Thursday, October 28, 2010

From House to Home

My first houseguest was my cousin Chris, who came to visit mid August. She was here a week after the movers came, and the house was still pretty stacked with boxes. A new sleeper sofa had just arrived, and I cleaned and stocked the guest bathroom--I wanted her to be as comfortable as possible, under the circumstances. Chris helped me pack in NY, so I didn't want us to have a full-on 'work weekend.' Aside from hanging some big, heavy pieces, buying some rugs and putting together some furniture...we explored the city a bit and celebrated my birthday.

Scroll forward 7 weeks. After Charlotte, Cousin Chris logged trips to Spain, Mexico and points in the Northeast. Being Type A must run in the family.

Over those 7 weeks, I was pretty tied to the house, but I did dip down to Savannah for a fast weekend. I'm happy to report I'm 99% done with wrangling the house--plumbing, electric, paint, wallpaper, carpet, media all plugged in, pix hung, furniture all in place. The office is pretty organized and so is the garage. I have just a handful of boxes left, and to put stuff away in the master closet. I've been working steadily and this house really feels like my home!

My sister Leslie came to visit from NY with our friend Dianne this past weekend. I was ready for houseguests, excited to share my home and to have them see where I live! They totally "get" why I'm here--they loved it! Front porches, pretty roads, meeting my nice neighbors, Greenway walks, shopping, lunch, dinner, brunch. They arrived on the 11:30pm flight Friday night, so we had to pack a lot into 1.5 days.

We were home from the airport at 12:30am, and we'd all been up since early Friday morning. Before everyone crashed into sleep...we had a yummy snack. Dianne brought me an unusual hostess gift, that thankfully did not interest the TSA at LaGuardia Airport. A homemade carrot bread baked into a coffee can! I did not go all paparazzi at that late hour, so these pix are from the next morning...after we'd already eaten half.

The bread puffed up over the top of the can.

The rings are built-in slicing guides!

Moist and dee-lish. Thanks, Dianne! This was the perfect start to a wonderful weekend.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Office Closet Storage

I turned a bedroom into my home office and the closet is a great size. 7ft wide, 2 ft deep and 9 ft high. There was one covered-wire shelf running the length...and that left way too much room for stacking boxes badly. I'd never find anything. I don't want to root through teetering boxes or take a year to get my office organized.

I measured, then it was off to Home Depot for some storage ideas. I got 4 Closet Maid stackable units with 7 shelves each for the left side, and also saw some neat cubes by Martha Stewart for the middle. I mixed the colors because neither manufacturer had the other style in the same color. Caramel and espresso go together in the food world, so why not my closet? I also picked up peg board for the right side of the closet. It comes precut 48" x 24". White on one side, brown on the other, so you can decide which color you want to face out. Remember to buy plastic spacers and need the spacers so the pegboard is NOT flush to the wall. You need airspace behind the pegboard to put the hangers in! Hangers and hooks come in many styles--great for holding a few hand tools, craft brushes, spools of ribbon, rolls of tape, etc...

You can attach pegboard to the inside of the door as well, for extra, extra storage. You may need to cut to fit.

Tools you'll need:

Tape measure
Phillips Head screw driver
Drill (only use it for the wall bracket, the rest of the screws are tightened by hand!)

They don't list it, but a hammer is helpful to tap in the screw covers and the "cams" that connect the sides to the shelves!

And don't forget our friend, the level! We strive for the bubble to be centered. Ahh!

Martha thinks of everything. There are coordinating fabric drawers for the cubes---in solids, stripes and polka dots. They're sharp looking and keep the shelves from getting messy.

As far as time...the box says, "Assembles in minutes." Well, that's true, but remember that hours are made up of minutes! Between measuring, laying out the pieces, assembling, screwing in the wall brackets...each unit took about 30 minutes. That's 3 hours total for the pieces that I chose. Things move faster once you get the first one done, or if you are smarter than I am.

The bag of assorted expletives is sold separately.

This is 2 units, stacked. I modified the design in the top unit a tad, by leaving the bottom row open for baskets, rather than having 18 cubby holes.

