A Tour of Erika’s Sunroom

Every now and then, I take my readers over to visit my mom Erika’s beautiful garden.  But today we’re headed inside her house to tour her charming sunroom.  

It’s my favorite room in her house and the one I always gravitate toward.  But it was not always like that. 

In fact, it was not always a sunroom.

A Porch Conversion

When Mom first moved into her mid century rambler, the sunroom was actually just a covered porch.

The original covered back porch.

Even though the porch was in dire need of a facelift (as was the rest of the house), it was a nice place to relax on a warm day.  But it wasn’t living up to its full potential.  Mom could almost hear the porch begging to be enclosed and converted to a sunroom that could be enjoyed year round. 

So that is exactly what she did.  She hired out some of the work, and she had some help from my brother Dan.  But she did much of the work herself – including installing the ceramic tile floor.

A door in the media room gives us access the sunroom.  Let’s go back in time to right after Mom got the house.  This was the media room then – and the door to what was then the covered porch.

Before improvements: The media room and the door to the covered porch.

 

The media room was probably the ugliest room in the house  – and if this photo isn’t proof that Mom is fearless, I don’t know what is.  (Actually, at the time I think we were all pretty excited about the potential of Mom’s cosmetic fixer.)

The Tour Begins

Of course, Mom immediately made improvements to the media room.  This is the entrance to the sunroom now.

media room after
The media room, after improvements, with the sunroom beyond.

 

The sunroom is long and narrow, so Mom divided it into three zones.

The Tea Room

Coming through the media room door, this is the first area we see.  

Sunroom

A corner of windows gives it abundant natural light.  When I visit Mom, especially on a rainy day, there is nothing I love more than to sip a cup of tea with her here.

 

Porch converted to a sunroom.

For a rustic contrast, Mom kept the original  pine ceiling.

If we turn toward the bank of windows, we have access to the outdoors.

Exit door of the sunroom.

And here I must mention that my brother Dan did the interior finish work on all the windows and doors.

Sunroom bank of windows.

He did a beautiful job of trimming them, and it was good practice for the stunning dining room conversion he undertook at his own house a few years later.

The Reading Area

If we turn from the tea room, we face a teak bench.  It serves as a reading area, but more importantly it helps to separate the potting area behind it from the tea room.  

teak bench

The bench divides and defines the spaces, yet it is low enough to allow ample light and a spacious feel.

Plus, no matter who you are, it is a nice place to relax.

Teak bench and our loyal buddy,

The Potting Area

The newest addition to Mom’s greenhouse is the bench that my father built years ago.  In my childhood home, this bench sat in the entry hall.

Mid century shoe bench before its facelift.

 

Mom replaced the cushioned seat with a laminate, added a little paint, and now the bench is part of her potting area.  It stores potting supplies, and the top can be used as a work surface.

Sunroom

And from the tea room, we don’t see the potting soil, empty pots, or hand trowels.

Sunroom potting area

But this is where plants are overwintered and tubers are started in Spring. 

Mom saves money by buying annuals in small six-packs (aka pony packs) and then separating them into 4-inch pots.  There they have room to grow and are protected in her sunroom until it’s warm enough to plant them outdoors.

 

A shelf in the corner holds decor and plants.

Asia-inspired shelf

 

It is still bright enough in this corner for the plants to thrive.

Plants on red shelf

 

Sun-loving plants are placed near the windows.

Sunroom

This concludes our little tour of Mom’s sunroom.  I hope you enjoyed it.

Sunroom

Now it’s time for Mom to relax a bit with her loyal companion before starting her next project.  But knowing Mom, she won’t be sitting for long.

Sunroom

Here are my previous posts about Mom’s home and garden:

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Did You Know

Mom is also a writer.  She currently has two books available on AmazonYear of the Angels, a touching historical fiction novel based on her real-life experiences during WWII, and Cries from the Fifth Floor, a fun paranormal thriller/murder mystery.

 

Posts on this website are for entertainment only and are not tutorials.

 

 

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Our New Coffee Station

Last fall, a cousin invited us to her party and made me cup of coffee with her little Nespresso machine.  Specifically, she made me a lungo – which, to me, is a cross between a shot of espresso and an Americano.  It was a strong and delicious cup of coffee, with the water steamed to a light froth. 

It reminded me of Europe:  The hotels where we stayed all had these nifty coffee machines in their breakfast rooms that, with the push of a button, could produce lungos, espressos, cappuccinos, and more – on demand.  These were small cups of coffee – six ounces at most – not the grande-sized drinks we are used to here in the States.  

So when Chris found a barely-used Nespresso Lattissima Plus on eBay, he surprised me with it on Christmas. 

Disclosure:  Affiliate links are used in this post.

It was one of the nicer Nespresso models and could make both milk- and water-based coffee drinks.  (This model is also currently available, new and used, through Amazon.)

Worrying – It’s What I Do Best

I was excited about my gift but also hesitant.  

First of all, even though it was a small machine, it was still something that would take up countertop space (and an electrical outlet) in our kitchen.  And since this little machine would only make single cups of coffee, and short ones at that, it would not take the place of our existing coffee maker.  So we’d have to keep that one as well.  

Secondly, it came with disposable pods.  And we couldn’t send the used pods out in our curbside recycle bin.  Nespresso does offer several ways to recycle their pods, but those ways would require more effort on our part than curbside recycling.  

And lastly, cleaning the machine, specifically the milk spout, looked like a lot of work.

 

No Worries

Chris immediately dispelled my concern about cleaning the milk spout.  He showed me the button to push to automatically clean the spout with steamed water.

“Now just try it,” he said.   “We don’t have to keep it.”

Moments later, while sipping a delicious lungo, I said “Oh we’re keeping it.”

So I pushed aside some of the serveware on the hutch countertop and plugged the Nespresso in there.

