Thursday, May 23, 2013

Hello, beautiful!

As I mentioned yesterday, before the Great Flea Debacle of 2013 I was working on a new furniture restoration project.  This one took me almost a week to complete, but it was worth every minute (not to mention all the sweat and sawdust).

I've been looking for a small desk or chest of drawers to put in our dining room for ages.  One corner in particular gets the best natural light in our house, so that's where I take all of my Etsy photos.  I've been using the sewing table that goes with my mom's old Singer as my photography surface, but I'd really like to sell that machine with the table since I no longer use it.  So, anytime I go to the thrift stores, I make sure to keep an eye out for a possible replacement.  On Mother's Day, I stopped by Goodwill to drop off several boxes full of stuff and made a quick trip inside just to browse a bit.  Well, happy Mother's Day to me, because I found the most perfect desk!  It was in desperate need of a spruce-up, but I snatched the tag right off and practically ran to the registers to buy her.  The best part?  The price.

Yep, you read that right.  They'd marked the desk for only $9.99.  I gave it a few quick shakes just to make sure it was sturdy, because at that price, if it wasn't crumbling into sawdust right there I was going to buy it!  When I got it home, though, I looked it over more carefully and could hardly believe my luck.  Not a single bit of particle board, no veneer, gorgeous original brass hardware...I could go on, but you get the idea.  This was a genuine antique desk in shockingly good condition, despite the bad paint job.

And look at the hardware!  It was all in really good shape, so I decided to use it just as it is.
I thought I could see some nicely grained wood peeking through the chipped paint on the desktop, so I decided to try stripping it back and refinishing the wood.  After reading a bunch of tutorials and reviews, I went with Citristrip as my stripping agent.  The traditional paint strippers stink like nobody's business, and the reviews of Citristrip made me hopeful that it would work well enough.

To start the stripping process, I painted on a relatively thick layer of the Citristrip and let it sit for a bit while I worked on sanding the drawer fronts.  I'm ludicrously impatient, so I only waited the bare minimum of 30 minutes before testing to see if any of the paint would come off.  This is what happened:

Are you kidding me?  I was prepared for hours of grueling, smelly work!  I was ready to have to crawl back inside after finishing and flop pitifully on the living room floor, looking for sympathy for my immense suffering.  No such luck.  The paint came right off with just one application of the Citristrip, and it hardly smelled at all.  I'd definitely recommend using this product in an open space (like a garage, which is what I did) just to reduce the fumes you're exposed to, but it's significantly less noxious than its traditional counterparts.  And man, does it work like a charm.  I'm pretty sure what I was stripping was just one layer of latex paint with no primer underneath, so I can't speak to how the Citristrip would do with say, several layers of oil-based paint with primer but I suspect it would still work well.  Oh, and Citristrip is definitely not paying me to say this.  I was just really pleased with their product!  (Actually, though, makers of Citristrip, I'd be happy to take any money you'd like to send my way.  I might even write you a little song if you ask nicely.)

After the absurdly easy task of stripping the paint from the top was complete, I used mineral spirits to remove all the residue before sanding the wood down.  Here's how it looked pre-sanding.

The wood was pretty smooth already, but there was quite a bit of discoloration and a few significant water stains.  The sanding actually took much more work than the stripping did, as a matter of fact.  I used my palm sander with several successive grit levels of sandpaper and got the top looking much better.

After a lot of sanding, there were still some spots on the wood that had a bit of discoloration.  I eventually decided to leave it as it is above, since as an antique, I want a bit of this piece's history to show through!  (i.e. not perfect is juuuuuust fine with me)  As usual, I went with my Minwax English Chestnut stain, since I seem entirely unable to move away from it.  I just wuv it so much!  Plus in this case, the little bit of red stain left from the previous finish combined gorgeously with the chestnut color to create a stunning finish.  After the stain dried, I applied 4 coats of furniture wax, and now she absolutely glows.  Just look at her new top!

I'm head-over-heels in love.  I adore all the little dings and variations in the stain.  I can just imagine all the people who have sat at this desk since it was first made.  I hope they all loved the simple beauty of its lines, and appreciated the craftsmanship it took to put it together.

