Thursday, June 14, 2012


It's been a long time since I've posted anything, mainly because we've been so busy with house projects, school, and life in general, BUT it's time to get back in the swing of things!

An update on our living room and office will be forthcoming, but I am very excited to introduce an upcoming series of posts: LadyMaking. As many of my good friends know, while I like to get my hands dirty, I also have a deep love for anything overly feminine, ruffly and/or intricately detailed. I didn't fully realize that this was an oddity until a trip to DesMoines and an introduction to West End Salvage, a great BIG store filled with untouched and reworked antiques and a few vintage finds scattered in between. While perusing the wares with a co-worker, I squealed, put my hands to my cheeks and half whispered/half screeched "ohhh, ladythings!" at the sight of an old hand mirror, brush and comb set. I stepped forward and looked back toward my coworker, fully expecting the same reaction from her, and realized she was cracking up over my excitement at these feminine frivolities. 

So, the first half of the name of the series comes from this love of "ladythings" and I also just like the word "lady".

The "Making" comes from my friends and me getting together and crafting things. LadyMaking will feature a how-to based on one of the projects from the group which will gather on Monday nights starting June 18th. I will provide a project theme and LadyMakers can bring supplies and work within the proposed theme OR tackle any project their heart desires.

I'm free from the reins of grad school (Thank You Iowa State) and ready to rejoin the world by getting together with friends to do one of my pre-grad school favorite things, crafting and making all things lovely and functional. 

June 18th Project Theme: Cork
I'm personally planning to begin stitching together sliced, used wine corks into a large trivet/countertop protector, so we'll see how this goes :)

Monday, August 22, 2011

Dirt and Mildew and Paint Chips, Oh My!

I've been wanting to make better (and cuter) use of our courtyard, but have been putting it off for the following reasons:
(1) I haven't had time to paint the house back there, so it is still light grey
(2) The cement wall is dirty, mildewey, and a lot of the paint is loose

Yesterday, I decided to tackle a small piece of this mess and ended up with a pretty good result. I did not scrape and paint the house or the wall. I did scrub off the dirt and mildew with rain barrel water and a washing soda/borax mixture.

In anticipation of doing this cleaning project, I purchased seven large vintage glass vases (thank you Goodwill) that I planned to place on a small protruding ledge for use as giant candle holders (thank you mom for having a million old candles).

The vases looked like this:

The wall transformation looked like this:

Pre scrubbing

post scrubbing

With vases!
As if I didn't have enough going on, I also decided to make pickles! The front jar is full of cucumbers, jalapenos, chili powder and crushed red peppers.....yum!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

To dye, to stain, no more..(or at least less visibly)

This afternoon, a box of kelly green Rit dye and I got down to inking up some kitchen towels and cloth napkins. These towels and napkins started out either white or cream but have more recently become an unpleasant blend of dingy yellow-ish brown, cream and tan smears. I probably should have known better than to bring light colored fabrics into our house as ML is well known for his abilities to turn previously white things brown.  I tried my luck nonetheless and things turned out as they usually do...a little darker than they started.
The story starts to turn my way when I remembered that I had purchased a trusty box of kelly green rit dye for $.60 on sale sometime during my college years. How cool would having a bunch of green towels and matching napkins be....VERY cool. WARNING: I haven't dyed anything since my high school days of tie-dying everything I could get my hands on, so I was forced to diligently read and attempt to follow the poorly written directions on the Rit box. It was a long and tedious process - and it went something like this:

1. put all napkins and towels into hot water
2. wring them out
3. heat up 1 Cup of water and add the dye powder - stir a bit to mix it up (wear rubber gloves for this)
4. find a giant plastic container and add 3 gallons of hot water
5. add 3/4 Cup of salt to the giant plastic container
6. add the dye mixture and stir (wear rubber gloves from this point on)
7. add each item to the big mixture and stir it around
8. once all items are in the mix, stir it around with your gloved hands
9. let sit for 15 minutes, stir again, repeat
10. wring out all items
11. dump mixture down a drain
12. put the items back in the big container and keep rinsing the items with cold water until the water is clearish or you are tired of this process (it took me about 4 rounds before I gave up)
13. wash the items in warm water and do an extra rinse cycle
14. hang out to dry
In hindsight, probably more work than it was worth, but at least we won't look like total slobs when we have friends over.

