Monday, December 31, 2012


The one thing I really love about my house is the doorknobs.  I have bi-fold french doors in my living room, and they have gorgeous glass knobs.  My favorite bit of the door, however, is the tiny keyhole:

There is a nick on the door frame where the knob hasn't been turned before being closed, but I think it adds to the character of the house (so, I keep telling myself).

The front door in the entry has a beautiful beaded doorknob, with a matching beaded keyhole:

As you can see, the front door has had nails put into it by previous owners.  The locking mechanism consists of a couple of brass buttons on the side of the door that sits in the frame.  Sometimes these get pressed inadvertently, and the knob locks in place.  So far, I've managed to get it unlocked with a butterknife, since I don't have the original key to the house.  Luckily, this isn't the main entry door that gets locked when we come and go.

Lastly, I present my bedroom door knob:

I can't tell you how much I love this plate and knob.  Feel free to stare at it for a while.  Isn't it just gorgeous?

Sunday, December 30, 2012


My poor laptop died a rather massive sort of death.

It doesn't help that I didn't have a backup, but these things seem to happen at the most inopportune times.  Luckily, I had an extended warranty; even though it had to be mailed back to some cave on a tiny island for what seems like forever.  This is the reason why there have been approximately zero updates.

Not that much has happened.  

I'm still looking for a paint color for the master bedroom.  

I still haven't torn out the pink mauve carpet that is in there, because it is the perfect drop cloth for when I eventually pick out a paint that I like.  Yes, the walls look like some sort of mosaic with all of the swatching I've done.  I'll have to take a photo.

It is cold here.  In fact, this week alone, we've had roughly 23 inches of snow.

It is times like this that I miss living in Florida.  Pretty, yes; but, definitely COLD!
Things that broke since I've written:
1.  The furnace
2.  The dishwasher

Not to worry, I had backup heat.  If you're ever in the market for a portable, efficient room heater, I highly recommend the Dyson hot+cool.  I have had other room heaters; my Dad even bought me a couple top of the line sorts a few years ago, but none of them have been able to heat up my 33'x16' living room to a comfortable warmth.  This not only does that, but it oscillates and heats my 12'x13' office as well.  The price tag is enough to hurt the wallet for a couple of months, but I'd say it is definitely worth saving up to get one.  I can keep the thermostat at a much lower level and use the Dyson for a few pennies per day (instead of the enormous sum that the natural gas company charges me to heat my house).  

Since I've been snowed in for most of the week, I've reviewed my seed order, read a pile of old Organic Gardening magazines, and finished knitting my mom's holiday gift:

This pattern is called Multnomah, by Kate Ray
The yarn is Stimpylab BFL Sock in "Ojai"
The noggin pictured belongs to my youngest kidlet

I'm hoping to squeeze my savings enough to swing an order of red raspberry canes (in addition to my seed potato order), but as of this moment, that remains on my wish list for this summer's garden.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

As Seen on TV; a Lesson in Maths

Last week I was in my local Big Lots discount store looking for wrapping paper for the holidays.  Incidentally, the wrapping paper was kept right next to the garden clearance items; so, you know I was right in there, digging through plastic mulch, kids garden gloves, and foam knee cushions.  I managed to get a bunch of peat seed starting pots, seed starting soil, and Topsy Turvy strawberry planters.  I had been contemplating one of those round strawberry pyramid-looking things, but after my quotes for gravel and screened topsoil (at nearly $1,000), spending $200 or so for a strawberry bed was out of the budget.  These  planters were on clearance for $2.50 each.  I bought the four that they had and hoped that buying strawberry plants wouldn't cost a fortune.
They were practically giving them away!

Of course, I had seen the Topsy Turvy tomato planters on the television: "Now you can grow 4 billion pounds of tomatoes right on your deck!"  Yada, yada, yada.  I hadn't seen the strawberry planters before, and, truth be told, I don't relish the idea of them hanging out on my deck looking like large, red, lanterns with plants stuck into them.

