Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Dodging Sandy

With Hurricane Sandy speeding toward Delaware, I spent most of yesterday reading weather forecasts online, watching them on TV, or doing both at the same time. I couldn't concentrate on anything but the 80 MPH winds, astronomical high tides, and 10 inches of rain we were supposed to get.

We saw photos and videos of roads in Sussex County buried in sand, waves crashing over boardwalks, and houses that looked like they were floating in the middle of lakes.

All I could think about was what might happen to the little cottage that we had worked so hard to fix up over the past three months.  We went to bed last night not knowing when we would be cleared to go down and check on it.

This morning, I checked online again and saw that Delaware's driving ban had been lifted.  Right before we left for the one-hour trip, I saw the following update on the status of our tiny community on the Delaware Bay:

Kitts Hummock lost lots of sand but there was no apparent damage to homes. The road into town was shut with flooding overnight, but is open now.

We drove down feeling pretty confident but still edgy.

As we got closer, we saw lots of standing water in the fields along the edge of the marshes but nothing catastrophic.  

We pulled into our driveway, and I grabbed the keys.  My hands shook as I unlocked the doorknob and the deadbolt.

It was perfect inside.  Not a drop of water on the floor anywhere.

We both almost collapsed with relief.  We had no plans to stay, so we quickly used the bathroom, and I took one picture that I forgot to take last time--I made a new curtain for the sink out of some blue homespun fabric that I had bought from someone at work:

I'm keeping the striped one I made first as a backup--we have no washer and dryer down there so I wanted an extra.

I still like the striped one, but I think I like the plaid one better--it looks more cottagey.  (The bare wall at the end is where the yet-to-built cabinet that we're still designing in our heads will go.)

I also forgot to post this picture of Doug's brilliant answer to a pot rack.  We definitely wanted one, but most of the ones you can buy are way too big for the space we have.  So Doug wandered around the kitchen store one day, just trolling for ideas, and he came up with this:

He bought a roasting rack for $11.99 and several hooks. (Of course, the hooks cost more than the rack.)  It's the perfect size for the assortment of pots we have and for the space we had to hang it.  You gotta love a guy who can solve problems just by perusing the shelves at the kitchen store--I'm just lucky he didn't come home with a new set of All-Clad.

For today, though, the pot rack and the sink curtain weren't really all that important.  All we cared about was that we still had a place to hang them.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Of Mice and Men and Hurricanes

For weeks, Doug and I have been planning our first overnight at our recently renovated beach cottage.  The plan was for me and my daughter Christine to run a 5K at 11:00 a.m., and then Doug and I would be on our way.

Well, things kind of went that way.  Christine and I both won our age groups, and she enjoyed the post-race food provided by Buffalo Wild Wings.  The choices were limited for me, though, since I'm a vegetarian--I gave my food to Doug.

After the race, we packed up our kitten Pax and headed down to the beach. Pax did great in the car and made himself at home quickly once we got there.  He explored, had a snack, used his litterbox and then tried out both of our wicker chairs to see which one he liked better:

They both seemed to meet his kitty standards:

Doug did what every guy wants to do on a Saturday afternoon when projects have been completed--took a nap.  I should have taken a picture of him, but it seemed kind of mean to expose him like that.

I baked peanut butter cookies in our new kitchen:

and installed some new clip-on lamps that I had bought for our bed. It looked so cozy, I almost wished it was bedtime already:

I even took a short walk on the beach while Doug cat sat. 

It looks pretty peaceful in this photo:

But we knew when we went down on Saturday afternoon that this would not be the weekend we had dreamed about because Hurricane Sandy was on its way. All afternoon and evening, we went back and forth between admiring our cozy little cottage and wondering whether it would still be there by Halloween.

At about 8:00 on Saturday night, the fire police knocked on our door and told us we had to be out by 8:00 the next morning. Kitts Hummock, with the Delaware Bay on one side and coastal marshland surrounding it on the others, is very prone to flooding.  With a hurricane, a nor'easter, and a full moon on the way, a mandatory evacuation order had been implemented.  There is only one way in and out of Kitts Hummock, and we took the warning seriously.

We planned to get up by 7:30 and be on our way.  But Pax had other plans.  He spent most of the night sleeping out in the living room but woke me up by jumping on my head at 4:30 a.m. I'm an early riser anyway, so I figured I would just get up and keep him away from Doug. I was lying on the couch reading at 5:30 when I heard Pax scrambling around behind the couch.  He came out with a mouse dangling from his mouth.