The next step was totally worth the work! I used my woodland creature cookie cutters to trace appliques which I then sewed on to the towels and napkins. I was able to use some old fabric and ended up with a super cute bright end product.

From left to right starting on the top row: fox, moose, snail, bird, porcupine, squirrel!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Sunshine through the clouds

I took this week of of work to achieve my curb appeal goals. While the first two days were filled with rain, Wednesday was sunny and pleasant - perfect for slapping on the first coat of gusto gold. While these past few April days have been the opposite of helpful, I have been able to cover the three street-facing sides of the house with a color that has drawn the following comments:

"Should we change the name of our street to Sesame Street? I feel like I'm living next to big bird. Maybe you should paint your front steps orange like his feet. But seriously, it's cute." - next door neighbor

"I'm sure glad I wore my sunglasses today." - mailman

"I guess I'll always know I'm in the right neighborhood." - little old man who walks through the neighborhood looking for deer and other woodland creatures

"I'll never miss your house when I drive by." - realtor who lives 4 houses down the street

Halfway through painting the front of the house, I was also stopped by a college student working on a photography class assignment. He was supposed to find a scene with red, yellow and blue. I happened to be wearing old red workout pants and painting a previously blue house bright yellow. He assured me he was not a creep and would be getting an 'A' for this great find.

On the days when it was raining too hard to scrub down the siding, I stayed inside and finished up some indoor painting projects I had been putting off.  The bathroom door had been looking a little blah and gathering a large number of unwashable grimy fingerprints around the knob, so I added a semicircle on each side as a dual purpose accent and dirt hider. I also started and finished painting the closet door in the laundry room. Ours is now the most sterile-looking laundry room I have ever seen - everything is white or wood.

 This morning, we're getting some light rain, so I plan to scrape and paint the garage door which should provide me with a relatively dry workspace and some satisfaction at seeing the last shreds of grey-blue disappear from the street-side of the house. The nasty front awning may also be making its way off the scene if my mom is able to stop by, cell phone in hand to call an ambulance should things go awry. as I like to say- safety first, someone to call an ambulance, second.

PS - Thank you hail storm and homeowners insurance for the lovely check that will pay to replace our ugly beast of an awning. If you decide to bring us golf ball sized hail again, please do so before we replace the roof  and front entrance.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Curb Appeal

I've been checking out quite a few books from the library on exterior improvements and curb appeal. Being a native Iowan, I am a little confused about my personal inclination toward bright, bold, exterior paint colors. Apparently, the approved exterior home colors for the midwest are taupe, taupe, and more taupe. Per Sherwin Williams: "In the nation's heartland, creams, whites and light beiges are the rule for exterior siding, while window trim, shutters and entry doors wear coats of deep burgundy or forest green. Why? Like New England, this is an area where tradition dominates, so color choices swing toward the conservative shades of the spectrum. Light neutrals blend well in virtually any neighborhood, and provide a calm canvas for the green foliage and multicolored landscaping so popular in residential communities. Light neutrals also echo the shades of wheat, corn and other farm crops that are the heart of the heartland."

I say hell no to this. I don't like cream or beige or forest green. Give this girl something in the goldfinch palette, and call it done. One of the many books I've been perusing said that when your friends drive down your street, they should know which house is yours. Maybe I just lack creativity, but I'm not sure how you jazz up neutrals so your friends will recognize your abode among the sea of tans, browns and taupes. I've never been one to follow the pack, so it's not much of a surprise that I don't feel constrained by the limited socially acceptable color options.The irony of my exterior paint color choice is that the goldfinch is the state bird of Iowa. Maybe its time for Midwesterners to look to their natural wildlife instead of row crops for inspiration.....
With my color rant out of the way, I'll move into other curb appeal measures I've started taking. Almost any house can be drastically cute-ified by adding a simple window flower box. I had researched and planned to make my own boxes out of cedar planks, but after visiting my local menards and comparing the price between cedar boards and pre made boxes, I saved myself a few hours and about $30 by skipping the DIY. I bought some white paint, added a few coats to the boxes and installed them using "L" shelf brackets. Once they were up, I added some details using light blue paint (and a touch of red) that I am hoping will accent the soon-to-be-painted gold siding. Next on the docket - shutters.
I should mention that I didn't go crazy with installing things on my exterior and choosing gusto gold paint without a little preparation. Thank goodness for the library, photoshop and tons of house pictures on the fab internet for helping me draft my makeovers. Friends, I hope you recognize my house when you drive by.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Adventures in Bathroom Sitting

