Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Exterior Painting and Restoration of Our Craftsman Cottage

I don’t want to let 2014 end without a post about painting the exterior of our house. This has been the project with no end. Seriously, it has just gone on and on and on. There are still some little, related projects that aren’t done and one big one—landscaping and re-seeding the front yard--but the painting is finished! I can hardly believe it. It’s taken more than 2 years but the house is painted.

Here is where we started. This is our Craftsman style cottage with aluminum siding (which was probably added sometime in the 1950’s) that had been painted (by yours truly) a few years after I bought the house. Here is what the house looked like 10 years ago. The big maple tree has since been removed.

Several years ago (I can't remember exactly how when) we had the worst ice storm I have ever encountered. The gutters on one side of our house were filled solid with ice and the weight of the ice pulled them off the house and caused them to twist and bend. Where they bent, the aluminum split. We had a contractor take a look. He said that way our house was built, there was nothing there to properly attach the gutters to and he would need to build something, blah, blah, blah. It was going to cost a lot and it was difficult to understand how he was going to do it without removing the aluminum siding. At this point we didn’t know what to do and didn’t have that kind of money so we didn’t do anything.

Then, a year or so later, comes a spring storm with very strong winds. Not a tornado, but straight line winds strong enough to take the roof off a car wash about 4 blocks from us and do a lot of damage to roofs, trees, and such in our neighborhood. Our house did not escape undamaged. The wind got behind the aluminum siding and peeled off a couple pieces . The siding was still attached to the house at one end and that long piece of siding was flapping back and forth in the wind. Can you imagine waking up to that noise? Our bedroom was on the other side of that wall and it was pretty scary until we figured out what was happening.

It didn’t make sense to invest a lot of money trying to repair 50-year-old aluminum siding. On top of that we already had the issue with the guttering. With some of the aluminum siding gone we were now able to peek behind it and see that the original wood clapboards were underneath and from what little we could see, looked to be in pretty good condition. We decided that we should probably remove the aluminum siding and try to restore the original wood siding but we didn’t have time for such a massive project.

I can’t remember exactly how long it was, but we just ignored the damaged siding. Since both my husband and I were working really long hours and we only saw the house in the dark, it wasn’t that hard to just pretend that we didn't have a problem. Then in early spring 2012, the brother of one of our friends was looking for some work and offered to remove the aluminum siding and haul it away for a few hundred dollars plus the proceeds from recycling the aluminum. An offer too good to refuse.

Here is the house right before the aluminum siding was removed.

Now, with the aluminum siding gone, we could see more of what we had gotten ourselves into. We were pleased that the wood siding was sound and there was no rotting anywhere. We were also delighted to see that the gables had cedar shingles and that the rafter tails (ours are purely decorative and not the ends of the actual rafters) which are a signature of Craftsman style houses were intact. Also, with the aluminum siding that had boxed in the overhangs gone, the proportions of the house were much improved. Here is a picture with the aluminum siding gone. The storm windows and aluminum trim around the windows is still on the house but you can see the rafter tails and cedar shingles in the gables.

Until the aluminum trim was later removed from the windows we didn't know that the tops of all the window frames had been chiseled off. We did know that the corner pieces of the house had been removed and although we could see where there had been decorative knee braces under the overhangs they were all missing. Much as we expected, the old paint was badly peeled and needed to be thoroughly scraped before any new paint could be applied. Here is some of that peeling paint.

That spring and summer, whenever the weather and my work schedule of 6 days most weeks allowed, I worked on scraping paint. It was going slowly and I wasn’t making any visible progress.  I tried all kinds of different paint scrapers; some very expensive paint remover that was supposed to work miracles (it didn’t); and an infrared paint remover. None of these things speeded up my progress. No matter what I tried, it was slow, dirty, hard work. Later, when I was working on painting our garage, I discovered paint scrapers with carbide blades. I highly recommend the carbide blade scrapers. They are more expensive than other scrapers, but they are worth the money. Change the blades often and be careful because they are sharp enough to shave the top layer of wood off.

By October of 2012, it was clear that I was in over my head with this project. My husband spent some time helping me (he always works 6 days a week so has little free time either) but with our work schedules it was going to take us years to just get ready to paint. During all this time, the house looked terrible.

So the next spring (2013) we found painters who liked to work on old houses, had the skills to do the carpentry work needed to replace the missing elements (not having to coordinate between carpenters and painters was a huge plus), and gave us a very reasonable price. To save money, I planned to paint the garage, back doors, window sashes, and the inside of the front porch myself. We got on the waiting list and started saving like crazy hoping to have the cash by the time the painters got to us.

While we waited, the house looked worse than ever and our next door neighbors were trying to sell their house. I felt so bad. Who would buy a house next door to a place that looked as bad as ours did? So here is what our neighbors had to look at for over a year. This side of our house showed up in their listing pictures.

