Parlor (Living room) rehab…under $1300?

I’ve been missing in action and I admit it.  However, I have something to show for my absence:  a 4.0 for the fall semester and a rehabbed parlor.

For those of you who aren’t sure what a parlor is…a parlor is an old fashioned word for a living room, of sorts.  It was a formal room used to entertain and is located in the front of a house; usually near the front door.

My parlor was in need of some TLC and when Uncle Sam donated some funds to my checkbook in February, I decided to get down to business.

I set a budget of $1400 including furniture (gasp!)  Could it be done?  You betcha; with a ton of elbow grease and some Yankee ingenuity.  Of course, Rose and Robert were rolling their eyes in anticipation of yet another one of my “projects, ” but they rolled up their sleeves and helped enormously (I cannot stress how helpful and wonderful, and patient they are).

So, what did I have to work with?  A room approximately 16′ x 14′ with a bay window, a casement window, and two doorways.  One door leads to the dining room and the other into the foyer.

Two years ago, after removing some 12 layers of wallpaper, I quickly painted the walls to hide what I didn’t want to face:  rough walls that were serviceable but gouged and patched.

The ceiling has those pressed paper tiles (think circa 1975) and missing tiles from a massive leak over the bay window – don’t even ask about that disaster. Robert and I came up with ceiling tiles to replace the missing ones and that was all it took.  I was on my way to a beautiful new parlor.

Oh, I forgot to mention the floor.  The floor was painted blue and I had no idea what was hiding underneath, but I was willing to take the chance.

Not the best picture to give you an idea of what I had to work with, that’s for sure.

I decided the ceiling was solid but not very attractive, so I headed to Sherwin Williams for heavy duty embossed wall covering and sweet talked Rose into helping wall paper the ceiling (yup, you read that right).  $65 for the wall covering and $5 for the adhesive and a lot of not so lady like words, but the results were fantastic!

Here’s the ceiling half finished; if you look carefully you’ll see the embossed paper on the right and the tiles on the left.

Next, good old Rosie agreed to help straighten out the walls.  Crumbling corners, gouges, you name it.  Take half a day,  $15 worth of drywall compound, two metal outside corners, some sandpaper and a lot of elbow grease and you wind up with something like this:

Sorry the photo is sideways, but you get the idea.

Now about the same time all this was going on, I’d borrowed a belt sander from a friend of Rose and Robert’s, just to see what was under the blue paint on the floor.  I found another layer of paint and two different stains.  Yikes!

Bound and determined, I spent close to 50 hours and $150 on my hands and knees before I decided to hang it up and rent an industrial floor sander ($85 with belts).  Robert ran the behemoth while I kept at it with the belt sander.  Again, well worth it; this is what was underneath all that paint and stain:

Home improvement stores seem to run really good sales right around tax refund time.  Home Depot was selling crown moulding, with free shipping, at a great price, so I happily ordered up $160 worth and cajoled Robert into putting it up for me.  Anyone who has seen me try to miter corners will understand my plight.

Two gallons of wall paint and a gallon of trim paint ($50) and it began looking like a room I could be proud of.

I agonized over the floor:  polyurethane?  stain with poly mixed in?  linseed oil?  I admit it–I’m not likely to sand the whole thing down every 4 or 5 years so poly was out and the floor was a beautiful color all on its own.

Enter laquer ($35).

Kids, do not try this at home in the winter.  It is the most rank, foul smelling stuff known to mankind.  It was February and I couldn’t open windows and doors for very long.

I’m telling you, I spent three days higher than a kite on this stuff, but it has its advantages:  fewer coats, 1 hour dry time, 24 hours before normal use, and no sanding or stripping required when high traffic areas are looking worn.  Simply slap some more on the surface and voila!  I’ll definitely use it again…in the summer.

I needed a ceiling light and had a good idea what I wanted, but as usual, I have champagne taste and a beer budget, so I headed to Ebay to see what I could find.

$19 and this little gem was all mine.  Of course it didn’t look quite like this, but a $3 can of brass metallic spray paint fixed it up.

