Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Quick belt

I was gifted several long sweaters for Christmas, which I love. The problem is, you can't really wear a long sweater open-- at least I can't--without seeming, er, larger. Also a problem: up until a month ago, I owned one belt. A silver-plated antique link belt I love dearly, dearly, but still: one belt. No bueno. Thus the need for more belts. I had made a thrift store run back before Christmas to buy old web belts to use as totebag handles (ever done that?) and didn't end up using any of them (it seems I prefer cloth-handled totebags). BUT, I realized, one of the web belts in my crafty stash had leather ends-- a buckle and a tail with holes! Leather ends that could, with the judicious application of a seam-ripper, be removed from their native worn-out grey webbing and spliced onto something new. Thus a new belt was born.

This was soooo easy. I measured my waist, cut a 2" strip from some fun home-decor weight fabric I had, pressed the edges under and topstitched, then painted some Elmer's glue on the back to keep it from fraying. In retrospect, I wish I'd interfaced the strip before doing the topstitching, to make it feel a little more substantial and belty, but it wouldn't have made a difference in how it looks when I'm wearing it, I don't think. 

Thrift stores. Is there anything they can't do?

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Monday, January 27, 2014


Houston, we have tile! We spent Saturday morning sojourning from one tile store to another, zigzagging our way all around Oneonta in the name of finding something a) gorgeous and b) not ridiculously expensive. I was pretty set on the 12 x 24 size (not shown), so that narrowed down our options somewhat... and I wanted something that looked like stone but wasn't, and something dark. I mean, darrrrk. So many beiges and taupes and "feathered gray"s out there. Nope, nope, nope. Give me dark and magnificent, dark and sophisticated. Don't tell me how much of my life I'm about to commit to sweeping up flour, our last kitchen's floor was white, okay? I have lived with a high-maintenance floor, and hopefully this one won't be as bad as the white.

It's pretty, no? It's got a really nice greenish undertone, and some rusty looking spots, and lots of lovely texture and variation. Very stone-like. 

I was hoping to find something under $3/square foot (like this one) but that did not materialize. That kind of deal is only to be found online, I suppose-- and going down that road just feels like a huge risk. Buying tile based on a website photo without being able to "pet" it? Scary. The beautiful stuff we landed on is $4.31/square foot, and it's available at two different stores in the same town, so maybe we'll be able to whittle a teeny bit off the price by working that to our advantage. 

As for pattern, I'm on the fence between half-bond (below) and herringbone (below below). Patrick is likely going to be doing the installation, though, and I don't want to cause him more headache than I am already.

In other weekend news, we were able to get the half-wall that's going to live where the full-wall used to be (behind the stove) mostly framed, and I'm thinking the comfy sewing that's been happening in my studio might have to take a back seat while I dust off my building skills. Yeahhh baby.

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Friday, January 24, 2014


They say this will be the last day they're working here-- we say, hooray! The giant, giant beam (which is really three ginormous pieces sandwiched together) went up yesterday, and today they'll do more to reinforce each end of the thing, and take all the temporary studding (I think it's a called a coffer wall?) away, and be done. Oh, and then bill us, and then be done. As per our agreement, we are handling all the finish work ourselves, to save money, and to allow us time to think and get creative. The giant beam is going to be enclosed by a header made of drywall, and we are planning for some recessed lights and maybe also an exhaust fan (not a full-blown range hood) for above the stove. 

The whole size and shape of the header is completely open for debate. None of the walls are plumb, and the ceiling is far from level (see that skinny wedge-shaped space along the top of the beam in the top picture? The beam is level. The ceiling ain't.) And on top of that, there's a 6-inch difference in ceiling height between the dining room and kitchen which we're going to have to account for. Ohhh, it'll be interesting, all right.

See on the end of the beam, where there's a popped-out bit of wall that conceals some pipes? We're figuring on building the edge of the header so it's even with the edge of the popped-out part, and probably putting the lights in there. 

