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Pretty Winter Things

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December weather has arrived, and it is really beginning to feel like late fall. All the leaves are down, and the mums and sedum are giving their last blasts of color for the season. I even have a few late roses in the garden, although their leaves have turned reddish orange and their buds are scarred with frost.

Growing up in Michigan, as I did, you may find it odd that I was raised to believe this was a sad time of year. The garden was dying, or going to sleep at the very least, and the next several months were going to be winter, the equivalent of a dirty word to most garden-lovers.

My parents were, and still are, avid gardeners. They live for the warm days when they can putter about, planting, weeding, trimming, etc, so it is not too surprising that they were not big fans of winter, since all they could do was peruse the nursery catalogs and make plans for the next spring. Winter on the farm meant work, too; chores in a freezing barn meant breaking water out of the animals’ dishes and making sure everyone was cozy. It meant plowing piles of snow that blew down across the field to clog the driveway; it meant a treacherous, dark drive on icy roads for my father to meet his carpool. So I understand their attitude, somewhat.

I, however, love winter. Yes, it means scraping ice off my car and shoveling snow. It means layers of bulky clothing and frozen fingertips. But it is not a death-knell to the garden, or to outdoor beauty. The winter garden is not dead, nor is it ugly or sad; it is just a different kind of beauty, a different kind of life.

When the leaves are off, the stark sculptural beauty of an oak tree can be appreciated. Birds and wildlife are glimpsed more frequently, too. Visit a botanical garden after a snowfall, and you will notice beauty that is hidden in high leafy summer. Evergreens, pines and even dried perennials take on a new dimension when all around them is removed. No longer eclipsed by brilliant summer flowers, they can be appreciated for their more subtle color and beauty.

Underground, plants are not sleeping; they are growing roots, and, in the case of my tulips, I think they are having “babies” so they are far from sleeping or dead under the blanket of snow.

It does get a little dreary when the sun doesn’t shine and it is too cold be be outside. I do miss the smell of earth and plants. But if you live in Michigan, you know we spend nearly half of our year this way, and that is a little too much to just hunker down under a blanket and wait for warmer weather. That is a lot of living to be forfeited. So what do we do? Aside from outdoor sports (which really aren’t my thing) we love to visit botanical gardens.


Our absolute favorite is the conservatory on Belle Isle. If you haven’t been there, or if it has been a while, you owe it to yourself to go again. During the winter, just walking in the place is a treat for your eyes and nose – last January, thousands of cyclamen adorned the atrium – I never realized how fragrant they are! The building itself is beautiful, with several different rooms filled with interesting plants and trees, and a few birds. Best of all – it is FREE!

The Belle Isle picture was taken by Mikoyan, I hope he doesn’t mind me using it. You can see his other beautiful photos here:

If you are on the other side of the state, you can visit the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The outdoor acres are beautiful, but if the weather is frightful, you can enjoy the indoor gardens, which include a Victorian garden, and carnivorous plant garden, and others. Below are a few I took in September:




carnivorous pitcher plant

carnivorous pitcher plant

cute sculpture

cute sculpture














If you drive south from Detroit, you can visit the Toledo Botanical Garden. It is all outdoors, but is so beautiful with a covering of snow its worth braving the weather to enjoy the trees. Without benefit of leaves and flowers, the garden takes on an ethereal quality, and beautiful evergreens could really be appreciated. We enjoyed it so much, we went back again in the summer. They also are home to an artist community, and the Blair Museum of Lithophanes.

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all our gorgeous winter pictures of Toledo are missing at the moment - you will just have to go there for yourself!

all our gorgeous winter pictures of Toledo are missing at the moment – you will just have to go there for yourself!

There are so many fun and interesting things to do in winter, even if you don’t enjoying skiing or skating; take some time to explore the beauty around us, and try to enjoy winter for itself. After all, it is going to be here a while.

PS – if you are wondering why there is a picture of kittens at the top of this post…because kittens are cute, that’s why!


Crown Moulding and Progress, at Last!

I’m sure you’ve all been waited with bated breath for a progress update on this crazy kitchen remodel…today, we are getting crown moulding on the cabinet tops.