The big dilemma, considering my budget, was furniture.  I am an absolute fan of  I spent hours, ruthlessly scouring the internet (and local stores) for furniture I liked and could afford.  $723, including shipping, netted me a sofa and loveseat in moss green microfiber suede.  Love it, love it, love it!

I had plenty of other “stuff” to add to my room, and I hope you’re as impressed as I am!

Bottom line?  $1310.  My least favorite room in the house is now my haven.   It’s peaceful and airy, bright yet soothing.  And  a fabulous use of my time except I wasn’t too sure as I lived like this for nearly 3 weeks:

One in a Million

Update:  I found out on April 7, 2010 that the blue lobster is headed back to Quoddy Bay Lobster and will be residing in one of their tanks, so be sure to check him out if you happen to be in the neighborhood.

I’ve been ridiculously neglectful as of late.  Since being laid off from my job, I’ve returned to school full time and am loving it, although it keeps me very, very busy.

Anyway, the other morning while walking my naughty little terrier, one of the lobstermen wanted to show me what they’d pulled out of a trap the previous day. 

lobster 001

Blue lobster

lobster 003

Isn't he gorgeous?

Blue lobsters are very rare indeed; supposedly one out of every million is blue due to a genetic mutation involving a complicated explanation about various proteins. 

It’s actually the second blue lobster I’ve seen from the guys at Quoddy Bay Lobster here in Eastport, but this one is so brilliant, I had to share him with you.

This little guy is going to live out his days in an aquarium somewhere yet to be determined.  And in case you’re wondering, blue lobsters don’t stay blue when cooked, so hang up your claw crackers and put the butter back in the fridge!

lobster 002

Hollywood, Here I Come!

As a child I grew up watching my older sister participate in plays, talent shows, anything that involved being on stage acting and singing her heart out.

Not me, I was the athelete of the family.  If it involved a bat,  ball or stick, I was out there on the field making the most of it.  I couldn’t understand how my sister could put herself on stage and pretend to be someone else without throwing up.  I shuddered at the thought of singing in front of an expectant and critical crowd.

I helped her memorize lines and admired her nerves of steel.  I saw her performances and clapped louder than anyone. 

Along came my younger brother who followed directly in my sister’s footsteps.  I helped him rehearse lines too, in between basketball practice, softball games or a pick-up game of something or other.  The stage was not for me, no sirree.

Eastport has a lovely “Arts Center” where they put on all sorts of “artsy” things:  symphonies, concerts, foreign films, “The Moose Island Follies”, and yes, plays.

I love to watch plays, especially when I know the actors/actresses.  I have tried to attend every play since I moved here in 2007.  The talent in Eastport and surrounding towns never ceases to amaze me.

I don’t know how it happened, but I got it into my head that I just might like to try acting.  A friend convinced me to give it a go and even shoved me out the door five minutes before auditions for “70, Girls, 70” ended.

I read the part that was handed to me.  All went okay, I thought.  Then I was handed a song to sing.

“Errr, I don’t sing. Don’t make me sing.  I didn’t know this was a musical, please let me outta here,” I begged as I made for the exit.

The director would hear none of that and promised I could have a non-singing role if necessary.   I settled down and joined the cast.

Six weeks later and I’ve become a ham.  A singing ham.  Well, not literally a ham, but I’ve discovered acting is kind of fun and (I hope) I’m pretty good at it.  Whether or not I’m good at singing remains to be seen.

More importantly I’ve discovered I can sing, dance, and act in front of people without throwing up.  Hey, don’t underestimate the not throwing up stuff….

I’ve met truly wonderful, talented, funny people who are in many ways a lot like me:  strong personalities who see  humor where others may not.  Men and women who are quick and spirited. 

It’s been a lot of work and a lot of fun and  I’ve gained an enormous amount of appreciation for the work and dedication that goes into putting on a musical.   I’ll never look at it again in the same light because from here on out, I’ll be on stage looking out instead of in the audience looking on.

If you happen to be in Eastport, come by and check out “70, Girls, 70” running August 7, 8, 14, 15 at 7:00 pm or August 9, 16 at 3 pm at the Eastport Art Center on Washington Street. 

I’ll be the one on stage looking like she’s trying not to throw up.

How To Be A Good House Guest

My poor, neglected blog! 