So, first, building header. Then wiring for lights. Then installing lights. Then patching over where the old lights were, and painting the ceiling and header. Then, tiling the floor. Ohh. It'll be awhile, I think, before we get to the really fun stuff where things start to look pretty, but my dad has started building our new cabinets, so bit... by bit... they will begin moving into place. Someday. 

Happy Friday!

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Wednesday, January 22, 2014


So, that weekly Tuesday night dinner thing I posted about a month and a half ago? Going strong. We were at the horse farm two weeks in a row, then Christmas hit, but then we got right back up and went to visit the sculptor's apartment and studio, met some new people to bring into the fold, and even journeyed to Morris (the next town over; five minutes' drive) to attend dinner last week. 

Last night, I figured it was probably our turn to host again, and I wasn't about to be discouraged by the fact that our dining room looked like this. Patrick might've known better, but I was like, c'mooon, they're friends! It's not like the house is dirty, it's just chaotic! Well, okay, it's a little dirty...

But, listen. You want fun never-a-dull-moment dinner party chitchat? Take down a freaking wall. Best conversation piece ever.

(To clarify, the new framing that's in place is only temporary, to stabilize the house while they remove the original studs and install the big honking beam. Looks cool, a bit. A bit.)

There was venison chili, and slaw with arugula, and rice pudding, and homemade "Garbage Plates" (that's a Rochester thing we decided we wanted to try out.) It was a cold cold night. By eight o'clock everyone was jockeying for a spot by the fire. 

This thing is really taking off. The fact that we're all different-- that we're sort of throwing ourselves together every week-- is part of why it works. There are squeaks where we rub together, sometimes (see last time's note about how this is like breaking in new boots) but the squeaks make it interesting. Last night, three of us may have hatched a plan to take over the (aging, slightly-running-down) general store and reincarnate it as a co-op where we each work a weekly shift, where the town's teens can apprentice and learn about bookkeeping and accountability, where the area farms can sell produce inside year-round. I want these Tuesday things to be about laughter and red wine, sure, and good food and Great Life Stories, but I also want them to be an incubator for good ideas for our town. Last night was perfect.

It didn't wrap until after eleven, so I'm, uh, feeling a little fuzzy today, but sooo buoyed and loved and proud. That fellowship thing, I guess. It rocks.

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Monday, January 20, 2014


Woot! This one very nearly almost killed me, but at least it was worth it. Friday, I think it was, I went looking for something new to sew on Pinterest. I wanted something scrappy, because I am a serial buyer of fat quarters and half-yards-- and you can't sew bupkis with fat quarters and half-yards-- but I still want some way of wearing all those gorgeous prints I have squirreled away, however small they might be. Y'know? So when I saw this pattern, I wasted no time. Little triangles! Little triangles in eighteen different prints! I pulled the linen out of my stash (I always buy linen in big 3-yard chunks, because I use it for so many things) and immediately a fat quarter of reproduction fabric leapt off the shelf and declared itself to be the project bandleader. It's that pale viney one, on the far right.

The only problem was, the project called for an elastic-waist skirt, which I knew would not fly. Not in nice linen, not in the wintertime, and not really in my closet. I wanted sleek and pencil-ish. But I confidently proceeded to my copy of SEW U to pull out the all-purpose, customizable skirt pattern I knew was in there... only to find it wasn't in there. Sigh. In the great hurricane of 2011 some of my sewing books and patterns had an incident with the standing water in Patrick's grandma's basement, which is where I'd been doing my sewing at that point. Obviously my SEW U skirt pattern was among the casualties. Sob.

BUT. But, I sucked it up and found a tutorial on making something called a "pencil skirt sloper," by which you can draft your own pattern. Another valuable sewing skill in my stable! I made a pattern, I added a seam allowance and cut it out, I even sewed a muslin, people! I am doing all of the things.

Approximately fourteen hours later... (sewing thirty-six damn triangles takes TIME, apparently)... I was rewarded.

AND, it fit. And now I have a custom skirt pattern to be manipulated, tweaked, lengthened, shortened, widened, narrowed... yeah, it was worth it, I think.