The clutter was not ideal, but it was wonderful to be able to make espresso drinks so easily.

A demitasse filled with espresso and cream.

But soon the used pods were piling up – and so was my guilt over having them. 

Used pods. How were we going to recycle them?

So we ordered RECAPS stainless steel refillable capsule pods.  They work with most (but not all) Nespresso makes and models.  Luckily they would work with ours.

Now that we had these reusable pods, we could fill them with our own coffee – any coffee we liked!  And we would save money by not having to buy more disposable pods.  (It’s funny how, oftentimes, doing something good for the planet also results in saving money.)  

We followed the directions carefully and got good results.  A few experimental cups taught us that the coffee has to be tamped down and compacted in the pod – but not too tightly.  There also has to be a small – very small – bit of space left in the pod.  

 

The Coffee Station 

The hutch countertop remained cluttered until recently when we added this vintage cabinet to our kitchen.  It now holds most of our casual serveware. 

This freed up space on the hutch countertop for a prettier coffee station.  

Coincidentally, my mom Erika had been organizing recently too – in her craft/sunroom.  (We’re going there, by the way, in a future post.  Her sunroom is so pretty that I have to show you.)  She offered me one of the beautiful landscapes she paints. 

 When I got it home, I set it on the hutch until I found a place for it – and then I realized that the hutch is the perfect place.  (Lately I’ve been loving the casual look of simply propping art against walls on tables and countertops.  It makes it so easy to “layer” the pieces with more art or move pieces around.)

I found a new tray with colors that complement the painting.

And we finally had the perfect place for our cute vintage Dienes coffee grinder.

We don’t do syrups in our coffee, so I kept the coffee station simple.  The Frango tin holds a bag of powdered cocoa for the occasional mocha or hot chocolate.

 

As far as the machine itself goes, my only small issue is that sometimes the steamed milk could be a bit warmer.  (And I keep forgetting to put the detachable milk carafe back in the fridge after making a milk-based drink.  But I can’t blame the machine for that!)

 

Overall, we’ve really upped our coffee game around here, and I’m feeling better about keeping the machine.  Coffee anyone?

Resources:

There are many varieties of Nespresso machines out there, some of them smaller and simpler than mine.  But I would advise visiting a Nespresso boutique for a taste test before making a purchase.

RECAPS stainless steel refillable capsule pods are designed to work with most (but not all) Nespresso makes and models.

 

 

 

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Elevated Tulips

I recently visited a thrift store where I spied a simple and classy silver footed cake stand.  As I was deciding if I really needed it, an announcement came over the PA that all pink-tagged items were on sale.  Since the cake stand had a pink tag, I took that as a sign that I was meant to have it.

I’ve always been a pushover for pedestals or any kind of elevated or footed container. 

And just the way a cake looks so much more impressive on an elevated stand, if I take a common, garden-variety plant, and place it in an elevated container, that somehow makes the plant look more important.

Here, elevated milk glass containers lend class to baby tears and the mystery bulb that I dug up from my garden.

So today, I am sharing the simple way that I used my silver cake stand to display a bunch of grocery store tulips.

 

The Goal

For this project, the goal was to take a small bunch of cut tulips (cost:  $1.69) and make them look like they were growing out of a moss-covered chunk of earth.  This chunk of earth would be elevated on the stand to contrast natural materials with polished elegance.

The Materials

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I used five tulips, some sheet moss (my favorite go-to for floral and decor projects), a little reindeer moss, a shallow water-tight saucer (in this case, a plastic faux clay saucer), spike flower frogs, and my newly found silver cake stand. 

And I used one more surprise material that I will show you later.

The Method

It was easy.  I cut the sheet moss to size to wrap it over the top of, and around the sides of, the shallow saucer.  I tucked the ends of the sheet moss underneath the saucer.

I cut a large hole in the middle of the sheet moss so that I could place flower frogs inside the saucer. 

And then I cut the tulips to the desired height and secured them onto the flower frogs, spacing them somewhat evenly.

I placed the saucer on the cake plate and filled it with water for the tulips.

Then, using reindeer moss, I covered the hole I’d cut in the sheet moss.  This was to conceal the flower frogs.

It looked a little like a “tulip cake,” if there is such a thing.  I thought it was kind of cute, and I was tempted to leave it at that.

But I added one more thing – an outer ring of Tillandsia Usneoides

Tillandsia Usneoides (live Spanish moss) is a beautiful and amazing air plant.  It is my current obsession, and I will be writing more about it soon.  For now, let’s just say it was the icing on the cake (okay, more like the icing around the cake).

I can simply replace these tulips with new ones once they get tired – or try a different type of flower or even a combination.

And maybe one day I will use the stand for a real cake.

Resources:

Sheet Moss and Reindeer Moss can be found in craft stores and on Amazon.

Tillandsia Usneoides can be found at better nurseries and on Amazon.

Spike flower frogs can also be found in craft stores.  Vintage spike frogs are fun and collectible.  Check out this selection on Etsy.

I was lucky to happen upon that silver cake stand, so simple and elegant.  Cake stands like it probably turn up every now and then on Etsy.

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Kitchen Storage with a Vintage Twist

How has your technology been treating you lately?  Seems there is something in the air.  Recently, gremlins wreaked havoc on my blog, forcing me to take an unscheduled break from blogging while my webhost and I sorted things out. 

And soon my laptop, which is literally coming unhinged, is going into the shop. 

But before it does, I’m sharing a fun little organizing project that I’m very happy with.  I always love it when wasted space finally gets put to good use.  And this time, it was . . . 

An Underutilized Kitchen Corner

Although we remodeled our kitchen several years ago, there is one space that we could have done a better job of thinking through:  The bland, empty corner where the cabinetry ends on the north wall.  

