Friday, December 30, 2011

Coming in 2012: plans for the new year

While first preparing for and then relaxing over the holidays, we had plenty of time to muse and plot and plan about the projects we would like to tackle here at our darling Ugly Duckling over the next couple of months.

After wrapping up some trim paint jobs inside our home, we've decided to dedicate 2012 first and formost to the exterior of our little old house.

[Ugly Duckling in oil]

- Replace-A-Rail
Soon, the rusty iron railing will be a thing of the past. Plans to replace the non-original wrought iron porch railing with a more historically-appropriate wooden railing are already underway.

- Picket Fence Fun
We are planning to add a fence to our front yard. It'll be part of our entire exterior make-over with special focus on ramping up our curb appeal (which is non-existent right now)

- Upfront Landscaping
Our front yard is a barren wasteland. I've been collecting ideas online and I see the beginnings of a plan. Of course, we're challenged by a small budget and a northern exposure. There are also some plans for neat features in the back yard as well for an all-around over haul of the ol' gal.

- It's Raining Paint - Hallelujah!
Time's up - we need to paint the exterior of the house. There will be buckets and buckets of paint in our future.

There will also be some window restoration, maybe some storm windows, screens, window boxes and bees in this little old house's future.

Are you in for the ride?

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Trip Hop Trap

There it is.

Don't you see it?
Come a little closer.


Still don't see it?

Yeah, that's the problem.

See, I have a small problem. I'm vertically challenged. Short. Fun-sized (or pocket-sized as I have heard the husband say). I measure a measly 5'2" and in order to reach certain cabinet space I need a foot stool. This particular foot stool is of German origin. I picked it up years ago at a fleamarket and have been toting it around ever since. It's solid wood, sturdy and gives me just enough of a leg up to reach what I need to reach without having to fall back on a regular step ladder (I'm afraid of heights and don't do serious ladders). Years ago, when we lived in our rental apartment with its white kitchen and cream colored linoleum floors, I painted it dark chocolate brown. That made it highly visible.

Now, against our beautiful dark walnut heartpine floors, the same rich color renders it practically invisible and turns my helpful step stool into an invisible tripping trap.

After acquiring bruises and bumps in varying shades on our shins over the past couple of weeks, blundering through the kitchen, tripping and accidentally kicking the unexpected obstacle across the room, we'd reached the end of the line.

No more!

After a thorough sanding,
a quick wipe down with deglosser, just to be sure the new paint would stick
and a quick coat of paint using the lovely "Lyndhurst Duchess Blue" we painted our dining room, we fixed his ankle biter type of a problem.

A quick fix that helped my foot stool morph from a drab tripping trap to a peppy step! Yay me!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!

A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year
from my family
to yours!

Friday, December 23, 2011

More elfing around

Buying the elf on the shelf was the best thing I did this holiday season. Husband and I have been having too much fun thinking up little impish deeds every evening and Little Man has the greatest of times searching and finding the little doll every morning. He gets a bit choked up thinking that in only a few more days he won't be waking up to find our elf "Barrigade" has been secretely ...

decorating and hanging out in the dining room chandelier

putting up our stockings

reading comic books with Bima

making s'mores in the fireplace

working on his whittling chip badge for the Cub Scouts

having a shower after working up a sweat traveling to and fro

Thursday, December 22, 2011

I like to move it, move it ...

When we talked about Christmas here at the Ugly Duckling, we always kind of envisioned our Christmas tree in the living room in front of the big door with the sidelights. That way we would be able to enjoy from the dining room as well since it's in direct line with the pocket doors.

Ever since we moved in, our living room couch had been sitting angled to line up with the fire place and we liked it. In order to make sure the Christmas tree didn't end up in our back, we had to do some furniture shuffling and pushed the couch back against the wall.

When I took this picture I was standing in the archway between vestibule aka the entry hall and our living room. The pocket doors to the dining room are off to the right (as is the TV) and that's husband's rolltop desk to my left.

