Friday, December 30, 2005

Limbing Up the Old Sweet Gum

You've heard me moan about the north corner before. It's damp and wet. (The lowest point of the yard is just to the left of the tree.) I doubt I can improve upon the present french drain system, so I will live with the corner's seasonally soggy state and plant appropriately. I can do something about the shade. This fall, Mike whacked some of the overhanging limbs from the neighbor's locust tree to let in more light. I decided to limb up our tree months ago, but, with a great deal of difficulty, forced myself to wait until the proper time.

Somewhere in the internet's vast expanse, I read that trees should be pruned when they're dormant in order to reduce stress and the chance of infection or even death. This means waiting until not only the leaves have fallen, but we've been through a few hard freezes. I disregarded these rules when I pruned the honeysuckle trees, because if they become stressed and die, I'll be glad. Our big shade tree is an investment, though, so I bided my time and trimmed the lower branches during a warm spell just after Christmas.

Not only have I increased the amount of sunlight my future secret garden gets, but I also managed to identify the tree. Where I grew up (Pacific Northwest) if a tree was deciduous and had lobed leaves, it was a maple. Here in the Midwest, that method of identification doesn't work as well. I was ignorantly sure that this tree was a maple until my kitties started attacking the spiny balls dangling from the detached limbs. I consulted Trees of Ohio, and identified the tree as a sweet gum. Because the tree was dormant, my cuts didn't produce any of the fragrant, sweet resin that was once used as chewing gum. Apparently the leaves are also aromatic when crushed, but I'll have to wait until spring to try it for myself. Sweet gums are one of the cidaca's favorite hosts and the limbs of my tree show heavy cicada damage (probably from summer 2004).

So, I got organic cat toys and a little education out of the pruning experience. Not bad for yardening in December.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Bookcase Curtain

Unless your bookcase serves a purely decorative purpose, odds are that it collects junk. Instead of artfully arranged leather-bound volumes, my bedroom bookcase holds a jumble of decorating and gardening books, music, scripts, choreography notes, binders, CDs, and assorted odds and ends. I have no intention of organizing it. I'd rather hide the mess.

In my perfect world, all bookcases have doors to hide whatever I may stuff inside. Thankfully, curtains serve much the same purpose and are easier to make. To hide your mess, all you need is a cafe rod (with brackets) and fabric. Voila, the clutter is concealed. The floorlength curtain also screens the snarled cords below the shelf. The CD player is now behind the curtain, where it can be heard but not seen.

This tidying technique has its limits. When the curtains reveal visible lumps, or items start falling off the shelves, it's probably time to take more drastic measures and edit your collection. Until then, stuff your laundry under the bed and call the room clean!

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

It Ain't No Krohn's

..but it's all mine.

I've been holding out. I have a quasi-conservatory of my own, our sunroom. It is nothing fancy, just a screened (and glassed) in porch facing south. I've stuffed it with tender plants and hung more vegetation, birdcages, and lights from the ceiling. I have a comfy chair for leafing thorugh gardening books and a fountain for ambience. So, if I have this beautiful space of my own, why don't I just cloister myself in there when the winter blues strike?

I actually do spend quite a bit of time in the sunroom in the spring and fall. I love having my morning tea while basking in the early sunshine. In the winter, though, the room is just too cool. (The space isn't heated and hovers around 45.)

The other thing that keeps me from using the room more is the hideous peach walls and the decrepit flooring. The walls were evidently covered in the same paint the previous owners used in the dining room. I am REALLY not a fan of peach paint, but I don't know what color to replace it with. White? I'd like to keep this room as bright as possible.

The floor is layers upon layers of mess. Because the original gray carpet and jute rug had gotten wet (and begun to smell), I removed and trashed them shortly after moving in. Beneath the carpet were red and green linoleum tiles. They are mostly intact, but the few that are missing reveal a concrete floor below. My original plan was to tile the floor with "real" tiles, but I was stymied by the curved, concrete corners where the floor meets the wall. I next considered using more peel and stick flexible tiles, but found a better solution online: painting the concrete floor to look like tile. (This can look really sharp and, best of all, you can find "tiles" in any color!)

