Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Finder's Keepers

Dogwood blossoms always remind me of my Grandmother. Years ago she owned this incredible antebellum home in Louisiana, Missouri. It had slave quarters in the basement, a "widow's walk" looking out over the Mississippi (so the lady of the house could stand and look at the river while she waited watching for her man to come home), and lots of nooks and crannies for a four year old to hide in. Hiding in crannies pops to mind since I distinctly remember my mother chasing me around the house while I was fleeing a spanking. (I painted my aunt's lamp with foundation! Do you remember that, Melanie?) She also had many dogwood trees on the property. I'll always remember her bringing me to one of the trees and telling me about how the centers of the flowers were a reminder of Christ's crown of thorns. The four white petals with their magenta marks symbolize his sinless hands and feet pierced and injured by the nails on the cross. I was only four, but I remember that talk and my sweet Grandmother's arms and voice sharing with me the joy of noticing the small things. My Grandmother was a role model for me in so many ways. I miss her terribly. There are beautiful dogwood trees all over Northern Virginia. I took this picture while I told my own four year old son my Grandmother's story this Easter season. You know, many people know very little of their Great Grandparents. I need to tell my children more stories of what a wonderful woman she was! The dogwood is the state flower of Virginia. Perhaps I'll plant a tree on the farm!

So, my friend Jen asked how we found this wonderful home to live in. Some of you may know that my husband and I have longed for a simpler life for a long time. We recently made a life change that made that more possible, though it involved greater risk for our family. My husband turned civilian, and made one small step toward becoming a gentleman farmer. We moved to Virginia and found that the countryside is beautiful, the people are interesting, the proximity to the Nation's Capitol is convenient, and a lot of our heroes either lived nearby or still do! We love it here! We'd love to purchase a little house in the country and raise chickens, but we already own a house in Colorado, so feel that to take on that kind of debt would be perhaps reckless in this economy. Still, we looked! I was looking for great deals in real estate that would tempt me to go ahead and throw caution to the wind and make me apply for another mortgage in spite of my fear of debt. I was browsing real estate in Fauquier County when I saw an ad for a farmhouse for rent on a 500 acre farm. I thought, "Well, it couldn't hurt to ask!" I contacted the advertiser, asked a few questions, told him we were a big family that home schooled and wanted to raise more of our own food. He invited us to visit and see if the situation suited both parties, so to speak. We went after church on Sunday and looked and looked and I fell in love! My husband was perhaps more skeptical, but I managed to convince him. It turns out he just didn't see what I saw. When we returned to sign the lease, he was excited, too! He was even more so after he went shopping at the local farm supply store and realized he was getting ready to buy chickens. He came home with a big grin on his face and I think a bit more content.

I'll write more about what I've learned about the area in another post. Before I do that, I wanted to see if you all wanted to help me name the house. I've decided it's a cottage, by the way. I know, I know, it's not mine to name, technically. But, still, as long as I love it as I do now, I must call it a name. Besides, it seems all the houses are named around there! So, I'm thinking something to do with joy, happiness, contentment, industriousness, husbandry, legacy. How about Contentment. Too pithy? Do you have any suggestions?

Friday, April 25, 2008


Yesterday, I spent over two hours cleaning a bathroom. Why, you say, would I do that? Well, the farmhouse's former tenants were three men who were working on a golf course by day and eating greasy food by night. Oh, and by the looks of it, they never cleaned the bathroom. Here's a picture of the tub after cleaning it...

it's not so bad! Now, when I clean, I usually start with the less toxic products and work my way up to the more toxic things. Yesterday I started with Green Works all purpose cleaner and a green scratcher (as I grew up calling those green abrasive pads) with a sponge on its back. I thought it was all rust stains and wouldn't come off, because I assumed that the bathroom had been cleaned some time in the past two years. Au contraire! These men thought that as long as only their feet touched the filth, it didn't count, I suppose! To my surprise, as I scrubbed and applied elbow grease liberally, the red gunk came off! I discovered that it was just an industrial layer of soap scum and red dirt! Well, at least the tub wasn't stained. I finished with Comet with bleach scrubbing powder. Toxic, yes, but effective! I still need to get a toothbrush and clean in corners and around fixtures, but it's miles better than this:

Et voila! A clean sparkling bathroom... sort of. Oh, bonus: I lost three pounds with all that scrubbing and sweating! No joke.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Dining Room

Well, the wall color is done in the Dining Room, and I think it turned out really well! I still have to paint the trim, but I can do that little by little, if I want to. Pictured here is the moldy corner. We washed it, scraped it, and primed it with Zinsser and then painted when it got dry. I've never primed the whole wall before when painting, but I think I may start doing it! The paint really covered better in here, I only used one gallon on the whole room! Plus, primer is cheaper than paint.

Kitchen Redo

Well, the floor still needs some scrubbing with a brush and a degreaser, I scrubbed about a third of the floor and just mopped the rest, as I was totally exhausted... but here it is!
I think those blue knobs are too cute. The floor, it turns out, is pale blue, so it looks perfect with the blue knobs.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

My Room

What's this? As my friend Joy mentioned, my readers had not yet seen any upstairs rooms in the farmhouse! Well here's a sneak peek at the Master not suite... just a bedroom, really. But it has four, again I say FOUR, closets! May I point out that is three more than I have now. Two are the sort you see in this pic, under the eaves, and long, but without much head room. As this house has no basement, this is where Christmas decorations, off season clothes, and hand me downs will go. Oh, I can't forget the boxes of baseball cards my husband lugs around, and the "memories" stuff, old letters, wedding dresses, yearbooks, etc., that we cart from house to house without a thought. Our kids may want to pilfer through this stuff after we die and before they throw it all out!

I was going to paper this in blue, but looked up how to paper and decided it was WAAAAAY too much trouble. Painting is much easier! I still need to get the carpet cleaned, but it's got a lot of potential!
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Saturday, April 12, 2008

Apron Trend?

Um, I may have discovered a new "thing" I enjoy. I've always enjoyed aprons. I really like vintage fabrics... and occasionally I actually ask for aprons when people ask what I'd like for a gift. Women used to wear aprons all the time. They cooked, did laundry, cleaned, and took care of children all day long. These are all very messy, dirty jobs. Women often don't really do these things all day anymore, so aprons are considered necessary, but not fun. I do this stuff all day, every day. My wardrobe will attest to it, too. I have dozens of t-shirts that have little grease spots, or food stains, or minuscule tears from their rough use. I need more aprons. I have decided! Today, in my time wasting portion of the day, when I surf the Internet for pretty things and stuff I like to do and which chickens I want to order, I found this cute little post on Oodles and oodles. I need to make one of those! I do have a clothespin apron, but I usually have little helpers and could use another to share. I can use the leftover bias tape from my Evangeline apron and my yards and yards of muslin and figure one out that's Melissa sized. Because, you know, I don't have enough to do!

Speaking of chickens. I'm ordering some, as soon as we get a PO Box in Upperville. I've decided to order Ameracaunas (well technically, I suppose, they'd be Easter Egg Chickens) and Cuckoo Marans, I think. But you know, I know very little about chickens. I've done a little research and found out that Americaunas have blue green tinted eggs... FUN! Cuckoo Marens have chocolate colored eggs, (rurality)as well as being really pretty birds, and being rare, gentle, and supposedly being a good dual purpose breed of chickens, meaning good for meat and eggs. I also heard that the hens can be broody, which means they will sit on their eggs and hatch a clutch, which has been either bred out of chickens or just not learned as so many eggs are hatched in incubators now.

Kitchen's first Coat

Well, here it is, first coat complete:

I really like the Lowe's paint, Valspar. It covers nicely, has little odor, and I think gives you a lot of bang for your buck.

Somebody's excited!

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A Good Start

Well, we've started on the farmhouse decorating. We went this past week and bought paint and a few dust masks and got started! Here we've started taking off that terrible wood grain wallpaper. There was some black mold under one corner under the upstairs bathroom. I'll have to see about the best way to deal with that. Any ideas?

