IDEA 79: HONOR THE SURPRISE

Aug
2015

Surprise_cake_2

My daughter, the teenage baker, got an intriguing assignment from one of her teachers. This teacher has become pregnant and she has decided to find out the sex of the baby. But her plan is to have her doctor put the results in a sealed envelope. She will then deliver said sealed envelope to my daughter who will bake a tiny cake with a surprise inside. If the results are a girl, the filling will be pink. For a boy, blue. The teacher will then, with her husband, celebrate one evening by cutting the tiny cake, and thereby discovering if they are having a boy or a girl.

There are so many things about this that I love. First of all, the thought that this teacher is allowing my daughter, her 17 year old student, to see the news before she herself does. But even better, the fact that the discovery of this news is becoming a bit of celebration.

Believe me, I understand some of us just can’t stand waiting for baby to be born before decorating the nursery. But what a great way to make more of a deal about unveiling the surprise!

Surprise_boy

IDEA 78: PRESERVE THE SUMMER

Jul
2015

Strawberry_Box

Who knows. Maybe this post would be better in mid-winter. Because right now it borders on the obvious. But if it hadn’t occurred to you to go out and pick fresh berries, maybe this will serve a purpose.

Wyatt's_strawberries

I am a strawberry lover. My earliest taste memories include that sweet warm sensation that explodes in your mouth at the first bite of a freshly picked strawberry. But I have to admit, it was never at the top of my weekend list to go to a “U-Pick” and harvest fruit.

But I’m married to a consummate gardener. And the least I can do to thank him for the beautiful work he does in our yard is be a good sport about field trips to the berry farm in the hot sun.

And of course I’m so happy I went.

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I think the best part was seeing my otherwise indifferent husband having such a ball. I swear he was not going to leave as long as there were still so many berries left to pick. We came home with about 20 pounds of berries, which of course is way more than we could consume before they would begin to wilt.

Most people in this situation would have a plan to can or jar. But that was not in the cards for the rest of our weekend. We washed everything, then divided them into three categories: Eat now, Put in the fridge and Freeze. If you go online to find berry freezing techniques you’ll find half a dozen, some of which involve slicing and adding sugar. We chose what seemed best for us. After washing, the tops were cut straight off and the berries were placed to dry on paper towels. They were then transferred to cookie sheets lined with wax paper, cut edge down.

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These trays were thoroughly frozen.

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Then the berries were popped off into vacuum bags.

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The air was sucked out, and the bags sealed and popped back in the freezer.

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According to the recipe, these will be good for the next six months. So right now I’m planning on making strawberry muffins the first morning I wake up to a new snowfall. And remember that tangy sweet smell, and bending in the hot sun, and watching my husband as he systematically attempts to harvest every last plump berry.

Katy_Cherries_Ad

IDEA 77: MAKE A GRAND ENTRANCE

Jun
2015

Entrance_1

The decision to redecorate our entry wasn’t exactly a decision. Or at least, not one made by us.

One spring morning at the tail end of a particularly grueling winter we opened the interior door to the front vestibule only to find a waterfall coursing down our exterior front door. There had been an ice dam in our roof (a very Minnesota thing) and the springtime version of an ice dam is a (damn) waterfall just where no one wants one. In this case, it completely and spectacularly totaled the door. The good news is that while it was purportedly original to our 1912 house, our door wasn’t particularly wonderful. It was made with veneer, which in 1912 was about 1/4 inch thick. And even without the help of the waterfall, the layers had begun to separate and curl as if the door had been made out of giant potato chips.

Entrance_before

What followed was one of those projects you would never bother to do, but end up being so glad you did.

If I were to prioritize all the things I would like to do to the house, redecorating that four by six foot space between the outer and inner front door would not be too far up on the list. But once there were huge holes in the walls (opened up to ensure there would be no trapped moisture), suddenly a little sprucing up seemed like a capital idea. The room had been wallpapered, so removing that was another project I never would have bothered with (but had to, because of said holes in wall).