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Friday, January 17, 2014

Two shirts

My home improvement mojo deserted me this week. I'd been working slowly, tediously, on sanding and filling and repainting our baseboards and trim downstairs (most of which seem to have suffered the teething of repeated litters of puppies)-- one of those true labors of love projects. I mean, who else but a certified crazy house-lover would repair baseboards? But after soldiering through the dining room and most of the front room last week, with a head cold, my motivation deserted me. I wanted to sew. 

Every year I do this. I tell myself, after Christmas, that I'm not going to get bogged down in Winter Sloth, that I'm going to keep on keeping on, It's just winter, after all, and I shall tick off a project a week until spring. And then I fall completely off the wagon. Remember last year? Erm, yup. Maybe winter is just meant to be slow and a little sluggy and at times deliciously idle. 

And at times, at least, deliciously sewy? I told you I was feeling sewy. Wednesday, I sewed almost a whole shirt; Thursday, I finished the one I'd begun and sewed another right on its heels. 

And lo, for I believe this is the first time I've sewed something not a skirt that I'm going to actually wear! 

Maybe I should replace my burgeoning winter 2014 home improvement list with a simple resolution: get better at reading patterns. Get garment sewing confidence. Feel as empowered with my pins and Gingher shears as I do with my chef's knife. 

I sewed these shirts back-to-back not because I was head-over-heels in love with the pattern, but because I felt like I needed to build, immediately, on the lessons I grasped sewing the first one. So I did. It was good. The first one felt scary and infirm. Terra incognita. The second one was competent.

(But someone still needs to explain to me why the design only worked when I sewed the yoke to the back OPPOSITE, not RIGHT, sides together. What the WHAT?) 

Okay, so I might never not need my seam ripper. I can live with that. Tonight Patrick is playing in Norwich, and I'm tearing into a dress pattern. Home improvement be damned, I just want to sew.

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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Mood board fun

This blog is going to be Kitchen Jabber 24/7 for awhile, folks. Hope that's okay. 

Yesterday, I made a mood board. Aren't mood boards the best? I might make one per week between now and when we're done, just to make the whole thing feel controllable and pretty and tidy. Predictably, I'm starting to feel the urge to sew something (nothing like tearing the house apart to make me want to sew straight perfect seams and press them open, just so). 

Anyway, the mood board. Yes to subway tile on the whole wall behind the sink (maybe with dark grout), yes to oil-rubbed bronze bin pulls and white cabinets. Yes to stained wood open shelving. The flooring is going to be 12 x 24" ceramic tile, I think-- I've always liked the look of tile laid in that brickwork pattern, and ceramic tile is so easy to clean. We had off-white ceramic tile (OFF WHITE CERAMIC TILE?!!) in our Binghamton kitchen, which was just... insane... but at least it scrubbed up real nice. 

The deeper I get into this homesteader business, the more I find myself ogling "back to basics" homegoods-- really simple designs in really quality materials that are ironically much more expensive (and probably overpriced) than their flashier, more fashionable counterparts. Lately I've been haunting Brook Farm General Store (oh my god, PEOPLE) and Kaufman Mercantile, contemplating natural-bristle scrub brushes and oiled olive-wood bin scoops and a forty dollar enamelware colander. 

Sigh. Just part of my perpetual Laura Ingalls Wilder fantasy, though I'm sure Laura Ingalls Wilder never owned a $40 colander. 

It's nuts. I want to get rid of all the plastic-- Tupperware, big OXO ladles, plastic measuring cups, everything but the freezer bags (I need freezer bags)-- and I'm not quite entirely sure why. It's ugly. I guess that's the main reason. It's ugly and it just feels out of place in my life. It stands for commercial, industrial, disposable-- and I want no part of those things. And I am the world's biggest hypocrite, because to replace the plastic things I want to be rid of, I'm going to have to get a little commercial myself. Oh, silly head. Silly world, silly head. Sigh.

The copper lights are from Rejuvenation, and I'm imagining they'll hang over the peninsula (the little bit that juts out to the right of the stove.) I might end up settling for something cheaper from Home Depot, though-- those little copper lights are $200 each. For the rest of the kitchen, I'm just going to do can lights, and I'm having a hard time deciding how many I need. Three in the header that's going over the stove, one over the sink, and then what? How do people figure this stuff out? 