I’ve been missing in action due to a swarm of house guests.  Some were invited, others weren’t.  Some stayed a short time while others lingered on until I began daydreaming about ways to bodily remove them from my island paradise.

I think there’s something about owning a four bedroom home on an island seven miles off the coast of Maine that attracts those looking for a “cheap” vacation.  Cheap for them perhaps, not cheap for the hostess.

I think most of my visitors, family and friends alike, are considerate and helpful while others (namely those who chose to stay for weeks on end) were less than considerate and way less than helpful.

At long last, the house is close to empty, the steam has ceased pouring out my ears, and I can think clearly once again! 

In the name of all that’s holy or otherwise, I’ve compiled a list of considerations… just in case you’re someone’s house guest in the future.

1.  Wait for an invite.  While this may seem obvious to most, it never ceases to amaze and irritate me when people arrive uninvited and unexpected.  Yes, I have four bedrooms but perhaps those bedrooms are filled with invited guests.

2.  Get off your butt.  Okay, so you’ve been invited or perhaps you descended like a swarm of locusts.  It’s not your hostess’s job to cook, clean up after you, pick up your soggy towels, or replace numerous spent rolls of toilet paper.  Help your hostess; she needs it!

3.  Restrict your visit to a few days, a week at most.  Hey, even I can tolerate the uninvited when the house is already full.  For a few days.  House guests, like fish, begin to stink after three days.   And for heaven’s sake, let your hostess know how long you will be staying. 

 I tried to sound light hearted when I asked an uninvited relative, “So, how long do you think you’ll be in Eastport?”

The answer? 

“Oh, I haven’t decided yet. Three or four days.” 

She stayed for two weeks.  Just how many times does your hostess need to ask before getting a definitive answer?  Once and only once, please.

4.  Be considerate.   Considerate of water, food, electricity, your hostess’s patience….at times I’ve had as many as 11 visitors staying in my home.  Contribute some food, offer to cook, whatever! 

Remember your hostess will be paying the bill for your vacation for months after you’ve gone home.  Water is extremely expensive here on the island and filling an extra capacity washing machine with three extra rinses for your shirt and a pair of socks is not only crazy, it’s downright rude and wasteful.

Keep in mind your hostess may have to attend an unexpected event. True story:  I had to attend a funeral the other day and was made to feel guilty (yes, guilty!) for attending.  Guilt aside, I attended. 

5.  Thank your hostess.  Especially if your arrival was unexpected.  ‘Nuf said.

As an afterthought to this list:  consider presenting your hostess with a bottle of wine; after the guests have departed and the dust has settled, she just may need it.

A Simple Kindness Overpaid

I can’t tell you how many times this has happened to me:

I enter a grocery store (or any kind of store) to purchase one item and inevitably a fellow shopper careens into the only open check out line just ahead of me.  

Also inevitably, the shopper’s cart is loaded to the gills, heaped up high.

Just as predictably the fellow shopper pretends not to see me holding my one box of cereal.  Stares right past me and begins to unload their 487 purchases onto the little conveyer belt while I attempt to remain patient and not say something rude.

I’m the type who always lets people go ahead of me in line.  We all have things to do and places to be.  Why make someone wait when they’re just trying to get out of the store with a 4-pack of toilet paper?

I was at the grocery store the other day when I noticed a man enter the check out line right behind me.

 I asked, like I always do, “Would you like to go ahead of me?”

The man hesitated.  He was holding a single bottle of wine.  He looked down at the bottle in his hand, as if to remind himself  what he was standing in line for, and looked back up at me.  He accepted my offer of a speedier exit and I thought no more of it, after all, I was busy unloading my 487  purchases (okay, maybe not exactly 487, but you know what I mean).

When my cart was unloaded I looked up to say hello to the cashier.  There were four women standing there, staring at me.

“What?” I asked, feeling slightly paranoid.

The cashier asked me if I knew the man who had just paid for his bottle of wine.  I shook my head, smiled, and waited for the punchline.

The cashier looked at her three coworkers, confusion evident on her face.

She waved some good old American greenbacks in the air.

“He left this money to put on your bill.”

