year I'll be able to look back and see that I've made some significant improvement in my photography skills. 
  3. Food posts, particularly about eating vegetarian and a more healthful diet.
  4. Continued posts about decorating, rehabbing furniture and my thrift shopping finds. 
Tonight will be spent quietly at home with just the hubby and I, as usual. We'll have a nice dinner, watch a movie, play some cribbage and ring in 2013 with a glass or two of bubbly. Tomorrow we'll be cheering on our Wisconsin Badgers in their third consecutive trip to the Rose Bowl! Go Bucky!

See you back here in 2013!


Bringing Home Some Jamaican Sea

I took advantage of some lovely fall weather this last week to do one last painting project before it gets too cold to paint outside. No Jamaican beaches for me, alas. Keep reading to find the reference to the title. In my haste to get started on this dresser rehab I completely forgot to take any before pictures. Darn! But here is the after picture of the made over dresser. I was so anxious to get photos that I took them while it was still sitting in the garage.  

Isn't she a beauty? I was looking for just this sort of piece with carved drawer detail and nice hardware. When I spotted it in the thrift store I knew it was the perfect thing for a makeover and I was already picturing it done over in a bright popping color. It had a dinged up and ugly brown stain finish, some of the veneer was coming loose and one of the drawer pulls was in need of repair. But it was heavy and solid, had dovetail drawers, and nice detail. So I quickly threw down my money and schlepped it home. 

Unfortunately there were a few glitches along the way to getting it all pretty. After I had cleaned, applied Zinsser paint deglosser (no sanding!), and spray primed I started in with my first coat of spray paint, Valspar gloss enamel in the color "exotic sea". The first can went on fine and got me halfway through the second coat. Then disaster. The second can did not match the first color!! It was much darker and more vivid! I rechecked to be sure both cans were labeled the same and they were. Sorry Valspar, you won't be getting my business again. I also wasn't loving the gloss finish but it was the only paint I could find in the color I wanted. On top of everything else it was going on very blotchy. By that point I was nearly in tears. It looked like a 5-year old had tried to tackle this project. Time to shut the garage door and retreat before any more damage was done. 

A couple glasses of wine later I came to the conclusion that I would have to ditch the spray paint and use a brush and roller to complete the project. That would entail sanding down the glossy finish already on there and going out in search of a compatible paint color. Luckily I found a perfect match with Pittsburgh Paints' "Jamaican Sea".  (By the way I love that Pittsburgh's website gives you the name and number of other brand's paints that match their colors. Give it a try.) I bought a satin finish this time instead of gloss. Luckily the carved detail on the drawers had already been done with two coats in the original first can of spray paint so I didn't have to try to redo those with a brush which would not have been easy. I used a foam roller on all the flat surfaces and across the top of the carved detail. Two coats later I ended up with a beautiful durable smooth finish. Then I gave it three coats of Minwax wipe-on polyurethane. Oh my stars!! How has this product eluded me all this time? I've had so many frustrating experiences with regular brush on poly leaving hideous brush marks. This stuff is the cats pajamas! The bees knees! It takes mere minutes to wipe on with a lint free cloth and leaves a nice smooth finish when dry. A very light sanding between coats with a fine grain finishing pad took about two minutes.

I thought about doing some antique finishing on the dresser with a bit of strategic sanding and glazing but time was running out (in regards to workable weather) so I decided to leave it as is for now. Finally I spray painted the dark brass hardware with some ORB (oil rubbed bronze) and lined the drawers with a black and white print cotton fabric applied with spray adhesive.

I'm really happy with how it all turned out in the end. I hope to get some pictures of the dresser once it's at home in my daughter's apartment and after some pretty styling. Until then enjoy a few more detail photos.



I have to preface this post by saying that I seriously need a new camera and am in the process of researching my options to upgrade to a DSLR. Now that the days are growing shorter and the light weaker I am again reminded of the limitations of my point and shoot Canon Powershot, especially when it comes to interior photography. So I apologize for the poor quality of the photos here.

Okay, back to the business at hand. My daughter needed some kind of headboard for her bed frame in her new apartment. Again, not wanting to spend too much money, I figured I could easily enough make something for her. We wanted something light colored to contrast with the brown walls and something that also would complement her comforter which is black with a gray and white dot print. On our recent trip to IKEA we ran across this Britten fabric. It seemed perfect for the project at hand and at just $4.99 a yard it wasn't a budget buster. The fabric is a bit thinner than I'd prefer (you can see the floral print of my ironing board pad through it in this photo) but as long as it had white batting behind it I figured it would work okay. Everything else I needed for the project I already had so that was the only new expense.

Here's what I needed to make the headboard for a twin size bed.
  • Two 8' lengths of 1x2 pine lumber. 
  • One 4' piece of 1x2 lumber. (Lumber found in my husband's stash.)
  • Vinyl netting. (Left over from the garden.)
  • Upholstery batting (Left overs from my rattan chair cushions.)
  • 1-1/2 yds. 54" fabric (IKEA)
  • 1/2" staples (Already had.)
  • 4-3M Command velcro strips (already had)
To begin I used a miter saw to cut four 48" lengths of 1x2 that would be joined to form a square. We decided we wanted the headboard to be wider than the bed and to go all the way to the floor since it would be visible on either side. I also cut a cross piece to go vertically in the center of the square for some added stability in case my daughter wants to prop a pillow up against it for reading in bed. If you're making a headboard for a larger bed you may want to add more cross pieces.

