Christmas/Boxing Day wishes

I     n honor of my Christmas cards going out late this year, I thought I'd send Christmas wishes to all of you out there by giving you a little look back at our holiday cards featuring our dogs. We weren't planning on sending out pictures of the dogs (Newfoundlands Hudson and Rita) every year, but the first year was a hit  and a tradition was born.

Hope you all had a wonderful holiday season and let me tell you, today I'm so happy that Christmas was a Friday because I'm looking forward to a weekend of catching up on some projects (like laundry, which is in such a sorry state it has been elevated to project status) and just relaxing.






Finally, some Christmas decorations!

I     t's been a bit since I've had a post here, but that's because I've been busy Christmas-ing things up at our house. To say that I got a bit late this year would be something of an understatement. Since I'm sure most of you already have done your decorations, I'm not expecting to inspire you at all, but I thought I'd show you what I've been up anyway. I do, however, have a few holiday decorating tips for you that might be helpful to you next year.

1. Wear disposable latex gloves when you put your lights on the tree to keep the sap off your hands. I actually buy these gloves 200 at a time at Costco and use them for so many things beyond just sap prevention. I use them anytime I paint, when I handle mass quantities of raw meat (which I do on occasion in the process of feeding my dogs) and even gardening. I'm a random weed puller but I also hate having dirty fingernails, so if I'm doing a quick garden chore and don't have one of my dozen or so pairs of gardening gloves handy I'll throw on a pair of these.

2. Fishing line is a wonderful thing. I have 60 pound test and 25 pound test rolls in the junk drawer and I use it more often than you would think (and I don't fish). I especially use it at Christmastime. We screwed two small hooks into the beam on the wall on either side of the fireplace (they are so small you don't notice them) and string a length of 60-pound test monofilament line between them, then use a cheapo carbiner to attach the wreath on the fireplace to it. That way I don't have to put a hole in the mortar or the stone of the fireplace. We also use it to tie the Christmas tree up (standard operating procedure ever since 2004 when I had just finished decorating a 14-foot Christmas tree when it fell over). I never want to lose that many ornaments again, and with all the animals we have in the house, a bit of prevention is a very good thing. Lastly, I use lengths of fishing line to attach the beaded garland to the mantel since there are no 3m hooks that will stick to it.

3. Go LED. For about three years now I've been planning to convert to LED lights for our tree but have been avoiding outlaying the cash. Of course that means I've not been replacing our regular incandescent lights as they stop working, so we were pretty short on lights this year. I decided to just go for it, but I bought about half as many LED lights as I usually put on the tree. It was all I could afford for this year and I planned to pick up the rest next year. As it turns out, LEDs are so much brighter (I bought the "wide angle" ones) that I'm not sure I'll have to buy more next year. It was the perfect amount of lights (although this is the smallest tree we've ever had). I really like them and I feel much better knowing that the odds are much better that when I pull them out of the box next year they will actually work.

4. Stuff your stockings. I fill the stockings up with tissue paper to give them some form (before Santa fills them up Christmas Eve, of course). It makes them look so much better.

OK, enough tips. Onto the pictures. Here's the before and (almost) after of the mantel area (I put greens on top of the mantel to hide the cords, etc., some silver pinecones and a hurricane full of silver ornaments after the photo was taken). The before by the way, is not great. I have a horrible time accessorizing and looking at the picture I realize just how boring my everyday mantel is. I'll have to work on that. The after features a clear beaded garland my mother-in-law bought from Pottery Barn several years ago that I've twined rice lights through and then I added a starfish garland from Wisteria (bought on sale earlier this year).

I love our little Nepalese-knitted stockings. I think I got them from an outdoor store (maybe REI) several years ago but I like how traditional they are. A stylized Santa I got as a gift from PB years ago serves his duty holding them up. I have to polish him every year, but he's cute so I do it anyway.

I did much simpler decoration than I normally do on the wreath. I thought there was already a lot going on on the mantel so I wanted it to be a little understated. I also opted for a regular bow rather than the floofly multi-looped variety I've been partial to in past years. I cut three of the starfish off the garland and wired them on and stuck a couple silver pinecones on for balance.

As I mentioned, our tree is much smaller than usual this year. In fact I only put on about 60 percent of the ornaments I have on it, but I still like how it looks.

