Saturday, December 31, 2011

2012 is going to be the year of little things

When I was looking for a house to buy my friends were knee deep in renovating their entire house. I was taking a tour of their kitchen remodel and my friend showed me how, three months later, they still hadn't glued on the countertop backsplash. He told me, "This would take me an hour tops but it's these little things that never get done when you own a fixer."

I swore I'd be different.

And yet, here I am, two years after I patched that mystery hole in the ceiling of my kitchen and I still haven't textured that spot or repainted the kitchen ceiling. My hallway vestibules still haven't been painted, even though it would probably take an hour to complete. My kitchen window sits unpainted, with forty different test colors ringing it. There a small hole in the baseboard of the bedroom that needs to be filled.

So this year I'm going to focus on the little things. I'm going to hang curtains. I'm going to look into toe boards (we have none in the house). I'm going to finally paint the kitchen door and the kitchen window and that spot above the door that never got painted for reasons I no longer remember.

And we have a couple of big things coming down the pike: we're going to replace the front picture window that is rotting and get the house painted. And I'm going to start landscaping the front yard, including another rain garden. I'm really excited.

Happy new year!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Why design matters

"What we crave in this life is an outer beauty that reflects the
gorgeous world inside us. I am speaking about the house within us.
What if the house inside you became the house you lived in? What if
you envisioned that your life could be just the way you imagine it?
Then you are en route to enlightened destiny, because each of us has
huge control over our lives. We don't always realize this because we
are, to a degree, defined by so many outside forces. But at the same
time, we do have the power to create our own environment--and our
environment, in turn, shapes us.

One of the strongest ingredients in keeping you who are you are, your
physical environment also keeps you in full awareness of where you
are. If you can find your way to live in the house within you, then
you not only create an enormous, broad, and lovely offering to
yourself, but also to your "pack"--your family and friends. You will
inspire anyone who has not yet been able to make this connection. Such
is the power of rooms."

--From The House Within by Bobby McAlpine.

Lots of pretty words like this and his architecture is freaking amazing.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Craft projects for homeowners

Do you own a house? Then you probably have a stash of wood scraps like this in your garage or your basement. I have a mountain of end pieces left over from when I put in the fences. Before they were just a fire hazard but now they are destined to be poorly executed crafts!

Have you seen this tutorial on Ready Made? You use gel medium to transfer a photo to a piece of wood. They are a little sparse on the details and you have to find the link to this video on YouTube that is buried in the comments.

Photo source: Ready Made

I found it a little tricky, so here's what worked for me. I did a couple of test runs using different photos, since I have a zillion pieces of wood in my garage. I went down to Kinko's because all the tutorials say that copies from an inkjet printer won't work; it has to be a laserjet image. I printed out copies of photos in both color and black and white onto standard printer paper.

You'll want your surface to be smooth. I used my hand sander to smooth the wood down, starting with 120 grit and moving up to 320 grit, except that first I started with 220 because I wasn't caffeinated. I couldn't get the deeper ridges out, despite an eternity of sanding. So yeah, go get a cup of coffee and start with the low-grit, dumbass. You could also do this with a sanding block. I didn't smooth the sides of all of the pieces because I'm an idiot. People don't like rough edges, so if you're giving these as a gift don't be so lazy.

Then you just paint on a thin coat of gel transfer using your brush (I used my trusty Purdy).


Then slap on the photos, and make sure there aren't any bubbles. I had some trouble with parts of images rubbing away and I initially thought that I hadn't painted on a thick enough layer of gel medium. Subsequent attempts were made with a thicker layer of gel medium, which looked terrible and didn't solve the problem. I think the key was curing time.

The Ready Made tutorial tells you to let it cure overnight but other places on the Internet say to wait 48-72 hours, and this really helps, though you will lose parts of your image. So just square your thinking away right now that this will look rustic.

Once it has cured you wet the paper on the wood block and start rubbing it away. Try to ignore how bad the grout on your kitchen counters looks.

You'll think you've gotten it all, only to let the block dry and find out that there's still so much paper left. If you don't remove it all your finished product will look like this, as if your friends' baby has sprouted white hair from her face. Not so good.

I thought I'd like black and white photos better but I definitely prefer using a color image. I used Instagram photos for that old-timey feel.

