Friday, March 30, 2012


 I knew those mid-seventies sunny days we had last week couldn't last. I'm almost relieved. I wasn't ready for lilacs in March.

The weather was perfect, really. Just enough to green up everyone's lawn and pop up snowdrops and crocuses, and get the daffodils well underway. Just enough to give us hope for the remaining few weeks of mid-forties/low-fifties we have left.


See how green everything is? Yes. I like it this way. I have seedlings in my cold frame, and tomorrow Patrick and I are planning to cut some more sod off my garden. Last year, I planted an 18 x 20 square of it. This year, 24 x 40. Yee doggies.

Never mind that it's supposed to snow, just, never mind.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Downstairs bathroom, after

I think I can finally declare this one done.

Well, done save for caulking and repainting the baseboards, which I honestly acknowledge may take until Christmas (possibly longer) and in the spirit of moving things along, I'll just share pictures now before the whole project fades into obscurity. (See that blue tape to the right of the sink? That's where I started taping off to caulk and paint and got wholly dispirited.) Seems logical.

For reference, the before:

Whoa, nelly. I'm so in love with this room now. I think it might be my favorite in the house. I like to sit in the dining room while I eat breakfast alone in the mornings and look at the sun beaming into the bathroom and smile. Hit's so purty.

I learned a good lesson with this one: a bathroom facelift is a good place to start, decorating-wise. There are fewer variables, and more direction than you have with most other rooms. All the characters-- shower, toilet, sink-- are set, you just have to pretty it up.

In the grand scheme of things, we didn't do much. We tiled, that was the biggest thing. We also moved the electrical box about eight inches up the wall (it was oddly low, since the previous medicine cabinet had come with a built-in light. Me, I wanted a nice, classy ceiling-scraping light fixture, to draw your eye up and sit pretty atop the mirror I scored at one of my new favorite antiquing haunts.

The price was marked $38, I said how about $25, and the guy says, "How about $20?" That, friends, is my kind of place! My dad repaired the mirror frame, and I painted it cream. (Behr Evening Sun, the same color as our headboard.) 

I chose to work with the vanity and sink we inherited-- they aren't bad, really, just generic. Generic can be upgraded, though. Pretty easily. I got a new faucet and cabinet hardware (from Home Depot) and primed (with Benjamin Moore's SmartPrime-- great stuff!) and painted it Valspar Woodlawn Music Room. I don't really know what that means, that color name, but I like the yellow a lot. It goes really nicely with the walls, which are Behr Baked Brie. 

Other things I did: painted the tile over the sink (quick, cheap fix), made curtains for the window and the shower, hung a new wooden blind, bought new towel bars, switchplates, and a new rug from Anthropologie thanks to a very awesome birthday present gift card. 

Eventually I'll hang those two yellow-flowered plates on the wall over the toilet, but I need to find something to hang in between them first. Eventually-eventually we'll swap out the ceiling fixture and move the whole electrical box to the center of the room... that's eventually-eventually because it will involve tearing out the floor above down to the studs. Fortunately, the room directly above this is our upstairs bathroom, and tearing that floor down to the studs is exactly what we plan on doing. Eventually-eventually.

So it goes.

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Monday, March 26, 2012

The view from here

This is where I'm standing when I feel luckiest. It's the north-facing window in my second-floor office, and this is what I can see, this time of year, when I look out. 

Hello, heaven. Hello good neighbors and pretty forsythia bushes, hello brick pile and future shed foundation. Hello fence! Hello asparagus patch and raspberry patch and whole unbroken promise of this year's growing season. 

This time last year, we were nigh unto stripping and sanding floors. There was no garden, no chicken coop and yard, no orchard, no raspberries or asparagus. The house was just a house and a promise, nowhere near home, yet. Headed into this year's busy time, I feel so grateful for the infrastructure already established, all the things that won't need to be re-done now that they've been done once. Even better, I know some year in the future, spring will be easier still: just a till and a rake and some seeds is all it will take. Hopefully when we're at that point, the wonderful beautiful things I'm imagining now will all be reality. They'll be part of this view, too, and I'll probably feel even luckier, and even sappier, than I do now.

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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Yard projects

Just a note to say: YES, Genevieve is finally home! We searched high and low for two days, and saw not a trace-- and then our up-the-street neighbor heard from another neighbor who had a chicken roosting in his backyard... up the street we marched with a container of fresh-picked earthworms, and five minutes later we had our bird. Huzzah!

On with the show, then. It has been a very busy two days, project-wise. It has been so incredibly unbelievably warm and sunny, and it is that time of year when it's near-unbearable to spend time inside. By July I'll get all jaded and start taking the greenness for granted, but right now I can't do anything but drink it in. I built a gate for my fence. That felt good. Today I marked off all the new ground to be broken inside the garden, and soon, I hope, we'll borrow the sod-cutter and make it reality. Only then can I plant, and boy, let me tell you, I am itching to plant.