For the body of the desk, I knew I wanted to do a painted finish.  I'm really drawn towards the cool, fresh look of gray painted furniture lately.  Gray is the perfect chameleon: it can blend into any color scheme or decorating style.  I have a good amount of AS Paris Gray on hand, so that's what I used for this desk.  I plan to paint our IKEA hutch with that color, too!  Good thing I love it. :) 

After two coats of the gray, I did just a tiny bit of distressing to keep the finish from looking too flat.  I'm so thrilled with every aspect of this project.  The top turned out fabulously well, and the paint job is perfect, too.

I didn't measure this piece when I was at Goodwill, but I was pretty sure it would fit into the small space where it was destined to sit.  After I'd taken all these pictures I dragged it over to its new home, and it fits like it was made for the space.  So. perfect.

From all the little details in the wood, to the beautiful original hardware, to the way the paint finish turned out, this desk turned out even better than I'd hoped.

From a much-abused $9.99 Goodwill cast-off, to a piece I'll treasure and use for years, I think this little lady is just as happy about this makeover as I am!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

An Inconveniently Itchy Truth

Hi, my name's Anna and I, um, I have fleas.  Admitting you have a problem is the first step towards fixing it, right?  Right?  RIGHT?!  Before going on, I suppose I should clarify that I  don't have fleas, my home does.  Ugh.  I want to scream.

So how did this happen, you ask?  Well, it mostly started with laziness and cheapness.  Way back in 2004, my best friend from college and I fell victim to a roadside "Free Kittens!" sign and ended up smuggling 2 fluffy fur balls back to our house.  Mine was this sweet little boy, who we named Colby.

I love my Colby boy.  He is honestly the sweetest, cuddliest, smartest cat ever.  He comes when you call him, he's happy to snuggle anytime, and he tolerates my kids' affections like a champ.  He's always been a fully indoor cat, so we've never had to worry about him encountering other animals.  As a result, after we had kids we let his veterinary visits lapse.  Paying for both the pediatrician and the vet just wasn't in the budget.  I know, I know, we're terrible pet owners.  We've always been diligent about keeping him inside, though, so we felt like it wasn't that big of a problem.

Enter Lily and James.  Those two are not particularly good about quickly closing doors, and Colby has begun to bolt whenever they're standing in a doorway.  Every time it happens my sweet babies just stand there with looks of innocent surprise, as if the cat had never shot out past their legs before.  The result of this is that Colby has become more of an indoor/outdoor cat.  We knew we needed to get him some flea prevention medication, but we kept putting off a visit to the vet.  Do you see where this is going?

Last weekend, Stephen was petting Colby and said, "Uh oh, I think I see a flea."  I immediately freaked out and told him to chuck the cat out onto the screen porch.  My much cooler-headed husband told me that it was only a couple fleas, and we didn't really need to worry.  Fool that I am, I believed him.  Those of you who've dealt with fleas before are laughing at our naivete, I know.  We treated Colby with some cheapo flea stuff from Walmart, and made a vet appointment for yesterday.

Lesson #1: Never be cool-headed and always go with your initial freaked out reaction.

When I got to the vet I told the tech that we'd seen a couple fleas, but we'd treated him so I fully expected them to be dead.  I showed him the product we'd used and he ever so politely told me that basically, that stuff is useless crap.  Upon further inspection, Colby was still covered in live fleas, all doing a mockingly smug jig aimed directly at me.

Lesson #2: Never buy crappy Walmart flea treatments.  You may as well spray your pet with compressed air, for all the good it will do.

I tentatively asked that since we'd kept him mostly on the porch since discovering the fleas, our house shouldn't really be infested, right?  Umm, no.  I can't believe the vet and the tech didn't laugh right in my face.  They told me that I'd probably need to vacuum all the carpeted spaces in our house where Colby hangs out pretty much daily until the infestation was taken care of.  Which could take up to 8 weeks.  Of daily vacuuming.  Of every room with carpet.  Oh, and basically our entire house is carpeted.  Kill me now.