I used 1/2-inch staples to hold everything together, stapling on both sides of the frame. I needed something to back the batting to hold it in place and was considering stapling some cardboard onto the frame when I happened to spy some vinyl deer netting we had leftover from our attempt at keeping the deer out of the garden. I cut the batting large enough so that I would have a few inches extra to wrap around the frame. My batting fabric was only half as wide as the frame so I cut two pieces to butt against one another on the crosspiece and stapled them together.

Finally I was ready to prep the fabric. You'll want to be sure to iron away any wrinkles or creases before attaching it to the frame. I used some spray starch to give the thin fabric a bit more body. Then I assembled everything by lying the fabric on the floor wrong side up with the batting sandwiched between the fabric and frame. Aligning the print just right was a bit tricky so that I didn't end up with lines of words going off on a slant as I pulled the fabric taut.

I started by wrapping the fabric and batting around the frame and stapling it in the center of one side with about three staples, then pulling the fabric tautly I stapled in the same manner on the opposite side. Next I repeated the procedure on the remaining two sides. Gradually I kept adding staples every few inches in the same manner working with opposite sides as I went. I left plenty of space at the corners to be able to wrap and tuck there and then went back and finished stapling any gaps on the sides. I didn't show how I did the corners. It was just trial and error to get everything looking neat and tidy. It's much like wrapping a gift.

Here's the completed headboard after all the stapling was complete. After all the supplies were gathered it only took a little over an hour to complete the project. 

And here it is in place behind the bed. The headboard simply stands on the floor and is secured to the wall at the top with a couple of easily removable 3M Command velcro strips. A very easy, inexpensive project and best of all my daughter likes it! 

Budget breakdown:  Fabric from Ikea: $7.49!!

Obviously it will cost more if you don't have the other items on hand like I did. But compared to going out and buying a custom fabric headboard you'll still be saving a lot of dough by making your own. Now that I know how easy it is I'll definitely be doing this again. Plus the fabric can fairly easily be swapped out for something different if my daughter ever wants to change the decor. 

FYI: The mercury glass lamp came from Goodwill (still sold at Target) and the bedside table was a curbside find!  


Mid-Century Swedish Teak Roll-top Desk...aka Blix

Meet my new b.f.f. Isn't she a beauty? And she's mine thanks to Craigslist and $75.

I've named her Blix, which means joy in Swedish, because that's what I feel when I look at her! When I saw the stencil underneath that said 'Made in Sweden' my heart did a little flipflop. She wasn't quite as beautiful when I first got her. There were some scratches and edge chips to the teak veneer. Nothing a bit of carefully applied stain and colored wood putty couldn't remedy. I'd just applied a coat of teak oil before taking these photos so it looks a bit shinier than it will probably be once it's all absorbed. The book-matched grain on the drawers and veneer detail on the roll top make me almost swoon. 

A few close-ups you say? But of course!




There's an interesting story with the key. The desk didn't have a key, which was unfortunate because it's very difficult to open the roll-top without something to grab onto. About a year ago I sold an old wardrobe cabinet that had been in my family for several generations. It had originally belonged to my grandparents, then was in my bedroom growing up, and finally was used by my children. When closing up my grandfather's apartment, after he had gone to the nursing home, I found a key that looked like it might belong to the cabinet. And sure enough it fit! Flash forward to last year when I sold the wardrobe and part of me just wanted to keep a little something to remind me of it and my grandparents. So I never told the buyer I had a key. I felt a wee bit guilty but not too much since we'd used it for so many years clueless ourselves. At any rate I started thinking maybe the key would fit into the keyhole in the desk far enough so that it could be used as a handle of sorts. So I tried the key and it fit remarkably well. Holding my breath I gave it a turn and whoa! Out popped the deadlock! I had the lid open just in case which was fortunate because although I could lock it I couldn't get it to unlock again. Bwah bwah. Luckily I was able to remove the whole lock mechanism and pry the deadbolt back into position with a small screwdriver. Whew! So now, as long as no curious person gets the urge to turn the key while the lid is closed, it's safe. 

My heart was ahead of my brain when I bought this desk. I really didn't have a place to use it but I just had to have it. What? Mere technicality. It needed to go to someone who would appreciate it and that was me! Obviously the person selling it for $75 didn't appreciate it's value. I've seen these selling for much, much more in my internet searches. For the time being it's headed to my daughter's apartment (with many motherly admonitions to treat it with utmost TLC!!). She needed a desk and I needed a place for a desk so in the end it was destined to be. The heart knows I tell ya!

Update: An older teak piece like this desk may need several coats of teak oil. After several months it is once again looking rather dull. The wood was very dry to begin with and quickly soaked up the oil. I'll probably give it a couple more coats again soon so that the wood is well saturated. 


Laundering an Ikea Paong Chair Cover

I must make apologies for the blog absence once again.  My college grad daughter moved home at the end of July while in transition to the next chapter of her life. It was fun having another female in the house for awhile again and I got out of the habit of blogging. This week she'll be moving into her own apartment in a neighboring community. She'll be living much closer this time so moving will be an easier task than usual and done over several days. Hopefully it will be easier on all of us than those student moving days of the past.

The last few weeks I've been having a ton of fun as acting interior decorator! My daughter's previous apartments have always been partially furnished student housing supplemented with the usual mismatched collections that roommates scrounge together. This time she's moving into her own unfurnished apartment but on a very shoe string budget. Since I have about a million decorating ideas floating around in my obsessed brain I offered my role as interior designer. Between Craigslist, second hand stores, thrift sales and our attic/basement/garage we've managed to come up with almost everything she needs. Most of it has needed some TLC. I've been making good friends with paint brushes and spray paint, my sewing machine and the family moving van. The next few posts will highlight some of the projects that have been undertaken.

