Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Blogging: What's it all About?

The long hiatus between my last two posts left me thinking about what this blog means to me and why I write it.

I started it almost three years ago because Doug and I live in a really cool 1939 Sears kit house, and I wanted to document some of the projects we were doing to "make it ours." But by the time I launched the blog, most of the major projects, including a complete attic renovation, were done. And even though Doug is a professional photographer, we had neglected to take any before or during pictures of the renovation. Yeah, that was dumb....

But six months after I started Tales from a Sears House, we bought a dilapidated beach shack that was the stuff before-and-after dreams are made of. Over the next two years, most of my posts chronicled all of the blood, sweat, and tears we shed as we brought a modified 60-year-old trailer back to life.

But this isn't just a DIY blog. It's kind of a life blog, where I've mourned the loss of an old friend and a 19-year-old cat, celebrated the adoption of a rescued yellow Labrador from Taiwan, and chronicled many of our thrifting and dumpster diving adventures. I've also thrown in some tales of 5Ks, holiday celebrations, friends' retirements, and annual vacations to the Outer Banks with dear friends.

Although I hope people enjoy this blog, I don't have a lot of followers--I don't promote the blog anywhere, and I don't advertise or have any sponsors. My most-popular post ever--my dog-proof cat feeding station--has just under 4,000 page views. Lots of bloggers get that many hits and more in a day.

But that's OK, because I'm really writing it for myself. Looking back at old entries provides me with a window into my own past.

Thinking about this blog also makes me think about what appeals to me in the ones I follow.

Some of them are starting to bore me. I'm kind of tired of seeing chevron patterns on everything, numbers on chairs, and all-white kitchens. How many years will it take before those things are as dated as the golden oak cabinets, wallpaper borders, and ceramic tile countertops of the 1990s?

My three favorite blogs are totally different from each other, but I realized that the common thread for me is that they're all interesting people.

Katie (runsforcookies.com) is a 30-something mom of two boys in Michigan who lost more than 100 pounds after she started running. Katie is honest and inspirational, and I'd love to meet her and go for a run with her (as long as she agreed to limit the distance to four miles or less).

Daniel (Manhattan Nest) is a 20-something guy living with his partner and two rescued dogs in an old house in Kingston, NY. Daniel has an amazing amount of respect for historic structures, and he's intrepid when it come to tackling jobs he's never done before--and being candid about the results. If I lived closer to him, I'd offer to get my hands dirty helping him clean up and paint the second old house he just bought so it wouldn't get demolished.

Rita (This (sorta) Old Life), who is closer to my age (but still younger) is working hard to make a meaningful life with a blended family in a 1970s split-level house in Oregon. Rita and I have become Facebook friends, and I'd love to sit with her over a cup of tea in a little cafe and talk about books or family or just...life.

OK, enough rambling. Since I'm once again short on photos, I'll throw one in (it would have been two if I'd been smart enough to take a before picture).

Here's the story: The two dwarf Alberta spruces that anchored our front steps were half dead, and Doug and I were debating about what to do about them. Although we have lots of skills between the two of us, gardening is not one of them. But I was sick of looking at those two ugly trees, so last weekend, Doug got out his chain saw, and 10 minutes later, they were in the back of his pickup truck ready to go to the green recycling center.

I then made two "shopping trips"--one to Home Depot for a few mums and one to our backyard for a bench, a kid's metal chair, and a metal panel salvaged from a friend's pergola that got destroyed in a storm this summer.

Here's the new look, with Jodie playing "where's Waldo" inside:

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Missing in Action

Wow, I just looked at the date of my last post, and it's been almost two months.

What happened?

Well, I guess what it comes down to is that for the past few months, we have been living the dream instead of creating it.

After almost two years of rehabbing our little Kitts cottage, we have finally had the chance to sit back and enjoy it. And share it with friends.

And we've been so busy doing, that we haven't even taken many pictures. In August, our friends Martin and Jenn brought their dogs and spent the afternoon with us. We cooked burgers and had a wonderful picnic on our screened porch and then walked on the beach.

A couple of weeks later, my friend Gilda and her boyfriend Steve came for the day. It was Labor Day weekend, and Steve couldn't believe that there could possibly be a beach in Delaware that wasn't wall-to-wall bodies on the last official summer weekend. But at Kitts, it was business as usual, just us and the gulls and the little shorebirds.

