All posts by Heidi

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.


This post contains affiliate links, which means that I earn a small commission on any purchases you make by following these links. This does not impact the price of your purchase.

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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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A DIY Doll Bed for My Favorite Little Girl

For my final post of 2016, I am sharing my favorite DIY project of the year.  This fun little project is close to my heart.

It’s Not About Needing

I was at my local Goodwill store a while back and came across something I didn’t need but just couldn’t leave behind:  This old magazine rack.

Vintage magazine rack

Such a cute little thing.  I especially liked the Edwardian-inspired turned legs and brass casters.

Vintage magazine rack - brass casters

That day furniture was half price, and the magazine rack was considered furniture.  I bought it not knowing what I would use it for. I only knew that I would not be using it as a magazine rack.

Aha, a Doll Cradle!

The magazine rack went into the basement for a while.  Then one day I realized that it would make a cute doll cradle – a Christmas gift for my niece Daisie.

So I asked my husband Chris to remove the two interior wooden dividers.  Then I would paint the magazine rack and add some bedding.

The Paint

The dark wood would need several coats of primer before I could paint it – unless I used chalk paint.  I had some leftover Plaid chalk paint in a color called Bavarian that would look very sweet.  But was chalk paint appropriate and safe for a child’s room?  I found this link by Plaid, which reassured me.

But I must mention here that I am no expert on child safety or babyproofing, and this post is not a tutorial.  So if you take on a similar project, you should research all safety concerns first.

Anyway, I went with the Plaid Bavarian chalk paint.  And although the chalk paint can be applied directly to un-primed wood, I still needed three coats of it to cover that dark stain.

A Little Customizing by Uncle

So the magazine rack was painted but it still didn’t look like a cradle. There was too much space between the vertical slats.

To add more vertical slats, Chris cut to size some of the wooden dividers he had removed and secured them to the cradle with glue.

Of course there was not quite enough of this wood to finish the job. But we discovered that paint stir sticks from the hardware store were the right width and depth, so he used a few of them too.

Vintage magazine rack
You can see that the middle slat is a paint stir stick.

I painted the added slats to match the bed.

Adding the Wax Coat

The chalk paint needed to be finished with a top coat of wax.  I used Plaid Clear Wax.  Since it can be applied with a rag, this was a quick and easy step.

Vintage magazine rack

The Bedding

Finally the real fun could start:  Choosing the fabric and making the bedding.

It was tempting to choose very girly, soft pink or white fabrics.  But my niece seems to enjoy strong patterns and colors.  So I found some fun embossed juvenile fabrics that looked easy to spot clean.  The green ball fringe trim would add a little zing.

Juvenile fabric

I had a pink and white chevron print calico fabric on hand, and I used it to cover the little foam mattress that I cut – and also to cover a small pillow.

I made two pillows, a comforter, and a mattress cover – all very small.  After all, the magazine-rack-turned-doll-cradle only measures 12 inches wide by 18 inches long.

The bedding is reversible so Daisie will be able to switch up the look.

Doll cradle bedding

doll cradle bedding

The turned legs look really sweet now.

magazine rack repurpose

But unfortunately Daisie has a very impatient aunt.  I really should have waited a few years to do this project since she is currently way too young to appreciate the doll cradle.

So for now, as long as her Mom and Dad think it’s safe enough, it will simply decorate her room.  And it might be a nice catch-all for toys and books.

What doll could resist sleeping here?

magazine-rack-repurpose-doll-bed-finished2

 

The magazine rack went from this

as-found

To this.

magazine-rack-repurpose-doll-bed-finished

 

Happy Holidays!

Dear friends, thanks for your comments and support this past year. Wishing you a happy and peaceful holiday season.  Let’s meet back here in January!

happy-holidays


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Budget-Friendly DIY Holiday Decor

It’s the most wonderful time of the year- that is until my holiday budget winds up on a runaway train.  Gifts, decor, party hosting, charities: It adds up fast.

So today I’m sharing three little ways to save on holiday decor.

Free Holiday Greens

I love to use fresh evergreen sprigs for DIY wreaths and decor.  I could buy bundles of greens at my local florist or nursery but that would be silly considering I can get them for free.  How?

Well, my local big box hardware store sells fresh Christmas trees in their nursery area.  As a courtesy, employees trim unwanted branches from the trees to tidy them up for customers.

These unwanted branches sit in a big pile and, if I ask nicely, the employees always let me take some.  In fact, they usually encourage me to take as much as I can carry.  After all, it’s less for them to dispose of.  And I get a nice mix since they sell spruce, fir, and pine trees.

I use the branches in garlands and to decorate my front porch.

Budget holiday decor: Branches with a vintage lantern

And in simple floral arrangements.

Budget holiday decor: Roses and evergreen branches

My wreath last year cost me nothing.  I just used the free greens with a wreath form and some garnishes I already had.  Basically, the wreath was made up of scraps.

Budget holiday decor: A wreath made with random scraps

It was not my best work, but you get the picture.  To make it, I used the same method as when I made this foraged wreath a couple of years ago.

I also added a little holiday cheer to my greenhouse by making a Frankenstein monster of a tree.  I used a section of a large branch that we had on hand as the “trunk.”

My husband drilled a hole in the “trunk,”

drill

I placed some greens into it,

Budget holiday decor: Making a Frankenstein monster tree

Put it in a pot, and added some lights.

Budget holiday decor: DIY topiary

I ended up with what looked like a little topiary tree for the greenhouse entrance.  (This photo was taken before we added the new greenhouse foundation.)

But my mom, Erika, takes it a step farther.  She uses bare branches from her own garden to create holiday beauty.

Using Bare Branches

Once the leaves fall from the trees, the beautiful structure of the branches is revealed.  Mom spray painted cuttings from a small dogwood tree to create this wintry look for her fireplace mantel.

Budget holiday decor: painted branches on mantel

She used 6-foot-long branches from a mountain ash tree, some curly willow branches, and more of the dogwood branches to create this winter arrangement in an oversize urn.

Budget holiday decor: large holiday arrangement

The mountain ash branches are painted white.

Budget holiday decor: painted branches

She also used ormanental seed heads from her garden and some silk flowers she had on hand.

Budget holiday decor: large arrangement closeup

This large arrangement will be a stand-in for her Christmas tree – a fun and beautiful change of pace.

At some point, I want to try a different version of Mom’s idea: Taking several large, straight cut branches and turning them into a small indoor forest.

A Dollar Store Find

Last year, I noticed that my local dollar store sold shipping supplies, including five-yard rolls of brown shipping paper.  It was thicker than the craft paper I had seen at craft stores.

I was burned out on gaudy holiday bling and in the mood for understated, organic-looking decor.  So I bought a roll to use as gift wrap.

I used strips of unbleached muslin and burlap fabrics (leftovers from other projects) as ribbons and bows.

Budget holiday decor: gifts wrapped in shipping paper

I stenciled some of the packages.

Budget holiday decor: gifts wrapped in shipping paper

And monogrammed some of them.  The thick paper held up well to the craft paint.

Budget holiday decor: gifts wrapped in shipping paper

I really kept it simple, but I love how these packages turned out – with a bit of an “old-world” vibe.

Budget holiday decor: gifts wrapped in shipping paper

Since I have a lot of shipping paper left, I’ll be experimenting with new looks this season.

So when it comes to holiday decor, free can actually get you pretty far – and so can a dollar.

Note: All posts on this blog are for entertainment only and not intended as tutorials.


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