He's only 6 months old and spends half of his waking hours playing with his extensive collection of toy mice, some of which look disturbingly real: 

To him, this was just another toy.  He kept dropping it, waiting for it to move, picking it up again, dropping it....

But he dropped it one too many times and lost it.  The mouse escaped, stunned but uninjured.

So even though it was only 6:00, we were all awake and we figured we might as well just get going.  Doug is NOT an early riser, but I bribed him with a promise to stop at Wawa for coffee and a breakfast sandwich.

We were home by 7:30 a.m., and Doug went back to bed. I think he woke up wondering if the whole crazy mess--fire police knocking on the door, the cat jumping on our bed, a mouse running around the house, and a hurricane barreling toward our property--was all just a dream.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Diane's Lavish Linens

Maybe it was the name of the store--Diane's Lavish Linens.

Or maybe it was that feeling you get when you're on vacation that it's OK to splurge on things you would NEVER buy at home. For a lot of people, the treats are food, drink, and excursions.  For me, it's usually something that I want for the house.

Everyone who knows me--or reads this blog--knows that a lot of what's in our "real" house and almost everything that's in our beach shack came from a thrift store, a yard sale, someone's basement, or the side of the road.

But there are no junk shops within walking distance of the house where we stayed at the Outer Banks. So one day last week, I went with my friend Jennie to check out some of the shops in Scarborough Faire, which is right in Duck:

We wandered in and out of a few stores without buying anything until we came to Diane's Lavish Linens. It was a feast for the senses--beautiful shower curtains, candles, placemats, tablecloths, valances, and bath products.

Of course I didn't take a picture inside the shop because who knew I'd be blogging about it a week later?  I found this image on a website, but I can't imagine that the Diane in the shop is any more impressed with it than I am. Why would anyone take a picture of a luxurious store with cardboard boxes piled up outside?

I guess it doesn't matter because the lack of curb appeal didn't keep me and Jenn out, and it sure wasn't an accurate indicator of what was inside.

I fell in love with some beautiful soft towels in pale blue that had a waffle weave on the back, and Jennie chose the same ones in ivory. After I saw hers, I completely stifled my inner thrifter and asked for a pair of those too.  After all, we don't have a washer and dryer at the beach, so I have to have a backup set when the first pair gets dirty. This picture doesn't do justice to the pretty coastal blue color, but you get the idea:

Somehow, though, I still managed to marry thrift and luxury in that store. While browsing the edges of the shop, I saw a funky towel hook in the shape of a fish. It had some chipped paint on the edge and no price tag. I asked "Diane" about it, and she said I could have it for $2.  Sold. 

She had to go into the back room to get a similar one so that she would have a bar code to scan.  It popped up at $16.

"Wow, I guess I gave you a really good deal," she said.

Um, yeah, you did. 

I also bought a soy candle in a small mason jar.  It smells great and is part of a line of candles made by an OBX artisan:

 After all, I had to do my part in supporting the local economy.

Thursday, October 18, 2012


This past week, we took a much-needed vacation from all the work we've been doing over the past three months to spend time with friends in Duck on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  We go every year in October, but our group this year was bigger than ever--six couples ranging in age from late 20s to mid-60s.

My friend Jennie's son Steven, who is 27 and joined us for the trip with his wife Lauren, says that at the Outer Banks everyone is in 8th grade.  Judging by the level of humor at the dinner table and around the fireplace in the living room, I think he's right.

So, in the spirit of 8th graders (maybe 3rd grade would be more accurate), we had a pumpkin decorating contest last night.

Jennie, Lauren, and another one of the women in the group bought six pumpkins at the local market and three large bags of goodies from Dollar Tree--glitter glue, crepe paper, plastic spiders and flies, cotton "spider webs," garland, paint, marshmallows, makeup, votive candles, and carving kits.

Each couple went "shopping" from the supplies, which were all laid out on the coffee table, and then had an hour to produce their creation.

The finished pumpkins ranged from G-rated Santa Claus and "The Count" from Sesame Street to a bloody Julius Caesar, a cannibalistic pumpkin eating its young, and an X-rated creation that was quite artistic but falls into the category of "what happens in North Carolina stays in North Carolina" and therefore is not pictured here:

Even Martin's cousin and her husband, who were visiting from Germany and had no clue about how to make a jack-o-lantern, joined in the fun with a traditional happy-face with purple pompoms for ears.

