Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Christmas made in the South

In order to kick-start the Christmas season in style this past weekend, my friend Cheryl and I went to "Christmas made in the South", the premier Craft Fair here in Jacksonville.


Between seeing all the various lovely and amazing crafts, trying the delicious dips and tasting the heart and soul warming mulled wines, coffees and hot chocolates we had a grand girlfriend time (which was long overdue) and even scored a couple of really cute Christmas presents (Cheryl) and some yummies and additions to the decorating bin (me).

Checking out the goodies

The first vendor booth that magically drew us in was a treasure trove of vintage photoghraphs. We we even met fellow Springfield neighbors for a quick chat over pictures from the first heydays of our neighborhood.

This vendor graciously allowed me to snap pictures of her booth. She sure had the cutest snowman ornaments at the fair!

Cheryl picked up a few more of these bent wire ornaments. The tree sparkled and twinkled and looked simply stunning. Too bad it doesn't go with our current decorating scheme at all.

So lovely!

We spent quite some time playing with the "tester" toys at this stand: puzzles, catapults and other old-fashioned games that just never grow old or boring.

This one won the "best smelling stand" hands down: whimsical ornaments crafted from Cinnamon bark and scented with Gingerbread or Cinnamon oil.

Two of these cute little mice came home with me. Now, the Ugly Duckling smells like

a cinnamon roll.

Puppets! Fuzzy wuzzy handpuppet babies!
They also sold accessories for your puppet baby.

Thoroughly inspired, back home I broke out the first garlands and strings of light to get started on my Christmas decorating. It's a work in progress, happily stretched out over the next couple of weeks. The Christmas tree - contrary to popular American tradition - comes last. In my family the tree was bought just a week before Christmas, got a few days outside to stretch and was brought in and decorated just a few days before Christmas. The many lights on it, however, remained unlit until Christmas eve when the Christkind (english: the Christchild) brought the presents. That's a Christmas memory that's hard to beat: seeing the Christmas tree blazing with brilliant lights, all a-sparkle, while Christmas music played softly in the background. For a few moment, even to us children, the presents were entirely secondary ...

Before we were allowed to open our presents we had to do a little "schtick": it could be reciting a poem, singing a song or playing something on our instrument (once we started taking music lessons). We're continuing some of those traditions with the Little Man and over the past years we've come up with a pretty neat combo of German and American Christmas traditions. This year, since it's our first Christmas at our Ugly Duckling, we won't be traveling but staying home so expect to see a few posts on how we roll at Christmastide :o)

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Thanksgiving Day Impressions

A fridge filled to the brim with all good things

Our stuffing recipes requires at least 5 different bread types. It's a texture thing, really!

Ever noticed how pretty celery is?

Stuffing, just about ready to be mixed and cooked. It's so so SO delicious!
[If given the choice, I'd pick stuffing over the turkey it's so good!]

A "gobble-gobble" appetizer

Here's to German American friendships :o)

Bon appetite!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Quick check-in

Well, that was a grrrreat four day weekend (in the US courtesy of Thanksgiving)!

The turkey was delicious as was the rest of the meal!
There are plenty of left-overs!
The company was delightful!
Naptime was fabulous!

With Thanksgiving under the ...ahem, belt, we're now headed full-steam for Christmas. I already whipped up our advent wreath just in time for this past Sunday and the first garland along with little lights went up as well. Pictures to follow shortly!

I also got to enjoy some girl-friend-time with my friend Cheryl at the "Christmas Made in the South" Craft Fair this past weekend and I'm planning on sharing some impressions from there as well so stay tuned!

In the meantime, check out the new tab at the top called "Before & Happily After". This will be the place I'm going to showcase our "Befores" and "Afters" because they are oh so good for the soul.

Be back later!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

A Happy Thanksgiving from me to you!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

See-through no more

Not only is the big original entry door sans transom window in the wrong location (i.e. in the living room instead of the vestibule), it also came with an ugly, dirty and broken mini blind.

Just how to get rid of the mini blind without compromising our privacy? The big door opens to our front porch and to the street, and while the Loquat and crape myrtles provide ample privacy for most of the year, right now, things are looking a little bare. Add some light to that and voila, instant movie theater for the neighbors!

Sure they'd much prefer we do our private things in the privacy of our own four walls and encouraged by the success with window frosting in our master bathroom, I decided to frost the center panel.

First, it was bye-bye, nasty, broken mini blind! Good thing it was an early Sunday morning (I naturally wake up at the crack of dawn) and nobody was out and about to see me diy-ing in my pjs.

