Shopping for Mother Nature

Greetings, Earthlings.  Today is Earth Day, and some of us will be planting trees or cleaning parks. Some of us might just be out enjoying the beauty of nature. It’s a day of good intentions.  But it’s just a day.

The truth is, we can help the planet all year long, year after year, just by tweaking the ways that we shop.  And I’m not talking about big sacrifices or time-consuming rituals because for most of us those don’t last.

No, today I’m sharing my six favorite

Painless Ways to Help Mother Nature

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1.  Shop to Save Money

I love that helping the planet often helps my budget. Take for instance conserving water and electricity:  Great for the planet, but it also saves me money.  Buying in bulk often means less packaging to dispose of, and it saves money.

So does buying used items – or even getting things for free.  I save money – and I reduce my carbon footprint – by not purchasing a new item that took who-knows-how-much energy to produce and transport.

I never know what I will find at the thrift store, but I’ve learned to look there first – even if my budget supports buying an item new.

Say I need decorative pebbles for a floral project.  I could spend a fair amount at the craft store for a small  bag of pebbles, or I could get some at Goodwill for a fraction of the price.  Sure they’re used, but they’re rocks.  So they are probably really old anyway.

And I will never buy a new vase or glass container again. There are so many to choose from at the thrift stores.  Why help create a demand to produce even more of this stuff?

Babies and toddlers need so many things – strollers, bouncy chairs, toys – the list goes on.  Because of this, my sweet little niece, just over a year old, could potentially have a huge carbon footprint!

No! I don’t want to hurt my planet!

But luckily my sister-in-law, Maura, has found ways to make her baby more Earth-friendly.

She often finds things for my niece for free on her buy nothing group.  She also gets items though Facebook buy/sell groups. She joins groups with a certain interest (in her case, baby items) and in areas close to her home.

Maura always makes sure that any item she picks up complies with current safety regulations – and she cleans it thoroughly before baby uses it.

Babies outgrow things before they wear them out, and I can never tell which of my niece’s things are new or which might be secondhand – because all of her things always look so fresh and clean.

Maura can also sell or give away baby items through these Facebook groups. Baby items can be hard to part with emotionally, so she likes that she can actually meet the person who will be taking her items and that the person will really use and appreciate them.  And, in the process, Maura is helping another family become environmentally friendly.
Of course, as with any online group or service, it’s important to exercise caution when meeting strangers on Buy Nothing or Facebook groups.

2. Use and Buy Less Plastic

Plastic takes energy to manufacture and more energy to recycle.  Worse, so many plastic items never make it to a recycle center.  An alarming amount of plastic winds up in our oceans.  Check out this shocking photo by National Geographic.

Here are some easy way that I buy and use less plastic:

  • Bringing reusable bags to the grocery store.  This is an easy habit for me since my city has banned stores from using plastic grocery bags.
  • Buying compostable trash can liners and sandwich bags.  They are just as easy to use as their plastic counterparts.  I use Bio Bags, which are available in various sizes.
  • Getting a good-quality reusable water bottle and refilling it (from either a large water container or good tap water) instead of buying dozens of those little 12- or 16-ounce plastic bottles of water.  Every city has different water quality, but in my city the tap water is excellent.  So it always surprises me when I see someone buying bottled water at the grocery store.  What a waste!
  • Seeking out cotton clothing and textiles.  I just learned this one: Microfiber fabrics are made of microplastics.  And when these fabrics go through the washing machine, tiny microplastic fibers are washed into our water systems and eventually wind up in our food chain.

3.  Shop AmazonSmile instead of Amazon.com

The same products that are offered on Amazon. com are available at AmazonSmile.  The difference is that when you make an eligible purchase on AmazonSmile, 0.5% of that purchase goes to the charity of your choice.

That might not seem like a lot, but it adds up if you purchase from Amazon regularly.  And once you select your charity and remember to go to AmazonSmile instead of Amazon.com, it’s a completely painless way to help the planet.

4.  Buy Bar Soap Instead of Liquid Soap

Liquid soap seems more convenient to use than bar soap, but it’s also more expensive and takes more energy to manufacture.  And when we use liquid soap, we tend to use more of it than we would bar soap – a small but steady drain on the environment and our pocketbooks. And when the liquid soap bottle is empty, recycling it uses far more energy than recycling the bar soap wrapper.

But when buying bar soap, or any soap, watch out for number 5 below.

5.  Avoid Palm Oil

The production of palm oil has had a devastating impact on rainforests, animal species, and indigenous people. It is mostly grown and produced in Indonesia and Malaysia.

And palm oil is in everything from margarine to cosmetics.  But the good news is that for every item containing palm oil, there is a similar product that doesn’t contain it.  I just read the ingredients and avoid anything that has palm oil.

Of course it’s not always that easy because palm oil can be listed under many different names, including simply “vegetable oil.”  But as a simple rule of thumb, I walk away from anything that lists “palm oil” as an ingredient.  And, when in doubt, it never hurts to Google a product.

For more information on the impacts of palm oil, check out this National Geographic Channel documentary with Harrison Ford.

I try to buy items that contain easy-to-recognize ingredients.  And to help with this, I shop at the farmers market.

6.  Shop Your Local Farmers Market

Instead of heading to the boring grocery store, I prefer a fun weekend excursion with my husband to our local farmers market.

I love seeing people with their kids and dogs and maybe running across friends or neighbors.  We can listen to street musicians and sample unique cuisine.

We often find locally grown organic vegetables, pesticide-free flowers, humanely raised meat, and free-range eggs.

At the farmers market, everyone is a winner.  We have fun, buy wholesome groceries, support our local farmers, and help the environment by buying local and organic.

And farmers markets are often great places to find unique and locally made arts and crafts.

Let’s Share

Of course there are so many ways, big and small, to help the planet. What are your favorite ways?  Leave a comment if you have something innovative to share.

All posts on this blog are for entertainment only and are not tutorials or endorsements.

 


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Three Small Towns Near Sedona

Recently, Chris and I visited the Sedona area in Arizona.  We’d always heard that the hiking there was great, and we weren’t disappointed.

We hiked the beautiful red hills that surround the town.

 

And we explored the cliff dwellings and petroglyphs left by the Sinagua people who occupied the area more than 1200 years ago.