The heat register, the light switch, and the traffic flow from the kitchen to the hallway all made this corner a bit challenging to plan.  At the time of our remodel, we had so many other decisions to make that we didn’t give it proper attention. 

It became a feeding station for our cats – which actually was great since, for the most part, it kept our little darlings away from the food prep area.  But now our only cat is the lovely Priscilla, and she prefers to eat her meals upstairs.  

I was thrilled at her choice because I could finally do something more with this underappreciated corner.  But what? Since shelving wouldn’t block the heat register, I was considering attaching shelves, or maybe a floating bookcase, to the pantry cabinet on the left.

I just hadn’t gotten around to it yet.  

A Vintage Fir Cabinet

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Around the same time, Chris started asking me when I was going to do something, anything, with the vintage cabinets that I’d had in our garage for the past couple of years.

Salvaged fir built-ins.

We’d picked these two cabinets up at a garage sale for $5 apiece.  Since each cabinet only has two “good,” finished sides (the front and one side), my assumption is that they were actually built-ins that had been pulled out of an old house.    

The flush-mount cabinet doors, the glass knobs, and the leaded glass fronts, are all similar to the original dining room cabinetry in our house – which was built in the 1920s.

So to me, buying the cabinets was a no-brainer.

I just had no idea what we were going to do with them.  There didn’t seem to be any good place to put them if we were going to keep them together. 

 

 

With Chris wanting his garage space back, and with the cat bowls gone, it finally clicked.  I took measurements and, sure enough, one of those vintage cabinets (the one with its “good side” on the right) would fit in that blank kitchen corner without obstructing the light switch – if we put legs on it so that it would clear the heat register. 

But that old cabinet would need a lot more than just legs.

Paint or Finish?

I originally wanted to paint the cabinet the same white as our kitchen cabinets.  But then I noticed that it had been painted – and someone had gone through the painstaking work of stripping the paint and sanding it.

And the wood was fir – like our floors.  Since someone else had already done all the hard work, I decided to apply a finish to the exterior and paint only the interior.

(I went ahead and worked on both cabinets at once – even though my plans for the second cabinet are still in flux.)

A Danish Oil Finish

For the exterior, I used Watco Danish Oil in Natural.  It can be applied with a rag, which I find so much easier than using a paint brush – at least on non-ornate surfaces.  

Danish oil is not like Polyurethane, and I found this post that explains the differences.  And this post has helpful tips on the proper method of application – which I followed – as well as the proper way to handle application rags since – yikes! –  a wadded-up oil-soaked rag could possibly combust!

Applying the oil with a rag was easy, but the wood was very thirsty.  I probably applied 10 layers of the oil over the course of several days.

Cabinet doors prepped for finish.

Prime and Paint

I painted the interior with three coats of primer and two coats of white paint. 

Cabinets after three coats of primer.

For smaller flat surfaces like this, I prefer to use a Shur-Line paint edger instead of a roller because it gives me a smooth, even finish.  Then I use a small paint brush for the hard-to-reach areas.

The white paint is a custom blend that matches our kitchen cabinets and is the same paint I used on the walls for our laundry room remodel.

Stencil!

Finally the fun part:  A stencil!  I just wanted a simple accent and, since I couldn’t find a stencil I liked, I used one I’ve had on hand for years.

I practiced a little and experimented with color combinations.

But in the end I kept it simple with a Navy Blue by FolkArt and a little dot of Tuscan Red by Americana.  

Legs

Now the cabinet needed legs.  Chris and I looked online.  We visited big box stores and specialty lumber stores.  But we wound up buying these legs on Amazon.

Legs with the first coat of Danish oil drying.

They were unfinished, so I applied countless coats of Danish oil on them as well.

Now it was time for Chris to get to work.

He attached the legs to the cabinet.

To give the piece character, Chris made sure the knot in one of the legs was placed so that it would be visible.

And then, because we live in earthquake country, he secured the cabinet to our built-in pantry.

Refurbished fir cabinet.

The Result

I moved the Fiestaware that my Mom gave me for Christmas, and many of our other blue-and-white serving pieces, into the cabinet.  This is where our fun, casual, and colorful pieces live now.

Refurbished fir cabinet with vintage serving pieces.

The cabinet is recessed enough so that it doesn’t impede traffic flow from the kitchen to the hallway.

Refurbished fir cabinet.

And it adds charm.

Refurbished fir cabinet as kitchen storage.

I’m glad I kept the wood exterior.  It works well with the floor and the built-in hutch’s wooden countertop. 

Refurbished fir cabinet as kitchen storage.

 

Vintage serving pieces in a refurbished fir cabinet.

Adding this little fir cabinet has caused a happy chain reaction:  There is now more space in all of our overhead kitchen cabinets.  

And I even reclaimed some countertop space on the hutch – enough for the snazzy new coffee station that I will be sharing soon (unless the gremlins return to mutilate my blog again, in which case it won’t be soon).

As for that second vintage cabinet, I haven’t completely decided how I’m going to use it.  But I have a few ideas.  So stay tuned!

In Other News

I love to support artists, and I buy vintage instead of new whenever I can.  That’s why I’ve always been proud to be an Etsy affiliate.

But now I have another reason to love Etsy:  It has become the first online retailer to offset 100% of their carbon emissions from shipping. That’s amazing.  Let the guilt-free shopping begin!

I hope other online retailers follow suit, but right now Etsy is leading the way.

 

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A Birthday Party and a Cake Experiment

The big snow that I talked about in my previous post has finally melted, and I can almost hear Mother Nature saying, “Now where was I? Ah yes, spring!”  

Tiny flowers in the shade garden are no worse for the wear after being buried for days under a heavy white blanket.  

Amazing.  And such a cheerful sight. 

I decided to bring some of that spring cheer indoors for a small family birthday party that I was hosting.

