wildflower honey

In 1999, my mother and I went to visit my uncle in West Philadelphia.  He had a gorgeous, three story twin with all the original hardwood, floors, windows, and all the tiny architectural details that I now drool over. On the second floor of his home, he had a formal sitting parlor.  It was painted a beautiful, lush yellow with windows that looked out on the tops of the cherry blossom trees.  Ever since then, I wanted a yellow room. And it was a place to sit and think, to read, to simply stare off into space if you wanted to. Growing up, my bedroom had provided that comfort for me. Sunlight, warmth, photos, safety. My parents house was always a place I knew I belonged.

bland...

When we bought our house, we decided the smallest of the four bedrooms would become a writing room for me. It was one of the first projects I tackled in the house.  We knew the house needed work – or love – when we bought it. I somehow figured that because I had watched my father restore woodwork that I could figure it out on my own. So I wasn’t shy jumping into it.  My husband and I had hastily tackled the dining room already, and that had gone pretty smoothly, albeit messy. (I’ll save that project for another day.)

Considering the condition of the rest of the house, my small sanctuary to be was not in bad shape.  Once the carpet was removed, we revealed wood floors that, while in desperate need of refinishing, were solid. Being on the back corner of the house, the room gets some fabulous light throughout the day, something that I crave. The color it was painted was a soft yellow that over the years had become stained and dirty. And the ceiling wasn’t much better. The textured plaster was riddled with spider webs, smoke stains, and dust. Let’s not even talk about what was living behind the radiator.

dust... yummy!

And let’s not talk about what they did to the doors either.  That problem has yet to be fixed.

stubborn doors.. painting courtesy of previous owners

With palm sander in hand, I jumped in.  My parents had done a lot of heat stripping to the house I grew up in, but being of the “less than graceful” persuasion myself, i wasn’t willing to try it.  But I also didn’t anticipate the amount of sanding that I would have to do.  As I began sanding the door frame, the paint began peeling off. The same happened on the baseboards. And so the project began, and rapidly grew. After a solid 2-3 days of taking the surfaces down to bare wood, the transformation really began. And I heard my father’s voice as I worked. His voice had been present when my husband and I tackled the dining room.  Then, I could hear him criticizing that we weren’t taping the woodwork right, or that I was applying to much putty to the sunken areas in the window wells. Now, when I began to rush, I would hear a soft German “uch”, like a tsk, telling me to slow down, that the paint was going to drip, that I had to be more careful. And I would sigh, smile, and slow down.

After all the painting, the true joy began.  The bookshelves were assembled (purchased courtesy of my mother), and as I began placing my own personal library on the shelves lining the wall, I realized that I finally had a space.  That safe space that I missed. I loved our old apartment, and my husband and I had personalized it as much as we could. But a space in a house is different. You own that space. A space where there was sunlight streaming in the windows. A space where I could sit and be surrounded by things that I loved – books, prints, old notebooks, photographs.

organization helper

And of course, a space that the cats adored.

it's really Luna's office

So now, when you walk up the stairs, and get to the second floor, there is a warm, inviting room. A space I created.

a peak from the stairwell

The color is Wildflower Honey by Behr. A couple of people have said it’s over the top, and before all the furniture began going into the room, I agreed. But at an estate sale, we found a beautiful shabby chic mirror that inspired the direction the room would take – a collection of present and past.  Two small prints, found at an antique store, hang to the left of the mirror. The one is a photograph that could pass for one of my grandmother, or as I always called her, Oma.

As my husband likes to call it, an “I love me” wall, with my Master’s diploma, my independent study certificate of merit, my Writing Studies 2008 Writer Award and baccalaureate honor medals and pins, and my International Baccalaureate plaque with my high school tassel.

yes. i will brag. i love me.

A bureau from my childhood bedroom serves as extra book space, and finally a room where my Bob Masse signed Tori Amos poster can hang.

A space of my own. How very sweet.

wildflower honey sweetness

Advertisements

life as a plant

It seems like the hardest part of anything I do these days is starting it.  I have always had a tough time finding motivation during the winter months. I’ve been told I have seasonal depression, among other problems.  I blame it on my mom.

The day I was born was a full moon, 30 some odd degrees, and when my mom went into labor the maternity wing of the hospital was full.  The hospital was forced to open up an older cancer wing that, while fully functional, had been closed for a few months.  My mom thought after she gave birth that she was freezing and in shock; they informed her it was just that the heat hadn’t fully turned on. And then when they realized how jaundiced I was, they told my mom that I would have to be put under one of the therapy lights to try to lower my bilirubin count. But the lights were broken.  So my pediatrician, an older Italian doctor who believed in using home remedies, told my mother to just make sure that I got enough sunlight.  So for the first weeks of my life, I was essentially a geranium, happily sitting in a bassinet in my parent’s apartment window. It worked.  And thus began my love, my desire, my need for sunlight.

