Archived Ideas for ‘05 May’


Charlie Bird_CU_LR

As a kid my siblings and I spent many summer days on the shores of Lake Michigan. My father was born in Northern Michigan, and his family’s farmhouse, a quarter mile from the bluffs, was our vacation home.

One summer day in my childhood, we were exploring the beach. And we found a seagull struggling to free himself from a tangle of fishing line. The three pronged hook had pierced and caught the web of his foot as well as one of his wings. He must have tried to peck his way free as the third prong was now stuck through his bill.

My dad was able to free the hooks and untangle the bird, a favor that was rewarded with a bite on the hand. But it was clear the gull was not able to fly. By the time we were heading back south, our patient hadn’t improved, so we brought him back home with us. He was dubbed “Charlie Bird”. And as our city home was on a large natural pond, we figured we would try nursing him back to health there. My mom fed him tunafish until a naturalist friend told her he’d much prefer a fish from the pond (which he gulped down without hesitation). His physical therapy was administered by my brother leading him by leash down to the pond where Charlie would swim out and be gently pulled back.

Charlie’s time spent with us inspired my artist mom to create a mosaic of him. With broken pieces of colored tile, my mom depicted Charlie with wings spread wide in a perfect picture of natural energy and freedom. I imagine this is Charlie, right when he was freed from his shackles and ready to bite the hand that freed him!

Charlie Bird_3

On a trip home to my parents house, I was reminded of this amazing mid-century work of art. It’s an image so familiar to me, yet I hadn’t thought of it in years. We are now building a communal kitchen with sleeping quarters on the “Up North” land and this Charlie Bird mosaic will be featured prominently. I’ll create a color palette pulling from the blues, greens, whites, darks and grays. The vibe will be simple and natural. Like the sand, the trees and the wildlife we came to love, the house will let nature in and not be so delicate as to be wrecked by sand dragged in on bare feet or water from wet swimsuits (or feathers). The windows will be more about what you are seeing outside than architectural details inside. The spaces will be big and welcoming, as we rarely congregate with less than 20 people. The surfaces will be low maintenance, (who wants to spend all our vacation repainting). The house will be more about accommodating the people that gather than about it’s own self. But it will be designed with simplicity, and good, smart, frugal but beautiful ideas.

Charlie Bird_CU_2_LR

This Charlie Bird mosaic may not be the sole inspiration for this project. But it’s influence, both as art and as memory, will be honored and fondly felt.



I love to troll around flea markets looking for that odd old thing that’s just begging for me to buy it and make something out of it. Such was the case when this little boudoir bench caught my eye. It had a raggedy finish and was topped by a flat piece of wood with a garish striped fabric stuck to it. Still, the unusual piece and deeply turned legs grabbed me.


I stripped, stained and finished the legs and back. And cut a nice thick piece of foam for the seat. But for the longest time I couldn’t decide what fabric to cover it in. Until one day when I found myself at another flea market. And was standing there holding this beautiful old faded seed sack that said “Bemis Extra Heavy Seamless” on it.


That made the perfect cover. The result is so sweet, and dare I say, chic? I noticed Restoration Hardware was selling a similar look in their latest catalog.


Now the bench lives in my bathroom, at the ready if you’re looking to set down your towel, or need a place to prop the iPad next to the tub. And everyone who comes in there comments on it.


I just tell them it’s from Restoration Hardware. (Not really, but it so could be).



My friend and colleague Kiersten has an amazing cookbook collection. Baking beautiful cakes and treats is her creative outlet. And a holiday does not go by without K whipping up a cake or beautiful dessert creation. That’s why it occurred to her that her young daughter Sydney might find it exciting to create a cake of her own.

Baking with young kids, we’re often left with a choice: either create our thing of beauty and suffer the consequences of angry offspring, or allow them artistic freedom and leave our idea by the wayside. That’s why this idea of Kiersten’s is so inspired. Using a box cake mix she didn’t need anyway, and leftover candies, she helped her daughter make a simple sheet cake. Once it was done, Syd was given free reign to decorate “her canvas” any way she liked. Does she want the icing black? No problem. Would she like to pile all the candy in one corner? Why not?


As it turned out, Syd actually had a bit of talent when it came to a pleasing distribution of deco on the cake top. But the real beauty was that she was completely in charge. That’s something that makes us all feel great. (Look at that sweet, proud face!) And, what an awesome gift to give your “big” little child.



My husband and I have been doing a bathroom remodel. Not the kind you see on HGTV that starts on Saturday and finishes on Sunday. Not even the kind that involves a contractor and subs that click along and finish in four weeks (only two later than intended). No, this bathroom remodel happens on weekends, and occasional weeknights after work, and around dinner and homework. THIS remodel is taking months. So far it has been about 3 1/2 months since we took the walls down to the studs and the floor down to the beams.

