Thursday, March 31, 2011

$25 Desk becomes "Shabby Wonderful"

This quite old desk was bought at a yard sale and has kicked around the family for years. Originally mine, I gave it to one daughter when I moved to Alaska. She gave it to another daughter when she changed direction and eventually the desk came back to me when I came back to Florida. Perhaps it was a little worse for the wear, but who could tell. It was dark with age, scratched and dented already. I had tiled the top with 10 cent white wall tiles ages ago to cover the peeling veneer. But it was serviceable and usually confined to a studio or work room.

Eventually, I needed to use it in a more noticeable location and decided to paint it white to go with the tile top. The really outstanding "shabby chic" finish was a complete accident. I forgot to prime the old wood first and it began to bleed unevenly into the white paint as it dried. At first I was downhearted, staring at the need for a much more time consuming job. Then I thought to take some sandpaper to it. The result was classic aging but the crowning touch was realizing that a tin panel piece of my wall art (a $1 yard sale purchase) was the perfect size to provide a privacy panel for the desk. Again, paint on, rub it off, scrub it off, scrape it off. Instant "old". The use of E-6000 glue, and tape to hold the panel in place while it cured, and I was in business. This was one of the easiest furniture projects I've ever done and the result is that an antique dealer recently offered me $300 for it. No sale. It may have started out as a make-do project that went awry but it ended up being one of my favorite pieces.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Springtime Calls for Aprons

Spring makes me smile. Whether this time of year has us looking forward to spring blossoms or spring cleaning or getting a vegetable garden started with thoughts of fresh vegetables on the table or jars of fresh-canned goodness growing in numbers on our pantry shelves, spring seems to bring us home to a simpler time and to our roots. And, what takes us back to simpler times faster than putting on an apron. I remember my mother's Hostess Aprons and my grandmother's kitchen apron. I have an apron for painting and have made my children and grandchildren Crayon aprons. There's something about being 'dressed for the occasion' even if the occasion is getting down on hands and knees and dirty in the soil of a garden. Aprons also make great, unique gifts - tucked in a tote of bar-b-q utensils or a housewarming bucket of cleaning supplies. One of my favorite websites is Amelia's Aprons, featuring handmade creations from the Edwardian style to the little pocketed garden apron I've shown here. Take a look. You just might find something to make you smile, too.

Make Old Candles New Again - FREE

I've struggled with the ugliness of pillar candles for years. Being far too thrifty to throw away so much perfectly usable candle, I've tried cutting away the bulging excess or dropping a votive into the recess...totally unacceptable solutions to the problem. When I saw this old iron at an estate sale last week for $1, I couldn't resist buying it. Notice that it is NOT a steam iron and has a solid sole plate without steam vent holes. "Perfect", I thought and couldn't wait to give it a try.

With the iron set half way between the coolest and hottest settings (between Silk and Wool on this iron) hold it upside down, vertically over a Pyrex measuring cup. Holding the ugly end of the candle to the iron doesn't require pressure. It begins to melt immediately at just the right speed. There is no smoke, nothing to be anxious about, just a steady stream of melted wax sliding off the tip of the iron. It worked like a charm. So easy and so logical.

The end result was four candles as useful as the day they were purchased AND I ended up with 1 1/4 cups of perfectly reusable candle wax which I will feature in an upcoming post.
A couple of things to note are these:
Pinch the brittle, burned part of the wick off before you start. When the wax is melted down far enough to reveal 1/4" of wick, you can stop (as I did) or you can melt it down a bit farther to snip the darkened tip off the wick. Also, since the wax in the measuring cup is already melted, you will be able to pour it immediately into candle molds or just into a different container for storage. I prefer to let it harden, microwave it for a few seconds, to release it from the edges, so I can save it in the shape of the measuring cup that I will use for melting it later. Also, any solids, bits of dust, burned wick pieces or soot, will settle to the bottom of the undisturbed measuring cup and can be scraped away, .once the solid wax is turned out, leaving some pretty nice wax for future use.

I hope you search for an old iron and give this a try. It really was so fast and easy and is a true money saver.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Keeping Squirrels Out of Plants - UGH!