We waited all summer and into the fall and all that time spent waiting gave me time to agonize over choosing paint colors. I had a very difficult time making up my mind. You can read more about what I learned about selecting exterior colors here and more about how I finally made my decision here.

I know that any color can pretty much be color matched in any brand of paint but the painters use Porter PPG paint and using their colors simplified things. The body of the house is Baritone. The shingles in the gables are Mountain Stream. The window sashes and back doors are Blue Bayberry. All of the blues are from the same card. The white trim is Delicate White. All are PPG colors.

By the time we came up to the top of the waiting list it was late fall and unfortunately the weather was not cooperating. The painters were able to finish scraping and priming but then we had the worst winter we have had in years and there was nothing to be done but wait for spring. I failed to take any in-progress pictures of the painting.

Finally, finally, this spring, 2 years after the aluminum siding was removed, the painters finished. Still, since I planned to do the window sashes and back doors, the painting wasn’t quite finished. The windows had been protected behind the storm windows so they were not in bad condition. Even so, to do the job right and not paint the windows shut was time-consuming. The doors needed quite a bit of scraping and one needed a bit of repair work.

By the end of the summer, I had the window sashes and the back doors painted. We salvaged the storm windows and I gave all of the frames a coat of white spray paint. The storm windows were designed to be part of the aluminum siding but with some generous applications of caulk we were able to re-install most of them. We have a couple that either need some additional work or possibly we will have to replace them.

Here it is before and after. 

Our house has never looked better. As I mentioned at the beginning of this long story, there are still a few things we want/need to do. The foundation was coated with some kind of textured coating that is peeling off so that needs to be re-done. We need new storm/screen doors for the front porch and for the kitchen door. We plan to have the same half-round gutters that would have been on the house originally installed. And, we have plans to completely redo our front yard. All of those will be projects for 2015.

Friday, December 19, 2014

No-Spend Gift Wrapping

It's crunch time now. Less than a week left before Christmas. Is your shopping finished? Mine is. Now it’s time to get all those presents wrapped and I just can’t see spending a lot (or spending anything for that matter) on the wrapping.

I definitely experienced sticker shock when I saw the prices on those gift bags. I nearly fainted right there in Kroger. Granted, they can be used more than once, but I would prefer to spend my Christmas budget on the gifts rather than the wrapping. I try to be creative and I can usually come up with some wrapping materials without having to shell out at Christmas time.

Pinterest is full of clever ideas for gift wrap using things that you don't have to buy. Here is my Wrap It Up board where I collect no-spend gift wrapping inspiration:

Follow Better Nesting's board Wrap It Up Gift Wrapping Ideas on Pinterest.

Here's a list of a few of my favorite ideas for no-spend gift wrapping:

Leftover wrapping supplies—I always start with my leftovers and I am pleased (or ashamed—not sure which) that I haven’t had to buy any wrapping paper for several years.

Re-use gift bags—Most everyone I know re-uses gift bags. Unless they are looking creased or crumpled just add some fresh tissue paper and use them.

Store bags—Many stores have attractive shopping bags that are perfectly acceptable as gift bags. Yesterday, I took my mother to do her Christmas shopping and she made a purchase at a local gallery. They bagged it in a brown Kraft paper bag with colored tissue paper and tied on a raffia bow. No need for any further wrapping. Small, local shops often have attractive bags that do not have the store name on them. I always save those for future gift bagging when I buy something that is not a gift. And, if you have any of those clever bags from Trader Joe's you'll want to use those.

Craft supplies—Raid your craft supply stash. Scrapbook paper is a great wrapping for small items. You can get creative with rubber stamps, stickers, and washi tape. Raffia, yarn, lace, rick rack, and strips cut from fabric can be stand-ins for ribbon.

Natural materials—Cut evergreen twigs from your yard or pick up pine cones. They are free and make great rustic packages.

Brown paper—Whenever I finally use up my inventory of wrapping paper, I plan to make brown paper my signature wrap. A huge roll of brown paper comes in handy for all kinds of things, not just wrapping, especially if you are a D.I.Y. er. And, white paper makes a pretty package if you happen to have a roll of that around.

Wallpaper—I regularly see rolls of wallpaper at my favorite thrift shop. If you have wallpaper in your project stash, it makes great gift wrap. This is adorable.

Newspaper—Really. Look at my Pinterest board if you don’t believe me. Here is proof.

Make gift tags from old cards—Check out my tutorial for simple gift tags from Christmas cards.

Downloadable gift tags—Many generous bloggers share free downloadable gifts tags.

Time to get busy and get those gifts wrapped!


