Thursday, September 27, 2012



Phew. Home feels good again after a few days away. I cleaned before we left, which I'd never done before-- I know, novel, right?-- and I have to say, it was SO AMAZING to walk into our bedroom again.

Uh oh, you're probably thinking. She's started off a vacation post with thirty words about how nice it is to be home. Well-- the hotels we stayed at were summarily BAD. One was a Holiday Inn which did not have HGTV, and, well, the main reason we stay at hotels, ever, is to watch HGTV and eat in bed and do all those naughty and divine hotel things. It would not be overstatement to say the lack of HGTV cast a pall on Friday night. Then we stayed with our friends Jeff and Sarah for two nights, which was excellent-- and I'll get to that in a minute-- easily the nicest, most comfortable room of our trip, even when you include the 6:30 am yowling toddler wake-up call. And then we stayed two nights at a lodge in Bondville, VT, a very affordable Groupon dealie that I sprung for, when I found it. And folks, I sprung a little too fast. Never book a Groupon without visiting a place's website, first. This number was equal parts 70s ski lodge funk-- complete with harvest gold shower-- and part late 80s bed-and-breakfast quaint. Dainty floral wallpaper in the same room as the harvest gold shower. Pink carpeting with lots of burn holes around the fireplace-- yes, our room had a fireplace-- and a torn shower curtain. 

Sigh. We always try to be reasonable and stay someplace cheap when we go away-- or else camp-- but honestly, I would've been more comfortable in a leaky tent this time 'round. I always book the lodging, it's always my decision where we stay, and next time, it's going to be someplace NICE. 

For the record, the lodge did, blessedly, have HGTV. And we watched a lot of it.

Anyway, now that I've gotten that out of the way, I have to say, aside from the crummy hotels, our trip was great. In our family, trips are measured by lodging, by activities, by weather, and by meals. Almost all our meals were great. The weather was UNBELIEVABLE-perfect. We hiked a few gorgeous miles of river bank and stream bank and granite outcropping on Monday, at Jamaica State Park (in Jamaica, VT). We saw town after town after town of white clapboarded meeting houses and taverns and flowerboxes stuffed with shocks of orange mums. We saw lots of mountains, and drove along lots of sparkling rivers and streams. We picked up shiny rocks. 

Our time with Jeff and Sarah was, as always, warm and inspiring and LOUD and amazing. Their boys are growing up-- right now they're 5 and 3. One is incredibly cute with an evil gleam in his eye, whose hobbies include knocking over his brother's blocks and shimmying, squirrel-like, very high into the trees very very fast. The other is incredibly cute, quieter and maybe a little shy, with a love of sorting and building and dawdling. It's amazing just watching them grow, and watching our friends grow as parents, and watching Jeff's berry farm grow up, too. 

Patrick had an instrument-- a dobro or a guitar or a ukulele or a mandolin-- in his hands almost the entire time we were with Jeff and Sarah. My husband is a musician. I've known this, of course, for a long long time, but whenever we're at Jeff and Sarah's I find myself at a new level of understanding what that means. Watching the chickens forage in the yard, I get this warm feeling about the animals fulfilling their purpose and their chicken-ness. I also get that feeling watching Diesel roll in a sunny expanse of freshly mowed yard. And watching my sweetie noodle around on the dobro during breakfast chaos... it's the same thing. 

Psst! Click here to subscribe to the feed!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Shaping up

It's finally starting to look like progress in here! It's amazing what de-cluttering and sweeping and hanging art and hiding protruding wires will do! Remember the before?

Yeesh. I shudder. 

The swing-arm sconce was an online score-- most of them run $120-150, but this little feller was just $50, so I scooped him up. The art is a motley assortment of gifts from friends, antiquing finds, and old things that have been following me around for years (the big Cayuga Lake poster). This little print is from the Black Apple on Etsy, and I've been waiting to find the perfect frame for it for years.

Laundry day, the print is called. Perfect.

I completely didn't realize that the background color of the print matches our new closet, but it does. Decorating serendipity.

Of course, on the other side of the room we have this hot mess:

...and up above we have a boring fixture in need of a switch-out....

...but if you turn around, and squint, and don't look up, things are really starting to come together! 

By the time you read this, Patrick and I will be well on our way to vacation-land. I feel like I've never needed a vacation more than I do right now, truth be told. Not that the past six months have been especially stressful, they've just been relentless. That's the truth no one tells you about working from home. Got a leaky roof? Got a fruit fly infestation? Got a blue million garden projects to complete before snow? Well, everywhere you go, no matter which window you stand at, thinking, you'll be thinking about them. 