I went to visit a friend in Binghamton on Tuesday, and her peas are already in the ground. I suffered a faltering of garden self-esteem. Thank goodness I already have spinach and arugula seedlings in my cold frame. At least I can beat her at the salad game, right? (Hi Kate :))

Also getting underway is a perhaps overly ambitious but anticipated shed-moving adventure. We want to take this shed, as shown:

... and relocate it to this improvised foundation closer to the garden, as shown:

(It actually looks way more official than that now, since I've dug out the grass and made everything level and trimmed the board-ends and screwed it all together.) I'm going to fill in the foundation with concrete and a motley assortment of rocks, rubble, broken bricks and clay flowerpots, and whatever else I can haul out of our weedrow in the intervening eight days.

Where the shed used to stand, out under the hickories just outside our kitchen window, we are going to build a patio. There are eight giant bluestone pavers reposing in the weeds in the back corner of our land... left there like beached whales when the town replaced all the sidewalks sometime ago... and, well, YES, as a matter of fact a reclaimed bluestone patio DOES seem like a very good idea under those hickories just outside the kitchen window. Like, one of the best ideas I've heard this century.

Oh, and please don't be impressed by any of this. My sweet salt-of-the-earth neighbor (he of the cookies, the Santa Claus, the constant lending of tools and time and guidance and porch hospitality) came over and pronounced me "pioneer woman" after I hung up the gate. Even that was over the top. I had help, see. I had assistance. I owe a good measure of the credit for the success of these endeavors to Pete. As shown.

It was really nice to watch and listen to the robins this evening, sitting on the porch with Patrick and a beer. He sighed and said, "The family's back together."

Yes indeed. Tomorrow, we reinforce the chicken yard!

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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Genevieve, come home!

I didn't expect this at all! I took these pictures of Genevieve "helping" me turn the compost a few days ago, with no inkling at all of any encroaching avian malcontent.

I got home from a day in Binghamton yesterday, and she was gone. Genevieve, honey, we could have negotiated. Better feed, better lodging? A once-weekly chicken spa with earthworm scampi for lunch?

She has done this before. She is an escape artist. I'm optimistic, but also starting to worry-- we left her coop open with the light on, and she didn't come home last night. She could easily have roosted up in one of our neighbor's pine trees, or... 

I've looked all around, I've told the neighbors. She will come home, in time, or she won't. Sniffle. Oh, the unpredictabilities of livestock.

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Monday, March 19, 2012


So, I hadn't planned on asking Patrick for help with this. I try to limit the things for which I request his help to things wayyy beyond my ken. And, though I'd never fenced before, I assumed I could handle it. I knew how to use a circular saw, and a drill. How hard could it be?

Patrick must've been watching from a window when I attempted to attach the first board. With my right hand, I attempted to hold the end of a 12-foot-long piece of lumber in place on the fence post. With my left, I tried to simultaneously hold the screw in place, keep it upright, and pull the trigger on the cordless drill.

The screw slipped, the bit fell out, the end of the board came down on my foot. I may have said a bad word.

Patrick came out, took over the drill, and two and a half hours later, we had our fence. I took a picture this morning, with that gorgeous early spring morning sun struggling up over the sugar maples in bud:

(The shadow person is me.) I'm in love with this fence! It might not be everybody's idea of beauty, but it measures up to mine. The beauty of rustic vernacular architecture combined with the beauty of a secure and productive garden? Yes please. 

We ran 4-foot-high welded wire all around the square before attaching the boards, because, let's face it, the boards aren't really there to keep anything out. They're there to make it look pretty. I can't wait for my potatoes to get here so I can put them in the ground.

My north-facing office window looks directly out onto this slice of heaven. It's a sight that makes deadline logjams (like the one I have right now) so hard to commit to. I try to write, I get frustrated, I get up and pace and stand at my window. I look at that greening yard, and those emerging daffodils (and weeds) and I decide I can spare an hour. Just an hour. So it goes. 

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Wednesday, March 14, 2012


I got to spend part of my day with these guys yesterday. Two week old baby goats. For a couple of years I've been thinking progressively more and more seriously about having goats here, someday. For milk and cheese. I have a feeling yesterday may have sealed the deal...

At Painted Goat, in Garratsville.

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Monday, March 12, 2012

This says it all


Low sixties and sunny. Snowdrops blooming. Birds. Bees. Pete splayed belly-up in the sunshine. It's so nice to get back to all this.

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Friday, March 9, 2012


This is surely the earliest spring ever. Both Wednesday and Thursday this week were high-fifties and sunny, and standing at my office window both days I could see a perceptible change in the greenness of the yard. Last year, we had eighteen inches of snow on March 7th. This year, I got out and started raking.

Pete spent the entire day tearing around, ears back, shooting up tree trunks and leaping through the winter-killed grass hummocks in the swamp. Genevieve got her first worm of the season, which I dug up when I planted my coldframe. That's right, I planted.

I also raked, dug, strolled, beamed, fenced, contemplated, and built a gate for the other side of the compost heap.

Oh, springtime. Every day next week is in the 50s or 60s. I think it might actually be for real.

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Thursday, March 8, 2012

Time-lapse Bathroom

In January, Patrick and I called a truce with the house. We did nothing more demanding or strenuous than cooking and cleaning. We entertained. It was lovely. Then we hopped off a plane from Miami, drove home, and immediately started our home-improvement engines.