Entrance_Ug

In the end I decided to have some fun with the wall moulding. It’s like a chair rail, except at about eye-level. I painted the wall dove gray below and white above. And then decided I kinda missed my striped wallpaper (although after all the trouble to remove it, I wasn’t about to paper again). So I taped off some lovely wide stripes and painted them white.

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Then I screwed hooks all around the room on that railing.

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We ordered a new door, and this one was so gorgeous I stained it a deep color, such a change from the old door that had myriad coats of white paint on the inside.

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Now our entrance is fit for royalty. Complete with plenty of cute hooks to hang up their cloaks.

Or, in the case of our visitors, hoodies.

IDEA 76: MAKE A CHERISHED HAND-ME-DOWN

Apr
2015

Hand_Ben_Notype

What is it about our off-spring’s little hand and footprints that look to us like one of nature’s most beautiful design motifs?

When my firstborn came back from the hospital nursery with inky feet, I was thrilled to see that the nurses had captured the one-day-old feet on a beautiful document, and I requested they put another set right onto the page of his baby book.

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When my baby daughter got to day-care, I received a “corsage” made by one of the teachers. It was for Mother’s Day, and was made using my daughter’s tiny handprint in pink paint, cut out, laminated with a pin back, and festooned with small pink ribbons. I wore that corsage on Mother’s Day for years.

That’s why, when my colleague Jen told me about her handprint project, I knew I had to share it. It’s just SUCH a BellaPamella idea!!

With each child’s first birthday, she purchased a white tablecloth. The birthday kid was allowed to put a painty set of his/her handprints on the cloth, which was then labeled with their age (1). As the birthdays commenced, the handprints collected. Each cloth is different, reflecting the “design sensibility” of each child.

Hand_Noah_Tablecloth

The original idea was to bring out the special tablecloth to decorate the birthday party table. But, very quickly, Jen realized this keepsake was way too precious to expose it to spilled Kool-Aid and ice cream.

So, it still comes out. It gets it’s annual set of prints, and becomes a wall hanging or other decorative drape for the duration of the celebration. Then it’s safely stowed, away from flinging food, until the next year. And one day, it just may provide a favorite story for her grand kids.

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IDEA 75: STAY INSPIRED

Jan
2015

Inspire_hat_lady

Stay inspired. Now, there’s a New Year’s resolution worth making.

This thought was INSPIRED by this thin strip of a photo that was staring back at me as I was searching out wood trim at a salvage yard. If you’re lucky enough to have the kind of salvage place we do here in Minneapolis, you know around every corner you’ll find another pile of stuff, old hardware mixed with the occasional lampshade and, in this case, a dozen yellowed darkroom photos of ladies modeling coats.

Most people in their right mind, especially those on a mission to find wood trim, would not give a second glance to the coat ladies. But something about them drew me in immediately. I was particularly intrigued by this sassy brunette in her large-diagonal-diamond-patterned-fur-collared-coat and amazing hat. I couldn’t figure out the pocket, except to assume a piece of the same diamond fabric is appliquéd on top for flair, even though it gives the appearance that the pocket has a star shaped hole right through it.

Inspire_pocketInspire_coat_pocket

I wondered what colors the outfit was in, and if this very average looking woman was considered a beauty that would make every woman want that coat.

I decided since the photo was narrow, I would use it for my bookmark. Now, every night when I escape to a book for a few minutes before falling asleep, I can contemplate my new friend.

Is this a big plan? No.

It’s a very small reminder that in all the fray of raising a family, holding down a job and/or just making your way through life, you will benefit greatly if every once in a while you simply allow yourself to be inspired by some small thing, even if no one else gets it.

Inspire_bookmark

IDEA 74: MAKE A HOLIDAY KITCHEN TREE

Dec
2014

Kitchen_Tree_Dec_Bistro

Many years ago, at a kitchen shop, I was enticed by a silver-plated Christmas ornament in the shape of a miniature colander. It was at that very moment I decided to give my beloved kitchen a Christmas tree of its own.