Did I mention I love my shiny heart pine floors? Yes, the rug is technically too small but it gives you a nice fluffy spot to dig your toes into while showing off most of the beautiful original floors in our Ugly Duckling.

Now the fireplace is no longer center of attention but other than that the new layout makes the room feel bigger and it's growing on us.

Once the tree was up, we did some decorating. This process took days, with an hour here and an hour there squeezed in between chores and guests and work and life.

Usually I tie bows to the end of the branches but with a red cedar that's pretty difficult. Two other possibilities for ribbon placement had made the rounds on the internet, so we gave both a shot to see which one we liked better (best).

Oh yes, I should have warned you. Our tree is not a color coordinated, monochromatic, cleverly designed, hip, trendy affair. It's bright and colorful with cheesy handmade paper ornaments, sparkly bits and bops and even little wooden wind chime ornaments that jingle quietly.

This year we added a bright red ribbon for more punch. You know, once you get used to twinkling colored lights, going all crazy isn't that hard anymore (says she who grew up in a household with a very chic and stylin' silver and white Christmas tree).

Yep, still need to paint that door frame ...

Husband and I both loved the ribbon streamers best plus the ribbon helped stiffen the tip of our tree for better star tree topper attachment.

And here is our living room in all its Christmas-y glory! Lighted garland and stockings on the mantel, the advent wreath on the table and the crowning glory, the Christmas tree all aglow. I'm very happy how our Christmas decor adds a punch of color without clashing with anything. Needless to say it also works really well with our turquoise dining room.

Three more days - are you all set?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Tree Time!

This past weekend we finally went and got our Christmas tree. We always get a life tree and this is the second year we went and cut our own. This year the winter has been extremely mild and the cut Christmas trees throughout town were looking a sorry lot. Freshly cut will last you a little longer, even if you wait until a week before the big day to put it up like us. Cutting your own Christmas tree in Florida, however, comes with a twist. You see, when you hear "Florida" you don't immediately think "Christmas tree" or "fir tree!". Palm trees and beach party are more like it, right?

Surprisingly, there are a few Christmas tree farms sprinkled throughout the northern part here and there, and there are two in our immediate area. This year we hopped over to Rogers Christmas Tree Farm.

Gorgeous, gorgeous day! Bright, break-your-heart blue skies, a light breeze and balmy 70 degrees. That's my kind of winter :o)

So, here is the twist: Floridian Christmas tree are not fir trees. They don't grow that well down here in the land of sunshine. Sure, you can buy them this time of the year - those Christmas tree tents pop out of the ground like mushrooms after a rain this time of the year - but this close to Christmas they look more dead than alive and are losing needles left, right and center already.

Last year, we discovered the Floridian solution to this problem: pine. Or cedar. So, the Christmas trees you can cut yourself at local Christmas tree farms are shaped liked Christmas trees but they are Sand pines and Leyland pines and maybe Red Cedar. Trust me, they work just fine!

A Winterbird couple from up north were having a hard time trying to wrap their minds around these odd Christmas trees but really, look at them! Don't they look lovely?

All line up in row after row, like tin soldiers waiting for their part in "The Nutcracker". While I have my heart secretly set on a Sand pine, we finally settled on a lovely red Cedar.

Ta-da! Here's Little Man showing off our tree. It was just like ordered: tall but not too tall, a nice point and dense but not too wide at the base.

Under the watchful expert eye of Little Man, husband started cutting the tree. Little Man helped a bit, then moved over to let husband finish.

Our red cedar got a nice shake to get rid of all loose dirt and possible critters, was wrapped into a net for transport and then we strapped it to the roof of my trusted ol' Jeep using our nifty ratcheting straps.

On to the decorating - woo-heee!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Elf Strikes Again!