An Easy Spring Container Garden

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As part of the party decor, I set up this little indoor container garden.

 

I used a primrose, a fragrant hyacinth, and spike moss to fill this cute footed pot that I found at Goodwill.

After the party, the birthday girl took it home with her (which is why I included the plant tags in the container).

A Whimsical Table Setting

For the table, I used a mix of newer and vintage blue-themed Villeroy & Boch pieces.  

We’ve collected, inherited, and been given these pieces over the years.  What I love about Villeroy & Boch is that many of their patterns, even the vintage ones, are a bit playful.  They put a whimsical spin on classic china.

Repurposed Valentine’s Day Flowers 

For the centerpiece, I just used some of my Valentine’s Day roses in a vintage fan vase.

It didn’t take up much table space, and it added a little visual tension to the blue-and-white theme.

So the dinner went well, and by now my family was lulled into a false sense of security – because they had not yet seen The Cake.

 

An Experimental Orange Rum Cake 

Here I should mention that this is not a cooking blog.  And I would never, ever, claim to have expertise in baking. 

You’ll see why when I show you the birthday cake that I baked.

Syrup-infused orange rum cake.

What is that brown stuff on top?  We’ll come to that.  

I knew the birthday girl would enjoy a fruit-flavored cake with little or no frosting.  The words “orange cake” popped into my head.  So I googled it.

I found this recipe for a syrup-infused orange cake.  But instead of following the recipe for the cake, I just used a boxed yellow cake mix and substituted orange juice for the water.

Then I followed the recipe for the orange syrup portion, but I decided to make it an orange rum cake.  So I substituted some of the orange juice that the recipe called for with spiced rum.

 

 

It was all going really well.  The syrup was infusing into the cake.

It was time for the final step:  Making the glaze.  I’m not sure what I did wrong, but my glaze cooled into rock-hard clumps the minute I spread it onto the cake.  It stuck to the spatula. It stuck to my teeth.  I knew then that if I finished spreading it on the cake, I’d need a chain saw to cut into it.  So I stopped.  All done!

Next time I’ll skip that part.  I served the cake with whipped cream, and it was actually pretty tasty – for an experiment.

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A Little Greenhouse in a Big Snow

Here in the Puget Sound region, we are just beginning to thaw out from the deepest February snow accumulation since 1916!  All around the area, schools and businesses were closed.  Kids rejoiced.  But most adults had mixed feelings – because, with all our steep hills, getting around in the snow can be pretty darn tricky.  

But this snow storm was nothing like the incredible cold that folks in the Midwest recently suffered through so, out of respect for those hardy souls, no sniveling words of self pity will appear in this post.

No, I just want to show you our greenhouse

Doesn’t it look cute in the snow?

Sunglo lean-to greenhouse in the snow.

Even though I kind of knew that our little Sunglo greenhouse was designed to withstand heavy snow, I never realized how well it would actually shed snow. 

Was it the curved roof line, the fact that we never let the interior temperature dip below 50 degrees, or a little of both?  I don’t really know.  But that greenhouse was the only thing in our garden that wasn’t covered in six to twelve inches of show.

It shrugged off the snow that fell on it.  

Sunglo lean-to greenhouse in snow.

 

 

Inside the greenhouse, things were cozy.  The plants were happy.

Inside a Sunglo greenhouse.

 

Inside a Sunglo Greenhouse.

 

The burlap shades we made for the greenhouse a few years ago are still holding up.

 

Burlap shades

And the vintage-inspired lights that my brother made for the greenhouse are still going strong.

Vintage-inspired lighting

It’s hard to believe that soon it will be time to start tomatoes and summer annuals in here.

A Snow Garden Mini Tour

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All the little garden chores that I hadn’t gotten around to were hidden under a thick blanket of white.  I took lots of photos.  So this is the perfect time to take you on a mini-tour of our garden. 

Snow makes everything beautiful.  Whether it’s a birdbath, 

winter garden

 

winter garden

 

A hedge,

winter garden

 

An old weeping cherry tree,

winter garden

 

A rustic bench,

winter garden

 

The back patio,

winter garden

 

 

Or just seed heads from the garlic chives, 

winter garden

Huge gobs of snow make it all look better.

 

 

Garden chores weren’t the only thing we’d been procrastinating on.  We’d left town soon after the holidays, so Chris never had a chance to take down our outdoor Christmas lights. 

But once the snow started falling, we just switched them back on.

Shed with Christmas lights

Christmas in February!  

But not everything was beautiful.  The hummingbird feeders were freezing over so quickly that it was a pain to keep them thawed.  I needed a quick solution.

So I insulated them with old socks.

And yes, the sock in the photo is inside out.  But this little guy is getting his food, so he doesn’t care.

Posts on this website are for entertainment only and are not tutorials or endorsements.

 

 

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Finding A Home’s Hidden Past

Our house was built on a country lane over 90 years ago.  Slowly the city grew in around it, and the neighborhood it sits in now is nothing at all like the one it started in. 

Chris and I have always been interested in the history of our house and the evolution of our neighborhood. What were the original owners like?  Why did they choose this location for their house?  And how had our house changed over time? 

We’ve been able to locate many pieces of the puzzle, so today I’m sharing the methods we used in finding our home’s hidden past.

County Tax Records

Property tax assessors like to keep close tabs on the real estate that they tax.

Starting back in 1937, our county periodically took photographs of every home in the county.  Those old photos are now housed in archives that our state maintains.  For a small fee, we ordered a copy of the 1937 photograph of our house. 

(Many of our friends and neighbors with old houses have done the same.  We just refer to them as the “old tax photos,” and we proudly frame them.)

So what did we learn from the photo?  We’d always known that most of the windows on the south side of our house have been replaced, and we could only guess what the original windows looked like.  But there they were in the tax photo – mullioned leaded glass windows.  So now we have a reference in case we ever want to duplicate them. 