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Favorite Meaningful Christmas Decorations

In keeping with our small house, the Christmas decorations are simple. Both the area available for decorating and the limited storage space mean that I have to be pretty selective with what I keep and use. Of course, I have things that I have bought (after all, who can resist Christmas decorations?) but the majority of my decorations are things that people have made for me and things that have been given to me as gifts. And, I am lucky to have some family decorations that belonged to my grandparents'. I enjoy these things that hold special meaning. Here are a few of my favorites:

For me the most important thing is the Christmas tree. I think the best part of the Christmas season is having the Christmas tree lit on a quiet, dark morning. It is just so peaceful. 

Quite a few years ago I bought an artificial tree that I can put up quickly and easily by myself. It's just the right size for our living room. And, I can put the tree together and decorate it in just a couple hours. Knowing that I can put it up early in the season if I have a chance or I can wait until the  last minute if I need to and that the tree will go up with no problem eliminates so much stress.

The tree is decorated only with white lights and glass Christmas ornaments that I have collected gradually or that belonged to my grandparents. Someday I may add ribbon or strings of beads or but for now, I am happy with my simple tree.

For some reason that I don't understand, many of my grandparents' old ornaments have string tied to them. My mother remembers the string always being there but it doesn't seem to serve any practical purpose. I leave it on out of sentiment.

As far back as I can remember, my grandmother had this bottle brush tree on a music box. It has seen better days and is now a bit lopsided and is missing some of its decorations. Along with Christmas ornaments, it was one of the decorations that I selected to keep when I emptied my grandmother's house.
 A friend of my mother made all of these St. Nicholas figures. She molded them out of plaster of Paris using vintage candy molds and hand painted all of the details.

As a child I did not care for this hand carved nativity scene. It was made by an older man who went to our church. His hobby was carving and he each year he donated some of his items to the annual Christmas bazaar. Back then it bothered me that the cows and the sheep are almost the same size and that the wise men are taller than the camels. As an adult I came to appreciate its charm and I 
am very happy to own and display such a wonderful piece of folk art.

Do you use decorations that hold special meaning for you?

This post is linked to Christmas Tree Party, 2014 at Thrifty Decor Chick.

Raggedy Ann Christmas Tree

Our local historical society holds an open house each December at our museum which is in a house built in the early 1800's. My mother is in charge of decorating the Christmas tree, the fireplace mantel, and window sills. Every year she tries to come up with a different theme--something vintage or nostalgic. Since there is no budget for decorations she mostly uses what she has.

This year she decided to do a Raggedy Ann theme. She collects Raggedy Ann items and her collection includes quite a few Christmas ornaments. To have enough decorations for the tree she supplemented the ornaments with small dolls, plaques, and even some cards. Red and white striped ribbon, small red balls, and over-sized red rick rack filled in the gaps and brought some cohesiveness to the overall look.

I think the tree turned out well and accomplished the goal of evoking nostalgia on an zero budget. Have you ever thought of using a collection to create a themed Christmas tree? Almost any small items that can be hung on the tree or nestled in the branches would work. Using toys would be a great way to decorate a small tree for a child's bedroom.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Four Easy-to-Make Christmas Treats

Heaps of cookies and candies may be a Christmas tradition but over the past few years I have learned to bake in moderation. I do enjoy making and indulging in sweet treats at Christmas time but baking dozens and dozens of cookies but I don't enjoy being exhausted and stressed. Making cookies is time consuming and tiring work that I find is not very much fun when done in excess. My current approach is to bake for a specific purpose. I also use the word bake loosely since I like to make some no-bake treats to balance out the work of baking and make it an easy and enjoyable process.

This holiday season I needed to fill a small tin with homemade goodies for a gift. Additionally, I needed a plate of cookies for our historical society museum’s open house and another plate for a pitch in. Given the quantity I needed, I decided on four recipes and decided to make a double batch of one.                                                
When I am making up a box or plate of assorted goodies, I like to have a variety of ingredients, flavors, textures, and shapes. Here is what I decided to make:

These are probably my favorite cookies. My grandmother used to make them. We always called them Seven Layer Cookies. Here is the recipe from the Eagle Brand website where they are called Seven Layer Magic Cookies Bars. This is exactly the same recipe I use and I think that my grandmother must have gotten this recipe from the Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk label.

I like to double this recipe because all the ingredients, except the sweetened condensed milk, come in packages larger than the recipe calls for and I would rather have more cookies and fewer leftover ingredients. The butterscotch chips that I bought came in an 11 ounce package which is 1 ounce short of what is needed to double the recipe. I just divided them equally and it there were plenty for both batches.

My next selection was Mexican Wedding Cookies. I have been making these since I started baking as a preteen. They are very easy and I have received many compliments on my version of this iconic cookie. I am not sure where the recipe came from but I am happy to share it with you. I left out the nuts this time since 2 of the other recipes I selected had nuts. Without the nuts the recipe made around 42 cookies.

