Saturday, December 21, 2013

A Little Bit Of Christmas

Thanksgiving zip-zoomed right by, and 'ere we realized Christmas came to town! Life has been busy at the Little Old House, not so much with home improvement projects but rather with cleaning up and hiding all of the signs of a 'work in progress' ie random tools, screws, nails, sanding paper, paint cans, brushes, and more and cleaning the house to prepare for the arrival of family staying with us over the holidays.

One by one the holiday decorations are going up: first the door wreath gets a new look, and then, slowly, it spreads through the house, adding lights here, an ornament there.

A traditional Advent wreath takes up the place of honor on the dining room table (and gets moved around a lot because the dining room is more of a living room/ family room for us - we hang out here a lot, crafting away, doing homework, and eat).

Frosted glass and glittering snowflakes create the illusion of a winter wonderland and yet, this year, winter has been surprisingly mild. Sure, we had a few cold spells, with temperatures even dipping into the low 30s but right now we are safely back to shorts and t-shirts. (And there was much rejoicing!)

While I was born, grew up and spend the first 30 years of my life in Germany, I do not miss the cold. Nor do I need cold weather to get all excited over Christmas. No, Sireeeee, no snow, no freezing temperatures for me, thank you veeeeery much!

Snow is highly overrated. Christmas is all in the lights, the sparkling ornaments, the fun of finding and hiding away the perfect gift, the spicy sweetness of all things Cinnamon. And marzipan. Cannot - must not - forget marzipan! 

And the elf.
Barrigade is back for another year of elfcapades and is still well-loved and admired by the Little Man. Every year I keep worrying/wondering if this will be the last year he believes, and I cherish every chance I have making it last.

Try hiding your elf in the freezer with an empty cup of ice cream - that'll do it ;)

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Under Pressure

One of the first steps on your list of requirements when tackling any painting job is 'cleaning.' Gotta remove all the grime, grease, and dirt that has built up on any surface before you can hope a new coat of paint will actually adhere properly and look good for many years.

For historic houses the recommended way of cleaning the old wood siding is gentle washing with a brush and water from your run of the mill garden hose or a gentle cleaning with your pressure washer to avoid damaging the old wood siding. Newer pressure washers, especially the big industrial, gas powered ones, exert too much pressure and can cause serious damage by removing the softer areas of the wood between the grain. Since we have concrete pavers to clean and maybe, someday in the future, a wooden deck as well (not to mention bikes and cars, and garden furniture), we decided to look at acquiring a low-level electric pressure washer.

I don't know about you but since our budget is small and limited, my first 'poking around' usually involves checking out what Harbor Freight has to offer. We have found that we can often find just the tool we are looking for at a very reasonable price there. Granted, these tools won't last a lifetime. They are not the kind your children will inherit and talk about with gleaming eyes, but for the occasional 'around-the-house' use, they can't be beat.

They were offering the 1650PSI electric pressure washer from Pacific Hydrostar for very little money; with a coupon it came down to a whopping $74.99 - well within the price range we'd decided on and with all the features we wanted. Also, the reviews weren't bad. When I decided to poke around on the internet to see if there were more reviews elsewhere, I discovered that the same pressure washer was also available through Amazon.

For $279.53.
Wait ....WHAT???

Yep, you read that right. I had to take a screen shot because I couldn't believe it. Long story short, I decided to buy the $279.53 pressure washer for $74.99.
It was super easy to put together, the included instructions were easy to follow, and in less than 20 minutes I had our new toy ready to go!

It's really lightweight which makes it easy to lug around and if you make sure to tighten the connectors properly the first time around, it doesn't leak. So we took it for a spin outside, playing with the different nozzle sizes and just familiarizing ourselves with it before embarking on the big adventure of using it to clean our house's siding.

Front yard - we have concrete pavers and this little retaining wall that sets our property apart from the sidewalk - both of which were dirty and in places a little mossy after the especially wet and warm summer we have had.