But, thinking about it a bit more... I generally spend about $50 at a U-pick strawberry farm that uses mostly organic practices and applies commercial pesticide, "when they need to."  Now, this is better than that prescribed six times or so pesticide/fungicide applications that are done on conventional strawberry farms, but still... it's a big unknown.  Anyway, $50 for about 8-10 quarts of strawberries.  The Topsy planters are comprised of red mulch, with openings on it so that the plants can grow through the sides and bottom.  Some studies have shown that strawberries grown on red mulch produce sweeter berries than on black mulch, and yield doesn't show consistent improvement with colored mulch over black mulch.  Either way, growing them in a hanging basket means I don't have to spend time weeding or mulching them on my own.  Each basket holds 25 plants, and can be double-planted to hold 50.  Since I don't want to crowd them that much this year, I ordered 125 Honeoye strawberry plants from Peaceful Valley Garden Supply.  A bundle of 25 plants are $4.99, plus shipping, but 5 bundles are discounted to $4.74 each, bringing my grand total to a little less than $24.00, plus shipping, which cost more than the plants at $26.00.  Honeoye are one of the best strawberry plants for my climate, which is USDA Zone 5A.  So where are we?  $50 for the plants themselves, plus $10 for the planters.  I have organic potting soil floating about, so that is free.

This is where the math gets fun.  How can I justify spending $10 more than I usually spend at the U-pick?  Remember, I said I paid $50 for 8-10 quarts of "organic as possible" strawberries.  The Honeoye strawberries, under the best conditions, are expected to produce "one basket" per plant.  I'm going to assume that "one basket" is one pint.  There are 2 pints per quart, so to equal the amount of berries, I'd have to get one pint per each of 20 plants.
I have 125 plants.

Assuming I don't get the best conditions, even if I only get half of the estimated yield, that's still 30 quarts of berries... which I would pay $150 for at the U-pick.  Which means that I've theoretically saved $90.

And that makes me a very happy woman indeed.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Paint swatching

While I love the color pink, I don't want it in my bedroom.   I want to sleep in a dark cocoon of a room, especially since there is a 5x8-foot window in the room.  It's not so bad in the winter, when I wake up before the sun comes up.  In summer, however, it is very much like someone flicking your lights on at 6 o'clock in the morning, every morning.  I want it dark.

The issue, at present, seems to be the belly-board wood trim in the room.  It is a light reddish-oaky color, unlike the wood trim on the first floor, which is dark and rich.  This is almost a blonde wood, but decidedly more red.  It is a yellowy-orangey-tan color that I may paint a high gloss white (but I haven't decided).  On the one hand, it is beautiful.  On the other hand, it makes choosing paint colors nearly impossible.

Testing on the walls right now is Glidden's Driftwood Grey (WGN27) which is a richly saturated greige.  It didn't photograph well at all, and the color looks somewhat flatter than it does in real life.  There is more of a beige tone to the grey, with a slight olive tint:

The plinths are hand-carved and original to the house.  

Above the Driftwood Grey, is a swatch of a previously rejected color, called Lantern.  I picked it up at the local hardware store, and it was a brand I hadn't heard of previously.  It was far too light for my taste.  

At night, this color is dark, dark, dark.  I think it might be a winner, but I'm still on the fence.  

Monday, October 15, 2012

Garden Progress Report

We just had our first killing frost on Saturday, when temperatures dipped to 20*F/-6*C.  I cleared out the now-dead beans from the garden, leaving the kale and lettuce (which are thriving).  I also laid sticks on top of the garlic so that neighborhood stray cats don't dig them up.
Isn't that kale gorgeous?
Yesterday I took my brand-spankin'-new loppers outside to dispatch the oak saplings that were growing through the concrete pad in the back yard.  In order to create a new, much bigger garden, they would have to go.  Eventually, they would've been girded by the concrete anyway, and would have died a premature death.  With the help of my cleanup crew (a.k.a. my three daughters), we managed to cut and clear all but one stump to ground level.  I'm going to have to get the saw out and cut the last stump to the ground.  The diameter of the stump was about four inches, and far too wide for my loppers to cut (not to mention, my upper body strength to manage).