Yesterday we found two Ikea Paong chairs at a thrift sale. They came with the Alme natural covers which, unfortunately, were quite grungy. The previous owners let their two dogs sit in the chairs and it looked as if they were dirty wet dogs at that. The cushions were filthy, covered in dog hair, and had mildew stains. I wish I'd remembered to take some before pictures so you could see how truly miserable they looked.

I really had my doubts that I'd be able to make the covers look presentable and was looking forward resigned to making a trip to Ikea to purchase new covers. But I figured I had nothing to lose by trying. For anyone faced with a similar situation I'll outline how I tackled the job. It's a bit of a chore but well worth it considering replacement cushions start at $30 for the plain jane natural Alme cover and go up from there.

Your first step is to unzip and remove the foam inserts. This needs to be done carefully. Don't just tug at them because more than likely you'll tear the foam. I reached in and kind of folded the foam corners down and carefully rolled the pieces out. I didn't attempt to clean the foam but I did give them a good airing on the clothesline for several hours. They weren't stinky and didn't have any signs of mildew so I felt comfortable with that. If they had I probably would have bought new foam instead of trying to clean it. Foam is expensive so I'm glad I was able to avoid it.

I then turned to dealing with the covers which are a padded quilted construction with an attached headrest. Following some advice I'd found online about how to remove mildew stains I made a paste of granular oxygen cleaner (I used Oxiclean), water and ammonia. I applied it liberally to the stains. The liquids immediately soaked into the padding and left me mostly with the undissolved Oxiclean so I used a soft brush and more water to work it into the fabric. Then I folded the pad in half with the treated areas inside (I mainly needed to treat the seat area) to keep things moist and let it sit for at least half an hour.

Next I ran the covers, one at a time, through a rinse cycle on my washer using a full load setting. I have a large capacity washer and wanted to be sure there was plenty of room for the cushion to move around. It's bulky and heavy when wet so two cushions together would have been hard on the washer I think. After a spin I took the cover out and refilled the machine with tepid water, laundry detergent and a cup of bleach. The washing instructions on the cushion say not to use bleach but I decided I'd risk it with the natural covers. Obviously you wouldn't use bleach if you have colored covers. Once the bleach was well diluted I submerged the cover and let it soak for a half hour again before running it through the complete wash cycle with a double rinse to get rid of as much of the bleach as possible.

A word of warning: DO NOT put these into the dryer! They're constructed of cotton and have a synthetic backing of some kind that would most likely shrink with heat. Hang them to line dry and if at all possible hang them outside in the sun. We had a breezy sunny day yesterday so the conditions were ideal. There were still some telltale traces of the stains when I hung the cushions outside but by the time they had dried and further bleached in the sun the stains were gone! It was amazing! They look as good as new. They do still have a faint lingering bleach odor but another day of airing outdoors should take care of that.

Many people have complained about the near impossibility of getting the foam pieces inserted back into the covers. Personally I didn't have any problems with it. You need to take your time and not try to slide the cushion in. It won't work. I folded the foam into thirds lengthwise and then it was fairly easy to just position the foam inside as far as it needed to go and carefully unfold it, tucking the corners into place and smoothing everything out. I hope that makes sense. It took about two minutes. Easy peasy.

So there you have it.  Tomorrow the moving starts and when I've had a chance to catch my breath again (literally...5th floor apartment) I'll fill you in on a few of my other projects.


Leaving Me Breathless

With the recent hot weather I've been spending way more time than I should usual on my sofa with the laptop, a cold drink and the AC. There's no easier way to suck up time than getting lost in Pinterest or tumblr. I have so many ideas for projects crammed in my bookmark folders  it's ludicrous that I even dare look at some of those sites. All talk and no action is my m.o. apparently.

On one of the recent hot day browsing sessions I found a tumblr page that left me breathless. If you are a visual person that likes beautiful eye candy then this site will have your heart palpitating like it did mine. It's called Que Bueno Es Vivir!! OMG!! The pictures are categorized by color and as you scroll the color theme gradually changes. It's like looking at a glorious beautiful rainbow of images. If I could tell you how wonderful this is to me I would have to cover the page entirely in exclamation points!! That's how delicious it is. Stunning! Stupendous! Incredible! Wow to the extreme! Can you tell I like it?

Do check it out. But be warned...you will be sucked in. Do you like cute little animals? Beautiful scenery? Stylish clothing? Decor and architecture that makes you salivate? Food that makes you salivate more? Yep, it's all there. In glorious living color. Pant, pant. Enjoy...


How to Keep Cool (and Sane) This Sweltering Summer

I've been absent from this blog for much too long. For some reason I just can't seem to post with any regularity. Blame it on family commitments in June (a wedding and family reunion) and now the HEAT!  Today is our first day in over a week with normal summer temperatures. It's a beautiful 83˚ day with low humidity, a blue sky, and gentle breezes. I woke up early this morning and went around the house opening every window to let in the fresh cool air. I thought I'd died and gone to heaven! Considering that the past week felt hot as hell that's not a rash statement. Also my brain started functioning again. I feel like I've woken up from a semi-vegetative state and suddenly have my energy back. So long sofa. We've spent way too much time together lately.

