Greener “grass”

One perplexing aspect of home ownership at 2,350 feet is gardening. Only after about 10 years do I feel like I understand what grows at home at sea level in Berkeley (the answer: pretty much everything). But–and hold onto your seats, I’m going to get all super garden nerdy here–in an alpine-ish zone 2B (in the Sunset Western Garden Book) the planting cycles are shorter and winters gets (duh) much colder. Hopefully, the seasonality means fulfillment of our family cherry tree dreams, but it also makes for some complicated planting.

Add to the climactic difference the fact we won’t be there most of the time. We don’t want to have to water or mow when we’re gone, and we’d rather not pay someone much more than a few dollars a month to trim what needs to be trimmed.

Right now, most of the yard is lawn. By “lawn,” I mean dead grass that maybe got some water once upon a time, but was entirely brown when we visited in September and must certainly get tamped down by snow every winter anyway. So I’ve started surfing the Internet for lawn alternatives that take little water, can survive snow, and look nice, or at least nice-ish. No, not artificial turf.


This is the yarrow flower. The plant itself has lacy, low-lying leaves.

The best contender so far is yarrow. Yarrow grows in the wild in most western zones (and elsewhere), requires very little water, and–this is kind of weird, if you’re familiar with what the plant looks like–it can be mowed. Apparently, if you mow a field of yarrow once a month or so, you end up with a yard that looks like this–wild, but pretty.

Have any other high-altitude, low maintenance planting ideas? Please share. Our water bill and future neighbors appreciate it.

P.S.: In other news of the not-yet-real: we have photos! Our appraisal report came with some tiny, fuzzy photos in a PDF. I’ve not yet figured out how to extract them for your (dubious) pleasure–maybe screen capture?–but I promise a set of them soon, blurry or no.

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OK, I pledged that I would post to this blog every day in November. It’s the third day now, and ten to midnight, and I’ve been having a tiny dinner party.

So here’s my post for today: I pledge, here and now, that in the mountain house we will host many such fantastic, bourbon-filled, conversation-starting, politics-arguing dinner parties. Please come when we invite you. Thank you and good night.

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An inventory

As we approach closing (please, let me not jinx closing, now rescheduled for November 12), I’ve indulged myself in a little fantasy about my cupboards.

cabinet guts

I'm not proud of this.

Our real-life house–the one we bought in 2001 and live in now and will continue to occupy 90 percent of the time–is small by modern standards: three bedrooms, two baths, 1290 square feet. In fact, the mountain house is 78 square feet larger. And into this real-life house, we squeeze: one man, one woman, one acutely squirmy 7-year-old boy, one wildly tall 4.5-year-old girl, one tiny cat, and two chickens. (Actually, the chickens live outside, but they consume a few nano-particles of psychic energy in our home.) We are not small people.

Seven beings accumulate a shocking number of things in nine years–too many things. Our cupboards overfloweth with THINGS. For economic and ecological reasons–and to preserve my over-cluttered sanity–I want to move a good chunk of the THINGS to the mountain house.

Bonne Maman jam

These jam jars will be our drinking glasses--except, you know, without all that pesky jam. What can I say, we eat a lot of PB&J around here.

I’ve started a kitchen list of items to move–objects I have now and know I will need upstate:

  • French jam jars, 6 (to be used as tumblers)–an idea I stole from our friends Kath and Greg.
  • plates, 4
  • spatula, silicone
  • chefs knife, dull
  • saucepan, 1
  • saute pan, 1
  • casserole dishes, 5,002 (Seriously, I have so many of these. I don’t know why.)
  • plastic storage containers (replaced by a glass set at home)
  • wine glasses, motley
  • cereal bowls, 8 (Currently making these in a ceramics class. No promises that they’ll look nice.)
  • French blue tea cups, 6 (Purchased at a garage sale by my 7-year-old dude. He kills me.)

If I did a thorough inventory of my kitchen cabinets, I’m sure I’d find more THINGS to move to our northern kitchen. But if I were the kind of person to do a thorough inventory of my cabinets, I wouldn’t have so much extra crap, now would I?