We could also see that, at the time of the photo, our house was in a much more rural setting.

The photograph came with a copy of an old property record card.  It contained some goodies – like the a sketch of the house’s “footprint,” the year it was built, the home’s condition at the time, and of course some assessment information.

 

City and State Archives

Our city has an extensive online collection of historic photographs and records, mostly pertaining to civic projects.  And while a search of the records didn’t turn up anything on our house specifically, browsing the collection taught us about our neighborhood.

Now trendy and crowded, this street was part of an unvarnished working-class neighborhood back in 1975. Image courtesy of Seattle Municipal Archives, Image number 179254.

Title Reports

When financing a house, banks usually require title insurance.  And that title insurance policy usually comes with a title report. 

Title reports are pretty tedious, and my eyes usually glaze over after the first page.  But they can contain all kinds of clues about a home’s past. 

Several years ago, hoping to gain even more detailed information about our house, we ordered a chain-of-title report from a title company.  Chain-of-title reports are usually done by request, where title reports are done as backup for title insurance policies.  So, chain-of-title reports can sometimes contain more detail than a title report. 

Our chain-of-title report went back to 1922 when the bare lot was sold as a two-acre parcel of land. 

Starting there, it showed every division of the property and every change in ownership – including the names of all former owners.  

The report showed that the most recent subdivision of the lot happened in the 1950s.  The timing makes sense since the house next door is of mid-century architecture and sits on land that was once a part of our home’s original lot.

With the information from our report, we headed to the library to look at . . . 

Old City Directories

Old city directories often list a person’s occupation.  In 1927, when our house was built, the property was owned by a married couple.  By looking them up in an old city directory, we learned that the husband was a plaster contractor.  So this could be why our house has a stucco exterior in a city where the majority of older homes are wood clad.

 

Prima Shower Valve Mixer

Old Newspapers

I was thrilled to find out that our city library had scanned our old local newspapers and made them searchable.  From an old obituary, we learned that the couple who built the house came from England.  This might explain why our house was built in the English cottage style.

And it gives context to something we’d found in the house:  When we remodeled our kitchen several years ago, we discovered a closet that we didn’t even know we had.  It had been walled in and forgotten during an unfortunate mid-century kitchen remodel undertaken by the same owner who had subdivided the lot.  Inside the closet was an old wooden coat hanger from England. 

That coat hanger is now part of the collection of vintage coat hangers in our laundry room

Historical Maps

Around the mid-1800s, the Sanborn Map Company started creating “fire insurance” maps of cities and towns.  These maps are sometimes available at local libraries.  And the Library of Congress  has a large digital collection. 

The Kroll Map Company also keeps an archive of their historical maps.  We got a plat map of our neighborhood from about the 1930s showing the original two-acre lot that our house once sat on – along with the other large lots that made up our neighborhood at the time.

 

Snooping Around Our House

With old houses, something as innocuous as a patch in the plaster can tell a story.  

And remodel projects can often reveal clues to a house’s past.  We found more than just that old coat hanger during the demolition process of our kitchen remodel.

But through its little quirks, our house is always talking to us: There is a tiny door in the wall halfway up the basement stairs that opens into a closet that is also accessible from the kitchen.  Upon further investigation, we found the pipe for the original kitchen stove tucked into the back of this closet.  So, the little door halfway up the basement stairs could have been to make it easier to bring coal up from the basement (where the old coal shoot emptied) to use in the kitchen stove. 

There is also an old cistern in the ground under our carport.  No doubt it was used for irrigation in the former rural setting.

Talking to Neighbors and Former Occupants

Long-time residents are usually very happy when newcomers take an interest in neighborhood history.  

From talking with retired neighbors (including our friend Mr. B) we learned that, in addition to having dairy pastures, our neighborhood was once the site of an experimental orchard.  There is a reason that the old fruit trees that grace many of our back yards are aligned so perfectly with one another!

But one lucky day, we really hit the jackpot:  The nephew of that plaster contractor from the 1920s showed up in our driveway!  

He’d actually lived in our house for a short time during his childhood.  He remembered the day his uncle planted the now-huge weeping cherry tree in the front garden.

He also remembered their friendly dog, the couple’s vegetable patch where the house next door now stands, and how his uncle kept a bottle there – hidden from his teetotaling wife. 

He remembered big family dinners on Sunday, and he laughed at us because what we were using as our “dining room” was actually just an alcove where his uncle smoked his pipe.  No wonder it is so small! 

We convinced him to return with old photos.  One of the photos, from the 1940s, was of the original kitchen – with a large farmhouse table in the middle.  There sat the extended family – enjoying one of those Sunday dinners.  The photo confirmed what I had long suspected:  The original kitchen had been an eat-in kitchen. 

The nephew also helped us solve the mystery of the strange little cupboard in the wall behind our laundry room:  It was used to store root vegetables from the garden.  

Sad Stories

If a house has been around long enough, it’s sure to have seen some sadness.  And while the visiting nephew had only happy memories to share, a neighbor told us a very different story – about a family tragedy that had taken place in our house in the 1970s. 

But that is the risk we take when we delve into the past.  Not everything we uncover will be pleasant.  But it’s all part of life.

Did I Miss Anything?

In researching our old house, I’m sure we overlooked some resources – census records for example.  So, I’d love to hear about any research tips you have – or any interesting discoveries about your own old house.  

 

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Tips for Happy Travel – and Our European Adventure Part 3

At this time last year, I had no idea that, in early fall of 2018, I would be ticking off one of my bucket list items – a Danube river cruise. We built a three-week European adventure around it.  That little adventure gave us some unforgettable moments, a few of which I’ve shared in Our European Adventure Part 1 and Part 2

Planning a multi-destination trip abroad can be baffling. So in this post, I’m sharing a few little ways that I have found to cut down on confusion and make the most of our travel time – and money.