We're not exactly strangers to uncomfortable summertime weather here in the midwest. The humidity can get oppressive even when the temperatures aren't high. So far the dew points haven't been too bad but with temperatures kissing 100˚ for several days in a row it was just as miserable. So here are a few things we do to in our home to try and make life more tolerable in hot weather.
  • If it's been cool enough to have the windows open at night we will close everything up again first thing in the morning to try and retain that cooler air for as long as possible.
  • Blinds and shades are closed to the sun facing windows, so east windows in the morning and west windows in the afternoon. I've noticed a real difference now that we have our new energy efficient windows. The old single pane glass used to get hot to the touch and the new windows stay cool. We have quite a few east and south facing windows so that alone makes quite a difference. 
  • We try to keep the AC set no lower than 77˚ and use the circulating fan feature on the HVAC. Just having that air movement makes it feel a few degrees cooler. If I'm in the kitchen cooking I also like to use a tower fan to help dissipate the extra heat that may be generated. 
  • I try to do any cooking or baking early in the day so I don't have to use the stove or cooktop at dinnertime. A quick reheat in the microwave at mealtime doesn't heat up the house. Other options are cold meals, the crock pot or outdoor cooking. 
  • I take cool baths! It feels wonderful to submerge myself into a nice cool clawfoot tub and enjoy a lengthy soak. Granted I have the luxury of a big old tub and we're empty nesters so no one is pounding on the door wanting to use the bathroom. *
  • That brings me to towels. After a bath or shower I will take my towels and hang them outside or on clotheslines we have strung in the basement. They dry better, don't add to the humidity in the house and don't get that funky sour smell they get if they don't fully dry. 
  • If I don't have to go anywhere I'll let my hair air dry after washing it. It doesn't look as nice as  blow dry styling but at least I'm not blasting hot air at my head and contributing to more heat in the house.  I have really thick hair so it can take as much as a half day to fully dry to the roots but even that helps keep me cooler. My husband says he likes my more bohemian look anyway, aka frizzy hair. : )
  • If I have laundry to do I'll try to do it early or late. I don't use the dryer much in summer and especially not on hot days. I'll line dry morning laundry outside if weather permits and if not, or if it's evening, I drape the wet laundry on my basement lines and drying racks. It's surprising how quickly it dries. 
  • We use a dehumidifier in the basement which is a real necessity at keeping mold and mildew at bay. We have ours set up with a hose to the drain. We used to have to empty the tank and were forever forgetting. The water is great however if you have hard water as we do and need softened water for anything. In summer I save a few gallons in emptied milk jugs to use for my steam iron. I filter it first just in case there is anything that has settled out.
  • Our porch windows have blinds that I can pull down. Even though those are uncooled areas it still helps keep the cushions on the porch furniture from fading. I've even been known to hang sheets or beach towels in front of the full length glass doors on really hot days. Not the prettiest sight but when it gets really hot I'm more concerned with function than looks.
So how have you been surviving the heat wave? Any tricks or tips you want to share? Have any good recipes that don't involve cooking?  Making plans to move to Alaska?

*My dream house will have an outdoor shower. Or at the very least have a private yard where I can run through a sprinkler without the neighbors thinking I've lost my marbles.


Porch Ponderings

Good morning from the back porch here at Red Telly. I'm sitting here with my wake-up coffee, in my comfy Ikea chair, enjoying a very pleasant start to the day. The birds are singing and a light cool breeze is gently ruffling the leaves of the clematis on the trellis just outside the window. The sun was shining but some light clouds have moved in, which is good because it's keeping it cool. We're in for some hot, humid, stormy weather all the way through the holiday weekend. I loathe heat and humidity. The idea of spending a long holiday weekend cooped up indoors is not my idea of a holiday, especially when there is so much to be done outside right now. At any rate I could sit here for hours, if that were possible, soaking up the loveliness of it all. However I need to venture out to do shopping today. It'll be one of those all day "need to find something to wear for a specific occasion" shopping ventures. I hate it when I absolutely have to find something because it usually ends up that I have to settle for something that I end up hating and never wearing again.


I need to do a bit of tidying on this porch. As always, entropy rules once again. No matter how hard I try to keep this space orderly it eventually becomes a convenient dumping ground for daily life. There are an assortment of shoes (all mine I'm afraid) kicked off when I come in from the garden. Gardening gloves and flower pots for some transplants I've been intending to do. The necessary mosquito repellent and sunscreen for when I head out to the garden. I have a retractable line where I hang wet dishcloths, dishtowels and bath towels to dry for a few hours or in the present case for days. There is the box with the paint sprayer I've been meaning to try out soon. A small pile of throw blankets I keep in the car during the winter months which haven't been put away yet. Grilling utensils and mitts I keep meaning to take out to the garage where they belong. The compost bucket to be carried out and emptied next time I head out the door. A hat and pair of sunglasses. A small folding table I haven't figured out where to keep that we sometimes use for dining on the front porch. A cardboard box. If you offered me a million dollars I couldn't tell you what it contains. And finally a wicker laundry basket of sheets and pillowcases that I brought in from the clothesline yesterday and haven't folded yet.

My favorite iris.
The yard and garden are looking especially fine. I love this time of year. Everything is so green and not overgrown. The peonies and red poppies are just about to bloom, the iris and salvia are in their full regalia. The vegetable garden is all planted and weed free! I'm afraid that if the weather predictions hold out it will all be a mess soon. Heavy rains and wind forecast. It seems to happen every year just as the peonies start to bloom and their heavy blossoms end up bent and sagging. I need to properly tie up my climbing rose again. Last fall it had gotten so big and unruly that I decided to cut it all the way down. I also thought we were going to be painting the garage that it grows next to but that didn't happen. It doesn't seem to have hurt it any as it's now about four feet tall and full of buds. Nice to know it'll survive a heavy pruning like that because we really do need to paint the garage later this summer.