And here we've begun painting the kitchen leaf bud green. When it was wet it was a little more yellowey than I had hoped, but I think it will mellow as it dries. I hope.

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Monday, April 7, 2008

Homemade Tea Bags

OK, I'm a cloth girl... I use cloth diapers whenever practical... I use cloth tea towels instead of paper ones for pretty much everything... I try to use cloth to replace all of the paper products that we use and throw away...

Tea is something I enjoy a lot... I have a big box full of boxes of tea bags. My kids love to see me get out the big tea pot. Then they know that they get to have tea, too. My two year old even loves tea (well, warm milk with a bit of tea and honey). So, we use a lot of paper tea bags. I've always thought that tea bags are wasteful. All that paper, staples, industrialization, for one cup of tea.

Here is an alternative: a muslin tea bag that you reuse with loose tea. Brilliant! Also, way too obvious for me to come up with myself. That doesn't stop me from making some of my own, though! I'm going to make one big enough for a jug of sun tea, too. All wrapped up in a matching drawstring bag with a tin of loose tea, they'd make a really sweet hostess gift for a tea lover. You could even mix up your own tea from your herb garden and put it in a mason jar!

I've been wondering what to do with little leftover bits of fabric that aren't in a small enough print to please me in a quilt. Not that I have made a quilt out of all those scraps I've been saving for SOMEthing. Now, how to dry them without making little brown spots on the sink and counters? Clothes pinned over a house plant?

My tea bags

Here's how I made mine:

I gathered my materials: pattern, fabric leftover from Evangeline apron, some fusible interfacing, thread, awl, and rotary cutter, some white cotton yarn, and some cotton crochet thread. I cut six tea bags according to the pattern, and one that was 4 by 7 for sun tea, plus a bigger bag to hold it all in. I also cut a little label to applique. I fused the label and contrasting fabric to a bit of interfacing, and then cut to fit. I wrote on it with a Sharpie fine tip marker, I hope that'll wash OK!

I used a satin stitch on my machine to attach it to the front of the bag and used the same construction techniques as detailed in the pattern.

I think this fabric is so very pretty. It took me no time at all to finish this, waaaaay less than an hour, I finished it in between feeding the baby, sorting stored items in anticipation of the move, the measuring trip to the farm. Now I just need to get some loose tea!


We went to the farmhouse today to measure rooms and windows and most especially the laundry room. I really would like to find a way to put my big front load washers in there. The landlord is awesome. He was trying to help us figure out how to cut a bigger hole in the cabinet space for the machines in case they don't quite fit... even with all that figuring I forgot to measure the door opening!!!! Maybe we'll go back tomorrow. Aaaaaanyway, we planned for the raised beds for the garden, and talked about the chicken house. I want something pretty and portable and safe for the chickens. Hubby wouldn't mind it being those things, but he wants it cheap! I finally got a picture of the front of the house.

The rental we're in now has gobs of spring bulbs, which makes for a beautiful and fragrant spring yard. My husband and I were getting into bed one night and he mentions that he'd like me to "Plant lots of those purple and yellow flowers that smell really good so that we can smell them when the windows are open at the farmhouse." He's such a sap! I'm totally on board with that! Come fall I'll get me a spade and a few big bags of bulbs and go to it!

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Bias Tape Tutorial

I found this really great tutorial on how to make bias tape the easy way... and the cheap way, as it uses way less fabric to make way more bias tape. I think bias tape is wonderful, you can use it as ribbon to decorate a garment. You can use it to bind edges of fabric to keep them from unraveling. You can use it to make easy sleeveless tops with flair. And you can add really sweet accents to lots of sewn things by varying your fabrics... like the neck ties on my apron. The Purl Bee has some really fun bias tape projects: napkins, and zippered pouches.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Farmhouse Apron

I've been inspired by the farm to make a couple of aprons... I love this apron pattern, as one should at least look as good as possible while canning quarts of tomatos, right?!

I've canned before, namely lots of apple butter, which I and the kids enjoy. I wish I had more vintage canning jars in good shape, because they are soooo pretty. Still new ones always look nice, too, once filled with good things grown in my garden!