Our Elf "Barrigade" is still going strong and the quest for the elf first thing in the morning has grown into a fun routine. I wrote about our first couple of elfcapades over here and thought I'd show you what he's been up to since then:

One night he became a real beyblader and battled it out with Bima and Donatello

Then we caught him with Little Man's Nintendo DS

Another night he was more of an imp than an elf and drew beards

and glasses and other stuff on our picture frames

Occasionally he can be helpful. Here he helped St. Nikolaus wrap

up Little Man Nikolaus Day presents.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Dressing room

I can't believe it's been 5!! whole months since I last wrote about our dressing room. Five months?! How did that happen?
Last time I mentioned this former kitchen turned master bedroom suite, I finished sealing the stenciled floors. You can read about that here.

This is what it looked like then. We built in two shelf towers (his and hers) on either side of the door to the master bath, added rods for hanging clothes and pretty much called it a day. When I finished trimming out the master bath with baseboards and quarter rounds, I used up my left over bits in the dressing room.

Gotta use the momentum when you have it!

Then, when I added the door jamb and frame to the door on the master bathroom side of things, I kept the momentum going and did the same for the other side as well. Yesterday I finally got around to caulking the seams so now things are actually getting to the point of paint!

Sometime ago I also trimmed out the top and bottom of our shelf towers for a nicer, more finished look.


[In Progress]

I need to pick up some quarter rounds to finsih off the base molding and touch up the paint. Of course, even though we've been using our dressing room, it's clearly not finished. So, what needs to be done?

  • finish base molding with quarter round

  • touch up paint

  • add light fixture

  • install threshold to bathroom

  • fix threshold to bedroom

  • add a rug

  • add an ottoman or bench

  • add a shelf for shoes

  • add window treatments

Plenty of stuff still left to do, right? Yep, it never ends. Of course, I'll aslo never grow bored.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Visions of sugar-plums ...

't was the night before Christmas,

when all through the house

Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,

In hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there.

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,

While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads.

And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,

Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap...

It's not quite the night before Christmas yet but I had all kinds of visions dancing in my head when I discovered humongous plums at the local farmers market. That's where I love to shop for our produce - the Farmers Market on Beaver Street - and draw inspiration for our daily meals.

Anyways, plums!
Big, juicy, sweet plums!

They came home with me (along with a metric ton of other produce; we love our veggies and fruit from the farmers market). I'd baked two batches of Pioneer Woman cinnamon rolls (Best recipe ever - find it here) for a Christmas gathering on Saturday and had a small bowl of delicious dough left. Perfect for a German treat called "Prume taat" or in english, "plum tarte". Surprisingly similar, hm?

Anyways, here're my plums all cut up into nice and fairly even slivers. I buttered the cookie sheet and rolled the dough onto it, then dusted the top with flour. It'll bind the juices from your plums once they start cooking and keep your tarte from getting all soggy.

Arrange your plum slivers and drizzle some molten butter over the top. Then sprinkle deliberately with sugar and cinnamon. Can't go wrong with sugar, butter and cinnamon. Ever.

Then it's into the oven for about 20 minutes at approximately 390F. Enjoy the aroma filling your kitchen.

Let it cool off ever so lighly and serve with whipped cream (or without).


Thursday, December 15, 2011

Yours truly, Dr. Dolittle

I mentioned yesterday that our weekend ended up somewhat of a whirl. If we haven't spoken on the phone over the past couple of days or met in person, I guess I still owe you an explanation, especially since the whirl ..or whirls kept us from indulging our DIY habits.

Thursday night - I was already in bed curled up with a new book - I heard the husband come home from work. Now, that's nothing unusual. He works late, I'm more of a morning-type person, so we trade more quick hugs and good-night kisses on week nights. Now, coming home at night, the husband has to fend his way through the gaggle? flock? murder? pack of porch cats who are getting their hopes up for a late-night treat. Polly, the female adult cow-cat (she's white with big tiger-striped splotches a la cow print), is always very vocal about her need for a snack. This time, she was making quite a racket, so - curiousity piqued - I mosied downstairs to see what husband was doing that caused such a commotion.

