Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Thinking Ahead: Spring Hopes, Eternal

I'm a winter baby. In fact, tomorrow I'll toast my 28th birthday. I have always loved snow and the quiet beauty it coats the world in. But this winter has been BRUTAL. I can't remember the last time we've had temps so far below freezing for so many stretches. I find myself getting frustrated with the seemingly endless layers of clothing, the constantly cold fingers and toes (I have pretty terrible circulation, so they're always cold), and just the sheer amount of time it takes to go from inside to out and back in again. It's especially frustrating at work where the options are hop on a tram or make the 10-minute trek up campus on foot. Usually not a problem, but with the winds whipping and the wind chills below zero...yeh, tram I am!

Not that I'm rushing winter. I still hope for a few snow days. But...but I also just feel tired of the rigmarole of combating the winter elements. It'd be so nice to chuck on some pants, a light sweater, and be done with it.

I look out the window and long to get my hands in the soil. I want to rip everything out of the yard and start over. I want hydrangeas under the front window. Hostas in the shaded corners. Sun-loving daisies and tulips nestled against the hydrangeas. Ground cover fillers like impatiens along the driveway.  And lots of other things I've yet to decide because while I mastered shade gardening at the apartment, I'll have to learn about sun gardening for the house! Which is exciting and daunting at the same time.

But for now, I will enjoy being cozy with my hubby and my kitten. I will enjoy hearty soups and hot chocolate. And baking without sweltering in a summer kitchen. I will enjoy the winter Olympics in a few weeks and dream myself into a cozy ski lodge with a giant fireplace. There are many charms left to winter, but it's the turning point where I'm beginning to feel ready for spring to come along. On this side of 2014, it just feels tortuously close.

While I'm thinking about January, I'm not a resolutions kinda gal, but I have a few:
Keep up savings so we can balance home ownership with vacations, etc.
Conquer my fear of active dry yeast (I already have a few recipes picked out to get me over the hump)
Run (and enjoy!) the All-Women 10-Miler in October (already started building mileage, but it's so hard to get out since it's so cold!)
Pick out a half-marathon for 2015...perhaps Trenton or Atlantic City to avoid horrendous travel
And others I'm probably just not conscious of yet.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Adding Some Shine Back Into Our Dining Room

The dining room is currently the only room with (exposed) hardwoods in the whole house. It reminds me how much I took the hardwoods at the apartment for granted. John and I have been re-introduced to the nasty static that builds up when your air is dry and you have 90% carpeted floors. Our furnace has no humidifier on it (our HVAC, while it works, is a veritable Pandora's box of nonsense), so the air is even drier than it would be anyway.

That's my long way of saying...well, I don't know. The carpet is nice, but we do plan to rip it up and hope the hardwoods underneath are in good enough condition to simply refinish. As for what we currently have exposed, the dining room floor was in ROUGH condition. The family we bought from has 2 kids and a big dog--the windowsill in the dining room is pretty much destroyed cuz I assume that's where the dog waited for his humans. Likewise, the path across the dining room between the living room and kitchen is all nicked, scratched, and diveted pretty badly. I knew short of sanding and totally refinishing it, there was little we could do to remedy that. But perhaps the largest problem with the whole floor surface was that it looked totally dried out and just sad.  Like, I could feel it frowning at me.

So after reading this post on Young House Love about using a liquid swipe-on product, I decided to give it a go. While they went with a high-gloss finish, I thought a super-shiny floor would look jarringly out of place amidst the carpet, linoleum, and decidedly more aged look of our little cottage versus the more modern feel of the YHL house. So I picked up a bottle of satin-finish Rejuvenate, the little mop-brush thing, and we settled in this morning to spruce the planks.

I was too excited to get to it, and forgot to take before pics. I'll say it's not a difference where you'd be all, "Wow, did you just get brand new hardwoods?!" but it's enough for us to notice, and you can definitely now see a sheen on the surface that was sorely lacking before. Here are a few pics of the finished product:

This is the most beautiful part of the floor. Unfortunately, it's where our table goes, so we use a carpet to keep the chairs and all from scratching the planks. Sigh. At least I can look back on this photo and see how lovely it is...
This is a view of the most damaged part of the floor--you can see it's very beaten up. But even so, the boards look moisturized and happy now, and have a pretty satin sheen.

This view shows how some of the planks have rather deep divets and chunks removed--take a look at the two areas that look almost sunken lower than the rest of the floor. But like above, at least they look healthy and quenched.

I'll say I did two things wrong, again due to  my impatience. So we'll see if it really makes a difference down the line, but I realized later that I was supposed to wait two hours between coats (I applied two coats total), and I only waited one. I misread the label where it says you can walk on it after one hour, so I assumed that meant you could throw down a second coat of the stuff at that time, too. Also, I realized with horror we were supposed to wait a full 24 hours after the final coat to re-load furniture in the room, but since that was not a feasible thing for us to do, we loaded in the furniture again after only like 4 hours. Since the surface of the wood was totally dry after that time, and it doesn't leave any sort of film, oily surface, or other distinctive marker that it's even there (thus we let Hammy out of the guest room and didn't worry about him walking on the floor), I figured we would be okay to put the carpet and furniture back and just take extra care for the rest of the day when traipsing across the floor and especially the carpet.