$300.00. 3 hours, give or take. A place for every thing and every thing in it's place.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Kitchen Backsplash

I had a dilemma and I solved it for $25.00, but I've probably committed a design faux pas. I'm confident enough with my ideas to say, "I like it, therefore it's fine." I'm single, and there's no approval committee, which means that I live with my mistakes and my victories. But...I'm thinkin' I made a mistake!

The wall space above my cooktop and below the microwave is 17" tall, and it's pretty wide...extending a few feet to cabinets on the right, then making another right turn--more cabinets and wall... and a few feet to a short wall and granite "peninsula" on the left. I want to add a backsplash, because once the pots and pans get going, grease spatters onto the wall, and it doesn't wash off the flat paint. If I chose tile, it would be too much ceramic. There is no obvious "end point" on the left side...and it would look awkward to have tile or metal end at 17" and nothing on the wall above.

I was thinking of getting sheet metal and cutting it to size, maybe stainless steel in a quilted diamond pattern. An internet search turned up some interesting ideas, from mat tile to magnetic board. Most sheet metal stock panels were 30" x 30" and around $150.00.

There are also "tile size" self stick, thin metal sheets that you can apply in a subway, herringbone or another pattern of your choosing. Good idea, but tin snips, end points and math are involved, and the latter is not my forte. Dividing fractions--eek! I admit my shortcomings.

I headed to Home Depot for mulch and stuff, and came upon a "Weekend Project" kitchen backsplash display. Cue the angels singing! I found "decorative thermoplastic" panels 18" x 24" for $19.95 each and a roll of heavy duty double sided tape. You can use contractor's adhesive for a larger job, but why get all goopy for a small project?

The panels come in various designs and colors...champagne, bronze, copper, and this lifelike brushed stainless steel! Once home, I searched for kitchen backsplashes at and the panels do come in the quilted diamond pattern via online, but I got this one to try and now I know I can easily switch it out.

Flip the panel over and mark the area you need to cut, and for electrical outlets, if applicable. Glad I got my utility scissors sharpened last week after 25 years of use! The acrylic cuts very easily.

I decided to use one panel and aim for the the middle of the cooktop, and the middle of the microwave. Since the back of the panel is not flat, I used 7 strips of heavy duty double sided tape, twice the recommended amount. I marked off the left, center and right ends of the panel with green painters tape. Place the tape, and smooth out any air bubbles. Peel off the white backing, and push the panel up against the tape.

Am I crazy, or does this look ok? Click on the photo to enlarge.  If I were to add panels to the right, I'd be fine because I saw corner pieces in the display. At the far left, there would be an unfinished edge on the top of the panel on the wall to the left of the cabinet. If I took it to the left edge of the cabinet, there'd be an unfinished edge down the left side. Now that I've lived with it for a few hours, it looks half-done. I'll see if Home Depot sells borders for the top and side. I need your advice!

Readers, THANK YOU for your input!! I had some anonymous followers weigh in, as well as friends who wrote to my e-mail, not wanting their comments posted. The consensus was to 'backsplash' the entire area under the microwave, between the 2 cabinets. I got one more panel, repositioned the original panel and cut a strip on the right side to fill in. Two pieces of molding for the edges, and vwah-lah. Done.

Update May 2011: Or, was I done? See the July 19, 2011 post entitled "Counterintuitive" for the answer...

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Question: Patience and Fortitude?

Answer: Adjectives, noble traits, and also the names of the lion sculptures outside the New York Public Library, on Fifth Avenue.

The lions have been guarding the Library and watching life and history go by (parades, Library fundraising events and parties, commuters, dates, "meet me on the steps", marriage proposals, tourists, etc...) since 1911. They were originally called Leo Lenox and Leo Astor, after the founders. Though they are males, the lions were also called Lady and Lord Astor.

In the 1930's Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia borrowed from Ralph Waldo Emerson, who wrote, "Patience and fortitude conquer all things." LaGuardia nicknamed the famous lions to reflect the qualities that New Yorkers needed to weather the economic Depression, and the names have stuck.

For the winter holidays, the lions wear holly wreaths and they've worn floral wreaths to signal Springtime. The regular practice of decorating P & F with Mets and Yankees caps, graduation mortars, top hats, etc...was discontinued after the sculptures were cleaned and restored in 2004. I don't see the harm, frankly, but I'm no historic conservator. I like the humor and the incongruity.