Last Saturday, I had a girls' afternoon with Jenn and another friend, Pam. With no guys there, we ditched the meat and had cheese, crackers, apples, grapes, deviled eggs, potato salad, cookies and pound cake. And of course another walk on the beach, which yielded another float for my ever-growing collection.

But no pictures of any of these outings, which have all been great fun. Doug and I love that others want to share our little jewel with us. We actually gave Gilda and Steve a set of keys so they can come down and enjoy the place by themselves when we're not there.  They already took advantage of it and came when Doug and I were in Annapolis for my son's wedding two weeks ago.

So I apologize for the lack of pix, but I've just been having too much fun to remember to get my phone out and capture all of these moments.

But I'll end with a couple of casual shots from the wedding:

The setting:

Me and Alex a few hours before:

Me and Christine at the wedding:

Me, Christine, and Brian getting the flowers ready for the tables:

Ashleigh and her mom:

The beautiful couple and their "baby," Honey:

Life is good.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Our Kitts Cabana

It was a dark and stormy night.

Well, yeah, I stole that lead from Snoopy and others who went before him, but it really WAS dark and stormy last night, so I spent a couple of lazy hours on my iPad randomly cruising around the Internet.

For some reason, something triggered a memory of my days as a kid growing up at the Jersey shore. We actually lived about 10 miles inland from the beach, and we belonged to a club called Tradewinds in Sea Bright.

I decided to google Tradewinds just to see if it was still there, and I ended up learning all kinds of interesting things about not only that club but also the whole phenomenon of beach clubs in Monmouth County.

It turns out that Tradewinds was demolished in 2002 and replaced by some ugly but pricey housing. And I found a blogger who has an amazing collection of old photos from Tradewinds. One of her entries includes this photo taken right before the club closed. I think it was deliberately done in B&W to preserve the old-timey feeling of the place.

But what really captured my attention was the whole concept of beach clubs. The town of Sea Bright got itself in some trouble in the early 2000s when tax revenues were used to replenish the beaches at private clubs.

And that leads to the whole question of who do the beaches belong to?

Many have referred to the wall in the photo below as the Great Wall of Sea Bright. It was built to protect homes on the narrow peninsula from the ocean, but it ended up having a very exclusionary effect making people feel they weren't welcome unless they were part of a private club:

The approach to our beach at Kitts Hummock looks a lot friendlier.

I don't think anyone should be allowed to own beaches--they should belong to all of us.

I also stumbled on the "cabana phenomenon" at these beach clubs. Although we didn't have one at Tradewinds, I remember now that you could rent a cabana for the season, and the blogger I mentioned above has some vintage photos of her family in their cabana.

The Sea Bright beach clubs that haven't been razed to make way for expensive condos still have the cabana option, so just for the heck of it, I clicked on the pricing schedule for one of them.

What an eye-opener.

At one of the more exclusive clubs, seasonal rental of a cabana can run more than $25,000.

People equip them with kitchens and lighting, bathrooms and furniture, and there's quite a social life around these little "houses," with Sunday dinners cooked inside and served up poolside.

People hold on to them for decades, and many of the clubs have four-year waiting lists.

It's a way of life for many of New Jersey's wealthy families, but it's not a way of life I can relate to.

Our little place may be humble, but it's all ours, and it costs us only about $2500 a year to maintain--and that includes water, sewer, cable, electricity, internet, and taxes.

We can go there any time we want and stay as long as we want.

Our furry friends are welcome too, even when their behavior isn't the best:

And dogs are welcome on the beach to run free with us as we enjoy the sand and the water:

Last night's virtual tour back to my childhood at the beach was fun because those times laid the foundation for the beach lover that I am today. I learned to swim in the outdoor saltwater pool at Tradewinds, and that's where I got up the courage to jump off the high dive when I was nine. Just once...

But I'll take our little cabana at Kitts Hummock over a fancy one in Sea Bright any day.

It's a pretty cozy little place:

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Tiny House Nation

The tiny house movement started several years ago, so it was a just a matter of time before there was a TV show featuring tiny houses.  It's actually kind of a welcome change from episodes of House Hunters and Property Brothers, where the people couldn't possibly live in a house that doesn't have double sinks in the master bathroom, space for a 70-inch TV, and enough cabinets to store an entire aisle of oversized packages of food and paper products from BJs.

