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Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Things to Do!


So, after last month's blog, I got a few requests for some decorating ideas - quick things that people can do to cheer up their home (especially during these drab, Winter months) without spending a lot of time or money.
For this week, no-one wants me to wander down some random path of thoughts, pontificating about something abstract that takes too long to read. And, honestly, I love that! I love it when reader's (and friends) tell me what they want me to write about, and when they share their thoughts and ideas with me.
Please never hesitate to make suggestions, or ask me to write about your favorite dilemma or topic. But, until I hear from you, here's a quick list of some things that you can do.
Wishing you the happiest of years!
With love and a hug,
- Wendy




Sunday, November 26, 2017

A Girl and her Car


Some days, I can't write about decorating ideas, but my head is still filled with observations of life, and the most infinitesimal, yet joyful thoughts that happen inside us every single day. Here is one of mine.

I was in the car dealership earlier this year, waiting to get my car checked, when I noticed that someone had left a newspaper on the chair next to me, and the magazines (all about automobiles and sports, not a feminine thing to be seen) were scrunched in an almost impossible pile of paper mess on the table. The guy before me had also left his empty, paper coffee cup there; pretending to ignore the garbage can a few feet away, as he rushed off to his haircut appointment (he actually told me he was in a hurry to get his oil changed because he had a haircut appointment, which made me smile).

After a few minutes, I was the only one there, and I tried not to look at the mess laid out in front of me. I watched the morning show on the television, and pretended to be really interested in what percentage of people showered every day, and how John Cena had proposed to his girlfriend last night during a wrestling match, but I still couldn't stop looking at the pile of papers.

Eventually, I thought that if I grabbed one of the magazines, I could accidentally straighten the pile in the process; who the heck accidentally straightens a pile? Me. So, I picked up a magazine and casually straightened the first pile at the same time (so nervous in my self-perceived, organizing insanity, that my bottom almost missed the chair when I hastily went to sit down again).

My eyes went back to the television, as I wondered what type of coffee had been in the cup, and how long it would sit there before someone tidied it up. I thought of bringing some magazines from home, for the women to read while they waited for their own cars to be fixed, and if I should offer to answer the phone as I heard it ring endlessly then go to voice mail.
I sat there, wanting to help and wanting to clean up (first impressions and all that) until I heard fast heavy footsteps behind me. While I was lost in my thoughts, the mechanic had flung open the door, and was now sitting down next to me. And he was calling me "Ma'am". He was barely a few years older than me, and I had just been "Ma'am"ed.

My thoughts turned to the extra ten pounds I had put on, the frumpy skirt I was wearing, and the fact that I hadn't slept more than a couple of hours last night, and I suddenly felt every inch a "Ma'am". Feeling as if I had just aged a decade in just a few seconds, I said a polite thank you and paid the bill.

As I sadly walked to the door, I looked back up at John Cena on the television, beaming broadly at his new fiancee; the Ma'am comment had stung a little, but I realized in that moment that they were just words, and they hadn't actually changed me into someone else. I was still me.
So, I flipped my hair back, turned myself around, straightened the mess on the table, threw the coffee cup into the bin, and smiled at the man behind the counter as I waved him a cheerful goodbye.

p.s. Thank you to John Cena and Twiggy for being so original, and inspiring me to be the same. 

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Claim Your Space



There are a lot of times in our life when we're told to "fake it until you make it". I always thought that sounded silly and insincere, until I actually started to try it and began to realize that we can (and do) control our thoughts, which can in turn change how we look at life. But one of the most surprising ways to fake it, is when we are feeling unsettled in our homes.

I was contacted once by someone who told me she had just moved into her new home, and didn't feel that it was comfortable or visitor-worthy. As we talked, I was shocked to learn that she had actually lived there for two years, even though, to her, it felt like she had just moved in. She emailed me photographs, which showed me a house that was so chaotic that it tore at my heart. I couldn't imagine coming home to that type of environment, and I couldn't wait for our first appointment.

It is a couple of years later, and now that we are friends, I asked her if I could write about her experience. I promised to get her full approval before I published anything, and she generously agreed. You see, whether we have just moved in to our home, or feel like we have, it is still our home. If we treat it as if it is our most precious possession, it will nurture us, and be a safe haven for us to begin and end every day, because after all, isn't that what everyone wants? A safe, comfortable place to begin and end every day?

So, with that in mind, and the blessing of my design friend, here are some thoughts on what you can do if your home is feeling a little unsettled.

Deal With The Boxes
Whether you can get rid of them completely, or just stack them all in a single room, don't have random, unpacked boxes filling odd corners all over the house. Eventually, they just become an unattractive and unnecessary part of the scenery; they blend into your decorations like an old enemy that you haven't had the courage to unfriend - not hated, but not serving any purpose, and definitely not welcome or pleasant to look at.

Buy A LampCeiling lights have their uses, but all the dimmers in the world won't ever give you the warm, cozy feeling that you are looking for. Buy a lamp or two and put them on a table, or stand them next to your favorite chair. The shadows create interest, and the pockets of light draw you into the space of their glow.

Cook A Meal
Whether you can cook or not, taking time to prepare something for yourself is a caring thing to do. It forces you to slow down a bit, see your kitchen in a different way, and lose yourself in making something delicious. Try to avoid something that requires the microwave - use a pan just to heat soup if you need to, or make the best grilled cheese sandwich ever. Sit down and eat it on a real plate if you can.

Enjoy Where You Are

I know this can be easier said than done, but if this is where you are, then you have to make the best of it. This goes back to the fake-it-till-you-make-it comment, but refusing to settle in and enjoy your home because you are waiting or saving for something better isn't a good strategy. Because what if you never move, or your personal circumstances change when you least expect them to? Delaying happiness is never, ever a good idea, and a great place to begin is by loving your home right this minute, and claiming your space.

p.s. As for my design friend?  I am happy to say that she never moved out of her home, but she did move all of those boxes. 

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Use It or Lose It


I never quite understood the use it or lose it expression until I went to do a cartwheel last year in the garden. Overcome by a memory of whom I used to be, and feeling the need to make use of the wonderful, green space that welcomes me home every day, I ran across the grass, leaped into the air (or so I imagined) and fell flat on my face. I thought I had a concussion and broken both my arms, so I lay there wondering whether to laugh or burst into tears.