May 2010 - Another step toward progress

In my usual pattern, knowing that ML would be out of town, I decided to dig into a big project. The bathroom started out with floral wallpaper, floral-print curtains, pastel geometrically pattered linoleum, yellow poofy shower curtain on a big bronze rod, and a medicine cabinet with eagle shaped sconces. I feel like this should give you an idea of why it needed an overhaul. I started by choosing my bathroom fixtures from the Lillangen series a few weeks earlier. I also purchased my mildew resistant paint in white and grey and my black linoleum floor tiles and vinyl trim. I was going for a mod-institutional feel which I think I successfully achieved. I started by removing the wallpaper (I'm a pro. see the enlightenment for details). Once all of the wallpaper was down, I removed the fixtures and primed the entire room including the floor. I drew on a horizontal line that would serve as my divider between the grey (bottom) and the white (top).  I did a coat of white, waited for it to dry and then carefully painted the grey line by hand, using a roller once the line was straight and complete. I also had my first experience with hiring an electrician. We had to create an outlet for near the sink as the old eagle sconce medicine cabinet had previously been the keeper of the plugs. Thumbs up to East Iowa mechanical for sending a guy who knows how to deal with old lath and plaster walls!

Because of some issues with the sink piping (missing parts in the package - I love you IKEA, but a little more QA would be appreciated), the project was on hold. I called IKEA and had the parts shipped because I live 3.5 hours from the closest store. The project would not be finished by the time ML got home. He ended up helping me put in the flooring and install the sink and medicine cabinets. I don't think I could have handled the flooring by myself because we had to disconnect the toilet, install the floor, add a new wax ring and get it all put back together quickly because we only have one bathroom. Luckily, ML's brother is a plumber and walked us through it over the phone. The final touch was in the textiles. I bought some neat wood-look fabric and sewed the shower curtain and regular curtains to match.

The last step in the process was installing the towel bar and TP holder. Having found a great space saving towel bar early on, I just needed to determine placement. I ended up installing the towel bar in the original TP location - close to the shower and sink. Since I had taken its spot, I had to find a place for the TP holder so I attached it to the side of the sink cabinet. Overall, a solid use of 36 sq ft.

It's garden time and I'm famous.

April 2010 - Hello world.
Terrace garden with onions and garlic planted
While there had been some pretty massive projects undertaken by the time April rolled around, more projects and one of the coolest things to happen in my life thus far happened this month. We tried our hands at painting paneling and ML began the garden planning and pre-planting process. The weather was warm enough for me to bust out the spray paint and turn the burnt orange metal and floral patterned kitchen chairs from my grandma's garage into lovely silver masterpieces.  ML bought seeds and covered the area around our only southern facing window with plastic containers holding his seedlings. He cared for them meticulously until having the brilliant idea of using our black cavalier as a greenhouse - apparently the temperature inside a black car has the effect of killing off any plant life. He started over and was able to make a pretty awesome first year garden.

By this point, we had already begun the painting of the laundry/utility room. This was the darkest room in the house - all wood paneling and dark carpet. ick. The flooring is a story for another day, but the walls were taken care of pretty simply with a no VOC white primer and semi-gloss paint. To add a little character to the strange nooks and little faux window connecting the laundry room to the entryway, I used two tension rods set parallel to each other and sewed some IKEA window shades to serve as a divider. This completely changed the look and feel of the back entryway and laundry/utility room.

Before and after of laundry room
The most exciting news of April was that PBS visited Dubuque to do a piece on sustainability and transportation.  They were looking for a house to tape Americorps members doing water retrofits and I got a phone call asking if I would volunteer my little, very-much-under-construction house for the effort. I spent the entire morning cleaning and then the volunteers and PBS guys showed up. They ended up finding me more interesting than the retrofitting, so I was interviewed for about an hour and Michael and I were filmed riding our bikes up and down main street while the cameraman dangled from the window of their SUV.
Check out our TV debut and some footage of the house at BluePrint America: Former factory Town Eyes Green Future.