But here’s the thing. Everyone that knows me knows I have been working on this bathroom for YEARS. I’ve been clipping, then downloading, then Pintresting bathroom pictures for-freakin-ever. We just couldn’t afford to remodel the bathroom and frankly, although it didn’t go with the rest of the hundred-year-old house, (it had been remodeled fifty years ago) it was functioning, and we were busy. But it made me a little crazy and so I started preparing for my fantasy bathroom.

Not long after we moved into the house someone opened the bathroom door too hard and it swung in and cracked a corner off the toilet tank. I realized if there was a toilet with a tank just an inch or two narrower, the swinging door would miss the tank entirely. A search revealed the perfect toilet that not only fit the bill size-wise, but was the most awesome toilet ever, and cute as a bug and fit perfectly into my fantasy of what a bathroom in a 1912 house should look like. So we bought and installed the Worlds Cutest Toilet (Kohler Revival). This became the first piece of my new bathroom.


At some point, our sink died and we were still nowhere near ready to do the Big Remodel. My husband was going to put in a temporary sink, the smallest, cheapest thing available at Home Depot. But I talked him into going with me to a salvage place to see if there was a sink that would be fitting for our old house. We completely lucked into a vintage wall sink with a single, centered, porcelain leg. I couldn’t believe my luck. I was pricing out reproduction sinks of this look and the price tags were astronomical. But here was this beauty, and since it was authentic, it was a little smaller than the ones they are making for people’s now-a-days palatial bathrooms. We used that sink for the past year, and it will go back into this remodel.


About five years ago I found towels on sale that would fit perfectly into my fantasy bathroom. I bought them and stowed them in a plastic bin in the attic. To this bin I added towel bars, ring hooks and TP holder and toilet seat. I kept my eye out for the perfect medicine cabinet, tub and lights. With the sink, I discovered a chrome plater in our town. The old pieces came back gleaming, and so I decided to do the same with the door hardware. Here’s the before hardware, which will gleam when I get it back.


So far we (meaning my husband) have removed a radiator, soldered plumbing pipes, strung all new wiring, installed a heated floor, insulated walls, built two niches in the walls, built a bump-out for the sink to be mounted to, sheet-rocked, backer-boarded, poured many bags of leveling cement and removed the old window and installed a new one. After all these months if you glance in the door it looks very much like a project that’s just starting. I have no idea how the home improvement shows do it. There is no way this would make very entertaining TV.


But I have been busily stockpiling all the fun stuff in my sewing room/office. Currently, I keep company with: Our toilet and sink, some boxes of hexagonal floor tile, boxes of honed marble, several chrome pieces including the wall hardware, faucets, and hooks, and many life-size printouts of various lights I was using to try to decide which one.


Our family has definitely had to demonstrate a bit of patience. The five of us have been traipsing down to the basement to shower and dividing teeth brushing between the basement and the main floor powder-room.

It may not be everyone’s ideal, to go this long without the family bathroom, but here’s the cool part. Doing it this way, there was no need to take out a loan. No need even to save up for it. The cost of this remodel has spread over all this long time, and we pay as we go. And that’s a perfect example of one of my guiding principles: If you don’t have the time, throw money at the problem. And if you don’t have the money, throw time at it. Life isn’t always perfect. But at least it’s not without options.

And yes. If we ever get this sucker done, I’ll post pictures of it!



I have had teens for a few years now, and if you have small children, I will tell you, things really don’t slow down one bit. In fact I think they speed up. And it really does seem like five minutes ago these giants were toddlers. One day, you look around and realize there are all kinds of things that somehow you forgot to tell them.

The good news is, it is never too late to talk to your kids. And a great way to do it is to post some House Rules. Now, these rules will vary widely depending on the ages of your kids, and what’s going on at the moment. So it’s not a bad idea to see this as an ongoing thing. Maybe renew the rules each year at the same time, like school’s end.

I came across this idea when we were having what I felt was an uncomfortable dialog at the dinner table one night. Sometimes we buy different snacks for each kid to take in their lunches. One kid’s bag of chips was raided by another kid’s friend who was over. And Kid #1 was grousing about it to kid #2. I knew the discussion was making me uncomfortable but I couldn’t quite put my finger on why. Then it occurred to me. Our house is supposed to be one of grace and cordiality. I would not expect a kid to tell their friend they can’t snack on something any more than I would be rude to one of my guests. And my feeling was fundamental enough that I felt I should declare it in writing. These kids were almost old enough to fly the coop–how could they not have picked up this oh-so-basic doctrine? Instead of ruminating on that one, I just posted the rules.

When I began addressing the first issue, I thought of others that bared recognizing at this juncture. But I felt the need to keep it short. Four rules. As it turns out, we have not had to renew or revise the rules yet. But if and when we do, they will be amended.

Here are our House Rules, that I printed out and taped to the kitchen cupboard. Yours will probably be different. But I will say that I’m glad I spoke up. And every one of my family members, including my husband, thanked me for doing so.


