the back bedroom

The back bedroom has always been the children’s room. When our building got its certificate of occupancy and we were cleared to move in, Camelia was a toddler. I’d just learned how to do stucco veneziano (venetian plaster) and the room was one of my first projects in the apartment. The first color for Camelia’s brand new bedroom was a beautiful peachy pink, very soft and not all at sugary. A perfect color for a little girl. The walls gave off a rosy light at night. In the morning, the room glowed golden from the sunlight coming in from the eastern facing window.

When we were homesteading our building in the 1980’s, there was a lot of drug dealing in the neighborhood (see my Pigeon Wars post for the backstory). Junkies broke into the squatter’s buildings and stole tools and pipes and anything that they could rip out to sell. It was near impossible to completely fortify the entire building against theft, there were too many spots where crumbling brick or boards could be pried loose. All you could do was to make it harder for them. During that time, the back bedroom became our tool room. We framed it out and created temporary walls of double thick plywood. The door was locked with a fat metal chain. That was the secure room, the place where we kept anything the junkies might want to walk off with.

Homesteader Jay Goodson at the tool room which became our back bedroom

Homesteader Jay Goodson at the tool room which became our back bedroom

The room grew up with the girls. After the babyish pink came a sophisticated light royal blue when the girls were in  elementary school. Then came a rich green right before Camelia left for college. Now, at the time of Oona’s going to college, I decided to re-do the stucco in a pale greyish lavender. Oona said “Mom, you always want to re-do the room when we are leaving for college”. Maybe it is my way of trying to entice them to stay home.

Oona applying stucco veneziano

Oona applying stucco veneziano

The old green being covered

The old green being covered


This is a work-in-progress, stay tuned for updates.

hello 2014

I felt like a college student on a long mid-winter break. Having Christmas and New Years in the middle of the week created a luxurious lull in my “work for money” life. I used the time to plow a path and unclog things in my home and family life.


The most stopped up place was my computer, so I started with that.  It was clogged with photographs and old information. The hard drive was bursting and slowing my computer down. It was so full that it would not allow me to transfer any more photos from my phone. As a result, my phone was so stuffed with photograhs that if I wanted to show off one, I had to scroll through a thousand. I was unable to upgrade apps or software on either device and felt guilty and unorganized everytime I clicked the “remind me later”prompt. It was paralyzing me. Whenever I looked at the photo library I felt overwhelmed and frozen. If I needed a photo for a blog post, I would email it to myself from my phone and put it in a folder on my desktop since the hard drive kept yelling at me “no way Jose!”. I knew that I had to deal with this in the way that one shovels snow. You have to just grit your teeth and put your back into it. You may stop and catch your breath at points and assess the progress, but you have to keep going till the path is clear. And it is oh so satisfying when you look at that path you’ve opened up.

When I used a film camera, I organized photographs by season and year into photo albums. This works well because it is an easy way for you to remember where to find a specific photo and for general reminiscing about a particular time. So that is the methodology I used to begin the task of archiving the thousands of photos in my library. I also wanted to print them and have them in photo albums on a shelf. When photographs are in digital form they are often forgotten. I wanted them to have a body as well, a physical form that lives in a book.


I mapped out an archival strategy that I figured once organized, would be the standard going forward.

1. Trash all the bad photos and transfer all the good photos to an external hard drive into seasonal folders by year. That’s just four folder per year which is managable when you want to look for something.
2. Upload the photographs by seasonal folder to an online printing service.
3. Because I trust neither of the two above, transfer the folders to archival CDs and store in an archival quality box.
4. Print the photos I wanted to have a physical body to place in albums on a shelf labled by season and year or for framing.

And so, I grit my teeth, brewed a big pot of coffee and connected a 500 gigabyte hard drive to my computer. I began with Spring 2007. Thats how far back those digital photographs had been just sitting there. I ruthlessly dumped what was out of focus, where people had their eyes closed and those second shots you take for “just in case”. I had a ridiculous amount of photographs of adorable sleeping dogs.

It took me  three solid long days and whosh – the clog is gone. The computer is speedy again and my phone apps are updated. I organized photos into albums on my phone so that I can illustrate the bragging about my kids without having to scroll through a thousand images.

In the press they write about how futile it is to make New Year’s resolutions and how people abandon those resolutions fairly quickly. I like thinking about the new year and starting off fresh and energized with strong ideas about what I want to accomplish. It’s important because you can’t do something unless you set your mind to do it in the first place.