Cliff Dwellings at the Palatki Ruins
Petroglyphs at the Palatki Ruins

Neither of us had been to the Grand Canyon before, and it was only a few hours from Sedona.

The Grand Canyon

Meanwhile, back in Sedona, reservations were essential at almost every popular restaurant.  There were spas, resorts, and upscale shops.  There was everything that a tourist could want.

But that just wasn’t enough for me.  I’m the weirdo who wants to duck under the velvet rope and see what’s behind the curtain.  I always have to find a story.

So we found three little towns near Sedona with stories to tell.

Clarkdale

We didn’t actually stay in Sedona.  Thanks to Airbnb, we found a charming one-bedroom bungalow in the nearby town of Clarkdale for less than similar lodging in Sedona would have cost.

After we settled in, we sipped wine on the front porch and watched the neighbor’s chickens stroll through the front yard.

Little House Historic Cottage

But on our first walk around around the quiet neighborhood, we noticed something interesting:  Almost every house was a version of our house.  They were all the same one-bedroom bungalow.  Blocks and blocks of them.

Some had been added on to or altered over the years.  And every paint job was different.  But it was obvious that at one time they had all been almost identical.

Every now and again the pattern was interrupted by a different, and slightly larger, Craftsman-era house.  And some blocks had only the same repeating Spanish-style bungalow.

A chat with a local confirmed what we were beginning to suspect: Clarkdale was built as a company town.  It was founded in 1912 to house employees of a large copper smelter.

We learned there were several styles of repeating cottages, including Spanish Colonial, Craftsman, Tudor Revival, English Cottage Revival, and Eclectic.  Most were built between 1914 and the mid-1930s.

What a fun little town!  This brochure has photos of the different house styles.

Downtown Clarkdale is small.

But it’s home to the Arizona Copper Art Museum.

And the train station for the Verde Canyon Railroad – a pleasant four-hour train ride through beautiful, rugged countryside that is otherwise inaccessible.

Verde Canyon Railroad

And the bungalows and cottages weren’t the first buildings in Clarkdale.  It’s also home to the Tuzigoot National Monument, an ancient pueblo that unfortunately we didn’t have time to explore.

Jerome

So Clarkdale is where the copper was smelted.  But where did that copper come from?  Nearby Jerome.

Perched precariously on a hillside, many buildings in Jerome seem ready to slide.  And some have.

In the early 1900s, Jerome was a bustling mining town of over 10,000.  But by the 1950s, it had become Arizona’s largest ghost town.

Today, Jerome is a colorful tourist stop with a strong and active art community.

But despite the galleries, studios, shops, and restaurants, that old ghost town remains.  These days, artists and ghosts live side by side.

A ruined building stands sentry over a glass blower’s studio.

Raku Gallery/ La Victoria glass blowing studio

Visitors toss coins into the skeleton of the Bartlett Hotel.  In the 1930s, the hotel was declared unstable because of slides.   It was slowly picked apart for salvage, and today this is all that remains.

We visited Jerome State Historic Park, which includes a nice local history museum in the Douglas Mansion.

Remnants of Jerome’s mining past sit idly outside the mansion.

 

Down the road a bit, a tiny pocket park encloses the 900-foot-deep Audrey Shaft of the Little Daisy Mine.

Looking down into the Audrey Shaft.

And this is how miners got down there – basically in a big tin can!

But it’s time to say goodbye to the ghosts of Jerome and head over to nearby Cottonwood.

Cottonwood

The greater Cottonwood area includes conveniences like large grocery stores and big box home stores.  But for a charming diversion into yesteryear, there is Old Town Cottonwood.

Formerly a farming community, Cottonwood today has restaurants, shops, galleries, and antique stores.

We enjoyed the relaxed, retro vibe.  And we never knew what kind of old architectural detail we’d discover just by going into a coffee shop.

Old Town Cafe, Cottonwood

So would we visit this area again?  Absolutely.  There is much more to see.

But there are a few things we will do differently next time.  Here is a breakdown of what we did wrong and what we did right.

What we will do differently:

  • Allow more time to get to and through the airport (we nearly missed our flight).
  • Book the flight for when there isn’t a special event causing crowding at the airport and slowing airport security screening (see above).
  • Bring binoculars!
  • Rent a 4-wheel drive.  Roads to some of the best hikes are unpaved and bumpy.
  • Stay longer – and plan more time for the Grand Canyon.

What we did right:

  • Found a “home base” that really felt like home – that bungalow in Clarkdale.
  • Checked the weather forecast for Sedona before we left home and made sure we brought appropriate clothing.  We were prepared when it snowed on one of our hikes!

  • Visited an old friend on the way back to the airport in Phoenix.  She took us on a beautiful desert hike.  It’s always good to catch up with old friends when you can.
Saguaro Cacti
  • Brought only carry-on luggage.   We always do this, and good thing this time or we would have missed that flight.

How I Make Using Carry-On Luggage Easier

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Not everyone can or wants to travel with only carry-on luggage, but in case you are interested, here are a couple of small ways I make it more pleasant:

I pack simple, wrinkle-resistant clothes.  I place them into a 17  X 12 packing cube.

It fits perfectly into my carry-on case.  I toss in a small bamboo charcoal air freshener to keep my clothes smelling fresh during transport.

Of course I pack things under and on top of the packing cube to make the most of the space I have.  And I take a medium-sized day pack as my other piece of carry-on.

When I get to my destination, I just put the packing cube in a dresser drawer in the bedroom and unzip it, and voilà! My clothes are unpacked.

I also toss the charcoal air freshener into the drawer to keep my clothes fresh.

This works especially well on road trips where I’m staying somewhere different every night.  Keeping the clothes in the packing cube, I can easily plunk them into a drawer in the evening and them put them back into the suitcase the next morning.  Then it’s off to the next destination.

It just feels more civilized than living out of a suitcase – yet it takes almost no time.

Of course, packing cubes come in many sizes and are also handy for larger checked luggage.

And after I get home and unpack, the air freshener stays in my empty suitcase to keep it fresh until the next time I travel.

Which I hope will be soon.

All posts on this blog are for entertainment only and are not tutorials or endorsements


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Basil in Eggs

A few weeks ago, I took on one of my favorite spring chores:  Cleaning and organizing our small greenhouse.

The shallow upper shelves are great for holding smaller pots and collections.