Okay, now I was confused.  I looked back and forth between the four employees who all seemed stunned by a perfect stranger who paid almost half my grocery bill.

Heck, if they looked stunned I can only imagine the shock on my face.

A simple common courtesy, something I never think twice about doing, was rewarded in a very big way.

I left the store and scanned the parking lot for a man carrying a single bottle of wine but he was long gone, as I knew he would be.

I’m assuming he was performing one of those random acts of kindness people talk about.  Maybe he was “paying it forward”…who knows why he did it, but did it he did.

Heck, a simple “thank you” would have sufficed.

I’m not much of a believer in coincidence.  Is there anyway this man could have known that my employer had laid me off not two hours before?

I didn’t think so either.  This perfect stranger performed an act over and beyond what common courtesy deserved.

 I bet he’s forgotten all about it, just another day to him.  For me, it’s something I’m not likely to forget for a very long time, if ever.

Sunday Morning Surprise

It was a balmy Sunday morning (well, balmy Downeast-style) and I decided to hit the beach with my intrepid little terrier, Molly. 

Molly loves to race up and down the beach, flinging up sand and chasing sea gulls  who never seem too concerned with her antics but this morning my furry little ball of energy was up to something completely different.

Molly sniffed the air as we walked past a wooded area and was off like a shot.  Too much barking to ignore, I assumed she was up to more of her bad business with a resident fox.  You see, Molly thinks of herself as part Rottweiler.  She was raised with them, so she’s got what I call “little big dog complex” and even a fox isn’t off limits in her imagination.

I called and called but there was no way Molly could hear me over the sound of her own yapping so down the embankment  I went, slipping and sliding on the ice.

It took me a few minutes to see what Molly was seeing but when I did, you could say I was more than a little surprised.  Take a look and see what Miss Molly found in the middle of the woods:

Female Harbor Seal

Female Harp Seal

Molly was beside herself with joy and I was beside myself wondering how I was going to convince Molly to get away from the seal.  I called and for once, Molly obeyed. 

The seal showed no fear but had a mild curiosity about Molly and me.  The seal rolled  onto her side as if asking for a belly scratch. 

Long story short, a man who lives near the beach has contacts with the University of Maine at Machias who referred him to another marine mammal organization. 

For now the assumption is the adult female harp seal is healthy except for a small cut that I’m guessing she received while dragging herself up the embankment from the clam flats into the woods. 

The seal showed no fear

The seal showed no fear

Whether she was caught unaware of the tide going out (tides move at astonishing speeds in Downeast Maine) or if she is sick, we don’t know.  The tide was dead low when Molly found her and there was no way she could get back to the water for another six hours.

It’s amazing to see marine mammals close up and personal but here’s hoping the bright eyed girl has gone back to where she belongs.

Update:   Our misplaced harp seal swam away with the high tide.  Once again, all is right with our corner of the world!

How To Make Honey Butter

Relatively expensive to buy, ridiculously easy to make!


Honey Butter

1 stick butter (margarine works too)

1/4 Cup honey


Soften the butter at room temperature.  Resist the urge to soften in the  microwave because it doesn’t turn out very well.

Put softened butter into a medium sized bowl and add the honey.  Using a hand mixer, beat on high speed.  The butter will, after about 1 minute, clump into a ball.

Spread on toast, biscuits, pancakes or use it to carmelize onions.  Delish!


Kitchen Face lift (Under $300) Continues…

I’ve been plugging away at the kitchen for the past week and I must say it’s coming along better than I expected.

The goal:  revive one very dark, outdated kitchen for $300 or less.  Think it’s impossible?  Read phase one here and the second phase here.

The biggest part of the face lift was making something out of the floor.  The vinyl tiles were in good shape and I didn’t have the money to lay a new floor so I had to come up with a plan.

Serviceable, yet it needed help

Serviceable, yet it needed help

With a very neutral wall color, the room needed a shot of color so I purchased a gallon of red (Bolero) and a gallon of white (Antique Lace) for a total of $22.  A quart of high gloss polyurethane ($10) would provide enough for three coats of durability.

