Thursday, December 29, 2011

Holiday goings on

Ah... the holidays. Christma-stice or Sol-mas or whathaveyou. I celebrated once with a wonderful local coven in my tradition, then again solitary-style, then I rocked Christmas with my husband. Christmas was a household-only, laid back affair (in contrast to Thanksgiving) and was quite cozy and relaxing. Us being us, we hit up Home Depot shortly before closing on Christmas eve and built a large chalkboard to cover an ugly electrical panel in the kitchen on Christmas day. More on that project later perhaps.

Of course we also watched Hogfather, an essential part of wintry festivities here in the little victorian. Just imagine a skeletal Santa figure who means well but does not truly understand humankind greeting children with COWER BRIEF MORTALS out of habit. Holly jolly indeed.

More substantive post later, perhaps.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Mapping Candle Flame Meditation

Science is so rad. I love listening to Science Friday on my local NPR station. In October I heard this story and immediately had to look up the video. Gazing at a candle flame is commonly used as a focal point for entering a meditative, or light trance, state. However, this new work of modeling a candle flame adds the fascinating element of knowing that the clear part of the flame, at the center, near the wick, pretty much is what it seems like— an opening in the flame. It’s not on fire. It is cool there, at the root of the flame. This introduces an interesting element into the symbolism of flame more generally, but in terms of candle meditation, it really emphasizes the enchanting idea that in the center of the flame is an opening, symbolically speaking, a doorway—into an altered state of mind, into your subconscious, into Otherworlds…

Friday, December 16, 2011

Rosemary Tree Fail

This year I got sucked into buying one of those rosemary bushes trimmed into a Christmas-tree sort of shape. They are such cute little topiaries. And they smell wonderful. And I had dreams of planting the rosemary in the garden come spring. But it is not even the solstice yet, and already the rosemary is pretty much dead. The poor wee tree has been replaced by paperwhite narcissus. Here is the rosemary tree in all its glory (weeks ago):

I get the feeling that the rosemary doesn't like living in a house, nor being pruned into an unnatural shape. Poor thing!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Tree ornaments from my garland leftovers

Having wooden hearts and pinecones left over from my garland making extravaganza, and always having things like hemp twine, wire and needlenose pliers in my crafty stash, I whipped up some simple ornaments for our tree this year:

More on the tree as a whole later!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Super fun nature-oriented meditation tool

This is a genius idea, and with a drill and a miter saw, totally reproducible. The nature collage art frame is sold by Magic Cabin for wee ones, but I think it is a creative meditation tool for nature lovers of all ages (cleverly disguised as a kids' toy).

Love it. So on my To Do list.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

How to Make a Pinecone Garland

Being totally enchanted by the photos of pinecone garlands circulating on Pinterest it became absolutely essential that I create my own version. Apparently my fondness for pinecones knows few bounds this season as I actually made two, quite different, versions of a pinecone garland. Pinecones are a natural to go with the evergreens that most of us bring indoors at Yule. They are rich in symbolism from fertility to eternal life to the sacred geometry found in the arrangement of their petals.

Regardless of the style of garland you choose to make, the first step is the same: prepare the pinecones for indoor living. Pinecones are outdoor things, complete with the bugs and sap that are natural to their outdoorsy nature. But fond of the outdoors as one may be, bugs and sap in the house are unfun. Baking will kill any bugs and crystallize the sap. So:

1) Turn the oven to no higher than 220F.
2) Cover a baking sheet in tin foil and spread pinecones on sheet
3) Bake until the sap has melted completely—30 minutes or more (quite a lot more in my case)
4) Remove from oven and allow to cool fully before doing anything more with them.

Life-or-death note: Do not leave the oven unattended. The baking pinecones will fill your kitchen with a lovely pine scent, but lest they decide to fill your kitchen with smoke and flames, keep an eye on them. If they start smoking, take them out of the oven!

My Garland #1: I collected the long, skinny pinecones that are on my mantle with my sisters and niece over Thanksgiving. These pinecones have little stems on their butts, so making the garland was as simple as tying them to hemp twine at regular intervals. That’s it. Garland made.