It's been a fabulously productive season, to be sure-- we fenced the garden, laid some brick, moved the shed, hosted a really awesome little party, built raised beds, built most of a greenhouse, planted shrubs, started a flock, laid down part of a roof... put chair-rail in the great room, and bookshelves... oh, it's been a stunning and productive time, to be sure. And now, to celebrate it all in Vermont. Sigh. It's going to be a good trip. 

Psst! Click here to subscribe to the feed!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

How to freak out your mother-in-law

I undertook a small sprucing project this week. Patrick and I had moved the china cabinet into the front room a few weeks ago-- and it's never moving again, lemme tell you, because the damn thing is heavy. It's one of those pieces that's proving a little hard for me to work with. I mean, it's gorgeous, but it's also got that dubious Colonial Revival pedigree. The cabinet is from the 1940s or 50s, but it has hinges someone made to look forged, like a blacksmith made them. So odd. Also, it's huge, and it's dark. It was sucking the light out of the corner of our dining room, and just looking a tad too matchy in there, what with all the cherry going on.

So anyway, step one, we moved the thing. My photos have really been crummy lately-- I'm not sure if it's my camera telling me it's time for a new camera, or what.

To break up the woodiness of the thing a little, I mixed up some liquid starch-- 1/4 cup cornstarch, 1/2 cup cold water, 4 cups boiling water stirred together until cool-- and adhered some fabric to the back. Natural linen behind the doors, and some sweet low-contrast quilting cotton down below.

At this point, my mother-in-law has a bag over her head, I'm pretty sure. This china cabinet was her mother's. But, wait, didn't I mention this whole thing is completely temporary and removable? All it takes is a wet rag to moisten and remove the fabric. Breathe easy, Jan. I wouldn't mess this thing up for the world.

I'd wanted to try this whole liquid starch thing for a long time. You've seen it out there, haven't you-- people doing these gorgeous "wall decals" with paper or fabric cut-outs. It was unbelievably easy-- the hardest part, as you can tell, was cutting the fabric perfectly to size. 

I really like the change-- it brightens the piece up a little bit, and takes away from its Colonial Revivalism. Next I'm thinking I might remove the doors (and stow them safely away, wrapped in towels, with the hardware). What do you think? I like the look of the shelves better without the glass in the way, and the texture of the linen is more out there. Slap a little new hardware on the doors and drawers below, maybe even do a little more fabric decoupage. It's a fabulous piece, of course-- so much storage and display, in fabulous shape with nary a scratch. 

A bunch more progress is on tap for our front room-- are you sensing a theme here? A get-ready-for-Christmas theme? We already have a new rug in there you can just see a peek of above, and new chairs (!!) are on their way this week. Then we move the fish tank, prime over some ceiling stains, move some art and accessories around, and find a low table to go under the far window... oh good heavens, it never ends, does it? It'll be a sad day when I look around and have everything just the way I want it. In 2042, maybe.

Psst! Click here to subscribe to the feed!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Laundry room progress

Patrick was gone nearly all weekend. After nearly two years as a nearly full-time band wife, I've learned that when I can't put my arms around my sweetie, I need to put my arms around power tools. The nail gun came out to play-- that was the best part. I cut baseboards for those places that were missing baseboards-- just pieces of whitewood I'd primed and painted last week. It's amazing what a difference trim makes.

The before pictures are all collected in this post.

I broke out the BIN on Friday night and slathered it over the water stains. Then I put ceiling paint over the primer, and then I reapplied the wall color with an edging brush for a clean line. Oh, AND I cut and fit pieces of quarter-round into that weird gap that was there-- see before pictures-- from where a chimney once lived. Each task was ten or fifteen minutes, but man, it's amazing how they do stack up. Despite the buckled paint in places, and the lumps and bumps, I'm satisfied. It's an old house. Lumps and bumps are part of the package.

Friday night I got busy in the closet. I was listening to Ani Difranco, again, and finding myself SO nostalgic for that Friday night nearly two years ago-- my first night working alone in the house-- when I listened to Ani and painted the closet shelves while Patrick was at a gig. Ancient history.

I mixed together two bad colors-- Apricot Mousse and Filoti Yew--in a roller tray and came up with a nice artichoke color. Way better than the dinged and dingy white primer it wore before.

It's hard to tell in this picture, but I laid down some nice new tiles over top of the gunked-up flooboards from the before picture. They're all marbly and swirly and shiny and gorgeous. 