Yes, that's Halloween decorations - I've been a bit sidetracked lately, obviously. Heh .... anyways, this is one of the fun tools. It's easy to use and comes with instant gratification in discovering that there's a color pattern in your walkway (when you thought they were all the same color) and seeing the crusted dirt of decades wash off and reveal clean, light colored concrete underneath.

"Before" and "After" in the same picture. Isn't the difference mindboggling? Gah! I can't believe it was that filthy (and that we waited so long to deal with it).

After you are done pressure-washing anything, it's you who needs a thorough cleaning.

The backspray covers you, top to bottom, with a layer of mud - wearing wellies might be a good idea. Maybe next time, heh!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Halloween - A Recap In Pictures

Little Man and me were on our own this Halloween - usually I hold down the fort and hand out candy to ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggedy beasties while the husband takes Little Man trick or treating. 

Unfortunately the husband teaches on Thursday nights and we couldn't wait for him to come home since it was a school night, so off we went together, Little Man dressed up as an evil Ninja Assassin Clown and me as evil Minion. 

No matter the holiday, our historical houses pull off any decoration really well. Whether creepy ghosts and rotting zombies, or sweet Christmas bows and twinkling lights - they all wear these adornments with aplomb, style and grace. 

The streets were filled with roaming children, laughing and chattering as they scurried from house to house, parents in tow!

So many houses were lovingly decorated!

 New and long-time neighbors really got into the spirit, and many porch lights stayed on that night!
It seems that Historic Springfield has grown into quite the Halloween destination.

 Instead of hayrides we tried a trunk or treat this year and it worked beautifully (although people are already planning bigger and better and improved for next year - gotta love the spirit).

As night fell, the decorations looked even better! I really loved this house with its spooky blue-lit winged angel on the porch!

So much candy!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Halloween Aftermath

 Will you look at that - Halloween came, and was over in a flash. Or at least that's what it feels like these days where - caught between work, household chores and baseball - time spent at home passes in a wink of an eye ...

I also realized I never posted a picture (or two) or what Halloween looks like at our little old house, so here we go, a day late and a dollar short!

Since I'm not particularly fond of all things gory and grew up not at all allowed to go from door to door asking people for candy (during my youth Halloween wasn't celebrated in Germany, and while we do have one celebration that allows for door to door solicitation of treats - St. Martin - it was in general something frowned upon in my family. Aaaaanyways ... it took me a couple of years to get the hang of "trick or treating' and it was made easy in my lovely neighborhood. More of that later :)

Decorations at the little old house concentrate on the fireplace mantel, the ubiquitous door wreath, and a smattering of ghosts, gravestones and black crows on the outside.

We feel mightily inspired (and ever so slightly intimidated) by one of our awesome neighbors who goes out and creates a themed decoration for her family's house every year and maybe, maybe next year we will have all our planning and decorating skills together and go all out. This year, we kept it simple.

And of course we dressed up the door wreath to go with the season. After Halloween, the 'Boo' comes off and we're ready to roll for Thanksgiving. Ha!

Over the top, I know. Hardcore decorating, right? These days I'm happy when I manage to keep my wits about and my family in clean clothes and fed. Oh, and the menagerie, must not forget the menagerie.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Nailing The Landing

 (That's a reference to gymnastics, not to having acquired a nail gun - that toy ...err, tool is still on the wish list)

I blame not having a garage for piles of tools and project supplies dotted strategically ie near the latest project site throughout the house. Especially at risk for such unsightly if handy pile-ups are corners with no actual regular use.
Like our upstair's landing.
Especially since it has that sweet little cantilevered balcony feature. It opens up the hallway between the bedrooms, provides great air flow and light but it's not big enough for ...well, anything useful really. It really makes me wonder how it was used originally seeing that our elders never really wasted space on nothing.