 

I love working in the greenhouse and could have spent hours just rearranging pots.  But the reason for organizing the greenhouse was to make room for my seedling trays.

This year I’m experimenting with the various types of seedling trays to see which one works best for me.

Greenhouse growning

I’m also growing some annuals that I haven’t tried to grow before.

And of course I’ll be sharing the results of these experiments before next year’s growing season.

But today, I want to focus on a couple of simple basil seedling “recipes” that I’ve cooked up in the greenhouse.

Basil in Eggs

Last year I posted about these Easter eggshell planters and vases. But I didn’t mention the other little project I tried with cracked eggshells:  Using them as pots for basil seedling starts.

It was easy:  Using a toothpick, I poked a small drain hole in the bottom of each shell.  Then I added moist seedling starting mix (which, right or wrong, I usually blend with moist potting soil), and then the seeds.

Then it was just a matter if keeping the seedlings indoors in filtered sunlight and keeping them moist.

growing seedlings in eggshells

Of course this eggshell idea is nothing new.  We’ve all seen it on Pinterest and Instagram – and not just using basil seeds.  Just about any easy-to-grow herb or annual can be started this way.

It’s a fun way to share seedling starts with friends. What’s even more fun is to dye the eggshells first with food coloring

growing seedlings in eggshells

to make cute Easter party favors.

growing seedlings in eggshells

Basil in eggs are also a sweet addition to holiday place settings.

An adorable idea, but is it all it’s “cracked up” to be?  After tying it, here is what I learned:

Pros:

Basil can be a bit touchy to transplant,  but with Basil in Eggs, all the recipient has to do is thin the seedlings a little (leaving two or three), crack the eggshell so that is has enough cracks to allow the roots to grow through, and then plant the seedlings, eggshell and all, into a 6-inch or larger pot.  The roots remain relatively undisturbed.

Cons:

The eggshells are small, so the soil dries out quickly.  Unless the seedlings are grown under a clear plastic cover to hold in moisture, they will need to be watched closely and watered often.

Also because the eggshells are small, the seedlings need to be transplanted while they are still fairly small or the roots will  be crowded.

Basil Loaves

Last year I started basil in the greenhouse and later moved it outside to the vintage wash tub.

growing basil

Moving the basil to the tub only took a few minutes because my basil starts were in “loaves” of soil that were easy to transplant.

I started the seeds in the larger plastic containers that supermarket salad mix comes in.

I poked drain holes in the bottom of each container and then added several inches of moist soil and the seeds.  Then I placed the covers loosely on top.

starting basil indoors

starting basil indoors

I misted the soil occasionally to keep it moist.

When the seedlings began to emerge, I pushed the cover to one side slightly (about a half inch) to make a gap for air circulation.  When the seedlings reached about an inch in height, I took the cover off completely and thinned the seeds so they were two to three inches apart (although conventional wisdom says they should be about four inches apart).

BurkeDecor.com

When outdoor temperatures were warm enough, it was time to transplant the basil into the wash tub.  I carefully turned the first container upside down and gently pushed on the bottom.  And it all came out as one solid block – a tidy loaf of basil and soil!

If I had any trouble freeing a loaf from its container, I just used a utility knife to cut down the center of the plastic container.

Then I just plopped the loaves of basil into the wash tub (which I’d prepared with soil) and planted them.

Many people prefer to direct seed their basil outdoors.  But starting basil indoors means I can begin to harvest it sooner and it’s protected from surprise cold snaps.

Repurposing Plastic Containers

This time of year I eye any plastic food container to see if it will help with seed growing.  This cherry tomato container was repurposed as a dome for the basil seedlings I’m growing for my mom.

starting basil indoors

So the greenhouse is looking a bit like a science lab these days.

But the seedlings seem happy.

This post is for entertainment only and is not a tutorial.


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Cocoons in the Fridge: The Mason Bee Diaries

Our second fridge in the basement is filled with extra beer, surplus groceries, and mason bee cocoons.  But if you’ve ever come over for dinner, don’t worry.  We didn’t sprinkle cocoons in your salad.

No, as soon as the warm spring weather arrives, we’ll put the cocoons back outside to hatch in their bee house, oblivious to the fact that they spent the winter in our fridge.

How It Began

A few years ago, while Chris and I were relaxing on our porch bench, we noticed that a mellow little flying insect was quietly investigating the bench. Eventually it lost interest and moved on.

We wondered if it was an insect we should be worried about. But with a little research we learned that it was an orchard mason bee.

We’d never noticed one in our garden before, but now that we knew they were there, we decided to help them.  We started with some light reading, and then we set up a bee house for nesting.  We bought a few mason bee cocoons to add to the existing population.

Who could resist this face?

An orchard mason bee

Understanding the Orchard Mason Bee

I used to think of bees and beekeeping in terms of hives, honey, queens, protective clothing, angry swarms, and running.  But these things are all associated with the honey bee.

Solitary Bees

Orchard mason bees are native to North America.  They are sometimes called spring bees or just mason bees.

They are considered solitary bees because they don’t have the social structure that honey bees have.  They don’t live in a hive and they don’t produce honey.

Mellow

Because they don’t have a queen to protect, mason bees are more easygoing than honey bees.  They have no interest in messing us up, and they rarely sting.

Spring Pollinators

Various species of orchard mason bees are found in most climates where fruit trees grow.

They go about the simple business of finding a safe place to deposit their eggs and ensure their eggs’ survival.  They work hard at this.  And, in the process, they are excellent spring pollinators.

They hatch right about the time the fruit trees blossom.  So when our bees have a good year, we have larger harvests of plums, apples, and pears.

Life Cycle

In spring, when temperatures have reached around 55ºF, mason bees begin to hatch from their cocoons.  They need sun to fly, and they usually warm up for a while before testing their wings for the first time.

orchard mason bee

I was disappointed that I was at work then our first-ever batch of bees began to hatch and emerge from the bee house.  Chris was home to see it and left me a voice mail saying “Our bees are hatching!”

I imagined him, phone in hand, standing amidst a lively swarm.  But it’s not like that.  They emerge gradually over several days, and if you’re not watching at the right moment, you won’t see anything.

A mason bee emerges from a bee house

An orchard mason bee emerging

They mate, and then the female does all the heavy lifting.  She seeks out a nesting spot for her eggs.  She does not drill holes, but rather she looks for preexisting holes of the right diameter and depth.