You could swear that you got all the paper last time but nope, you need to do more peeling.

Nope, you're not done. Keep peeling.

You can see that I'm losing small parts of the image. RUSTIC.


Can you see what happens when you put down too much gel transfer?

So you're going to peeling a good long while. Toward the end I stopped soaking the entire image and instead put a drop of water on my finger and went after very small areas. This worked a lot better. I found that the longer I let the gel transfer cure, the easier the paper came up. Also? The harder the wood, the easier this part is. I had a scrap of 1 x 4 from Custom Cedar Products and the paper came up so much more easily than the pieces from Home Depot or Parr (whose boards are always flimsy in comparison).

Then let it dry completely and slap on a coat of Mod Podge.

Attach your hanger and call it good!

Now if I could do it all over again I would have stained a border around the images. I think that would have elevated the look of the project. There's probably a thousand different things you could do, especially if you were an art major and actually know how this stuff works. I'm going to keep playing with this idea, since I have eleventy million more pieces of cedar in the garage.

So, in summary:
  1. Use the hardest board scraps you can find.
  2. Start sanding with a low-grit sandpaper.
  3. Use a thin layer of gel transfer and let it cure for 48-72 hours.
  4. Be okay with the fact that it will take more than a few rounds to get the paper off, and you may lose bits of your image.
Also: keep in mind that your photo will be reversed when you transfer it, so if it features any kind of writing, you may want to reverse the image first in Photoshop so your project doesn't end up looking like this:

This was graffiti we found in Italy that looked so much like us our friends thought we painted it.

Yeah, pretty dumb.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

In other life list news

   10. Successfully make a boule of bread (mine are always flat)

I think I'm going to cross "successfully baking a boule of bread" off the list. My new job allows me to work from home so I can do things like baking bread. Bread baking takes almost no effort but you have to periodically punch down dough in between rises. I throw the ingredients in the Kitchenaid mixer before I fire up my computer, then I punch down the dough while I'm making lunch. By the time I'm done with work the bread is ready to be thrown in the oven. I've been trying to make a loaf a week and I've been getting better and better at executing free-form loaves.


This was a loaf of deli rye. This recipe is AWESOME.

And pumpernickel:

I've also attempted Jim Lahey's no-knead dough, which was incredible. Except for that time that I inexplicably effed it the hell up and the whole loaf was stuck in my pan. But that wasn't a boule!

Then I got on a roll and made pretzels and bread in loaf pans (I had no idea how these were rolled before this), and I've been making pasta from scratch, too. Basically, my house is a celiac's worst nightmare.

I guess I'm also trying to explain why I've gone up a pant size. It has nothing to do with Halloween candy or Thanksgiving or Christmas goodies. It is because of the 5 pound bags of flour that I go through so regularly. If you are bread challenged, as I was, I can't recommend Deb's recipes enough. She also has a write up of bread baking tips on Smitten Kitchen that are really helpful.

In my case what I needed to change was letting the dough proof longer, learning to properly slash the top and keeping a spray bottle of water to mist over the loaf during the first fifteen minutes of baking. Steam = a great crust and more expansion of your loaf. But I think really great recipes were really the key here. Learning to walk naturally in heels is going to be a LOT harder.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

My SIL is a genius.

The boy's sister, who I will never stop pressuring to start a blog because she does stuff like this in her sleep, made us a chalkboard hanger for Christmas.

It's reversible!

I can't believe I showed a picture with a detail of how crappy the kitchen door looks. That's how much I love this.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Holiday decorating

I don't normally get into decorating for the holidays. By the time I realize I should do it, the holidays are over. But! This year I actually made something. Inspired by this blogger, I created a snowflake curtain for the kitchen window. I am putting "install the light fixture I bought two and half years ago above the sink" and "finish painting the window trim" at the top of my to-do list because they are really dragging down this scene.

The morning light shining through them makes me happy. Since this is over the kitchen sink, thus subject to steam, I hit them with spray starch and a warm iron, pressed between sheets of parchment. They are a little sturdier as a result.

And disco Jesus and his aluminum tree have made their triumphant return.

That's it, that's all I got. Laura's doing a much prettier things over on her blog. But this makes up for the fact that we don't have a wreath or a tree, right?