My Garland #2: I had the elongated hardwood hearts in my craft stash, and I wanted short, fat pinecones as a contrasting shape—which I found at the dollar store. So un-green of me, I know. Sometimes one just has to put aesthetics first.

Materials: Pine cones, solid wooden heart cutouts (not plywood), hemp twine, small eye screws (in the fastener isle at Home Depot), electric drill, pliers

1) Drill holes through the tops of the hearts and the butts of the pinecones using a drill bit that is just slightly smaller than the eyescrews.

2) Screw in eyescrews, using pliers if needed

3) Paint wooden hearts with a watered down wash of white acrylic craft paint and allow to dry. Water the paint down enough that you can still see the natural grain of the wood.

4) Optional: Seal hearts with beeswax & olive oil wood polish

5) Tie eyescrews to hemp twine at regular intervals, alternating hearts with ‘cones.

I didn’t use either of these garlands on my Yuletide tree, but you certainly could. I bet it would be very cute.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Search for an Eco-Friendly Lawn Alternative

The Little Victorian’s lawn is a half-wild medley of grass, white clover, violets, wild parsley, mock strawberry, something low growing and non-tasty in the mint family, the occasional dandelion and some other sorts of plants I can’t identify. The grass is struggling in places. Everything else is fine. And by “everything else” of course I mean the aforementioned “weeds”. Before herbicides and synthetic fertilizers came on the market in the 1950s, clover was a highly desirable component in lawns. So I have been investigating how to help the weeds take over the lawn.

It’s funny how weeds get a bad rap. Mock strawberry, clover, dandelion and parsley all have medicinal and/or culinary uses. Clover and strawberry also replenish nitrogen in the soil. They don’t need watering or fertilizer or mowing (usually). But a monoculture of grass is so delicate, and useless. You can’t use it for eating (unless you are a goat) or healing. It sucks in resources like crazy—water and nutrients from the soil and then pollutes through fertilizer, gas-powered mowers and weed killer. Grass is expensive, time consuming and terrible for the environment. How could I justify maintaining a grass lawn?

Looking for advice, I explained to my dad that I hoped the “weeds” would crowd out the remaining grass because nature abhors a monoculture and I abhor mowing and watering the lawn.* Of course he thought I was kidding and suggested Roundup for my “weed problem”.

I love my dad, but Monsanto sure does have a friend in him. Water pollution and high human and animal toxicity is nothing when compared to having a perfect lawn, right?

I have since found a wide of variety of seeds that offer a healthy, eco-friendly, low-maintenance mix of plants to create a lawn alternative. Here are some options I am considering:

Hobbs & Hopkins

Earth Turf

Outside Pride

Wildflower Farm

During my winter hibernation, I am plotting out where to sow different kinds of seed. I am thinking we may end up with a hodgepodge of drought-tolerant grass, white clover, Irish moss, creeping thyme and wild flowers. And of course the current denizens-- mock strawberries, parsley, the mint-esque thing and violets are also more than welcome to stay.

*This implies that I do in fact mow and water. It would perhaps be more accurate to say that I abhor calling my neighbor who has a wee lawn maintenance business to mow. We have never watered the lawn. Or fertilized. I think about watering, and then shudder at the waste of time and natural resources. I don’t think we will ever water. Fertilizer (derived from petroleum) runoff creates unacceptable collateral damage. That which cannot live with rain and without chemical fertilizer, cannot live with us.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Post-Thanksgiving Pondering

I have been torn about the direction of this blog. (I think I spent too many working years asking, "Who is our target audience?") Is it a blog about home interiors? Thrifting/junking? All things relating to our house? Or is it a blog about religion, which is for me very much interwoven with where I live-- but is also an alienating subject to many? Do I talk about my religious tradition and personal spiritual practices? Do I explain why the hearth is such an important part of my home? Or why the history of this land is so meaningful to me? Or why there is an altar beneath one of the ash trees in the yard?

