Monday, May 28, 2012


I don't have any major projects to post today, but it's been an interesting week.

On Monday night, an old friend came for dinner. She lives in Nashville and had come back to Delaware to reconnect with people she hadn't seen in awhile and to visit all of the great gardens and museums in our area--Longwood, Hagley, Winterthur....

She arrived with a fancy shopping bag filled with a recipe for muffins and all the ingredients needed to make them--whole wheat flour, bran, raisins, honey, and molasses. We had a wonderful visit with her, and two nights later I made a batch of the muffins:

They were delicious, and I'll think of her every time I make them. What a great hostess gift!

On Friday, I volunteered at the University of Delaware's annual "UDon't Need It" project.  Started six years ago by a sustainability-minded student named Dave, who stills comes back to Newark every year to run the program, "UDon't Need It" provides a central location for students to leave off unwanted furniture, sporting goods, and household items. During the first week, charities come to select items for people in need; in the second week, the public is invited to buy what's left at ridiculously low prices. The project keeps tons (literally) of stuff out of the local landfill while helping people who have just lost their jobs or come to the U.S. as refugees.

Volunteers are invited to take one item for every day they work. For the past two years, I've snapped up vintage kitchen tables, probably given to a college kid by grandma. I got this green one two years ago--it's in good shape and even has a neat silverware drawer, but we have no place to use it, so it's in our basement as a catchall for whatever we carry downstairs and don't feel like putting away:

This year I didn't find anything I wanted the day I worked, but I went back on Sunday, the day after graduation, and spotted a sturdy white dresser in good shape. Christine will be moving into a house soon when she starts grad school, so Doug and I picked up the dresser and then went to Home Depot for hardware. I cleaned the outside with a Magic Eraser, while Doug drilled holes for the hardware, and then we loaded Christine's clothes into it.

Dresser: free
Hardware: $30.32
Christine's clothes all in one place: Priceless

I spent Saturday with my friend Jennie, whose son is getting married this Friday night. I had offered to help her clean in preparation for all the company she's having, so we started with the kitchen cabinets (yup, another Magic Eraser or two), and then it was time for lunch. After lunch, when I asked her what my next assignment was, she said I could choose between washing windows or driving her to Brandywine View Antiques in Chadds Ford.

Let me think: cleaning or junking? Well, I do like to clean, but....

Brandywine View, which is run by two really fun sisters, is in a cool old house with a porch wrapped around the entire building.

Jennie made a beeline for a fabulous potting bench made from old barn wood with a thick grapevine artfully incorporated into the design. She bought it for her patio, with the promise of free delivery the next day.

I found this cool rustic birdhouse with a tin roof and hunted for something to prop it on, but Martin solved my problem when we got back to their house after the shopping trip--he gave me an old garden table that was in their garage attic:

Birdhouse: $38
Table: free
How cool it looks in our garden: Priceless

Now, it's Memorial Day. I took my first bike ride of the season this morning (casually riding past dumpsters in student areas...just in case there might be something good left behind).

I didn't find anything today, but there's always next week at the UDon't Need It sale.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Pottery Barn Reprise

After I posted my bench project, where I used an off-white custom paint mix and stain to bring a pine bench from the 70s to cottage style, I got the ultimate compliment from a Facebook friend--she said it looked like it came from Pottery Barn.

I took a look at their latest catalogue when it came a couple of days ago, and I noticed that they do sell furniture with a finish called "edge-rubbed white." Bingo.

That inspired me to attack a couple of old side tables that we were using in our bedroom.  They're solid oak (even the drawers), but they weren't really our style.

So this morning, I had Doug sand them for me. He also had to saw off the knobs--they were glued in--but he was able to leave the plugs in place so that we had something to drill into when it was time to install new knobs.

Then I got out my custom mix, stain in a tube, and leftover floor urethane and got to work again. It was warm and dry here today, so within two hours, I had a finished product--well, actually two, one for each side of the bed:

We used the knobs that we found in the drawer of the medical cabinet that we rehabbed a few weeks ago.  There were only two large ones and a bunch of small ones, so we used a small one on each of the top drawers and a larger one on the bottom.

I love the way the carved design really pops now:

And I think the tables look just right with our bedding:

This project was truly free.

I do love Pottery Barn.  But I love free even more.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

A Hammock Kind of Day

When I heard the weather forecast for Saturday--80 and sunny--I knew I just wanted to hang out at home and relax.  Anyone who knows me knows that I'm not a very good relaxer--I like to have outings and projects planned for most of my free time. But our college had just held a huge event on Friday night, months in the planning, and my two colleagues and I had spent the past few weeks creating slide shows, posters, banners, and signs for the event--not to mention that I had speeches and my usual list of stories to write. I didn't go to the event, but on Friday night I made the 3-hour round trip to pick my daughter, Christine, up at the airport after her 4-month stay in New Zealand.

So I knew I wanted a break on Saturday, but I had forgotten that we had recently bought one of the key ingredients for the perfect relaxing afternon--a hammock. We ordered it from L.L. Bean when the weather was beautiful in March and then proceeded to forget about it when April and May turned cold and damp on the East Coast.

Of course even a brand-new hammock translates into a project because it needs to be hung up. And once we opened the box and laid the hammock out, we discovered that we were a few links short of being able to stretch the chain so it could be hung between our deck and a cedar tree in the yard. The ever-willing Doug took off for Home Depot to purchase chain, while I got out some shears to trim the cedar tree. Christine was her usual helpful self directing me where to make the next cuts from the comfort of her deck chair.