I have oodles of glass icicles on it (and lots more that stayed in the boxes this year). I love how it looks like it's just dripping with icicles. It adds so much sparkle and shine. My favorites are some that look like real icicles.

Here are a few other ornaments I like:
1. A glass beaded snowflake I made Saturday night at a little crafting night with my girlfriends. None of us are crafters, so it was fairly amusing, but I think we did OK. We were guided, of course, by none other than Martha herself, and after a few glasses of wine we were having a good giggle about her VERY specific directions.
2. My ruby slipper. I always wanted to be Dorothy. This is the closest I think I'm ever going to get.
3. I have a lot of birds that clip onto branches, but this peacock is my favorite.

Grow Amaryllis, Grow!

L ast year I bought several interesting amaryllis bulbs to give as Christmas gifts. They were very well received, especially by the people on my list who don't want or need more "stuff."

I guess I was bit over anxious last year because I planted them sometime in November. I ended up giving most of them away before Christmas because they were on the verge of blooming.

In fact, here's how they looked on November 26, 2008. 

This year I wanted to start a little later, but then it seems I started TOO late. Here's how they (I mostly bought new bulbs) looked this weekend. Three of them have bits sticking out of the bulb, but that's it. Rather unimpressive Christmas gifts as they are right now. Hopefully they'll hurry up! I have them on a seed-starting mat so they are getting bottom heat and as much light as I can give them. I guess now it's just a matter of talking really sweetly to them.

Ikea chair before, during and after

O K, so I'm missing the before and during pictures, but I do have an after. This is one of those really uncomfortable Ikea chairs that the whole world gets when you need a chair. After awhile it ends up in your basement where your cat takes up residence on it, making it so disgusting that you would be too embarrassed to give it away. So while it's on the porch waiting to be taking to its final resting space it gets a remarkable after.

So I give you this chair turned cat bed turned ....


My project list

I   've found that mentioning projects here makes me far more likely to actually accomplish them. Keeps me honest, I guess. So, here's my list of things I'd like to accomplish around the house this long, long winter. Someone please make me revisit it in March so I actually hurry up and get some done.


1. Kitchen
  • Finalize design for banquette and have oh-so-handy and friendly cabinet maker guy come over to measure and build them.
  • Get cushions and pillows made for said banquette.
  • Fix the damaged table and decide if it's going to be painted or not.
  • Pick out light fixture (maybe something like this) for over table and have electrician move the electrical in ceiling and relocate outlet (that is currently where the banquette is going to go).
  • Replace hideous light over sink. Maybe with this or this.
  • Fix hole in ceiling and paint wood ceiling.
  • Paint walls.
  • Paint back door and trim.
Bonus projects (i.e. only if I get really ambitious): install undercabinet lighting and display boxes on top of cabinets

2. Basement
  • Organize the storage side of the basement 
  • FINALLY finish the finished side of the basement (this has been a project that's been going on for a good three years)

And ... the really fun project, assuming everything comes together:

Pick out fixtures and finishes for new bathroom (hallelujah!), new roof (no more drip, drip, drip) and revamped bedrooms (they're getting cathedral ceilings and a whole bunch of new windows).

That last one is probably where I'll put most of my energy but I am a bit superstitious and I don't want to start doing anything until we get all the bids in and we made sure it's all financially possible.

Wow, I didn't realize how much there was to do. I better get going. Of course, I should probably deal with the holidays first!

A little Christmas decorating

C  hristmas, apparently, is right around the corner. Apparently even though I have calendars in front of my face constantly, that is a fact that has eluded me until this weekend. What really got me in gear was the threat of our first real snowfall, and I thought I had better get some decorations up, if they're going to go up.

Like the rest of the world, we're on a budget this year. So, especially on my outdoor decorating, which is done primarily for the residents of the house (since we're not planning on hosting any holiday parties this year), I'm on the hunt for budget-conscience decorations.

Here's two projects I whipped out Sunday in about 45 minutes for a grand total of ZERO dollars!

The first was  just a little merrying up of the large fiberglass container that I leave out all year (don't try that with clay pots) by the front door. I waited a little long on this project, so the dirt was already frozen in there and I had to drill holes to get the greens stuck in. The red twig dogwood came from a field near my parents' house, and the rest of the greens were trimmed from our trees. It was looking a little boring so I stuck some dried hydrangea blossoms in there as well.