Well, when I got home I started attacking the fleas immediately.  We treated Colby with some genuinely effective flea medication, which should hopefully prevent a recurrence of this infestation.  Next, I spread Borax (which significantly helps in the war on fleas) all over the carpet and rug in the living room and vacuumed like a pro.  I was so proud, and went to bed with a sense of accomplishment.  Then this morning while I was happily drinking my coffee, James said, "Look!  I find a bug!"  Sure enough, he had just pulled a wriggling, live flea off of one of our pristine white chairs.  I snatched it out of his tiny hand and smashed it violently until it was most certainly dead.  Jamesy looked at me like I was deranged.  Just to make sure there weren't any more, I pulled the back cushion off of the chair and peaked at the back of it.  It was seething with tiny live demon spawn.  Ok, there were maybe 20 of the little beasts, but it looked like a million to my horrified eyes.  I wanted to cry.  They're everywhere!  They're taking over my life!

Lesson #3: Never assume the fleas are confined to the carpet.  They will spread.  It is their prime directive.

Have you ever watched Firefly?  You know the episode where the Shepherd tells Mal he's going to the special hell?  Well I'm on a mission to send these fleas to the special flea hell.  They WILL die and I will be the one to kill them.  If you're looking for a sound investment idea, I suggest buying stock in Borax.  And vacuum bags.

Since the discovery of the fleas in my chairs, I've washed the slipcovers (thank the Lord for slipcovers), and started to think about this whole situation. Remember what I said at the beginning of this post?  Go ahead and scroll back up there.  I'll wait.  See?  I said that I have fleas, when it's really my house that has them.  That reveals something about the yuckiness of my heart.  I've let my sense of self get much too tangled up with the things in the home I'm trying to create for my family.  Our carpets and furniture are just things.  This is a temporary (albeit annoying) problem that will pass.  The people who live here are what really make our house a home, and that's where I need to be investing more of my time.  Matthew 6:19-20 has never resonated so clearly with me: "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."  My family are my treasures, and investing in them will yield eternal fruit, not just a pretty house.  Of course, I'm not saying that working towards a beautiful home is a bad thing.  I firmly believe that making your home a lovely place is a great way to nurture and love your family.  It's just not the only, or most important, way.

While the Great Flea Debacle of 2013 is deeply frustrating and gross, it's taught me a little bit more about myself.   So while it's not going to be fun breaking this flea cycle, I'm actually thankful to have experienced this bump in the road.  I'm reminded to hold my possessions loosely and store up true treasures in heaven.

Real Lesson: Don't get so caught up in things that you lose sight of the true treasures in your life.  And for heaven's sake, get your pets some vet-approved flea treatments!

P.S. We'll return to our regularly scheduled pretty programming tomorrow.  Before the flea business, I worked on my favorite furniture redo ever, and I'm so excited to share it with you tomorrow!  Here's a quick preview:

Get excited! :)

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

A clean and useful dresser

Hello hello! Hope your week is coming along swimmingly!

Today I wanted to share a small project I worked on in my continuing quest to class up our master bedroom. Well, it's not as much a project as it is an organizational overhaul. Both mine and Stephen's dressers are usually in such an appalling state of clutter that it's nearly impossible to see the tops. For him this isn't that big a deal, but I keep all my jewelry on my dresser, so it was becoming very annoying to dig through the mess every morning. (Let's pause here for an honesty check. By "morning," I mean mid to late afternoon, and by "every" I mean every third at the very most.)  Plus it was just so dang ugly.  Something had to be done!

After first cleaning everything off, I put together this little arrangement:

So clean and accessible!  Sorry I don't have a before picture, but just imagine a huge pile of junk and you've pretty much got the idea of how it used to look.  Believe me, this is a vast improvement.

Isn't that jewelry hanger beautiful?  Stephen got if for me for Valentine's day this year, and that was really the piece that kick-started the whole dresser revamp.  I have a serious addiction to jewelry from Etsy, and that hanger (which came from Urban Outfitters) is a perfect way to display it.  My rings and stud earrings don't fit up there, though, so I store those in the little ginko leaf dish.  The jewelry box it's sitting next to is also from Stephen.  (He's the best.)

Since my hair is so short, the only hair accessories I ever use are a few little clips or bobby pins, so I'm using the aqua dish to corral those.  I am completely in love with this piece, by the way.  My aunt gave it to me for Christmas 2 years ago, and I hadn't had a place to display it until now.  Another excellent reason to have cleaned up the space!