Mexican Wedding Cookies
½ cup powdered sugar, plus some to roll cookies in
1 cup butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 ¼ cup flour
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ cup finely chopped nuts, optional
Cream butter, sugar, and vanilla. Work in the flour, salt, and nuts until the dough holds together. Wrap the dough in wax paper or plastic wrap and out in the refrigerator until dough is chilled. Roll dough into one-inch balls. Place on baking sheet. (I highly recommend using parchment paper.) Bake 10 minutes at 400 degrees. Roll in powdered sugar while hot. Roll again when cool. (My secret is to sift the second layer of powdered sugar over the cookies instead of rolling them.)

Chocolate Fudge Cups, is a new recipe from a recent issue of Woman's Day magazine and is pretty simple to make.

I couldn't find the foil mini muffin cups at the grocery store so I used some cups that I had. They are paper and a bit smaller than mini muffin size. With the smaller cups, the recipe made 18 rather than 12. And, the paper worked alright. I was worried that the fudge would stick to it but I selflessly tested one and it seemed fine.

I don’t know if I didn’t get the milk hot enough or if it was because I had oversize chocolate chips (the only thing I found in bittersweet or dark chocolate) but the chips didn’t completely melt. I just popped them in the microwave for a few seconds to finish the melting.

My final selection is so simple there is no recipe and no picture(not sure how missed taking a pic of the pretzels)—Candy Coated Pretzels. I had never tried these before but I had the candy coating and the sprinkles on hand so I only needed to buy some pretzels. I followed the directions on the candy coating and melted the candy with a little bit of solid shortening. Once it was melted and smooth, I threw about 6 pretzels at a time into the candy. Using a fork, I turned them over a couple times to coat them and then removed them one at a time. I put them on wax paper and added sprinkles. This was very, very simple but not especially fast.

So those are my four easy to make Christmas treats. My holiday baking for this year is complete.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Christmas Gift Tags To Make from Christmas Cards

It is something of a tradition with my family to use Christmas cards to make these gift tags. We have made hundreds of them over the years.

The original inspiration was a similar tag on a gift that we received. These are easy enough for children to make (I know because my mom started me making them when I was still in elementary school). They are a great way to upcycle (of course when we started making these we had never heard of upcycling!) Christmas cards that you receive. Or, if you are like me and don’t get many Christmas cards these days, you can also use scraps of wrapping paper or scrapbook paper that are too small for anything else.

Here’s what you will need to get started:

  • Pinking sheers
  • Hole punch
  • Lightweight cardboard for templates. Something like a cereal box is fine.
  • Christmas cards, patterned wrapping paper, or scrapbook paper for the front of the tag.
  • Solid colored paper for the middle layer where you will be writing your tos and froms. I usually use white paper. Printer paper works fine.
  • Printed or solid colored paper for the back of the tag. This can be wrapping paper, card stock, scrapbook paper, construction paper, etc.
  • Ribbon (Any narrow ribbon will work. I usually use curling ribbon but didn't have any on hand when I made these tags), yarn, raffia, twine, etc.
Here’s how to make the tags:

Start by making 3 cardboard templates of graduated sizes. My templates are 1 ½” x 2”, 2” x 3”, and 2 1/” x 3 ½”. You can use adjust these sizes or if you are really good at cutting straight you may be able to skip the templates.

Lay the smallest template on the Christmas card over the design that you want for the front of your tag. Some cards may have motifs that fit perfectly on your tag while others may lend themselves to a more abstract design. You may also be able to feature a word from the card on your tag. You can place the template either vertically or horizontally on the card.

Hold the template and the card together and cut around the template with the pinking shears.

Repeat the previous step, this time using the middle-sized template to cut the middle layer of your tag. Use paper that you will be able to write on.

Repeat the previous step, this time using the largest template to cut the back of the card. Use colored or patterned paper that compliments the front of the tag.

Stack up the 3 layers of your tag and use the hole punch to punch 2 holes at the top.

Put a piece of ribbon, yarn, raffia, etc. through the holes and tie to hold the 3 layers of the tag together.

There you have it. Easy, simple-to-make Christmas gift tags. And, they are free because you made them entirely from supplies you have on hand.

PS If you read my House on a Diet post you will know that using up wrapping and crafting supplies is one of my strategies for reducing the amount of stuff in my house.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Better Nesting Book Club : The Boston Girl

The Better Nesting Book Club recommends:
The Boston Girl by
Anita Diamant

The book begins with Addie Baum’s twenty-two-year-old granddaughter asking her to talk about how she got to be the woman she is today. As her life story unfolds we learn that Addie was born in 1900 and was the daughter of Jewish immigrants from Poland. She grew up in the North End and is the Boston Girl.

As an eighty-five year old wife, mother, grandmother, social worker, and teacher, Addie recalls living in a one-room tenement apartment with her two sisters and their parents who had difficulty adapting to a new way of life in their adoptive country. From joining a girls club at the neighborhood settlement house as a teenager to falling in love and from marriage to going back to college, she tells about her adventures with honesty and humor.