So, here’s your homework. (I know! Ballsy, isn’t it, to ask all 12 of my readers to do homework?) Please leave a comment telling me what you think I absolutely must have in my new kitchen. I’m trying to be minimalist, here, but I also want to cook. Must I buy a new mixer? Can I live without steak knives? What’s your favorite all-purpose kitchen utensil. I could look on Unclutterer, sure–a fantastic blog by all accounts–but your ideas are much more fun.

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I had this big plan

NaBloPoMo badge

My stinkin' badge. Thanks, San.

This month, writers everywhere take up National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, in which hard-working, aspiring authors crank out a whole book in 30 days.

I have no such ambitions. I’m sticking to the simpler, spunkier (?) NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month. We don’t write; we post. Doesn’t that sound… easier? And while most NaBloPoMos involve a theme and writing something on that theme every day for a month, November is special: NO THEME. Even easier.

Don’t call me lazy yet. I had big plans for my first Mountain Project NaBloPoMo post–BIG plans. I promise. But then my home-team band of long-haired, thong wearing, fire-pitching SF Giants went and won this little ball game and won the freaking World Series. My kids banged pots and pans on the porch, the local paper turned orange, and my Facebook feed went nuts.

So I think I’ll write that epic post tomorrow.


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Wallpapering nooks (in my mind)

First things first: Today, two days before our original close date (Friday), we got our appraisal for the loan. Holy Mother of Bureaucracy, that took forever. Good news indeed comes to those who wait, though: The property appraised over the contract value. In other words, say we ended end up dead broke tomorrow due to unforeseen circumstances (knock on wood, etc.), we could theoretically sell the mountain house at a profit. We’d even make enough to buy a few bags of groceries.

And! And! The bank has already weatherized the house. No frozen pipes until we screw them up ourselves.

* * *

Enough practicality. Let’s keep focused on my long-distance relationship.

If I close my eyes and transport myself back to the Friday of Labor Day Weekend, I think I can remember what the dining room looks like. It is small–nookish, even–just an afterthought hanging off the back of the 1936 kitchen. A single chandelier of the Home Depot faux-brass variety hangs above. As in the rest of the house, walls are beige. But here we have a tiny variation: Wainscoting!

I suspect (and hope to be proven wrong) that the wainscoting is of the 1990s-plywood variety. But the white panels break up the beige and might nicely offset an application of my favorite new obsession: wallpaper. My childhood home features a lot of wallpaper, which I have always found quaint in that oh-look-what-was-fashionable-in-the-early-80s way. (Plaid! Ladybugs!) But now that design blogs everywhere are featuring wildly gorgeous wallpaper, I’m tempted to turn back time. Plus, I’m a sucker for color on walls.

For the entire kitchen/dining area, I’m aiming for a whimsical take on the early-midcentury kitchen. Like this, but new. In a fit of epic gun-jumping, I purchased a few Finnish plates (iittala Satumetsä Salad Plate) right after we put in our offer. They have a fun, woodland vibe that I want to extend, but not too literally:
Satumetsa Salad Plate
So without further ado: the wallpapers. Linked from Design*Sponge and manufactured by Norrköpings Tapetfabrik, this Swedish paper’s 1940s origins nod to our bungalow’s modest roots and would give the kids hours of hunting for visual treasures while they eat morning vacation pancakes:

Wallpaper Paradise

What a cheerful theme for the happiest room in the house.

Or maybe something bolder:

Romo Kimura

The unusual color here ("saffron") would keep the room bright.

This Osborne and Little “Howletts” wallpaper, another vintage print, marries orange and green in a combination I always fall for:

Osborne and Little Howletts

Will the birds meme look dated in five years?

What do you think? Are you going to tell me that I’m crazy and will spend my dotage scraping and steaming to get this mess off the walls? Take the poll below or leave me a comment.

P.S. Go Giants!

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In need of WD-40

If only a little spray grease could help us grease this deal’s wheels.