This is what we started with at the beginning of August:

overgrown concrete pad full of weeds and saplings

And here is what it looks like today:

Slow progress, but looks much better!

I still need to weed the remaining plants that are growing through the cracks, as well as apply white vinegar so that they don't grow back again.  I ordered a 100-foot roll of weed barrier from Amazon, and I'm going to double it over the concrete, once I've filled gravel between the deeper cracks to level them.

We're trying to plan on the number of raised beds we'll need to grow all of the food we'll need to harvest for a year.  I'm thinking we're going to need eight to ten 8x4-foot beds.  I received my seed order from High Mowing Seeds, and I've divided them into seeds that are directly sown and seeds that we'll start in February.

Organic seeds are the only way to go
I'm really looking forward to next year's garden already.  I've also started hunting for heirloom organic apple trees, and hopefully, I'll have some luck finding varieties that'll do well in my clay soil.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Making Use of an Apothecary Jar

Before my best friend, Lola, got married this summer, she asked me to look for apothecary jars for her dessert table.  Since I had a HomeGoods nearby, I scored all of the jars they had plus a glass cake dome just in case it was needed.  Sadly, only one jar and the cake dome survived the move to Pennsylvania, and Lola found a few jars on her own.

The empty apothecary jar sat on my fireplace mantle for a while, adding an element of light to my otherwise dark paneled living room.  But, it was boring.  I was bored just looking at it, sitting next to the television, like a sad, thrift store discard.

While walking Lily, I noticed an abundance of moss had grown under my weeping cherry tree.  I scoured the interwebs, and found several instructional sites on making a terrarium.  A brief trip to Etsy revealed the cutest felted sheep... and my decision was made.  I couldn't stop thinking of terrariums.

I happened to have some organic potting soil laying around, but I did have to go to Big Box Store to get activated charcoal (about $7) and river stones for the base ($2).  I also had cotton balls, an empty spray bottle, moss, and my wee felted sheep ($18).

So, here's how it went down:

I started off with a clean jar.  Since it is rather thin glass, and dropping river stones into the jar created anxiety that the glass would break, I tipped the jar on its side and placed all of the stones in.  

When I tilted the jar upright, the stones fell into place.  I used my scissors to nudge the stones until they looked good, but I should've used the handle of a wooden spoon.

I then cut a piece of paper towel to somewhat fit over the stones.  As an alternative, Spanish moss can be used as a filter to keep charcoal from mixing with the stones.  Since my stones were black, and the charcoal was black, I didn't think it was a big deal if they blended a bit.

I then put a one-and-a-half inch layer of charcoal on the paper towel.  After that, I pulled a few cotton balls until they were flattened, to create a filter between the soil and the charcoal.  

I then placed these with my scissors, since my hand couldn't safely fit through the narrow neck of the jar.

Layers of rock, charcoal, and cotton.

On top of the cotton, I added about two inches of potting soil, which I had moistened with about 1/4 cup of water.  Preferably, you want to use soil that doesn't have any fertilizer in it, since you want the moss to grow slowly.  My potting soil had some fertilizer in it, and I couldn't find any without fertilizer, since it is the end of gardening season here.

Using a spoon, I made some hollows for the moss itself.  As you can see, I still need to add soil around the moss to level everything out.

After adding the soil around the moss.

I wiped the interior of the jar with some of the leftover cotton balls, since it had become flecked with soil and charcoal dust.  This cleaned things up nicely.  My little felted sheep, from Weegreenspot, came with the wires exposed so he could be pushed into the soil.  Isn't he the cutest?

Once Cedric was in there, I sprayed the moss with about 10 sprays of water.  Cedric is a perfectly good name for a sheep.

Then I popped the lid on.  

And Cedric now lives on the windowsill in the kitchen, where he can peer out at the neighbors and look at them in his disapproving sort of way.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Green Beans!