As I imagined how I would look when the ambulance men found me, I pulled myself up and sat on the grass. I had dirt on my face, and both my wrists hurt. I had lost it. Years of neglecting to do a cartwheel meant that I had forgotten how to do it, and my body was definitely having the last laugh.

Homes are a little similar. If we don't use a room or a thing, it starts to feel out of place, and when we eventually do want it back, it can be uncomfortable until we get past the discovery phase again.

I see this all the time in formal Living and Dining Rooms. Many people don't use them because we have become more casual, and they feel uncomfortable and stale, when really they just need a bit of attention. They need to be used and celebrated.

Dust them off and put some fresh flowers in there. Sit in it a while. Eat your breakfast at your too-fancy dining table or have a donut on your very-posh sofa. Put your feet up on it and wiggle down into the cushions. Rearrange it a bit and look up at the ceiling. Appreciate it, and apologize. Be sorry that you didn't use it for so long. Cheer it up by opening the curtains and straightening up the pile of junk that has been lying there for six months. Think how lucky you are to have it then promise to use it more often. Let the kids do their craft projects in there. Don't pitch a fit if the dog jumps up on your custom-made sofa. Drink a glass of wine and eat a slice of pizza in your pajamas. Put a pile of magazines on the side table. Change the photographs in your picture frames. Dust off the brown, crunchy dried flowers (or better yet, throw them away). 

We are so fortunate to have these homes, and to have an extra space is a luxury. Why not live in it, use it...... and then you won't ever have to worry about losing it.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

No to Art. Yes to Purple


She opened the door, threw her arms in the air, and said, "Here it is, don't make me put anything on the walls. I hate art!". 
It was a funny beginning, but as we started to talk I realized that her objections were to classic paintings; formal pieces that were carefully chosen to be a very deliberate, status statement - one's that she remembered as not being very cheerful to be around and could be unreasonably expensive to boot. 

After the appointment, I started to think about what art meant to me, and I have to say that my interpretation is so loose that I am sure I would be kicked out of most academic discussions. In my mind, there is art everywhere we look. From where I am typing right now, I am surrounded by art - the endless shapes and colors of the fallen leaves, the jagged silhouette of the trees against the blue sky, and the worn-down coloring pencils crookedly sitting in my favorite cup. They are all small pieces of art because they are beautiful to me. So, when we're decorating a home, I always think the lines were meant to be blurred, and anything we consider beautiful can (and should) be considered art. 

My theory has always been, if I love it, and I can hang it on the wall, then it is art. From an old wooden air-vent to a child's stick-figure drawing, as long as it gives us joy, we can decorate with it. It's like if you want something above a sofa, why do you have to search high and low for the perfect painting that "goes"? Why can't you take your baby daughter's hand-print, enlarge it to ridiculous proportions, and have it matted and framed in a simple, yet gorgeous black frame? 
Of course, if you find the perfect painting it's a wonderful thing, but if you don't, then why not change what your definition of art is, and put that on the wall instead. 

But, all of this belated, romantic theorizing didn't help my client when we met for that first appointment. The truth was, that she said she hated art, and she just didn't want any of it on her wall. She had invited me over because the room felt cold and unwelcoming. Still living with the white that the contractor had chosen, we talked about how she wanted the room to feel, and what she needed for it to be comfortable. Labelling herself as a minimalist, I could see that she wasn't going to let me put a single nail in the wall, but we had to cozy up the room somehow. 

As we settled into our second cup of coffee, she surprised me by bringing out a scrapbook of decorating ideas. She wanted me to see what she liked, rather than just what was there in front of me in her home. You could have knocked me down with a feather. The rooms she showed me were rich with color, filled with a dark, moody elegance that in no way reflected my client or the room that we were sitting in. 

I cannot tell you the excitement that started to build as she turned each of the pages. With each turn, she started to talk more and more about what we were looking at, and why she had pulled the pictures. She spoke for a good half hour while I stayed quite silent (which, for those who know me is not quite normal). 

When we had finished, I just looked at her and said, "Let's paint the walls dark purple!". The purple would be the warm background, and the shapes and color of her furniture would become the art. It was so obvious what we needed to, and she didn't hesitate. Within a week, the painter had arrived, and her room was complete. 
It was the perfect compromise. The room could remain minimal and clutter free, but it gave her a very elegant and cozy, designed space. Now, almost a year later, she still writes me emails telling me how much she loves her art.

p.s. The photograph above isn't her home, but it is the color that we used. We used Shadow (2117-30) by Benjamin Moore. 

Ideas for decorating with a very dark color.
Have large, open windows. A dark colored room needs plenty of natural light. 
Keep drapes and curtains light and breezy. Avoid heavy fabrics.
Brighten up the floor with something colorful and cheerful. Don't match the colors to your walls.
Make it modern. It can be tempting to go a bit Gothic with the rest of your colors and design, but be careful not to go too dark and moody. Add modern accessories and clean, fresh shapes and colors to bring balance to the space. 

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

A Little Overdue


Joyful and overwhelmed. I never quite knew it was possible to be both at the same time, but here I am. Behind with my blog, missing coffee breaks with my friends, and sitting at a laptop with my cell on one side and my house phone on the other side. A funny predicament for a technophobe.

So, it has been a little while since I blogged, and I wondered if I needed to explain myself to those who read it. Of course, I don't have to, but I want to. Just because. Because this blog is such a large part of who I am, and is still one of the dearest gifts I was ever given. And because Stephanie's mom was starting to ask if I was okay.

Y'see, I am okay. I have just begun doing some extra freelance, writing work, which I absolutely love, but the last month has just been more than I anticipated. More creative than I expected - which is great, and I am working with a truly, lovely bunch of people. Couldn't ask for anything better. And busier than usual (good grief, I hate to use that word) as my daughter and I navigated the preparing-to-go-to-college malarkey. It wasn't complicated, it was just a lot. And a wee bit scattered.

With my daughter off to college, the freelance work fits perfectly into the newly opened gaps. But for the first time in a very long while, I am having to learn to balance my life all over again.