As day dawns, I am most often found curled in a chair on the porch with a cup of coffee waiting for my world to come to life. It begins softly and slowly, like the movement of the light growing from a dim glow, casting vague shadows across the lawn, to the promise of the rising sun. Out of the silence there comes an occasional chirp of a bird, then a little distant squirrel chatter and as the daylight grows, so do the elements of my morning symphony.
As the owl's ado echoes over the pond and the doves begin to coo under the Wisteria, the squirrels emerge with reckless abandon like kindergarten classes turned out to play. They chatter and squeal and chase each other around tree trunks. They run across the power line to my roof and leap from the roof to the Hickory at the corner of the porch.
Then they set about their business of burying bits of this and that and digging up things they buried before. They scurry and munch and seem to wink at me as they pass. If there were two or 10, I might be tempted to try to tame them, to teach them manners and feed them away from my plants. But I live in Oak and Maple and Hickory filled woods and am overwhelmingly outnumbered. I counted 13 in a single Maple tree one morning with no shortage of others on the ground and in other trees.
You would think that with so much land and so much vegetation that a potted plant on a wooden deck would have little appeal but every carefully tilled and tended square inch of soil seems to beckon them to assist in the gardening. They had no appreciation at all for my tidy rows of radishes sowed in last years big tomato pots. Before I could share the precision of seed by seed planted rows, the squirrels had completely rearranged them in the most disorderly fashion. I almost cried but opted for a hardware-cloth cover instead. Now that the radish plants have leaves enough to cover the soil, I will remove the wire soon.
The window boxes along the deck railing, which held last spring's lettuces, is planted with Cilantro this year. What a mess they made of those. So, on went coverings of hardware cloth and I think I will try to leave it in place if it looks like the stems of the Cilantro will grow through the spaces. Hardware cloth is available with wider spaces but this is what I had on hand (a $1 purchase at a yard sale. I knew it would come in handy some day).
The hardware cloth seems to be a good solution for the herb and vegetable starts but would sort of defeat the purpose of flowers, don't you think? So, I tried hot pepper flakes. Don't bother. They didn't help at all and I might even find peppers growing among my posies as a result. But CAYENNE PEPPER certainly seems to be doing the trick, so much so that today I bought a jar with a shaker lid just for use outdoors.
But it rained today and I'm curious to see if a week of Cayenne Pepper has been enough to deter the rowdy rodents for a while or if I will need to rush outdoors, shaker in hand, each time the rain subsides. I'll let you know. In the meantime, I'm thoroughly enjoying blooming Azaleas and Dogwood trees, squirrels and all, and the emergence of spring bulbs like these African Lilies and am looking forward to the abundance of color and the edibles that summer will bring.
And I look forward to seeing my furry little rodent friends over coffee in the morning.
UPDATE: The Cayenne Pepper is working like magic even 3 days after a rain without reapplying. But I did sprinkle a little more on today. Give it a try.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Brick Path Destination

A TREE GOT IN THE WAY! With the little brick path detour neatly heading in the direction of my future studio and the studio yard somewhat defined, we set about establishing corners and laying blocks in anticipation of a building project in the not too distant long awaited, little, garden studio.

That's about the time we noticed the long split in the trunk of a seemingly thriving but lightning-struck tree that was leaning precariously over my would-be roof. I thought the tree would be fine since it held a full display of new spring leaves. Fortunately I was overruled.

My husband had hardly begun to cut when, in an instant, the tree snapped and hit the ground. How there was life left in that tree, I will never know because, as you can see, it was hollow to the accident waiting for a wind.
So, the tree was felled and firewood cut and in a week or so construction will begin. But the 12' x 16' studio is unlikely to be finished any time soon. I'm committed to building it with savings gleaned from bargains, spare change and a great deal of faith.