Turns out it was NOT Polly making all that noise.

This loudest meowing EVER was coming from a tiny kitten or rather, a kitten-shaped creature that was just skin and bones. She dove head first into one of the food dishes, ravenous and desperate.

Big wusses that we are, we couldn't help but melt. I scooped her up; featherlight and not an ounce of fat, this kitten must have been without food for days.

For the past week we've been feeding her weaning milk for an extra dose of protein and vitamins, along with kitten soft food and crunchies, and she's slowly starting to plumb up. She's quarantined in our library, away from all the other members of our zoo, and spends her days for the most part like this:

Curled up in a worn sweater of mine and snuggled up against a warm water bottle. Awww - I know! She's adorable: kitten-fierce and a big snuggler, and she was mighty fortunate to have picked our porch. I don't know how long she'd have been able to hang in ...

On Friday (that's the day right after the kitty marched into our lives) we returned to our car from Little Man's Karate class to find a dog flattened to the ground right next to it.

You see where I'm going with this?

Nobody who was out on this block of our 'hood that night recognized him and so ... yes, we took him home. Truth be told, I wasn't planning on keeping him that night. I was hoping I could hook up with a neighbor or a member of our neighborhood's animal rescue since, you know, we have cats. No such luck although our neighborhood animal rescue SACARC came to my rescue and generously provided me with a crate and dog food.

Fergus, as we dubbed our temporary visitor, took well to the crate and our home in general. I'd grown up with a dog and missed having one, but Fergus showed me just how much I miss having a dog.

This young Labrador and Pit Mix is an absolute delight. I swear there is not one aggressive hair on this dog. Over the entire 4 days we spent with him I did not hear one growl, not when touching him while he was eating, not when he was playing, not when we accidentally tripped over him, not even when I reached into his snout to pull out a bone he'd found while on a walk through the neighborhood.

Fergus clearly loved snoozing right next to our feet on a corner of the shaggy rug.

He also enjoyed getting to meet the kitties. Cats had him happily excited unless the cat was Boots; then he was just terrified. She's one grumpy old cat, I'm telling you.

Right now Fergus is over at ACPS so he can be checked for a microchip and to see if there's an owner searching for him. If nothing happens over the next week, SACARC will take him back and find him a loving home (yours, maybe?). We can't keep him, unfortunately, because he got my husband's allergies all riled up. However, he has given us the gift of a crazy-fun weekend and the realization that we could fit a dog right in. We just have to find a dog that's easier on my husband. You know, I really love for him to be able to breathe.

Oh, and he started calling me "Dr. Dolittle"

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Oh Look!

Little Old House went all wintery and christmas-y!

Good thing the temperatures here in North East Florida are still ranging in the (low) 70s: perfect sock weather but not freezing yet!

We've had a whirl of a weekend over here at the Ugly Duckling. Hope yours was great! I'm working on my posts since I was a bit pre-occupied these past couple of days as we ...errm, speak!

Catch you in a bit!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Exterior Dreaming

As the year is winding down we're gifting ourselves with a little bit of downtime in regards to projects. Naww, we are far from stopping any kind of work but the jobs are smaller, more decorative and contained while we're spending a bigger chunk of our time curled up with a good book, snuggling together watching a movie and just plain enjoying the season (as much as work allows).

It's been 10 1/2 months since we closed on our "Ugly Duckling" and 6 months since we moved in and it's been a whirlwind of home improvement projects ever since. A teeny bit of downtime sure is in order, isn't it?

While we're kind of stationary on the couch, we're happy and eager to plan next year's projects. The biggest one on our list is giving our Ugly Duckling an exterior facelift. It needs it baaaad. The last paint job is failing bad and our house is starting to look like that creepy haunted house at the end of the road. Not to mention we're not too overly crazy about the current depressive blue-grey paint job and dingy blue trim. And the windows need some loving too.