It’s a big job, since the ceiling isn’t straight, and it is a six inch drop with a 3 inch moulding. The cabinets are level, but that is about all! Luckily, I’ve got these guys from Authentic Restoration Detroit working on it, and they are amazing:

Erich and Milan, whose expert work in getting the crown moulding up. This is Milan, he’s very meticulous! You can see one part of the moulding here, the crown is not up yet.

The cabinets are level; the ceiling drops about an inch and 3/8. It took some finesse to put that moulding up so you don’t notice the angles!

They actually built a plywood-covered “box” to mount the moulding on. It was cut from a fridge panel we ordered with our cabinets, so it would be a perfect match.

You may want to check out their website. Their specialty is restoring the grand old homes of Detroit, maintaining the amazing craftsmanship of the previous two centuries while making the homes liveable, beautiful and unique. Neighborhoods like Palmer Park, Green Acres, Boston-Edison, Arden Park, are filled with gorgeous old home whose craftsmanship is difficult, if not impossible, to duplicate today. (subject for a future blog?)

Erich believes restoring the old work is almost always preferable to ripping it out and putting in new, especially in an old house that was built to withstand the centuries. Woodwork, flooring, light fixtures, door and windows, and even china sinks and tubs are carefully brought back to their original condition. I hope he isn’t too disappointed in Claymire, but seriously, we really had little character to work with here!

Thanks to my wonderful and talented husband, the wiring for undercabinet lights is complete, and he got the screen installed on the pantry wall. I think the stain is a little light (we were trying to match the floor) and maybe we should have matched the cabinets, instead. Oh well, it can age all it wants, now that it is up. It does hide the dryer vent and gasline, while still providing ventilation to the air return.

It’s made of hickory, to match the flooring. Like my collection of vintage cocktail shakers?

I haven’t spent much time outside this week, but at least I get to see the front garden as I come and go. It’s a beautiful day, although it rained this  morning. I am hopefully these peonies will bloom soon.

This is their third year, so they should have enough “energy” to truly bloom. They are covered with large buds.

The countertops were measured today, and we ordered a new sink and faucet and garbage disposal. Also began installing the remaining hardware, which finally came in. Our new ceiling light got here, but the glass was smashed, so we’re waiting on a new one, so we can center the box and install that, and be able to open the cabinet doors, too!

We should have counters by the middle of next week, then we’ll be down to choosing a backsplash tile. I’ll start collecting some samples and see how they look. Maybe I can add a poll and see what readers like.

Kitchen Update; Progress, mistakes, and waiting

Well, we are at the end of the first full week. We have all upper cabinets in place, the plumbing work is done, including the relocating of a gas valve and gasline to the clothes dryer that we forgot about, the additional cabinets are ordered, cabinet hardware is backordered, and we are sitting around waiting for things to happen.

Look, doors!

It wasn’t all that easy. To replace the water valves at the water meter required the city turning off the water, which was made really difficult by the fact that, back in 2003, the city hired a company to replace the sidewalks, and they paved over our shutoff! Our city’s DPW cut a notch in the sidewalk and put in an extension for the shutoff, but it took a while, since they are all on half-staff due to budget cuts. It actually took me four days to get an appointment to even have the water shut off in the first place!

But we got it done, got a new water meter – the old one was leaking – and everything is back in place. Now we are basically waiting on the people who will help us finish the job. mr husband and I decided to do what we do well, and leave the rest to the experts. When we had the “great flood of 2010” the flooring was replaced; we want the same guys to come back and fix it now, where the new cabinets are shorter than the old ones were:

It’s one of only two changes to the layout of the kitchen.

We also hired a craftsman to do our crown moulding. Working at a museum, I get the opportunity to meet a lot of interesting people, and one of them was Erich Wasner of Authentic Restoration Detroit, whose company specialized is restoring gorgeous old homes without destroying their character. I met him when he and his wife, Jackie, purchased an old foursquare farmhouse in the town where I work and began a sensitive restoration of the 1918 home. Even though I don’t have an historic, century-old home, Erich and Milan will be installing our crown moulding!!!

We chose these knobs, but could only get six of them so far.

So as we wait on the floor guys, we postpone templating for the countertops, which is actually okay, since I decided to return two of our 12″ bases for ones with 3 drawers, and they had to be special ordered. Also, we had to order a new ceiling light, because we didn’t take into account the fact that the new cabinets are 6″ taller than the old ones, and this happened:

That’s not parallax – you really can’t open those doors without hitting the light!!!