I snapped this pic of a house in my old neighborhood, before I moved away. The lions are a tad too big...but they certainly make a statement. The statement that comes to mind is, "Hey, your lions are way too big."

My sister Leslie gave me two cement lions over 20 years ago and I never had quite the right place to put them. They're  a good size, heavy but manageable, 16" high and 28" long. Here at my new house, I finally have the perfect spot--flanking the front entrance on a low wall. They are symbolic to me--two sisters, both of us Leos, with some patience, and plenty of fortitude.

I've named them Finisterre and Flaneur. Don't they look thrilled?
F&F are ROCKIN' their bee costumes for Halloween 2010!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Where There's Smoke, There Could Be Fire

Here comes Autumn. Cool days and crisp nights, when thoughts turn to relaxing in front of a blazing fire. I grew up with fireplaces at home, so I'm pretty well versed in opening and closing the flue and how to start and stoke a fire. I also have a very healthy respect for how quickly things can get out of control--whether it's a fireplace, a grill, or a gas kitchen stove. Suffice it to say...if you've burned candles in your fireplace, make damn sure you get all the wax off the bottom before you have a wood fire. And, heed the warning on a JavaLog or DuraFlame--DO NOT POKE the logs. Sparks will fly. And not in a good way.

Autumn is also a time when family and friends get all "Country Living Magazine" and gather to cook. And the Fire Department gets very busy. Outdoor firepits and chimineas are left unattended. Potholders and kitchen towels get too close to the stovetop flame, flowy sleeves on holiday blouses brush past a candle. Food Network addicts buy a blow torch from Home Depot to make creme brulee. Use a culinary propane model, for heaven's sake. He-men think it's a great idea to deep fry a turkey, for the first time, in the GARAGE. A household pet or a small child can knock over a dry Christmas tree, while you're sleeping, you've turned your attention away or you're out of the house. Turn those string lights OFF, keep the tree watered, and secure it with wire to a mantle, wall or a windowsill. Doesn't a trip to the Caribbean sound great?

I've never had to discharge a fire extinguisher, inside or outside, but I know how to use one and what the differences are. I keep THREE in the house---One on each floor for paper/wood/cloth fires and one in the kitchen. Now that I have a garage, I have one there, too.

What follows is a basic overview. I urge you to read up on this topic further, and to make or review your exit plan, whether you live alone or have a family! Babysitters, petsitters and housesitters should be made aware, too. This is also a good time of year to change the batteries in your smoke detectors---or to install new detectors if you don't have them already.

Might want to peek at your homeowners policy, too---to make sure the value of your home is reflected, and coverage is there for replacement. While you're taking those holiday pictures or videos, pan each room so you can prove what was in there. Store the pix, CD or digital card in a fireproof box.

In the event of a fire:
1. Call 911 or your fire department directly.
2. Tell them your full address, where the fire is, and if anyone is still in the house
3. Try to extinguish if the fire has not spread
4. Get out of the house

There are MANY different types of fire extinguishers--with different contents to fight various kinds of fires. I'm going to talk about the 2 most common household types, AB and ABC.

Fire extinguishers have lettered ratings...Class A, B, C, D

A= Paper, wood, cardboard, most plastics
B= Flammable liquids, grease, oil, gasoline and kerosene
C= Electrical: appliances, wiring, circuit breakers and outlets
D= Used in chemical labs, for combustible metals

ABC is a multipurpose extinguisher with dry chemicals inside. ABC fights wood, paper and cloth fires, as well as flammable liquid and electrical fires. There will be a residue left behind that can be corrosive, so try to clean that up as soon as you can. But, things are just things---they can be replaced and YOU cannot be replaced.

**There is a Class A type that has water inside (APW air pressurized water) but you can't use that on an electrical fire, because of shock, and it will make a grease fire spread.)

Kidde markets this Type BC fire extinguisher in white for the kitchen. Stylin'! Let's review: BC is for flammable liquid or electrical fires. Don't be intimidated. They are very easy to use. Just pull the pin out (it's red), aim, and squeeze the handle.

To put out a cooking fire:

Call the Fire Department or 911. If the fire is out by the time they get there, they will at least look around and make sure you and your house are OK. Make the call. Embarassment fades, they've seen it all. It's their job. Don't cook naked. For soo many reasons.