For now, I find I keep staring  at it in the changing afternoon light--I'll crouch down and look across the surface and just enjoy its slight reflection. It's not perfect, but it's certainly an improvement, and I'm definitely happy with it. I'll let you know if my impatience has any doomsday rammifications.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Italian Jam Crostada

I have been drooling over this recipe for weeks. I found it over on Bake or Break, one of my daily-check baking sites. The simplicity of the recipe and the potential for infinite fillings spoke to my soul. Like a thumbprint or linzer tart, the possibilities are really endless.

Shortbread crust. Delicious jam of your choice. Topped with more shortbread dough and sliced almonds? How could you go wrong?

Here's 12 Tbsp of Kerry Gold butter, cubed and softened with some sugar, ready to get creamed.

Then you add the usual suspects to make a dough and press it into the bottom of a springform. Aww yeh.

PS: See those flecks? Vanilla bean specks from my boss as hell vanilla paste.

Top it with stuff.

Bake it up, try to contain your drool.

Let it cool, remove the sides. Slice it. Eat it. Lather, rinse, repeat it...

Oh my gosh, guys...amazing. Sometimes the most delicious recipes are born of the simplest ingredients, and this is a case in point. The end.

PS: it's a butter (read: no raw eggs). Eat the extra shortbread and have no shame. I don't.

Oh my gosh...more updates!

Let's see...what can I cram in here...? How about bathroom progress and Shrinky Dinking bedroom windows?

Swapped out some knobs and Murphy Oiled the door. Small changes, but they make me smile. Perhaps most frustratingly, I didn't account for the thickness of the linen closet door (or the bedroom closet doors), so the ugly, shameful linen knob and okay-but-ho-hum closet knobs must stay for now.

Anyway, here are a few quick before-and-afters:

Ugh...this knob makes me sad every time I look at it...soon I shall vanquish it!

Original hardware. Nice, but a bit too contemporary.

Old meets new...

Ahh, a swap-out for cottage charm.

Again, fine-but-modern knobbie here.

But adding a boost of charm is great!
Something else that made me frown every day...nasty gunked-up door...

It'll never look new, but at least the smudges and grease are gone. Way better.

As for the bedroom, we bought one of those shrink-wrap kits to help with insulation up there. It is for reals like 10-20 degrees colder up there. We also wanted to cover a few windows downstairs, but those have the gorgeous wood frames, and the kit said not to use it on unpainted wood. So I got to it upstairs. I'd like to say it's making a difference, but it's not like it's suddenly balmy up there. We want to check the attic insulation...the guest room is warm and comfortable, but it gets progressively colder as you move toward the front of the house. Also, the heat barely gets pushed out of the office and master bedroom vents, so that's a huge chunk of the problem. But hey, we have warm jammies, a down comforter, a kitten, and each other for extra warmth. We're making it work.

Here's the process of, as I like to call it, Shrinky Dinking:

First step is to add the double-sided tape to the outside of the sill.

After setting for 15 minutes, you peel off the outside backing.

Press the sheet of plastic against the tape, pulling it taut to reduce wrinkling.

Close-up of pressing the plastic against the tape.

Using a blow-dryer, you heat the plastic, creating a tight fit--hence the Shrinky Dink reference!

Then you simply trim off the excess...

...and until you go to lean into the casement like I do all the time, you'll never know there's a barrier there!
I'll update when it's time to take down the plastic to let you know how that goes...I'm nervous about the damage to the paint from the tape...but a bridge to cross when we get there.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Very Tiny Tweak

In the bathroom. It's so minor I don't even have a photo to go with it. But it's already making a world of difference. Our tub is sunken into the floor, which means there's about a half-inch of the tub that's sticking up above the floor, and then you step dooooown to actually get in. I was convinced I'd concuss myself whle adjusting to this, but it's been almost 3 whole months now, and I'm happy to report no injuries from attempting to bathe myself (nor injuries from our first overnight guests when they used it).

In addition to creating new muscle memory, this presented a logistical problem when it came to keeping the water inside the shower. Because to hang the curtain rod so the pretty outer curtain was not pooling on the floor meant the inner curtain liner was dangerously short. We found this out the hard way when John got out of the shower our first week in and there was a small pool on the floor.

So in the meantime we just adjusted the curtain rod to a happy-ish medium height and dealt with it. This weekend, though, I finally got out and picked up a second curtain rod, a pack of very simply (and cheap!) curtain rings and added it to our shower situation.

The new rod is pretty and decorative, so that one is on the "outside" and holds the pretty curtain. The older rod that's a bit rusted, ugly, and plain holds the liner with the simple rings. I was able to hang them at about a 3 inch height difference so the outer one both allows the curtain to graze the floor and also hide the ugly rod. haha And now the liner is hung so that it's nice and long on the inside of the tub so the water stays put.