Poking around for inspiration on the 'net, I stumbled across the Sherwin-Williams' color visualizer. Best. new. toy. ever! This fun online tool allows you to upload a picture, define areas to be painted and with the click of your mouse and a drag and a drop you get to "paint" your place in whatever color you dare (and then some)!

You can find the color visualizer here . You need to register first but since that comes with the gift of a $10 off your next purchase coupon, it's worth it. Plus, you get to play with the color visualizer. 'nuff said!

Once you're registered and logged in, you're ready to roll. You can either use a scene provided by Sherwin-Williams or upload your own interior or exterior photo. You then need to "mask" or define the areas you want to paint using a masking tool you might recognize from using Photoshop.

What's really cool is that not only do you get to use -all- of the paint colors by Sherwin-Williams but that they have it neatly organized for you. There are collections by color as well as a collection of historical colors sorted, again, by time period. That's really nifty for us Old House lovers!

Color Collections to choose from

A glimpse of the historical color collections

Here's the Ugly Duckling in its ...ahem, current state (more or less: we have removed the weird handle bar in the middle of the steps, the ugly old awning is gone, mailbox and porch lights have changed and the downstairs window frames were tentatively painted white, just to see what it'd look like)

Our Ugly Duckling is considered a "Vernacular" style house meaning it looks like a typical house of the time and place it was built without following too much of any particular architectural style such as Foursquare, Colonial, Queen Anne, Victorian, etc. It was built in 1914 or 1915 and if you ask me ,it shows a bit of Bungalow flavor with its low-pitched roof and the somewhat prominent eaves. I masked these characteristics to emphasize the architecture through paint. Kind of like putting on make-up.

Playing with the colors from the historical collection, the colors of the Craftman era always seem to work best with their down-to-earth beauty and simplicity.

[Grey doesn't have to look dreary. This is actually pretty sharp looking,

thanks to the crisp contrast of trim to body color]

I especially like it when the front gable is painted a different color than the body. Here I tried some different warm shades of grey and crisp white trim. Yum! Looking so much better!

Don't you love how the color visualizer makes the color change look so natural and real? It's amazing how light and shade are still visible and no detail gets lost. Since you're not using bucket of paints, spending endless hours rolling, brushing or spraying on paint, you can go stir crazy in your color choices to boot!

Here's the Ugly Duckling in daring red and a touch of grey

Sweet and modest in yellow with a bit of brown

Or airy and peaceful in turquoise

Best. Toy. Ever!

So far, I like the turquoise look best on our house but then again I'm usually drawn to blues and greens (case in point: turquoise dining room, teal bedroom, blue-grey bathroom ... you get the idea). What do you think?

We're still in the very very early planning stages of this project. It's going to be a bear of a project - our house is not all that little and has two stories as well and the old paint job is abysmal. I've picked up a couple of DIY books on this topic from the library that make it sound doable even at two-stories, and we're following up on a couple of painter's recommendation from the neighborhood for an estimate to find out just how much we value our sanity.

Pretty-fying the Ugly Duckling on the outside is something I -really- want to do. I want it so much, I'd even consider scaling a ladder taller than my step stool. No kidding.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas ...

Born and raised German in Germany I brought a whole slew of German traditions into husband's and my marriage. Occasionally that leads to rather .... quirky combos such as our Christmas eve meal plan: chicken soup and pizza. Husband's family traditionally served pizza on Christmas eve and for me, Christmas isn't Christmas unless it's heralded by a bowl of steaming chicken soup for lunch on Christmas eve. No kidding. Ask my Mom about the Beef broth debacle from a couple of years ago. It wasn't pretty.

One of our family's traditions was that no Christmas decoration showed up until the first of December or the first Sunday of Advent. After that, the house was fair game. Slowly, over the next couple of weeks, we'd add Christmas decorations building up to the grand finale that was the arrival of the Christmas tree (always fresh! never plastic) just a few days before Christmas eve.