Fortunately, the fact that next to no one reads my blog means that no one will be disappointed by my tentative poking about. I will try a few things on and see what feels right. After all, How can I tell what I think till I see what I say? (E.M. Forster)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

mushrooms, rain, altar

After lots of rain here in Nashville, I decided to take the opportunity to run around in the yard with Tallulah today during a break in the weather. I went to give my outdoor altar a bit of a scrubbing when I discovered this:
Wee little mushrooms growing on the altar, which is itself a perfect old stump that my husband picked up from someone's curb after a big storm in our neighborhood. I guess they are baby bracket fungi of some sort. I find them too enchanting to scrape off. I am happy to go with the green witch flow. We'll see how they fare.

Looks like there will be eight of us crowding around our dining table this thanksgiving. So grateful I married a chef!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Pinecones for natural holiday decor

Pinecones are easily found outdoors in a lot of areas. And if not where you live, they are usually cheap to buy this time of year at a craft store, the dollar store, etc. While wintry, they are natural and simple and don't scream any certain holiday, so they are the sort of thing that might work out in a household with multiple religious traditions or to keep up for a longer stretch of winter. I love the pattern and depth of the (what are the individual leaf thingys called?) and I have been feverishly collecting photos of seasonal decor since being introduced to My New Best Friend, Pinterest, so here are some pinecone favorites:

Source: via Cici on Pinterest

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

How to give brass an antique patina

There are lots of ways to give brass an aged or antique look. But unless you plan to use paint, the first thing you want to be sure of is that the item being aged is actually brass. Just be sure the item has the weight of brass and take a look at the back or bottom to be sure the object is brass straight through. The lovely antique patina develops either naturally or with your help through a variety of chemical reactions that happen with actual brass.

My project was solid brass candle sconces scored on half off day at Southern Thrift. I was looking for whatever method would allow me to be cheap, lazy and use stuff I have on hand. I also kind of liked the idea of a greenish patina, not just overall darkening. It turns out that this method is so simple that tutorial style photos are unnecessary:

-- Find an empty spray bottle around the house and wash it out.
-- Fill spray bottle with tap water and add a random amount of kosher salt. I was being way too lazy to measure.
-- Set brass items down outside somewhere. Probably aim for somewhere that people won’t trip over them and dogs won’t poo on them.
-- Spray liberally with salt water
-- Wait a day and check on the progress. If you forget about them for a while that’s fine. (Goodness knows I did.)
--Depending on the amount of patina you want, you can spray them repeatedly and leave them out for as long as you like.
--If you want to bring out a dab of shine on the raised parts, hit them with some brass polish.
-- Once the objects have reached a perfect level of decay, you might consider hitting them with spray lacquer, but I didn’t.

This is how mine turned out after being left outside for ages and salt-sprayed several times:

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Haint Blue

This is the ceiling of our front porch, before there was Stuff on the porch and before the leaves fell off the trees this year. The ceiling of our porch is wood colored wood. Therefore, I feel like I should not paint it. I love its naturalness.

But I also love Haint Blue. For those not of the American South or not of eras gonebye, Haint Blue is a traditional color for the ceilings of porches. You know how southerners are about porches. If you think people in the south spend their free time fanning themselves and drinking sweet tea on porches, you are totally right on. And the ceilings of those porches are often a pale blue-green color: Haint blue.

Haint blue is said to keep malevolent spirits away. Or maybe it discourages birds and bugs from nesting in your porch. No one is quite sure nowadays whether the purpose of the color is natural or supernatural. Older folks say supernatural. I’ve heard that “haint” is an old fashioned southern, and perhaps a specifically a Gullah, way of sayin “haunt” as in ghost or spirit. As in not Casper-the-Friendly. As in not-at-all-friendly. I've heard that the situation is that blue-green is like water and malevolent spirits can't follow you across a body of water... so. It's protective.

Maybe so. Maybe not. But I love the color. Haint blue can be a variety of gorgeous, magical blue-greens. Originally the paints were probably made from the indigo plant.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Super simple fall decoration

I am a believer in decorating my home to mark and honor the seasons of nature and I love to bring in simple, natural things to do that whenever possible. I also keep my autumn decorations up until Thanksgiving has passed. Now that we are into November, and the Halloween gear has been packed away, I want to share a couple of the simplest (laziest?) bits of fall décor that have been hanging out in the Little Victorian.