Last summer's climbing rose.
I suppose I had best get on with my day. The sooner I go the sooner I can be back home. The only part of the day I will enjoy is the stop at one of my favorite thrift stores that has half price Wednesdays! I'll let you know if I find anything good.



Garden Pt. 3 - The Garden Shed

My garden shed.

When we first moved to our house there was an area in the corner of our lot, behind the detached garage, that was a wild unkempt space. There were lilac trees, ferns, wild flowers and other woodland plants. We called it "the jungle". It was pretty but kind of a wasted space since we couldn't use it for anything, so one summer my husband built a little clubhouse there for our two boys to play in. They called it "The Eagle's Nest". It stood on stilted legs a couple feet off the ground, with a little ladder to climb into it. It was a fun spot for the boys and their friends for a few years. But, as boys will do, they outgrew their nest and eventually it became just a storage spot for junk and an unsightly one at that, as it was built out of unpainted particle board and reclaimed lumber.

I used to fantasize about having a little garden shed or greenhouse someday, a space for a potting bench, room to store my garden tools and maybe a spot to sit and read a book. It would be a place of my own where I could escape to once in awhile for some quiet and solitude, kind of a grown up version of the playhouse I had when I was a kid. I presented the idea to my family and finally managed to get them on board with the idea. The boys were ready to let their clubhouse go and my husband agreed to be the contractor/builder with the kids and I as helpers.

We based our plan on a mail-order kit I'd seen in some gardening magazines. It had a sloping wall of plexiglass windows, a hinged window on one end and split style barn door on the other. Inside the 8 x 12 shed would be a long potting bench under the windows, a wall of pegboard for hanging tools and operable vents in the roof for ventilation. The location was perfect. We were able to situate it with south facing windows that had a view of the garden. The lilacs were between the shed and garden and in the heat of summer would provide shade, but in early spring there would be plenty of sun for bedding plants. Building it took longer than expected but after a few months it was done. It's held up very well for a long time now.

At first it was just as I envisioned. I'd go out every day and open up the half door and window. I'd sweep it out and putz around. I gussied it up with some cute garden decor, a hanging plant or two. I organized the peg board so everything had a place. We found a remnant of vinyl flooring to put down to make it look a little nicer than just the rough plywood. We'd even sit in there sometimes on late winter or early spring days enjoying the passive solar heat that would warm it to a very cozy temperature, even though outside was still cold and snow covered. It was a great spot for a winter picnic of sorts.

But like all things go around here we started acquiring too much stuff! In the winter it was a great place to store the all the summer gear: bikes, the barbecue grill, the canoe paddles and life jackets, lawn chairs and whatever else. Eventually some of that stuff started staying in there permanently. I'd have to move a bike or two out if I wanted to work in there. Stuff started accumulating on top of the bench and underneath. There was always something to move in order to get to what I needed and I started losing interest in trying to keep it tidy. Eventually my cute garden house became just a shed.

Sure the garden shed still looks cute on the outside, but as a functional space to pot plants or easily access garden tools it fails. It's just a huge embarrassment. I've decided it's finally time to reclaim it as my garden house / retreat spot once again. That's my goal for the summer at least and it probably will take all summer. I've broken it down into a list of things that need to be done. Here's the plan:

  • I have several furniture refinishing projects stashed in there. I need to either get at those projects or get rid of them. Currently there's the Jenny Lind bed and typewriter stand to paint, a child's rocker and a slipper chair to reupholster, two x-benches to paint and recover, and four vintage folding chairs that need to be painted and have seats recovered.
  • Whittle down the number of flower pots that have accumulated.
  • Craigslist any lawn chemicals, fertilizers, etc. since we now are committed to going all organic, or mostly.
  • Move the bikes back to the garage (with some kind of hanging organization) and start using them! I still am holding on to my beautiful green 70's French Motobecane Mirage 10-speed. Maybe I can hang it from the rafters of the shed somehow?
  • Sand the cedar bench top to bring it back to it's glory after some water damage from leaking windows.
  • Reorganize the pegboard and add some new hooks and shelving.
  • Get rid of the light colored vinyl floor and replace it with something else more practical. 
  • Give the inside a coat of white semi-solid stain?
  • Replace both roof vents with new opening skylight versions. (Sourced from a RV center.)
  • Dig out the old crumbling bricks in front of the shed and make a proper patio and walkway with paving bricks. (Already have the bricks which we got from a neighbor.) 
  • Replace any cracked plexiglass window panes and add new weatherstripping.
  • Add a lock to the window.
  • Maybe make some mesh sunblock shades for the windows. (They'll be needed once we trim back our overgrown lilacs.)*
  • Possibly paint the door trim a fun color like lime green or periwinkle.
  • Add a trellis and window boxes of impatiens to the back of the garage.
(*I really love the gnarly twisted branches of the old lilacs but they've gotten much too big. We'll cut them back and allow the smaller shoots to grow.)

It's quite a tall order given the other home projects we have planned for the summer, not to mention a son's wedding, family reunion and helping our daughter move and get settled in a new city. Summer seems to fly by even without a long list of things to accomplish. I'm hoping that by putting it down here some of you will help keep me to my promise. Deal? Then I'll finally be able to show you the inside without cringing.