Isn't it just so cute?  I love that tiny frog and water lily blossom.  I try to contain my penchant for whimsical cuteness in the rest of the house, but I couldn't resist having this little guy in my room.  I makes me smile every time I see it! 

That just left the far right side of the dresser to decorate, so I composed a quick vignette with a few pieces I've collected over the years.

The little bottles came from a flea market, and the shells are from a couple different beach vacations.  I'm pretty sure the iron candle holder was a wedding gift that came from Pottery Barn.  The pressed glass doorknob is especially precious to me, because it came from the house where my mom grew up.  I love old doorknobs, and I hope someday to be able to actually use this one in a future home.

Anyway, that's the latest improvement in the state of our master bedroom.  What do you think?  I'm really happy to have a functional place to keep all my jewelry, and to have made another significant dent in the clutter in our room.  Also, just by seeing it all displayed, I've been reminded to actually wear  my jewelry more often.  Imagine that!  Our room is by no means finished, but it's getting closer.  I'll keep you updated.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

A boxwood topiary (and tutorial!)

This project has been brewing for a very long time.  When I was little, our family would visit my dad's best friend from college in the beautiful old farmhouse he shared with his wife just outside Charlottesville, Virginia.  They moved away from that house when I was fairly young, but the thing I remember most about it was the beautiful boxwoods they had planted allover the property.  I can still catch a hint of their scent whenever I think about that house.  Ever since then, I've loved boxwoods for their structure and simple beauty.  So, when preserved boxwood wreaths and topiaries started gaining popularity recently, I knew I needed to get in on the trend!

I would love to have been able to use real preserved boxwood for this project, but it's a little out of my price range, so I settled for the fake kind.  Fake it till you make it, after all (or can afford it, in this case).  My favorite look for the boxwood is when it's trained into a topiary form so that's what I went for here.

To duplicate this project, first you'll need either a preserved boxwood globe or a reasonably real-looking faux one.  I got mine at Joann's using both a 50% AND 15% off coupon, so it cost me about $5 dollars.  Totally doable!

Next, you'll need a dead tree in your back yard like this:

That does this every time it rains:

Ok, ok.  You don't really need a dead tree that drops tons of debris all over your backyard anytime the wind blows, but it sure does provide as many sticks as you could possibly ever need for any and all projects.  Forever.  But I digress.  What you actually need is just a fairly straight stick onto which you can affix your boxwood globe.

I thought the stick by itself looked a little bit plain, so I ended up wrapping it several times with some kudzu vine that I pulled out of that pile of dead stuff.

This would work equally well with grapevine, which you should be able to buy at any craft store.  Just twist it around the stick a few times until it looks how you'd like!

Once you have your stick wrapped (or not, if you prefer), it's time to attach it to the boxwood.  My faux boxwood is made up of a dense collection of leaves radiating out from a smaller hollow plastic framework in the center.  Unfortunately I wasn't able to get a good picture of this.  After a bit of work, I was able to jam the stick all the way through the center of the ball.  With a preserved boxwood ball, you should be able to just push the stick into the floral foam that's holding the leaves.  In either case, I suggest using some kind of adhesive to make sure the ball is securely attached.  I used E6000 to secure mine.

Ta da!  A perfectly charming little boxwood topiary!  Pretty, isn't it?  Alright, so now that you've finished the top of the project, it's time to put it into whatever container you've chosen for the base.  I decided to use the beautiful crock my dad bought for Stephen and me for our anniversary last year.  Isn't it beautiful?  I just love it!

To keep your topiary standing straight, I recommend sinking the bottom end of the stick into some floral foam.  That will keep it really sturdy once the whole thing is finished.  This can be a bit of a finicky job, but just keep at it until you've got your stick standing up straight.  (It took me 3 tries to get mine how I wanted it.)  After the base of the stick is in the foam, place the foam block in the center of your container and surround the foam tightly with some kind of packing material.  I used wads of butcher paper and shoved them tightly all around the foam to keep the topiary very secure in the center of my crock.

Once I secured the foam, I added enough paper on top to create a small mound around the bottom of the topiary stick.  I knew I wanted to cover the hill with moss, so it didn't really matter if the surface was particularly flat.  However, if you'd like to top your topiary base with river rocks or something like that (which I think would look really nice), don't mound up the paper quite as much as I did.  The rocks will just slide out of your container if you do!