While Addie’s particular fictional story is unique, it touches on subjects that are part of every woman’s and every family’s stories. Family values, friendships, and the changing roles of women in the twentieth-century are things that my own family has in common with this character.

As I read this book I couldn't help but think of my own grandmothers and their stories. This is the kind of story that will inspire you to ask your own family members about their stories.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Decoupage Dictionary Page Christmas Ornaments

For many years I have had a 5-inch thick, vintage dictionary tucked away in the closet. I bought it at a yard sale with the intention of using it for craft projects. Until this week I had never touched it. I finally found a project where my old dictionary was perfect. Christmas ornaments decoupaged with book pages are all over Pinterest (see my Made From Book Pages board here) so this is not exactly an original idea but here is my twist on the idea.

I used Mod Podge to glue the pieces torn from the dictionary pages to the glass ornaments ($5 for 15 from Big Lots) and as a sealer coat on top of the paper. After allowing the Mod Podge to dry thoroughly, I sprayed on a light coat of clear acrylic sealer. In our often-humid climate the Mod Podge ends to become sticky or tacky and I noticed the instructions recommended the sealer. Once the sealer dried, I added glitter and tied a ribbon to the top to finish them off.

For plenty more inspiration, follow Better Nesting on Pinterest.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Quick Patchwork Pillow

As I mentioned in my last post I have developed a strategy for reducing the amount of stuff in our house. One of my House On a Diet strategies is to use up things. This patchwork pillow is made entirely of fabric leftover from other projects. I started with this pattern which is a freebie from

The finished pillow will be one of my contributions to a silent auction where the bidders are Girl Scout volunteers raising money for our local Girl Scout council. In my fabric stash I have some fabric that was once used to make Brownie Girl Scout uniforms. I found it on the flat fold table at a fabric store a few years after that particular uniform was phased out and I have had it for around 15 years. A couple years ago, for the silent auction, I made pillow cases and used my vintage uniform fabric to trim them. They sold for around $50!

To coordinate with the Brownie fabric I used this brown background, woodsy-themed fabric (sorry I have no idea what the fabric is called) that was left over from a baby quilt I made a few years back. The fabric features several different animals but I concentrated on using owls. If you're familiar with the Brownie Story you know that an important character just happens to be an owl. That made the fabric not only the perfect color, but an appropriate choice for the Brownie theme. I was able to use some of the other fabric scraps from that quilt as well as fabric left over from the pillow cases mentioned above to complete the patchwork. Here is the front of the pillow:

The pattern calls for an envelope-style back for the pillow but I made a flat back for the pillow and was able to use some patchwork blocks that were also left over from the baby quilt for extra interest on the back. Here is the back of the pillow:

I am pretty happy with how the pillow turned out and I am especially happy to put my leftovers to use. If you have fabric scraps from other projects that you would like to use, this pattern is a good choice as it uses small pieces of several different fabrics.

Monday, November 17, 2014

House On a Diet : My Strategy

About a year and a half ago I decided that I had to put our house on a diet.  Things here had gotten a bit out of hand and I made up my mind to tackle this somewhat overwhelming task of getting our house in shape. It needed to go on a diet, complete with exercise and a plan to maintain a healthy weight.

Before I go any further I should tell you that I am not, and never will be, a minimalist. I like my stuff. I'm a collector (with maybe just a touch of hoarder). The idea of purging just wasn’t for me. After all, a crash diet really isn’t very good. It’s a lot healthier to lose the weight gradually and it’s easier to keep it off that way. Right?

Our house is pretty small (900 something square feet) and storage space is limited but even larger houses may need to go on a diet. Reducing the bulk of the contents of our house is an ongoing project and here is my strategy:

Throw it away—this is both the easiest, because I can just toss it into the trash can and it magically disappears, and at the same time the hardest, because I might be throwing away something that I will need or I’m thinking about how much money is being wasted.

Donate it—this is my favorite option. I just can’t stand to throw away something that can be of use to someone else. The nice thing about this is that I can often support a worthy cause by donating my discards to a fundraising yard sale or charity thrift shop.

Recycle it—I try to be responsible and make sure to repurpose and recycle whenever possible. Our aluminum cans regularly go to raise money for the local animal shelter and 2 large donations of obsolete electronics have supported fundraising efforts as well. Almost anything with metal can be recycled and in our neighborhood anything that we put out in the back alley will be picked up by recyclers looking to make a bit of extra money.

Dispose of it properly—expired medications, paint, cleaning supplies, motor oil, chemicals can pose a hazard to people and the environment. Every once in a while our county sponsors a tox-away day where potentially hazardous substances are collected and old paint is collected on a regular basis. Of course, this will be different in other places, so check around and find out how it is done in your community.