Anyone else have a garden shed or other special space that is your retreat?  Leave a note in the comment box or post a link to pictures you'd like to share. If anyone else is working on cleaning out a long neglected spot I'll happily be your task master if you'll be mine. If we get enough people we could form a support group! I know there are plenty of you out there who could use the help too. Hope to hear from some of you.


Garden Pt. 2 - Oh Dear, Deer!

Gardening always presents challenges that one must constantly surmount. The weather is always an unknown from year to year. Blights and infestations crop up. But our biggest hindrance for quite a few years of gardening was black walnut trees. Our neighbor had several mature walnut trees growing adjacent to our garden. We were unable to grow tomatoes, except in pots, because of the juglone which is in the leaves and roots of black walnuts. Potatoes were also impossible. Juglone is toxic or root-stunting to many plants. The plants would start out nicely but within a month or so start turning sickly and die. The toxic zone is 50-60 feet from the trunk of a tree and our garden was well within that zone. In autumn the walnuts would fall into our compost pile and it well should have been a hard hat zone as well! They are black messy things once the shell is broken open and stain anything they touch. As you can imagine the only ones happy about it were the squirrels which we have in abundance. They will bury the walnuts anywhere they please and those walnuts easily sprout, but don't appear until they have established thick roots that are about a foot deep. We were never so happy as gardeners the day the last black walnut tree was cut down! It took a couple more years but eventually we were able to grow tomatoes successfully.

Then three or four years ago we were faced with another issue. Deer started showing up in our yard. Within a block or two there are several small wooded hills where deer have established themselves and grown in population. The younger ones have never lived outside their little urban zone so are quite tame and unaware that there is a wider world available to them outside our neighborhood. Naturally there is plenty of vegetation available for them to feed on and our garden is one of their buffets. They do most of their grazing at night or in the early morning. Almost every day there would be new hoof prints in the garden beds, damage to plants and occasionally deer droppings in the yard. It had gotten so bad that by last year we'd nearly given up on the idea of even attempting to have a garden. It wasn't just the vegetables but flowers and shrubs as well. There were a handful of things they didn't touch: coneflowers, my blue hydrangea, daylilies, daffodils, peonies, marigolds and lilacs. Everything else was fair game.

My first attempt to make the buffet less inviting was brewing up some homemade deer repellent spray. Not only is it repellent to deer but to me as well. Phew! Stinky stuff. There are several recipes you can find around the internet. The one I use involves a concoction of raw eggs, garlic and hot peppers which is left to ferment for a few days until it is a godawful reeking putrid potion. Then it gets sprayed around all the plants you want to protect. The problem is it stinks up the whole yard and when you're working in the garden you get it on your hands and have to worry about touching your face and getting hot pepper in your eyes and so on. At most it was a slight deterrent for a few days and had to be reapplied whenever there was rain. I made it in large batches and applied it with a gallon hand held sprayer.

Our next line of defense was trying to block the vegetable beds with some fencing. All that did was make it more difficult for us to get access to the garden and the deer could easily reach over to munch on the tops of the pole beans and tomatoes. It also didn't do anything for the flower borders and other landscaping that we weren't able to fence off. There is nothing so disconcerting as to pull into the driveway in the middle of a lovely day to find four or five deer lounging in the back yard like they own the place, happily munching away. Or, as in one case, step out the front door to retrieve the mail and find a deer standing right at the bottom step a few feet away as if guarding the homestead.

I haven't tried some of the other methods I've heard of like Irish Spring soap-on-a-rope , strewing hair around the garden, and even...ummmm...peeing in the garden. Ewww. One person I read about used Tidy Bowl with some success, the type that you hang inside the tank, which they hung around their garden. I think I prefer a more organic approach and would worry about the chemicals.

This year we're trying something new and I am almost afraid to say that it appears to be working for fear of jinxing it. We heard about a product called Milorganite. It's eco-friendly, organic, and safe to use on vegetables, flowers and lawns. It's a slow release non-burning fertilizer that has the added side benefit of seeming to repel deer. And it is made of Milwaukee sewage waste. Yep, you read that right! I found it locally at just $6.95 for a 36-pound bag. It was flying off the shelves so I suspect there is some truth to the claim. I've strewn it in all the garden areas and around the perimeter of our lot and so far so good. I haven't seen a hoof print ever since nor evidence of damage to a single plant. I'll also be using it as a lawn fertilizer throughout the season. It's recommendation is for four applications but I'm planning to use a crabgrass preventer for my first application since we haven't done that in a few years and I need to knock that stuff back. I will remain skeptical until our garden gets really growing but will let you know the results further into the summer. I'm holding my breath, knocking on wood, and keeping my fingers crossed. Maybe this will be the year I can grow some swiss chard, which must be like candy to them, and get a nice crop of beans. With any luck it will work to keep away rabbits and woodchucks too!


Garden - Pt. 1

Our Garden
It was a busy weekend of yard and garden work done in between rain showers. Luckily most of the rain has been in the evenings or during the night so we've been able to get some things accomplished. I love working outside this time of year with mild temperatures and before the mosquitoes show up. This weekend I managed to get the lawn mown, do some weeding in preparation to laying down mulch, hunt down some cocoa bean shells that we use to mulch the beds next to the house (instead of wood mulch which attracts carpenter ants), and work up the soil in my raised garden bed. 