The moss product I used, "SuperMoss," also came for Joann's.  It's real preserved moss and it comes attached to an easy-to-cut plastic mesh.  The mesh made it super easy to work with, so I'd really recommend this product or at least something similar.  I've used preserved sheet moss that wasn't attached to mesh before and this is much easier.

Working in sections, I arranged the moss on the top of the paper mound to create a finished look for the topiary base.  I used hot glue to attach the moss to the paper so that curious little hands won't be able to pull it off (at least not before I notice them, at least).  I love how it turned out! 

So there you have it!  A perfectly pretty boxwood topiary that will be at home just about anywhere.  I think it would look particularly good in a front entry. What a lovely welcome for visitors :)

I hope you have a chance to try this project!  It took hardly any time to finish and has a big impact.  A perfect combination!

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Our little garden, May 2013


I've never posted about our garden here before, so I thought I'd give you a glimpse today!

One of my favorite things in the world is spending an evening working in our tiny little garden.  I wait until the kids are in bed and head out for some quite, peaceful weeding action.  Seriously, it's amazing how much I enjoy sitting in the dirt, slowly clearing out all the persistent little weeds that seem to pop up every single day.  (If you had told my 14-year-old self that I'd ever write the preceding words, I would probably have given you an eye roll for the ages.)  There's a unique serenity to be had in the fading light of a Florida evening, listening to the singing tree frogs in the woods around our house, while working in our tiny patch of intentional green.

To try to control the weeds a bit more effectively, I decided to mulch some this year.  Rather than buying anything, I just collected pine straw from around our big pine trees and laid it down all around the garden.  As you can see in all these pictures, the weeds are still making their presence known, but it's SO much better than without the mulch.  Plus, I wouldn't want to have no weeds because then I wouldn't be able to spend those evenings out in the garden!

Our back yard is surrounded by thick woods on 2 sides and faces due east, so there's very limited space in which to plant herbs and veggies, since they require so much sun.

Some "Celebrity" tomatoes
We've managed to cram a tiny patch of garden in the little space between our air-conditioning unit and the wall of our screen porch.  It's on the south side of the porch, so it gets good light until around 4pm in the summer, which seems to be enough for what we plant.  Here's how our garden looks today:

Our crazy, happy little garden
We have 2 rows of zinnias, which the kids love to cut and put in vases all over the house all summer long.  We planted an entire row of basil from a variety seed pack, a row of dill, a couple sunflowers, a bunch of cucumbers, and several tomato plants!  Since we're so far south, we were able to plant in the first week of March (oh Florida, how I love thee) and everything is coming up beautifully!  Our tomato plants, in particular, are absolutely covered in little baby tomatoes that the kids can hardly resist picking.  James insists on touching the "grapes," as he calls them, every time we go outside.  Silly boy :)

 Since I've had to wedge our planting into such an odd space, I try to use the location to our advantage.  I use chicken wire to train the cucumbers up to the screens, and then they grow wild all over the entire south side of the porch.  Two years ago they actually grew all the way up to the roof!

I love that we don't just have edibles or ornamentals.  It makes for a much more interesting garden when you mix the two together.  In addition to the zinnias in the main plot, I'm using our friends' old screen door again this year as a trellis for some morning glories.

Screen door trellis (top) and our baby morning glories! (bottom)
The last thing we planted were a couple hills each of birds' nest gourds (they're a very hard-shelled gourd that can be carved and dried easily) and Moon and Stars watermelons.  We tried the watermelons least year, but never got any mature fruit.  Lily and James so loved watching the vines wander all over the side of the yard, though, that I thought we'd give them a try again.

You can just see the little yellow spots on the leaves of this watermelon that are the characteristic "Stars"
Unfortunately, our rampaging squirrels murdered one entire hill of the watermelon, so there's only that 1 little plant left.  Go, baby watermelon, go!

A soon-to-bloom zinnia!
Most of these photos are a bit funky because it's been super cloudy for several days, but I couldn't wait to do this post, so I just took pictures anyway!  As the growing season continues, I'll keep you updated on our garden's progress (hopefully with better pictures!).  Thanks for visiting, and I hope your garden is growing beautifully, too!