Normally, I adjust pretty easily - I might wobble around for a minute, but I right myself back into position, and move forward.This time, not so much. I naively thought that there would be no adjustment, but being a mom and juggling two creative jobs became a bit of a challenge.
So, I found myself doing the only thing I knew how to do. Just going with it. I stopped trying to fit everything into my neat and organized idea of what I thought it should be. I had to believe that if I did the best I could, then it would all sort itself out. And it has. The fact that I am even writing this brings me so much happiness (and a welcome sigh of relief). Y'see, things always change. And as scary as change can be, it will happen again and again, often when you least expect it.

A friend once told me that it's better to be a cork than a rock in the river of life. She was right. Digging our heels in and protesting doesn't help anyone. It's exhausting fighting against the current. So every now and then we have to remind ourselves how to float.
We have to enjoy the delicious freedom of not knowing where we are going. We have to close our eyes, ignore the bossy voices, and allow ourselves to drift into the direction of wherever it is we need to be.

When the days feel too long, it's okay to put our pajamas on at 6:30 pm. Not that I have done that yet, but I have dreamt about it. I have lovingly, carefully, made my bed in the morning. As I smooth the sheets down, I may even have fallen on top of their coolness for a few seconds, as I imagine the sheer bliss of turning them back over and climbing into the soft, warm comfort of bedtime.
Because it's okay to dream of bedtime. It's okay to wonder what the heck we are doing. It's okay not to have a five day plan, never mind a five year plan. It's okay to eat a slice of smoked Gouda for dinner (standing at the open fridge) because you're too tired to cook.It's okay to just be who you are at this exact moment.

So, if you're still reading, you might be wondering what this all has to do with design. I guess it doesn't directly, but in many ways it could. Homes, like people, are happiest when they are allowed to develop at their own pace - slowly and organically. Transitional times can be uncomfortable and awkward. But, it's really just a way of preparing us for the next step. If there is a change in the air, or life is feeling a little bit complicated, maybe it's also time for you to let go of something for a little while. Do only what is important right this very minute .... and remember how beautiful it is to just float.

p.s. Thank you for reading - the blog will be back to normal next week :-)

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Sharing the Bedroom


Toby shares the bedroom with me. A kind and lovable, vertically-challenged German shepherd, who doesn't mind how I decorate, as long as the air conditioning is on, we go to bed by 11, and I stay quietly on my tiny edge of the bed. But others aren't so lucky (?) Many people I know have to share their bedroom with another human - one who speaks and has an opinion, and might even care (a lot) about the number of threads they can count on their sheets.

So, how does this work? Do we really need to compromise in the bedroom? I think we do. I was struck this last week by several couples who had decorated their bedrooms as if they weren't sharing it at all. The one who had decorated it firmly believed that the opinion of the other person who they slept with wasn't important. I have to say that it was mostly women - they assured me that their husbands didn't care, and several of them even said that their partner had no taste, so why on earth would they even consider letting them be involved in any of the decorating and design decisions?

But taste is really subjective, and I strongly believe that if we're sharing a space, then it should reflect who we both are, and, at the very least we should ask what our partner does (and doesn't) like before we steamroller ahead. Even if they say they don't care, then shouldn't we still choose to care enough about them?

The bedroom is one of the most important places in our home - it's where we are all supposed to recharge and relax at the end of the day. It should be a peaceful and welcoming space for everyone who steps inside.
The benefits of sharing our ideas is kind of obvious - if someone feels comfortable in a space then they want to spend time there, and, if they can see that their taste and opinion really does matter, then that makes them feel cared for. Both of which makes for a much happier relationship (both in and out of the bedroom, of course).

Monday, July 17, 2017

5 Dorm Room Essentials

'Tis the season, and if you have a college-bound teenager then you just might be in the middle of your very own personal hell - surrounded by a peripheral madness that you are trying really hard to resist, every email and letter that you receive pushes your anxiety to new heights, and you wonder what on earth this experience is supposed to be about anyway.
Of course you don't want them to go, but why are they suddenly telling you that your child must have a printer and a matching pair of salt and pepper shaker's? Oh, and you must send her a welcome kit of candy, delivered straight to her room - with a sweet reminder that if you don't, she will be the only candy-less, unloved child on the entire campus....

So, with all these thoughts floating around in your head (not mine, of course) I thought I would give you five of my favorite dorm room essentials. They won't rescue you from the madness, but all are readily available, all are infinitely useful, and nothing is over thirty dollars.


Bed Lifts are not the most glamorous thing on the planet,
 but they will give your messy teen an extra 6 - 7 inches of space under their bed (and, it makes it feel less like a twin bed). The new ones even come with an AC outlet and USB charger. For less than $30, it will help them be more organized, or at the very least they can just grab some storage bins and stash everything under the bed when you go to visit them. 

This seems odd, and I absolutely trust all the little darlings who will be attending college, but a space to hide something is not such a bad idea. Something unexpected, like a hidden drawer, an old book, or even a pair of funny toe socks, is not as obvious as a dorm room safety box, and may come in useful now and again. This one is from Amazon, and is about ten dollars.


Another cheapie - this isn't really glass, but it does just what you need it to.
Available at almost every inexpensive, large retail store, it needs no installation, and just hooks over the back of a door. As well as needing them to look into, a mirror makes the room seem a bit brighter, which can be a necessity in some of those dark, crowded, Vitamin-D deficient  dorm rooms.   


Clear, hanging shoe pockets are not just for shoes.
If they can fit it in there, that's what they can use it for. From toiletries to underwear and gadget chargers, these are indispensable for every type of student. They're extremely durable (and even washable, if they need to be). Yes, the fabric one's are cute, but the clear pockets are so much more practical. 


Forget the fancy bath buddy's and cute shampoo organizers, 
a shower container has to be waterproof, durable, drainable and easy to carry. Do you really think they are going to stand and put everything back in the right spot, and leave the mesh out to dry for three days to avoid the mold? No. Keep it simple with these adorable, colorful, tough $3.99 totes (which would also be great for holding so many other things).  

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Shoo Fly! Shoo!