Anyways, our little balcony had become a) a spot for one of our cats' litter-boxes and b) supplies and tools. None of which make your heart beat faster when you lay your eyes on it first thing in the morning.

I knew I wanted to hide the litter-box, and I had seen various modified dressers, benches, and other pieces of furniture turned into litter-box-cozies but up until now I'd never found anything that would work for our little spot.

So we'd been living with -this- for quite a while. Until this past weekend when I had that feeling that I simply -had- to check in at my favorite thrift store. My secret spider senses were tingling, and then I discovered THIS:

A trunk! A square-ish trunk that was deep enough but not too deep to hide a litter-box! It was sturdy and in pretty decent shape, and would work just fine with our overall vintage, Renovation Hardware- knock off style.
SOLD! (for $7.95)

Once home I gave it a quick scrub before cutting out the opening. I'd seen some use kitty doors (our cats never liked these) and other ways to hide the entrance but I left ours plain - it'll take some convincing to get the kitties to use the new box to begin with, I didn't feel like adding challenges like door mechanisms or curtains. Maybe later ...once the novelty wears off.

Yes, I gave the cut-out ears. If you search for 'hidden litterboxes' on you will find a whole variety of options including the stylized cat noggin and a full kitty silhouette (for an under-sink cabinet - too sweet!).

The I decided to refresh the finish of the trunk with a quick coat of dark brown paint I had on hand. I also rubbed some black paint to 'age' the whole shebang, and then let it dry!

While the litterbox-trunk was drying, I decided to paint the part of baseboard on the balcony. It was already primed but had remained hidden behind the pile-up for the past couple of ...uhm, weeks, and you know how it goes: out of sight, out of mind, and there is never enough time to begin with.

Two coats of white paint later, I got to check this baby off of my list! Yay! Golden opportunities, people, golden opportunities!

Because the trunk features nifty brass corners on -all- corners I added felt strips to the bottom of the trunk to protect the finish of our hardwood floors. 

Two down, six more to go.

Here we go. The trunk lid pops open and conveniently stays open thanks to those lock-type hinges which will come in handy for cleaning and changing litter. The box fits perfectly into the trunk with space around it. I'm thinking of adding a hook to the inside to hang the little plastic scooper to keep everything nicely contained.

And here we go, the beautiful, beautiful "After"! I added a plant (Look, Mom, all grown up! Plants! Inside the house!) and found a large wall clock to dress up the empty wall, and we are officially IN LOVE with our cantilever balcony landing!

Yes, I still need to finish stripping and painting the railing but this is starting to come together beautifully and it beginning to look like a real home rather than a perpetual construction site.

Thursday, October 24, 2013


It's been a hot and rainy summer here in North-East Florida, and for somebody who keeps their bees in a topbar hive that means it's been a long 'hands-off' couple of months for us. You are not supposed to open up your hive when it's raining or threatening to rain (the ladies do not take to kindly when you take off the roof of their home and things getting wet) and when it's too hot, the comb gets so soft it might break off and wreak havoc on your colony.

Since a small piece of comb had broken off during our last inspection at the end of July, we'd been extra careful not to pick a day when it was too hot. Or raining. Getting free time to align with those other two turned into a feat of epic proportions but finally, last week the stars aligned and we got some quality time with our girls!

Our girls had been keeping busy over the summer despite many days spent on the porch (bearding, because it was so hot and humid) and we found partial comb attached to almost all topbars. Then we spied something  really interesting and called up Little Man who'd been doing homework. In his undies.

Little Man had gotten stung once this summer (he accidentally stepped on a bee in the grass) and while he's gotten over the sting quickly (and with no allergic reaction to talk of), we had been a bit worried how this would affect his relationship with our fuzzy bugs and his eagerness to work with them. Well, as you can see, nothing really changed. He just threw over his beekeeper's jacket and that was it. That's all. Undies and a beekeeper's jacket. 
It's also a testament to the mellow temper of our bees.