The thing I like about growing beans is that they're quick to germinate, they grow really fast, and before you know it, you're picking beans.  We planted these Blue Lake pole beans the second week of July, and eight weeks later, it's harvest time!

Evie, the 7-year-old, picked these this afternoon.  They'll be in tomorrow night's dinner.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Meet Lily

After much thought, we decided to add a dog to the family.  We wanted a puppy, since the the girls are rather terrified of dogs; and we figured this would give them some adjustment time before the puppy reaches adulthood.  By then, they'd be quite used to it and the fear factor would be gone.  That is the plan, at least.  A few years ago, we rescued a dog from a shelter (an adult) whom we were told was "excellent with kids."  After about a month, he began attacking my middle daughter for no apparent reason.  Not playful nipping... full on attack.  So, that ended badly, but it is also where the kids get their fear of dogs.

I'm happy to say that Lily has been quite playful, and the middle child, Evie, has overcome her fears and will sit on the floor and play, even giggling when Lily nibbles a toe.  The youngest, Emily, is content to just sit and watch.  She's still nervous about her, but has let Lily lick her hand... so it is coming along slowly.  

Lily is a wiggly, wrinkly, snarfing, handful of cuteness.  She's also well on her way to being housebroken!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Our Tiny Garden Bed

Moving to Pennsylvania at the beginning of July threw us for a loop in the garden department.  Normally, I start seedlings in early spring, but we figured we would've stayed in Florida for another year or two.  Moving here was somewhat an 11th hour decision.  I don't regret it; but, I have no ripe tomatoes.

I have a few really tiny green ones at present.  Almost immediately after the movers left, we set out to big box store to see what they had left to transplant.  Our clearance haul included two bell pepper plants, three jalapeno pepper plants, and two Black Cherokee tomato plants.  A couple of packets of seeds:  Seeds of Change Nevada Lettuce and Slow-bolt Cilantro.  I had a packet of Blue Lake green beans leftover as well.  So began the garden.  The bell peppers have yielded one pepper each so far (another is growing), and the jalapenos have yielded at least two each.  Every single tomato I've had grow to over three inches has split completely open, exposing gel and seeds to hungry pests.

Our Blue Lake beans are in full bloom.  Mid-July, I also planted Russian Kale and Speckled Cranberry Beans; both from Seed Savers.  I added a second planting of the Nevada lettuce a week later.

This is the tiny garden plot right now:

It's a bit haphazard for a 3x5 bed, but we're just working with what we've got this year.  The lettuce is diminshed in quantity by about 3/4, since we eat a lot of lettuce in this house.  The second batch of lettuce was planted between the beans and the kale, and none of it sprouted (or it was eaten by garden slugs as soon as it did).  I can't wait until the permanent beds are installed and ready for spring planting.  This bed will become a garlic bed for the meantime.

Construction on the spring beds will commence later this month.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

What I'm working with....

This week we cleared the spot for the vegetable garden.  There used to be a garage in the side bit of the back yard, but it was torn down long ago.  All that remains is a cracked concrete pad littered with weeds and tiny saplings.  We started with this:

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It is difficult to see what is in this tangle of weeds, but we found a shoe, parts of a toy scooter, several empty tuna cans, and assorted aftermath that comes with neighborhood kids playing in the yard.

Yesterday, we trekked to Home Depot to make a realistic budget for the raised beds.  We chose 2x12x16 pressure-treated boards for the beds, at about $25 each.  The beds will be 8 feet by 4 feet.  Three boards will build two beds, and we want four beds of that size.  Sixteen brackets at $5 each will be needed as well.  We also want to build a bin for growing potatoes, but this year, we might be relegated to growing them in an actual bin.  It may look like a pretty steep investment to start with, but we eat a lot of vegetables, all organic. I just paid $7.56 for two knobs of organic celery root, and another $5 on 3 lbs of organic potatoes.  We can see how quickly the investment will pay for itself.