We'd decorate the tree and it would remain unlit until Christmas Eve. In our family, presents are delivered by the "Christkind" (aka the Christ child although it's usually depicted as a golden-haired and rather girly angel) on Christmas eve. The benefit of that is that you never have to wreck your brain trying to find a solution to keep your children from waking you at o'dark on Christmas morning.

Anyways, what with the quirky combo of German and American traditions in our house we started decorating the Ugly Duckling just in time for the first of Advent. I have added bits and bops of Christmas decorations here and there but the tree has still to arrive. It's tentatively slated for this weekend but there's no rush (for me). Our filled stockings magically appear on Christmas eve after chicken soup lunch and pizza dinner, and Santa drops off the remainder of the blessings on Christmas morning.

Anyways, I thought you might enjoy a few pre-Christmas glimpses from the Ugly Duckling so here it goes:

The chalkboard (Love Love LOVE it!) has become our personal countdown to Christmas. I'm always hovering between giddy excitement and barely suppressed panic when I look at the number of days left. How on earth does time fly by so fast? Sheesh!

We added a garland and sparkly lights to our fireplace mantle. While we did have two fireplaces at our old Silver Street home, neither of them were in the livingroom and we enjoy this glittery glimmery eye candy the most. I found those beautiful vintage brass colored glitter snow flakes at Walmart of all places and they are THE.BEST! I'd coat my entire house with them if I could :o)

Our advent wreath. This year I'm loving it simple with some greenery, holly twigs, snow-dusted pine cones and some berries and candy canes for a pop of color.

Our door wreath got a little tweak too and now sports a bright red bow with bells (no whistles) and a fir garland. For starters :o)

Next stop, outdoor lights!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Elfing around

Right after I discovered that Little Man still believes in Santa, I -had- to get me one of those elves from "The Elf on the Shelf". Target was (is?) selling them for the same price as online but you don't pay shipping and as an added perk you got (get?) a $5 giftcard, so after dropping off the kids at school last week I made a quick detour, hopped into the store and bought me a Santa's helper.

All morning at work, I was distracted by plotting possible elfcapades and especially the arrival of our new friend. There are gazillion webpages out there, if you're lacking for ideas on what to do with your elf, like this one here at Blossom Bunkhouse. Pinterest doesn't leave yo hanging either and provides a treasure trove of ideas.

Husband was very skeptic, I wasn't 100% sure it would work but Little Man's been eating this whole thing about the elf and his escapades up. He's nuts about the little guy and his antics and husband and I are having a great time staging Santa's little helper every night. (We were also thoroughly amused by some bad elf on the shelf escapades we found on the web' and are convinced the elf offers some naughty amusement for adults without children. Just sayin' ...)

Santa mailed our elf. I searched the web until I found a 2011 Santa mailing stamp picture and printed that with our address and Santa's on a sheet of paper. I stuck a real stamp on our package (Little Man doesn't has never paid attention to postage on a package) and continued the lines of the stamp with pencil to make it look just right. Little Man bought it, so it obviously worked!

Our elf's name is "Barrigade", a name Little Man derived from the word "Barricade". I have no clue why but it does have a nice ring to it.

After his first trip to the North Pole to report to Santa, Barrigade ended up making a bed for himself in the downstair's half bath.

The next night, Barrigade - true to his name - barricaded the door to the guest bedroom with toilet paper. Little Man loves to camp out in the guest bedroom on the weekend - his special treat - and so far this was the funniest elfcapade. He did not see that one coming! Neither did the husband. Heh :o)

Barrigade used the cover of the night to bake us some special reindeer cookies. He made a real mess in the kitchen and did not clean up. Bad elf, no cookie!

Last night Barricade went to town with toothpaste! Hopefully B's nice design and handwriting will inspire Little Man to stop smearing his toothpaste over the window (he does that; I don't know why) and expand his artistic toothpaste expressions beyond the occasional smiley face.

I'm looking forward to the next couple of nights, cackling and rubbing my hands gleefully.