This year I want to improve my photography and master the DSLR that I’m afraid of. I want to finally learn Photoshop. My shoveling has opened up the path. Now I just have to walk down it.

What do you want to do this New Year, dear readers?

entryway progress

It’s slow going to fix up your house unless you’ve got a fat purse and a lot of time. Sometimes I feel like I’m buried in the bureaucracy of life admin. Sign an online petition and your email inbox mushrooms with doomsday scenarios. Buy something online and you are attacked daily by 20% off coupons. We now have digital clutter to clear and speak with robots on the phone.

We recently put another dent in the slow moving entryway project. What happens to me is that when we make an improvement, I exhale and exclaim “it looks great”. And so we live with the partially finished project while absorbed in work to put food on the table and tend to our family and friendships.  After the blue venetian plaster work and the teardrop chandeliers went up, I was happy opening the front door and walking into my house for awhile.

Then the novelty of the last phase wore off and so it was time for the next. The doors leading to the girl’s room and the bathroom were filmsy hollow doors. I never liked them. I like the feeling of opening and closing a solid wood door. I shopped around for wooden doors and they were too extravagant for my purse. In New York City, we have a great resource. Build it Green! NYC is a recycling project, a place where contractors can donate excess stuff from construction/renovation projects and others can buy it. I snapped up the two paneled wooden doors for 60 bucks! Then we got molding to frame the new doors with. That was always the vision, a posh entryway with elegant molding. As my friend Linda says “molding brings the eye up and up and up”. It gives the illusion of higher ceilings, a welcome thing in a narrow hallway.

carpenters installing doors and molding

carpenters installing doors and molding

heavy paneled wooden recycled door and molding on my blue venetian plaster walls

heavy paneled wooden recycled door and molding on my blue venetian plaster walls

What’s next? Molding along the juncture of the plaster wall and the ceiling and a good looking and useful spot for hanging up coats and setting down boots now that winter is almost upon us.

power from the sun

When we got our land as a getaway from the urban jungle we made a trade-off. The land was beautiful, with a deep forest and a sunny meadow. It came with a trailer the size of our apartment, so that we did not have to build anything to be able to enjoy it right away. But, we had no electricity. We are totally off the grid.

We learned a lot from living without electricity for long stretches at a time in the summer. We learned about how to manage without refrigeration (the hardest part). We learned that two buckets of cold water straight from the well + 1 bucket of boiling water made the perfect amount of warm water for a long haired individual to bathe and wash their hair luxuriously. We read a lot because we could have no computer or TV. I attribute Oona’s extraordinary vocabulary to the fact that she read so much as a way to get out of working in the garden.

In the beginning, we used candles and oil lamps. The light from these was very romantic but dim. It was hard to read unless you were right under the flame and we all had headlamps so that we could read while sitting back on the couch. I do miss the ritual of snuffing out the candles at the end of the night with an old silver candlesnuffer that was found at a yard sale.

After the candles and oil lamps came the Nokero solar bulbs and the Ikea solar lamps. Those were a tremendous breakthrough and allowed us to get rid of the dangerous open flame lighting system. We set the solar lamps outside to charge up in the sun in the morning and hung them in the trailer at night. The Ikea solar floor lamp allowed us to lie back on the couch and read. The table lamps were super bright and we could comfortably read in bed at night. The Nokero bulbs spotlighted the kitchen sink and counters for cooking and clean up.

Charging up the Ikea solar lamps

Charging up the Ikea solar lamps

But we wanted more. Especially refrigeration. We once called the electric company to ask for an estimate for bringing poles to our property to hook us up to the grid. The nearest pole to us is only a half-mile away. They quoted us over $35,000. When we asked if they had a payment plan. The guy says, “Yes, ma’am, we sure do, but there is a 7 percent interest charge for the payment plan”. That’s when I got pissed. First, I researched, but the last rural electrification program was during the time of President Roosevelt. We were on our own and so we “did it ourselves”. Or I should say, Frank did it. He installed our very own off-the-grid solar power system. For very little money.

The panels arrive

The panels arrive

Frank spent months doing research and studying. He mapped out the system and the equipment needed. He did a lot of math and internet shopping. He became friends with solar energy vendors and electrical shop clerks. He spent almost a month this summer, walking around the property wearing a little apron full of screws, tinkering, building, pondering and tweaking. And now we have power. Clean and free energy from the sun. And when the power goes out for our neighbors during a storm, it will not go out for us. Our lights will still be on. We will be able to offer to charge their phones for a change.