The only problem with my sunlight addiction is that I am very fair with red hair and practically get a sunburn if I think about sunlight.  But every year, as the day light hours grow shorter, I become more panicked, more depressed. And when the days finally begin to darken at 5:00 pm, I am invariably miserable, feeling like I have missed out on something while I was at work, and when I get home I panic thinking the day is over and I have accomplished nothing. This year, it has been particularly bad.  After Thanksgiving, all of my work on the house halted.  I couldn’t find the motivation after dinner to do anything other than curl up on the couch with a book or watch TV when I got home from work.  Whereas the summer and fall were filled with me racing home, changing into my work jeans, and tackling sanding, painting, spackling, puttying, caulking, or any other multitude of things to get a room done, I felt like without the sunlight, there was no point.

The past week or two have been better.  I’m finding my groove again. I just schedule a painter to come in and take care of the ceiling in our living room. The past owners’ exuberance with the fireplace which left horrible black stains on the ceiling (they burnt photos, circulars, bills, boxes, etc. not long before they moved out) combined with 20 years of smoking has left the plaster ceiling a mess that 5’4″ me is not willing to deal with.  After tackling the ceilings in 3 other rooms, I have decided it is a job best left to the professionals. I spent today packing up the knick knacks in the room, and tomorrow hope to throw open the windows and remove the remainder of the wall paper.

The plants in my kitchen are perking up again. I guess it is time I do too.

Happy Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s day. Everyone rages against it when they’re single, waits with bated breath for it when they’re dating, and when they’re married… what are the expectations? I guess I don’t have many. On my way home from work, I stopped at the local florist shop. The man behind the counter gave me an odd look, checked my left hand, and then asked what I wanted.

“Just a rose. One rose. For my husband,” I qualified. “The men never get flowers.”

I figured it was the least that I could do. It was nearly 6 o’clock already, I had no plans for what I would cook for dinner (which the hubby often takes care of anyway), and it had been a long stressful day of work.  So with my rose in hand,  feet sore, eyes tired, and probably looking a bit worse for the wear, I walked into my house. And was greeted by the smell of something cooking in the oven and a husband who gives the most amazing, comforting hugs in the world.

Asparagus Steak Oscar, my favorite white wine, roses, and a card. Who couldn’t love that?

dinner that i would trade my soul for

He surprised me. He’s getting very good at that. I told him if he made this more often I would give up carbs for life. Gladly.

But all joking aside. I am amazed, overwhelmed, and constantly surprised. Maybe it’s because the house is still so new to us.  I still sometimes walk through the house, picking up and cleaning, and wonder how this all happened, how this is ours. Maybe it’s because we’ve only been married for a year and a half – it is still “new”. But with every experience and every first holiday in the house, every time we have friends over for dinner, I get the same feeling.

This is ours. This is the life we have made. This is the amazing gift we have.

Happy Valentine’s Day to my husband who makes this life so special and reminds me how surprising and amazing simple things can be.

hands

my hands are small I know but they’re not your they are my own and I am never broken… – Jewel. “Hands.” Spirit. Atlantic Records, 1998.

"hands" artwork, 1999

My teenage years were filled with poems and music and angst and art and an unquenchable desire to put into words and pastels and photos and pencil what I was feeling. I was in a portfolio art class in high school where we had to pick a theme, and with my love of words, mine was quotations.  I could create any piece of art as long as it was based around a quote.  I used the opportunity to chronicle what was going on in my tedious, high school existence, or to put into pictures a song or poem that I loved. In December of 1999 I decided to use Jewel’s song “Hands”. I used a photo someone had taken of my hands in Central Park as a center piece, and painstakingly sketched my own, spelling the word “hand” in American Sign Language. After I finished the project, I often wondered if I should have used someone else as the hand model.

my mother's hands of joy

I’ve never liked my hands. My mother’s hand are long and elegant, with generous nail beds, and the softest skin, always having the warmest and most comforting touch. My own fingers are short with small nail beds that produce nails that like to bend and crack and break at the slightest provocation.  I always felt my fingers should be longer so that it was easier to play the piano, or should be more graceful and ladylike. They have been my one true vanity as long as I can remember.  I used to spend every two or three weeks in a salon for an hour, having my nails filed to perfection or gelled or acrylic-ed until they were long and strong, neat and clean. And sometimes, then I would think they might be pretty enough. They might look feminine enough.

my father's hands, writing while on leave in the 60's

My father had thick worker’s hands. They were by no means ugly, but they had the tell tale signs of someone who did something with them everyday other than sitting at a keyboard or shuffling papers.  My father, as a baker, would often come home from work with his nail beds stained red or blue or yellow, depending on the icing or filling he had been working with that day. With his tourettes, my fathers hands would jerk and stutter occasionally. But when he was smoothing butter cream over sheet cake, or using a putty knife in the tiniest corner to smooth out a perfection, they were meticulous, artful hands that created beauty.