Of course, there isn’t a lot of extra room in my kitchen, so I bought the smallest tree I could find, about 2 ½ feet high.

Over the years I have collected special kitchen themed ornaments for this tree, which has now become an annual tradition, brought home along with the regular sized family Christmas tree.

Kitchen_Tree_silver_3Kitchen_Tree_UtensilsKitchen_Tree_Silver

I’ve got a tiny old fashioned egg beater, a whisk, rolling pin, fry pan, cheese shredder, kettle, a mini spoon, knife and fork, a tiny blender and myriad plates, cups and teapots.

Kitchen_Tree_Pear_TeapotKitchen_Tree_pitchersKitchen_Tree_CoffeesKitchen_Tree_BlenderKitchen_Tree_Plates

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To make your own kitchen tree, you’ll need a small tree stand with a water reservoir. The one I use is much bigger than it needs to be, but it was one we had around so I use it. Look for a nicely shaped “table top” tree. They are much less expensive than a full sized one, although I usually have to shop around a couple places to find them.

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I like to start by winding a beautiful ribbon on the tree. I don’t use any lights. But you could if you want to.

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My wide ribbon has wire in the edges. This makes it very easy to just sort of unwind the ribbon down the tree. It naturally wants to curve that way.

Then I insert several “fruit picks”. I keep these with my ornaments and just stick them right into the tree.

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You don’t need everything right away. In fact, it’s more fun to add a new ornament to your kitchen tree each year.

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So what do you put on the treetop? A star shaped cookie cutter, of course.

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IDEA 73: SHARE

Aug
2014

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When you are mom, you are so busy, it’s hard to even think about anything beyond this day, and the problem that’s in front of you right now. But somehow, maybe in the middle of nap time, take a moment to think back about something you loved as a child that you could share with your little one.

TallTales_inside_cov

Here’s the deal. One day they will be off to college, or otherwise moving away from you. At that time you may think to yourself, “Did I give them part of me?”

When my middle son moved out, I heard he served a “guest” canned peaches, still in the can, straight from the frige, with a fork sticking out of them. On hearing this, my first thought was NOT “Gee, why didn’t you put them in a dish?”  What I thought was, “Did I serve food that became part of this boy’s comfort?”

What are those things that you will share with your kids? Things that were part of you. Things that comforted you as a child, that you will give to them?

I had “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” sung to me by my mom. And I had The Tall Book of Make Believe. Being the youngest of four kids, I didn’t have many things that were mine alone. But the “Tall Tales” book was one. My middle brother drew on some of the pages. And the spine has long been held together with electrical tape. But to this day I cannot read Moon Song or the Land of Counterpane without going straight back to a very safe and simple place.

So, if you have small children, I know. You are so busy. But it goes so fast. What’s something from your childhood that helped you? Bring that thing into their young lives. After all, you may not have had time to realize it yet, but that’s what it’s all about.

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IDEA 72: THEN, ONE DAY, LET THEM GO

Jul
2014

Boys_Bike_Wave

Last summer, my 19 year old son Ben announced that the next week he and his friend Will were going to ride their bikes to California. He told us this with the same lack of pageantry you would announce you were going to walk up to the store to buy a candy bar.

I wondered if over at Will’s house they had any more warning or explanation of a plan. When we drove Ben to Will’s house, the location of the “send off,” we saw that no, indeed, there had been no more planning over there.

We arrived on the scene to witness Will’s dad explaining that it would be very easy and quite practical to strap a small tent onto Will’s bike. This recommendation offered, because the boys had discerned they would not need sleeping bags (it was California, and therefore a warm place), or pillows (apparently pillows are for sissies), or a change of clothes.

When I asked if it wouldn’t be a good idea to bring an extra T-shirt, Ben’s answer was they could wash their shirts out in a stream. When I suggested he might bring an extra shirt to wear while the stream-washed shirt was drying, Ben saw the wisdom in this, and acquiesced to bring a second T-shirt.