What are your suggestions for the walls and floor? My color scheme is dark green and blue. Will white walls be too bland? Should I paint the trim cobalt blue? Does anyone have experience painting concrete floors? There's no hurry on this project. (I'm not looking forward to moving all of those plants!) I'm just percolating ideas inside my head. It will never be as nice as Krohn's, but at least I can get rid of the eyesores!

Monday, December 26, 2005

Bedroom Bench

Maybe I should rename this blog "Kasmira's Bragging Page." I have yet another completed project to share/crow about.

This bench represents my first foray into furniture making. Constructing it was educational, to say the least. It took many more screws and braces than I would have thought necessary to support mere human weight. In the end, though, it's functional and somewhat pleasing to the eye. The legs are old stairway spindles from Building Value. The seat is constructed from two planks I found in my neighbor's trash and screwed together with pieces of 2x4. I topped the wooden structure with 2-inch foam and upholstery fabric from Hobby Lobby. The bench is 5 feet long and 18.5 inches wide. It cost about $65 in materials, which I consider pretty reasonable. I plan on edging it in fringe, when I find some on sale.

I'm on a furniture making roll now, with an accent table currently in the works. I think I'm rapidly approaching the point where I've developed enough handy skills to tackle a substantial project, like hanging my new kitchen door. The problem is, these little projects are so FUN! (And low risk.)

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Cure for the Winter Blues

I can't help it. Nearly every time I walk through the yard, I think, "Dead, dead, it's all dead, forever dead." Yes, it's a bit melodramatic, but I look at the wet, brown mess and find it impossible to believe that the beds were ever green and thick and studded with flowers. The winter browns have given me the winter blues.

A southern vacation might ease my depression, but that's prohibitively expensive. Fortunately, we live only half an hour from a tropical destination - Krohn's Conservatory. Best of all, it's free.

I can only begin to describe the relief I felt as we transitioned from the cold, dry December day to the greenhouse's warm, humid environment. The muscles in my neck relaxed and the wrinkles on my forehead eased. The smell of green growing things made me giddy. Even the holiday hordes could only mildly annoy me.

We wandered through the rainforest, the seasonal, Bavarian display, the desert, the orchids, the bonsai, and the tropical house in less than half an hour. Mike did his best to stave off boredom, but I could tell he could barely tolerate my slow shuffle and need to touch nearly every plant we passed. When we reached the last room, the tropical house, I desperately wanted to prolong the experience. My shuffle slowed even further and I twice insisted we sit on benches to absorb the ambience. Despite my delay tactics, our tour eventually ended.

I might have been sad to leave the paradise, but Mike comforted me at the gift shop by buying me a lovely cyclamen and a thrill-o-rama chistmas jelly pop. Slowly nibbling appendages off my frosted, jelly reindeer eased the pain of reentering the bright sunshine and crisp air of a pre-Christmas afternoon.

I find it easier to face winter's deathlike slumber knowing that I can escape to a bit of summer when things get too bad. Next time, though, I'll leave Mike behind and take a book. I need to sit on a bench in the rainforest and absorb all that lush, growing life through my pores. Surrounded by greenery, it's a bit easier to believe that the rest of the city will be as hot, steamy, and fecund in only half a year.

More photos from our Krohn's conservatory visit.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Goodwill Chair

I never seem to find anything "good" at Goodwill (or Walmart, for that matter) but my ship has finally come in! I found this super duper chair and an ornate birdcage at the Cheviot Goodwill on Thursday.

The chair was originally covered in an office-appropriate dark blue fabric, fastened with 1,000 staples. I removed the staples, ripped off the upholstery, and recovered the cushion with a scrap of the infamous elephant fabric. With the addition of a pillow, it fits right in to our decorating scheme (and no longer looks like something you might find in a doctor's office).

