Monday, April 27, 2015

Me, My Shelf and I

I live in a 100-year-old house that definitely has its charms: chunky wood moldings, pocket doors, high ceilings, big bedrooms and hardwood floors, to name a few. 

Not quite so charming is our old stone basement, which has proven on a few occasions to be less than watertight. As a precaution, everything we store down there gets stacked on pallets. (Or at least everything starts out getting stacked on pallets...)

Eventually most of the pallets end up looking like the ones above, with stuff spilling off the edges and the remnants of any organization system buried too deep to be discernible to the naked eye. 

I finally reached my breaking point a couple weeks ago and decided it was time to excavate the ruins and clean up the mess. 

Among the artifacts unearthed whilst cleaning: a Styrofoam coffin lid (left over from a haunted house we set up down there for a Halloween party our son hosted, circa 2004). 

The Styrofoam coffin lid went into the garbage, along with a few other worthless oddities of indeterminate origin that we'd been storing for years. Everything else got moved or donated to our local St. Vincent de Paul store. Once I had the space cleared, I wanted to buy some shelves to set along the empty wall. The husband scoffed at the idea of store-bought shelves. He wanted to build his own. 

I am not one to argue. (At least not when the husband is volunteering to build something for me.) 

We took a few measurements of the space, and two days later, Jim assembled the Shelving Unit of My Dreams: three rows of shelves almost 8 feet wide and 24 inches deep, with about 18 inches of clearance from the bottom of one row to the top of the next. He did most of the construction in the garage (where he had more space and easier access to his tools), and when he was done, we carried the unit into the basement...


... where we attached it to the rafters above. That way, if we get water in the basement in the future, nothing is touching the floor. (The husband's idea. Ingenious, right?)


I painted the shelves white before filling them up.


Aren't they pretty? (I sometimes walk down to the basement just to look at them.)

Let me tell you, it was easier to organize the shelves than it was to photograph them: There are no windows in that portion of the basement, and the only light source is this:

There are also very few electrical outlets in our basement (another of the "charms" of the 100-year-old home), so I had to snake a really, really long extension cord from the opposite end of the house in order to plug in a couple of lamps to provide (barely) enough light to take photos in.

basement storage

Anyhoo, I am absolutely thrilled with how the shelves turned out. It is so nice to have a designated place to store things, instead of just piling everything up on pallets.

brown pitchers

I have a lot of antiques and collectibles that I decorate with seasonally, but I need somewhere to put in the off-season. Like the brown pitchers above which I usually set out in the fall...

... and my miniature greenhouse, which I sometimes start seeds in in the spring (and over the winter, I used it as a display case for a log cabin scene I blogged about here.)

wooden model

Jim built this wooden boat when he was a kid. (His workmanship has improved a bit since then, but considering he designed it and built it all from scraps, I'd say he was pretty ingenious back then, too.) It's in need of a few repairs now, but, for sentimental reasons, we have to keep it.


I have a few of my own childhood treasures that I can't part with stored in an old bushel basket.

The egg crate above belonged to my Grandma and Grandpa Harmsen, who raised chickens on their farm for many years.

I've used the canning jars for tomatoes and pears a few times, but lately they mostly get used for storage or decorating projects.

I pared down my glassware collection significantly while reorganizing; but I kept my favorite pieces.

I also seem to have acquired a lot of lamps that I don't want to part with. Some, like the silver kerosene lantern in the back, are family heirlooms. Others I've picked up at garage sales and thrift stores over the years. They tend to rotate into and out of circulation above stairs.

This old crate is full of Halloween decorations.

And this item is a total pain in my butt, but he's a keeper nonetheless.

A few of the boxes need labels yet. And I'm sure more items will get added to the shelves as I continue cleaning and organizing.

But I feel like I have a whole new basement, considering this is what it looked like before:

And this is what it looks like now:

(I swear I hear a little chorus of angels in my head every time I look at this photo.)

