Monday, April 30

For the beauty of the earth

One of the great blessings in my life is the privilege of living in an old neighborhood.  Our house is fairly new (built in 2004), but it was built on a lot in one of Durham's older neighborhoods.  That translates into lots of trees and shrubbery.  All these photos were taken within a block of our house over the past few weeks.

Now the azaleas and dogwoods and wisteria have mostly faded, but look what I found peeking out this morning:

The first hydrangea bloom!  Later it will be brilliant blue, but isn't the subtle color of these early petals lovely?

May the miracle of springtime bring hope to our hearts!

For the beauty of the earth,
For the glory of the skies,
For the love which from our birth
Over and around us lies:
Lord of all, to Thee we raise
This our sacrifice of praise!
                                                                     --Folliot Pierpoint

~What's your favorite springtime scene?

Tuesday, April 24

Guest room re-do
(If You Give a Blogger a Cookie. . . )

. . . she's going to want a glass of milk.As I was finishing up my guest room this past week, I was reminded of reading my boys If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. Remember that story of one thing leading to the next and the next?

Last fall I found some wonderful fabric and made new draperies, bedskirts, Euro shams, and bolster pillows for my guest room. And I loved the new look. But then I noticed that the walls sorely needed painting. The fresh new fabrics just emphasized the dirty old paint. So I chose a lovely light green for the walls ("Limesickle" color by Benjamin Moore; my paint is actually Duration paint by Sherwin Williams).

I was so happy to get the walls all nice and clean and fresh! But then I noticed that the new wall color didn't quite work with the old green headboards as I had hoped. (Confession: I don't ever do samples. Maybe I should start?) And the fresh walls and the new curtains and bedskirts and pillows emphasized that the finish on the nightstand really needed some work. And I didn't really like the frames around the reproduction posters above the beds. And I wasn't thrilled with the lamp I had painted blue last year. So. . . one thing led to another, truly. Here's the result.

This long, narrow room is hard to photograph, but here are some views around the room.

I'm so happy with it.  I used to think of this room as the place where old furniture went to die.  Now, with a little elbow grease, it's become a place where old furniture goes to shine!

A few little details:

I made the upholstered headboards years ago (click here for tutorial). Changing them was super-easy--I just ripped off the trim and the last fabric, stapled new raw silk ($7.99 per yard at Not Just Linens in Durham) in place, then re-attached the same trim. Each headboard required 1 1/2 yards of fabric, so brand new headboards cost me just $24. By the way, I love twin beds in a guest room. I find they make the room more versatile than a double or queen. We often have two college students visiting at the same time, and they can share the room easily since they don't have to share a bed. Married couples don't seem to mind sleeping separately when they visit; I tell them they can pretend they're on The Dick Van Dyke Show.

I painted my old Bombay Company chest with a homemade chalky paint mixture. You can click here to read about that project. I love the look of my nightstand now.

I added scrapbook paper to the back of the open shelves in the secretary. The paper was on sale at Michael's for 25 cents per piece, so this update cost only $1.50.

I found these cool finials on clearance at Target for $5.48 each.

I didn't like the frames that were previously on the reproduction posters above the beds. I was poking around my attic and found some more substantial frames that just happened to be the perfect size! I just spray-painted them black.

I use antique hatboxes as a side table beside the chair. At some point I'll have this chair re-upholstered, but for now it still works.

In this corner, I updated the look simply by painting my lamp a rust color to coordinate with the new headboards. Free and fast. This photo gives you a glimpse of the bath beyond; click here to read how I made the shower curtain.  The black dresser on which the lamp and TV sit was an unfinished oak piece that my parents bought back in the 1960's.  It was their bedroom dresser for awhile, then it was my bedroom dresser.  Then when I had my first baby in 1991, my parents painted it white and gave it to me to serve as a changing table.  There's a lot of mileage on this little dresser!

You can see the lamp a little better when it's turned off. The spray painted finish was a little bright, so I rubbed it with a bit of stain to darken it. Not bad for a free update!

A few elements stayed the same:

Old prints and Haviland plates from Goodwill (68 cents each)

So my guest room has gone from this:

To this:

With that, I think I'm done. For now.