My faith in Goodwill is renewed. I still hate Walmart.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Thank you, Anonymous

We have a multi-lite door! I had two responses to my Craiglist want ad, but neither of those panned out. (Do contact me if you are in the Cincinnati area and area looking for an ornate, large front door for an older home.) I finally took anonymous’ suggestion and visited Building Value. There, I found my door and much, much more.

Building Value is chock full of vintage doors, windows, sinks, tubs, cabinets, and light fixtures. You can also find tile, carpet, paint, trim, and hardwood flooring. The prices are very reasonable. This isn’t an antique shop. It’s simply a non-profit reuse center with an aim of providing work experience for disadvantaged people. Although winter is the slow season for donations (in the summer they receive new stock every week), I quickly found a suitable door (only $30!) and then spent the remainder of the time dreamily browsing. I seemed to find project inspiration in every aisle. I can’t wait to go back this weekend. So many projects, so little time…

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The Corner is Lit

As soon as I read Ben’s comment on my previous post, I took his suggestion and moved our floor lamp next to the chair. I added an extension cord and hid the wire mess beneath the rug.

This was the perfect solution: Mike has adequate illumination for reading, I love the way the pools of light fall, and the change cost nothing! Now that the lamp has been pulled away from the window, we are able to appreciate its beading and decorative trim. (I’d forgotten what a pretty lamp it is!) I was afraid that moving the lamp next to the chair would crowd the space, but, instead, it looks cozy and completes the frame around the sitting area.

The lamp’s previous location, never made sense to me. It seemed dumb, and visually intrusive, to put a lamp in front of a window. I’m not sure why I ever decided to put it there. With the lamp moved, we get more sunlight through the window and easier access to the blind controls. As a bonus, I can now put a side table beneath the window to pile tchotchke on. (More on the side table, which I’ll be making, soon…)

Thanks, Ben!

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Light This Corner!

I love our living room. It has plenty of natural light and high, coved ceilings. There is no hardwired overhead light, but the switch near the front door controls an outlet and I've plugged three lamps into it. Two of the lamps are behind the couch and the third is to the right of the entertainment center. (View lamp locations here.) During the evening, the room isn't brightly lit but it's cozy. The couch is the perfect place to curl up with a book.

Mike is in law school, so he spends a lot of time reading. The reading usually takes place in his red recliner. In fact, he spends so much time in that chair that the cushion has a faint ass-print. It's a great location. He can watch TV, browse the internet, study, and still be in the heart of the house. Unfortunately, the spot is not well lit. He usually reads by the light of the nearby dining room chandelier. I'd like to find a better lighting solution.

The tricky part about lighting the area is that there are no nearby outlets. The closest outlet is on the wall with the entertainment center. Whatever lighting device I use, I'll have to snake a cord along the mantel, down the wall, around the corner, and along the baseboard to the outlet. Darn cords!

As far as lighting options, I've considered a hanging lamp, a swing arm lamp (fastened to the mantle), paired candlestick lamps on the mantel, and paired sconce lamps on the wall above the mantel. I'm afraid that the hanging lamp will upset the symmetry of the room and I don't want to put holes in the fantastic ceiling. A swing arm lamp might also look unbalanced (although I could put lamps on both sides). I'm leaning toward sconces or mantel lamps. The downside to sconces is that I'd have to punch holes in the wall to mount the sconces and the cords would be quite visible.

Please share your recommendation or experience with a similar situation. I've used ridgid cord covers to hide cords, but are their better options for securing/hiding cords? Is there some lighting solution I haven't thought of? (Moving the chair or Mike is not an option.) Leave a comment!

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Honey, the Hallway is Orange

To warm and brighten our stark white hallway, I planned on copying this golden harlequin paint treatment from one of my decorating books:

Instead, it looks as if this happened:

So, how did I end up with pumpkin puke walls? By throwing caution to the wind and choosing my paint colors at the store.