1. If it's a stovetop fire in a pan with grease or oil, slide a pan lid over the flames to smother the fire. Turn off the heat and leave the lid in place til it's cool. Do not take a flaming pan outside--you could ignite your clothing or dry grass.

2. For other food fires, pour baking soda over the flames. NEVER use water or flour on cooking fires. After you read this blog posting, put Baking Soda on your shopping list. A big box is good to have handy--it's not just for baking!

3. If the fire is in the oven or broiler, keep the door SHUT and turn off the heat to smother the fire.

Invest the money in a few fire extinguishers, smoke detectors, fresh batteries and take a few minutes to read the instructions and familiarize yourself with the do's and don'ts. Enter the Fire Dept # in your cell phone, or your speed dial if you have a landline. Your heart's gonna race, you'll yell expletives, but you'll have a cooler head and can minimize the damage if you know a few tips ahead of time.

Next up, how to prevent drowning and swine flu when bobbing for apples...

Happy Autumn!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Back to Basics

The world is on the move. Technology gets faster; teensy chips, ever-smaller Bond-like devices and massive satellites giving everyman and everywoman a global reach.

I'm no Luddite, but I can't see myself buying a Kindle. I keep things pretty simple, with just enough techno-jazz to get me what I need. I text, but I don't tweet. I blog and do a little online banking. I still like the weight of a book (nap-inducing on a wintry afternoon), the feel of magazines and the sharp inky smell of a newspaper. I download recipes from the internet, but I love it when my cookbooks fall open to a favorite recipe, on a splattered page.

Trends are cyclical and it seems that what's old is always new again, despite the constant push for bigger/smaller, better, faster. There's renewed interest in preserving and canning, plaid, old time cocktails, food trucks, and cupcakes. I'm all over it. Slow Food, my bike with a basket and a bell, farmers markets, baking on weekends, my new life in the 'burbs.

After 9/11, I just "wanted out" of the city commute and the cubicle life. I took a job selling meat and fish door to door. I drove a white Toyota pickup truck from NYC to Stamford CT, out to Long Island, NY and back every day. It was exhausting and exhilarating. With push-in robberies a reality, tensions running high in the Northeast and big-box stores selling meat at lower prices, I had some rough days with a l-o-t of rejection. Though people were "more likely" to open the door for a woman, more often than not they were sorry they did, when they figured out that I wasn't asking for directions. I had doors slammed in my face, the cops called on me, a client who left the freezer door open all weekend and demanded that I replace the food. It wasn't my fault, but I made it right. That took a chunk out of my profits, but she became a loyal, repeat customer. My boss was relentless--I worked for myself (!) 6 days a week, 12-14 hours a day. I liked the challenge of convincing people to open the door, come outside to look, then to buy and to trust me enough to come into their homes to re-organize their freezers. It was fun to stand in someone's kitchen and talk about cooking, and to answer them when they asked why in the world a girl like me was selling meat.

The job looks odd in the midst of corporate sales positions on my resume, but my headhunter has used it to full advantage...telling his hiring managers that if I can sell meat out of a truck, I can sell anything. I'm pretty persuasive, whether I'm selling shish kebabs or stock reports.

When I see little businesses on wheels, I appreciate the hard work it takes to keep them going.

I remember the late 60's--the rattle of the glass milk bottles being delivered and the thud of the "Dellwood Dairy" milkbox lid closing. The milkman was expected, just like the diaper truck and the mailman. It was probably less stressful for them than for the cold-callers. The Fuller Brush guy and Encyclopedia salesmen knocked, despite the "No Soliciting" sign my mother tucked into the corner of the front door. They had the added pressure of selling themselves first, then their product. I know the feeling.

I was at a farmer's market a few weeks ago and I saw a knife sharpening truck. I took a business card--it was a Band-Aid stamped with the company name "A Finer Edge--We can sharpen everything but your wit." I went back the following week with a bunch of stuff that needed sharpening, but the van wasn't there. Grrr. On the website, there was an update that A Finer Edge was no longer at the farmer's market but could make house calls. Gary's van is white and new, not as retro and cool and attention getting as Mike's Sharpening Service in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. But he got the job done!

The knives sliced paper with no effort, so I forked over $31.00

I like finding the old fashioned, in this new fangled world.