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Friday, July 30, 2010


I've had a really bad work week...I got blasted first thing Monday morning and then the hits just kept comin'. Morale is low.

So to bring a little sunshine to my week, and frankly, because I felt like I was unfairly targeted (i.e., the closest punching bag), I went ahead and clicked 'Buy' on this pair of chalcedony earrings that had been waiting patiently in my Etsy favorites for a retail therapy moment just like this.

I'm in love with the color, especially next to the more stoic oxidized sterling...
*Etsy Shop: Orion Designs*
Just a little sympathetic gesture from me to me, and a reward for the Chuck Norris-style roundhouse kick I will be administering shortly (to my experiments, of course).

I'll show them to mess with LT...grumble, grumble, grumble...

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Inspiration: Outdoor Dining

I love this look. The hanging votives just call to me.

They say: "Don't you want to hang a bunch of us from the lowest branches of the maple tree out back? And set up a little bistro set underneath? And relax there with this Italian sangria after a long day at work?"

Why yes, yes I do.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Dining Room

Steven and I have decided to focus on renovating the downstairs living areas (dining room, parlor/"girl room", living room, and foyer) as our next home improvement project. As opposed to some other rooms (I'm looking at YOU, kitchen!), there is an obvious, finite, and cohesive angle of attack for these rooms...and the impact (both visual and lifestyle) should be huge.

Here's the gameplan:

1) Strip all the wallpaper.
2) Patch and skim coat the walls.
3) Prime & paint the walls and mouldings.
4) Rehab the built-in china cabinet-paint, new hardware, etc.
5) Refurbish radiators and update valves (plumber).
6) Have the floors refinished.

And, ummm...actually settle in! :)

With this decision made, we got to gettin' and started peeling wallpaper in the dining room last Sunday. Remember when I said to "expect the unexpected"? Well, we encountered it about 15 minutes into the project this time.

For almost a year, we've had this little patch of wall showing where my BIL took a stab at removing the DR wallpaper, found this bizzaro greenboard underneath which stumped us all, then moved on to the parlor fearing that the DR was going to be a nightmare.
We'd actually had a couple contractors in the house for other jobs tell us that it was an old type of green board used in lieu of sheetrock or plaster. So imagine my puzzlement when I start stripping paper off another wall in the DR, only to find more "green board", but with these weird dark green vertical markings. What the ???

So I take a step back...and it kinda looks like...something intentional. Something like...trees.
So I call Steven over, scrape off some more paper...and discover a handpainted mural under the wallpaper!

It turns out that the dining room was once decorated with handpainted murals on every wall. How cool is that? I felt like I was living my own slightly less glamorous, and yet still enchanting, suburban American version of Under the Tuscan Sun (in which author Frances Mayes buys a dilapidated villa in Tuscany, and at one point during the renovation uncovers the villa's original frescoes on the wall.)

The murals are unmistakably a tribute to the former owners' homeland (they were Italian immigrants who came over in 1912)--bucolic scenes of the Italian countryside, complete with quaint villages, vineyards, and palm trees.

Though we won't be keeping them (even if we wanted to, they're in pretty rough shape and already plastered over in some places), discovering the murals was a charming moment in this old house...
So we'll just enjoy them for a little while as we continue stripping wallpaper and figure out the best way to repair and skim coat horse hair plaster walls, and then refresh!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Eggs Benedict

A couple of weeks ago, a froworker (friend+coworker=froworker!) offered me her Siena Farms CSA share as she was going to be out of the country and wouldn't be able to use it. I was happy to help her out. :)

Of course the first thing I thought when I rifled through the box of produce I received was "What am I going to do with all this stuff?" Then I remembered that Gesine Bullock Prado of Confections of a Closet Master Baker, had just posted a recipe for eggs benedict featuring sauteed swiss chard on her other blog, Living in Freegrace.

We love us some benedict and had some lovely rainbow chard in the CSA box, so...no brainer.This was my first time making hollandaise from scratch, and I was actually really surprised at how simple it was. Egg yolks, butter, salt, lemon juice, pepper...and blend.

A perfect weekend brunch!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Summer Weekends in Maine

*Camden Harbor for fireworks*
*Dinner at Young's Lobster Pound in Belfast*
*A walk in the woods in Camden Hills State Park*
*John's Ice Cream Factory...good, but didn't live up to the hype*
*Clam cakes and chowder in Portland*
Happy Summer!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Noteworthy Cookbooks

I recently realized that I have never made cupcakes. Nope, never. I think it's time to change that...and this cookbook from Martha seems like a great place to start. Worth flipping through, at the very least for the creative decoration and presentation ideas.

This cookbook might be a keeper. It profiles several Northern Italian agroturismi (small family farm "resorts") and shares their simultaneously rustic, elegant, and progressive recipes. So much in here I'd like to try and make...Chocolate Ricotta Tart, Rye Bread Soup, Goat Cheese Gnocchi with Walnut Butter Sauce, Zucchini Roll, Stuffed Baked Peaches, Chicken Breast with Lavender, and the list goes on and on...