After I share my travel tips, we will head over to two lovely, old-world destinations in the Franconia region of Germany – the final stops on our European adventure.

Tips for Happy, Trouble-Free Travel

1.  Finding Lodging

Find A Common Theme Among Reviews

Like a lot of people, I go to TripAdvisor when I start my search for a hotel.  I look at prices, amenities, locations, photos, and, most importantly, ratings and reviews. 

But when reading reviews, I keep in mind that one reviewer’s random experience, whether good or bad, might not ever be repeated.  So, I look for a common theme among the reviews. 

Take, for example, the boutique hotel that I was researching in Strasbourg.  The most common complaint was that the rooms were small.  So, knowing that, but also knowing that the hotel was reasonably priced given its great location, we decided to book it anyway. 

And once we arrived, yes, our room was small.  Luckily, it also had high ceilings and big windows, so to us it didn’t feel too claustrophobic.

But how did I really know that the hotel was in a great location?  Here’s how:

“Virtual” Boots on the Ground

 

Virtual boots on the ground

This doesn’t work 100% of the time, but it often does – and it’s very cool:  From the comfort of my own home, I can stand right in front of almost any hotel.

I just go to Google Maps and enter the hotel address.  Then I hit “Satellite View” to get a helpful, zoomable aerial shot of the neighborhood.  Then, like an eagle swooping down on its prey (sorry, I couldn’t resist), I zoom all the way down to the ground by repeatedly pressing the little “+” button. 

Most of the time, this plops me down right in front of the hotel. 

From there, I can go on a virtual city walk.   

In the case of that hotel in Strasbourg, I could see that it was located on a drab street.  But I navigated my way up the street and, a block away, I found a beautiful little bridge.  I crossed the bridge and wandered a very charming neighborhood – and I even stumbled upon Strasbourg’s Notre-Dame cathedral – which, as it turns out, was within walking distance of the hotel.  

All this and I didn’t even leave my chair.

Even when Google Maps doesn’t work for a virtual city walk, it does give me a general idea of the hotel’s location, nearby restaurants, and amenities (along with reviews).

We Stay At Small Inns or B&Bs for An Authentic Experience

Large hotels can actually insulate their guests from local culture.  So we prefer to stay in little inns or B&Bs – which are often less expensive than a hotel. 

We get a more authentic experience.  We can chat with our hosts and learn things like where the locals like to go for dinner or where the best bike rental shop is. 

In the case of our stay in Bacharach, Germany, our hosts told us about a little-known hike that began across the street and offered amazing views and a stroll through ancient vineyards and stone towers. 

Bacharach Germany

One drawback, of course, is that these little inns often have stairs instead of elevators.  This is usually not an issue for us, as we travel light, but it is worth asking about in advance of booking.  

2.  We Ask About Free or Discounted Transport to Our Lodgings

If a hotel’s website or online listing hints at providing transportation, I ask about it when I book.  I asked the proprietor of our little B&B in Bacharach if she could pick us up at the train station there.  As it turned out, not only could she do that, she also helped me figure out the train schedule in advance so that I (and she) knew exactly which train we would be arriving on.

Which brings me to my next tip . . . 

3.  We Do As Much Practical Research In Advance As Possible

When planning a vacation, it’s important to look into activities, museums, restaurants, night life, etc.  After all, it’s the fun stuff that makes a vacation worthwhile.

But I have found that, if we are visiting multiple destinations, it is a good idea to also look into every single logistical aspect.  

Way in advance of the trip, I walk myself through the entire vacation, from start to finish. Will Uber be available or would we need a cab?  If so, where could we find it?  Would it be better to take a plane or a train to get from one city to another?  Or maybe a bus?   Which direction do we walk from the bus to the hotel?

As I do this, I create a schedule/spreadsheet of everything we will need to know on our trip:  Hotel info, walking directions, car rental info, flights, trains, every boring little thing.

It’s a lot of work, but it really pays off later when we’re not standing on a dark street corner somewhere with our luggage, jetlagged and confused.

Once the chart is completed, with everything we need in chronological order, I print it and bring it with us. 

Which leads me to my next tip . . .

4.  We Bring a Paper Backup of Everything

I keep offline maps, hotel addresses, etc. on my phone.  But one thing I’ve learned is that I can’t always count on my smart phone when traveling abroad.  And I don’t want to find out while standing in an airport security line that my electronic boarding pass won’t load.

Keeping a paper backup with all our essential logistical information proved invaluable when the international sim cards we got from our cellphone provider didn’t work in Europe after all.

5.  We Look for Upgraded Seats on Discount Airlines

For us, it’s an eight-hour flight to Europe.  So it’s nice to fly in premium class when we can afford it.  When can we afford it?  When we use a budget/discount airline. 

Some budget airlines offer premium-class seats, with nice amenities, at a cost similar to coach seats on the more conventional airlines.  So it never hurts to do a quick Google search and get a list of ALL the airlines currently flying in and out of my local airport.  I try to be flexible with travel dates, which can also save money. 

Of course, I make sure to read reviews before committing to any airline, and I look at baggage policies and other restrictions.

6.  We Get The Foreign Currency We Will Need Before We Leave Home

Our travel card makes it easy to get local currency once we reach our destination.  Even so, we always make sure we have a little of the local cash already on hand.  You never know how soon you’ll need it.  

In our case, almost immediately upon landing in Frankfurt, having Euros in our pockets came in very handy indeed.  The train ticket vending machine kept insisting that we enter a PIN for our credit card, and every time we tried to bypass that question our transaction was wiped out.  A line started forming behind us, so we finally went old school and paid cash for the tickets.