The other plan for the garden is to cover the pad with weed blocking fabric ($15 for 100 feet), and cover that with either bark mulch or pea gravel.  I'm still in the process of getting quotes on how much that will cost.  The problem with mulch is that it would have to be replaced every other year or so, and tends to be dyed in our area.  I also don't want a friendly environment for mice, voles, and moles to be able to get around in.  I could leave it uncovered, but I would still have the issue of uneven concrete to resolve (it is an eyesore).  Lastly, I'd like to enclose the area in a chicken wire fence to keep stray cats from using my planting beds as a litter box, as well as deter skunks and raccoons from getting in for a midnight snack.

Stay tuned for progress reports!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Seven Weeks In...

We arrived on the 4th of July to an empty, musty-smelling house.  Immediately, we surveyed for damage, noted the clean kitchen that our good friend was kind enough to get into shape for our arrival, and threw open all of the windows.  Since both electricity and water weren't going to be hooked up yet, and the movers were coming in the morning we sped off to our lovely friend Lola's house.

The next morning, all hell broke loose.  

The water department guy turned on the water main in the house, and it rained in the basement.  Not good.  We had the house winterized, so no pipes should have split, but according to our plumber, cast iron pipes have a thin side that can fail when water decides to shoot through them.  In our case, there had likely been a very slow leak started just before the water was turned off, and ripped through the pipe when the water was turned back on.

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See the rusty line there?  That's the crack in the pipe.
Two days of plumbing work (for under $400) and a very large PVC pipe later, the leak was fixed, and we had both water and electricity.

And gaping holes in the drywall in both the bathroom and the kitchen.  Overall, though, it was a lovely glimpse into what the original kitchen somewhat looked like.

One of the plumbers didn't close the basement door completely, though, and for a couple of nights, we had a bat situation in the house.. they came right up through the small space left by the new PVC pipe created, and out through the bathroom/kitchen escape hatches.  A couple of small mammals swooping about your house isn't quite the most comforting feeling, but I opened the front door and it soon flew right out.  Since the basement door has been closed and the holes temporarily patched up, we haven't had an issue.

While on the list of things to do, remodeling the kitchen wasn't high up there.  In fact, it wasn't even in our top  ten.  It has moved up by leaps and bounds, though, and it's just after the garden prep, fixing the furnace, and the upstairs bathroom remodel.  I really hated the birdhouse and potted plant wallpaper that was in the kitchen, so this is the perfect excuse to get rid of it:
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Seriously ugly wallpaper, and a seriously large hole.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Gilding the Mirror

I've wanted a great mirror for quite some time.  A big, round one to hang either over a console table or a fireplace mantle.  Shiny.  It seems that every mirror I found seemed to cost a fortune.  Really.  I don't want to spend $200 on a mirror.  It's a mirror... not the crown jewels.  I have a difficult time justifying such a purchase on my wee student budget.

In anticipation of moving to rural Pennsylvania, I have been frequenting my local HomeGoods store in the greater Orlando area.  It is a 30 minute drive in traffic... but since the closest HomeGoods to 1868 Pleasant is more than 70 miles away, I'm getting in as much eyecandy as I can before I leave in a few weeks.

Imagine my delight when I spied a large round wall mirror in the clearance department.  I may have squealed.    Okay; I totally squealed.  The markdown was extreme:  from $89 to $19.  NINETEEN bucks!!! I examined it for any chips or breakage... found none... and it was mine!

Alas... it was also fugly.  The shape was great, but it was an ugly, ugly shade of brown.  It attempted to mimic a shade of hardwood.. mahogany, maybe... or pecan... and it failed miserably.  One person's fug is another person's DIY adventure.  I didn't get a picture of the "before" because I really didn't ever want to see this particular shade of poo brown again.