Use it up—this one is my favorite. I always get a great deal of satisfaction of using up craft supplies, cards, wrapping paper or things that have been shoved to the back of the cabinet and forgotten. Where do all those little bottles of lotion come from anyway?

Finish it up—I am the queen of the unfinished projects and there is no doubt that the finished projects take up less room than the supplies and the objects with potential. This is an area that I am really trying to focus on at present.

Gift it—I’m not talking about re-gifting, although, I am not opposed to re-gifting if it is done carefully. If you have something that you no longer want or need and someone else can use or will treasure, by all means give it to them. And, you don’t have to wait for a gift-giving occasion. Last Christmas my niece got a sewing machine but she didn’t have any sewing supplies. I was very happy to go through my supplies and give her some of my duplicates.

Return it—I sometimes borrow things from family or friends and those items can occupy a lot of space if they aren’t returned promptly. I have found that sometimes if I don’t return the item right away the person I borrowed it from decides they don’t need it and don’t want it back. Does that ever happen to you? Right now I have a sewing machine that I borrowed from my mother sitting in the dining room and she refuses to take it back. And, that is not the first time that has happened to me. Last time it was a monster folding table that I borrowed from a friend.

Don’t bring it in—this one is really important for me. I have been putting more thought into purchases making sure that when I buy something it is what we actually need/want and will really use. I also try to avoid swag—free t-shirts I am talking to you. And, I don’t let myself go to many yard sales, rummage sales, flea markets, or thrift shops because I almost always find something irresistible in places like that.

Organize it—the strategies listed above are in no particular order but this one does belong at the end. Having a well-ordered house is part of the process but it doesn’t make sense to me to organize until I know what I am keeping and what I am getting rid of.  

I’ll be talking about my house diet strategies in more detail and I will be sharing the progress in future posts? Our house probably won’t be featured on The Biggest Loser: Home Edition anytime soon, but  here’s hoping there is some progress to share. 

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Porch Progress

Our house has a skinny front porch that is enclosed with windows. Unfortunately, our porch had turned into a parking spot for miscellaneous things we didn't know what to do with. One of my house goals for the summer was to get it in shape so that we can actually use it.  My budget for this project was around $100.

With the windows open, the porch is a pleasant place to sit and relax in spring, fall, and the not-too-hot part of the summer. In the winter it serves as an air lock, keeping the cold air from blasting right into our living room every time we open the front door. It also gives us a chance to clean off messy shoes before coming into the house.

As you can see in the before photo below, the porch has bead board above the windows (and on the ceiling) and brick below. The wall on the right is the outside wall of the house. The inside of the porch got a fresh coat of paint as part of our exterior house painting project.

With the walls and ceiling inside the porch painted, the next thing that needed attention was the floor. For many years the floor has been covered with a patterned straw matting. I really liked the matting but it was completely worn out. I couldn't find the same matting and it wasn't in the budget to replace it anyway. Paint seemed the logical answer,

Painting the floor and the inside concrete window ledges proved to be very easy. The floor had paint had been covered by the matting and there were a few places where the old paint was flaking off. I scraped those spots, scrubbed down the floor and let it dry very well. I used Behr Porch and Patio Floor paint in Silver Gray to give it a coat of paint. It went on easily and dried enough to put the furniture back in a couple hours. A simple coat of paint made a huge difference.

My plan was for this to be a use-what-you have project. The old wicker furniture got a coat of traditional white paint and new cushions here. A vintage, folding rocking chair that my grandmother used on her porch also got a new cushion. I sewed a couple pillows using fabric from my stash here.

Then I added a primitive cabinet that had been stored in the garage.

The porch still needs some accessories. I figure that if I dig around a bit more I can find some things that I can decorate with without having to buy much. So far I brought out a tabletop fountain (which is probably not "in" but the sound of bubbling water is so soothing). I also tried a vintage planter with succulents but some caterpillar-like bug ate the plants. It's too cold now for plants but next spring, I hope some plants will be in the budget. I did buy a cute little lantern at IKEA--couldn't resist.

I spent $92,70 of my $100 budget: floor paint $29.94 - $5 rebate, fabric and fiberfill for cushions $28, fiberfill for pillows $4.11, spray paint $25.68, lantern $3.99, and 2 succulents $5.98.

My to-do list for the porch still includes: touch up the floor (which got scratched when our new refrigerator was delivered), refinish the wall light fixture, replace the storm door, add a rug of some kind, and add some additional accessories. Most of these things will probably have to wait until spring because winter seems to have arrived before I could get this project completed.

Friday, November 14, 2014

My Version of the Phoebe Bag

In my fabric stash, I had a remnant of a lightweight brocade upholstery fabric in beautiful fall colors that I bought a year ago with the idea of making a bag. (Yes, I am a fabric hoarder.) Looking at my Pinterest board for purses and bags, I noticed that I had pinned more than one bag made from the Phoebe Bag pattern and I decided it would be an excellent choice for using my fabric.