I'm putting this picture in again because I realize it got partially amputated when I blogged it a few weeks ago. The fridge is that thing with the asterisk. The hutch is the big brown thing.

This weekend we're going to do some electrical work-- mainly, we need to reroute most of the wires in the wall we just took down, so Steve (the contractor) can really take the wall down. Gonna be fun...

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Monday, January 13, 2014

Opening soon

Saturday was a big day. I spent all week, I think, gathering momentum and energy for Saturday, (plus continuing to stalk that sink I want on Amazon), plus fighting back a particularly nasty head cold. 
But when Saturday morning came, I was ready. I cleaned off ALL the clutter, moved things out of cabinets and put them under plastic, took glamour shots of the old kitchen which I'll use to sell the cabinets on Craigslist, and finally, summoned Patrick from his den. SHOW TIME.
We pulled down the upper cabinets and the soffit from the wall in question, and re-hung three of the uppers on the kitchen's other wall (which will, marvelously, allow me to stay functional in here as we progress.) We pulled out the range hood and capped the wires.

Then I emptied the lowers and put their contents under plastic, and moved them out of the way. Patrick demoed the kitchen side of the wall while I worked on the baseboard and door frame on the dining room side. Lemme tell ya, forged nails that have sat in place for 150+ years are mighty reluctant to budge. 
Then, I walked in from the front room to see a happy little saw blade protruding into the dining room. Bzzzzzzzt...


Oh, lath is fabulously messy stuff. So messy. A few years into this regular home improvement game, I am no fool. I plastic-ed off doorways and bookshelves and the dining room table. Sunday morning, after the big show was over, it was deeply, deeply satisfying to crumple up the plastic, take it outside for a shake, and walk back inside to see surfaces that didn't need to be cleaned. 

This was the scene, Sunday morning. Already a big improvement. I feel like I can see the whole house from the kitchen-- standing at the sink, I can practically see the front door!-- and it makes such a big difference. Just being able to see light, and air, and rooms that aren't grungy and dated, makes me immediately more optimistic, being in the kitchen. 

As far as I know, our contractor, Steve, is planning on getting started as soon as he can, this week. He's going to build piers in the crawl space underneath (consider that first on the list of jobs I'm glad I don't have) which will support the big vertical posts he'll build into each side of the wall, which will support the big honking beam he's going to install across the new opening. We're gonna build (or he's going to build, not sure exactly) a big header to conceal the horizontal beam-- and we'll make it big enough to put in some recessed lights, too. It's going to be awesome, and it feels so good to have begun. 

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Monday, January 6, 2014


Patrick and the Del and I took a hike Saturday, and I left my camera home. (Because a three-pound camera swinging from one's neck does not enhance the pleasure of hiking.) Therefore, I took no pictures of the three of us cavorting in the snow. Therefore, please instead enjoy this vintage picture of me eleven (ack!) years ago, snowshoeing in my parents' woods after an ice storm.

The surroundings weren't quite as brilliant the other day, but the sun was out and all the spruces were freighted with snow. It was nice to pause, briefly, between one deep freeze and another to get some exercise and to fight off cabin fever. We did probably four miles between the two places we hiked, and Del, despite his pitifully thin belly-fur, had no trouble with the cold. At one point I sighed a little wistfully, in apprehension of the big kitchen project ahead, and wished every Saturday between now and spring could just be spent hiking, instead of tiling, wiring, tearing, painting... ohhhh, such is life. The contractor and an engineer (!) will be coming out tomorrow to give us our time frame, and our "orders," since we'll be doing the demo and tear-out ourselves. 

It's going to be amazing, we just have to get there...

Today it is howlingly windy and rainy, the pretty snow is melting away (good for the chickens for me, who needs to harvest more carrots...), and we're slated for another dangerously cold night. Ah, winter. Definitely the best season to work at home in, if nothing else.

