Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Why Now is the Time to Think About Your Spring Garden

Usually, in September I'm over the garden. I'm looking forward to building the first fire and digging out my favorite sweater. Meanwhile, the AC is still on full blast and I'm cursing every ninety-degree day. 

But as a gardener, I'm not just focusing on fall cleanup and putting the garden to bed because right now is the best time to think about next March.

Is there anything better than that first daffodil or a bed of tulips? 

Late summer is prime time to be ordering your bulbs for your spring planting. Bulb companies start to ship in September and often sell out of their most popular stock if you wait too late. For many years by the time I was ready to think about a spring garden the things I wanted most were already sold out. 

Planting is less restrictive. I have planted bulbs as late as the week of Christmas when it was spitting snow, but now make a reminder for myself in my calendar to get it done much earlier. I like to get it done in October but If we have a warm fall I push it back a bit because you want the soil temperature to have cooled down by the time you plant your bulbs. 

You have a lot of leeway about when you can plant but order your bulbs sooner rather than later so you don't miss out on the best selection.

Don't know what to buy? Read The 5 Decisions You Need to Make Before You Buy Your First Plant. 

Bees need those first spring blossoms when they are gearing up baby bee and honey production in the spring. Here are some good choices for bees:
  • crocus.
  • daffodils.
  • grape hyacinths (Muscari)
  • hyacinths.
  • iris.
  • Siberian squill (Scilla siberica)

The Takeaway: 

Plan next year's spring garden. 

Order bulbs in September, companies ship at the correct time for planting in your area. 

Plant when the soil temperature starts to cool, anytime in the fall. 

Monday, September 2, 2019

5 Ways to Rethink the Space in Your Home

woman standing in front of an open closet

Do you have one of those rooms that can't decide what it wants to be? Or maybe life just keeps changing and you need to use the space differently.

One day while I was standing in front of my crowded closet that I've shared with my husband for our whole married life, I wished for my own closet. Then it dawned on me. I had one! It only needed cleaning out and my clothes moved into it. I also hung up a couple of hook racks so I could enjoy putting outfits together and enjoying the clothes I already had.

a hat and blue and white outfits hanging on a rack

My studio has been through several iterations since the kids left home. You can read about the first makeover here. Warning. The before pics are a little frightening. Just kidding, they are terrifying, so gird your loins.

More recently I did a little refresh. Check that one out here. Still so cluttered.   I was trying to use the space like I'm an artist when what I really needed was some decent closet space, a calmer place to write, and a place to stretch and do some yoga.

Where to start

If you have a closet or room or even a corner of a room that you need to rethink, here are some tips to get started. 

1. Clear the walls. This will help calm your mind and see the room in a new way. For me, this meant removing the maps covering the outside wall. There was an immediate transformation as the visual chaos decreased.

a room with maps covering the wall

2. Reduce the amount of furniture. What is in your house that you don't really need? In my case, the chest of drawers went to my daughter's new house 3 years ago, I sold the easel this spring (it's in the far corner being used as a desk), and I painted the table to lighten up the space. I also got rid of FOUR chairs that were in this room. I agonized over getting rid of them, but don't miss them at all.

a white room with a table and a yoga mat

The only remaining map is the giant Russian one of America's natural resources. Nothing cheers up a space like some good old Cold War memorabilia. 

Read the story of the Russian map. 

3.  Rethink how space is being used.  If you are an empty nester you know that when the kids move out they take only what they need or want and the rest of it languishes around in unseen areas of your home like their old closets and the attic. In the studio, I had a large perfectly good closet filled with my son's clothes he didn't want, trophies, and guitars. I was too depressed about how bad it looked to take a before picture. 

It only took me an afternoon to move some stuff into another closet, shoot him photos of things I thought me might need, and make the trip to Goodwill. Then I moved my clothes into their new home where they can breathe!

A couple of hook racks in the corner next to the closet make it fun to put outfits together and my husband isn't hanging around waiting for me to decide what I'm going to wear so he can get in his side of the closet. 36 year problem SOLVED. I'm a slow learner, okay? 

blouses and accessories hanging on a rack

4. Create the space you actually need.  Consider how you actually need to use a particular room or corner of a room. I used to do yoga and exercises that needed to be done on the floor in the guest cottage. When I removed the carpet, however, it became uncomfortable to do those things on a concrete floor. I needed a little corner for yoga.

a corner of a room made into a yoga area with a full length mirror

5. Solve nagging problems. Around the house, I love to use my favorite hardbound books for decorating and filling bookshelves. But what to do with all the practical trade style paperbacks that I use constantly?