Here's where we stand now, on my laundry room laundry list:
  • Paint cabinets
  • Patch baseboards
  • Patch ceiling trim where chimney used to be
  • Prime ceiling stains
  • Touch up ceiling
  • Touch up walls
  • Paint closet
  • Address closet floor
  • Put swing-arm sconce on wall over couch
  • Rehang art
  • Vanquish clutter
  • Swap out ceiling fixture
  • Make curtain rods and curtains for doorway and closet
  • Install fold-down ironing board

Not bad for one week. Of course, the next things are going to be mostly bigger and more expensive, which is just the way of things, I suppose. Sigh. On it goes.

Psst! Click here to subscribe to the feed!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Yard & garden

We've been having stunning weather the past few days. Yesterday afternoon, in celebration of a long productive desk-day, I took a walk around with my camera while chickpeas boiled away on the stove. I brought Diesel out for some sunshine, too. Tried to get a picture of him laying down in the orchard, or rolling in the mowed grass, but as soon as he heard me approaching with the camera he righted himself and walked off.

So the best shot I got was this.

Things are really looking good out in the orchard. The little islands of biodiversity I've planted around each tree-- chives to repel bugs, comfrey to break up the hardpan and serve as living mulch, lemon balm and speedwell because they're pretty and I have a lot of them, and lupines to fix nitrogen-- are flourishing, and I can only hope that soon the flourish will spread to the little trees as well. I'm in no rush, really. Whether they bear in three years or thirteen, we'll all get there eventually.

The garden is looking late-summer woolly, full of crabgrass and spent flower-stalks. I've been clearing ground, bit-by-bit, and planting rows of cold-weather things. Beets and carrots, in the middle of this photograph, and yesterday I planted mache, Asian greens, and more kale. Never enough kale.


Spinach babies.

Broccoli. Twenty-four plants I set in April, which have been growing strong all summer. I cut them back pretty hard in mid-July, when the hot drought was making them leggy. Now, with some rain and cooler temps they're back to cranking out the tasty.

Slowly, the balance is shifting from outdoors to in. 

Psst! Click here to subscribe to the feed!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Laundry room bucket list, or, an extremely unsexy slew of photographs

After we moved in, our laundry room looked like this for a long time. Pretty walnut-stained floor, pretty pearly white washer and dryer, and a whole lotta ugly. This happens, doesn't it? The big things get done-- paint, floor, appliances, furniture-- and the small things languish forever. Small things. Missing baseboards, water stains, unpainted closet, missing light fixture.

I finally got around to painting the damn cabinets, after cutting and fitting a piece of oak between the cabinets and the ceiling, to hide our dryer vent. You can see a bit of it peeking out on the left.

I used Benjamin Moore's SmartPrime primer, followed by two coats of Acadia White Cabinet Coat. Expensive paint, but so worth it for the amount of oaky-graininess it conceals. I love white cabinets.

So this little bit of dated butter-oaky ugly is vanquished, but there's plenty more a-waiting. A piece of shoe molding should come to live here, along the bottom of these cabinets.

The crazy clutter needs to go.

The awful water stains-- which happened last winter in an unfortunate ice dam incident-- need to go. Sigh. That's the biggest thing for me-- it feels like we just painted this room. Fortunately, we don't have to do the whole thing again. I also want to patch that bit of trim-- we think there was once a chimney-- and make it look nice and seamless. If that can be managed.

I have a light fixture that's going to come live on this wall, where there's a very oddly placed wire. Bonus points to anyone who can remember why there's a wire on this wall. The room's past as a kitchen is a clue.

I have a piece of glossy white baseboard that's going to cover the awkward smudges of floor-finish on the wall. I also have a nail gun, and I'm not afraid to use it.

And this closet needs addressing. And I want a new ceiling fixture. AND I need to prime and paint an old tension rod, install it, and sew curtains for it. Oh, and yep, put in a fold-down ironing board. My goodness. One little room, and a to-do list a mile long. So funny how that happens, isn't it? The beautiful thing is, it's all cheap fixes, it's all stuff I can do myself (no need to bug Patrick), and I have the full complement of my FIL's tools living in my garage for the time being.

My aunt is coming to spend the night in this room on Christmas eve (at least, I hope she is!) and so, that is my deadline for getting everything done. A little autumnal laundry room crusade begins now.

Psst! Click here to subscribe to the feed!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Roasted vegetable tart with whole wheat crust

If we're going to be honest, it all started with my mother-in-law. Back in December, she brought a roasted vegetable tart over to my house for dinner, the kind of thing that changes your life in the way that only a pile of roasted sweet potatoes and eggplant secured by a thyme-flecked egg custard tucked inside a pastry crust can. The recipe can be found here, but the photograph looks nothing like what Jan brought over. Hers was heaped with vegetables, an architectural statement of a tart. It was glorious.