Whenever we finished a piece of art, we had to write an entry in our sketchbooks as a sort of summary of the thought process, the creation process. Part of my entry when I finished my “hands” project reads: “I wanted to illustrate them in some way because it’s a message of overcoming helplessness.  and senior year with all the work piling around you, the deadlines to meet and the applications to fill out, it is definitely a time when you just want to throw your hands up in the air and have someone take care of it all for you.  But of course that never happens because none of us has a fairy godmother.” Some feelings never change. Sometimes work and this house – all the projects feel insurmountable.

But as I get older, I have learned to accept my hands for what they are. I don’t get my nails done anymore, and I’m actually liking that. My hands may be small but they are strong. They hold my husband’s hand when we walk through the store or down the street. They idly pet my cats as I lay reading in bed.  They play the piano. They hold a paintbrush so steady that I don’t always have to worry about painter’s tape. They begrudgingly get stuck into cold chop meat to make some of the best meatballs around. They gently tend the rose bush that we planted within the first weeks we moved into our house.  And they can fit into tiny spaces to retrieve dropped earrings or stray nails or screws. They fit perfectly into my husband’s own large, strong ones. They get covered in spray paint. They look like my father’s hands. And I think I may like that.

spray painted hands, june 2010

facelift

The simplest makeovers are often the easiest ones.  We have a center hall colonial, which is exactly what it sounds like.  When you walk into our house, our tiled center hall is large, with a radiator to the right, and coat closet and the stairs leading to the second floor straight in front of you.  The previous owners added a chair rail, with a textured wallpaper below it, and a striped wallpaper above.  It may not be exactly our style but despite the abuse the rest of the house has been through it is in surprisingly good shape.

All of the woodwork needs to be cleaned and painted, including the stair risers which are horribly scuffed and discolored. That’s an upcoming project. The biggest eyesore by far, though, was the radiator cover. We don’t keep much on it – just a silver tray for the mail and a plant. But we still wanted it to look nice. And the one that was there was boxy, dirty, and had screens that were punctured.  While it had been painted white at one time, it was now far from it.

The screens were the biggest obstacle.  Having refinished three radiator covers in the house already, I knew that sanding globs of paint off of them was difficult to say the least, as well as taking hours of work. I also learned from redoing the one in our main bath that they had been painted with latex. The minute you started sanding or cleaning, the paint would start rolling up and peeling off. New radiator screens are anywhere from $18 to $36 per sheet, and with the size of this radiator, the cost of replacement was going to be over $100 before paint.

In a lucky trip to ReStore, we found the solution.

I have always loved metal radiator covers. They almost always have a beautiful shape or screen design, and the lids typically tilt up for easy bleeding – much easier than having to pull out the whole cover. This one was scuffed, had a little bit of rust, and had a little bit of discoloration. But it was solid, and a beautiful shape.  Even better? It was $45. 

Armed with 100 and 220 grit sandpaper, an orbital sander, and Rustoleum Universal Gloss Spray Paint (with a spray trigger – so much easier!) in white, the project was underway.  The sanding is by far the most important process. Small paint bubbles, rust, and dirt all have to be removed carefully.  The whole cleaning process only took about two hours. The painting was the difficult part but not why you might think.

Because we bought the piece on Black Friday, the cold weather was soon upon us.  My spray paint projects (you’ll find out after a while that there are A LOT of them) all happen in our garage, so the cold weather is an issue.  They aren’t lying when they tell you it has to be 50 degrees or warmer.  If you ignore that and decide to paint anyway, you’ll be cursed by dimples in the finish and paint that doesn’t cure. If you go to do a second coat and it’s not cured, the ripples will be horrible. Not to mention you have to sand those areas down again and start over. If it’s just over 50 degrees, chances are the garage might be colder inside, so you still have to make sure you keep the cans warmer (I put them in my pockets when they’re not being used) and if it’s sunny out leaving the radiator (or any project) in the sun for a little bit helps to warm it up.

So over two months, I only had a handful of days that were warm enough. But the final product was well worth the wait.

The sidenote is that this radiator not only looks clean, beautiful, and more in keeping with the house, but also gives off a LOT more heat. With more screening and less wood, the metal radiates so much more warmth than before. On any given night, one or both of our cats will be laying in front of it. (And they’re also happier because they can now retrieve the toys that they knock underneath.)

Total cost? $45 for the cover and just under $18 for spray paint and spray sealant.

The effect? Gorgeous. Priceless. Perfect. Next step? Framing a print for above it.