As a rogue fly whizzes around our house, I quickly run downstairs to find my old-fashioned, umbrella food tent to protect the cake that I had just pulled from the oven. Eternally squeamish about flies (thanks, Mom) it is rare they get into our house, but when they do I won't rest until they are either outside again (or very obviously dead).

Not into using chemicals, I will chase them down with a can of hairspray, or grab a catalog to frantically (maniacally comical, perhaps) swat at them - well aware that I am amusing everybody except for myself.
Insects and flies (Are flies actually insects? Yes, I just checked) both fascinate and repulse most of us. Some people like to watch scary movies that involve them (Jeff Goldblum will always be my one and only favorite fly) but we don't want them in our homes, or casually landing on our freshly, unpacked ham and cheese sandwich.
So, with creepy crawlies on my mind, here are a few, non-deadly ways to keep them away from you this holiday weekend.

WASP CATCHER

A traditional, glass Wasp Catcher, filled with all sorts of concoctions, will lure flying insects into them, making it impossible for them to escape.
If you don't have one of these, you can quickly make your own with an empty, plastic soda bottle (instructions here).

 FOOD UMBRELLAS

So simple, yet so effective. With a bit of a retro vibe, 
mine were bought at a Fair many years ago (for about a dollar each).  
These adorable mesh umbrellas are still very inexpensive (usually less than five dollars), and are available on-line,
or at many nearby home and garden stores.

FANS


Most flying insects prefer it when the air is still, so a fan will keep them away for most of the afternoon. Install a permanent one on the inside ceiling of your porch (extra points if your ceiling is pale blue, as that is supposed to deter insects too) or grab your favorite one from inside, and point it towards your picnic table. 

PLANTS AND HERBS


There are many plants and herbs that are said to repel mosquitoes and flies. 
Citronella is the one we hear of the most
(usually found in candles) but you can also buy this,
and many other repelling plants, at your local garden center. 
 For best results, you may want more than one, so for a full list,
check out these plant ideas from Natural Living.

COFFEE GROUNDS, LEMON AND CHALK

Common garden ants are rarely more than a passing nuisance,
but if you don't want a small army of them invading your next outdoor party, 
there are a few precautions you can take. 
Although they often seem to be the Houdini's of the insect world, they are also easily deterred by the most harmless of ingredients. Try stopping them with a path of chalk, a squirt of lemon or one of these other unexpected household items.

 SHOOFLY PIE

It didn't seem right to finish this blog without a recipe for traditional Shoofly Pie, but there were so many recipes that I just chose the one that I have used in my own kitchen. The story of its name seems to vary, with some saying it was named after people yelling, "Shoo fly!", and others say that it was named after a type of molasses that was called Shoofly. 
Whatever the origin, it is simple and delicious
- in spite of its very unfortunate name.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Can You Really Do It Yourself?

We had the plumber over the other day to fix several leaky faucets, and when I called him on the telephone he barely remembered who I was. When he showed up on my doorstep, he said that he had assumed I had found another plumber, because it had been over four years since we had needed him.

As we chatted, he told me that some of his customers call him several times a year, and many of the visits could have been prevented. 

This got me thinking - what should we tackle ourselves, what should we know, and when is it time to bring in the professionals? 

PLUMBING
At the very least, we should all know how to turn off the main water valve for the house, and where the individual turn off valves are for each faucet. Why not ask your plumber to give you a tour next time he visits?

Unclogging a Toilet 
This is not fun at all, but if it's (how can I say this delicately?) an organic clog, then there are plenty of (easy) non-chemical ideas you can try before you call the plumber.  
Turn the water off behind the tank, open the window, put on your grungy clothes, boil some hot water (not for tea, for your toilet) then click here for some simple solutions. 

Leaky Faucet 
I will take the end bit off a faucet, but I won't dismantle an entire unit
No matter how many times they tell me to carefully line up the parts, and reassemble them in reverse order, I can never get it back together, but if it is a small, rubber washer inside the water spout end, I won't hesitate to twist that bit off, take it to the hardware store, and get a replacement.

Smelly Garbage Disposal 
I don't have one, but I know they need regular maintenance, and unless it's completely broken, you should always try these simple DIY solutions first. 

Clogged Kitchen Sink or Water Leaking under the Sink  
Usually, this is caused by gunk in the "U" bend under the sink.
  • My first course of action is to tip some baking soda (a cup or so) into the drain and add a good measure of vinegar (2 - 3 cups of whatever you have handy - not balsamic) let it bubble, leave for about 20 minutes, then flush with scalding hot water. 
  • If it's still clogged, grab a bucket (to catch whatever falls out) and a flashlight, and see if you can unscrew the curled bend under the sink and investigate what is in there (you might need gloves, or want to cover your hands in plastic bags). It's a simple mechanism, that may take you a few tries to get familiar with, but you can't mess this up. For more detailed information (with pictures) go here.  

ELECTRIC
Having an older home, means that I won't mess with the wiring on my own, but I have learned a couple of useful tricks from my electrician.
  • Know where your circuit breaker is, and label it. Spend an hour or so with a friend, and have one of you turn the circuit breaker switches on and off, then label which room/area they belong to. If something goes wrong, you can check here first - turn the main on and off, and/or flick the switch on and off for the room that is giving you a problem. This is especially useful after a storm or power outage, when some don't reset themselves.
  • Screw in your light bulbs tighter than you think. I had my electrician out several times in a month, only to find that I wasn't putting my light bulbs in tight enough (!). Crazy, right? But if they aren't making a full connection they might not work, or they could jiggle loose and blow the light. I was always afraid they would break, but that has never happened.

OTHER DIY that I think most of us can do

Laying peel and stick tiles on a kitchen or bathroom floor
This is not hard - they are easy to cut, and if you're considering this, then you probably have an old, yukky floor anyway. It's not permanent, so why not give it a try

Painting a small room 
If it's a bathroom, or a small bedroom, you can do it yourself, and it is the perfect place to be daring with your color choice. Allow yourself a weekend (you might not need it, but it's better not to be rushed). Grab painters tape, small brushes, a roller, lots of music, and maybe a bottle of wine.

Spackling holes in your walls or ceiling
This is easy-as. The hardest bit is often finding the paint to touch it up afterwards. Just spackle (I like the pink spackle that dries to white) smooth, let it dry, then paint. Less is always more - you can add more layers after each one dries. Sand if needed.