Does one thing lead to another at your house?

I'm joining these wonderful parties:
Tutorials and Tips at Home Stories A to Z
Wow Us Wednesday at Savvy Southern Style
Transformation Thursday at The Shabby Creek Cottage
Inspiration Friday, At the Picket Fence
Frugal Friday at The Shabby Nest
DIY Talent Parade at Pretty Handy Girl
Show and Tell Saturday at Be Different, Act Normal
Best DIY Projects of April at Beneath My Heart
Show Us Your Life at Kelly's Korner
Show Us Your Home at Thrifty Decor Chick
Best DIY Project of 2012 Contest at Not Just a Housewife

Monday, April 23

Using plants at home

One of the things I love best about my house is that it's situated in a neighborhood full of trees.  Trees are my favorite thing in the created world, I think.  And I like the little sisters of trees, too--all kinds of plants.  Plants, flowers--you name it; I like it.  Here's the view from my back deck.

While I love all that beauty outside, I spend a lot of time INside my house.  So I like to add plants to indoor landscape, too.

I start at the front door.  My front porch is shaded, but coleus do just fine in the shade.  By the end of the summer these pots will be overflowing!

Inside the front door, nestled by the antique deacon's bench:

As a simple but elegant centerpiece on the dining room table:

I have plants tucked here and there in less prominent places, too, such as beside the kitchen sink:

On a side table in my bedroom:

Or in the corner of the guest room. (I always add fresh flowers when guests are here, but I like to have a live plant in this room all the time.)

Those last two photos display one of my favorite plant tricks.  Plants need light, but the light doesn't have to come from the sun.  If you want to add greenery to a dark spot in your home, place a plant under a lamp.  The plant will happily grow toward the glow of the light bulb.  Another favorite trick?  Add some moss to hide the exposed dirt in which the plant is growing.  This will give your plants a little nicer, more "finished" look.

Need a foolproof plant?  One of the easiest house plants to grow is golden pothos.  Its heart-shaped leaves are lovely and it grows nice and full.  That's the plant on my dining room table.  It's not finicky at all.  It'll look a little droopy occasionally, which means it needs a little water.  Then it perks right back up and keeps on growing.

Another favorite houseplant is spathiphyllum, sometimes called peace lily.  The great thing about this plant is that it'll tell you loud and clear if it needs water.  Here's how it looks if it's thirsty:

And here's the same plant a couple of hours later:

As you can see, I have plants growing in baskets and pots of all kinds.  Don't let the baskets fool you; for the most part, they contain plants growing in cheap plastic pots.  I line the baskets with plastic bags and just plop in the cheap pots.  Instant beauty!  Also, if you need planters and like the look of aged terra cotta pots, you might want to check out my tutorial on making your own.  You can make any size you need for very little money and just a few minutes of time.

Do you have plants in your home?  What's your favorite?

I'm joining the Nester's Planty Party.  You'll find lots of inspiration there!

Wednesday, April 18

My favorite kitchen gadgets

Centsational Girl Kate is having a Favorite Kitchen Gadgets party. I'm no chef, but with a husband and three sons I do a lot of cooking, so I'm happy to share my favorites tools.

First and foremost is my KitchenAid stand mixer. When I got married, back in the Middle Ages, these mixers were not found in very many homes. But by about 1990 I had started wishing for one. I'll never forget that at Christmastime 1994, when we had two little boys, Jack asked if there was anything I would really like to have just for myself. When I answered, "A KitchenAid stand mixer," he shook his head and said, "I'll never understand women." But I got my mixer and I've used it almost daily ever since.

See? I was in the middle of using my mixer when I stopped to write this post!

Some people think a stand mixer is just too big for their kitchens. I do have a big kitchen now, but I've used this mixer in several places, including the kitchens of a small rental house and a tiny apartment. No matter how limited my counter space, I'll always make room for my KitchenAid!

As for other gadgets, there are a few I use a lot. First, my spring-loaded scoops. These are useless for dipping ice cream, but the small one is awesome for dipping cookie dough.

The large one is amazing for scooping pancake batter onto the griddle. Perfect pancakes every time!