In our garden, she has a choice of using either a wooden nesting block

Orchard Mason Bee nesting block

or nesting tubes.

Nesting tubes for orchard mason bees

Once she finds a suitable location, the work begins.

Living up to her name, she builds a mud plug at the back end of the tube. Then she gathers pollen and nectar and deposits it inside the tube, at the back.  She lays an egg on top of the pollen and nectar mixture.  Then she builds a mud wall to seal in the egg, creating a protective chamber.

In front of that wall, she deposits more pollen and nectar and another egg and creates another wall, working her way up the length of the tube until she has filled the tube with these egg chambers.

Later the eggs hatch, become larvae, and slowly eat the pollen and nectar left by their mother.  Then the larvae spin protective cocoons where they mature into bees.

This photo, taken during our fall cocoon harvest, shows a couple of cocoons in their masonry chambers.

Orchard Mason Bee cocoons

What happened to their hardworking mom?  Adult bees usually expire by June.  There is no retirement plan for the orchard mason bee.

But the cycle continues because, providing they don’t fall prey to invasive insects, extreme weather, and other hazards, the cocoons will hatch the following spring, and the process will start again.

Helping the Orchard Mason Bee Succeed

We’ve seen firsthand how hard these bees work to ensure that their offspring survive.  But adverse conditions can spell disaster.

Staying Informed

There is only so much we have control over, but we do everything we can to help them succeed. We had been reading from various sources and trying different things.

Then, about a year ago, we found a very helpful resource:  Crown Bees’ “BeeMail” Newsletters. These email reminders tell us what to do for our bees and when to do it.  They also keep us current on any new bee-related innovations.

What a Mason Bee Wants

Caring for orchard mason bees is relatively easy and not very time-consuming. Months can go by where we take little or no action.

Before the new bee season starts, we replace used nesting tubes with new ones, and some years we purchase cocoons to add to the existing population.

Natural Nesting Reeds and Cocoons

Orchard Mason Bee Nesting Tubes

Orchard Mason Bee cocoons

Then, since mason bees don’t stray far from their nesting sites, we just try to make sure they have everything they need nearby: Bee houses in the right location, access to right kind of mud, fresh water, and of course flowering trees and shrubs nearby.

Even the smallest things help, like providing a shallow water bowl with pebbles so the bees can get water without drowning.

Orchard mason bee water bowl

And in fall, we (and by “we,” I mean Chris) harvest the cocoons, put them in a cocoon humidifier, and store them in the fridge until spring.

Harvested Mason Bee Cocoons

Orchard Mason Bee cocoons

Storing the cocoons in the fridge keeps them dormant while protecting them from harsh winter weather and extreme temperatures.

How Our Bees Did Last Year

Every year is different, but 2016 was a good year.  We placed the cocoons outside on April 1st – 68 that we’d overwintered in the fridge, and 30 that we’d newly purchased.

Over the course of several days, all but one hatched. And the cycle of mating and laying eggs began.

We tried something new in summer, once all the adult bees were gone:  We placed protective bags around the nesting sites to keep invasive insects away.

When we harvested the new cocoons in fall, we had approximately 150 cocoons – a 50% increase over what we started with in spring.

In this photo, you can see which nesting tubes were  filled with cocoons and sealed with a mud plug.

Orchard Mason bee nesting tubes

Our Plan for This Year

We are constantly improving our methods.  The bees seem to favor the natural reed nesting tubes, so this year we will be using more of them.  We are thinking of adding another bee house in a different location to see how it does.

But one thing never changes:  Mason bee season is always fun.

A warm thank you to Crown Bees for providing supplies for this post.  All opinions expressed are my own.


This post is for entertainment only and is not a tutorial. Mason bees are not suitable to all climates.


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My Favorite Instagram Moments

Disclosure:  This post contains Affiliate Links.

I love coming up with ideas, writing posts, and taking photographs for this blog.  But I’m sorely lacking in discipline when it comes to putting my blog out there on social media.

I rolled my eyes when Instagram became a thing.  Just another social media platform to deal with.  I held out for some time, but I finally joined.

And now I love Instagram.  I found some gorgeous accounts to follow.  I still don’t post consistently, but I’ve found it’s a great way to document all those home, garden, and exploring moments that aren’t quite big enough to be a blog post.

So for fun today, I’m sharing a few of my favorites.

Ombré Cake

Recently I hosted a little family lunch to celebrate my mom’s birthday and my niece’s first birthday.

I can practically count on one hand how many times I’ve baked a cake.  But for this occasion, I knew I should step up.

So I tried my hand at this strawberry ombré cake.

Photography with DSLR

The stated 30-minute prep time is for other people.  For me it was more like two hours.  And somehow I wound up with extra batter, so I did six layers instead of five.

Photography with DSLR

Since Instagram is easy to use with cellphone photos, I’m guessing that’s how most people use it.  But I go old school and use “Bertha,” my entry-level DSLR camera (a Canon EOS REBEL T5 ). It’s a few extra steps to post my photos, but I feel Bertha gives me more artistic control than my cellphone does.

I took the cake photos with the EF-S 18-55mm lens that came with Bertha.  I call it my “street lens” since it serves many purposes.

Late Snow Fall

We had a beautiful late snow fall.  Chris and I took a walk in the park.  And yes, I lugged Bertha and the street lens along.

Photography with DSLR

I thought this mix of pristine nature and urban decay was Instagram-worthy.

Spring is Just Around the Corner

There is still so much for me to learn about using a DSLR camera.  But I know this much:  If I use Bertha on the manual setting, which I do if I’m not hurried, I can control the f-stop.

To me, this is the biggest advantage to using Bertha.  I never use a flash so, by controlling the f-stop, I can add light to a photo.

And I can control the depth of field.

I love a shallow depth of field to shine a spotlight on the subject of my photograph – in this case these tulips.

Here I used an f-stop of f/3.2. Shutter speed 1/20 sec., ISO-800.

The background is blurred just enough to make the tulips pop – while still adding some context.

For this photo, I used my Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM lens.  This fixed lens brings everything up close, and I’ve found it’s wonderful for portraits.  One great advantage of this lens is that it goes all the way down to a 1.8 f-stop.  Now that’s a lot of light – and a shallow depth of field.

Mom’s Chandelier

Using the street lens, I photographed Mom’s beautiful winter chandelier decor.  I was able to keep the background dark and create contrast by experimenting the Bertha’s light meter.