And here's the before and after of our little address post. I call it "The diver." Can you figure out why? Squint your eyes a little, and maybe that will help. I see two legs and a person with their arms over their head bending over to dive (like how you learn to dive as a kid). It's a driftwood find I snagged off the beach several years ago. It's not in great shape, so I know it won't last forever. The actual address plaque was made by my husband out of carbon fiber. I like the juxtaposition of the seriously rustic driftwood along with the super high-tech carbon fiber. The solar lantern at the end is something my husband added. I don't really like it, but hey ... he lives here too!

Anyway, to give it some holiday flair, I just used the same greens I used in the pot and wired them together. Then I grabbed some net-like ribbon I found in the basement (red would have been better, but I seem to be all out of it!), made a bow and stuck it on there. I like how it turned out, and when it cost nothing but a little time, I definitely can't complain.

A big departure

A  llow me to indulge myself just a bit (as though this whole blog isn't an indulgence). I love the television show "Lost" and particularly the character Hurley, played by Jorge Garcia. (Well I really love Sawyer, but that's something else entirely).

Anyway, Jorge (the actor) has a blog that's pretty funny and this week his cute girlfriend found a rat in their house. He's been playing home movies about it all week and they are definitely giggle-worthy. So, just in case you're also a Lostie (or you like to watch funny home movies) I thought I'd link you up!

The Rat Part 1
The Rat Part 2
The Rat Part 3
The Rat Part 4
The Rat Part 5
It's a rat, not a mouse

And just so you know I haven't gotten completely off topic, a little holiday decorating is coming your way tonight or tomorrow!

Brainstorming wrapping ideas

A    m I think only person who gets more excited about wrapping presents than buying or giving them? I've always loved wrapping presents and a big part of the fun is coming up with new ideas every year. Often my "theme" follows a color trend I'm particularly into at the time, but sometimes it flows from a paper I just love or an idea I saw in a shop or online.

Some of the wrapping "themes" I've done in the past include:
• All silver and gold, with real seashells painted silver or gold (OK, this one was admittedly a bit over the top.)
• Chartruese and hot pink
• Lime green and red
• Blue and silver
• All white paper with plaid Christmas ribbons (this one was particularly cost effective as I got an end roll of heavy weight offset press paper--ask at your local newspaper for end rolls that are good for all sorts of things like this--free)

I'm not sure what I'm going to do this year (we're cutting back on our gift-giving so there aren't a lot of gifts to wrap, and I'm giving "living" gifts to a lot of people), but I couldn't help but peruse some online paper stores (gosh, I just love paper stores). Anyway, I thought I'd share a few wrapping ideas that might be fun to do (or just dream about.)

This gift from the designers at Broadway Paper isn't really holiday themed, but it's just full of great idea that are customizable for any holidy. The paper is simple kraft paper that has been pleated. The ribbon is a silky, wired ribbon with a tissue paper flower in the middle. What a wow package.

This package (also from Broadway paper) is so full of wonderfulness. I LOVE that paper (and can't find it anywhere), and carrying it over to a rich brown bow is fantastic. I think this would be a refreshing look under a Christmas tree.

Snow & Graham's cherry blossom paper is so fun, and its pop of red offers a taste of the holiday without being too traditional or in your face.  It would look great with a satin bow in red or a chocolate brown to pick up the color of the branches. Later in the year it would make a perfect birthday wrapping with a pink ribbon.

I love this bold print from Paper Source, which is almost reminiscent of a tropical print because of its large scale. I'd go really simple on the ribbon though, with just a white satin ribbon.

This paper is a great masculine-looking pattern, again from Paper Source. Since I'm more than a little into aqua/turquoise these days, I really like this one. I think it would be really cool to bring out the thin black stripe with a black ribbon or maybe even a combo of the moss green color and black.

So there are all these great printed papers out there and what am I drawn to?  Would you believe a paper called "gravel"?

I know this because I'm way into the gray thing right now, but think about all the great ribbon combinations you could put with it to make it Christmas chic: red and chartreuse

Or what about yellow? It's not at all Christmassy, but it's oh so fun!

Or this irridescent ribbon called "Old Willow"

Well, obviously, I could go on about this for awhile.

In case you're wondering about the ribbon sources, two great ones I've found and used in the past are Papermart and Nashville Wraps.

So ... what's your wrapping plan this year?