It got me thinking about tarts. Cooking vegetarian, it's easy to get stuck in a rut, I think. Or maybe everyone gets stuck in a rut now and then. Especially in the summer, when soups are less appealing, the question of what to eat for dinner seems more weighty. When I happened upon what seemed a winning, fairly light and part whole-wheat tart crust recipe in one of my old favorites, The Best Vegetarian Recipes by Martha Rose Shulman, I decided to try it out. This was in May. I had some leftover arugula pesto from the previous night, and a bunch of radishes from the garden. I pan-roasted the radishes, and whisked some of that pesto into three eggs, topped the whole thing with a little parmesan and let it bake.

It was easily the best meal I've cooked all year.

The crust is wheaty but not overbearingly so-- it's rustic and hearty enough to stand up to the filling. You can fill it with pretty much anything-- I've made other incarnations involving broccoli, zucchini, and green beans over the course of the summer. But last night's try was the hands-down best so far. Roasted tomato tart with basil pesto.

Roasted Tomato Tart with Basil Pesto and Smoked Mozzarella

1/2 cup warm water
pinch sugar
1 1/2 tsp yeast

3/4 tsp salt
1 egg
3 tbsp olive oil
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour

Proof the yeast with the sugar and water for a few minutes in a medium bowl, then whisk in the egg, salt, and oil. Add the flours, working the dough gently until it holds together. Divide the dough in half (this recipe makes enough for two tarts) and put one half away in the freezer for next week. Roll out the other half on a floured surface, then fit it into a lightly oiled tart part (or a round metal cake pan, or a pie pan, in a pinch). Preheat the oven to 375, and bake the unfilled crust seven minutes. 

Six good-sized tomatoes, halved or quartered and roasted at 400 degrees for half an hour

Fit these into the crust once it's baked. Then whisk together:

Three eggs
1/2 cup basil pesto-- you can improvise a quick pesto of minced basil, parmesan, olive oil, salt, and a sprinkle of pine nuts.

Pour this over the tomatoes in the crust, then top with some slivers of strong-flavored cheese. Smoked mozzarella was our cheese of choice last night, but parmesan, feta, fontina, or asiago would definitely work nicely.

Bake an additional 35 minutes.

Psst! Click here to subscribe to the feed!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

A smile-worthy something.

Somewhere on the internet, there is surely a list of "build a better blog" dos and don'ts that begins, "Don't lead with a picture of your toilet." Right? I know. I'm sorry. 

This is the story of a short art installation that took me eight months to get around to. It always amazes me how many steps it takes to make something happen-- no matter how small-- inside a house. When you like working with repurposed things, and antique things, and refurbished things, nothing is ever as small as it seems.

Patrick bought these two beautiful plates for me for Christmas last year. Or maybe it was my birthday, which is two days before Christmas. Either way, they're beautiful, aren't they? Husbands who shop at Etsy are good husbands indeed.

 I knew they'd go perfectly in our downstairs bathroom, once the vanity was painted yellow and the floor was tiled. So I set the plates on the counter while they waited for the bathroom to be finished. Then, the bathroom was finished, but still they waited.

I needed something to go in between them. A little framed something. I bought a perfect frame on a giddy day of antiquing, and then I bought a print to go in the frame. But the print was the wrong thing, so again the project was on hold.

I wanted something black and white, something that wouldn't compete with the plates and would reinforce the graphic, high-contrast vibe I've got going on in this room.

What I finally landed on was a giant cheat-- I cut a print out a magazine, taped it to a piece of textured paper, and made a fake mat out of a piece of cardstock spray painted oil-rubbed bronze. I think the frame was two dollars. I love making cheap art. 

I'm having a hard time squaring myself with this cheat, because the print is by Frank Eckmair. Frank's work is incredibly moving-- it's rural and romantic and nostalgic and haunting. Please go to the website and look at some of his work. He was a Gilbertsville native; he and his wife would come down to the Empire House every single night, and I would bring Frank his B&B. He was a sweetheart; since he passed away in February I miss him terribly. I want-- I owe it to him-- to hang a real piece of his art in my bathroom, not a cheat, and if I could run down to the general store right now and buy one I would. 

But, I remind myself, Frank loved the art of the cheat himself. He sometimes carved his prints out of wooden spoons; he took up printmaking because it didn't require fancy materials. Maybe he'd be okay with the fledgling freelance writer, cobbling together a smile-worthy something with a little of this and that and a print cut from a magazine. I hope so. 

Psst! Click here to subscribe to the feed!
Related Posts with Thumbnails