This is a schematic drawing of our garden layout:

Click to enlarge.
We have three raised vegetable beds, each 4' x 12' long as seen above. My husband and I seem to have very different ideas about gardening methods. We're constantly butting heads. So this year I suggested we each take one of the beds to do with as we want and the third will be shared. That means we'll have only one-third of the head butting we've previously experienced! Brilliant. The mister proceeded to plant something like seven rows of peas with no plan as to what the peas would climb on. Typical. Only one short row of spinach and one of lettuce. Somehow he plans to put beans, cucumbers, peppers and a dozen or so tomatoes in his bed too. Good luck. 

I'm taking a more planned out approach. First of all, we have very sandy soil which means constant watering. I decided to amend my bed with sphagnum peat moss and vermiculite to help retain moisture. I will also be adding sifted compost. Planting will be done using the square foot gardening method, which should allow for a nice variety of plants spaced appropriately. I also plan to take advantage of height, growing pole beans and training tomatoes up on stakes. Since I don't particularly care for canning and freezing produce I prefer having just enough to eat fresh from the garden without being overwhelmed by it. The one thing I really wanted to do was replace the lumber that forms the raised bed. It's getting pretty rotten and starting to fall apart which is letting a lot of grass grow in from underneath. But I needed help with that and couldn't get Mr. N to agree. Hopefully it holds together for one more year. 

The picture above was from a few years ago and looked pretty nice that year. The garden always looks nice early in the season before things get too overgrown. I think I did most of the planting that year, with the exception of the tomatoes. I also use seeds that are new or a year old. My husband will throw whatever he finds in the garden. Last year I caught him tossing in seeds that were eight or nine years old, with the expected result. We didn't have any peas last year. 

The grass that grows between the beds tends to be a problem. The beds used to be a bit further apart which allowed enough room to get the mower in between. The last time the wood started rotting my husband thought we could get by with just having rounded raised beds without anything to contain the soil. That was a big fail, particularly with our sandy soil. So the next year we bought all new lumber and rebuilt the raised beds. Unfortunately when he did that he wasn't thinking about spacing for the mower. The spaces ended up being just an inch or two too narrow. So now we have to use the weed whacker to keep the grass and weeds in control.

One big challenge to our gardening in the last few years has been the increasing population of urban deer. In my next post I'll tell about a few things we're doing to try and combat them this year.


Does Your Home Tell a Story?

When I look around my house I'm sometimes appalled at the hodgepodge of furniture we've acquired over the years. I sometimes go to other people's homes that are decorated with a defined style, whether it be country french, cottage style or modern. They look nice and pretty in a model home sort of way, impressive in their perfection and order. But they're also missing something. I've never been one to follow the trends. Decor styles come and go and if you put all your eggs in one basket, so to speak, the basket can get pretty outdated looking when the trends change. If I have a style I suppose you could say it is Eclectic, or as I used to call it, Early Married. Somehow, thirty-one years later, it's still mostly the same. We have a combination of family hand-me-downs, thrift finds and a smattering of pieces we've bought new.

When my husband and I first set up housekeeping we had only a handful of furnishings that we'd managed to scrounge up on the cheap. It consisted of our new bed (essential!), some hand me down furniture from our families along with the few things we had from college apartments. We used lawn chairs for living room seating for quite a few months until we finally found a sofa to buy with our wedding gift money, our first big purchase. My mom refinished an old coffee table that she and my dad had as newlyweds. Our TV was an old console black and white that only got one channel, but even that required some creative arranging of wires strung across the curtain rod to get reception. I remember how excited we were to buy four new folding chairs from Target so that we'd have seating at our kitchen table. I suppose we could have, like many newlyweds, gone out and purchased a suite of new matching furniture on credit. Luckily we were of like mind when it came to money. Having both grown up in thrifty households we knew that credit was not the answer and that we'd make do until we could afford to buy new. We didn't really care about the stuff so much. We were newlyweds and just happy to be together.

Needs always came before wants. Becoming pregnant before our first anniversary bumped a washing machine to the top of the list. An April baby meant I could use the clothesline all summer to dry all those cloth diapers, saving our dollars until we could afford to buy a dryer when cold weather arrived. A new Boston rocker, which we still have, was a baby gift from my husband's grandmother. The nursery was outfitted with a second hand crib, the chifforobe that I grew up with, and a library table from my grandparents used as a diapering station. When it came to other baby needs we kept it to a minimum, getting only the essentials...a car seat, high chair, playpen and stroller.

After buying our first (and only) house, when our son was three months old, we suddenly went from a cramped two-bedroom rental to a three bedroom two-story house that we needed to furnish. Although only about 1100 square feet it felt huge! Again, more family hand-me-downs to the rescue. What would we have done without family? We had a dedicated dining room for the first time. The table was one a tenant had left behind in a rental my Dad owned. The four high-backed wood chairs had belonged to my great grandmother. I refinished them one by one over several month's worth of baby naps. My dad found us a nice hutch at a fire sale. Although the finish on the hutch was fine it had a strong smoke odor. We cleaned and cleaned it but even years later it still retained a faint smoke smell, especially on humid days.

The living room was outfitted with our sofa, coffee table, the Boston rocker, and a couple other family pieces. A nightstand became an end table. My parents lent us a set of old folding wood theater seats that acted as a love seat. When my grandparents moved to an apartment I acquired the piano my grandmother had always promised would be mine someday.