The other night, I watched the first two Tiny House Nation episodes sitting in the living room at our fairly tiny house. Our beach cottage is about 340 square feet, 450 if you count the screened porch.

And that's actually not as tiny as some of the houses featured on the show. One, built for a couple and their two-year-old daughter, was less than 200 square feet. I'm pretty sure I couldn't live in a house that small, especially with a toddler, but the people who design these houses have some really great ideas for maximizing space, including telescoping tables, Murphy beds that turn into couches, sleeping lofts, and even a smugglers cabinet built into a deck.

We don't have anything quite that creative at our beach cottage, but watching the show got me to thinking about all the ways we've worked to fit in everything we need. We do have built-in storage cabinets over the bed, where we store extra sheets and pillows:

A military trunk, purchased for $50 on Craigslist, serves as a coffee table in our living room while also storing a food processor, a waffle iron, and a crockpot:

The living room also features a vintage Coleman cooler that hides our supply of Mutt Mitts as well as some magazines, while a picnic basket and another cooler hold binoculars, board games, and puzzles:

In the kitchen, we have mostly open shelving that Doug built from repurposed doors.  Vintage wooden crates, bread boxes, and picnic tins are our pantry:

We also use lots of cup hooks and a magnetic knife holder, taking advantage of valuable vertical space:

Doug also fashioned a mini pot rack out of a turkey roaster and some hooks he bought at a kitchen store:

On the porch, a yard sale dresser holds placemats, dog towels, candles and barbeque tools:

In the dining room, a bar Doug made from a free crate holds all of our glasses, while a vintage cracker tin stores happy hour snacks.

And a vintage hamper hides a mattress cover for the futon:

The best thing about all of this is that we can justify our ever-growing collection of vintage containers because we use all of them.

I plan to keep on watching Tiny House Nation because it's fascinating to watch the host show people how much space they actually have for storage--and then watching the homeowners sort through their stuff. It makes you think about what you really need and what you have just because....

It's kind of funny though that the pendulum has swung so far from the McMansion direction.  I don't think most of us are ready for Tiny House Living, but we could probably get by pretty well in a lot less than 3,000 square feet.

And one nice side effect of little houses? At least in the two episodes aired so far, they brought the family members closer together.

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Art of Racing in the Rain

I recently spent an afternoon on the porch at our beach house reading The Art of Racing in the Rain.

I admit that I wasn't sure I was going to like the book because it's told through the voice of a dog, and I tend not to like fantasy and other unrealistic types of stories.

But once I started, I couldn't put it down, and I ended up reading the 300-page book in about 4 hours.

The dog's voice is very convincing, and the message of the book is timeless and ageless.  Racing (cars) in the rain is an extended metaphor for life itself--it requires adjustments and compromises and different equipment, and to be successful, you have to make decisions about all of these things at the right time.

 But the one message that really struck me was the simplest of all: The car goes where you look.

The car goes where you look, and so for the most part do our lives.

And once again, I thought of our little beach place.

I had no reason to think that I would find anything we could afford when I looked at the realtor's website, but that didn't stop me from looking.

And once we bought the place, I kept on looking where I wanted to go, and the house came along with me.

Last weekend, we spent a wonderful July 4th weekend there.  I was feeling a little down before we went--our friends were all away for the weekend, so we knew it would just be the two of us. We were expecting a hurricane, so the weather didn't look promising. But by the morning of the 4th, the storm had moved on, leaving in its wake cool, sunny weather with low humidity. We packed up the pets and by noon, we were watching World Cup soccer in our living room with all the windows open and a breeze blowing through.

Our little place was decked out for the holiday:

In between games, we walked on the beach, and in the evening we went to Dover for concerts and a fireworks display.  We didn't know anyone, but we had a great time watching people, listening to music, and admiring a great fireworks display. Legislative Hall was decked out for the party:

And later, it was lit up with alternating red, white, and blue lights:

Doug took this selfie of us while we were waiting for the music to start:

The beautiful weather continued all weekend, and the next night we saw a beautiful sunset over the marsh:

We also hung a new stained glass window that we bought at our favorite antique store--I apologize for the terrible picture, but it really does look good in the pass-through between the living room and the kitchen:

A few days after the 4th, Doug and I left for what was supposed to be a two-night stay at a B&B on Chincoteague.