The vinyl floor came up, the ceramic tile went down. The vanity turned yellow. The medicine cabinet found a new home, and a new light came to live in its place. I'm working on painting up an old mirror to hang above the sink.

She's a few miles from done, yet, clearly, but the big jobs are over. The vinyl is gone. The classy, clean, 1920s-hotel-bathroom-tile is down. I learned how to grout, and how to use a tile saw. It was good times. 

Things are looking more and more like my inspiration pic each day...

I like the painted vanity. Maybe do this with sunny yellow paint instead? 

But first, the decidedly unglamorous jobs of applying haze remover, reinstalling and painting baseboards, and applying grout sealer. Ah, DIY.

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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

In the works

Dear friends, I think I'm doing it again. I'm front-loading my summer, determined to end up just as flustered and distracted and slightly crazed as I was last fall. I seem to be heading towards it headlong like lemmings for a cliff, in fact. Sigh. I just don't learn, do I? I'm wired this way.

This spring/summer, my goals list reads like this:

  • Fence garden
  • Lay brick paths in aforementioned garden
  • Build greenhouse
  • Get chicks 
  • Plant more fruit trees/bushes/maybe hazelnuts?/maybe a willow hedge?
  • Plant one or two more shade trees
  • Transplant overgrown things from garden by driveway
  • Overhaul main flower beds.
I'm telling myself I'm getting a jump on things, with the pile of lumber beside the driveway and the rolls of welded wire fence in the garage. Oh, yeah, and the big and ever-growing pile of bricks there. That too.

I am a scavenger, and it feels terrific. Scary, yes, but also terrific. I decided to become a scavenger of brick after I realized (via Craigslist) that anyone in possession of any significant quantity of old brick wants to sell said brick for $.35 apiece. Needing 600 bricks, and not wanting to pay $210, I began to consider the ruins of the old Derby knitting factory, in downtown Binghamton.

Photo by Mary Schwarzhans

No signs, no fence, no Keep Out, no No Trespassing, no Cross This Line and Die. Plenty of brick, though, you see.

Photo by Mary Schwarzhans
 So far, about 350 bricks have come home with me.

Photo by Mary Schwarzhans
In my mind's eye, there's a corner of my garden where I've laid out eight 4 x 8' beds in a basketweave pattern. The bricks in the paths between the beds are also in a basketweave pattern, and all around there are pretty lettuces and herbs and edible flowers and bright dewy things growing... it'll be the gourmet corner of the garden, the frou-frou. The rest of the garden is for potatoes and tomatoes and corn, beans, and squash. Food crops. But just this little corner over here is for beauty, and special-ness. And for growing some really awesome salad.

A little corner of Eden, really. I can't wait.

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Monday, March 5, 2012

Time lapse gallery wall



Yay! This was such a long time coming, I know. I wanted to make sure I had a good balance of sizes, colors, shapes, and styles, yadda yadda... and achieving a balance can be time-consuming, apparently.

I love it.

The fact that I spent maybe $75 for the whole shebang, and that I only bought a total of five frames/shadowboxes/canvases new for the project-- the rest were thrifted or antiqued or repurposed-- makes me extremely happy. I think that's part of why it took so long-- I didn't just run out to the store and buy a ton of finished frames. First there was the procurement, then the painting, then often the purchasing of glass, then the filling... you see?

It's such a funky, vintage-y mix of things. It's so us. I've always loved frame walls, but they've been other peoples' frame walls, you know? Not mine. This one has liberty pennies and an old key and a shadowbox of antique glass bottles, and lots of old photographs. My goodness, it's perfect.

Hanging was a total cinch. I traced all the frames and cut the shapes out from old saved wrapping paper, and taped 'em all up, one at a time, starting with a larger frame midway down the wall and slowly building up and down and out around. I thought I might struggle with matching the incline of the stairs with the incline of the frames inching up the wall, but it came very naturally. The only thing I measured was the location of each frame's hanger in back, so I knew where to sink the anchor into the wall.

 I imagine I'll fill it out some more in the coming years... and there's plenty more wall to fill in our hallway, still, too... but it already adds tons of interest to that extremely large, formerly-blank expanse of wall.

Stay tuned later this week for another thrilling edition of... Time Lapse Home Improvement...

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Friday, March 2, 2012

Long-awaited return of camera

Friendly pelicans.

My goodness, it's like a lost limb. When I packed up our big bin of camping stuff in Miami (before leaving for the airport) and realized my camera was in the bottom, and didn't feel like repacking everything, I had no idea how much I'd miss it, and this here blog. It's nice to be reunited.

Sure, I could've blogged without pictures, but who really wants that? Besides, I have some great time-lapse-style home improvement photos to show off next week. But before we get to all that, a run-down of our time in Miami.

Note sunburn.

At Jimbo's, the fabulous island bar.

We walked across the island almost every night for beers on the bay and the possibility of manatee sightings.

The Everglades. This must be where they park the crocodiles.

Beach, right over the dune from camp. Very shelly.

Dancing to Driftwood.

A sign near the festival. We only saw crocs in the Everglades, but apparently some live on the island as well.
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