 I spent a hundred bucks on Amazon and solved the problem in a way that makes those books look like a work of modern art.

a stack of nonfiction trade paperbacks

Maybe you need a cozy reading nook or place to write your own book. If you are wishing you had an extra closet, craft area, or prayer closet, look around your house and see if there is some space that you thought had to be used in a certain way that you can rethink.

And if you are the proud owner of a brand new empty nest, pop the champagne and tell me what you are looking forward to most in the comments. Cheers!

XOXO Y'all! 

Sunday, August 25, 2019

How to Hit Pause on the Busy Mindset

woman sitting in bed wearing pajamas and holding a coffee cup and saucer

Let's talk about how busy we are. I mean we all just love to talk about it, right? It's the answer now when people ask you how you are.

Once when my son was three he was playing with Legos in his room, I knew this because I could hear the clattery churning of thousands of those little bricks in a giant tub as his little arm disappeared in there looking for the perfect piece, I yelled up the stairs, "Dinner!"

The one-word reply came back, "Busy!"

From a three-year-old wearing nothing but a pair of 101 Dalmations briefs.

Maybe this is you. You get an invite to a party, or a girls weekend getaway, or to a movie in the middle of an afternoon, and you reply, "Busy!"

Which kind of busy are you? 

There are a couple of ways that people manifest this in life. One is the person who feels super important, smug, and slightly superior because they are so busy doing important things that make them successful and they don't know what kind of loser you are that you can actually go around creating free time in your schedule for doing the stuff you actually want to do.

And then there are the people who say it with less smugness and more exhaustion. They'd love to join you. Heck, they'd love to sit in the corner of the bathroom and read the back of the shower cleaner label rather than do the stuff they are doing. These are the people who cannot or will not say no.

To clarify, there's nothing wrong with having a full schedule and lots of stuff on your plate. I know the Type-A Overachievering among you feed on that and gain energy from it. I'm talking about when you reach the tipping point and that is different for every single person.

Where are my introverts? 

Let's just be honest. It's harder for us. As a grade-A first-class introvert I have always known that as a means of survival I had to create breathing space in my schedule. I simply do not function well without time to process things. Invite me to your party and I'll be there! I'll just have to go home and spend the next three days avoiding people to recover from it.

If you are an introvert you get it. We recharge by being alone. And social situations, while we can enjoy them, require recovery time. I can hear the extroverts laughing as they go from party to party avoiding solitude and silence at all cost. And guess what. That's okay. It's all okay. Take care of yourself however you need to.

Do you. 

The key is to get the most done, in the way that is most effective for you, without fostering the belief that being busy makes you a better person, or not lazy, or successful. The goal is to get all the important things done while recognizing the urgent may need to wait, or that other people are giving you their homework. You can politely learn to say no.

Break the cycle

Maybe you are saying, "Oh sure. That sounds great. How do I do that between teaching my teenager how to drive, working full time, and trying to save the world? Because that's what women do, right?

1. Sit quietly. That's it. Just sit there. Girl. If you have little kids at home go in the bathroom and lock the door. Shut the door to your office. Hide in your car. Whatever it takes to get some quiet time. Notice how the earth doesn't spin off its axis because you are sitting down and are doing nothing. Huh. I wonder what else wouldn't fall apart if you stopped doing it?

2.  After you sit there for a few minutes begin to think of things you would like to do. Not things you should do or need to do, but things you would like to do. For yourself. Just because. Not big things that require multiple steps like taking an art class, or starting a book club. But something you can do right now like go outside in your bare feet and walk in the grass or pet the dog, or read a book. You are going to have to start small if you have been enslaved to being busy.

Reimagine it all. 

Think about Japanese design or an art museum. There's a calmness there because every space is not filled. There is negative space where nothing exists. This makes the things you are there to see more noticeable and enjoyable. Imagine going to an art museum that was decorated like the inside of a Victorian English Cottage with patterned wallpaper and heavy carpets and knick-knacks covering every flat surface. Instead of being relaxing and inspiring it would create stress and make it hard to focus.

Imagine your schedule like you are curating the museum. Now everyone is going to have a different level of the number of masterpieces they can tolerate in their museum. You might like one thing per wall while your overachieving friend may want to hang that art from the floor to the ceiling. That's all personal preference. But we aren't going to let other people come in and start stacking their boxes on the floor.