So now mr husband is planning to frame in the space above the pantry. There is a furnace air return up there, so he has designed an open-work mission-style screen of hickory to close in the space and give it some character. You may wonder why its open in the first place: when we built the pantry, 12 years ago now, the attic stairs extended further back, and we needed to drop the top of the wall so the stairs could open. A few years ago we replaced the pulldown attic stairs with a smaller unit, moved it forward, and now we don’t need that clearance. It is a little weird to have the attic access in the kitchen, but this was the utility room, if you recall, and we are kind of stuck with it. Just don’t look up!

Today we returned to Public Lumber in Detroit for some hickory to build the screen. While mr husband is fashioning that, I took a “break” to cut the grass and put together a new bench for the front porch.

Its acacia wood with an oil finish. I like the design. Sorry it is so dark, but the sun is quite bright today.

Rowley dog, my constant helper. Doesn’t he look better? He’ll be getting groomed tomorrow. He still smells a little like skunk…

So we are plodding along, installing under-cabinet lighting, washing dishes in a washtub, cooking in the toaster oven. Last night we had dinner at the casino with some friends, and caught this picture from the parking deck:

Detroit skyline. It was a pretty night with a storm coming up.

The sadder side of hoarding

I’ve written about hoarding before, how the sheer sight of all the clutter makes me cringe. I know how it ruins lives and alienates people when “things” become more important than people. But what about animal hoarders?

Our little foster cat, we call her Mabel now, came from such a home. She had red, bleeding sores from flea bites, and her blood count was so low, she couldn’t be vaccinated. (She’s now doing great, and has been vaccinated and spayed-she’ll be up for adoption soon!)

At this time, there are 21 cats and 5 dogs still in the house, in various states of health, almost all needing to be removed and get some care.

she's squinting because I used a flash-black cats are hard to photograph!

Paws for Life Rescue, a group I have volunteered for off and on for almost a year, is working to get the animals removed and eventually adopted. At this time, several need booster shots, which will buy them some time to find a furrever home.

These are great cats who need a chance

The “owner” of the cats is a well-meaning but misguided individual who has a huge heart for animals, but is unable to see that he is not doing them any good in these overcrowded, flea-ridden conditions. These are cats that CAN find good loving homes. Please check out this link on facebook, and help if you can. $15 can buyboosters for one kitty.

thanks for having a heart. If you can, pass the information on via Facebook.

Christmas-in which my Luddite tendancies take a hit

Those of you who know me, know that I am not a friend of new technology. Rather, it is not my friend. Computers break in my presence, watches stop running, and I have an uncanny ability to jam a copier from six feet away. My cellphone is a Tracphone for mostly emergencies, although I did finally learn to send a text message this year! Which makes all the more remarkable the zeal with which I have embraced the latest Christmas gadgets that found their way under our tree (and into my heart) this year!

First off, we bought mr husband a new car. He was driving a seven-year old truck that didn’t even have automatic doors or windows (nor real turn signals, for that matter) No big deal. But this new car…wow!!! It has automatic everything, including an SD chip for music (yeah, I didn’t know what that was, either.) It has cool lights that pivot the direction you are turning, so you can see the curbs in the dark, and it has…wait for it….heated seats!!! We’ve entered the twentieth century only a decade late!

Soooo, all the CDs are being transferred to SD chip, and I admit, I was a little jealous. I mean, convenience and reduction in clutter!

I've got about 20 albums on here already!


Then Santa brought me an MP3 player. (I wasn’t completely sure what that did, either, but apparently I now can put all MY music on that – goodbye clutter!!! Maybe all the new stuff (including a sound bar for the TV) was giving my laptop an inferiority complex, because it decided to go belly-up on the 26th. So mr husband used some of his Christmas bonus to buy me a new one, on which I am typing this now. Wow. That’s all I can say. I didn’t mind my 6 year old Dell. It was only missing one key – the question mark – so I made sure to type mostly declarative sentences. This new one has the most amazing graphics! The pictures look so pretty! And it has a full keyboard!

It has one more feature that I wasn’t expecting – a BN Nook reader. Now folks, I readily admit I really didn’t want one – I thought they were dumb. I like to curl up with a good book, or magazine. I like something I can actually hold when I read. But hey, I gave it a shot.