I painted the entire floor with two coats of white and after it had plenty of time to dry, I marked off each vinyl tile with painter’s tape.  Using a small roller I applied two coats of red on every other tile to create a checkerboard pattern. 

Blue painter's tape marked the tile borders

Blue painter's tape marked the tile borders

Once the paint had a full day to cure, the polyurethane was ready to be applied.  Polyurethane darkens objects by a couple of shades, so pick out colors a little lighter than what you think you want.

The only bathroom in my house is accessed by tramping through the kitchen and I just knew the minute I polyurethaned in front of the bathroom door, I’d have to “go”, so the poly was only applied at night, just before bed.

Three coats later, I had a kitchen floor to be proud of.  The project was easy but time consuming. 




The kitchen has come a long way from this:


And the total to date?  $198.45

Considering I had more than $100 left to my budget, I made a pair of cafe style curtains ($2.99) and purchased a bamboo blind for the kitchen door ($22).

Robert and his friend Lew are building a cabinet/work surface to fit between the fridge and the stove, which is very very cool of them…and they work cheap, which fits my budget.

Some pictures on the wall and the kitchen will be complete.

I have, with the help of friends, created a pretty and functional kitchen on the cheap.  Just goes to show you what a little money and a whole lot of ingenuity will accomplish!

Yankee Ingenuity (Kitchen Facelift Under $300)

Progress on my kitchen has been slow but coming along nicely.  It doesn’t even look like the same room (for phase 1, click here.)

  Keeping the price tag to under $300 has been easy so far but the most recent project was an exercise in Yankee ingenuity.  The mission:  re-purpose an old blanket cabinet into an island of sorts to give added workspace closer to the stove.



The cupboard presented several problems:  it was 2 inches shorter than average counter height and the legs made the cupboard appear to “float” in the kitchen. 

Enter my friend Robert and his creative genius.

Robert raised the cupboard with some 1 x 4’s he had lying around which eliminated both issues in one fell swoop.  He attached the 1 x 4’s around the bottom of the cabinet, raising it the needed 2 inches and boxed in the legs to give the visual effect of the cupboard sitting solidly on the floor.

1x4's raised the cabinet to the needed height

1x4's raised the cabinet to the needed height

I purchased a bead board panel from the hardware store  ($31.49) and we attached it to the back side of the cabinet so it would visually flow with the existing cabinets in the kitchen.

I used an orbital sander to remove the old cherry stain from the top of the cabinet and found a very lovely red pine work surface underneath.  A few coats of polyurethane ($5.99) will ensure the work surface stays looking lovely.

I removed the hinges and knob from the cabinet doors, spray painted them satin black that I had left over from the switch plates and school house light and painted the cabinet the same Spanish Chestnut ($10.47) as the walls but used a high gloss for ease of cleaning.

An old blanket cabinet given new life

An old blanket cabinet given new life



Total to date on my kitchen face lift:  $166.45. 

But wait!  There’s more!

If you look at the top picture you’ll see the cabinet butted up against a wall.  That wall was a huge waste of space.  Look at the picture again and you’ll see the refrigerator kind of stuck in the corner. 

I think the wall was put up to hide a chimney and perhaps create an alcove of sorts for the fridge.  It didn’t work, it was wasted space and it had to go.

Enter Robert and his tool box again.  The idea was to gain space so the refrigerator could be turned to face the same direction as the stove (you know, just like everyone else’s kitchen). 

The wall came down and Robert used a scrap piece of sheetrock to close in the chimney.  I gained two more feet of usable space, we switched the hardware on the fridge so it would open on a right hand swing, and voila!

The  biggest project will be the floor.  I don’t have the resources (read “cash”) to put in a new one, so the peel and stick vinyl flooring is next on my hit list.  The room needs color and that’s where I intend to use it.

the floor

Next on the list: the floor

So until next time, be assured I’ll be in my Downeast paradise scheming up more ways to save a buck  ( a lot of bucks) and get what I want:  a functional and pretty kitchen for under $300.

Kitchen Face-lift (Under $300)

I love my home, I really do.  When I moved to Eastport 18 months ago I bought what a friend refers to as a “working man’s Victorian”.  No cupolas, turrets or round rooms vaguely reminiscent of towers. 