My hope is that it will look something like this but already I have lost access to the leaded window in the gable. Bummer. But I'm sure something equally appealing will turn up.
In the meantime, I have a date with this little guy and about 30 of his closest friends. I love watching them and they love digging in my garden and flower pots. I can tell you now that pepper flakes are no deterrent and will have an opinion on Cayenne Pepper by morning.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Brick Path Extention

The brick and gravel garden path just about exhausted my supply of materials. Wanting to branch off the path to a specific destination left me in a bit of a quandary. I had already mixed two materials and felt that I needed some level of consistency before breaking into the flagstone path that I envisioned for my personal space.
Scavenging every available brick from my little brick wall and flowerbed borders and any place else that they might be hiding, I managed to round up enough to make a smooth transition.Abandoning the use of gravel for a short space, and using only the brick, continues the original look to a logical point of departure. From the closing of the gate, the path will continue with flagstone.
To construct the path extension, first, I laid the bricks in a pattern that suited me. The outside, border pattern is called a "soldier course" and the staggered interior pattern is called a "running bond". I have no clue why I know that. Then I marked the outline by cutting into the soil with a shovel, removed the bricks and dug the dirt away to make a level bed the proper depth. After replacing the bricks directly on the soil, I mixed brick mortar and filled the major gaps to help hold them in place. The bricks along the outer edges were secured with a mortar filled trench. I realize that without setting the bricks in a complete bed of mortar, they are likely to settle, become a bit uneven and encourage an occasional weed to to take root in the gaps. Great. That's exactly the rustic, aged look I want and if the flaws become too severe, it's a small task to reset a single brick or two.
To access the "how-to" post about building the brick and gravel path, click HERE.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Ingredients for a Successful Party...

Family, Friends, Food & Love.Having two children with February births, exactly 51 weeks apart, has recently developed into a joint celebration. Though I kept them separate through their childhood years, they don't seem to mind sharing the occasion now that they are grown and have children of their own. The only snag being that our long-time family tradition has been to prepare the most favorite meal for the guest of honor. That resulted in a double meal of Shish Ke-Bab and ham with sweet potatoes. I tried a Sweet Potato Salad and you will find the recipe HERE. It was a great hit.
Because most of my guests travel from out of town, a party here is generally a two day affair with plenty of time for hanging out, having fun and catching up. For a time, all of the children seem to belong to all of the adults as rides on a 4-wheeler and
football in the yard
and even bouts of tickling and wrestling take place.
The birthday gift that had most meaning (and was thoroughly enjoyed by everyone) was a book made by my son's 4 children. Each had written and read their "story-poem" was about a worm that lived in a jar and had a baby worm and went to the store to buy a white horse named Alice. Another was a poem that rhymed on almost every line about a guy named Bill who lived on a hill "way down yonder in Caryville". He had a friend named Phil who took a pill and I can't remember what else but it went on and on and on and we laughed so long and hard that it hurt.
But there was a solemn side to our gathering. An unexpected, but most welcome guest, was my stepdaughter who made a 13 hour drive to attend her dying mother in a nearby town. Under the circumstances, though hugs were abundant and tears were held at bay, there seemed to be an underlying awareness of the value of our lives and the blessings we enjoy. There was a closeness between adults and children as though we were asking ourselves what others would remember of us when we are no longer here. Children snuggled with uncles...
and uncles, lost in thought, considered the miracle in a tiny hand...
and taught a nephew to make a train whistle out of cupped hands.
A dozen pictures must have been taken of one of the toddler twins who had just discovered that pockets can hold many things as he added rocks and twigs to his collection of toy cars and favorite giraffe.
My photographer daughter, Michelle, captured this image as her little niece walked along our country lane and it touched my heart, reminding me of much simpler times.

So, the party and the pictures and the passing of a family member has set me to thinking...I began this blog in an attempt to inspire and encourage others who, much like me, must make do with less than we'd like from time to time. It's curious to me that through all the ups and downs of my life, I've never thought of my self as unfortunate. I suppose it is that being blessed with the richness of family and friends and loyalty and love, I have never thought of myself as poor, even when I have been. Now, the weak economy in so many parts of world has some of us concerned and finds some of us struggling...
and I have an idea...
for years, I've wanted a studio and for years it hasn't happened. THIS YEAR I intend to see it built, not as some grand extension of our home but as a simple out building with the advantage of allowing us to live in it, "off the grid", if need be. In a few days, I'll post my drawings and will update my progress regularly so you can see where it is that my "almost free" garden path leads.