Monday, December 5, 2011

Worth every penny.

Watching squirrels try to break into the new bird feeder is endlessly entertaining. They try so hard.

Oh hey, what's that?

Let's get a little closer . . .

I think I could reach if I just . . .

. . . streeeeeetttttttchhh . . . .

Damn it. Regroup!

We're also getting birds at the feeder, which is really exciting. In other unexpected birding news, dumping uncomposted leaves all over these beds has resulted in the birds foraging here like CRAZY. I've never seen so many feeding in the yard before. They have zero interest in my native plants; it turns out they just want store-bought birdseed and the bugs hiding under non-native tree leaves. Go figure.

I still can't identify any of them, either. Greg will ask, "What's that one?" and I'll reply, "A cute little brown one."

Saturday, December 3, 2011

My room got shocked

Have you heard about this product that eliminates mold, mildew, and odors? It's called Room Shocker or roomSHOCKER, depending on what part of their website you're visiting. Something similar was apparently used in houses that were flooded during Hurricane Katrina to eliminate mold. I read about it some time ago on Apartment Therapy, bought some on Amazon, then forgot about it.

Photo yanked from Apartment Therapy

I've been having really bad allergies ever since Greg moved in; I wake up in the morning, start sneezing, keep sneezing, and then sneeze some more. My friend Erin cheerfully informed me recently, "You probably have mold!" Then my parents came to visit and my father, whose super sense of smell I inherited, started sniffing around my basement. Does it always smell like mildew down here? Before Greg moved in, I always left the door to the basement shut. Ever since he moved in we leave it open. I don't know why we do that, but I'm thinking that maybe an allergen from down there is wafting into the rest of the house.

So yeah, I gave Room Shocker a shot. It's pretty easy to use. You open up what looks like a frappucchio container, read the instructions that are by turns breezy, then terrifying. "Room Shocker is all natural and cannot hurt you. Fill the container with warm water to the line indicated on the cup. DO NOT FILL WATER BEYOND THIS LINE. DO NOT TOUCH THE PACKET. LEAVE THE ROOM IMMEDIATELY. There's no need to leave the house, if you don't wish, as Room Shocker is completely harmless!"

I filled my cup, ran out of the basement, then left for work. But first I started second-guessing that I pushed the packet down far enough, so I went back into the basement to find a cup full of noxious yellow liquid that made my eyes burn. Whew, I did it right.

Seven hours later I returned home to find that you could smell the chlorine from outside the house. I can't imagine trying to stay inside the house all day. I decided to open some windows, leave again, and buy a bird feeder. I had a gift card from when I got my backyard habitat certification.

They were all sold out of the Squirrel Buster 3000

The Backyard Bird Shop is so. much. fun. They're so excited that you're getting your first bird feeder! They're so knowledgeable! My salesperson was A-D-O-R-A-B-L-E. I love that stores like this thrive in Portland.

So far my allergies aren't any better which means that it didn't work, or I don't have mold and I'm allergic to something else, or I'm allergic to Greg. So now is the time for all the worriers to come out of the woodwork and warn me that I have black mold and that I'm going to die. Or that chlorine causes cancer and I'm gonna die. Because I don't worry about that stuff enough as it is.

Monday, November 28, 2011

How was your Thanksgiving?

Mine was lovely. We hosted and I brined my first turkey. It was just about perfect. We had centerpieces on the table made of rosemary, sage, and rose hips, as that's what's available in the yard right now.

I wanted to create a nightmare tablescape that would make Sandra Lee proud, but ultimately it wasn't grand enough. We needed more stuff. Pumpkins covered in glitter or flaming pinecones, something like that.

Photo by Bill

But I did incorporate Greg's squirrel. He stared at Ryan while he ate dinner.

Photo by Bill

Everyone was forced to eat a sprig of rosemary before they were served dinner. 

I kid. Nobody ate rosemary. Photo by Bill.

Then Greg and I spent a gorgeous lazy Friday making turkey stock, taking a walk, and finishing this jigsaw puzzle.

Our friend's toddler stole the center piece, DRAT.

We finally got more mulch to cover the rain garden too. It looks kind of silly to me right now, as though it's gift-wrapped or something.