Street lens at 29mm, f/4.5, ISO-800, 1/25 sec.

Estate Sale Find

I found this adorable little Towncraft travel case at a neighborhood estate sale.  Although I’m not sure what I’m going to use it for yet, I just love the soft vintage colors.

50mm lens, f/2.8, 1/30 sec., ISO-800

The 50mm portrait lens somehow makes the case look better than it does in real life.

History and Intrigue

Last October I visited my friend Jennifer in Washington D.C.  We had so much fun exploring the city.  I’d never been there before, so it was invaluable to have a local showing me all the history and intrigue I might have otherwise missed – especially such a fun-loving local.

A few of my D.C. photos made it to Instagram, including our late-afternoon visit to the United States Supreme Court.

Just before it closed, I got this photo.  Later I dialed down the color saturation so the photo is almost black and white.

I love plants and gardens so of course we had to visit the United States Botanic Garden near the Capitol Building.  Little did I know that the greenhouse itself would be the most interesting part.

Photography with DSLR

And I was surprised to find a Monarch butterfly in the middle of the city – near Smithsonian Castle.

I captured it with my Canon EF-S 55-250mm F4-5.6 IS STM Lens. By using the right f-stop with this telephoto lens, I can isolate subjects from afar by creating that blurry background that I love.

Shot with the telephoto at 131mm, f/7.1, 1/2000 sec., ISO-800

I lugged Bertha, the street lens, and my telephoto lens all over D.C.  I took too many photos.  Here are just a few that I wanted to post on Instagram but didn’t.

Capitol Rotunda
Capitol Rotunda
The U.S. Capitol Building in the late-afternoon sun
The Korean War Memorial
The Jefferson Memorial

The June Bug

This photo appeared in this blog post and on Instagram.  It’s one of my favorite photos of our vintage Airstream trailer, the “June Bug.”

Here we have Bertha on a tripod, and the street lens at 35mm, f/4.5, 25 seconds, ISO 200.

What’s fun about this photo is that it was taken around 11:00 at night.

Using a tripod, I set up a very slow shutter speed (25 seconds!) that brought in a surprising amount of light.

I used a similar method to take this twilight photo of the June Bug at Yosemite a few months later.

For this one, we have Bertha on a tripod with the street lens at 23mm, f/5, 8 seconds, ISO-200

On the automatic camera setting, the light from the campfire could easily have overwhelmed the photo.  But by going to the manual setting and selecting a slow shutter speed (and using a tripod), the trailer and surrounds are also visible.

For more photos from our trip to gorgeous Yosemite, check out this post.

Not Bertha

We are very lucky here in the Pacific Northwest to have one of the finest annual flower and garden shows in the country:  The Northwest Flower and Garden Show. (In fact, the floral artist that I featured last year in this post won the people’s choice award at this year’s show!)

Mom and I go to the show every year.  The intimate little vignettes and table settings really pull me in, and I shared a couple on Instagram.

Not wanting to lug Bertha through the crowds, I brought my point-and-shoot Canon PowerShot SX280 12MP Digital Camera to the show.  This little camera can do a lot.  It has a great zoom (much better than my cellphone), and it’s compact.

But as you can see, the photo quality is not quite Bertha.

I love the frayed gauze table runner and the moss here. It’s definitely something I’m going to try.

A few weeks prior, Chris and I took a brisk bike ride to a city park.

Chris loves to collect vintage camp stoves, and for fun he brought a compact Swedish Optimus stove along and made us tea in the park.

Although taken with my cellphone, I thought this photo was Instagram-worthy.

Of course then I applied an IG filter.  Most of my Bertha photos don’t really need one.

More to Learn

Every time I look at my Instagram feed, I’m reminded of how much I still need to learn about photography – both the technical side and setting up compositions.

Bertha is an entry-level, very affordable DSLR.  So could I do better with a higher-end model?  I wonder.  Somehow I think Bertha still has a few more tricks up her sleeve.

All posts on this blog are for entertainment only and are not tutorials or endorsements


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My photos were taken with this equipment.  But since models change and are upgraded from time to time, it’s always a good idea to verify compatibility between cameras and lenses before purchasing.

 

Some of these photos and others are available at Story Time, my Society6 shop


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Chalk it up to Mystery

In this post, I’m hoping to solve a mystery – and I’m sharing a fun little DIY decor project.

And the two are related.

Mysteries and Secrets

Our 1927 cottage has many mysteries and secrets.

For example, if you’ve been reading along for a while, you know that we’re in the middle of a laundry room remodel.  Well recently, while working on the heating system, my husband Chris found a secret chamber under the laundry room.  We’d always assumed the laundry room was set on a concrete slab.  Turns out it has its own little basement.

And this isn’t even the first secret chamber we’ve found.

But today I want to talk about the laundry room’s mystery cupboard.

The Mystery Cupboard

This is how our laundry room looked before we started the remodel.

Note the innocent-looking recessed cupboard above the washing machine.

Although lately, during the remodel, it’s been looking more like this.

Anyway, here is the inside of the cupboard. Pretty rustic.

Can’t see the top?  That’s because there isn’t one.  This cupboard goes all the way up to the unfinished attic.

So is it a laundry chute?  Probably not.  After all, who would want to climb far into the unfinished attic to deposit laundry only to have some of it land on that little shelf at the halfway point.

It also stretches to the left behind the wall for several feet, so it’s larger than it looks.

Its inconvenient location above the washing machine meant that I needed a stepladder to access it.  And since it’s recessed into the wall, I practically had to climb into the cabinet to get anything back out.  So I avoided using it.

My theory is that this is just oddly shaped extra space that the builder wanted to keep accessible in case anyone needed it.

But what do you think?  Do you know what it might be?  Help me solve this mystery!

Going Bye-Bye

Whatever this cupboard is or was, our plans for the laundry room do not include it.  No, it will be covered over in the remodel.  And if we should ever need to access the weird empty space behind the wall, we can still do so from the attic.

But I was sad.  That cupboard door was kind of cute.  It was also a piece of the house’s history – however weird that history might be.  I wanted to repurpose it.  But what should its new role be?

1920s cupboard door soon to become a chalkboard

A DIY Chalkboard

My friend Sandi is a very creative person, and she had a great idea: Turn it into a chalkboard.  At the time, Sandi didn’t even know that I’d been looking for a chalkboard for our kitchen. Perfect!