I love this wreath

I  'm more than a little in love with these succulent wreaths, featured yesterday at Apartment Therapy.

If I had time I'd make one now, but I think this would be an equally great summer project.

Great Cyber Monday deals

Have you all been clicking away today? I can't believe some of those deals (especially the one at Wisteria!) Here's a few more that have popped up on my radar, including the first which I highly suggest everyone take advantage of!

SAILING Magazine: Buy one gift subscription, get the second FREE
J. Crew: 20% off all sweaters and free shipping over $150 with code HOLIDAY
Sundance: 20% off orders over $100 with code FF2009
Shutterfly: 12 Free photo cards with purchase plus free shipping with code MYFREECARDS (very cute holiday cards here, if you're more organized than I am and already took your holiday card picture)

Just thought I'd share a few of the Cyber Monday deals that are almost too good to pass up.

Athleta: 20% off everything with code MONDAY
Bobbi Brown: 20% off everything through Dec. 2 automatically applied
Wisteria: 25% off everything (automatically applied)
Banana Republic: 20% off everything with code MONDAY
World Market: 20% off everything with code 1DAYEMAIL
Crate & Barrel: 15% off everything plus free shipping (some exclusions) with code SAVE15

I'll add more as I come across them today. Happy shopping!

From buffet to bookcase

So here's the story. About three years ago I saw a note on Freecycle about a Crate & Barrel buffet up for grabs. I hopped right on that and picked it up. It was one of those assemble yourself pieces and obviously not a lot of care had been taken in assembling it. On top of that, one of the drawer pulls was broken off, a door had fallen off and its back was separating from its front. I dragged it home and stuck it in the garage.

And that's exactly where it proceeded to live for the next three years. In fact I routinely ran into it with my car when I wasn't paying attention (don't laugh, I also once tried to back up with the garage door still closed, so anything is possible).

About a month ago we were enjoying an unseasonably beautiful day and I was sanding some furniture outside (the subject of another upcoming before and after). Things were going so well that I thought it was high time to pull out that buffet and see if it was salvageable. So I gave it a good sanding (down to the MDF), removed the one door that was still attached, and set to work recreating it as a bookcase.

It took me two tries on the color. First I used Benjamin Moore Waterfall, but it was sort of a bad baby blue, so I did the second coat (after first priming with an oil-based primer) with BM Peacock. I snagged a couple of aged copper drawer pulls from the local True Value, and now it's a nice accent in our office/den-type room, which I plan to do with accents of turquoise and orange.

My husband, who is a perfectionist when it comes to painting (and particularly varnishing), was nice enough to point out that it had a couple of "holidays" (apparently that's what drips are called because you were obviously on a "holiday" while painting, or something like that), but I think I can handle that, especially since I know have a colorful bookcase instead of a ramming board for my car.

A beach treasure

S   ometimes it's the simplest things that make the best accessories, and this is one of my favorites. My friend Jill collects sand. She's not able to travel much so she asks friends to bring sand for her collection. She says her goal is to someday return it all to where it came from. I LOVE that collection.

I try to remember to bring her some sand when I travel. When I was lucky enough to go back to New Zealand last winter, I knew just the place to go for sand: Muriwai Beach on the Tasman Sea on New Zealand's North Island. It's a fantastic beach to go to. It's a nesting spot for gannets so you can hike up hill and look down on their lofty nesting grounds, watching them glide off the cliff. Down on the beach, the surf rolls in steady and powerful (all guarded by hunky lifeguards, which only adds to the appeal).

But the best thing is the sand. It's black. It burns your feet it's so hot, but it's black and beautiful and smoother than sugar. The texture really can't be believed, it is so fine, and it sparkles like it's full of diamonds.

I filled up a liter water bottle with sand. It is so fine that I was really able to pack a lot in that bottle. I'll bet it was a good seven pounds. I gave Jill half and I kept half for myself, which I display in a square dish with a few pieces of driftwood I really like for no particular reason. Not only does it remind me of that magical beach, it seems to be irresistible to just about everyone who walks past it. They all feel compelled to run their fingers through it and admire its color and even how it sparkles when the sun hits it just right. There's a certain irony to the fact that I can spend literally years looking for just the right accessory for a spot, yet a few handfuls of sand dragged home in a suitcase draw more attention than any "object d' art."

One little dish of sand. A whole lot of pleasure.

