A Tree Lends a Hand… Branch?

Back in the 80s, Eat’n’Park, a local franchise akin to Denny’s, began airing this commercial. The holiday season is not official without the airing of this commercial during the Macy’s Parade, and thanks to YouTube, everyone can enjoy it, even if they no longer live in southwestern Pennsylvania.

I get goosebumps every time. And sometimes tears.

Have a wonderful holiday, fair readers!

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LowesHack: A Pretty Spinning Windmill

In early summer, I was obsessed with finding a pinwheel for the yard. Not a flimsy paper pinwheel, but a nice, sturdy steel one–but not one that looked overly old-timey country. Our aesthetic, after all, is more Mad Men than Little House. I drove myself crazy until I found the Kinetic Steel Wind Spinner at Lowe’s for $40, the result of a happenstance glance to the right when I usually would’ve glanced left. (The one in that link isn’t quite the same as ours, but I couldn’t find an exact match.)

It was just what I wanted: six feet tall, two spinning wheels, and a spinning pole that would allow the pinwheel to rotate as well as spin. Groovy! Only problem: it was all black matte steel, and virtually invisible against our wooded hillside.

Fortunately, I’d just been spray painting all of our patio furniture, and had a brainwave: I could paint the interior white, and the exterior glossy red, for a nice double-colored effect when the wind blows. It came out perfectly: a barber-shop-like spinning flower in our backyard, placed in full view of our living room. Our neighbor liked it so much, she went and bought her own, painted it blue and white, and put it just across the fence. (It’s barely visible in the video below.)

The best part? Now that the leaves have fallen and landscape has gone the brown of Pittsburgh winter, we can enjoy a wildly spinning riot of red and white flashing against the landscape every time the November wind gusts up from the river. And I can’t wait to see how it looks in a full snow.

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Prototyping the Kitchen, Part II

A few weeks ago, we cut a hole in the wall. We do that a lot. Last time we did it, it was to reopen a hole in our front hall–one that was in the original house. I’ll post about that some day. Then, of course, we cut a giant hole in our living room. And there was the time we cut about six inches from the dividing wall to our bar area, known as Kitchen Island, Prototype #1.

Usually it goes like this:

“So I was thinking… maybe we could cut the hole in the wall today.”

Then I call my dad, and say, “Dad, we’re going to cut a hole in the wall today.”

And then he brings power tools and old clothes, and my mom and I take the kids to a craft store, and my husband and dad make everything very, very dusty.

And we go from this:

Note how the recessed lighting actually bounces off the whole thing and makes it glow. Glow, I tell you!

To this:

Tarps are important when drywall's involved.

To this.

No, it's not load-bearing. They checked.

That was a few weeks ago. We’ve been making some trips to IKEA in the meantime, spec’ing out cabinets for underneath the island, talking about configurations. But I’m someone who actually has to see a design to understand it, so this weekend, with the help of a few wood planks, clamps, and tablecloths, we came up with a reasonable facsimile of what our new semi-wraparound island will look like.

It'll be shorter from wall to end, but wider. The shelf will be lit from underneath, and hide unattractive things like the iphone charger and butter dish.

Of course, the IKEA cabinets that will best match our gray steel cabinetry is the Akurum Abstrakt line in glossy white, which, for IKEA, is expensive. For anywhere else, I think it’s about right. Plus, with a butcher block top, David can cut out the compost hole (I love a compost hole, and ours uses a steam table container, set right into the countertop), and we can get a pull-out trash drawer.

Of course, we’ll have to cut the remainder of the dividing wall out, which will involve some rewiring and minor ductwork. They’ve promised me it’s easy. I hope so, because what we really want is to have a line of outlets on TOP of the counter, conference-room-style.

The opposite side is a different story. The cabinets will be part of the living area decor, so glossy white will look far too sterile. I’m hoping we can either get an accent door from IKEA in lime green or turquoise, to match the colors in our mural, or even get unpainted cabinets and go crazy with it ourselves–preferably with high-gloss, as well, to repeat the steel cabinetry look.

Look at that hole in the wall!

Ideally, the butcher block top would extend out past the hole into the dining area, which would allow room for a fourth barstool (we’d fit three along the side) and really complete the flow of the kitchen as the heart of the house. Of course, that means we’d be cutting out THAT wall, too, and also moving the HVAC.

And we’d like to have the bulk of it done by Thanksgiving, when we’ll be hosting my sister and her family. I think we’re gonna need some more dropcloths.

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DIY, Meet PIY.

Sometimes, you don’t want to do it yourself. And when it came to installing a second twelve-foot sliding glass door in our living room, we went with PIY, instead of DIY.

Here's the backyard before we moved in. Note the lack of toys, and also the lack of toys.

Our two main reasons were:

  1. Cutting a large hole in your house is inconvenient, and we wanted it done quickly.
  2. Cutting a large hole in your house is risky, and we wanted it done correctly.

My dad, of course, insists he could’ve done it, despite being in his late 60s. I’m sure he’d have done a reasonably good job, and for a lot cheaper than what we spent, but it would’ve taken six weeks and we would’ve had no legal recourse if, say, he totally bolloxed the job. So we went through all the steps of hiring a contractor: called around, had a few appointments, collected bids.