Cleaning the Hardware

It was a simple project.  We removed all the hardware pieces from the cupboard door and soaked them in acetone to remove the paint.

1920s cupboard door hardware

After that, the hardware pieces were clean but they still had a patina.  I was happy that they didn’t look brand new.

A Chalk Ledge

Chris cut and attached a piece of brick molding to the bottom of the door to serve as a chalk ledge.

Painting the Door

I sanded and cleaned the cupboard door.  I painted the frame, the edges, and the new chalk ledge with the same white trim paint we used for the kitchen.

After the paint dried, I used masking tape to ensure a nice clean profile for the chalkboard paint, which would go in the center panel.

DIY Chalkboard preparing to paint

I’d never worked with chalkboard paint before.  I used FolkArt Multisurface Chalkboard Paint by Plaid¹.  I followed the instructions on the bottle and on the Plaid website.  This included conditioning the chalkboard with chalk – something I will need to re-do from time to time.

To evenly apply the paint – which has a slightly gel-like consistency – I used a paint edger².  Then I back-brushed the paint with a paint brush.  (I have found that paint edgers come in handy for all kinds of paint applications beyond just edging.)

Reattaching the Hardware

Chris reattached the hardware, and the chalkboard was ready.

DIY Chalkboard

Now the hardware is just for character.

DIY Chalkboard

Chalkboard Central

This chalkboard was long overdue.  Since we shop for groceries at several stores and a farmers market, keeping lists of what we needed from each place was cluttery and difficult – especially since these lists often went missing.  Keeping lists on our phones didn’t work either.

But now, as soon as we realize we need something, it’s a few steps to “chalkboard central” to write it down.

DIY Chalkboard

I’ve been trying both chalk and chalk markers to see which I like better, but I’m not completely happy with either.  So I’m thinking of ordering some white chalk pencils I found on Etsy.³

DIY Chalkboard

I have found that wiping the chalkboard with a damp paper towel works better than using a chalk eraser.  We’ll see how all this holds up over time.

I’m happy now.  Not only is the little cupboard door still with us, but it’s serving an even better purpose than it did originally.

Before and After

You know how I love my before and after recaps.

Before (photographed upside-down).

After.

All posts on this blog are for entertainment only and are not tutorials or endorsements.


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Our Laundry Room Remodel Begins

Recently we had the concrete floor in our laundry room resurfaced.

We enjoyed the new look for a few days.

laundry room remodel: concrete floor resurface

But now the room looks like this.

laundry room remodel

That’s right – our laundry room remodel is finally under way!

And fortunately for us, my brother Dan has offered his talents for this project.  For years he’s been making improvements to his own home  – including this gorgeous dining room remodel.

So this should be a fun project.  Let me show you what’s happened so far.

The Demo

Every time we do demo work, we learn something new about this house.   (Case in point: Ghosts of Kitchens Past).

This time we learned that the laundry room is built like a battleship.

When my husband Chris tried to remove the lower half of the north wall to access the old plumbing pipes, he was in for a little surprise: What he thought was a plaster wall turned out to be mortar and mesh.

I’d never even heard of mortar and mesh.  We learned that, back in the 1920s, inch-thick mortar with a strong wire mesh backing was typically used for walls that were going to support tile.

Since the only tile in the laundry room is a subway tile baseboard, we are still wondering why the mortar and mesh was used.

Removing that wall took some extra time, patience, and swings of the sledge hammer.

But Chris is persistent.

laundry room remodel
The old mortar and mesh

He exposed the wall and was able to remove the old rusted pipes.

laundry room remodel

The 90-year-old drain pipe was also rusted.  It needed to be removed.

The basement staircase is behind this wall.  This is where Chris made another discovery:  The drain pipe had been fully encased in concrete.

He used a hand-held jackhammer to unbury it.

laundry room remodel

The Plumbing and Wiring

Last weekend, Dan installed the new pipes and drains.

laundry room remodel

Previously, the washer drained into the utility sink.  With the new configuration, the washer and the utility sink will drain separately.

This new plumbing is a sight for sore eyes.

new plumbing

Dan also installed three electrical outlets on a wall that originally had only one.

As you can see from the above photograph, the old subway tile baseboard survived the demo process.  We hope to keep it intact and work around it.

Heat

The laundry room was unheated.  We had a space heater we used in cold weather.

So while Dan worked on the plumbing and wiring, Chris worked on adding a heat vent to the laundry room.

This meant pulling the fridge out of its alcove and cutting a hole in the alcove wall and in the floor of the wall between the laundry room and kitchen to bring a heat vent up from the basement.

Another demo discovery: An old feed line for a washing machine.

Bringing a vent up through this space will be tricky business, and Chris is still not 100% sure it will work.  It will be so nice if it does.

All the essentials are being put into place before the fun aesthetic work can begin.

But we are also working on refreshing the adjoining mudroom .  So while the guys have been battling mortar walls and plumbing connections, I’ve been playing with pretty colors.

The Mudroom Repaint

When we moved in, the mudroom walls were a pale yellow. For a long time, I thought it was a nice color for this cheerful, light-filled space.

mudroom

 

mudroom

But the mudroom was starting to look tired.  It was time for a change.

Choosing the Color

Since the mudroom was once an unenclosed back porch, its walls are the same rough stucco as the exterior of the house.  I think this is a fun feature.

White is such a popular color right now, but I just couldn’t picture it for those textured walls.

So in this post on Remodelaholic.com, I found a Benjamin Moore color I liked called Pale Oak.  It was said to have a warm gray undertone.  I hoped the Pale Oak would play nicely with my new trim paint – a warm white.

The Power of Prep Work

Whenever I begin a new paint project, I’m immediately reminded of two things:

(1)  I still hate paint projects; and

(2) The prep work is the most important thing.  The mudroom walls and window casings had many gaps, cracks, and imperfections.

The molding around the back door was raw wood, which has always bugged me.  Next to it was a large seam in the wall and a hideous piece of baseboard trim.

So I scrubbed, sanded, spackled, caulked, and primed.

After that, painting was a piece of cake.