My normal paint selection process consists of me bringing home no fewer than 10 sample cards and taping them to the wall. Next, I observe them under various lighting conditions for a week or two. I hold room accessories against the chips to be sure that the colors are complementary. Finally, after much deliberation, I make a second trip to the big box store and purchase the paint.

This time, I began my regimented method by choosing several paint cards and placing them in my cart, but, in my hurry to escape the cold night air, the cards never made it into my car. When painting day arrived, I was eager to begin and rushed to the big box, gave the cards a cursory glance, and chose two colors that seemed to be a warm gold. After the paint was mixed, I was given the routine preview, and the paint seemed rather orange, but I figured the store lighting was just off.

When I got the paint home, it still seemed closer to orange than gold, but I thought it would look different on the wall. I was wrong. It seemed more and more orange the more I painted. I finished the first coat and frowned. I thought a second coat might change my perception, but the color only intensified. I still thought that my eyes were deceiving me (surely the walls were golden, not orange), so, when Mike arrived home from a long day of studying for finals, I presented him with our pumpkin hallway.

Not only did he think it was, indeed, orange, he said it was “awful.” This is quite a criticism from a man who didn’t bat an eye when I bought a truly orange couch, painted the dining room asparagus green, and furnished our guest room in teal, fuschia, and purple. He then compared our house to WILLY WONKA'S CHOCOLATE FACTORY. At this point, though, I had invested so much time and energy into the paint that I had to defend it. I rationalized that it would look better when the white trim was freshened. While harlequin diamonds were definitely out at this point (the second color turned out to be a shade I’ve renamed “squash shit”), I thought I could mediate the effect of ALL THAT ORANGE, by painting an Indian-african-inspired border along the top edge of the wall. Finally, I figured that once the wall decorations were rehung, the orange walls would fade into the background.

I’ll let you be the judge of whether fresh trim, a decorative border, and wooden wall accessories complete the look or just poorly disguise it. Personally, I’m pretty happy with the color now. It is warm and welcoming. I don’t even think the transition from green dining room to orange hallway is jarring (because pumpkin and asparagus go together, right?). Although the photos may come across as a bit dark (I used no flash in order to capture the true color), the hallway does not lack for light. I am seriously considering painting over my kindergarten-caveman-inspired border and toying with the idea of harlequinning the wall with the masks (with the squash shit color I used to paint the border). I’d love your feedback.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

I Built a Cat Tree

After three weeks, the beast is complete. My first major wood-working project is a SUCCESS! This five-level cat tree, complete with two perches and a hole in the third level, gets a 5-star rating from our resident furballs.

Building the wooden frame actually wasn't that hard. Once I borrowed Tim's miter saw, the cuts were easy. I had some difficulties screwing 3-inch drywall screws into stud-grade 2x4s with my wimpy drill, but I overcame them. The frame building process took only a few hours.

The carpeting stage was a BEAR. I used left-over carpeting from our bedroom so that the finished product would color-coordinate with our decor. Unfortunately, I ran out of carpet, so I had to wrap five of the six posts with sisal rope. (The directions only call for the post supporting the top perch to be wrapped in sisal.) The cats enjoy the extra scratching surfaces, so the carpet shortage turned out to be a blessing.

I used the Mistoffolees Castle plan from I recommend the plans (which are mailed on a CD) to any beginner. The directions were easy to follow and fully illustrated. The total cost of the materials (somewhat of an estimate due to my spotty receipt tracking) was roughly $70 (not including carpeting). As the Castle turned out to be MUCH larger than I anticipated, I'll probably be building a smaller tree soon to take its place in the living room.

View more cat tree pictures here.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Wanted: Multi-lite, Exterior Door

Our kitchen has the potential to be a light and airy place. It has two windows, an open doorway to the dining room, and a door to the back deck. Despite the numerous openings, it’s dreadfully dark. The window over the sink looks down into the sunroom but no direct light enters the window itself. The other window looks over the back deck, but the sky light is cut off by a low awning that extends off the house. (In fact, the bottom edge of the awning is only about 5’6” from the deck surface. I skim beneath it, but Mike routinely bashes his head.) The door opens to the back deck, but weather and security necessitates it being closed most of the time. When I can open it, though, the difference in light in the kitchen is night and day. The plan to lighten up the kitchen, then, includes tearing the awning off and replacing the solid door with a windowed one.