Now for a couple of old-school tools. First, my favorite measuring cups. These are made by Tupperware. They nest perfectly, so they take very little storage space.

You know what I like best about these? Look closely:

A 2/3 cup and a 3/4 cup measure. The entire set is six measuring cups: 1/4, 1/3, 1/2, 2/3, 3/4, and 1 cup. These are worth their weight in gold.

Last but not least is my oldest kitchen gadget. My mother insisted on buying me one of these before I got married in 1985. It's made by Ecko and is called a "Kitchamajig." Embossed in the steel are the words "Strains, Drains, Beats, Blends, Whips, Mixes." Honestly, it does all those things really well. I don't know if Ecko makes these any more, but they should. If you ever see one at a garage sale, grab it.

My tools aren't fancy, but they get the job done. What are your favorite kitchen gadgets?

Tuesday, April 17

Adventures in homemade chalk painting

If I had to name the fashions in DIY home decor right now, I'd probably list painting furniture with chalk paint in the top five. It seems that everyone has painted at least one piece of furniture with chalk paint. It takes me awhile to catch up with the fashions, but I've finally joined the ranks of these painters, with pleasing results. Here's my latest project:

This chest started life as a Bombay Company purchase about 15 years ago. It has worked in many different spaces in several different houses, but it's been the nightstand in my guest room for awhile now. I've always liked it, and it's very sturdy, but it was beginning to look a little worn. A perfect candidate for painting!



Chalk paint is a great alternative if you want an Old World kind of look for your piece. One of its greatest advantage, as far as I can tell, is that you don't have to prep a piece before you paint it with chalk paint. You just remove any hardware from your piece of furniture, dip your brush in the paint, and go for it!

You can buy ready-made chalk paint, and I've heard great things about Annie Sloan's Chalk Paint. I have not tried ASCP. Inspired by Sherry of No Minimalist Here, I made my own chalky paint mix. I simply mixed regular latex paint with a chalk product (I used plaster of Paris because that's what was readily available). I had good results mixing 4 ounces of paint with 2 ounces of plaster. I measured the paint in a liquid measuring cup and measured the plaster with a solid measuring cup (2 ounces = 1/4 cup). I stirred the mixture together really well and, if it ever felt a little too thick, I thinned it with a bit of water.

Why didn't I buy some chalk paint? Just two reasons:
  1. I wanted a very specific color (Benjamin Moore's Sutton Blue).
  2. I didn't want to spend much money.
Annie Sloan Chalk Paint is a fairly costly specialty product and, from what I've been told, is worth the cost. For this little piece, I just wanted to try the look of chalky paint inexpensively, so this was a good method for me. I spent $6.49 on a sample size of the exact color paint I wanted plus a few dollars for a container of plaster of Paris. (By the way, I now have a LOT of plaster of Paris; let me know if you want to try this method and would like for me to send you some!)

Now for the beauty of this paint. It takes distressing really well (the chalky paint scratches off very easily). After distressing this piece with sandpaper, I used some wipe-on stain to add depth of color, then finished it off with paste wax. I think you can purchase specialty waxes, but I just used Johnson's paste wax from the hardware store.

As you can see, this technique allows you to achieve a custom finish that looks aged and time-worn. If you're not going for an aged, time-worn look, this method probably isn't for you.

Here's one last shot that gives you a hint of some other changes in my guest room, which I shall finish and reveal soon. (Updated:  see the complete reveal here!)

Will I be using this kind of paint on anything else? To be honest, I don't know. In most ways, I think I'd rather have the ultra-smooth finish of regular latex paint. By contrast, people who try Annie Sloan Chalk Paint usually become devotees! So far, my favorite method for painting furniture is still spray paint, but of course the spray paint color palette is limited. All in all, I'm happy with my foray into the world of homemade "chalk" painting. 

Important note: After I wrote this post, I learned that the term "CHALK PAINT" is actually a registered trademark of Annie Sloan. What I did was to create a matte latex paint product and achieved what I believe to be a lovely finish, although I did not make real "chalk paint." I'm certain that Annie Sloan Chalk Paint must be a wonderful product, and I've learned that it is indeed very durable. Perhaps some time in the future I'll give the real ASCP a try. If I do, I'll be glad to pass along my opinion of its performance; it would be fun to compare it with my homemade chalky mixture.