The Result

The Pale Oak is an airy, barely-there color.  I think it works nicely with the new charcoal floor.

mudroom repaint

 

mudroom repaint

mudroom repaint

I didn’t paint the beadboard ceiling because it looks fine to me.  The cracks give it a vintage look that works with the 1930s parrot light.

vintage parrot light

But the parrot light will be stowed safely away for the time being, and the floor will be covered with Ram Board to protect it during the laundry room remodel.

Note:  If you think you’ve seen this parrot light in another post of mine, you’re not imagining things.  We have an identical parrot light hanging over our kitchen sink.  That one came out of my childhood home.  We found this one at an antique store in eastern Oregon.  So of course we bought it!

What the Heck is That?

Have you been wondering what this plastic-covered hole in the laundry room wall is?

It’s pure weirdness – and a bit of a mystery to us.  I’ll talk about it in my next post, and I’ll share the cute little craft project that came out of the weirdness.

Note:  All posts on this blog are for entertainment only and are not tutorials or endorsements.


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A Scruffy Concrete Floor Gets a Facelift

Quirky Laundry

One thing I love about old houses is that they always have their quirks.  Our 1927 cottage is no exception.

In my previous post, I shared the little project that kicked off my mudroom revamp.  But what I didn’t mention is that the mudroom was originally just a covered back porch – and it connects to the laundry room.

Why is that weird?  Because before the back porch was enclosed (which probably happened in the 1930s or 40s), the laundry room was completely isolated from the other interior rooms. In order to do laundry, one had to go out the back door and then through a door to the right that opened into the unheated laundry room.  The laundry room door even had its own deadbolt.

All this to say that the mudroom and laundry room were treated as outdoor spaces and given a concrete floor.  I never paid much attention to this floor – except that I found it impossible to keep clean.

Original concrete floor

So when we recently decided to move ahead with refreshing the mudroom and remodeling the laundry room, we had to do something about that floor.

Beloved Scruffy Floor

We could have put laminate or tile flooring over the concrete and maybe even installed an in-floor heating system.  But that would have meant covering an original feature of the house.

Strangely, I really liked that scruffy old concrete floor.  It was stamped into large squares like a sidewalk.  It looked so solid and substantial.

original stamped concrete floor

Concrete Options

For some time, I had been noticing the beautiful, industrial-looking stained concrete floors in some of the restaurants in town.

We have some charming details planned for our upcoming laundry room remodel, and I felt that a rustic, industrial floor would balance out the charm and keep things interesting.

But how to find that look – and how to get it right?  Chris and I believe in doing projects ourselves if we know how,  especially if we enjoy the task.  But we also believe there is no shame in recognizing those times when we should just bring in a professional.

So Chris found Kenji at Semco Flooring Seattle.

And I have to admit that watching him work was more fun than trying to do it myself.

First Chris and I had to agree on the type of stain we wanted.  We looked at the samples that Kenji brought but, wanting a bigger picture, we also visited several of his finished projects.  We eventually came to the conclusion that we wanted a mottled charcoal stain with a matte finish.

As Kenji said, we wanted “character.”

Cleaning the Floor

One thing I like about this company is that they do their best to be environmentally conscious.  Kenji cleaned the floor thoroughly but didn’t use acid.

And later in the project, when the stain was drying, we smelled fumes but they weren’t horrible and seemed to dissipate quickly.

The Skim Coat

After cleaning,  Kenji applied a resurfacing skim coat to the entire floor.  This gave the floor some texture so that the dye would settle in the low spots for that mottled look we wanted.

skin coat - concrete floor refinish

I was a little alarmed that the seams in the concrete were completely immersed.  But I didn’t need to worry.

A White Base Coat

Then he  painted the floor white.  He did this to give himself a blank canvas on which to work.  Then he carved out the seams so they were visible again.

base coat - concrete floor refinish

The Stain

Kenji applied a coat of stain, and after it dried he came back and asked us what we thought.  It wasn’t quite dark enough, so he applied a second coat.

Stain application -concrete floor refinish

The Finish

Then he applied the matte finish.  It had to dry for a few days before we could walk on it.

But we love the results.

The color and texture give the floor the character that Benji was talking about.

concrete floor refinish

The floor is now too sexy for the rooms.  But we are working on that.

concrete floor refinish

 

concrete floor refinish

Maintenance

Of course there will be some maintenance.  Kenji gave us a special cleaner to use and, depending on how much wear and tear we subject the floor to, we will need to touch up the finish every so often.

As with any nice floor, I plan to put small rugs in the high-traffic areas.

Will this floor really work with what we have planned?  You will know as soon as I do.  So stay tuned.

Before and After Recap

We went from this . . .

before concrete floor refinish

to this.

after concrete floor refinish

*All posts on this blog are for entertainment only and not intended as tutorials or endorsements.



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A DIY Shoe Storage Upgrade

Before this house, I’d never lived anywhere that had a real mudroom.  And although our mudroom is small, I just love it.

But its best feature is also its biggest drawback:  The large windows.

Mudroom windows

All the wonderful natural light means very little wall space to work with.  As you can see from the photo, the limited wall space makes it difficult to keep things organized  – not that I’ve been trying very hard.  The room is a haphazard mix of random storage baskets and bins.  I’ve never really made it a priority.

Well that is about to change.  I’m in the process of reworking the mudroom – starting with the taming of the shoes.

Invasion of the Shoes

My husband, Chris, likes to keep the shoes he uses most near the back door.  The problem is, the shoes seem to multiply when no one is looking.  And yes, he really uses all of these.

Boot bench

A while back, in a half-hearted attempt to get organized, I added a flimsy thrift store rack to the top of the boot bench.  It doesn’t look good, and now we can’t sit while putting on shoes.

The small wooden shelving unit near the door was too shallow to house his shoes.

Mudroom shelving unit

A New Angle

What to do?  My mom suggested a shoe rack in place of the shelving unit.  It should have angled shelves, she said, so that the shoes would not interfere with the door swing.

It was a great idea, but most angled shoe racks I found were more suited to a closet than a mudroom.

And then I wondered about our little shelving unit:  Would it work to simply reposition the shelves at an angle?

plywood shelving unit

I asked Chris to give it a try.  He repositioned each shelf at about a 30-degree angle and used screws to secure them.

And it worked!  The shoes would be nicely contained on the newly-angled shelves.

DIY Shoe Storage

Now we just needed to make this basic unit a little prettier.