After a quick cleaning of the glass panel which gave me some time for idle thoughts and musings, I grabbed the tape on the husband's desk and taped off a quick, craftman-style inspired pattern for some quick and easy visual interest

All this happened under the watchful eyes of Ferb (as in "Phineas and Ferb"), one of our porch kittens. There are only two, Ferb and her little brother "Phineas", who have recently shown up on our porch. They look like Seamus's love children but he hasn't let us in on any family relations yet.

After the tape was in place, I went spraying. I've been using Valspar's Frosted Glass on two bathroom windows and now on the door, and there's still some left in the can. A-Ma-Zing!

After several coats I decided the frosting was thick enough for good privacy and applied as evenly as possible so it would look good.

Then it was time to remove the tape! It came off with no problems whatsoever and left beautifully crisp edges. I wouldn't recommend it for taping off on walls though. Hmm, then again the reusable tape might work just as well ....

Husband came down for breakfast and found a door with a new look along with a very-pleased-with-herself wife. While running rampant on all kinds of last-minute projects, we have been enjoying a brighter living room. Of course, now the dinged up molding around the doors is begging to be painted but I guess we're going to have some turkey first!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Cat's Meow

Just in case you were wondering who got to take the first bath ever in my beautiful brand-spanking new claw foot tub ...

[So that's where Tim Burton draws his inspiration from ...
Boots looking like the proverbial Halloween cat.

Look for the tail for any indication how fluffy she really is.]

This is Boots, resident feline here at the Ugly Duckling. The bath is part of her regular flea treatment. I don't know about your State but Florida is pretty heavy on fleas and you have to stay on top of it.

Boots came to us almost 8 years ago as a stray, and within no time she moved her soft-pawed self into our hearts and into our home. She's a sweet, gentle roly-poly kind of furball and prefers to sleep next to my pillow on cold nights, provided the sheet is smooth enough to meet her approval. She hates taking a bath, but she's good about it: no claws, no teeth and her escape attempts are half -hearted at best. Afterward, Boots remains upset at me for about half an hour and then she lets me know she's generously forgiven me. Over the past cuple of years she's become more vocal 'talking' to us with unusual almost bird-like chirping sounds and demands treats and attention with something that sounds suspiciously like "Now!".

I never wanted a cat and I HATE HATE HATE litterboxes, but this fluffball is -my- girl, and I don't mind sharing my lovely tub with her.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Totally nuts!

48 hours before the arrival of the in-laws and 96 hours before Thanksgiving, this is what my house looks like

[Who thought that tackling the pocket doors "in time for Thanksgiving" would be a good idea? And the dining room door ... And the door to the library?]

Arrrgh - Project supplies, mail and other assorted crap along with three boxes of books we need to drop off at Chamblin's Bookmine have taken over the vestibule

Good Lord, what a pile of tools and odds and ends we rounded up upstairs!

Keeping it real, folks, keeping it real. Hopefully and with a little bit of luck you won't get to see any of that by the time the turkey's ready to go. Just don't expect the landscaping to be much to look at...

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Flexing some mussels

Since I haven't really done much else than SPSPP (aka "scrape, patch, sand, prime and paint") baseboards and door molding and I don't want to bore you to death with yet another episode of "How much trim is there in this house?!", I thought I'd toss in a recipe. You know, for versatility and diversity and all.

During a recent cold spell, the husband and I felt a bit peckish for a delicious dish, solely reserved for the colder months of the year: Mussels!

I love love love love eating a heart bowl of mussels on a cold day, not to mention it's a dish that reminds me of home. It's a comfort food of a sort. And since it's one of my favorite dishes, I thought I'd share it here.

Mussels Rhineland Style

Take your biggest pot and add

- 1 stick of butter
- 3 carrots, peeled and diced (or sliced)
- 1 big onion, cut into chunks
- 1 whole celery, cut into chunks
- 1/2 gallon of chicken broth or 1/2 of water and chicken bouillon

Bring to a boil, then allow to simmer for 30 minutes.

Wash your mussels several times in cold water: fill your sink with cold water and let your mussels soak. Empty sink, refill. Discard any broken and open ones.
The husband and I bought 4 pounds (2 nets) which made for a great dinner. If you aren't quite as voracious, you could easily use just one net or 2 pounds.

Taste your vegetable broth to check if the vegetables have infused the broth with flavor. Add the mussels and allow to simmer for 10 minutes.

Grind some fresh black pepper on top. Done!

Serve with some dark bread (pumpernickel if you like that stuff - I don't since it has caraway seeds and/or flavoring) and butter, or do it like the Belgians and add French Fries.

So so SO good!!

My mom says you can freeze the broth with the mussels after you pick them out of their shells. I have never tried that, mainly because there are never any left *sigh*

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


During last week's painting marathon nothing got away, not even the door to the hallway closet. Since it may or may not stay, we're leaving things "as-is" for now which includes keeping the ugly cheap hollow core door. However, since last week the golden oak eyesore sports a fresh coat of bright and clean white.