What do you think?  Have you used chalk paint of any kind?

I'm joining these great parties:
Tutorials and Tips at Home Stories A to Z
Wow Us Wednesday at Savvy Southern Style
Transformation Thursday at The Shabby Creek Cottage
Inspiration Friday, At the Picket Fence
Frugal Friday at The Shabby Nest
Show and Tell Saturday at Be Different, Act Normal

Tuesday, April 10

A fitting tribute

Today is Tuesday, and I'm feeling so much better. I'm eating real food and so far my stomach is cooperating, thank God. Thank you so much to everyone who left me a note of encouragement!
Yesterday I missed the special celebration in honor of our dear friend Blake Hubbard's 15th birthday. I was so sad to miss it. But I got to see part of it, and I want to share that with you. If you need a bit of inspiration, take the time to watch this video. You'll be glad you did.

**This video was made by Inkspot Crow Films. If you're in need of your own documentary about love, I urge you to check them out. Philip and Mackenzie are delightful. They're based in Durham, North Carolina, but they're willing to travel. Their work is amazing!

Monday, April 9

In the dark of the night

After an Easter Sunday of unparalleled beauty, today is a gorgeous day in North Carolina. I had special plans for this day. I was supposed to walk in a 5K to raise money for the Blake Hubbard Memorial Fund. Blake was the son of one my dearest friends and our precious next-door neighbor who was killed in January; he would have been 15 years old today.

But I spent the night last night thrashing around in bed and hugging the white porcelain of the toilet. This morning I tried to remember the last time I vomited. I think it was May 2007.

So today I am sipping ginger ale and feeling feeble.

And I am wondering if anyone else struggles in the nighttime.

Yesterday I was capable woman. At 1:30 this morning, I was pitiful. My bathrooms were not clean. My dishes were not done. My laundry was not folded. My desktop was not neat. On top of that, I was a bad wife. I was a terrible mother. I was a horrible friend. I was an awful blogger. Could I be more of a loser? I don't think so.

There's something about being sick in the middle of the night that turns me into a mess. So today, in addition to being weak from the stomach bug, I need to regain my hold on reality. But those middle-of-the-night fears persist a bit. Maybe I am a bad wife, a terrible mother, a horrible friend, an awful blogger. Maybe I am a loser.

Ugh. Does this happen to anyone else?

Friday, April 6

This changes everything

Several weeks ago I had the privilege of watching a skywriter in action. It was great fun to watch as the pilot dipped and swerved and spelled out a wonderful message: "Love God."

The message made me think of Deuteronomy 6, when the people of God are admonished: "Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength." More than just good advice, this commandment makes up part of the Shema and is a central piece of Jewish teaching.

You may remember the story recorded in Matthew 22, when a Pharisee asked Jesus, "What is the greatest commandment in the Law?"

Jesus answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 22:37-40, NKJV).

That pilot picked a powerful couple of words to write in the sky.

But this Eastertide, as I consider the death of Jesus, I keep thinking of how different the skywriter's message would have been if he'd added a comma between the two words. I'm a grammar nerd, I know, but bear with me. Think about it. "Love God" is a good message--worthy of being written in the sky!--but "Love, God" is amazing.

It's no surprise that God would expect us to love him. He's God, after all; he deserves to be adored and worshipped. But that he would love us so much that he would give his son to die for us? That's astounding! Stupendous! Awe-inspiring!

John 3:16 is so familiar to us that it has become almost hackneyed. We look for it on signs in the stands at ballgames or emblazoned on billboards. Read it again today:

"For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."

That's the story of Good Friday: the love of God poured out for us. "This is how God showed his love among us: he sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins" (I John 4:9-10, NIV).

Write it in the sky! Proclaim it from the rooftops!


Joining Amanda at Serenity Now for Weekend Bloggy Reading 
and Vanessa and Heather At the Picket Fence for Inspiration Friday.