 7.  We Are Careful Pedestrians

This might seem obvious but, since I witnessed a tourist possibly saving her husband’s life by pulling him back from a trolley track a split second before the trolley passed, I thought it would be worth mentioning that many areas in European cities that look like they are pedestrian-only are actually not. 

What might look to tourists like a narrow cobblestone walkway could really be a street, and just because no cars have passed through for a while doesn’t mean one won’t at some point. 

Passau
A street in Passau.

Be careful out there.

8.  Useful Links

Disclosure:  Affiliate links are used below.

  • I like to use Europe travel guru Rick Steves’ packing list as a starting point for packing my luggage.  (Believe him when we says that you need to bring your own wash cloth.)
  • We would never travel to Europe without a Rick Steves guide book for every destination we visit.
  • I love receiving TravelZoo’s Top 20 list every Wednesday.  The lists are filled with enticing travel bargains.
  • A friend just told me about Scottscheapflights.com, which helped her save a small fortune on her recent flight to Europe.
  • If you’re interested in traveling light, check out the end of this post, where I describe how I make traveling with only carry-on luggage more pleasant.

And now we’ll move on to the final two places we visited on our recent Europe adventure.

Our European Adventure Part 3

In Our European Adventure Part 2, we left off in Germany, where our Danube River cruise ended.  After the cruise, Chris and I rented a car and drove to a charming and ancient walled city.

Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany

It’s true that Rothenburg is a very popular tourist destination, but that popularity is well deserved.  

Rothenburg

 

Rothenburg

 

Rothenburg

 

Rothenburg

The shops and restaurants are fun, but to me the best part is walking the city wall.

Rothenburg city wall

 

History seems to seep from every intriguing nook and cranny of this city.

Rothenburg

By evening, many of the other tourists had gone, and the city was quiet and romantic.

Mainbernheim, Germany

You’ve probably never heard of this tiny walled village.  It’s on a scenic bike route popular with locals, but there is very little here to attract tourists. 

It’s pretty darn interesting to me, though, because it’s my mom’s hometown.  And we still have relatives here.

Here, as in Rothenburg, I love walking along the inner wall.

A Pulverturm in Germany
Mainbernheim’s Pulverturm

 

European travel tips: An ancient city wall.

 

An ancient city wall in Germany
An alcove in the city wall.

With everything we saw and did during our little European adventure, our brief visit with my beloved Mainbernheim relatives was still the most memorable part.

More on Mainbernheim

My mom, Erika, has written a novel, Year of the Angels, based on her childhood in tiny Mainbernheim during World War II.

Posts on this website are for entertainment only and are not tutorials.

 

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The Rebel Tree

Most years, I thoroughly embrace the holiday season.  But, every now and then, I hit a wall.  Last year, it happened around mid-December.  The holiday decor that I’d been so excited to bring out after Thanksgiving suddenly seemed like just more clutter.  And it all needed dusting.  

This season, I hit the wall even earlier.  Before Thanksgiving, thanks to social media, I’d already seen too much too soon: Too many heavily flocked trees groaning under the weight of too many glitzy baubels. 

And all I could think was “This again already?”

So this year, I decided to rebel against holiday glitz – not the holidays, just the glitz. 

My husband, Chris, always looks forward to having a tree, so I knew we had to have one.  But it would be scaled back, simplified, and, well, un-glitzy. 

And it would be given room to breathe.

 

Finding The Right Tree

I wanted a pre-lit artificial tree, but with a specific look:  It had to be very narrow – with lots of space between the branches, and a thick wooden trunk.

I’d seen that kind of tree around.  They are sometimes called alpine trees, and they look similar to these trees. 

I found a very inexpensive five-foot alpine tree at a local craft store.  The tree was not great quality, but I was not deterred.

I brought it home, assembled it in minutes, and fluffed the branches. 

Chris looked a little disappointed. But I had a plan.

Making an Artificial Tree Look Natural

The tree was already mounted on a metal base, and there were 18 inches between the base and the first branch.  So I simply plopped it into a 10-inch tall (and 15-inch wide) peck basket. 

Artificial tree base in a peck basket.

I had some plastic bags on hand that I’d been collecting to send out with our recycling. So I tucked them around the tree trunk and filled the basket with them.  This plastic bag “stuffing” would support the sheet moss that I would be placing on top.

I cut the sheet moss to size and placed it on top of the plastic bags, tucking it into the basket around the edges.  (Sheet moss has really been my friend lately.  I also used it for this fall vignette and in a setting I created for this holiday house.)

How to make an artificial tree look natural
Sheet moss placed at the base of the tree.

I used Buffalo Snow to conceal the cut edges of the sheet moss and give the tree base a wintry look.

How to make an artificial tree look natural.

Now it looked more like a live tree planted in a basket.  Chris was starting to feel better about this whole thing.

Except for the lights, there could be nothing sparkly or shiny on this tree.  So I added just a few frosted pinecones and small white bells that I already had on hand. 

And I used these cute pinecone sprigs from last year’s holiday chandelier decor.

holiday pinecones on a 1920s era chandelier.

 

I tried adding some of my Christmas ornaments – the ones that were made of natural materials or were otherwise non-glitzy.  But even that was going too far.

I also thought about adding berries, but in the end I decided to ban red from the tree altogether.  The tree is a quiet, soothing combination of green, white, and brown.

How to make an artificial tree look natural.

And I chose the peck basket because it also looks natural and has no sheen.

How to make an artificial tree look natural.

 

If I use this tree again next year, I might go with red – maybe plaid garlands or bows.   But who knows, by then I might be in the mood for glitz again – or ready to go back to our old, nicer-quality tree.

I think the mistake I’ve been making all along is that I tend to get sentimental about the ornaments that I’ve collected, and I feel obligated to use all of them every year.   

It was just another case of my stuff controlling me instead of the other way around.  

