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.