A blue ideabook

I     t's an exciting morning! I swung by Houzz today and greeting me there was ... my door! It's part of an ideabook on using blue, and I think I love every single picture in the ideabook. I just adore blue, although usually as accents rather than wall colors. However, seeing some of those photos has me seriously considering a blue bathroom and maybe blue kitchen chairs.

Anyway, it was exciting to be included.

2010 plant highlights

I         haven't even finished cleaning up my 2009 garden      and my mind is already wandering to new plant introductions I'll want in my garden next year.

Proven Winners leads the field in new plant introductions, at least annuals, and has the backing of an enormous marketing strategy behind them. Take for example this Supertunia Pretty Much Picasso. It's fantastic, and I can see myself, along with the rest of the world, clamoring over this baby, assuming it lives up to the color in the pictures (just can't resist chartruese and pink). But I'm not going to be alone. On its Web site, Proven Winners promises its distributors a $100,000 promotion campaign for this plant alone.

Of course 2010 will also bring the wide distribution of a plant I was drooling over last year already. It's the awesome Incrediball hydrangea and you can be sure it's going to be all over nurseries come spring. I'm definitely picking up more than one of them.

Here's a boxwood that doesn't exactly have the panache of Pretty Much Picasso or Incrediball, but it's intriguing to me. It's called North Star, and it says it's "A superb new hardy boxwood with a dense globe shape that requires little if any pruning." It's hardy to zone 5, and I have to say ... I'm a sucker for "meatball" plants. I can't help it. Seems like this would do it all itself, without me getting involved and end up having it look too manicured, which wouldn't suit my cottage garden.

Another interesting hydrangea is one with a name that's trying to be catchy but it bugs me. But I digress .... it's called Invicibelle Spirit. Basically, its a pink Annabelle hydrangea. It's different, and I like that, but to I like hydrangeas that are cream and white and lime and, of course, blue (even if I have a tough time getting the Ph right to make them blue). Still, I expect it will cause a stir at the nursery.

I promise not to get all caught up in hydrangeas, but there's one more newbie I'm tempted to try. It's called Let's Dance Moonlight, which is one in a series of reblooming hydrangeas called Let's Dance (really? Let's Dance? Back to the marketing drawing board on that one, if you ask me.) OK, I know I just said I wasn't keen on pink hydrangeas, but they claim this one can go blue with the right Ph, so I'd be willing to give that a try. Endless Summer was a huge disappointment for me (and for a lot of other people, although there are people who still swear by it) so I hope that Let's Dance could be what Endless Summer was hyped up to be.

Which brings me back to Proven Winners' Picasso ... I'm wondering if it will be such an outstanding plant that it would be a success even without the $100,000 promo campaign, or if, like Endless Summer, it's really just about marketing and us gardeners are no more immune to it than anyone else.

So what do you have your eye on for next year's garden? Do you care about the name on the tag of a plant or are you more concerned about the plant itself?

Photos from Proven Winners and Spring Meadow Nursery

I love you, Candice Olson, but ...

 What is with your obsession with sectional sofas? Sometimes the room is just not big enough for a sectional with a chaise end. Help me understand.

Bringin' out the big guns

W e tackled the bluestone path this weekend and it was no small task. Fortunately my husband as access to some big equipment through his job, and boy did it come in handy. We pulled out all the bluestone, and the larger pieces were definitely two-person jobs. The Kubota came in handy to move them to the truck. Then we tackled the giant limestone pieces that made up the stairs. My parents wanted to keep them to try to make a fire pit out of them, and, as you can see, without the big machinery they wouldn't have budged.

To refresh your memory, here's the path we dismantled:

The Kubota has come in handy for a lot of projects, including filling up the vegetable garden with soil and even stirring the compost pile (which is how we destroyed the compost bin, but oh well). So not only is big machinery handy, it's a lot of fun too!

A weekend full of deals

I    've been doing some shopping this weekend. This is not necessarily a good thing, but sometimes a deal comes along and you know you only get one shot at it, so you better take it.

I've been planning to put banquette seating in my kitchen. Although I love the round table that came with the house (it has a lazy susan built in), it's just not the right shape for the space and you pretty much walk into it as soon as you walk in the back door, which is the entrance we use most often. It also is impossible to get more than four people at the table, and when you don't have a dining room, that really limits your entertaining possibilities.