Guess what? It’s pretty amazing. I found a book about a ruined house in Detroit, (63 Alfred Street, Where Capitalism Failed, by John Kossik) downloaded a free preview. looked it over, and bought the book. And there it is, right on the computer, and surprisingly easy to read, too!

only $9.99 at Barnes and Noble

All this has my head spinning with electronic giddiness. They are still strange and surprising to me, who spends a great deal of time living in the 1920s world of the museum, where radio was a new phenomena (and where would I be without THAT – I love radio!) I’m still getting used to my digital camera and marvelling at the functions of my DVR.

And I realize that none of these things are necessary – they aren’t going to ensure the survival of the human race, end hunger or even bring peace. They are tools, and like my dishwasher and vacuum cleaner, they can add to my enjoyment of life, and even learning.  On the whole, I have to admit that, while they are new-fangled gadgets, they are actually pretty cool.

Library Table Project

One of the things I have been wanting since about forever is a library table. Especially an Arts and Crafts style, since that is our favorite type of furniture. A couple of years ago we found a great desk for mr husband’s office, and I’ve coveted it ever since!

Yesterday I found one on Craigslist (surprise, surprise!). I drove downtown to John King Books (if you haven’t heard of this place, click here to check them out!) to have a look, and bought it in an instant! It needs a little work, but it was a bargain.

I LOVE the little open shelves on the sides

I immediately starting cleaning it up. There are a few chips in the plywood, which is only on the inside bottom, and one piece of the top needs to be glued back on. Hard to see in the picture, but it’s missing here.

I should have turned the bottle around-it's Howard's Refinisher, my go-to product for almost all things!

The drawer was broken and needed to be completely re-glued.

Yes, I am gluing on the kitchen counter - it's too cold outside!

I don’t know what kind of metal the knobs are made from, but they look original.

Oh look, an ink stain!

I hope this table will be part of the solution for the odd corner of the living room. I’ve tried so many arrangements there over the past 14 years.

I love these cabinets, but this corner wasn't working for me

At one time the whole corner was book cases. And this one is from Christmas two years ago…

Christmas 2009 - ooh look, the kitchen isn't painted yet!

Hopefully this piece will finally pull it all together.

The entire top, as well as the base, needed to be reglued.

It took a lot of clamps!

We used a piece of wood underneath to keep it from buckling under the stress of the clamps. We used Elmer’s Wood Glue.

We wrapped them in waxed paper so the glue won't stick.

Next step, sanding, re-staining, and reattaching to the base.

We needed to rearrange the artwork a little, but fortunately, mr husband has a good eye, and some tools!

The library table/desk in its new home

I think the corner looks better this way, and the radio has a home. The radio is a Ward’s Airline super-hetrodyne from 1939, and it works!

The top of the table looks pretty good, now, after two days of gluing and clamping.

The lamp is from Salvation Army Thrift store.The little weaving is something I wove myself. The bowl full of balls I bought when I was a teenager, for a nickel at a yard sale. Rather surprising it has lasted this long!

What do you think, does the corner work now?


A Rare Rant: Is it Just Me? Or are Vacations Overrated?

I am the Vacation Grinch. I don’t like vacations. I really, really don’t like them.

I like it at home. It’s nice here. It’s comfortable, relaxing, and I have everything I love around me; mr husband, son, kitties, dog, comfy chair, comfy bed, garden, work. I like it here.

Vacations are work, much more work than actually going to my job, which is actually fun, and from which I rarely require more than a day away from to miss it again.

I don’t like flying, either, and I don’t like being away from home. I don’ t have a desire to travel and see the world. I do enjoy day trips, or the occasional weekend getaway, if it is stress-free and inexpensive. But by the time I arrive at my destination, I am already homesick. I feel like I’ve been evicted from my house, or worse, like a little bird that has lost its way. I seem to get more homesick with each passing year.

Maybe I’m nuts, or maybe I just have other priorities.  I don’t think mr husband understands, but I googled “vacation dread” and found I am not alone! I don’t need time to “relax and unwind” – I want to stay busy!

Our last “vacation” was a weekend in Chicago. Two of three museums were good – the other sucked. It was cold, food was expensive, but they have pretty good mass transit. As for architecture, it was very cool, but then again, so it Detroit. The curtains were very interesting in the hotel room, and I ended up spendiig a lot of time staring at them. BORED to tears! The train ride was okay on the way there, and terrible on the way back. It was ridiculously expensive, but pretty okay.