But unlike our glorious Independence Day weekend, the getaway didn't turn out so great.  The inn looked better online than it did in person, the beautiful post-hurricane weather gave way to unrelenting heat and humidity, and a planned sunset boat cruise was cancelled because of thunderstorms. We ate lunch in a pizza place with a kid video blaring through the entire dining room, and the breakfast at the inn was so bad that I raided our cooler for string cheese and cherries to stave off my hunger until lunchtime.

Although we had already paid for the second night, we decided to just pack up and come home. Staying because you've paid for the night when you're not having fun is a little like continuing to put money into a slot machine because you've already put a lot in. Our time and peace of mind are worth something, and staying under less than ideal conditions offers no further returns.

So we're home and planning a local outing to Strasburg, one of our favorite towns in nearby Pennsylvania.

The car goes where you look.

Monday, July 7, 2014

We've Been Featured!

"Some people have the coolest stuff."

That's how a blog entry on a website called Mobile and Manufactured Home Living begins.

And it's about OUR little beach house!

Doug and I were so surprised to learn that we had been featured in an extensive writeup on this site, which is run by a woman named Crystal Adkins.  We were also extremely flattered that Crystal took the time to gather so many of our before, during, and after photos and that she said such nice stuff about us.

Like "the couple handled the entire remodel like champs, making the impossible possible time and again."

Crystal finished the writeup by saying, "This is such a great vintage mobile home remodeling story! Not only is the end result amazing, but it's a great example of the endless possibilities that a vintage mobile home has. Plus, this is about as close to a mobile home jackpot as one can find - fine home, great location, and bought at a great price."

Thanks, Crystal. We love our little place, but it's great to know others think it's cool too.  And it's really interesting to see some of the other makeovers on your site!

Monday, June 30, 2014

225 Steps

Last week I had lunch with my friend Gilda, who is one of the most thought-full people I know (she's also "thoughtful," but that's an entirely different trait). She just has a way of looking at life and getting right to the heart of the things that matter.

She was asking me about our beach cottage, and when I told her how much we were enjoying it now that it's mostly done, she said, "That place has been life changing for you."

I realized she was right.  That $38,000 trashed trailer on a little plot of reclaimed marshland in a sleepy place called Kitts Hummock has indeed been life changing for me in so many ways.

It's given me a front-row seat to sunrises like this:

It's given me a place to get away from my home in a vibrant, busy college town and just enjoy the sounds of the marsh birds.

It's given me a beautiful place to walk my dog any time I want:

It's given me a fun place to putter around and decorate:

Doug just bought this vintage wagon at Brandywine View Antiques, and I couldn't wait to get it down to the beach house and figure out where to use it:

Recently, I've been captivated by the work of Jane Coslick, who is an amazingly talented designer and decorator in Savannah, Georgia. Jane has saved more than 30 sad little cottages and fishing shacks on Tybee Island. I love Jane's style because, like us, she loves and respects old things, and she has a knack for repurposing things in quirky ways. I think Jane would like what we've done to our "beach shack."

Jane named the first house she renovated on Tybee "99 Steps" because that's how far it is to the beach.

That got me curious as to how far it is to the beach from our little cottage, so I counted the steps yesterday.


And it takes me less than two minutes to walk there.

That is truly life changing for a person who loves the beach, and I never dreamed I would be able to say I owned a place that's a two-minute walk to the beach.

225 life-changing steps.

One of the other ways our little cottage was life changing for me was the experience of getting it to the point where it could be called life changing. (Yeah, I know that sounds kind of circular.)

But it was such a mess when we bought it that we weren't anywhere near ready to count steps.  We were counting gallons of paint and numbers of 2x4s.

We were so busy digging out from under moldy carpet, filthy bedding, and bad plumbing that we hardly saw the beach that first year.

But Doug and I did see each other--in a way that we really hadn't before. Some of my fondest memories from two summers ago are of us jumping into Doug's pickup truck at 7:30 in the morning with a load of tools and supplies, stopping at Dunkin Donuts for breakfast sandwiches, and heading south for another day of mucking out and rebuilding. 

And it wasn't too long before Doug's thumbs-up to the Dumpster:

turned into a thumbs-up for comfy furniture, clean white walls, plumbing that works, and cable TV:

So I want to thank Doug for helping my dream come true and Gilda for reminding me that it doesn't take a million-dollar beach house to change your life.