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Friday, January 3, 2014

Kitchen plans

Happy New Year!

Ya'll remember our kitchen? I don't show it off much, partly because it's not very pretty, partly because it's subjected to a near-constant flurry of carrot peels, garden dirt, tomato sauce, and bread flour. It gets messy, and it gets scrubbed, scuffed, battered, and otherwise abused. But loved, too. Our kitchen in this house, which has not changed much since we closed, has been functional but not beloved. That little piece of counterspace on the left of the sink somehow ends up being used as both prep and serve space, and it's barely big enough for either. The other piece of countertop in the kitchen ends up covered in crap-- my proliferating kitchen notebooks, mixing bowls, baskets of onions-- and the microwave. The chair I have stowed in there is necessitated by that one upper cabinet corner unit-- the back of which is completely inaccessible unless you're on a chair. And it's where I keep my flour. It's galling.

The rest of the cabinet space is just plain inefficient-- tall shelves where I don't need 'em (and can't adjust 'em) and short cramped spaces where I need a big honking space. Plus, a lot of space is filled with things that just aren't used much. The Hoosier cabinet is full of things I only use when we entertain, and it's valuable real estate. All along, I've known a big kitchen renovation was in the cards, so I've been reluctant to spend much time reorganizing the space. Renovation = more fun than reorganization.

So. I have had the benefit of three years to think about a new kitchen, and dream about it, and save money for it (money will be required) and talk my dad into building it for us, and to collect pretty Pinterest pictures. 

And to decide we're taking down a wall. YIPE. Here's the plan, in a nutshell.

I was eyeballing the scale from one drawing to the other, so they didn't come out perfectly, but you get the idea. Buh-bye wall, hello 13 additional inches of depth (you can do a lot with 13 additional inches of counter space!) and hello, peninsula! and hello, fridge over in the corner not hogging up the floor and the flow. I'm most excited by the amount of counter space there will be around the stove, and by the fact that I'll be able to stand at said stove and talk to people sitting in the dining room. And by the big, deep, shaker-front drawers my dad is building us, and the open shelves, and the tremendously expensive and tremendously beautiful farmhouse sink I am stalking on Amazon, hoping to find one to "buy used for $XXX," instead of the $936.75 they're running brand new. 
I waffled over a vintage farmhouse sink for a few days last week, too, which was beautiful, but decided in the end that it would cause more problems than it would solve. And the new sink's lifetime warranty kind of won me over.

In the whole project, this is the view that will change the most. Imagine a kitchen where that wall with the plates on it is now. I'm having trouble imagining it myself, and it's my house. 

The hutch:
is coming to live along the wall by the microwave-- where that big brown rectangle is in the floorplan. I am committing myself to making it work for me aesthetically, despite the fact of its problematic Colonial revival heritage. But it's beautiful wood, and deep, and I can fill it with cups and glasses and baking dishes as easily as I can fill it with display stuff, right? 
So, now, to show off some inspiration.
Gray cabinets?
This picture actually isn't terribly far off. White cabinets, farmhouse sink, window flanked by open shelves. I'm not sure what we're going to end up with as a backsplash, but it probably won't be beaded board. Maybe subway tile.

This makes me want oil-rubbed bronze pulls (and a faucet) to go with stainless appliances and white cabs.
Dark hardware, yesss. Bin pulls galore, yessss.

Love how these shelves are styled

And I really like the look of these dark wood open shelves in front of dark-grouted subway tile, but I'm not sure if it's just a hair too modern. 

The countertops are going to be concrete-- DIY concrete-- which I'm feeling pretty confident about, oddly, in spite of the obvious fact of the mess it will create. Should be an interesting journey. Dark countertops and floors, white cabinets, cream walls (I think)... a few pendants hanging over the peninsula, a few can lights, one wall-be-gone... lots of dreaming and scheming. Lots of chaos. Oh, it's going to be an interesting year...

But we finally, finally have our rent-to-owners living in our old house in Binghamton, after four months of negotiations. We got our first check from them on New Years Eve, actually, which was fantastic. So, it's essentially, forward, ho! 

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