Create the exact level of busyness that energizes and motivates you but still gives you time to feed your soul, get plenty of rest, and stare at the sunset. Or as the saying goes, if it's not a "Hell yeah!" then say no to whatever it is.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Tigerama in the Bahamas

A couple of months ago my husband walked into the kitchen and said: "Do you want to go to the Bahamas?"

Lemme get my bag. 

Turns out our hometown basketball team, the Memphis Tigers would be playing a four-day tournament in Nassau and The Bank of Bartlett and Bartlett Travel were getting together a travel package that included a non-stop charter flight. Everything about this trip was well organized and efficient. I highly recommend that you take one of the upcoming trips if you get the chance!

You had me at non-stop. A direct flight anywhere out of our airport is almost impossible. There was trivia on the plane and my husband knew an answer (I mean of course he did.) and won a prize for knowing the street Penny grew up on.

Now, I'm a casual sports fan. When I'm not distracted by all the other things to look at in an arena I'm trying to find the ball. How does anyone ever see a foul in the backcourt? Aren't you looking at the ball? Also, the backcourt is a thing, right? So when my husband asked if I wanted him to buy me my own two-hundred-dollar ticket I spent about 3 seconds weighing lying in a deck chair on the beach against going to a game. Okay, way less than 3 seconds. 

I did want to go to a game, just not all of them. Because I have enough sense to know you want to see this team play. This year, even if you aren't a sports fan in Memphis there's excitement in the air. That's what happens when you have hometown hero and NBA star, Penny Hardaway as the coach and you've got the number one recruiting class in the nation. AND you got a player that the Kentucky coach/He Whose Name Shall Not Be Spoken thought he had. Yes. Even all these years later. If he's unhappy we're already winning. Not that I hold a grudge or anything. 

Like I said, casual. 

My husband was pretty much in basketball heaven on this trip. These were the best seats we are going to have all season.  He got to bend the ear of the local sportswriter, Geoff Calkins. (You can read his posts in the Daily Memphian if you want to know what happened in the actual games.) He got to chat up the coaches and players. He got to hang around with about 300 other Tiger fans and talk basketball and recruiting and strategy at a couple of private events including cocktails with Coach Hardaway and a Tiger White Out Party at the SLS Skybar.  Here we are hanging out with Coach Toppert and his wife, Brittany.

All that and paradise too. 

He was definitely living his best basketball fan life, but you'll notice he still had to represent football in that picture. I have to say I wasn't exactly suffering.

         Go TIGERS!

Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, people standing


Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Found Treasure: J & J Kohn Bentwood Chair

Who's up for a little furniture history lesson? I recently found a treasure. Well, technically I thought it was special all along but had never taken the time to do any research. Remember when we found the crate of milk glass in the attic of our tool shed? How We Stumbled Upon an Attic Time Capsule

Twenty-eight years ago I saw this chair hanging on a nail in my father in law's shed and asked if I could have it. He couldn't get it down fast enough.

It was missing the seat but I found a rush seat bottom at Pottery Barn Outlet and it worked well enough, even though it has never been actually attached in any way. I recently moved the chair into the studio (update on this room coming up soon) and began to wonder more about it. The lines are very interesting.

The other day I turned it over to see if there were any markings. I found this label.

Now I'll confess to not being a furniture or antique aficionado, but hey, that's why God made the internet, right? A quick search led me to Thornton just based on the style of the chair. My chair didn't have a burn marking though. At first, I didn't pay much attention to the paper label but upon further inspection and a bit more research it did yield some clues.

I found this snippet in a forum where someone had asked about a similar chair:

 In 1849 Jacob Kohn and his son, Josef, of Vienna (Wien), Austria, founded a company that made wooden parts for buildings. The company began making furniture in about 1867 and eventually established factories in several cities. The Kohns manufactured bentwood chairs similar to those made by Thonet. The Kohns’ company merged with Mundus in 1914 and the name became Kohn-Mundus, so your chairs were probably made before 1914. Kohn-Mundus merged with Thonet in 1922.

And this from the Smithsonian Libraries about the J & J Catalog:

Chairs available in the Jacob & Josef Kohn of Vienna : catalogue, 1911-1912.