It was heart-warming to see Will’s parents attempting similar suggestions. Somehow they managed to convince the boys to take their ancient second car to get to the west coast so that they might have a hope of, at the very least, getting out of Minnesota. The parents were planning on selling the car anyway (or donating it). The boys had permission to sell the car once they got to California if they wanted to. Or, if it broke down, they did not have to bring it back, but needed to remember to have it towed somewhere.

The plan was to sleep in hammocks, which they had purchased the week before, (but hadn’t actually tried out yet). We all thought, even if the ancient second car completely broke down, it might still offer protection from the weather, and a softish place to sleep.

The timeline for the trip was “open-ended” as Ben quit his job for the rest of the summer and announced that he may decide to stay in California a while and not sign up for school in the fall. Interesting, because I heard Will say he wanted to be back for the State Fair in August, but apparently had failed to mention this to Ben. So it was not only open-ended in the sense they hadn’t decided when to return, but even more so, since they hadn’t actually discussed their plans with each other.

Then, we four parents stood in the driveway waving, and the two boys, with bikes in ancient second car, drove away.

Boys_Bike_Car

I told all this to my girlfriends while sipping wine in the backyard at an annual summer get-together and to my amazement, a year later, when we gathered there next, everyone wanted to hear: Well? What happened on the bike trip?

So, here are some highlights. OK, this is my recollection anyway.

The first night, the boys slept in the car. The next day, the car broke down and they managed to get it into a shop and jumped on their bikes to ride around. They had been aiming to drive from Minnesota to Seattle, ditch the car, and ride down the coast to California on their bikes. The car broke down again, and this time it was irreparable. They left it, and got a bus into Seattle.

Seattle was no disappointment. They located kindred spirits and empty couches on some memo-board (or Craig’s list). They had been gone almost a week but had very few bike miles under their belts. At one point, they decided to take a hike. it was late in the day because, of course, if they were awake, it must be. They headed up a mountain trail with no water. Once they finally reached the peak, they realized they may be heading into trouble. They were far from their starting point and were losing light very quickly. They were regretting the decision (or lack thereof) to bring water, and I think there was a bear sighting.

They ran/tore back down the mountain and managed to return to their respective couches unkilled, which was fortunate, because they had a great story to tell.

At this point, the owners of the couches wanted them back, so the boys consulted the memo-board (or Craig’s List) again for a ride closer to California. They were able to secure a ride to Portland for $20. That’s $20 for the both of them. You just can’t beat Craig’s list (or the memo board) unless, of course, you have a silly concern about safety.

Portland proved to be a veritable cornucopia of opportunity. Will had relations there who put them up and fed them all kinds of home-cooked meals. Between this and their attempt to patronize every taco truck they encountered, they were not hurting for chow. But here they ran into a setback. The hike proved to be problematic to Will’s leg, so they found a clinic that would take a look. Not a big deal, but Will would have to stay off it for a few weeks.

Huh?

Remember, they are on a bicycling adventure. Or, at least it was going to start any minute.

I got a text that they were returning by train. Their bikes were packed into bike boxes and checked like big cardboard luggage.

All tolled, it had been just under two weeks. There did not appear to be a lot of bicycle riding in this adventure. And they never did set foot in California. But our boys were returning, after not too much time, and on their own accord. So, we four parents did what one might expect we would. We drove to the train station where, teary eyed, we greeted, we hugged, and did our best to hide our complete and absolute relief.

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IDEA 71: LET THEM MAKE CAKE

May
2014

Cake_maker_girl

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?

Cake_maker_kid

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.

IDEA 70: CELEBRATE THE FINISH

Apr
2014

CELEBRATE_BATHROOM

About a year ago, I posted about our DIY bathroom project that followed the premise “When there is no money, throw time at the problem”. That, in part, explained why after several months work, the bathroom looked pretty much like we’d just started. We live in a 1912 house, and this bathroom had been remodeled somewhere around 1950. Ever since we moved in, I’d wanted to make it a beautiful ommage to 1912 (with all the modern amenities, of course), so we took it down to the studs.