[After: White and ... blah]

Something had to happen. For a moment I was contemplating painting it black to match our entry door, but I just couldn't justify the confusion that might create. I also wasn't too keen on drawing too much unwanted attention to the closet door and if anything, black doors are real showstoppers.

So I thought I could label it, right? That would deal with any possible confusion ("Is that the bathroom?"), add a little bit of spiff and satisfy my craving for decorating.

After contemplating just which word to use ("Coats" didn't cut it), I decided to go with the obvious:


Since I don't have any fancy cutting machine, I had to do it the old-fashioned way. I designed my label, printed it out and coated the back with graphite powder for a homemade carbon-copy paper effect.

Here it is, taped into place.

After deciding on the placement close to the knob - centered but not in line with the knob, simply because it looked good to me - I traced it onto the door. The graphite backing (if you don't keep any fancy-schmancy art supplies around you can simply rub the back of your design with a pencil - that works just as well) created a copy of faint outlines on the door: just strong enough to be visible but not too dark to create issue removing any extra lines.

After that I grabbed a small brush and some black-brown acrylic paint and started painting in my label. It wasn't all that easy. Not that the design was complicated, oh no, it was more the placement that made it too high to kneel and to low to comfortably stand while painting. I turned into quite the contortionist and if I had a yoga instructor, I'm sure they'd been quite proud of me.

Here we go, all done! Of course it isn't machine perfection but it's darling. Really!

Now my closet is stating the obvious, or perhaps it's proudly announcing for all to see that it is indeed a closet and not the door to the bathroom!

Got label? What's the latest thing you put a label on?

Friday, November 11, 2011

What? Me?

Catching up on my favorite blogs after a cra-ay-zy week, I almost ended up spitting tea all over my laptop. Jeanette from This Dusty House had awarded me and my little rambling blog an award! This is my first ever and again it's one of those things I never thought would or could happen.

I mean, really, I'm just writing up the adventures and ramblings and musings revolving around the renovation of our little old house to entertain the family and to make sure we won't forget (and it's also a great place to store information such as paint colors and shopping sources). Now I have acquired 15 followers and average about 2,000 hits a month - still a teeny tiny fish in the big pond of home blogs, but way bigger than this squirt ever thought possible.

So ... BIG Thank you to Jeanette for honoring me and my long winded babbling with run-on sentences with a blog award. I'm floored!

Since I'm German by birth, I chose the "Liebster Blog", not to mention that going on and on about painting trim in various rooms can hardly be considered "versatile". Heh :o) I do, however, feel a bit tickled to expand the topics of this blog. Maybe I'll include some of the stuff I've been cooking lately; the cooler weather entices me to cook more elaborate items rather than the usual Florida summer fare of grilled meat with salad on the side.

Anyways, the one (other) thing about the award that has me stumped is the question to whom to pass it on. "Fewer than 50 followers" is sort of the requirement for the Liebster Blog Award and that will take some research on my part. I "hop" from blog to blog, will follow linked comments and generally don't really keep track of what I'm reading: as long as it piques my interest, I'm there.

If you have a suggestion who I should check out, let me know!

Thursday, November 10, 2011


Here are the things that my life outside of work and family revolved around for the past week: wood filler, deglosser, paint, brushes and rollers, cleaner and a good cup of tea every now and then to keep me going.

While we'd painted the walls of our entry hall aka the vestibule a while ago, scraping together enough enthusiasm to tackle yet another room's worth of trim took me some time. Oh, but it was so worth it! For more impact, let's go back to where we started:

[Before: Once upon a time our vestibule was a bedroom ...]

Ah yes, it was awful. Like, really really awful. This is what our entry hall looked like when we first toured the house. In order to create a second bedroom for the downstair's apartment of our house, the previous owner had closed up the original archway to the livingroom and the wall toward the staircase. It was teeny tiny, cramped and pretty filthy.

Within a week from closing we tore into those non-original walls and restored the original floorplan.

The impact that reopening those walls had on this area of the house can hardly be captured in pictures. I marvel at it every time I step into our house. Not only made the floorplan sense now but it felt like the house was drawing you in while at the same time appearing much, MUCH larger than before.

After hours of trimming, patching, priming, sanding, refinishing floors, updating electric yet still miles to go in regard to artwork, window treatments, lighting and other decorative finishing touches, we have arrived at this:

Hard to believe it's the same room, no? Or the same house, for that matter. The old heart pine floors look simply A-mazing against the white trim and soft warm "Woodlawn Colonial Gray" walls and the entire vestibule feels open and airy and bright.


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Topping it off two-tone

For the past couple of days I've been a derwish with a paint brush in the entry hall. Everything and everyone including the cat got painted if they weren't fast enough to get away!