But this year is different.  I am getting more enjoyment from the few things that I have chosen to display. 

Sometimes less is more.

Vintage putz church

Happy Holidays!

This is my last post before I tuck this blog in, once again, for its long winter’s nap.  Thanks for taking the time to read my blog, and for your input and encouraging words. 

I’ll be back in January.  Until then, may all of your holiday dreams come true! 

Happy holidays

 

Posts on this website are for entertainment only and are not tutorials.

Holiday Reading

The novel Year of the Angels begins and ends with an Old-World Christmas.  But it’s what happens between those two Christmases that makes this book so fascinating.

Year of the Angels

 

Lillipost

Lillypost is the #1 way for parents to discover new books that their little ones will love every month, for up to 50% off of regular retail prices.

 

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Nature-Inspired Gift Wrap – And Nature-Inspired Gifts

The short days and weak light of winter always have me feeling like I’m missing out on the beauty of nature.  So I look for small ways to bring nature indoors. 

Last year, I frosted alliums for holiday decor. 

Frosted alliums

And every year, I start paperwhite bulbs indoors for the holidays. 

Starting paperwhites indoors

For my annual DIY holiday wreath, I usually forage my neighborhood for the materials.

A wreath made of found materials.

When it comes to holiday decor, give me nature over man-made glitz.

Shopping My Own Garden

So last year, I shopped my own garden for natural materials to make “bows” and decorations to use with my holiday gift wrap.  These little package adornments were fun to make, unique, and nature friendly.  And they cost me almost nothing. 

And today, I’m sharing my two favorites.

A Boxwood Mini-Wreath

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I cut short twigs from our boxwood hedge for this buttoned-up little wreath that measured just 5 1/2 inches in diameter.

 

A boxwood mini-wreath

To make it, I bent 19-gauge steel wire into a 3 1/2-inch diameter circle.  Then I used brass-colored beading wire to wrap two-inch lengths of boxwood to the wire circle.  Of course, since I was working with wire, I wore gloves.

I had to work with it for a while to get it right.  I tucked in additional boxwood sprigs where it still looked thin.

Then I tied it up with a bow made of narrow cloth ribbon.

Simple, and it looked so nice on the package.  But it could also be used as an ornament.

A holiday package with a boxwood mini wreath

Fragrance “Bow”

For a bow that smelled fresh and wonderful, I used rosemary sprigs and  bay leaves from the garden and then added a couple of sticks of cinnamon.  

I tied them into an attractive bundle and simply taped the bundle to the package.

A natural fragrance "box" for a holiday package.

 

Since the the fragrance bow consisted of herbs and cinnamon, it was a nice garnish for a kitchen-themed gift.

Holiday packages

These gift wrap decorations were eco-friendly because, once the ribbons and wires were removed, they could be composted.  Or, in the case of the bay leaves, they could be used to lend flavor to a roast or a stew.  

Nature-Inspired Gifts

So if I can make nature-inspired bows, why not wrap up a few nature-inspired gifts?

And especially since, often times, natural or eco-friendly gifts are made by small companies of artisans.  I’d be helping to support the “little guy,” and I always love that.

Here are just a few of the gift ideas that have me dreaming today.

Gifts for Warmth and Comfort

These comfy-looking Merino sheep woolen natural slippers by MerinosShop are treated with Lanolin.  I can’t vouch for the science, but Lanolin, a natural wax, is said to help relieve inflammation.

Merino Wool Slippers; photo courtesy of MerinosShop

 

I’m guessing even the woman who has everything might not have these natural yak woolen gloves by Handcombed.

Eco gloves; photo courtesy of Handcombed.

 

An Oatmeal and Honey Deluxe Bath Bomb by CopperCatApothecary would make a fun stocking stuffer for someone who needs a little pampering.

Oatmeal and honey bath bombs; photo courtesy of CopperCatApothecary.

Gifts for the Cook/Baker

It seems embossed rolling pins are everywhere this year.  This “Herbs” rolling pin by MoodForWood is designed and made in Poland using wood from environmentally responsible sources.  

“Herbs” embossed rolling pin; photo courtesy of MoodForWood.

 

These spools of biodegradable, eco-friendly cotton baker’s twine by DoltYarns would make wonderful – and affordable – hostess gifts or stocking stuffers for the cooks or crafters on my list.

Eco-friendly baker’s twine; photo courtesy of DoltYarns.

 

I love the look of BackBayPottery’s four-cup batter bowl, which is handmade in California.

Batter bowl; photo courtesy of BackBayPottery.

 

Gifts for the Bird Watcher

I’d never heard of bird nesters before, but they seem like a great way to attract birds to the garden by providing them with fibers to build their nests.  And some bird nesters are also very decorative – like this llama fiber bird nester by FoxHillLlamas.

Llama fiber bird nester; photo courtesy of FoxHillLamas.

 

This spiral birdseed wreath by PartyInTheBarn would make a cute stocking stuffer for the bird watcher on my list.

Spiral birdseed wreath; photo courtesy of PartyInTheBarn.

 

And in case you’re looking for a little more holiday gift wrap inspiration, check out these easy holiday gift wrap ideas.

Posts on this website are for entertainment only and are not tutorials or endorsements.

Holiday Reading

The novel Year of the Angels begins and ends with an Old-World Christmas.  But it’s what happens between those two Christmases that makes this book so fascinating.

Year of the Angels

 

 

Lillipost

Lillypost is the #1 way for parents to discover new books that their little ones will love every month, for up to 50% off of regular retail prices.

 

Want to see more? Browse my photo gallery or check out these categories:

Our Kitchen Remodel Series
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Entertaining
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Dan’s Workshop
Decorating and Holidays
Our Little Sunglo Greenhouse
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Garden Design
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Our Laundry Room Remodel
Exploring

 


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