Re-caulk and grout tiles
Again, your attempt might not be as perfect as a professional's, but if it's a little touch up, then give it a go. By the way, I left mine for too long once, and the water started to leak through to the downstairs ceiling, so it's worth keeping up to date with repairs. Here's a video from Martha and Home Depot that explains how to do it.   

Gutter cleaning
This depends on your home (and how tall you are). I can do some of mine, but not all, and if you can fearlessly climb a ladder with a bucket, you could give it a try. No roof walking though. 

Fix squeaky doors and hinges
Before you buy new ones, try tightening the screws, loosening the pins and coating them with petroleum jelly (Vaseline). Most recommend using a spray lubricant, like WD 40, but that is really messy, and Vaseline works great (olive oil doesn't). 

Well, that's heaps for now, but I hope this gives you some new ideas before you reach for the phone and grab your checkbook. 

Saturday, June 3, 2017

DIY with Dandelions


When my daughter was young I used to pay her ten cents for every dandelion that she picked from the lawn. My complete laziness combined perfectly with her thinking that they were pretty, yellow flowers (and not some weed that managed to evade the lawnmower when I went over it, then pop back up just in time to send millions of seeds out into the universe).

I don't dislike dandelions at all, but I do think their seeds are prettier than the flower itself, and I would never pass up an opportunity to blow on one and make a wish. I am fascinated by the way that they always seem to right themselves as soon as they are set free - reminding me of Mary Poppins, these small fairy umbrellas stand perfectly poised for a moment, then elegantly catch a ride on the nearest breath of wind. Not caring where they go, they quickly disappear, even when the day around them seems so very still.

So, I saw a recipe for dandelion wine (which reminded me of those sweet, sunny days when my daughter could happily fill an afternoon with picking flowers) and I thought it would be fun to share some practical things that we could do with dandelions...

Dandelion Wine: This particular recipe I like because it is so simple (and I don't feel that anything to do with dandelions should be complicated). It's from Epicurious - a delightful word, supposedly made up by one of my favorite chefs, Michael Lomonico.

Dandelion Jelly: I haven't made this yet, but I will. The reviews say that you might need a bit more pectin than the recipe calls for, but they also say that it tastes good even if it doesn't set up quite as jiggly as it should.

Dandelion Salve: Any salve, cream or ointment that is made from just a few, natural ingredients is usually very good for you, and this one also has beeswax in it, so the healing properties are even better. * Please be careful about potential honey/pollen/bee allergies though - especially with young children.

Dandelion Cupcakes: Why didn't I think of this? From The Nerdy Farm Wife comes a simple recipe for just adding dandelion petals to your regular cupcake batter. It's barely even a recipe, but just a few yummy guidelines on what (and what not) to do.

Dandelion Paleo Cupcakes: This is what I would call a proper recipe. Proving that a Paleo diet doesn't have to be boring, these dandelion and lemon cupcakes (main photograph) sound delicious (in fact, everything on Andrea's site looks and sounds delicious).

Dandelion Lemonade: There is nothing like making your own homemade lemonade, and this one tastes exactly like Summer.

Preserved Dandelion Clocks: Why not capture them before they fly away, and turn those ethereal puff balls into the most delicate of garden decorations? (A fun craft for a fairy themed birthday party).

Dandelion Everything: From quesadillas to pesto and cookies, Jill over at the Prairie Homestead has sixteen of my favorite (and unexpected) dandelion recipes.

A few dandelion notes....
  • If you're using any of these recipes, please collect dandelions from your own pesticide and chemical free garden, rinse gently, and be sure that they haven't been sprayed with anything other than nature. 
  • By the way, did you know that Crayola retired their Dandelion Yellow Crayon this year? We are not quite sure why, but they did say that he had "an adventurous spirit" with "a case of wanderlust", which could be useful considering that Dandelion, at only 27 years old, seems far too young to retire. 
  • A dandelion is so nutritious that the delightful Dr. Andrew Weil affectionately calls it, the accidental vegetable

                         *Thank you to Andrea at Forest and Fauna for the main photograph.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Beautiful Moments


I knew I needed to weed the garden and mow the lawn (as well as the twenty-seven other things on my to-do list) but I baked a cake instead. Then, when I ran out to do an errand, I saw that the clematis had bloomed - when I wasn't looking, it had gone ahead and does what it does every year - without any weeding, or any care at all from me. It had become beautiful all by itself.

Perhaps I was having a moment, but it made me cry, and I caught my breath as I stopped and took a good look around the garden. I went back inside and grabbed my phone so that I could take photographs, afraid that it would all be mysteriously gone by the time I got back from the shops.

So busy in my head over the last few weeks, I had neglected some of the things that were important to me - beautiful, silly things that fed my soul, that I needed to take care of because in doing so they actually took care of me.

When I grabbed my phone, I also took the gardening scissors and some floral string. I spent the next half hour pruning and tying up the roses - they haven't flowered yet, but I know they will appreciate not being thrown around by the next storm. There is a branch over twelve foot tall that is reaching towards the top of the house, but as it is covered in rosebuds I don't have the heart to cut it down. Perhaps after they bloom.

They all grew without me. With no help, no words of encouragement, no passing glance, no special soil or fertilizer to brighten their color. They just grew. They grew into their beauty. Soon they will lose their color, they will rest, and then begin to do it all over again. And as I stepped back onto the wet grass, tears dripping down my face, it struck me that we need them far more than they need us.

Monday, May 15, 2017

A Floor Update and More DIY



I have been getting lots of questions about the Living Room floor that I finished with Safflower Oil the other week, so I thought I would answer them, and give you a quick update.

Did your house smell of oil, and were the floors sticky afterwards?
The Living Room smelled slightly for a couple of days, but it wasn't bad at all, because I used safflower oil which is almost odor-less. The floors had a bit of oil residue for a couple of days while it soaked in, but not enough to be greasy (and I did buff the floor again the next day).
How do the floors look now? Has it lasted?
They still look great! It soaked in completely by about the third day, and the darker color is still there.
Anything that you don't like about it?
No. It seems almost embarrassing - it took hardly any time at all, cost less than five dollars, and my floors look the best they have in over fifteen years.
What about the pets? 
The dog stopped licking it after a couple of days, and the cat couldn't have cared less. Now and again, the cat eats and throws up a few geranium leaves, so if I don't clean it up right away it does seem to "strip" the oil from the wood (not sure how) but all I do is drizzle a tiny bit of safflower oil on it, and the mark is gone within a day (see photograph above).