Well, a grueling 16 months after it began I’m happy to report the bathroom is finished! And, as promised, I’m now posting “afters”. I adore my new bathroom. But remodeling to return a room to it’s former glory comes with one potential downside: If you do your work too well, no one will know you did anything at all. So, for those interested in old house details, here are a few highlights.

Remember the doorknob?

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I was all set to buy a new one, thinking this one was a badly worn artifact of the mid century remodel. It did not match the other knobs in our house; in fact it didn’t even look to me like it would have come from 1912. But a painter that had been working in our house told me that it was indeed original. Although the hall knob (on the other side of the door) was quite ornate, the inside bathroom knob and the inside kitchen knobs were simple and smooth, in an early twentieth century attempt to create a more sterile environment. And since chrome was not the finish of the day, these knobs were usually plated in polished nickel. The story intrigued me so much, I had the knob re-plated in nickel, even though everything else in the bathroom is chrome. I guess I’m not a purist—or maybe that means I am…

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You might recognize the towel hooks from a past blog entry. That easy project adds just the right detail to the new space.

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I am in awe of the beautiful yet practical storage my husband built, including open shelves for towels, closed deep cupboards for cleaning supplies, shallow storage for small items and a built in hidden laundry chute!

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Above the tub and shower, a row of new-to-look-old cupboards stash anything you don’t care to see for a while.

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Our original commode looks right at home here.

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As does the vintage sink we snagged at the salvage yard.

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We found a beautiful, simple cast iron drop-in tub from Waterworks at a local shop. The person that had ordered it changed their mind and I was thrilled to see the exact item I was lusting after online (lusting after, but not being able to afford). The shop gave me a deep discount, and I didn’t have to pay to have it shipped either. Since I was looking for a solution that would marry a modern drop-in tub with a 1912 house, we ended up cutting 18” square marble tiles from Home Depot in half to create an oversized brick pattern to mimic the subway tile.

CELEBRATE_TUB

By moving the tub to the corner, we were able to fit in a separate shower, something I have always wanted. An almost invisible glass door keeps the corner clean and understated, even though it’s a bit of a departure from 1912. Trying to match the age of a house can be tricky with kitchens and bathrooms. My philosophy: strike a balance between comfort and style. You want to live in a house, not a history museum. But I do think the chrome knob on the shower (rather than the standard towel bar) adds a little old-timey class.

CELEBRATE_TUB_SHOWER

The sink is mounted on a short wall sporting a marble cap. This was a feature I chose for practicality as well as authenticity. I found the marble piece at a scrapyard, and my husband (with the help of a few extra saw blades) was able to cut it down to size. Above that, we installed the Restoration Hardware Framed Medicine Cabinet.

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Quite possibly, the most difficult decision was what lights to install. My husband (my lighting expert) suggested two lights, one on each side of the mirror, with the bulbs pointing up, for a “soft bounce” off the ceiling. It was the perfect idea. This set-up provides beautiful, flattering light that easily removes ten years from your age when you look in the mirror. So, that was decided, but where to find just the right lights that celebrate the vintage without looking too fussy? I finally landed on lights from one source and glass shades from another. I got the lights online because I liked the vintage style. Then I bought an inexpensive two armed wall light from Home Depot because I really liked the modern looking straight-sided oval glass shades. I put those with my vintage lamps and they are (in my opinion) the perfect balance of old and new. (or maybe I just like to mettle). At any rate, it was an inexpensive way to get a unique look.

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And speaking of lights, doesn’t every bathroom need a nightlight? I came across this sweet one online, and couldn’t resist.

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I framed black and white pictures of my kids in the old bathroom, bringing these sweet, nostalgic moments to my current bathroom. And now they adorn the three walls surrounding my tub.

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Just for fun, here’s where I found our tub spout, tub handles, shower handles, laundry chute pull and cupboard door knobs.

I’m so giddy about my bathroom remodel I don’t even mind the fact that some people may not know I did anything. The hotel-like amenities and soaking tub provide a welcome retreat in which I will celebrate this finish for years to come!

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