The vacation before that was a week on Ocracoke Island. We went early in the season, to avoid crowds. Oh boy! The museum was closed, there were two restaurants open, one of which food-poisoned mr husband, two stores were open (thank God one was the liquor store!), and the weather was too rough to boat or visit the ghost town on the neighboring island. I read all my books the first day – did I mention it rained the whole time – and spent a great deal of time staring at the ceiling. That was the last vacation I didn’t bring “work” with me!

There was a California trip in there somewhere, too. El Segundo is a cool town, although the antique shopping sucked, the food was pricey, and they had the first tornado in 50 years while we were there. We did see some whales, though, which was actually pretty awesome, as was the Getty Museum.

I know I sound like the vacation Grinch! I just don’t see the point of all the fuss – I’d rather take a week off work and stay home, visit local museums, etc. mr husband can relax with his books, and I can do more than stare at a ceiling in some strange room while he takes a necessary and well-deserved break.

Still, here is my gripe-y, whiney, depressing list for vacation, which is supposed to be to Tennessee for Thanksgiving, to see parents and my brother’s family and some cousins, etc. I know it will make me sound like a negative person, which I’m not, really. But I suspect that many women have a similar list in preparing for vacation:


Clean the house

Do the laundry

Find a catsitter

Reserve the dog kennel

Make sure the animal’s vaccines are up to date for the kennel/sitter

Clean out the refrigerator

Take out all the trash

Gas up and clean up the car

Find all the misplaced CDs for the car

Pack all the crap to take to my mother

Withdraw all the excess cash from my bank account

Make sure all doors and windows are locked

Talk to the neighbors

Do more laundry, because someone wore something they wanted to pack

Find the suitcases, pack all the stuff

Find a good book to read

Make sure all bills that are going to be due are scheduled to be paid

Make sure City Hall knows I will be out of town, and leave a forwarding number

Get the dog to the kennel

Get a key made for the cat sitter

Put the trash out to the road, in bags only, and hope the raccoons don’t tear it up

Pack laptop, and bring some “work” to work on if I get a chance!

Run the dishwasher so it doesn’t smell bad

Make sure there is enough food for the cat, oh, and the fish, too. make a run to the pet store for more.

Touch up hair roots and manicure

Ps-These are MY tasks, not mr husband’s

While I’m gone:

Worry about what I forgot to pack

Go to the store for all the stuff I forgot to pack

Worry about an unexpected bill hitting the bank one day too early

Worry about the kitties and dog

Miss the kitties and the dog

Worry about the house

Worry about the museum burning down, or worse

Worry about getting so behind at work

Worry about that overdue library book that didn’t make it to the “preparation” list

Worry about the mountains of laundry and crap to unpack when I return

Listen to endless snarking of family members

Worry about amount of money that is being spent

Worry about unhealthy fast food, expensive restaurant meals, general overeating and how much excess alcohol is necessary to survive it all

If visiting parents:

Cook, shop for food, cook, cook, cook, shop for more food, clean up food mess, plan for next meal, cook, (rinse and repeat, forever!!!)

Listen to mother’s criticism of hair, weight, fashion choices, mothering ability, excessive alcohol consumption, son’s life choices, job, house, car, etc…..

Generally deal with feeling disconnected, lonely, unhappy, homesick and sad

Spend 5-6 hours a day staring at the hotel room ceiling while mr husband reads a book, sleeps in late, and showers, while I crave coffee, and stare at the ceiling some more

Upon return:

Wash more clothes than I even knew I owned

Spend a week unpacking and stowing suitcases for every family member

Sort through 65 pounds of junk mail

Re-connect with sad, lonely pets

Pay the sitter and kennel, feel broke

Clean out smelly fridge of things I thought would make it a week, but didn’t

Spend $150 on groceries, because there’s nothing in the house

Go out to eat, anyway

Answer 200 emails from work, as well as 16 voice mails that should have been answered last week

Air out the house of stuffy air

Repair shattered ego and begin rebuilding self esteem

Clean the house, again – how did it get dirty when no-one was there?

And I have fun when?

Mr husband doesn’t understand why I don’t want to leave home….I like it here. I’ve worked hard to make it a comfortable place. Why would I leave?

Anyone with me?