By the way, while we're on the subject of floors, I wanted to mention a couple of other flooring projects that I have also done in my own home. These were definitely DIY worthy, made a big difference .... and took no special skills (or tools) whatsoever.

Removing Wall-to-Wall Carpet 
It sounds daunting, but all it really took was time (a lot - almost a month for me to do the entire downstairs by myself) and a bit of planning.
Wearing goggles sounded ridiculous at first, but carpet tacks, staples and dust can be unpredictable and fly in all different directions, so I really would recommend them. For more detailed information on how to properly remove wall-to-wall carpet, go here.

Installing Vinyl Floor Tiles
If your floor is not too high (I think they can have up to three layers) installing these over your existing floor is really easy. I did my kitchen floor, with the peel and stick type, and you don't have to be a math wizard (or a flooring expert) just be sure to start in the middle and work out from there. Here's a more detailed explanation of what to do.

Painting your Floor
I painted a picture of a rug in my daughter's room (on a hardwood floor) with water-based acrylic craft paint over fifteen years ago, and while we loved it at the time, when we went to remove it, we couldn't. It will take a good sanding and proper refinishing, so although it was an easy project I recommend that you do this with a bit of caution (as it might be more permanent than you would like).

For a few more DIY flooring fixes, check out this article from Apartment Therapy.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Finding Design Inspiration


Some people wake up noticing shapes and colors. The form of a pillowcase resting against the bed, the taunting remnant of a forgotten spider web, it's thread of gray holding gently onto the ceiling, and the love of a soft, crinkled face still beautiful in its sleep.

For some, life is almost a sensory overload; too much to appreciate, and not enough time - an endless array of tactile change that both delights and overwhelms. Yet we are all wired differently, and whether visual cues come to us naturally or not, I am also a firm believer in taking our inspiration from others.

If I don't know how to do something, I ask, and if I'm not sure which road to take, I'll turn on my GPS. Decorating is exactly the same. There is a wealth of information out there; thousands of moments of inspiration are given to us every single day....and most of it is free.

Here are some easy ways to find design inspiration (when it doesn't seem to be finding you).

Magazines!

I know it's obvious, but their job is to show us beautiful things,
 and tell us how to get them. Envy is the name of the game.Look at the color combinations they use,and read the interviews with designers.
They are usually a confident bunch,
and because they are passionate about what they do,they are more than happy to share their secrets and ideas.

http://www.houseandgarden.co.uk/

Photographs!

Choose your favorite family photograph (this is one of mine)
 and start to really think about why you like it. 
Try to see it from an objective, creative perspective.
Is it the lines of the lamp post, the black and white background,
the blur of the snowflakes, the childish frog,
or the green shade of the umbrella? 


Junk Mail!

Even if you never buy anything from them, take a look inside the cover.
Many furniture and accessory stores add to the temptation by photographing their items in a warm and cozy home setting.
Remember when Rachel secretly bought the Apothecary table
 from Pottery Barn? Then Phoebe wanted the matching lamp?
It made us laugh, and while we don't want our home looking exactly like a page from a catalog,
it's perfectly okay to borrow ideas from them. 


Your Closet!

With our clothes, we say more about ourselves than we realize.
Lay some of your favorite clothes out on the bed,
and write down your first impression.
Are they structured, colorful, loose, casual,
similar, formal, interesting, boring?
The odds are, how you dress is an indication of what you want to project,
and how you like to live.
Your home should also be a reflection of who you are,
so ideally the two should blend.  


Ask!

If I see someone wearing a coat or a lipstick that I really like, 
I compliment them.
And, if we start chatting, I might ask where they got it from.
Same goes for a friend's new coffee table,
or the freshly painted color of a house down the street.  
Knock on the door, and ask.
People are rarely offended by a compliment. 


Friday, April 28, 2017

Sleeping with my Cell Phone


About six months ago, me and my trusty flip-phone were pushed (kicking and screaming) into forced obsolescence. I had coddled it for about two years before; slowly accepting that I had to stab at the letter's "XYZ" at least three times to make the button work, and that messages could often take several hours to send and receive. My friends understood that texting was becoming challenging at best, and that a random emoji, no matter how cute, would never reach me through my aging gadget.

But, I persevered until November, pretending it didn't matter, until suddenly the only word I could type for an entire week was "Hector". I'll spare you the stories, but no matter what I started to press, it defaulted to the very unknown and annoying Hector.
I dug my heels in, and managed without one for a few weeks, but eventually common sense overruled my stubbornness, and I gave in and bought a smartphone (i.e. the dumbest, least expensive smartphone I could find). I said good-bye to my flip-phoning Hector, and put him carefully away - reluctantly, not wanting to let go of the beloved saved texts and button-pushing memories.

After all, I only needed it for texting and the occasional phone call, so I vowed from the beginning to never go on the Internet, or check my email while sitting in traffic - I was determined not to become one of those people.

Then my daughter went away for a week. We texted back and forth, and because I wanted to text her good-night, I would take it upstairs to bed with me (well aware that teenagers stay up much later than their tired parents). One night, when I went to bed far too early, I wondered if I had received a reply to an email from the day before; just the thought of getting out of bed, and turning on the computer seemed like too much work, so I looked at my phone, and found google...

That was it. For the next three nights I would lie in bed, hunched over my phone looking up information, scrolling through clothes on ebay, and texting my daughter. I was hooked. Some days, I went to bed just so that I could look at the little information-filled gadget in front of me. I would lie until my shoulder hurt, and my eyes stung - way past my usual bedtime.

Not a book or magazine was read, and there was no drifting off to sleep listening to the frogs or the falling rain outside, imagining all sorts of wonderful thoughts. I didn't care. All I wanted to do was see what I could find on the glowing rectangle in front of me.