The Phoebe Bag is a free pattern from Artsy-Crafty Babe that you can find here. I am always amazed at how generous bloggers are with their free patterns and tutorials. This is a downloadable pdf with a full-sized pattern and clear instructions. I can see why it is so popular and why there are so many finished Phoebe bags on Pinterest. Thanks Artsy-Crafty Babe.

I made a few minor changes to customize the bag for me. I adjusted the width of the bag to make it just a bit wider so that I could easily carry a notebook in it and I made the strap a bit longer so that it would be a shoulder bag for me. I skipped the optional interfacing since I was using a fabric with some thickness to it and I wanted the bag to be a bit slouchy. Also, I used Velcro, which I had on hand, instead of buying a magnetic snap.

The lining is a green-on- green, cotton print that was actually a skirt that I made years ago and couldn't bear to part with when I couldn't wear it any longer because I liked the fabric so well. (Told you I was a fabric hoarder.)

It took me a couple hours, at most, from start to finish to cut out and sew this bag together. For a finishing touch I added a filigree broach that I found at a rummage sale for 50 cents to the flap.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Replacing Window Glass

Our exterior painting and sprucing up project just seems to go on and on. Will it never end?

We have a small garage that we use to store garden tools, the lawnmower, a ladder, and interesting things that I find in other people's trash. I am about half finished painting the garage and because we have had cold and rainy weather this fall I think this project will, sadly, have to be continued next spring.

I was able to take advantage of a warm, dry afternoon last week to replace a broken window in our garage that needed to be replaced before the window sash is painted. This is a fairly quick and easy job. To get started I gathered up the following supplies:

  • Glazier or glazing points -- these are little metal triangles that push into the window frame and hold the glass in the window frame.
  • Window glazing--this is the putty that goes along the edges of the glass.
  • Glass--my local hardware store has many standard sizes of glass already cut.
  • Putty knife--I have a handy, dandy putty knife made for just this purpose. It is v-shaped at the end to make it easier to smooth out the putty at the proper angle and it also has a little notch at the end for pushing the glazing points into the wood.

To get started, I carefully removed the broken glass by prying out the old putty and pulling out the glazing points. It is a bit hard to tell but the picture below shows the window after I removed the broken (top right) windowpane. Obviously, I have no idea how to take a picture of glass without getting a reflection so you get to see me and the neighbor's garage as a little bonus.

The next step was to put in the new glass and insert the glazing points to hold it. Then I put in the putty and smoothed it to form an angle between the glass and the window frame.

I couldn't figure out how to take pictures while I was doing this and I am not exactly an expert at it, so I don't have a tutorial but I found these good, step-by-step instructions on how to replace window glass on the ACE hardware website. This is not an advertisement for ACE hardware. It is just a coincidence that I bought my supplies there. I do have to that everyone at my local ACE store is very helpful and knowledgeable.

So here is is with the new glass installed. Wow! With the replaced glass, the reflection of the neighbor's garage is even better. Now the window sash needs some paint and the window needs a good cleaning. A curtain would be a nice touch. And, I have a plan for that.

It will take up to 2 weeks for the glazing putty to dry. I am keeping my fingers crossed that I will find one dry, warm-enough day to paint the window sash before winter really sets in. I am so not ready for winter. I have too many outdoor projects that are not finished.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Binge Watching HGTV On Netflix

We don't have cable television at our house but we do have Netflix that we can watch on a tablet, computer, or phone. For a long time my husband has been urging me to make more use of the Netflix subscription (if we don't use it we are wasting our money). I resisted because I could really see myself getting caught up in a show and spending a lot of time watching Netflix when I should be doing other things.

Well I finally succumbed to the temptation when I heard that some HGTV shows are available via Netflix. I always try to catch HGTV anytime I am staying in a hotel so I have seen a few episodes of several of the current shows.

Since beginning binge watching a few days ago, I have tried Love It Or List It, which I had previously seen a few episodes of. The premise of the show is that a couple is trying to decide whether to remodel their current home or move. A real estate agent tries to find them a new house while a designer works on their new house. The show ends with the couple making the decision to "love it" or "list it". This show is very scripted and formulaic. Even though I enjoy seeing the remodeled spaces the bad acting gets on my nerves and I can't really binge watch. Most of the homes that are featured would benefit from a good de-cluttering and the picking up and putting away of a lot of stuff. If they did that many of them wouldn't need the extra space that they all seem to be looking for.

A show that I just started watching yesterday is Flea Market Flip. This one is definitely binge-worthy. I have already watched 3 or 4 episodes. Teams compete to buy items at a flea market. After revamping the items they sell them at another flea market. So far I have seen some surprising ideas for making over flea market finds. I love to explore a good flea market even if it is just vicariously.