I hope you had a wonderful holiday!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Mighty life list: there will be nacho cheese

Consider this Mighty Life List item done: unlimited fried shrimp at The Sizzler.

I didn't actually get the unlimited option because that comes with steak but no salad bar. And the salad bar at The Sizzler includes nacho cheese, so not getting it wasn't an option. Also in the salad bar: onion rings and chicken wings. It turns out I had more than enough fried shrimp.

Jess and I were joined by the post-church supper set, for the most part. For a while there we were the only guests in the restaurant under the age of 70. They ate baked potatoes and ranted audibly about Obama while I whispered, "I'm worried this will give me E. coli." But really The Sizzler was clean and cozy and I would totally be down with spending my twilight years that way. And guys, the service there is GREAT. If you've eaten out much in Portland then you know that our collective waitstaff are surly and slow and they often act as if they are doing you a great favor just by showing up. As someone who used to wait tables, this makes me crazy. So mega-points to The Sizzler for that. Your lettuce is iceberg and your fried shrimp are just okay but your staff get gold stars.

There's a taco bar! And a sundae bar! But no sprinkles, FOR SHAME, SIZZLER. I made Jess this silly pillow as a thank you for fulfilling my childhood dream.

Jess is the only person I know who likes this silly video as much as I do. This came out before the honeybadger video and I find it way funnier. What a great way to let everyone know how much you like tigers!

So thank you, Jess, for helping me fulfill a childhood dream. I had a blast. Next up: tap dancing lessons!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The rain garden in action

Here's a quick video of the rain garden in action.The excitement, I can barely stand it.

The basin is maybe a third full. I'm not sure now if I'd want to direct more gutters here. We'll just have to see how it performs throughout the winter. Sometimes I remember that scene from the end of Poltergeist where Craig T. Nelson is running around the backyard and everything is flooding, including the half-dug swimming pool, and all the bodies start popping up. I don't want that to happen.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Like they never existed

A dude came out this week with one of those fancy earth-moving machines that make me so nervous. He dug out the rhody stumps, including the one located over our water main. I was working from home that day, ironing out a presentation while the windows rattled and the floor vibrated. It wasn't stressful at all.

As the guy left he yelled, "Enjoy your clean slate!" It amazes me; in about an hour he was able to make it like the rhododendron and azalea never existed. I feel extra stupid for ever trying to remove a stump myself. He also ground out the rhododendron in the backyard, nicking the berm on my rain garden a little.

How funny is that perfect square of sod in the middle of the yard? I broadcast seed around that area, trying to soften the square, but our lawn is rejecting it. I'm just going to start telling people that it's a modern grass installation. "Eames totally did that in his yard."

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Can you see the finish line?

Greg and I hustled back from the coast this weekend to pick up plants from the last sale of the year from the Audubon Society. When you let hippies run things it can get a little confused. When I got there they didn't have all my plants because someone had miscounted and maybe people took too many plants? And then we had this conversation:

Me: I ordered five gallon-sized Juncus but there's only three here.
Him: Just take more of the pint-sized plants instead.
Me: But don't those plants belong to someone else?
Me: So it's just anarchy at this point?
Him: (smiles)

In their defense this was the biggest sale they've ever had, with over 4000 plants ordered. That's a LOT of natives to keep track of. I ordered a combination of soft rush (Juncus effusus) and tufted hair grass (Deschampsia cespitosa) and a few penstemon and stream violets to round things out. I also ordered kinnikinnick for the drier edges, which will hopefully cover the berm after a few years.

I hindsight I wish I had ordered a vine maple and incorporated some ferns but who am I kidding? I'm going to end up digging up and rearranging half of these anyway. It's what gardeners do, even gardeners who really know what they're doing. Greg raked up the leaves from the dogwood in the front yard and I deposited them into the beds around the yard as mulch. I don't have compost bins built yet but I couldn't bear to give up my leaves to the city compost. They'll just have to compost in place and I'll have to deal with the fact that I'm now a hoarder of leaves, in addition to everything else.

I ran out of fine bark mulch for the rain garden but once I get that covering everything this baby will be DONE. And then I've promised Greg I'm done with garden projects until next spring.

And I think I actually mean it.