After a few days, I noticed my neck hurt, and the pile of magazines had built up. I was beginning to get curious as to what had happened to the heroine in my book, the furrow between my eyes had deepened, and I missed the comfort of silently lying awake in the darkness before I went to sleep.

Those who write about this stuff, always go on and on about how if you sleep with your phone it will damage your brain, you will sleep poorly, or it will spontaneously combust on your pillowcase, but I think the problem is much simpler than that - it's just bad for us.
After a week of doing it, I began to miss what was actually happening around me, and even though I became hooked on the screen (and the feeling of having access to everything in the world) it wore me out, and I never went to sleep peacefully at all.

As a smartphone newbie, it scared the hell out of me. Now, I leave it in the kitchen, and am happy to be going back to bed with a snoring dog, an open window, and a worn, paperback novel.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Four Dollar Floor Fix

This week, I was going to try and refinish my hardwood floors myself. When we first moved in, over twenty years ago, there was carpet everywhere, but after three cats and numerous spills, the warm, loopy beige concoction turned into a smelly nightmare, and it was time to go. 

When I pulled the carpet up (which took weeks, and a couple of near safety misses with my toddler) I was delighted with the hardwood floors that we found underneath. Barely sealed, we loved them, and made do with an occasional polish until the last few years (we have a dog who has literally licked wide, white circles onto it, and a cat who behaves less than well when we are not paying him enough attention).

So, I decided to take the job on myself, and researched the best DIY product for unfinished, hardwood floors. The ideas run the gamut, from full on renting a sander and days of polyurethane, to products that will clean and seal at the same time. Determined to get it done (when you are almost embarrassed to have people over, it's a problem) I wandered one night into the complete DIY Internet community; finding out far more than I ever needed to know, as I realized my floors were made really well, but were literally dried out, and thirsty for some nourishment.

That something, according to the experts, could be as complicated as a three-step chemical sealer, or as simple as mixing up some olive oil, vinegar and lemon oil in your kitchen.
As it was around 8pm, and I don't like olive oil (and didn't have lemon oil) I decided to drizzle some safflower oil onto a corner in my Living Room. It started to soak in almost immediately, so I buffed it around with a soft cloth, then left it for a few minutes to see what would happen.

When I tell you, it looked amazing, I am not fibbing. Within an hour, I had drizzled and buffed safflower oil all over my Living Room floor. Five days later, it still looks good, I am thrilled with the results, and I am planning to do the rest of my house.

Here are the results, and a few extra notes:

* Just an additional note - my floors are well over fifty years old, are solid hardwood (red oak?) and had no polyurethane or finish on them at all. 

Saturday, April 8, 2017

The Garage Door


Sometimes, a girl just needs more - more cake, more hugs, more sunshine, more opinions, more coffee, more sleep .... and a whole lot more words!

Just when my Mom didn't think I could do any more talking, I have decided to expand my blog, and empty out more of the words that dance around in my head when I least expect them. Not content to confine my thoughts to decorating, I want to write about everything else that goes on in my head as well. It will be the same as before, but different (and might even include an entire story on why I don't think the world needs any more broccoli) but mostly it will just be more. More of what we like to talk about, more odd bits and pieces, and more than you ever knew you needed to know.

Talking of which, I wish my neighbor's hadn't fixed their garage door. I miss seeing them come and go. I miss knowing when they were home for dinner, or seeing them leave early on a Summer's day - off to enjoy the sunshine, visiting friends and stopping at their favorite diner for lunch.  

It is all electronic now, and while in the Winter I wish like crazy for my own attached garage and automatic door opener, I realize that I have lost the comfort of feeling people around me. Now, cars slowly approach a house, buttons are pressed, and they all slip in and out of their car home with barely a sound. Unless your nose is permanently pressed to the window, you won't see this happen, so the outside of a house can remain unchanged for weeks at a time.

It is strange not knowing if people are home or not, and I wonder if they feel the same way?

Our previous neighbor, Mrs. Hansen, didn't have a garage at all, so there was a lot of waving through the row of trees, and my daughter and I could easily pop over to say hello when we knew she was home. As my daughter grew older, I could safely send her all by herself to visit, because we could see when Mrs. Hansen was and wasn't there. It was easy to see by her car.

We would wave and complain about the cold during the snow storms, as we both shoveled our driveways and scraped the ice off our cars. Being much older than I, she put me to shame with her energy, and if I saw her outside I knew enough to be embarrassed, and that I had better bundle up and get my backside out there as quickly as possible.

In the Springtime, we would find ourselves talking about the weeds, or how on earth she got her Iris's to grow so tall, and in the Autumn we would both rake leaves, side by side, in an almost magical companionable silence.

The car in her driveway was like a welcome sign, and my daughter would run over to tell her about school, or just to say hello and share some cookies; she liked the freedom of being able to go by herself, and I liked the security of knowing that I could see at a glance that Mrs. Hansen was there.

Now, the street is becoming a sea of automatic garage door openers. We have no idea who is home, and who is not. We will never know if they are housebound and something is wrong, or if they have a new girlfriend and got married. Which is such a shame, because neighbors create a sense of ordinary, everyday, necessary comfort....and I miss that.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Pantry Secret

Y'know when we drool over those kitchen makeovers? The one's where everything looks so neat and organized? Where we wonder if they are even real, and if the owner has ever yelled at their children, or snuck downstairs in the middle of the night to eat a slice of pizza?
Do you notice that when they open the pantry we don't see torn boxes of cereal, and fallen over bags of rice - piled together on a shelf, barely closed with a chip-clip and a dash of hope?

Of course, they have to look insanely pretty because it is a photo shoot (and a messy kitchen isn't going to inspire anyone, or sell the next issue of their magazine) but it's also because every good, working kitchen has a secret.

We sometimes think that only serious cook's have fabulous kitchen's, but whether we cook every day of the week, or grab handfuls of cereal on our way to work, we all deserve a space that makes life easier, and is as efficient as it is good looking.

A coat of paint will always freshen things up, but the thing that unites these kitchen makeover's is one simple idea - almost everything that can be eaten, or used to create something delicious, is removed from its package and stored in a clear container.