Farmhouse Interior

The Living Room... I'll paint the front door my favorite blue so that I'll see it every time I walk in the door. Isn't that door wonderful!

The Kitchen... Full of light, huge cabinets, and lots of space for cooking... I'm thinking leaf bud green. I could put some shelves for cookbooks and stuff over the radiator. Actually I can think of lots of pretty, useful things to do with that space.

The Dining Room... That is faux wood wallpaper. Eeeeew. Can't you just see bead board waincoating and pale blue or tan walls... our big family table, which I want to paint a medium teal or Duck Egg Blue. Those ceilings are amazing!!!
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See how pretty it is! This is the back of the house, I don't know why I didn't take a pic of the front, but it has a screened porch.

Here is the road, that runs past the house. It's a private road which means lots of bicycle fun for the kids.

Here is the Springhouse. I just love stone buildings! It's like they're part of the land, not just corruptible wood, but the bones of the fields themselves, somehow. These photos were taken in early April, and you can see the way the air seems to hold an aura of possibility.

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Thursday, April 3, 2008

A new Beginning

I've always had a romantic view of farm life. In my fantasy it involves gentle breezes blowing through curtained windows into a kitchen full of Fiesta ware and vintage melamine dishes. Children in simple, but colorful handmade clothes with pink cheeks recite their lessons with smiles on their faces while Mother in her apron brings in the white sheets from the laundry line. The chickens lay beautiful speckled or colorful eggs and cluck contentedly around the neat, flower lined garden. The eldest boy milks a cow in denim overalls and grows tall and strong and resourceful from his education as a gentleman farmer. Stone and board fences line verdant pastures with cows lowing while they live a life of peaceful rumination. Red barns and big trees and men with broad shoulders are all in the background of my romantic vision.

During my early adolescence I lived on a farm that looked like this. I walked down gravel roads and felt the beauty soak into my soul of ferns and moss and ancient apple orchards, cows and ponds and bicentennial saw mills. I wandered in old barns imagining them full of milk cows. I've always wanted to live a life like that, but never had the chance, being the wife of a middle class military man. We, in the last year have found ourselves settling into a civilian life, and have the opportunity, for the first time, to live in such a place again. We have contracted to rent a house on an ancient farm full of beautiful buildings and stone foundations and gravel roads and red barns and content cows and chickens and black board fences.

I have, of course, envisioned myself in many of the aforementioned fantasies, apron clad, making cookies, sweeping board floors in a house that is part one room schoolhouse, part sanctuary, and part Martha Stewart photo shoot. I want to blog this experience because it's cheaper and easier than scrap booking it! I want to use this blog to remember every triumph and mistake to chronicle every aspect of handmade beauty that I create, to record my family's emotional and mental reaction to this life that I hope to make a reality. So, enjoy if you care to, feel free to comment and offer advice, I'll need all the help I can get!

When I first drove up to the farm, I felt this overwhelming joy at the beauty of the place. It really takes your breath away! I was hesitant to see the house, feeling that it's age might portend small, dark rooms, ancient appliances, and a leaky roof! What I found surprised me, although it may indeed have a leaky roof! It was roomy, full of light, and obviously built for a large family, for there is storage tucked into every nook and cranny. I began to imagine the home I could make in such a place, the soft colors, the cheerful, durable, easy to clean furnishings, the children cheerfully putting away their belongings (this is imaginary, remember), my husband coming home to a homey meal of garden fresh produce and our home grown meat and eggs. I got a little giddy. My kids started saying... "Pleeeeeaase can we live here?" The landlord gave us recommendations about chickens, where we could pasture our milk cow, a good site for our large garden..... I'm starting to get really excited now! This is everything that I ever envisioned, but could never afford! I turn to my husband, right in front of the landlord and say, "Pleeeease can I live here?" He laughs, and indulgently says, "Let's think about it."

Well, as you can probably tell, it's now almost a done deal... the contract is signed by us, but not by the landlord, we'll do that next week. At the same time I'll measure the rooms and plan where to put furniture and get rid of excess and purchase necessaries. I'm sooo excited.