The Wall.

A few things: some contractors just don’t call back. I don’t know if it’s because the job was too small, or they weren’t interested, or were too busy, but being in the client service industry myself, I was surprised by how many people just didn’t bother with us. Of the three who provided bids, the first was an efficient man with a family business who talked fast and provided us the lowest bid. He also called back for updates a few times, corrected his bid when we asked for it, and kept in close contact.

Then some guy cut a hole in it.



The second bidder was a proper Irish gent, six feet tall, handsome in a gray-haired, fisherman’s sweater kind of way, and wore a proper tweed cap. To be honest, we were both rooting for him: David because he liked the cap and me because I wouldn’t have minded hearing the accent around the house for a week. But his bid was the highest.

The third contractor was nice, and very thorough–took pictures, more notes than the other two combined. He was also, in David’s words, “an uncontrollable farter.” I left the room to answer a phone call, and the moment I was out, apparently he lost control of his sphincter and peppered conversation with, “Oh, excuse me. Sorry about that. Excuse me.”

And then they made the hole REALLY big.



After wiping the tears of  hysterical laughter from my eyes, we agreed he probably wouldn’t work out. And he neglected to call back with a bid, anyway, so we went with Ricciuti Construction, the first bidder.

All in all, we were very pleased with the work they did. They had a crew of three men–they did demolition and installed the door all in one day, and thankfully, the weather cooperated. The next two days were detail work: trimming the door, building a step, wiring up light fixtures and a new outdoor outlet.

Thar be windows in that wall!

Of course, any time you’re paying a lot of money and doing something drastic, there’s an undercurrent of anxiety: what if I really, really hate it? But we don’t. We love it. The heretofore unused corner of our patio has immediately moved into an extension of our living room. We’re planning how to beautify that side of the yard because it’s now a part of our view. And the sunshine in our living room has quadrupled, literally overnight.



We can’t wait until winter, when we’ll really be able to enjoy the fruits of someone else’s labor: the sun rises on that side of the house, so our living room will become a truly cozy sunroom.

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I May Be A Garden-Talent Fairy.

I once killed a pothos plant. You know the ones: the vining plants that they give to teenagers to use in science experiments, which is to say, they’re so unkillable that we give them to teenagers to use in science experiments. I was leaving town for two weeks, and left it outside so I wouldn’t have to worry about watering it. And it rained for two straight weeks, thus drowning the Rasputin of house plants.

So I stopped. Period. Never touched a plant. My husband has a knack for moving a plant a quarter-turn counterclockwise, and watching it bloom; when I would bring plants home, I’d tell them, “I’m giving you to him,” thus assuring them of a long, long life indoors.

Now I have a yard, and if you’ve been reading, you know that my obsession started small, and expands exponentially with each passing day, blossoming like so many delicate lobelia flowers cascading down the side of a cement planter. And it may–just may–be encroaching on the territory of insanity. Every new leaf brings me closer to a conviction that I am a master gardener. Every time I break up a hosta or lily, and replant it, and watch it thrive, I become more convinced of my supernatural powers.

What was once three clumps of plants have become ten!

Clearly, between the fairy house, and my newly grown hot pepper, I am a magical being in touch with the green things of the world. Maybe I’m a wood nymph; maybe I’m a wood wizard; maybe I’m just Rosetta. I don’t know. But clearly, something magical is happening, because there’s no other explanation for it.

Cast thine eyes upon the golden zucchini blossoms!

The thing is: it’s easy. I thought this would be impossibly difficult, but I find a plant that goes in the shade, and I plant it in the shade according to the directions on the tab, which usually involve “dig a hole twice as wide as the pot, stick it in, fill it in with some garden soil or compost, water it, and mulch it. And then water some more.” And then the thing grows. Even the coral bells that I planted outside the fence, the ones that our local bunny rabbit nibbled to stalks, have bounced back nicely with a replanting. I dug out a rain channel that works. My herb garden is bursting with flavor, my peas are climbing a wire, my zucchinis have blossoms, my tomatoes are budding out with little green globes. I am a green goddess.

The spicy, spicy fruits of very little labor!

I am willing to concede that maybe gardening’s just not that difficult. That it just takes a lot of nerve–hey, let’s stick that thing there and see what happens!–and a certain pleasure in beautifully mindless activity, like digging holes and deadheading flowers and the ineffable mind-erasing peace of watering plants in the morning sun. Even when you’re growing living things, after all, nothing is permanent, and if the rhododendron doesn’t like that spot, let’s dig it up and try it over there.

My entire life, I’ve been convinced gardeners, like my mother, are wizards and have some innate insight into the world of green things that is esoteric and insane, like baseball card savants. So it follows that I might have inherited her green gene, as it pertains to putting things in the ground, instead of in pots inside. After all, she comes from a long line of backyard tomato-and-basil growers. So maybe we’re Italian old country fairies.

But maybe… OK, probably… if it’s something you find pleasure in, you’ll find it’s actually not that difficult at all. Give it a shot. At worst, you’ll have a whole bunch of new tools, new magazines, new knowledge, new apps, and a new way to bore your family, friends, and blog readers. Isn’t that worth the time?

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