Done deal!

Other visions I have for the bathroom are:
1. Replacing the cabinet knobs for charming glass knobs
2. Add a crown-moulding style shelf above the towel rack
3. Replace the rectangular mirror with an oval one
4. Murphy Oil the bejesus out of our beautiful wooden door with etched glass
5. Replace the grubby, ugly doorknob with something more cottage-y (would love a glass knob, but that ish is expensive!)

I'll likely tackle the Murphy Oil and cabinet knobs first, and when I do I'll certainly have some photos. I'll try and remember to snap a few of the crazy shower situation while I'm at it.

For now, cheers.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Whoa, Double-Header!

As is my style, it's either feast or famine! After a day of watching season 4 of The Walking Dead with a friend, Hubby and I came home and attacked the curtain project in the bedroom. I'll keep this short and sweet. We went from inherited, ugly red curtains on a wire track to our navy thermal curtains from the apartment on the wire track. Now we have real curtain rods with crisp, cottagey white curtains

The sellers left these red curtains and the Ikea wire track. We initially left them up cuz it was just easier.

There's the matching red curtain over on the side window there.

Then we transitioned to this...

...and this.

Pretty new hardware! Mercury glass finials = vintagey and fun.


So nice and crisp! They remind me of sailboat fabric. Which is just fine with us.

The sun rises and comes in this window--should give us some lovely brightness.

You can see in the befores how the wire is all saggy and sad. Now we have nice and sturdy rods with good support. Of course, it wasn't without its tribulations...the side installation was fine, but the front windows meant dealing with REALLY awful drywall. Even the plastic anchors couldn't do it...they just kinda got ground into the drywall as we attempted to add the screws. So we learned for those we needed to drill into the casement frame to hit a stud.

You can also see in the afters that I have some spackling and paining to do. I just wanted to get the damned things up, and will go back and play clean up later. So, it's still a work in progress. But it adds so much lightness to the room.

We had to go with a shorter length on the side window because of the vent--we didn't want to have to worry about it while the heat or AC are blowing. So we just chose to pick a coordinating 63" panel. They didn't make the grommeted style in a 63" length, so we just grabbed a pocketed one that was almost identical. I will eventually get a second panel, but for now it's all good in the hood.  (In case you're curious, the Ikea wire system is the Dignitet, and the curtains on the front are these from Target, and the side has this one from Target as well. Both curtain rods are by Threshold, also at Target. For the front windows, we got the one that expands up to 120", as it's a 115" span from left to right. Whew!)

One last comparison, and I'm Audi 5000.

By the way, does anyone else find that projects like this cause major consternation between you and your housemate(s)/spouse/friends/etc.? So stressful! haha

Friday, January 3, 2014

Holy Crap, Guys, it's 2014

I let an entire holiday season pass without a darned word. I'm sorry.

The first Christmas in the Cottage was warm, cozy, and wonderful. Since Thanksgiving was so late, we decorated on Black Friday (which was pretty much December already!). I was so excited to set up the tree in the front bay window. With two small battery-operated candlesticks in the right and left panes (the pic below was taken before we added those)...dear me it was a page out of a dream. Here are a few shots of our decor:

Home-ownership is chugging along--we've gotten lots of use out of the fire pit we bought back in October, and have been chipping away at small to-dos and maintenance items. Next on the list is new curtain hardware (and curtains) in our master bedroom. The wire system the sellers had in place (from Ikea) snapped some time ago, and so we jury-rigged it, but it's at the point where it's just time to bite the bullet and upgrade. Sadly, that means figuring out how to remove it, potentially spackling, definitely painting, and then drilling the new stuff into the wall. So stay tuned for that. I'll be swapping out the blue curtains we brought with us from the apartment (hopefully to be reused in one of the other upstairs rooms!) for some crisp white ones we bought at Target. With the grey walls, I feel like the room could use some levity.

I find my eyes are getting bigger than my wallet in some aspects--there are so many small upgrades I want to make, but dude, stuff tallies up quickly! Ah, well, you're never really done working on a house, right? haha We'll have plenty to keep us busy.

Oh! We also have a functional guest room now! Speaking of making things happen...check it out!

This was the guest room as of one week post-move.

Then we got a full-size bed delivered.

Some quick accessorizing and blammo! A cozy space for family and friends.

Hammy approves.

Also, can we talk for a minute about this snow? Princeton actually shut down today, miracle of miracles, for a full-fledged snow day. We got about 6 or so inches here, and that's without the drifts. I'm in awe of the temperatures, too! I think we hit about 18 degrees today, and tonight we'll be hovering around -2. Brrrr! Tomorrow should be a balmy 30. I'll break out the shorts. haha Here are some snowy scenes:

This was actually from the first snow of the season a few weeks ago.
Snow from the so-called "Hercules" piled against our back door. Just enough so Hammy could still peek out.

Frooooossteeed wiiiiindowpaness....

Well, I hope this makes up for my prolonged absence. With the bedroom project on the forefront of my to-do list, I hope to be back soon with the before and after for that.