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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Back to the Porch

One of my favorite rites of spring is the annual Return of the Patio Furniture. In our household, we celebrated the occasion last weekend.

patio furniture

Over the winter, our chairs head south (to the storage space under the porch), partly to protect them from the elements, but mostly so the deck is clear of obstructions when we inevitably (and repeatedly) have to shovel the snow off of it.

patio chairs

Unfortunately when we pulled the chairs out of storage on Saturday, I saw the paint had chipped off some of the edges, so they needed a little TLC before I could set them out.

painted patio chairs

After cleaning up the chairs, sanding a few of the rough spots and giving the pieces a quick all-over spray paint job, they looked almost as good as new.

painted patio chairs

The finish isn't flawless, but the imperfections are hardly noticeable once the whole set is on the porch.

patio cusions

The cushions, which we've had for about five years, were also a little worse for the wear. The fabric on two of them ripped as I was handling them.

I knew Wal-Mart carried the same size cushions, so I made an emergency shopping run on Sunday morning. I was going to buy four sets, but I could only fit two into the cart, so I decided the other two could wait for another day.


The backrest cushions are reversible, which is kind of fun.


Calvin, of course, had to test them out immediately. I think he liked the new cushions better than he did the cat grass I grew for him last week. (Or at least he hated them less. Nothing ever really meets with Calvin's approval.)


I like the black and the green together. The fabric is really brittle, though, so the cushions are going to have to be replaced soon.


After I had the main seating arrangement on the deck, I added a couple of "tables" to put plants on. See the milk can on the right? That came from the farm I grew up on. By the time I was born, we had  a bulk tank to store our milk in; but I have old photos of my dad and grandpa loading milk cans onto the back of my grandpa's truck to haul them to the co-op.   

milk can

The raised lettering on the can reads "ALTO COOP CRY," which would be short for "Alto Cooperative Creamery" (still operating today). 

Pottery Barn lantern

The "table" on the left is an old crate I bought at a garage sale years ago. I put my new Pottery Barn lantern (that I found at a thrift store last winter) inside it. 
repotting plants

It's still a bit on the early side to be planting outside here. We'll get frost yet through at least the first half of May. But I wanted to put something green out on the deck, so I grabbed a few of the plants that had survived the winter in my basement and repotted a couple of them.

repotting plants

The plants are awfully wimpy looking now, but as long as I remember to bring them in the house on the nights when there's a frost advisory, they will fill out quickly.


I added another chair and table on the opposite side of the patio set.

plant trivet

The plant is sitting on an old clockface that I found at a thrift store. (No moving clock parts in it, just the wooden face with Roman numerals.)

plant trivet

For a clockface, it makes a lovely plant trivet.

Here's what our porch looked like on Saturday morning:


And here's what it looked like on Sunday afternoon:

Unfortunately, the day after I got everything out on the porch, the weather turned cool and rainy -- we even had a touch of snow today -- so we haven't been able to enjoy the space yet. But when it warms up again, we're ready.

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Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Asparagus Fern Is Always Greener

I bought a package of cat grass a while back and finally got around to starting it last Saturday. (Yes, the picture above is of grass that was planted just six days earlier.)

I found the seeds in the pet department at WalMart for a couple dollars. Inside the package is a small bag of oat seeds and a plastic container filled with potting soil.

It could not be easier to get the seeds started. You just poke a few holes in the bottom of the plastic container for drainage...

... then mix the seeds in with the potting soil...

... and add water.

Then you put the cover back on and place the container in a dark spot, checking on the seeds periodically to see if they're sprouting.

I planted my seeds on Saturday morning. By Monday night, a few tiny sprouts were already starting to poke up from the soil.

Here's what the grass looked like on Tuesday:

On Wednesday:

 On Thursday:

And on Friday: 

If only my tomatoes grew that fast...

By Friday, I figured the grass was established enough for Calvin to start noshing on it, so I set him up on the plant bench and showed him the healthy organic delicacy I had grown for him.

He was not impressed.

He sniffed the cat grass for about five seconds and then turned his back on it and started chowing down on a half-dead asparagus fern that had (barely) survived the winter in my basement.

I also gave a package of cat grass to my son's girlfriend for her cats, and they love it. Evidently Calvin has  more discerning tastes. Or maybe they just don't have a half-dead asparagus fern as an option.

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