Manufacturers and Importers of “J & J Kohn Bentwood Furniture” of Vienna, Austria was founded in 1849. They had branches all over Europe and America and in Toronto, Canada, with the main office and showroom floors in New York City. They were the major competitor of Gebrüder Thonet (Thonet Brothers) in bentwood furniture production. All of their bentwood furniture was made from Austrian Beechwood that was available in many finishes and colors. They made every kind of furniture imaginable, for both indoors and outdoors: Seating furniture, tables, coat, and hat racks, plant stands, even doll’s furniture! The firm’s earlier designs were in the Art Nouveau style and at the time period of this 1911-1912 catalog, worked in collaboration with Josef Hoffman and the Wiener Werkstatte. This catalog includes 109 pages of furniture designs and 7 pages of photographs of restaurant and hotel dining rooms around the world furnished with J & J Kohn furniture. It has the original price list with specifications for all size and design options.

 Characteristics of Art Nouveau include sinuously curving lines, sometimes in the form of whiplash curves that bend back on themselves.

And just like that, this chair that I always thought was really cool has some historical definition and respect. While it does appear that the original chair would have had a fabric-covered seat, everything about the shape of it says it wants a cane bottom. 

And this is why the project list is never finished. 

Thursday, July 25, 2019

The Spring 2019 Honey Harvest is in the Books

raw honey

People are constantly asking me if I have any honey. Once I'm sold out the question becomes "When will you have honey?" Currently, the answer is right now! 

Some people are more specific. "When will you have (spring, fall, or some with comb)? Everyone has their favorite. I usually remind them that I am not in charge of the bees and their schedule and that "I work for the queen." What I'm doing with the bees is a delicate supply and demand dance, one in which my first priority is to ensure their survival in the coming winter.

When the bees' personal space is full of honey I add a super. That's just a shallower box that goes on top of the other two bigger boxes where the bees actually live and where the queen lays eggs. The bottom two boxes which are larger are called deeps and that entire part of the hive is called the brood chamber or nest. Read my last update from earlier in the season. 

The amount of honey I take from the bees is the honey that they can afford to lose. They don't know how much is enough for winter and never think, that's enough work, let's take a vacation. They eke out all the production they can as long as the weather is warm enough and there are nectar-filled plants available.

This season I had a lot of swarming so honey production was slow. The saying among beekeepers is that you can make bees or honey. If the colony swarms or splits in two, you get more bees YAY but less honey BOO. The weather was also quite rainy which means fewer days that the girls can go out to forage and the longer it takes for the honey to dry out. The moisture content of each cell of honey must be 18.6 % before they cap it off. Rainy weather and high humidity make it take longer to get to that point.

I ended up with 5 gallons of spring honey when it was all said and done. The said and done includes harvesting (the hardest part because everything is SO heavy!), extracting, jarring, printing labels, punching out labels,  labeling and cleaning up the jars. Also cleaning up the Pen & Hive kitchen from all that.


This year I was also keen on protecting my newly painted brick floor. Read about it here. Giant cardboard boxes opened flat worked great. 

Right now the bees are working on creating a dark honey with a lot of complexity in the flavor. Spring honey taste like, well...spring. I always say it's taste like a bouquet of flowers.

It has all the nectar from those first apple, blackberry, clover, blueberry, and honeysuckle blossoms. And it's remarkably clear. I think it's my favorite.

Right now I'm selling the spring honey and waiting for the girls to wrap up the late summer foraging. Normally I harvest honey in September or October depending on the weather.

Currently, the focus is on keeping the small hive beetles in check and letting the girls get their work done. I'll keep you posted on the fall honey sitch. You can read about my very first honey harvest ever here! 

XOXO Y'all!

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Garden Overhaul: One Year Later

A year ago our last chicken died (You can read about our chicken adventure here) and as I pulled up the fencing that had surrounded the chicken run I was struck with a vision of what could be. The number one thing I envisioned was a straight line from the kitchen window (which also lines up with the front door) all the way through the garden to some sort of focal point. I promptly created a garden vision board. 

The vision board kept me motivated and on track. I hauled 3 and 1/2 tons of gravel from the driveway to the back yard. I moved and spread what felt like an equal amount of garden soil. I dug, arranged brick, laid out paths, spent hours planning, and suffered both dehydration and a nasty case of tendonitis. There was a lot of ibuprofen and I wore out two water bottles. 


Exactly one year later I've created the garden I envisioned. Now that the massive work is finished (blood, sweat, and tears anyone?) I'm having fun doing small projects and propagating plants. 

Let's look at some other before and afters: 

Not only did the garden proper get an overhaul but small things that needed to be done like removing the old satellite dishes from the tool shed  (Thanks, Honey!) were accomplished.

 Everything got rearranged and the potting shed got quite the makeover. You can read about part 1 of that project here

Now I should probably point out that these before pics of the garden are actually during my renovation so it looked extra disastrous, normally it was actually charming in all its cottagey wildness. But you know I love the worst possible before photos.