When you buy a house, you buy someone else’s taste and it takes time to make it your own.  I had been ignoring my kitchen for a full 18 months and knew the time had arrived for a face lift.

I couldn’t afford to tear it out and start over, so I challenged myself to make a pretty and functional room, fitting to the age and style of the house for under $300.

I had to think long and hard about the kitchen.  With five doors and two windows, it was a very busy room.  Add  green plaid wallpaper, fake pine panelling and a wagon wheel light suspended from the ceiling and it was clear to see I had my work cut out for me to rid the kitchen of what I call “1970’s chic”.

1970's chic

1970's chic

The most important part of my mission was to make the room less busy.  I had a plan but first things first:   the wallpaper had to come down.

Now nothing ever goes easy when your working around the house, especially if it’s an old house.  When I tore off the first sheet of green plaid wallpaper I began what amounted to an archaeological excavation. 

Under the first layer I found another layer of wallpaper and then another.  Hearts and ribbons that made me think “1980’s”, the orange, brown, yellow and avocado that screamed “1970’s”.  On and on it went until I discovered the wallpaper that must have been put up in the 1930’s.

I’m not sure but I think this may be a new Eastport record:  12, yes, 12 layers of wallpaper covered the walls of my kitchen. 

I recruited the help of my indomitable friend Rose who said she loves to wallpaper.  I went to Sherwin Williams and purchased two rolls of wall liner ($30).  Wall liner is meant to cover less than perfect walls and it did a decent job of covering up all the bits of Americana I couldn’t pry off.

Rose hanging wall liner

Rose hanging wall liner

Rose spent the day applying, adjusting, and perfecting the art of hanging wall liner and I had to listen to Rose insinuate my walls were less than square.  She’s a good sport, is Rosie.

The plan was simple:  make the room appear less busy.  I wanted all those doors, windows, and their casings to fade into the background where they belong. 

I decided to paint everything one color.  Spanish Chestnut, to be exact ($22).  It’s a good neutral color that stops way short of tan.  The panelling, doors, casings…everything one color.  

2/5 of the problem (doors, doors, doors!)

2/5 of the problem (doors, doors, doors!)

It’s really easy to paint when everything is painted the same color and easy is my idea of the best kind of home improvement project.

The wagon wheel light had been scaring me  since the day I moved in.  I’m an early riser and there’s nothing funny about flipping on your kitchen light at 4:30 a.m only to turn it off again because you can’t face starting the day looking at a wagon wheel taunting you from across the room.

What can I say?

What can I say?

The light simply had to go.

I knew what I wanted, I just wasn’t willing to pay $200+ for it.  Enter eBay.  I found an old school house light ($12.50) circa 1900 that had been removed from (you guessed it) an old school in Oregon.  A simple rewire and a can of black satin spray paint ($4) and the old girl was ready to serve again.

At $12.50 it's a steal

At $12.50 it's a steal

The same can of black spray paint worked like a charm to change all my plastic switch plate and outlet covers to a little more sophisticated look than the standard almond seemed to provide.

I convinced my pal Robert to construct a simple farmhouse bench ($50–but don’t tell Rose; I only took her out for supper. But  hey, it’s not my fault if she works for substandard wages).

Sometimes I’m not sure who’s more patient with me, Rose or Robert.  They have a way of listening carefully to my schemes and help make them happen.  They really are the best friends anyone could ask for.

So, I gave Robert $50 for the bench and it’s worth every cent of it.  I found similar benches at Target for the same money but wanted something handmade and a color of my choosing. 

Robert comes through again!

Robert comes through again!

I have to admit the monochromatic scheme of the kitchen freaked me out for a minute or two.  I found myself thinking, “what have I done?” but when I came out of my pantry and did a double take because it looked like a regular room, not a room loaded up with 5 doors, I knew my idea would work.

There’s still a long way to go, and I plan to keep you updated in one or two more installments. 

A checkboard floor, a  linen cupboard reborn as a kitchen island, window treatments, and more….all works in progress and all for under $300. 

For now though, I think I’d better wash the paint out of my hair and out of  Midge’s fur (please, don’t even ask).  But stay tuned; there’s more to come!