We were going to vote on the best one, but we decided we just couldn't choose--they were all good in different ways.  The carved ones looked better lit up at night, while the decorated ones looked better in the house with all the lights on.

We even made trick-or-treat bags for everyone:

And Steven, who was responsible for Porno Pumpkin, didn't use any of the supplies for the contest but couldn't resist decorating himself:

Eighth grade for sure....

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Rest for the Weary

For the past 10 weeks, our cottage bedroom has been a catch-all for tools, frog tape, paint, rags, brooms, and everything else we needed to transform the rest of the place.  (Once again, although we have "befores" of the bedroom, we probably should have taken a "during" to show it with all of our stuff...)

Although we painted the walls, ceiling, closets, and built-ins a few weeks ago, the floor was still filthy and water-stained.  But last Thursday, with the kitchen done, Doug was able to pack up most of his tools and clear the floor for me to paint it.  I will be forever grateful to a DIY-er who was featured in a magazine (maybe Country Living or Coastal Living) several months ago.  She tore out old orange carpet in a vacation cabin but had no money for new carpet or flooring.  Her solution was to paint the plywood subfloor with porch paint. I loved the idea (and the price--$25 for a can of paint that's enough to do one large room or two small ones).  Here's our bedroom with the floor painted using Valspar dark grey satin porch and deck paint:

This weekend, we went to Sleepy's and finally bought a bed, which means that we can actually stay there now.  Here's the room with the bed all made up.

I made the quilt from scraps and bought the pillows at a yard sale earlier this summer (we hadn't even bought the beach cottage at that point, but I couldn't pass up two PB pillow shams with pillows for $5). I got the Ralph Lauren dust ruffle (which you can't really see in these pix) from Goodwill for $3. Doug made the headboard out of an old tongue-and-groove door. He sanded off the old paint because it was very loose and bubbly and painted the hardware. I covered the door with several coats of satin urethane (still working on that container left over from the floor several years ago).

We salvaged the wall sconces when we tore the bedroom apart. Doug was going to throw them away, but I grabbed them and found a can of metallic spray paint on the porch.  My friend Jennie went to her wonderful basement storehouse and came up with two matching shades that fit perfectly.  I made the curtains from thrift store fabric.

Just so you can see how far this tiny room has come, here again, are the befores. I especially love the curtain hanging by one hook:

And note here that even the top of the dresser was adorned with the lovely green faux wood contact paper that was also used to line all of the drawers:

I'm so glad the previous owners left behind their dirty bedding for us:

And this shelf definitely had to go--how did they get out of bed without whacking their heads every day?

Our only concern about the bedroom is that it can accommodate only a double bed, and we're used to sleeping in a queen. It could get to be pretty cozy in there, especially if we're joined by our orange tabby, Pax, who is only 5 months and 6 pounds NOW, but will probably double in size over the next year.  Something tells me he's going to like our bed better than any cat bed we buy for him.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Free Trophies

After Doug and I finished renovating our attic with virtually no photo documentation a few years ago, we vowed that we would do better with before-and-afters in the future.

And for the most part, we have....

But sometimes the excitement of a project takes over, and we just plunge in without remembering to reach for the camera--or at least the iPhone.

So, yesterday, our neighborhood had a big yard sale, and Doug spotted a few things on his way back from his morning walk.  When he got home, we grabbed our wallets and went in search of cheap treasures. Our friend Rene had some items marked "free" right by the street. Both Doug and I zeroed in on the packing crate she was using to display the freebies.

"Oh that's free too," she said, "but are you sure you don't want some trophies?"

We passed on the trophies and told her we'd be back for the crate in a few minutes.  We had already decided that, turned on its side, it would make a perfect "bar" cabinet for the beach house.

So now I'm going to ask you to use your imaginations and picture the before shot here because WE DIDN'T TAKE ONE.  You'll just have to take my word for it that it was an ordinary wooden packing crate kind of like this one:
After the yard sale, we went to our friends Martin and Jennie's house, so Doug could help Martin with his bathroom renovation.  Luckily for me, they live less than a mile from two fantastic antique barns, so Jennie and I left the two guys to their plumbing project and went shopping.