And this crazy comb construction was what we'd wanted to show Little Man. Clearly they had taken decorating cues from the collapsed comb in July and added willy-nilly globs of comb at the bottom of the hive, underneath perfectly fine drawn comb suspended from the bar above this mess.

All of that had to come out or we'd maneuver ourselves into a tight corner before spring encouraging the ladies to keep on building crazy crosscomb until we could no longer open the hive without destroying comb and harming bees, worker and - worse - the queen in the process.

There. All cleaned up. This is a picture of a lovely brood comb (with capped brood at the bottom) and heavy with capped honey stores at the top. 

We didn't harvest, really, our hive being a first year hive but we did keep the cut-off bits and bops of comb for ourselves. Some of them had capped honey (and a few small pieces of uncapped honey), and we eagerly carried it off.

Yes, we did. We crushed up a piece of comb and dipped croissants right into the honey puddle. HEAVEN! 

Then we went to process the remaining comb. First we squooshed everything into a pot and mashed it up. It smelled deliciously of honey and bees wax, even if it didn't look pretty. Then all that was left to do was to strain the honey and wax 'soup' through a fine mesh and bottle it!

Lovely, isn't it? And it's so delicious! It tastes different than 'regular' honey from the store, fruity, almost citrus-y - it really makes you wonder which flowers they visited.

What's left after draining the honey is a sticky mess of crushed comb. Since it was still coated with a light layer of honey we returned it to our bees so they could lick it clean. No drop went to waste! The crushed comb is not pretty look at even if it smells great. While honey comb is a beautiful light color, older brood comb is dark with dust and leftover pieces of cocoon.

In order to clean the wax you need to render it, melting it and running it through a filter. Since the weather had turned iffy so that a solar wax melter wouldn't work, I decided to volunteer the crock pot. There, in a bit of water, I placed a glass bowl filled with some more water on which the wax would float, topping it off with a piece of cloth to use as a filter.

Yeaaaah, so not pretty, but it smells heavenly. The wax melts, seeps through the cloth and leaves dirt and other contaminants behind.

Golden wax floating on water. It's amazing to see how well the cloth filter actually works, and that the wax indeed melts right through it.

And at the end, we had a few small jars of honey, about a pound of glorious, sweet golden bees wax and a chunk of honey on the comb to show for this year's foray into beekeeping. There won't be anymore this year. What's left in the hive and whatever else the girls are bringing in right now is theirs alone to hopefully ensure their survival throughout the winter. It's been an amazing adventure so far, and it's already impossible to imagine life without our bees so stay tuned - there will be more posts about beekeeping here at our Little Old House.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Shelf That! (part I)

Remember when I talked about how clutter accumulates in an area that just 'doesn't work'? Almost two years ago I showed you the mess that was our front porch, how its set-up just didn't work for us and how it caused us to give it the red-headed step-child treatment until we switched it up? You can refresh your memory here (and I'm happy to announce it's been mess-free since then!)

Little Man's room is experiencing a similar problem. Granted, he's a kid and as such a crazy mess is part of the territory but something isn't quite working or not working well enough. What especially caught my attention were all the little LEGO creations and knick-knacks cluttered on top of his low shelves. Maybe some display shelving is what is needed?

Don't let the picture fool you - it's never that tidy these days.Anyways, since shelves are easy to create and inexpensive I decided it's worth a shot. I was thinking two shelves on either side of the window would work well.

I managed to run off to the home improvement store to grab a few shelf brackets, a can of Kermit green spray paint and two 8 foot long pre-primed MDF boards I hadcut into 4 foot lengths at the store. 

I wanted the look of floating shelves without the hassle of figuring out how to attach them or having to build floating shelves so I faked it by spray-painting the shelf brackets a happy bright Kermit the Frog green to blend into the wall color in Little Man's room.

Quick light sanding to roughen up the metal surface and light even coats of paint did the trick!

We now have green shelf brackets! Stay tuned for part II tomorrow.