Solar power base of operations

Solar energy headquarters, work-in-progress

Solar panels installed

Solar panels installed

The trimetric monitor, our batteries are fully charged

The Trimetric monitor, our batteries are fully charged

The first time we turned on the electric light, everything seemed too bright and garish. We were startled and blinked our eyes like people must have done when they first got electric lights in the home. It’s a good thing Frank attached dimmers to all of the lights.

Our first night with electricity from the sun

Our first night with electricity from the sun

Solar powered electric guitar

Solar powered electric guitar

how to repair a plaster frame

When I set out to do this blog, I wanted it to nudge me to do projects to beautify and organize my family’s living space. You have to lay your hands on your home.

This beautiful old plaster framed mirror has been hanging in my bedroom for a few months now. The gilded frame is faded and dull and like many of these delicate plaster frames, it was chipped in several spots. I’d purchased it at a yard sale upstate for five bucks. I love yard sales and I always think that when I drive around upstate, I should have a bumper sticker that reads, “I brake for small animals, sticks/big leaves and yard sales”.

chip damage

chip damage

I repaired the chips by using Sculpey clay as a mold. This modeling clay bakes in the oven and does not make a mess. When my girls were little, we made all the dinnerware and fake food for their dollhouse from colored Sculpey clay.

The repair was easy. I placed the Sculpey clay over the same pattern in the frame of the little chunk that was missing to create a mold.

find the piece in the pattern that is missing and make a mold

find the piece in the pattern that is missing and make a mold

I baked the molds in the oven on a piece of foil according to the instructions. Then I took soft clay and pushed it into the mold. I carefully took the soft piece out of the mold so that it kept its shape and baked it.

the mold and the piece made from the mold

the mold and the piece made from the mold

The final step is to glue the new piece to the frame with household cement. Now all that is left is to paint the repaired frame.

a dresser of elfa

In one of my early posts, I explained that all of our home design decisions had always been made on the premise of where to stash things. Well, this was one of them, but not one that I’m unhappy with. The problem: we needed a bigger dresser in the bedroom to stash our stuff. The solutions I looked at were expensive. I looked at many dressers. We needed two, and that made it very expensive. I searched on Craigslist and then discarded the notion early on when I realized how a prolonged furniture hunt would elevate stress levels and damage good feelings in the house.

I wanted something to span the entire width of the bedroom wall. I went to a fancy furniture store that has modular pieces that you can put together for your own needs. It was still too much money and I didn’t like the look of the super-modern shiny white plastic finish. This led me to the idea of closet storage. Something with drawers that you could piece together for the size of your space. The Elfa system solved our problem at the right price. At first I thought, well, it looks like we are sleeping in a closet. But the clean and neat look of the Elfa dresser is growing on me and our stuff is tidily tucked away.

our elfa dresser set up

our elfa dresser set up

During the set up our little blind dog Millie was stashed away in an Elfa box to keep her safe.

the sleeping beauty

the sleeping beauty

Spring is coming. I saw the first signs of it outside in our community garden. The purple crocus bursting out from under the dead fall leaves. I think a pot of spring bulbs would look great on the new dresser.

el jardin del paraiso - the first crocus of 2013

el jardin del paraiso – the first crocus of 2013

the first grown-up apartment

This past weekend was a momentous occasion. We were asked to help with the fixing up of the oldest daughter’s first grown-up apartment. The request was simple, “Help me make it look not like a dorm room”.  She asked for advice with picking out paint colors, and then we went one better and went to help her paint. I started by taking some photos of the small apartment and used my Color Capture app to illustrate my ideas.

The entryway was the jumping off point to the color scheme because the most striking feature of the apartment is there – beautiful tall windows that are edged with yellow and green stained glass squares. I thought she should put most saturated color there because the apartment has very low ceilings, and though it is sunny in the living room, the windows are rather small. A saturated color in the entryway would be an interesting highlight and would not be oppressive in the small space. A green for the entryway would bring in the outdoor foliage and the colors of the stained glass in the windows.