A 99-Cent Upgrade

A reclaimed wood top would elevate the look.  I checked the nearest salvage shop and found all kinds of beautiful wood – all of it too shallow in depth.

The next salvage shop was way across town, and I started to wonder if I was on another one of my fool’s errands.

While deciding whether it was worth the drive, I stopped at my local Goodwill.  There I found a piece of fir in the right depth – with a nicely finished edge.  And it was 99 cents!  I could not believe my luck.

Fir panel

All we would have to do is shorten the length a bit.  Reclaimed wood at Goodwill: Who’d have thought?

Adding More Character

Then I got it in my head that, since the mudroom is next to the kitchen, the exposed side of the shelving unit should be attractively paneled to match the style of our kitchen cabinets.

I tease Chris for keeping all kinds of scrap wood pieces, but it came in handy for this project since he had just the right scraps onhand to create the panels.

Then I painted the bench the same white as our kitchen molding – a color custom-blended to match our kitchen cabinets.

And here is how it turned out.

DIY Shoe Storage Unit for a Mudroom

A DIY Shoe Storage Unit

It’s perfect for the overflow shoes, and it frees up a lot of space in the boot bench.  There is even enough room for some of my shoes.

DIY Shoe Storage Unit for Mudroom

And for 99 cents out of pocket, it’s a nice upgrade for a plywood shelving unit that once looked like this.

Plywood storage unit

This small change is already improving the flow of the mudroom, but there is more to come, including a snazzy upgrade to the concrete floor.  So stay tuned!


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My Top Posts of 2016

Happy New Year!

Hope you had a wonderful holiday season.

For some reason the Christmas spirit came to me a little late this year.  I didn’t even feel like decorating until mid-December.  But now I want the warm glow of my holiday lights to last just a little longer.

Holiday lights reflected in mirror

If you’re like me, right about now you’re wondering where 2016 went and trying to remember what you did all year.  It’s fun to take a look back before moving forward.

So it’s become my tradition each New Year to review my blog posts from the previous year and share my top posts with you.  If you’ve missed anything, it’s a great way to catch up.

My Top 10 Posts of 2016

This time I’m going in chronological order.  It’s just more fun.  My most-viewed posts of 2016 were:

1.  A DIY Chandelier Upgrade

Sometimes it’s not the size of the project that matters.  For this little project, I took a piece a fabric I got for under $1 and turned it into an elegant chandelier sleeve. No more plain chain!

Chandelier sleeve

This chandelier sleeve made our master bathroom complete.  To read posts about our master bathroom, the room we carved essentially out of thin air, check out this page.

2.  Three Easter Decor Ideas

I had a lot of fun creating these little shatter-resistant eggshell planters. And I shared a couple of Easter gift ideas in the same post.

Easter egg planters

3.  Improvements in the Garden

This was my most popular post of the year.  What started as a small repair to a walkway evolved into a major landscape improvement project.  Our backyard is more beautiful – and practical – since this bluestone path installation.

truck with bluestone

But to me, the project still didn’t seem complete.  So I installed some simple DIY garden edging.

4.  A Lapse in Judgment Becomes Garden Art

Is there a support group for people who can’t resist curbside finds? Almost immediately after I picked up this chair, I regretted doing so. Too icky to bring into the house, I turned it into garden art.

garden art chair

5.  A Makeover for a Vintage Airstream

Our 17-foot Airstream Caravel, the June Bug, turned 50 last year. So to celebrate, we treated her to an exterior makeover.  Also in this post, I share tips for camping in a tiny trailer.

1966 Airstream Caravel

In my subsequent post, The June Bug Heads to Yosemite, I share a couple of minor interior upgrades – plus some beautiful photos from Yosemite.

Look for the return of the June Bug in 2017.   After all, she is our tiny vacation cabin on wheels.

6.  My Three-Season Greenhouse

Here I share the many uses I have for my greenhouse over the changing seasons.

Sunglo greenhouse

More posts about our greenhouse can be found on our greenhouse page.

And speaking of the greenhouse . . .

7.  Fun with Brick and Mortar

The final piece (at least for now) of our garden improvement puzzle was to add a brick foundation to the greenhouse.  The brick makes the greenhouse look more permanent, more old-world, and more cohesive with the new hardscaping.

brick and mortar

This project only took us a couple of days, but what a difference it made.

8.  A Plumbing Leak Becomes an Opportunity

A plumbing issue in our main floor bathroom led to a much-needed aesthetic upgrade.

1927 bathroom

9.  Saving Four Innocent Chairs from the Dumpster

Not having learned my lesson with my previous curbside rescue (see number 4 above), I found four weathered rattan chairs that needed me.

rattan chairs

10.  A DIY Doll Bed for My Favorite Little Girl

My final post of 2016 was all about the little Christmas gift that I made for my niece.  It was fun to transform this vintage magazine rack into something so sweet.

Magazine rack repurpose

My Personal Favorites of 2016

Two of my favorite posts that almost made the Top 10 were:

Making an Entrance

My Mom took her mid century rambler from bland to beautiful by adding a portico and larger windows.  It’s exactly what her house needed.

Be sure to check out the “before” photos in this post.

New portico

An Old Stereo Cabinet is Transformed

Here my husband shows us that paint isn’t always the answer when rehabbing a vintage furniture piece.  His repurpose of this tired mid century stereo cabinet is elegant and practical.

stereo cabinet repurpose

How to Browse My Posts

For clickable photos of every post on my blog, in chronological order, check out my photo gallery.  (But keep in mind that, in the beginning, I was struggling to take halfway decent photos with a lesser camera.)

My very first post, Saying Goodbye to a Special Lady, was about my mother-in-law’s celebration of life party.  Writing it was therapy for me since I got to share with my readers Betty’s wonderful sense of style.

What’s Going on in 2017?

Our 1927 cottage turns 90 this year.  We have been slowly and respectfully improving this house for years, but of course there is always more to do.

Like most old houses, it has its “sore spots” – rooms or areas that don’t flow right, don’t look their best, and could be put to better use. This year I want to focus on getting those spaces upgraded and organized so that they really work with our lifestyle.

I want these areas to look fresh but retain the character and charm of an old house.  Which might mean a few trips to the salvage shops.  In fact, it already has.

So no more excuses for me.  It’s time to get cracking!


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CREATIVE HOME AND GARDEN IDEAS FROM THE HOUSE DOWN THE STREET