The bedrooms upstairs were the last to be furnished. The master bedroom had our bed. That's all. Our previous place had built-ins so we didn't even have a dresser. What clothes couldn't be hung up resided in cardboard boxes in the closet for another year and a half before we could afford to finally buy furniture. We saved until we could afford to buy quality pieces that we're still using today. The nursery was the only room completely furnished. The third bedroom was being used as a storage room while we worked on getting settled with hopes of it becoming an office and sewing room. But just two months after moving I found out I was pregnant again! So with two babies just fourteen months apart our planned office/sewing room became a second nursery, furnished with thrifted finds.

Over the years we've kept some pieces and replaced others, sometimes with new and sometimes with used. As I glance around I see everything from Early American to mid-century. Each piece has a story. The little plant stand at the bottom of the stairs belonged to a good friend who gave it to me when she downsized to move across the country. The hutch reminds me of my father, no longer with us, who was so proud of his fire sale find. The white wicker desk that came from my grandparent's cottage brings back memories of my daughter sitting at it typing stories on the big old Smith-Corona typewriter. She went on to study creative writing in college. The coffee table we now have evokes the beaming face of my ten-year old son, proudly carrying home his find, after he rescued it from a pile of things thrown out when his elementary school moved to a new building. We removed the linoleum top and refinished the wood, leaving the chippy painted legs as found. It's been in our living room ever since, happily abused during the years of raising three kids, just as it was for several generations of kindergartners before that. Nothing in this house is too precious in that way.

I have parted with a few things that have really tugged at my heartstrings, things we no longer had a room or a use for or anyone to pass them on to, like my grandmother's piano and the chifforobe. But their memories live on. Grown children return home and want to feel like it's still their home. Whenever we change something they call us out on it. But homes are not static, just like the occupants. We change, we age, we adapt. And sometimes we move on. So I am slowly learning to let go of things. Now that my children are grown some of those things are finding new lives in their own homes, new stories. Some will become cherished memories. New things will find their way in and out. It's what makes our home ours and different from yours or anyone else's. I wouldn't have it any other way.


On Chairs and Reading

I will write while I can. The disadvantage of writing a blog is that when there are technological glitches the blog doesn't get written. Our internet service has been intermittent at best for the last week. Discussions with our service provider leads me to fear there is probably an issue at our end of things instead of theirs, which I don't want to hear. At any rate I am "up and running" for the moment.

I took pictures of my reconditioned teak chair as promised. Whenever I thought to take pictures it'd either been raining or having just rained. So any really dark parts of the chair are still from dampness. It doesn't look hugely different except the green is gone.


As for following my methods I will say proceed with caution. First of all, the OxiClean method didn't result in a nicely weathered gray chair, like using dish detergent alone usually does. Instead it stripped a lot of the gray away. Maybe I should try it on my hair! I'm confident the gray will return but for now it's looking somewhere in between brown and gray. Secondly, DO NOT USE A WIRE BRUSH! The softness of the aging wood resulted in there being obvious grooves left by the rough scrubbing I gave it. I would certainly feel worse if the chair were newer, but as it is probably 20 years old I'm not too concerned. I do have a fear that it's "roughened" condition might make it even more susceptible to deterioration and lichen growth. Given all that, the chair is still usable and looks nice from a distance, sitting as it does in the corner by the garden. And thirdly, with a bit of a red face, I am thinking that the chair may actually be mahogany instead of teak. I recall that the company offered both, with mahogany being the more economical choice which we probably bought at the time.

We also own a teak garden bench that has resided in shelter on our enclosed back porch for all it's life, even longer than the adirondack chair. I do know this is teak for sure. Both were purchased from the same company, Wood Classics Inc., a mail order kit company. They are now operating under the Arthur Lauer brand and still offer kits. Just before Easter, in my attempt to make the house company ready and make room for all my outdoor and porch furniture (rattan sectional, wicker chairs, new Ikea Storsele chairs) I decided to put the teak bench outdoors for the first time ever. It's amazing how quickly the teak is fading from it's original reddish color. By summer's end I expect it will be gray. In one sense I was sort of sad to put it outside. In another I was happy to see it off the porch. It's never been a comfortable thing to sit on for any length of time, even with a cushion. Now I have the Ikea Storsele chairs in its place on the porch and have created a nice spot to sit with my coffee on early summer mornings. I'm hoping for a few weeks of enjoyment out there before the weather turns hot anyway. The porch faces east and by mid summer is too hot in the mornings, but makes for a nice evening porch. We also have a bigger west facing porch which is nice in the mornings then. We love having Sunday morning breakfasts there.

I had a chunk of black walnut from a tree we had cut down that I put next to one of the chairs. The driftwood is a piece I picked up on my last trip to Lake Superior. It's becoming one of my favorite corners in our house to relax with a book too.

Speaking of books I currently have two I'm working through. I have an "upstairs book" that I read in bed every evening and my "downstairs book" that I like to keep handy for when I have little snippets of time. For downstairs reading I like something that has short chapters or sections that I can read quickly when taking a short break or while eating breakfast and lunch. Currently my upstairs book is Anna Karenina which I'm enjoying immensely. My downstairs book is Steinbeck: A Life in Letters, a compilation of 600 letters written by John Steinbeck throughout his life. He was a prolific letter writer, usually starting his day writing letters as a warm up to his work of writing. It was interesting to learn he was a man not comfortable with using words for conversation, either face to face or via phone. It's also been fascinating to discover what life was like for a young and struggling author who eventually became so important to American Literature. I'll definitely be adding a Steinbeck novel to my upstairs reading list next.