A stepfather with an eye for detail is a good thing

I suggested a un-babyish blue for the living room so that the room would feel expansive and sophisticated. The kitchen counter is yellow and the backsplash is grey tile. The existing color for the cabinets was a yellow that made them the focal point of the room when they shouldn’t have been. I thought a light color would make the cabinets recede and make the kitchen look clean and neat. I sent Camelia some samples I made with the Color Capture app and some paint chips look at in the light of the apartment.

the kitchen before. the yellow cabinets dominate and the beige walls were dull

Using my general direction but making her own choices, Camelia picked beautiful colors. She picked Benjamin Moore’s Silver Cloud for the living room/kitchen. It is a luminescent greyish blue color that changes with the light and made the room look soothing and fresh. In the late afternoon sun, a wall might look white one place, a soft grey or blue in another – an interesting chameleon-like color. The white trim of the windows looked crisp against it even though they had not been repainted.

painting the living room in Silver Cloud

the grown-up with very good taste in paint color choices

work-in-progress, benjamin moore’s bavarian cream on the cabinets

For the entryway, she chose a mossy green, Benjamin Moore’s Dark Celery. The kitchen cabinets were painted in a luscious creamy color. It was beautiful to see the paint brushstrokes of the color that is so aptly named Bavarian Cream.

We painted together and laughed and went out to dinner and watched a late movie and then slept over in our daughter’s first grown-up apartment.

paper lantern pizzazz

Oona made this pendant lamp for my bedroom. It is all the right good things – cheap, beautiful, and easy to do.

Oona created the lamp in a marathon of TV watching of Law & Order or Hell’s Kitchen late into the night. It is a dramatic light fixture for very little money. I saw a tutorial on Design Sponge – click here for her post with more how-to photos.

So simple to make, it requires only a few materials:

- a round paper lamp shade purchased at Ikea
- paper
- wood glue
- a cool to the touch LED lightbulb. I bought a dimmable one.

This light fixture cost under $20 to make.

the twin teardrop chandeliers

The work on the entryway is slow going, but it’s going. Back in the winter, I purchased two teardrop chandeliers from PB Teen that were on sale. When I finally got around to putting the first one up in the spring, we discovered that it was defective. I was so disappointed when I checked the website and saw they were no more. The lamp was tinkered with and deemed okay as long as the bulb wasn’t changed. So I stuck a bulb in there that would last for 30 years and hoped for the best. A week went by and then it died for real. Since so much time had passed, I never thought the store would give me a refund so I settled into the idea that the hallway would only have one light. But I didn’t like it. The lighting placement looked lopsided and there was a very ugly glob of plaster in the ceiling at the other end that I’d made worse by gouging at it with a knife thinking there was a box for a light fixture there.

One day I decided to do a web search for “teardrop chandelier” to see if I could find something similar that would look good with the existing light. And the first thing that popped up was the same chandelier from PB Teen! It was back! I called them and told them the story. To my surprise and delight, they said they would send me a replacement chandelier right away even though it was months since I’d bought it. Old school customer service.

PB Teen Teardrop Chandeliers

The electrician that has installed and fixed all of the light fixtures in the apartment is a woman named Deb Lee. I really like the fact that she is a woman electrician. In my mind there are two jobs that clearly fall under the responsibility of the man of the house:

1. Dealing with all potential electrocution scenarios.
2. The removal of dead vermin.

So I’m in awe of Deb.

Deb Lee at work

When the new chandelier arrived, Deb came to install it along with her colleague Eric. She told me that it would look so much better to run the cabling inside the ceiling instead of just hiding the wires with a wiremold. Eric was there to plaster away the holes. He even covered the glob that was such an eyesore. Good craftspeople who are skilled and care about what they do are hard to find – I am lucky. More to come…

Eric hard at work

woolly pockets for the bathroom wall

I’m putting the finishing touches on the bathroom and I wanted to hang Woolly Pockets for an indoor garden to add drama to the stark white walls. The only visual pop in my bathroom are the Cuban tiles on the floor, the rest is clean white subway tile (see more here). My neighbor Brad gave me the idea. Our bathroom window faces the community garden adjacent to the homestead and the weeping willows can be seen as you are taking a shower. Brad said he wanted plants in his bathroom in order to extend the green into the room. I liked that thought, but our bathroom is tiny so the walls had to come into play. An extension of the outside garden in the form of a hanging garden was the vision and Woolly Pockets Wallys are perfect. I like that they are made of recycled plastic bottles. Being a lover of yarn, I like that they are felt. Felted plastic bottles that are soft and feel like wool. Beautiful.

Plants were procured from the farmer’s market. I got a Bird’s Nest fern, a Rabbit’s Foot fern, Jasmine, various Coleus plants and others. I used cuttings from old Philodendron plants that had been my mothers and grandmothers.

plants at the ready

I was very surprised at how easy it was to hang the Woolly Pockets. They give you all of the hardware, all you need is to drill a hole in the wall. You don’t even have to find a stud, the anchors that are included sit right in the sheetrock wherever you want to place the pocket.

Now, to care for them so that they flourish.