The white ceramic leaf bowl was made by my great grandmother and passed down. The acorns are solid wood from and are buffed with my own homemade beeswax based polish.

When using real acorns instead for indoor purposes, I generally crack a few open to check for grubs. The real thing can get dry and dull looking, so they can also benefit from a natural polish.

The simplest of fall décor! I lovelovelove the colors of dried Indian corn from the farmers’ market. Simple, inexpensive and pretty, dried Indian corn is popular for a reason.

Here I’ve tied a little bundle of three ears up with silk habotai ribbon that I hand dyed a pale golden color. Neko, the tiny grey cat, is helping.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Fall flowers in the yard

The backyard of the Little Victorian has recently been pretending that it is springtime. With violets popping up in the lawn (and by lawn I mean hodgepodge of grass, clover, dandelions, wild strawberries, violets and other sundry groundcover):

There are also a pile of these cute magenta flowers.

And a few wild strawberries.

So to honor my ancestors on Halloween, I added some more flowers, tucked into my outdoor altar at the base of an ash tree.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

My thrifted elephant and the myth of the upturned trunk

I am pretty sure I first read that Elephant figurines must have upturned trunks in order to bring good luck to the home from a Rachel Ashwell/Shabby Chic book. Over time I saw that advice repeated elsewhere. Bad news for me, because:

This elephant was a thrift store half-off day find. Determined to redeem my own little elephant, and downturned-trunk-elephants the world over, I poked around on the Internet hoping to find the original source of the trunk myth.

What I found were pages celebrating all things elephant, the Indian god, Ganesha, and Thai and American sites that debunk the trunk-up thing. The lucky elephant motif has its roots in British colonialism and American's love of anything "exotic". The white elephant was rumored in the early 20th century to be the mark of Indian royalty. From Lucky Mojo:

"This "trunk up" belief has no apparent origin in Africa, India, or South East Asia where elephants are native, but is widespread in the USA, and many Asian and African amulet and statuary makers now produce trunk-up elephant statues for American buyers. It may have originated in the west-British and Irish belief that a lucky horseshoe must face upward or "the luck will run out.")"

In spite of elephant figures having their roots in colonialism and cultural appropriation, elephants can still symbolize all sorts of good things. The endangered elephant certainly deserves our love and respect. After all: "That’s because it’s not the trunk, but the elephant’s size and its ability to use its immense strength with gentleness and intelligence that has endeared the creature to man for centuries." (source)

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Fall vignettes

With grad school starting I've failed to post in months, but I have still been devouring all my favorite blogs. And of course I decorated for the season. Here are a couple of the decorated nooks in the little Victorian:

The dining room/library mantel with the recycled felt leaf garland that I made one crafternoon in October to keep company with other seasonal elements-- a little harvest figure and a bundle of red leaves tucked into a vintage mason jar.

The peninsula between the kitchen and (what we use as) the living room: The wooden box, now piled high with farmers' market goodies, and the cast iron hand were $1 finds from two different yard sales! In the background is a vintage postcard garland collected over the years and a little fall garland made of fabric scraps and hemp twine.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Patchwork Rugs

Patchworked rugs combine something that is normally unapproachably expensive (vintage Persian rugs) with something practical, make-do and homey-- patchwork. A delicious mash-up. My great grandmothers left behind quilts made of clothes that could no longer be mended into wearability and I love the look of patched together rugs made of old rugs too damaged to be used intact.

I like to haunt various ebay sellers for approachably-priced combinations of patches that I like.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Antique mirror, Moroccan tables and General Awesome

I saved this photo ages ago and don't know where it came from except that the room was designed by Kristen Panitch. I love the mirror. What a find! I also appreciate the use of the simplified Moroccan tables in a way that transcends any cheesiness like having a a Moroccan themed space. In general this design does something I really admire-- it mixes classic and the contemporary pieces in a way that looks timeless and on-purpose rather than garage-sale-meets-target (which, I am afraid, is how I have been known to roll).