I've found someone to build the banquette for us. But before I even thought about having him start, I wanted to find the right table. I considered the Ballard Designs Chianni table, but I had some concerns about quality after reading some reviews online. Then I found the Camden trestle table at Restoration Hardware. It's perfect in all but two regards: it's stained a beautiful and slightly distressed "tobacco" color and I was really hoping to have a white table and there's a possibility it might be just a "tad" too long (like a couple inches). It's hard to tell for sure despite the cardboard cutouts that I've had laying all over the kitchen to represent the table. Well there was one other problem with that table: the price.

Then lo and behold, I found out there is an RH outlet a little over an hour away. And guess what? They had a Camden table in stock. So I ran down there Saturday morning to check it out and there it was, looking just as great in person as I had hoped. Except for the corner. Which was mutilated (you knew there was a reason this was in the outlet store). So after much hemming and hawing (and frantic text messages to a friend and my husband), I bought it. The corner is not salvageable, so a repair is required. The plan at this point is to cut about two inches off each end of the table. It's maple veneer over something like MDF, I think (the base is solid maple), so after some searching on the internet it looks like the thing to do is score the veneer, put down some masking tape, attach a straight edge, then take a new, fine-edged blade on the circular saw and hold your breath. From there we'll re-veneer the edge. I took the table home for about 70% off the retail price, so for that price, for a table I really love, I think it's worth going to what some might consider an extreme. I will probably end up painting it white (I know a whole bunch of you just gasped) but I'll think about that first.

The other deal I found this weekend was on fabric for the banquette cushion. I wanted something really durable, so I found a microfiber suede in a great green color. It was already on sale for $14 and change through a discount fabric Web site, and then I found a coupon code (I LOVE coupon codes. It's like my personal mission to never buy anything online without a coupon code) for 30% off, so I got that fabric for $10/yard. That's not to shabby for a really durable upholstery fabric. I'll be doing a mix of throw pillows for the back so I'll look for a good deal on those later.

But all of that needs to wait because I have some other projects that need to be finished first. Stay tuned to see the before and afters on those, hopefully this week.

 So, what do you think? Am I nuts for bringing this table home?

A most charming wall

T he house at the end of our road is undergoing a major landscape renovation that is nothing short of spectacular. Hopefully I'll get permission to snap a few pictures next summer. But I did snap a picture of the most spectacular stacked stone wall that serves as the entrance to their property. The wall has been there for a long time, but with the complete re-landscaping they are doing it looks even more wonderful (and if you follow it to its end you end up on the beach). It is straight out of the English countryside, and truly the work of a skilled artisan. Plus, the rocks are covered in wonderful lichen and moss. It just exudes charm.

Littering I can get behind

T hat sounds awful doesn't it? I mean, any kind of littering is bad, right? It is, but there is one kind of littering I don't mind as much: throwing glass bottles in the water. I've never actually seen anyone do this (thank goodness) but obviously at some point, people did all the time. Because all those bottles tossed overboard or thrown in the lake after a beach party are what eventually becomes beach glass. I've noticed that a lot of people call it sea glass, but here we're on Lake Michigan so that wouldn't exactly work. In either case, it is those small bits of glass with wonderfully dull, rounded edges that you find laying on the water's edge. Beware, though, in recent years beach glass has become a big deal, and there are a lot of people selling "sea glass" that is really just chunks of glass mechanically tumbled. The pieces are uniform in size in and color, and lack all of the personality of true beach glass.

As a kid we would collect beach glass like crazy. On a 20-minute beach walk we'd fill our pockets with pieces. Usually they were brown, green or white but occasionally we'd hit the jackpot and snag a big piece or a brilliant blue piece. These days, though, beach glass is not easy to come by. On the beach by our house, which is where I usually walk, I maybe find one piece every other walk or so. That's partly because we're farther from a city center (the closer to a city, the more littering, as sad as that may be). But even on the beach we walked as kids, beach glass is a rare find. Not only is there less glass being thrown in the lake to make beach glass, there are a lot more people collecting it these days, so the early bird gets the worm.

My dad walks or runs on the beach probably 200 days a year, and he has the beach glass collection to prove it. He is not a collector; he's much too practical for that, but his beach glass collection is a matter of great pride for him (I suspect that's more because it is a visual measure of the miles he's walked or run). My parents display the collection in huge glass containers of different sizes and shapes in the family room, with the best pieces (a two-inch red piece, an amber irridescent piece from a decorative bowl, a doughnut-shaped blue piece) on top. Our whole family is so obsessed with beach glass that when my nephews were younger they were caught filling their pockets from their grandparents' collection every once in a while.