One of the few things left to paint, other than the actual staircase, was the newel post Joe built for us to replace the one that had been chopped when the house was converted to a duplex. Looks like it came with the house, doesn't it?

[Before: Hello Newel!]

It's been sitting there primed but un-painted for quite a while. This week, I finally tackled it. You see, the newel post is part of my Nemesis project: the staircase. While we're missing the spindles and handrail along the lower part of the stairs, there are spindles and handrails along the second stretch and the cantilever balcony. Badly painted spindles and handrails. Flaking spindles and handrails. Spindles and handrails with ornate detail and nooks and crannies.

Spindles and handrails that are a bear to strip from old bad nasty paint. It's a project that'll keep me busy for a while.

The downstair's part is easy and was a joy to paint. Just white, though, didn't quite cut it, so I decided to paint the top of the newel post in a dark warm brown, picking up on the beautiful warm walnut brown of our refinished stair treads.

[After: Hellooooo, Newel!]

I love the two-tone look on our newel post. It also comes with the added benefit that it's now much more visible against the other millwork in the hall and Little Man is less likely to run into it. Yes, this has happened before and is quite painful, he can assure you.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Tricking the eye

There's one not-original feature to the house that I really and truly enjoy: the entry hall coat closet.

When the Ugly Duckling was a Duplex, the former entry hall was closed in and became a bedroom. The teeniest, cramped bedroom you could imagine, especially after the addition of a rather big closet. One of the first projects we tackled after closing on our little old house was to rip open those walls and restore the old floorplan.
However, since we need to be budget-conscious, we decided to postpone the restoration of the original staircase. The millwork is there, all the original trim is safely enclosed behind a drywall cover, so once that is removed all we need to install are spindles and a new wooden handrail. It's going to be beautiful, but it would mean losing this humongous closet of holding, and closet space does come at a premium in old houses.

Anyways, when the closet was built, the previous owner didn't care about matching the trim. They just slapped on some teeny baseboards and quarter rounds and called it a day.

These modern baseboards don't really deserve to be called base boards. I mean look at them! That's not a board. That's a sliver of a piece of wood! About a third of the size of the original baseboards, they appear insubstantial and flimsy.

Since the days of the closet and thus the days of its weeny trim are counted, we weren't going to replace it. That money is going right into the staircase fund.

What's a girl to do? Mismatched trim ain't gonna do it. Yes, it's mostly hidden behind a big ol' steamer trunk but still. It's there, I know it's there - something has to happen.

I have paint and I'm not afraid to use it. Turns out you can trick the eye just fine by painting the wall with the paint used for the baseboards. See what I mean? Here I'm just done priming the area. If you squint, you can't tell that the left side is the side with the wimpy baseboards.

Pennies in paint evened out the mismatched trim. You can catch a glimpse of the steamer trunk
that's usually sitting right in that corner serving as a bench and storage for gloves and hats and scarves (and some more boardgames).

Monday, November 7, 2011

Trim envy

Here we go again - trim it is for today's post! While the de-texturized zone was drying I made sure to spend the spare time in between coats on other projects around the entry hall. As you might have noticed by now (I have whined reported about it a couple of times already), all of the millwork at the Ugly Duckling is in dire need of some TLC. This usually comes in the form of scraping, patching, sanding, priming and painting or short, SPSPP.

It's now a serious effort to get excited about painting trim. Sure, it's rewarding. There're few things more rewarding than the look of crisp clean white trim. But, man, it's a bore!
Anyways, the original trim in our house has taken quite a beating over the past 97 years - too much to restore it to its stained wood glory. Besides, I prefer white trim and old millwork looks absolutely stunning in pristine white.

So here I am again, scraping off loose paint and filling in with wood filler.

[In-progress: Notice the fine layering of drywall dust on the floor.]

See the corner of the window peaking in on the left of the photo? That's where our big entrance door with the sidelights (and the now missing transom) should be.

It got moved years ago, replacing a window in the livingroom, when the Ugly Duckling was turned into a Duplex. I'm hellbent on squirreling aside enough funds to move the ol' door back to its original location sometime in spring next year. That'd really rock my boat even though it means construction dust and painting everything all over again.

[In-progress: Now with primer!]

Next step, primer! That usually gives you a really good idea of how the end result is going to look. Lovely, don't you think?

All done! yes, I even painted the archway. Isn't it pretty? Phil trimmed this one out for us and he did a beautiful job. It looks like it's been there ever since the house was built and feels just right. I'm so glad we returned the house to its original floor plan as much as we could; it just makes so much more sense and flows beautifully.

And just before it got too dark for pictures I snapped this one with the furniture moved back into place. Yes, we have vintage typewriters all over the place. This is an old German one that I flew in all the way from Hamburg for Christmas one year. The things you do for love ...