The Little Victorian is so not even close to being unpacked. Not even close.

Carrying on now.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Velvet, Cream and Grey-Teal

This is one of my favorite inspirational photos of an interior. Maybe it is nothing extraordinary to others but I just want to melt into that chaise. Simple but not cold. Accent walls normally annoy me (commit or don't!), but I love the deep grey-teal wall with the cream. The fireplace. The hydrangeas. The multiple mirrors. The storage. The basket. The floor lamp. The wee mercury glass tables. The glowing velvet of the pillows. Even the candelabra reflected in the mirror. This please. In the Little Victorian. Now.

Most of the furnishings come from Ochre, which is of interest since their products are contemporary but also lush and likable.


Pillow Shams, a love letter

I am totally repulsed by the ugly ends of nekkid bed pillows wriggling out of the confines of an open ended pillow case. Ikea pillowcases (like other European cases) generally have a Wee Flap to prevent that problem, but the nearest Ikea is five hours away.

So: shams. Shams are a delightful solution for my too-busy-to-sew-right-now self. It is easier to put a pillow into a sham case than a regular pillow slip. Also, since The Chef has banned decorative pillows from our bed, the shams serve a dual function of keeping the pillows fully enclosed and looking neater and more "made" without using pillows that are (gasp) solely decorative.

Of course the kind of sham one wants to use for this purpose is the simplest kind-- just made of regular cotton sheeting (or linen or hemp or bamboo or whatever your fancypants self sleeps on). As an added bonus both standard sized pillows and king sized pillows can be smushed into a standard sham case. This is such a simple solution that I wonder why it isn't more common. Everyone should start doing this Now. Go forth and gird up your naked pillow ends!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Paint & Suffering

Dead Celery Yellow-Green was the original color of our dining room. Or at least that is what The Chef (/Bob/my spouse) called it. So we painted it the color at the top of this pyramid:

Restoration Hardware Glacier. The result was Not Swell. Lessons learned:

RH’s Glacier is a cool, clear, white-blue. I think it might reflect light sweetly in a bathroom with no windows or a gloomy room that needs cheer. Sadly, we used Glacier in the brightest room in our house. Also sadly, all the other paint colors in the house are more mid-toned and muddy. Glacier looked like it was literally Glowing On The Walls. Scary. No photo. We repainted before the brightness could sear my retinas.

It is also basically identical to Benjamin Moore’s Harbour Haze. Swanky designer, Jeffrey Bilhuber, once listed Harbour Haze as one of his favorite paint colors. I want to ask him where he uses it successfully, but I rather doubt he’ll post a comment on my blog to answer ;).

Alsoalso, the quality of RH’s paint struck me as so-so. It is a bit thin-ish and coverage is not its strong suit. But the Subtle Velvet finish is nice. And Restoration Hardware has some nice colors and a small enough deck to keep the anxious homwownwer from overwhelm. If you choose to use RH paint and not have it color matched elsewhere, don’t forget to stirstirstir because RH paint is pre-mixed and has been hanging out on a shelf for ages.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Adventures in Homeownership

At the top of a gentle rise on a city street is a romantically dilapidated Victorian mansion. The white paint peels lazily. Cicadas chorus. The multi-storey peaks of turrets and stained glass cast dappled shadows of deliciously faded elegance. How many women have met a suitor on that porch? How many trysts have taken place beneath the gracefully bowed southern trees? How many evening stars have been sighted from the rickety widows’ walk?

Down the street, a prostitute recently stabbed a fellow sex worker. Around the corner,  behind boarded up windows, lives a family of ten. Across the street is our new house—1400 square feet of  awkward and adorable. A little red farmhouse. Southern gothic. Victorian Era. Ours!

And by new house I mean old, but renovated. Our house was built as a tenant farmer’s house in late 1800's. Now it is in an urban neighborhood. It is a peculiar house in a peculiar place, which suits us just fine. It is also our first time owning, and I feel the need to create a space to write about my adventures in fixing, decorating, growing, painting, building, thrifting and generally making things and making do.