Sometime between when we bought our first house and put in the offer on our second, financing rules changed. (You may have heard about these changes–perhaps in the news, on the radio, or tattooed on the foreheads of all local, state, and federal politicians.) Post mortgage crisis, the Feds imposed some much-needed legal framework intended to ensure ethical loan writing. And while these rules will probably prevent future collapse of poorly packaged mortgage assets and whatnot, they are also a giant pain in our asses.

For instance: Loan agents and Realtors may no longer assign appraisers. Banks now assign appraisals to third-party appraisers, and because these appraisers don’t work for anyone truly connected to the sale, the Realtors and loan agents can’t pressure them to do their jobs in a timely fashion. This is how we ended up asking for an extension on our contract for this house, which–sniff–we were due to close on this Friday. But the appraisal still hasn’t happened (although we’ve heard some rumor that the blessed event will occur tomorrow).

freeze warning

Oh, crap.

At this point, we’re staring down the barrel of a mid-November close. Temperatures in Dunsmuir yesterday reached a high of 41, and as much as I love hearing Tim’s constant, low-level muttering about frozen pipes not yet ours to lovingly blanket in foam insulation, I wouldn’t mind another topic of conversation.

P.S. Apologies for the distinct lack of photographic of our future (!?) house. We saw the place in such a hurry, we forgot to take snapshots. If this appraiser hops to and it all works out as planned, I’ll have a complete photo tour by Thanksgiving. In the meantime, please accept an offering of this aerial view of Dunsmuir. Isn’t it cute and fuzzy and green?

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Don Draper wants his loveseat back

Day 15 of escrow on a house you barely remember feels a little like your second week of a romance with a boy you met and made out with on a plane, then promised to keep in touch with. (Not that I would have done something like that in high school. Ahem.) You’re all fizzy with adoration and anticipation of another meeting, but when you really, really think about it, you’re not sure you remember whether he had hazel eyes, or maybe blue, and come to think of it, he did smell a little funny…

So I’ve been keeping myself busy fantasizing about decorating the house. Even if my long-distance lover smells a little funny when I see him again, at least I can dress him up with some truly fabulous window treatments.

The plan, so far, is to do our best to furnish the not-yet-ours Dunsmuir house with stylish-yet-budget items. A second mortgage–even a relatively small one–makes each shopping trip that much more indulgent. I started by downloading a fancy craigslist iPhone app (I think it works better than the craigslist website.) and frantically searching for bunk beds. I haven’t secured the bunks yet, but I did get a full-size cherry bed for $50.

loveseat before

Don Draper wants his loveseat back.

The gods of Berkeley’s curbside giveaways must like my plan and delivered up a mid-century, hideously upholstered but fabulously built loveseat, officially covered in early ’60s burnt orange. (I call it “Don Draper’s office orange.” A friend dubbed it a “loveseat with boundaries.” )

I found this puppy free on the sidewalk while driving around on a Saturday morning, then spent the rest of the weekend bruising my fingertips on a first-time upholstery project for a home I’m not yet totally sure I will actually own. Figuring that $20 in Ikea yardage made a pretty good price for the seat, I set to work. Once Tim and I tore apart the seat, finally figuring out how this thing fit together, I ran out to a fabric store to buy 2 yards of high-density foam. Eighty (eight. zero.) dollars later, the real work began. Eighty dollars!? I’m sure the seat would cost much more brand new, but man. No wonder it costs so much to have a professional reupholster something.

Over the course of the weekend, I discovered some upholstery secrets. Spray glue and headless nails come in handy for a project like this, and the best tool to cut $80 foam is an electric turkey carver. Oh, also, if you plan to Scotch Guard your finished project, remember to have removed all Sharpie lines from the underlying foam. It turns out that soaking even color-fast fabric in Scotch Guard wicks up the ink left on foam below, staining your fabric. Let’s discuss the irony of fabric stained by the stain-proofing process. And please, don’t look too closely at the front of the lefthand seat.

Here’s the finished project, plus some shots from along the way. Even if the house falls through for some reason, I think I’ll keep the chair.

Loveseat after inside

Don Draper doesn't know what to think of his baby blue, Alpine-themed love seat. But times, they are a-changing.

Posted in How-to, Interior design | 1 Comment