The problem with before and after photos in a garden is before and after what? Here's a spring photo from a couple of years ago.

Compared to photo in the lushness of summer.

Then during the garden overhaul.

And today.

Here's one of my favorite photos ever of my old cottage style garden.

Oh, the wildness of it! It was romantic to be sure. Some of this feeling remains. About a third of the garden has gravel paths and brick edged beds; the other 2/3 still feel rambly but reined in a bit into tidier beds.

Weeding is manageable. I can turn on the water without looking for snakes. I can even walk in the garden at night if I'm careful not to step on the multitude of toads that act as our natural mosquito control.

This project took either 27 years or a year. It all depends on the before you are looking for. A garden is always changing.

Oh and whatever that thing is you envision doing...just get started and don't quit. You can make it happen. 

XOXO Y'all! 

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Deconstructing a Loveseat

DIY loveseat

It's a fact of life and DIY that things get worse before they get better. If this project had a quote it would be by Churchill, "When you're going through hell keep going."  

Because really, who wants to stop and rest in hell? 

It took me several years to know what to do with a free loveseat some friends gave us a few years back but then it came to me like a flash. Here's what I started with. A well made functional loveseat with some fairly dated fabric.

You might not recognize it because for the past couple of years it has looked like this.

How did I miss the micro-trend of deconstructed furniture? Why didn't y'all tell me? Check it out on Pinterest if you have no idea what I'm talking about. 

It basically involves ripping all the fabric off a piece of furniture. Then adding back however much you want. I wish I could tell you how to do this. It is what it sounds like. I had to stop two hours in to run to Walgreens for Acetaminophen and Ibuprofen. Here are the other tools I used. 

I found that the handiest tool was a really long skinny flathead screwdriver for prying fabric loose and then needle nose pliers for gripping staples and pulling them out. I now officially hate staples. 

I should also say this: Actually reupholstering it would have been easier, so if you think this was the easy way out, keep reading.

Let me give you some advice if you are going to attempt this form of abuse. 1. Don't do it in your house if you can help it. It's nasty every step of the way and this piece wasn't even that old. 2. Wear gloves.  So many staples. 3. Take a lot of breaks. It's like an all-day wrestling match. But eventually you get down to the bare bones of the thing and in the picture below you can see that I started reupholstering parts of it with drop cloths.

deconstructed sofa

Again the how-to of this thing is really however you can, but taking off the back reveals how a lot of it is put together. I used a paint stirrer to shove the new fabric under the back and then tacked it to the frame. The sides worked the same way. Turning the piece over makes it much easier to do some of the work.

I was so happy when I uncovered the frame of this arm. I knew I'd be leaving this exposed.

deconstructed sofa

I used drop cloths for the inside areas where you sit. On the outside areas, I used burlap. That is what was under the fabric on the back but it was old and dirty. I removed so much batting which immediately made this piece seem daintier and more streamlined.

In the photo above you can see some kind of indestructible fabric which was obviously created by Satan. I pried. I pulled. I cut. I cried. WHAT IS IT? It had threads of plastic running through it that reminded me of some old school tape from the 70s my dad used to use when he didn't have duct tape.  I ended up cutting most of it out then just tucking the rest of it inside as I tacked on the new fabric.

deconstructed furniture

 You could speed the process up by using some kind of adhesive or a staple gun, I, however, chose to just use upholstery tacks for the entire project. My favorite part was putting the fabric on these curved arms. You could use the material you remove as a pattern for the new fabric but I just tacked and cut as I went. Carefully. 

drop cloth upholstery

I knew on the back I wanted to add a detail, so I stamped No. 72 using Iron Orchid Decor Stamps. To me that makes it feel so legit. I stamped the burlap before attaching it.

I'm all finished except for covering the cushion which will be sewn.

I love the little pom poms of batting that are stuck in the wood. I still have lots of staples to remove but I'll probably leave these.

how to deconstruct furniture

Why 72? I have no idea except when I saw the finished piece in my mind that's the number I saw there.

DIY furniture

I loved this project. But if you are tempted to try this at home, let me warn you, it's a bloodbath. Well, there wasn't any actual blood but it was a battle. It's not for the faint of heart (faint of anything for that matter) Again...staples. but I cannot get over how it turned out. For the sake of these photos, I covered the cushion with some grey burlap. 

I am in love with this project and if there is an actual bloodbath it will be if the cat tries to continue to use it as a scratching post.