There are rules to beach glass collecting, at least in our family.
1. If two people spot a piece of beach glass at the same time, the person who picks it up first gets it.
2. If the corners are still sharp enough to be an actual point or possible cut someone, it has to be thrown back in the water. The exception to this rule is with a very special piece, like the aforementioned amber piece in my parents' collection. You only get one shot at a piece like that and you better not pass it up.

So what do you do with all this beach glass? In college I used to make jewelry out of it by wrapping pieces with silver wire. My great aunt, a well-known local artist, used to make incredible mosiacs out of beach glass. Several are hanging in her beach house, and they are real treasures. That just shows how much beach glass used to be around. These days it would take years of serious collecting to have enough to make a mosiac.

So, enjoy beach glass (but don't buy the fake stuff thinking it's real), but please, leave some for me. And if a gorgeous blue bottle happens to fall end up in the lake someday, I won't tell anyone, just so long as decades from now I find some of that glass.

A gem of a weekend

W ow, what a weekend! I think much of the country experienced beautiful weather this weekend and up here in Wisconsin, the situation was no different. Saturday was hovering near 70 degrees and even though and invitation to go golfing with my girlfriends was tempting, I knew this was going to be one of our last opportunities of the year to enjoy working outside.

Much of the day was spent dealing with the leaves. We got the mulching/bagging mower (rejoice!) so I was thrilled to put the little leaf shnibbles in the garden! So excited. Also made more progress on the fall clean-up of the garden although there's still some of that to do.

The weather Sunday was almost as nice, but I picked up a dresser and nightstand from my grandma's house and thought I better sand it down outside while I can. And since it was such a good sanding day ... I actually pulled out another piece of furniture that I've been meaning to work on.

All of this is just my way of saying ... whoops ... no photos. Oh ... and I completely forgot about the 75 drumstick allium bulbs hiding in the garage. Looks like I'm going to be doing some cold-season garden work after all.

White is not white

A nyone who has ever tried to pick out white paint will tell you that white is not white. Several years ago, as I set out to repaint much of the chipped and faded white trim in the house I  went in search of white paint. That's when I first discovered how many whites there were in the world. Overwhelmed, I took in a large chip of paint (that's how bad the woodwork was) and had them match it. Well as you can imagine, that didn't work at all and I ended up with a gross gray color. So then I started playing with the colors and came up with a custom formula that I've been guarding with my life. The problem? Well, it's a pain in the butt to walk around with a custom formula, and it seems stupid to have one for white.

So I decided that I'm going to find a white made by a major paint manufacturer that will be around forever and start painting the woodwork with that. I'm looking for something that matches what I've been using very closely and if anything is a little brighter.

So last night I stopped at my favorite store—True Value—which is even MORE my favorite store now because they carry Benjamin Moore paint, and grabbed a handful of paint swatches. Then I found what was left of my custom mix, painted a paint stick with it, and started matching. As you can see from the photo ... this is not easy.

I also searched the good ol' World Wide Web for some advice and came up with a list of about 15 different Benjamin Moore whites that people claimed were the "best" for trim.

Right now my two contenders (which I'll probably buy pints of to try before committing ... I currently have 6 pints of BM colors varying from cream to yellow to shocking cream sitting in my basement ... anyone have some suggestions of what to do with them?) are Cotton Balls or Simply White. If anyone has some advice, boy, I'll take it.

And then of course, it gets even more complicated: Semi-gloss or satin? Oil-based or water-based? (Water, I'm thinking, with an oil primer underneath if need be.) These are more decisions than I make in an average day, for cryin' out loud.

One thing I'm NOT buying is the whole "it's just paint" thing. Sure, I know of all the home improvement things you can do, it's one of the least expensive, but paint (the good stuff anyway) isn't really all that cheap anymore and, more importantly, time is way too precious to put paint on unless you're going to love it.