We got the hammock hung, and I grabbed some pillows from the linen closet.

I spent half the afternoon in that hammock.  Bliss....

I did do a little bit of "reading," but reading in this case meant just looking at pictures in one of my favorite books:

The best thing about a hammock is that it's the perfect place to do absolutely nothing--like doze off when your eyes get tired from "reading."

You also get a different view of the world from a hammock. When you look up, you can see that river birch, with its smooth white trunk exposed where the papery bark has peeled back. Or you can see those tiny purple flowers in the grass that you hardly notice when you're sitting up on the deck:

But when the sun moved around to where I was in complete shade late in the afternoon, I realized I need one more thing to really enjoy that hammock: a soft, old chenille bedspread to wrap around myself.

A nice pale yellow would be perfect. Or maybe white with a green and yellow design.

Perfect--now, I have another item on my wish list when I go on my next junk outing.  Probably next weekend, when I'm not feeling so lazy.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

From 70s to Cottage for $7

When Doug and I got married four years ago, he had one of those lift-seat benches that everyone had in the mudroom or hallway in the 1970s.

In dark pine of course.

We kept it because it was solid wood (except for the bottom of the storage compartment). We also have a really small house, so we always need extra storage and extra seating--and when you can get both in one piece of furniture, it's easy to just keep it and ignore the fact that it looks like it the 1970s.

So this weekend, we decided to do something about it. I mixed up some paint from three cans I found in the basement, starting with some white ceiling paint and adding some creamy trim paint from our attic renovation along with some dark, greenish khaki paint leftover from the last time our exterior siding was painted.

We sanded the bench down, applied two coats of my custom mix, and then topped it with a coat of Minwax Express stain in walnut.  It comes in a nice little tube and looks kind of like chocolate pudding when it squeezes out. I applied the stain with a dry rag, and Doug followed me with a damp one to wipe off the excess.

It was just beginners' luck, but we added to the distressed look by inadvertently rubbing off some of the paint with the wet rag (it was water-based and really hadn't had time to cure).  We also used a sanding block to rough up the front of the compartment top.

When we were satisfied with the look, we applied a coat of satin, water-based urethane left over from a floor project.

We're pretty happy with the results:

And here's another view without the throw:

Total cost: Just over $7 for the tube of stain--everything else was left over from previous projects.

As for the storage compartment? All I can say is that I'm not putting Doug's extensive CD collection back in it--they're so heavy that they left a serious sag in the pressboard. He has promised me he'll go through the music and load what he wants into iTunes so he can listen to it on his iPod while he walks.

But I doubt he'll let me get rid of the CDs. Our poor kids will find them in cardboard boxes in the under-the-eaves storage in our attic when we're gone.

They're just old enough to remember what a CD was.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Of Mud and Men

Last weekend, Doug was up in the Poconos taking pictures of his stepson, Jesse, who was running an event called the Tough Mudder. This is Jesse, who looks so cute and happy before the event started:

This is Doug and Jesse afterwards. As Doug found out, you don't have to complete the event to find out why it's called the Tough Mudder:

 Anyway, while Doug was away, I decided to play.

After rearranging as much of the house as I could on Friday night, I made a spur-of-the-moment decision on Saturday morning to go to a township sale up in Chadds Ford, PA. It's an annual event that's a cross between a yard sale and a flea market. Some of the vendors are just home owners getting rid of outgrown children's toys and clothes, while others are dealers from local shops.

I got there right when the sale opened and decided to do a quick run-through to make sure I didn't miss anything like maybe a vintage picnic tin for $2. Yeah, right.

As it turned out, the booth that attracted me the most was run by the owner of Brandywine View Antiques. She had some great vintage stuff, and she was in a selling mood. She saw me admiring a painted wooden tool tote that she had priced at $44. You can have it for $35, she said.

Sold.  It's now home to four pink geraniums on our deck (it has a divider in it, so I ended up filling the larger end with a rectangular pot and the smaller end with a round one, all sitting unused in our shed):

As I was walking away with the tote, I saw a quilt that looked like it could work with my new bedroom decor. It was marked $35. I wasn't that sure it would work, so I was about to walk away when the vendor spotted me debating. Twenty bucks, she said.

OK, I'll take that too. When I got home (and washed it), it turned out to be just perfect with my new chenille accessories:

Almost time to go--I had just $8 cash left.

Then I passed another booth, where I saw a white enamel bowl that was a perfect match for a pitcher that I had bought at GW several years for $3. The bowl was $5. I grabbed it to pair with the pitcher--it's perfect in our upstairs bathroom, which is home to more furniture than any powder room in the mid-Atlantic region:

My day ended with some entertainment at Home Depot when I went to get the geraniums. I brought the tool tote with me so that I could make sure the flowers would fit right.  When I had everything on a rolling cart, I got in line to check out. An older woman in front of me, who was missing a few teeth and looked like she smoked a few packs a day, eyed the tool box and told me how nice it would be if I painted it.

"And you know," she said, "there's a place just down the road where you can get custom decals made. You could get one made with your name on it." I thanked her politely and said I'd check it out.

Some people just have no appreciation for things like vintage tool boxes with chipped green paint.

But it gave me a story to share with Doug when he got home that night. Of course it's tough to compete with the stories of a photographer who took one for the team by lying in the mud to get finish-line pictures. You win this time, Doug, and I hope you're OK with the new arrangement on the bed.