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.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Outdoor Shower

When I posted a picture of our new outdoor shower on Facebook yesterday, lots of people commented that they have always wanted an outdoor shower.

So have I.  When I mentioned it to Doug awhile ago, he researched the options and found a solar shower that he thought could work. Most people who buy this model use it on a pool deck with no enclosure so that people can rinse off before they swim. But we decided it would be perfect for outside at our beach house, where we get a fair amount of sun.

So Doug designed an enclosure and bought the lumber, and we were ready to build it this weekend. The ramp on our shed was the work table. Here is Doug just getting started.

He started by constructing a small deck:

Then he set up the shower itself, which is basically a black tube that holds four gallons of water, which comes in from a hose. A mixer enables you to get warm water by mixing the cold water in the hose with the water in the tube that has been heated by the sun:

Our trusty assistant was available to get in the way, including lying on the compressor hose:

Doug designed the walls with a shadow-box effect--alternating inner and outer planks with spaces between them:

There was just one problem.

When we did what Nicole Curtis calls the "naked test," we failed.

Doug went inside and asked me to check from outside.

Um, I saw a lot of blue shorts.

What we didn't realize is that the spaces have to be about half a board's width, not a full board, or you will be able to see in.

We definitely didn't want to rip off all the boards we had so carefully nailed up, so Doug decided that since this was already a rustic structure, we would just wing it.  He "ripped" several boards (a technical term for cutting them lengthwise), and nailed them up to cover some of the space.

A second naked test revealed no blue shorts, so we were in business.

But now we had another problem.  We were going to run out of lumber if we continued with Doug's original design, which was to make a shadow box door and have a partial wall in the front.

I suggested we just build a gate-type door that spanned the entire front.

OK, fine, but what are we going to build it from?

Um, about that piece of T-111 that the previous owners left?

Doug was a little skeptical, but he wanted the job done, and the material was free.

Here's the piece--all dirty from lying in the yard for years. We chose the cleanest part to cut:

By this time, our assistant was exhausted, so she decided to take a much-needed nap:

The door turned out perfect, and it faces the shed behind our house, so it's very private, with just the marsh beyond the shed:

And because this is a beach post, it wouldn't be complete without a beach pic or two.

This was the sunrise on Sunday morning:

And I found this great sign out on the beach in the afternoon:

Maybe I should have brought it home and propped it up by our fabulous new shower.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

You Don't Need it But I Do

For a junker living in a college town, the end of May and the beginning of June are like Christmas. Trash cans  and Dumpsters are overflowing--sometimes with junk, sometimes with discarded treasures.

The best thing, though, is the UDon't Need it Sale, which is a University/City collaboration to keep junk off the streets and stuff out of landfills.  Students bring all of their unwanted goods, from towels and tables to bed frames and basketball hoops, to a big tent on campus, and it either goes to charity or gets sold to the public for ridiculously low prices. And those of us who volunteer at the sale can take an item for free for every shift we work.

We get some very interesting things like this couch, which is most definitely NOT my style, but as they say, one person's trash is another's treasure:

The day I worked this year was cold and rainy, and we weren't very busy. The sale wasn't open to the public yet, and we were just taking in odd lots of stuff from people who weren't turned off by the rain.

I kept wandering around, not really seeing anything that spoke to me. I grabbed a couple of towels for the beach house and two vintage Pyrex bowls... and kept looking. 

One little piece was kind of calling to me, but I fell into the "but I don't know what I'd do with it" trap. I texted Doug a picture, and he responded with a resounding "yes"!

Here it is in the tent. None of us realized at the time that it was upside down:

We eventually figured it out and flipped it over (the drawers go on the bottom because this is a small cabinet that probably hung on a wall at one point):

After I got it home, I cleaned it up and wandered around the house looking for a home for it.

Then I had an epiphany. When we redid the kitchen at the beach house, Doug built one base cabinet, but I talked him out of making a piece that would go all the way to the ceiling because I knew it would dwarf the kitchen. So we bought a little spice rack and put a vintage bread box on top of the cabinet:

But all of a sudden I could see the little cabinet on top of the base cabinet, with the whole thing looking like a hutch.  So we took it to the beach with us last weekend, along with a free sample pot of paint I got from Lowes. It's not a perfect match for the SW sea salt, but it's close enough (the colors are actually more similar in person than they are in this picture--besides, this is a funky little beach cottage, and I long ago abandoned any dreams of perfection):

Doug had to do a little fix to make it work--because the sizes didn't match up perfectly, he had to cut a piece of plywood to serve as a platform for the top of the base cabinet, so the little cabinet would be stable. I painted that too, and when the paint was dry (well, maybe it wasn't quite dry--I'm not known for my patience), he screwed it together. I couldn't be happier with the results.  And it was all free!

And to end on a note of pride... My daughter, who now has a master's degree but is at the moment unemployed, wanted to give her boyfriend something for his birthday, but he was adamant that she not spend money on him. So she went pallet hunting yesterday and called Doug when she found a nice pile of pallets for free at a store just a couple of miles away. One of the pieces was a fairly small frame, and, with a little help from Doug, she made this flag for Brian's birthday. It has 15 stars, which is the type of flag flown at Ft. McHenry--perfect for someone who lives in Baltimore:

Doug walked her through all of the steps from pulling nails (I didn't get a photo of that) to gluing:

and using the power stapler:

She's already a master painter, so she needed no help there:

She made her own stencil for the stars by printing one out on the computer and cutting it with an exacto knife.

Total project cost: $8.97 for three pots of paint, and she used only a small amount of each color. Maybe some more flags are in her future. They would make great gifts....


She gave Brian the flag a week early because she couldn't stand to wait (his birthday is next weekend). Here it is on the brick wall in his bedroom:

Monday, June 2, 2014

Slow Down and Smell the Honeysuckle

I just finished reading a post from Rita, one of my favorite bloggers. Rita has recently taken a brief break from blogging because she was thrown into a sudden substitute teaching job.  But she took time yesterday to write a post about....well, taking time to do the things that enrich our lives.

And of course to do that, we first have to figure out what those things are.

This weekend, we really took the time to do the things that make us happy.

Friday was super special because my beautiful daughter, Christine, graduated from the University of Delaware for the second time, this time with a master's degree. She was obviously pretty happy about finishing!

And we were all, including her older brother Alex, very proud of her:

The whole family--including Christine's dad and stepmother, me and Doug, and Alex and his awesome fiancee Ashleigh--gathered for the event, and then we went back to our house for some wonderful food cooked by Doug.  We were all too busy eating to take pictures, but we did get a shot of the raspberry and chocolate ganache tart before we demolished it:

The next morning, Doug and I went down to our beach house and had an absolutely wonderful time doing very little.

The weather was gorgeous, and the beach was breathtakingly beautiful:

Doug isn't a beach-lover like I am, but when it's 70 degrees and breezy, he's pretty happy to walk along with me and Jodie:

Pax was pretty happy to spend his time bird watching from the porch:

The horseshoe crabs have arrived at our little beach, and they made some crazy trails in the sand overnight when the tide was out:

This one looks like a ribbon for "Save the Horseshoe Crabs" (I swear I didn't photoshop it):

We saw a gorgeous sunset over the marsh on Saturday night:

And smelled honeysuckle on this fence every time we went out to the beach:

Rita's blog entry really made me think.

When she talks about the dilemma of spending our limited time on earth in a manner that's meaningful to us and in ways that make us happy, she admits that it's a first-world problem, a luxury not a burden.

The irony is that when we really slow down and enjoy life, the things that make us happy aren't usually first-world luxuries. They're nature's gifts and time with family and friends.  And they cost little if anything.