I love the door that separates our living room and sunroom. It is an old 12-lite door (pictured to the left) that I cavalierly cut a pet door in last December. When I started to search for another to replace the kitchen’s solid door, I discovered how rare these doors are.

First of all, they aren’t made any more. When I couldn’t buy new, I started searching for a local architectural salvage company. I found only one in the area, Wooden Nickel Antiques, but the door is too modern of an item for them to carry. I had all but given up when I checked ebay. I found several for auction, but, as they were all “pick-up only,” I found only one close enough to bid on. I bowed out of the bidding at $125. The door went for $127.50.

I’m still watching ebay, but I’m trying another tack as well. I posted a want ad on Craigslist and our company bulletin board. I’ve had one response to my Craigslist ad and hope to view the proffered door soon. Given that the ebay door sold for $127.50, how much should I pay for a door like this?

Hopefully my current lead works out. If not, I’m out of ideas on where to find something like this, except to continue to watch ebay. I’m open to suggestions.

Friday, December 02, 2005


Sometimes I feel like I have a split personality. Not a Dr. Jeckyll/Mr. Hyde sort of split, but, instead, wildly divergent personal tastes. For instance, when it comes to music, I love both opera and country. I like to shoot guns and dance ballet. The interior of my home is decorated with a heavy Asian influence, but the garden is English cottage. The discontinuity between the inside and outside of the house sometimes bothers me, but the garden style I’ve chosen is the only one that would mesh with the house’s Cape Cod exterior.

In my wildest daydreams, though, I live in a Morrocan palace and the exterior is a mix of lush palms, intricate tile work, and shimmering pools. You can imagine that when I read this NY Times article on the pictured home’s landscaping and viewed the accompanying slide show, I was drooling. And seriously considering moving to California. In a garden like this, I think I’d miss some of the traditional cottage garden plants, but I’d comfort myself with oodles of jasmine. I’d have no disparity in style between the inside and outside of the house because, believe me, cottagey interiors (as cute as shabby chic is) are NOT my thing.

I believe you’ll need to register with the NY Times (it’s free) to view the article and slideshow, but it’s totally worth it.

Show Me Your Workshop!

One of my projects this winter is to teach myself carpentry or, rather, how to make things out of wood. (Real carpenters probably wouldn’t deign to call what I’m doing carpentry.) I’m slowly building my skills and cobbling together a collection of tools. One of the biggest obstacles to my progress is my lack of quality work space.

This is a photo of my “workshop.” I’m working in the invigoratingly brisk, but reasonably well-lit, basement. I have a table of sorts set up between two sawhorses, but much of my work is done on the slanting, concrete floor. The most inconvenient part about working down here is not evident in the photo: the smell. The cats’ three litter boxes are located in the basement. I clean them before I begin my nightly sessions, but, invariably, at least one cat will take a dump while I’m working. To them, “Kasmira-work-time” is “take-a-smelly-shit-time”. Seriously, if there were more of me, I’d unionize and lobby for better working conditions!

You’d be amazed at what I can accomplish down here (current project to be unveiled soon). The second project to be completed after the current one will be a workbench. I can’t do much about the smell, but I can find a better place to work than the floor.

My request to all housebloggers and sundry handypeople is to SHOW ME YOUR WORKSHOP! Is it as pitiable as mine or inspiring? (If inspiring, don’t be surprised if I copy your design!)

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Buy My Stuff!

Now that we've lived in our house for over a year, it's time to clear out some of the boxes of excess stuff. Some of the stuff is pretty nice, so I'm selling it. Check out the "Buy My Stuff" category in the sidebar if you're interested. I will continue to update the list as I make new postings on Craigslist.