My plan was to apply silver leaf to the mirror.  That'd fulfill my "shiny" component.  First, though, I'd have to get materials:

1- 2oz. bottle of black matte acrylic paint  $1.97 (JoAnn Fabrics)
1- 2 oz. bottle of Speedball Mona Lisa metal leaf adhesive size $4.63 (
1- 2 oz. bottle of Speedball Mona Lisa water-based sealer for metal leaf $6.61 (
2 packages of Speedball Mona Lisa Sterling Silver Genuine Metal Leaf* (25/pkg) $13.56 ea (
*there is a lower-priced composite metal leaf available

Items I had on hand:
3 packages of sterling silver genuine metal leaf
petroleum jelly
brushes; I used 3 one-inch acrylic brushes, and one fluffy makeup brush meant for blush application (for burnishing)
Lint-free soft rags (such as from an old tee shirt)

A word about working with metal leaf:  Metal leaves are extremely thin sheets of hammered or pressed metal.  It is extremely fragile and tears very easily.  It also folds up on itself when you exhale in its general direction.  Purchase an extra package, as you're bound to require much more than you'll think you need to cover whatever it is you're trying to cover.  It'll arrive placed between sheets of tissue paper, bound into a book of sorts:

You'll want to keep this book in the package until you're ready to start applying the leaf to the tacky size.

The first thing you have to do is rough up the surface with fine-grit sandpaper.  Then, apply a thin layer of petroleum jelly around the mirror edge, just to the point where it meets the wood/resin.  This'll keep the mirror free from paint and adhesive sizing.  If using silver leaf, paint the entire surface to be gilded with black matte acrylic paint.  If using gold leaf, use a red matte paint.  Leave this coat to dry thoroughly.

Once the paint is completely dry, apply the adhesive size in a thin, even coats.  It'll go on white, and when it dries, it'll be clear, shiny, and tacky to the touch.

Look at the area around the edge of the mirror (it's dry and tacky), and compare it to the four sections on the bottom that were just painted in size, which are white and still wet. 

If your item has grain, brush in the direction of the grain, so that all of the little nooks are covered with the size.  Allow the size to dry until it is clear and tacky; about 30-40 minutes.

Now, you're ready to apply the leaves.  Professionals use a wide, thin, soft paintbrush to apply leaves.  I've found that this works quite well, but I didn't have such a brush on hand.  I had a stiffer sort of brush, and was afraid the bristles would puncture the silver leaf... so I just used my hands.  I've done this several times before, and I've learned to move very slowly in order to keep the leaf from folding up on itself.

Pick up the silver leaf gently.  See where my thumb is in that photo?  I'm barely pinching the leaf between my thumb and finger.  Slowly touch one edge of the leaf to the tacky surface, and slowly slide your fingers/brush out from beneath the leaf.  If this is done too quickly, the leaf will tear.  All is not lost, however.. since all bits of leaf will be useful.  If your leaf does tear, simply stick another edge to the tacky size and start again.  Once you've placed a few leaves next to each other, gently tamp them down with the fluffy blush brush, or a really soft, lint-free rag.  Continue applying leaves, brushing "crumbs" onto a piece of paper and storing them in a bowl.  These can be used to fill in tiny gaps that haven't been covered.

When your entire surface has been covered, it'll look something like this:

See how the whole surface looks somewhat uneven and bits of leaf are sticking up?  Once you have the surface covered, the leaves have only been tamped down.  They need to be pressed with some very gentle pressure, while being rubbed in a light circular motion.  This is the burnishing step.  It helps to adhere the leaves completely to the surface, and it polishes the leaves as well.  It'll help clean off any parts of leaf that have folded upon themselves (they don't stick to themselves) and reveals any missed spots.  Fill in the missed spots by brushing and tamping on either leftover leaves or the crumbs you have reserved.  Tamp and burnish until the whole surface is covered and shining.

Apply the sealer according to the directions (it basically consists of painting it on, but different brands may vary on this step).   Allow to dry completely.  With a paper towel, wipe the petroleum jelly off of the mirror surface and clean.  That's it!  Now it's ready to hang!

Here's the finished mirror, sitting on top of a bookcase in my hallway for now, since we're moving in a few weeks.  I still need to clean the dried sealer from the mirror and spray it with some glass cleaner.

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