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Veggie Garden

One of the things that I immediately loved about our house was the yard and all of its possibilities....particularly the possibility of taking a stab at a legitimate vegetable garden. (Though at first viewing, that "possibility" was more accurately described as a wildly overgrown rectangular patch of yard, with some rhubarb peeking through the jungle leaves.)

Both my mother and grandmother are avid gardeners, so I grew up eating lots of fresh from the garden produce, which we all know blows anything from the grocery store clear out of the water. Now I want that sun-ripened goodness in MY backyard.

Side note: last year was one of the first years that the two of them collaborated on the same veggie garden. Saying it was on a whole new level is an understatement. Exhibit A:
A parsnip from their garden...yes, a PARSNIP...the thing that usually looks like a white carrot. It took me 4 meals to use it up!

Anyways, in late May, Steven and I grabbed some machetes (okay,okay, we rented a rototiller) and attacked our weed patch, mixed in some composted horse manure, and got ready for some planting.
*In the beginning...*
*Digging In*
*Final product*
We initially left that bush there in the middle because we were hoping that it was something exciting...maybe a currant, or gooseberry, or even hazelnut? But then I saw the very same bush, growing very weedlike and haphazardly on the periphery of a gas station lot. I nixed it about a week ago.

Also, you can see that we didn't touch the last quarter of the veggie patch this year. It's full of Siberian iris that we hope to transplant, as well as home to a haphazardly growing, but productive, grapevine. We're going to address that last section in the fall.

I'll update soon with a current picture of the garden, but here's the current roll call:

-3 varieties of tomato
-bell peppers
-italian peppers
-hot peppers*
-yellow summer squash
-acorn squash
-green beans
-rhubarb, strawberries, mint, and a grapevine leftover from the previous owners

*I picked these babies up at the garden center because I thought they looked "cute". Turns out that this type of hot pepper--Scotch Bonnets--are among the hottest chili peppers in the world. So much for my quaint little visions of fresh salsa...

Till next time, (get it? get it? ha!)

P.S. A grateful shout out to my mom and grandmother, who supplied the vast majority of the seedlings for this year's garden, as well as numerous other cuttings, and my brother for the horse manure...Muchas gracias!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

TA-DA! Bathroom Debut

It's finally DONE! :) :) :) :)

And we're really, really, really pleased with how it turned out. Just as a refresher, here are some BEFORE pics...
Yuck, right?

And, after a complete gutting, taking down a wall, building a new wall, moving the toilet, all new wiring, replacing the window, adding crown moulding, a shower, new pedestal sink/toilet, (new plumber), insulating, drywalling, tiling, painting, etc. etc. etc....HERE are the AFTER pics (yay yay yay yay yay!!!)
And so, with the completion of our first major DIY home improvement project, here are some Major Lessons Learned:

1) Expect the Unexpected. Especially in an older house. Seriously, just erase the phrase "All we have to do is...(fill in the blank)" from your brain, because really that's not ALL you'll have to do. Oh, and your timeline estimate? Triple it.

2) Work in Tandem! Steven and I started out by working on different projects in the house, thinking that that approach would accelerate the overall progress. Never again. Things go so much more smoothly and quickly when you combine forces--and momentum is SO KEY to maintaining our morale.

3) Don't Get TOO Crazy About the Budget. We stressed about whether to splurge on the chair rail tile waaaaay too much. In the end, it was an integral part of getting the look we wanted and worth every penny. I think maybe the key is to identify what is essential to the "vision" (faucet, pedestal sink, chair rail, showerhead) and what really doesn't have that same impact (like the ceiling fan, towel bar, or shower pan) and spend accordingly, without sacrificing quality, of course.

Note to self: Read these before starting the next project!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Travel Daydreams

How long has it been since I rambled on and on about how much I love the library?

I recently checked out these books featuring amazing travel destinations and experiences....
I loved flipping through these books right before going to bed, and putting together a long (largely hypothetical) mental list of all of the places I'd love to see...

Friday, July 9, 2010

Heat Wave

Wow, July sure did come in with a vengeance, eh? It's been stiflingly hot, hazy, and humid for a week+ now...but this weekend should bring some relief, via summer thunderstorms. Fine by me, as long as it brings that fresh cool air with it, however briefly.

Speaking of fresh and cool, how about homemade popsicles? I made these strawberries 'n cream popsicles a few weeks ago, and they were a great guilt-free treat for a hot summer night!
We have a couple mangos and a pineapple to use up this weekend, and I'm thinking they'd make a great Popsicle Batch #2. Maybe with a touch of honey? Yum.

Besides that, not too much planned this weekend, just a bunch of home & garden "Must Do's"...which, oddly enough, we now consider FUN. :)