My favorite show so far is Rehab Addict. I had never seen this one and I blew right through all the episodes from season 1, all that are available from Netflix. I love old houses so this show is right up my alley. It features Nichole Curtis rehabbing old houses in Minneapolis. I like that she tries to save as many of the original features and as much of the old materials in these houses as possible. She also makes use of materials that are reclaimed, recycled, or found on the side of the curb or in someone's garbage. She uses salvaged materials when she has to replace something in a house--doors, windows, floor boards, kitchen cabinets, bathroom fixture. Yeah, I just might be addicted to this show. Don't tell my husband but I just might have to get cable so I can watch the new episodes.

Go Behind the Scenes With Rehab Addict
Photo from

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Better Nesting Book Club : A Sudden Light

The Better Nesting Book Club recommends:
A Sudden Light
by Garth Stein

Garth Stein's previous book, The Art of Racing in the Rain, is one of my favorite books from the last 10 years. I have also had the privilege of meeting the author, so when I saw that he had a new book, naturally, I was excited to read it.

There is no dog in A Sudden Light (If you haven't read The Art of Racing in the Rain, which you really should, the book is narrated by the dog.) but there are ghosts. The Riddell family is haunted by several generations of unresolved issues and secrets.

For the first time in his life, fourteen-year-old Trevor Riddell's father takes him to the family mansion, which was built by a timber-baron ancestor. The mansion is a huge, rustic building built from whole trees on an estate overlooking Puget Sound. With hidden staircases and secret rooms the the house sets a dark and secretive atmosphere for the story.

While Trevor's father and his sister are working together to sell off the house and property and send their father to a retirement home, Trevor begins to explore the house and surrounding property. Trevor's exploration uncovers long-buried family secrets. His willingness to face his family's past, ghosts and all, changes his family's future.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

IKEA Virgin No More

Until last week I had never been to an IKEA store. I have been aware of IKEA for years. I see so many bloggers posting about visits to IKEA and using IKEA products in their homes. And, I have enjoyed the eye candy in a few of their catalogs. I had been wanting to go to IKEA to see for myself what it's all about but with the nearest store 2 hours from where I live it wasn't all that easy. Until recently I was working 6 days a week most weeks and I didn't have time to go across town to Target much less make a 4-hour round trip to satisfy my IKEA curiosity.

We were on a long-weekend trip away from home and were close by so I had the opportunity to make my first visit to IKEA. I planned to have my husband to snap a picture of me outside the store to commemorate this momentous occasion but it was pouring down rain, so I took a few pictures inside the store just to prove that I had been there.

Here is the famous EKTORP sofa. This would fit well with my vintage, eclectic decor and the price is good but it's too large for our vehicle.

Another well-known IKEA product, BILLY bookcases. The quality seems a bit better than other build-it-yourself bookcases that are available and the option to add doors opens up so many possibilities. I can certainly see why they are so popular.

The navy and white fabric used for these curtains and pillows caught my eye. It reminds me of vintage book illustrations. Navy and white is a classic for a good reason. This is not a great picture but the pattern is called BLAVINGE and you can see it better on the IKEA website. I think they have ready-made pillows made out of this fabric and the fabric itself is available.

So for anyone else who has never been to IKEA here are a few things I learned about shopping at IKEA:

Give yourself plenty of time. We were in the store over 2 hours and we were just browsing and not doing any serious shopping. 

Eat before you start shopping. I knew they had a restaurant but I didn't know there was a snack bar near the entrance. If I had figured that out, I would have had a cinnamon roll or an ice cream cone to fortify me for the shopping. 

As you go through the displays make note of the location information of any item you are interested in buying, even the small items. In the display area all the items are tagged with the location where you will find them if you wish to buy them. We weren't buying any furniture or large items so I didn't make note of any of the location information as we were browsing. I assumed that it would be easy to find the small items that I wanted in the Marketplace area but it wasn't as easy as I expected. There is just so much and you might forget to look for something until you are halfway through the Marketplace when it's not easy to go back.

For the most part, the quality seems better than expected for the price. I had heard this but wanted to verify it for myself so in the future I know if it is worth making the 2-hour trip for something I am interested in.

Are you wondering what I bought? The only furniture we need is a new sofa and otherwise our house is really pretty full, so we limited ourselves to just a few practical things: an inexpensive rechargeable drill (because our's died a couple days before our trip), 79 cent dishtowels, a hanger for the iron, a strainer, and an umbrella. The only purely decorative item I bought was a lantern that holds a candle to use on the front porch. My husband picked up some light bulbs and batteries for his business. 

Although our purchases were on the boring side, I had a blast looking at everything. Even my husband, who usually hates to go to big stores, had fun (I think he did. If not, he was pretty convincing pretending to enjoy himself).