The white house with the blue door

o far, we've changed very little about our house in the seven years we've owned it. But the first thing I did was paint the brown front door. I can't fathom how this cool door (certainly original to the house, which is now 70 years old) ended up brown, but that's OK, because after two days of stripping, sanding and repairing, it ended up this bright blue (conjure up an image of Greece in your head and you'll know the blue I'm talking about). I'm sure the brightness of the color was no coincidence. After seven years of living in beige rentals full of oak trim and shiny "brass" fixtures, I was dying to put color on SOMETHING. (Unfortunately I did the same thing with the guest bedroom and that didn't turn out as well!)

I stripped it twice (there was forest green and white paint under the brown), sanded it, and used a two-part epoxy with a filler to fill the cracks on the bottom (that part was fun because I got to shoot it in there with a syringe). After the epoxy was thoroughly cured, there was more sanding, priming and two coats of the blue paint.

Not only does it add some much needed color to our very plain white house, it's sort of become our signature "thing." Now I tell people to come to the "white house with the blue door."

I'm not a big fan of winter and lots of snow in February, but I do like a nice Christmas snowfall. Last year we had a big snowstorm a week before Christmas and I snapped this picture because I thought it was so charming.


Past project: Refinishing the floors

When we moved in, the wood floors were in pretty good shape, other than the fact that they were pink. Yep ... pink. They are red oak and had been "pickled" which gave them a decidedly pink appearance.

Add in two enormous and often wet Newfoundlands and the fact that our house, which had previously been a rarely-used second home, was actually being lived in, and you have a pink floor in really bad shape. The finish was peeling up in sheets. I think water would get under a scratch in the finish and it just sort of bubbled up.

A few years ago we decided to have the floor redone professionally. This was definitely not a project we were going to take on ourselves so we hired a professional wood flooring company. We also found out about a ceramic coating, often used in commercial applications, that sounded like just the thing to allow us to keep the wood floors we love without having to be in a panic every time a 150-pound dog decided to run laps on it.

Much to the disappoint of our floor guy, we wanted to keep the floors light, but not pink. We opted to go with a bleached red oak floor. In the bedrooms we had fir that wasn't in the best of shape, and even though the floor guy told us it wouldn't take stain evenly, redoing the bedroom floors was not an option, so we told him to do the best the could. Ironically we ended up loving those floors almost more than the bleached floors in the rest of the house.

Three years later, the floors still look great, but it wasn't as simple as that. Something went wrong with the ceramic coating they put on and within two months the finish was peeling up. Apparently the coating manufacturer had a bad batch or something so they paid to have the floors redone. They are holding up well, but it was a HUGE drag to have to move out of the house twice. But time heals all, and we've mostly forgotten about that and now we still look at redoing the floors as some of the best money we've put into the house.

Welcome to the new Impatient Gardener blog

Well, as I alluded to earlier, my obsessions have strayed a bit from gardening for the time being. Part of that is because of my seasonal case of self-diagnosed Attention-Deficit Disorder, and part of it is because, well, there's not much gardening to be done right about now.

For me, the inside and outside of my house are so intertwined that it's difficult for me to just blog about one and not the other, so I decided to just blog about it all. For those who have followed this as strictly a gardening blog, I promise to keep the gardening content fresh (although it will certainly be fresher in spring and summer), and I hope you enjoy some posts about our home. I hope, too, that new readers will find enjoyable posts from past and present.

A word about the "new look." The new header alludes to my other passion: sailing. It's what I write about for work, and what I do pretty much any time the Wisconsin weather allows. The sailboat sketch was done by my father years ago and is a motif I've used on everything from the place cards for our wedding to our return address labels. Under that you'll find small photos of a variety of scenes from our house and garden, including the furry beasts who have been mentioned before.

To make things more exciting, with any luck we'll soon be doing a fairly major house renovation, that I'll be anxious to share all the dirt on as soon as I know if it's really happening or not.

Thanks for sticking with me ... I hope you like new look and feel here. If you have any suggestions about things you'd like me to blog about or any thoughts on the new Impatient Gardener blog, I'd love to hear them.

The Dancing Peacock lives up to its reputation

One reason I was actually happy about fall was because I've been dying to see what my new tree, Acer japonicum acontifolium, would look like. Since it's called the "Dancing Peacock" I was anxious to see if it lived up to its reputation. And as you can see, once it got going, it went quick, and boy was it beautiful. I'm so looking forward to watching this tree mature throughout the years. I'm very happy with how it did in its first summer. Readers of this blog will remember what it looked like when it arrived on the scene.