Today, we headed down to the beach with the crate and some scrap wood that Doug used to make the shelves. He also brought along a small piece of leftover bead board for the top.  After he finished the construction, I took over with the priming and painting. I used the same paint--Sherwin Williams sea salt--that I used for the trim throughout the beach cottage.

Although the paint was barely dry when it was time for us to come home today, we moved the bar into place in our little dining room and filled it up.

Here is the after picture:

I bought the sign and the bottle crate, which came from a local company, when I was shopping with Jennie yesterday.  My cousin Lou painted the ice bucket for us as a gift several years ago, and we already had all of the glasses.

But before I get too excited about it being done, Doug just reminded me that there is one thing missing--a bottle of Jack Daniels and one of Bombay Sapphire.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Kitchen Impossible

Yes, when we bought our beach cottage, our kitchen looked impossible.

When we tore everything out and discovered rotting wood behind the walls and under the linoleum floor, our kitchen looked impossible.

When the plumbing kept defying Doug, our kitchen looked impossible.

The only good thing in the entire room was a brand-new gas stove. But even that caused us trouble--Doug discovered that the gas line leading to the stove was kinked, and having the gas company install a new, flexible one cost us $300.

But the impossible became the possible this weekend, and we now have a real kitchen. With bead board up and the plumbing problems solved last week, we got our vintage sink installed on Thursday night, the floor laid down on Saturday, and the countertop and shelving set up on Sunday.

Before I show off the new kitchen, let's look back at what the room looked like two months ago. There are many nice touches in this shot, including the box of mothballs (on top of the fridge) being used as an air freshener and the bare compact fluorescent bulb that provided task lighting over the sink, although I'm not sure it mattered because I don't think too  many tasks were actually carried out in this kitchen. Further proof is that the "towel" hanging on the front of the stove was actually a cafe curtain panel. I also love the attractive formica panel above the lovely brown range hood in the upper left of the picture.

Note the box of disposable dust masks sitting on the stove in this picture--they were a crucial part of our uniform for emptying this disgusting mess into a dumpster:

The sink was the trigger for the complete demo we ended up doing, and now we can't believe we ever thought we could salvage the room:

This is what it looked like after the upper-level demo. We kept the sink as long as we could so we could use it to wash out paint brushes, as that was about all it was good for. Note all of the cleaning supplies in this photo--they were left behind by the previous owners, who apparently never cleaned anything:

After we got the bead board up and the sink installed, Doug used an ice scraper (it looks like a flat hoe on a long handle) to pull up the old peel-and-stick tiles.  This was one of the few jobs that went much faster and easier than we expected (about 10 minutes from start to finish):

This picture shows the great vintage sink we found at a salvage yard.  Doug was thrilled to find out that I planned to finish it off with a curtain--no doors to build!  Now, the only thing left to complete is a cabinet that Doug plans to build to fit in the open space next to the hallway entrance:

In addition to solving plumbing and electrical problems, my brilliant husband salvaged an old lab bench that was being discarded at the University where we work, and he made a countertop out of it. 
He built the shelf underneath the counter and the one above it from an old door that was left over from our shed project. We originally intended to preserve its old "chippiness," but the year it spent outdoors (albeit wrapped in a tarp) took its toll and the paint just blistered off.  So Doug sanded it down and cut it to fit, and I painted both shelves with the pale blue (Sherwin Williams "sea salt") that we've used as an accent color throughout the cottage.  This is the view from the living room via the pass-through opening:

 And this is from the dining room:

We still have some things to do--hardwire the under-counter lights, install a magnetic board for knives, buy and hang a pot rack, and add some hooks to maximize the space available on the counter/shelf unit, but Doug is considering it "done" for now.  I just about drove him crazy yesterday, putting things on the shelves before the last screws had cooled off from being drilled in....

Our renovation approach is to salvage where we can and then splurge on things that really matter to us. We bought this light fixture to go over the sink for just $15 at a hospital thrift store:

But then we spent $270 on three strips of LED lights to go under the top shelf and provide task lighting for the countertop.

Overall, we spent about $1500 to completely remodel the kitchen: 
Refrigerator: $250
Microwave: $60
Sink: $110
Range hood: $55
Flooring: $60
Beadboard: $140
Lumber for countertop and sink support: $110
Plumbing and electrical supplies: $200
Trim: $50
LED lights: $270
Thrift store light fixture: $15
Miscellaneous supplies: $100
Having a husband who can do all this work and still be smiling on Monday morning: Priceless