Contrary to what we might think, it's not about being pretentious (they can be as inexpensive or as fancy as you like) it's about loving food, and enjoying your kitchen. So, whether your favorite food group is chocolate (yep) or you spend hours making a bouillabaisse in your pajamas, we all need to eat, so here are some reasons why you must make it more pleasurable, and go out today and get some clear containers.

1.  Saves you time.
You will always know how much (or how little) you have left of everything.
2.  Keeps things fresh.
They will extend the life of your ingredients, and save you a heap of money.
3.  A neater pantry will always make you happier than a cluttered one.   
It just will.
4.  No more surprises.
Nothing worse than opening a box of cereal on a busy morning, and tipping out three, stale cheerios and some pixie dust.
5.  You can see exactly what you have.
Instead of trying to play detective with the small, oddly-shaped, folded-over, rubber-banded, half-eaten packet of something.































To buy: The modular containers are from OXO - they cost approximately $10 each, and can be found on their website, as well as Walmart, JCPenney's, Bed Bath and Beyond etc. 
The set in the middle (Flour, Pasta, Rice and Sugar) is from Birch Lane ($30.)
Apothecary Jar is from World Market (approximately $25.)

Friday, March 17, 2017

Dining Room Good-bye's

Someone asked me the other day where they could buy a new dining room set. It confused me for a moment, because we were sitting at theirs while we talked, and although it seemed perfectly nice to me, it turns out that this was the first time she had used it in almost a year.

As we thought of what to do, it got me thinking about the way that we live now, and how the dining room is becoming obsolete for many of us. So often, I meet people who just use theirs for special occasions; it is left feeling unloved and outdated, stale and abandoned until the next Thanksgiving.

Rooms shouldn't feel this way, and while we are quick to complain about not having enough space, sometimes all we have to do is bring ourselves up-to-date, and find ways to re-use the space that we have.

1. Why not hand it over to the children while they are little?
The dining room is usually near the kitchen and television area, so you can happily let them play in their own space while you get to keep a watchful eye on them. 
p.s. Keep the chandelier - it adds a touch of glam, lights up the room without worrying about lamps being knocked over, and gives you (or the next owner) the option to return it to it's former life.







































2. How gorgeous is this room as a Home Office/Library? 
I admit, that most of us don't have gorgeous brick on our dining room floors, but if you add a rug, bring in your favorite books, pens, pencils and a laptop, you'll soon have a space that everyone will want to spend time in. 
p.s. If you have the energy, paint your china cabinet a fab color before you bring all your bits and pieces in.







































3. Why not forget the dining table altogether, and buy a pool table? 
Did you know, that taking a few moments to match the fabric and style of a pool table to your home actually costs no more than using the traditional green felt we see down at the local pub?
p.s. Decorate around it the way that you would any other room, with a nice pendant lamp, some art on the walls, and a few comfy chairs.






















4. Paint your china cabinet (and use it for anything other than china. 

Many cabinets are not made of quality wood anyway, and some of them, no matter how hard we try, just can't escape the uglies. It doesn't have to be perfect, and if you're nervous, go for something classic like black or white, or, just paint the inside back panel and see where it takes you.
p.s. After you're done, fill it with endless craft supplies, childhood souvenirs, favorite books, plants, beautiful shoes etc.



5. Turn it into a Music Room.
Storing musical instruments can be difficult at the best of times, but not if you use them as decorations. If you have the space, why not indulge in the luxury of a music room; paint it a gorgeous color, invest in a few organizers to help you hang guitars, LP's, posters etc on the wall, and I bet it will quickly become your favorite hang-out room.
p.s. A few non-musical decorations will add a bit of interest and sophistication.



Friday, March 3, 2017

Sleeping Rooms


I remember reading a meditation once, where it said we should consciously uncurl our hands before we go to sleep, leaving them (and us) open to all sorts of good energy that wants to flow through us while we dream. Unfortunately, I found that it was almost impossible to do this without looking (and feeling) like my fingers were sticking up in some sort of awkward, unnatural puppet show, so I decided to sleep with my palms open, lying smooshed flat against the sheets instead.

In my quest for calm, I also used to pretend that I was a sloth sleeping on a tree branch, but that just made me laugh, and led to too many questions about where my legs should go, and how did sloths sleep all dangly-like anyway. So, now I imagine I am some kind of peaceful, elegant mermaid (okay, so that's a stretch) or, a very confused, yet colorful tree frog, flat against the window of his aquarium. In reality, all this imagining does help me drift off to sleep, but I am sure I end up appearing more like Mr. Bean than a landlocked mermaid.

Recently, I painted my bedroom. Before, it was a dark, brown suede color, but after nearly ten years of sunshine it had softened down to a very unfortunate shade of tan, and was starting to really bother me. If I don't like a room, it is amazing how quickly I am motivated, so I went with my gut, and I quickly found a color that was the inky black of a clear night - one that provoked thoughts of old fashioned poetry and childhood dreams.

By day, the room takes on a hint of gray, like the lead in a sharpened pencil, but at night it is black with a splash of navy, which I love. Because it is small, and has a really large window, it isn't as shocking as you would imagine; with high gloss paint on the ceiling, and an old exposed radiator, it suddenly feels like a cozy, yet sunny and warm attic nook - happily accidental in its design.

Although it was quite minimally furnished to begin with, emptying the room was the perfect excuse for me to live with the black paint for a few days. For almost a week, I lived in a room that just had a bed; at night, I would look at the dark walls, and wonder what I wanted them to be. Such a lot of thought for a tiny room, but it felt important, and shouldn't it be as much as I wanted it to be?

As the days wore on, my perspective grew, and the quiet beauty of the empty room made me acutely aware of how much I had, and did I really want to fill up my room with what was there before.
I decided to put back only what I truly loved - it had to feel incredibly comfortable, minimal in design, slightly grown-up, and I had to be able to keep it tidy (which meant that everything had to have a purpose or a place - no random bits of miscellany, and not a convenient spot for who-knows-what on its way to who-knows-where).



It's been a few months now,
and despite my random inclination towards Mr. Bean, sloths and mermaids, it has quite possibly become the dog's most favorite room in the house ...






p.s. the main photograph is a composite of the zen tree frog and the princess and the pea, and the paint I used was Graphic Charcoal by Behr.