1. We treat guests like guests.
Any guest in this house has first priority when it comes to sharing. No one is obligated to tell a guest they can’t help themselves to something. At the same time, guest or not, we do not tolerate anything illegal, hurtful, or damaging to the house or things in it.

Example: Someone is drinking a liquid near the piano. Please say: My mom will kill me if we have liquids near the piano, drink it over here.

Example #2: Guest is munching on a snack that you realize belongs to someone’s lunch. Rather than actually taking it out of guest’s hand, apologize (LATER) to sibling. Note: In future, mark all lunch stuff as such so any dummy can see that it’s off limits. And stow it somewhere that’s not right out there in the open. Do not force your family mates to be the food cop around their guest. It is totally not cool.

Example #3: Guest thinks it would be a good idea to find and drink alcohol in the house. Tell guest that is SO not happening.

2. Respect others and yourself.
Think for a half second before you say or do something. How would that sound or feel to you?

Example: The kitchen is clean. You create a new mess. Clean up after yourself.

Example #2: The kitchen is kind of a mess. You add a little to the mess. Now, before you leave the scene, clean up not just your mess, but some or all of the previous mess. Others have done it for you plenty of times. Just a little hint of what it’s like being a grown-up.

3. Always call for a ride. If you are in any kind of trouble, call us. If you think there may be trouble, walk away and call us. Do not ever drive drunk. Do not ever get in the car with a friend who thinks (s)he can drive drunk. Don’t buy into your friends saying you’re better off not going home. You are always better off coming home. And we will vow to keep that promise.

4. Act, live and speak with love in your heart. It shows.




This morning, my carefully designed Mother’s Day Weekend plans began to unravel before my eyes. I was spouseless for a four day weekend (my husband went to spend the weekend with HIS mom). And on a whim I made an eye appointment for Saturday morning to get fitted for contact lenses. (To be accurate, ONE contact lens. I was getting just one, so that I might shed myself of the dreaded “readers”, glasses made very cheaply and sold at drugstores at such a low price you have no motivation to keep track of them).

My daughter had talked me into having two of her teenage friends over for a sleep-over, and I figured I’d bug out for a little “me” time. Plus, she and her friends would be off to a commitment they had made, serving “snack” to children at a local organization. The commitment was part of a semester long project, and the three moms were taking turns driving, buying the snacks, and working with the girls in the kitchen. Although the sleep-over was at our house, it was not my turn to buy/drive/help. Or so I thought.

Sometime during the “Let’s stay up until 3:00 A.M.” night, I learned I would have to drive and do kitchen duty. To make matters worse, one of the girls who was at our house was not part of the service-project and would have to be driven home first. And one of the girls that WAS part of the service-project was NOT at our house and would have to be dropped off at our place, or picked up at hers. The logistics made my head hurt, and it didn’t help that everything was miles apart. And the girls insisted on being so girly — not even feigning the least bit of remorse for messing up my morning. I worked out a plan where we had to wake up at the crack of dawn to get one girl driven home and the rest of us to the center in time to make pancakes, clean up and bolt out of there, everyone accompanying me to my eye appointment.

Of course since we were in a hurry, not all the seats in the mini-van were up, so one kid flipped them open and in the process, punched a hole in a project of mine I had been keeping in the car to be “safe”. As I started out of the neighborhood I was distracted and sulky, already feeling late, although there had been no avoiding it.

Then, my 15 year old daughter turned on the radio and one of their favorite tunes came on. All three girls started singing the tune word for word, and from the corner of my eye I saw my girl bust a move I hadn’t seen before. To the admiration and delight of her two-girlfriend audience, she was chair-dancing in the car seat. It was silly, and out there, and well done. The joy of that moment took me aback. I felt a smile creep across my face and I could sense my stress dissipating. Our car was a rolling, jaunty, joy-ride, and I was happy to be a part of it.

So, what caused my mood to do such a switch-a-roo? It was the thin tube I spied when my daughter lifted her arms. The tube that goes from her stomach to a vile of insulin. A tube that delivers to her those life saving drops, that has become a part of her since she was twelve years old, and our world changed when we found out she had Type One Diabetes.

In a most unexpected way this year, I got my Mother’s Day after all. A beautiful, happy Mother’s Day to you too!



You probably feel like there are things that would go smoother if the members of your family would just listen and retain. No one likes to hear themselves constantly repeating things like a parrot only to have the sentiment go unheeded.

After spending the evening on my knees scrubbing a particularly grimy bathroom floor near our back door, it occurred to me that if people were not wearing shoes in there I wouldn’t have to do it again so soon. So I printed a cute door hanger on my printer and cut a circular hole and hung it on the knob. It said simply: No Shoes Please. And then a funny thing happened. Everyone took their shoes off. Even the guests. Even the repair man. And all the floors of the house stayed a little cleaner.

You have knobs all over your house that are just waiting to display a “suggestion.” A closet door could say “Hang it up, Please!” The pantry could say “No snacks before dinner.” For the laundry room: “Fold it and take it.” And maybe a second, “Just sayin’.”

You get the idea.