Monday, November 3, 2014

It's a Dog's World

We just got back from a fabulous week in Duck, N.C. Hosted by our dear friends Martin and Jenn, this annual vacation has become a wonderful October tradition that includes Jenn's son Steven and his wife Lauren, as well as various other guests each year. We see beautiful sunsets, cook a ton of food, eat too much (including dozens of Duck Donuts), take a lot of pictures, watch World Series games, carve pumpkins, don masks and act silly, and, best of all, laugh a lot.

But this year's trip, while it included all of the usual favorites mentioned above, added a new element--three dogs: Charlie and Cooper, Jack Russell terriers who are just under two years old, and Jodie, our four-year-old yellow Lab. Charlie belongs to Martin and Jenn, and his littermate Cooper belongs to Steve and Lauren.




Initially, we had some reservations about the dynamics of this trio, but they ended up surprising us with how good they were and teaching us some lessons along the way.

Cooper and Charlie get together often when their families exchange pet-sitting services, but Jodie is an "only dog." We worried that she would be overwhelmed by the terriers' energy, but she adored all the attention they gave her (even Cooper's over-zealous romantic moves), and when she had had too much of their wrestling, she simply exerted a heavy paw or flipped them away with her big blocky head. She never growled or got mad. Several times, she took Charlie's entire head in her mouth, but she didn't clamp down.

Lesson: Invite new people into your life and don't make assumptions based on looks or stereotypes about how they'll fit in. And always be gentle.


The dogs not only entertained us in the house but also brought us together in new ways.  Lauren and I took several long walks together with the three dogs, and one day, all six dog owners went to the beach together so we could watch the dogs play and take pictures of them.

The dogs definitely added responsibilities that we wouldn't have had without them, but they also brought us a lot of pleasure:

Lesson: Like other people, dogs complicate our lives, but they also enrich our lives. Without them, we'd be pretty lonely, and they're worth the effort it takes to include them in our lives and get along with them.


We don't let Jodie beg at the table, and we don't feed her from our plates. We kept our rules pretty well in place on vacation, but her kibble was supplemented with some pretty tasty leftovers, including bacon, eggs, and London broil.  "Aunt Jennie" also brought along quite an assortment of treats that were dispensed throughout the day, including special dog sandwich cookies served as dessert:

Lesson: Everyone eats too much on vacation--we just have to be a little more active to burn it off. And there's always next week....


Jodie also got me out to explore places I've never been, even though we've been to OBX almost a dozen times. One morning, we saw this amazing piebald deer in a wooded lot next to a house:

And we passed this cute little house called "Quacker Box":

Without Jodie, I probably would have just run three or four miles on the boardwalk or on the path around the neighborhood across the street from where we were staying.

Lesson: Don't get in a rut. Explore.


At home, Jodie goes for a four-mile walk with either me or Doug every morning. Then she comes home and sleeps for several hours.  At OBX, she got back from her morning walk, and her little boyfriends were waiting for her, although sometimes they managed to play by themselves:

But she didn't have a chance to nap until she got home. On our first day back, she rested all day in front of the fireplace.

Lesson: Sometimes you need another vacation to recover from your vacation.


As we were packing the car and getting ready to leave on Saturday, Jodie finally got tired of following us in and out of the house. She laid down in the driveway with kind of a sad look.

Lesson: Even the best vacations have to come to an end.

Note: I am indebted to Doug Baker and Steve Foley for most of the photos in this post.

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 ( 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

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.