Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Jacob's Ladder

The smell of ozone hung heavy in the air. It was silent except for the crackling and popping of a Jacobs Ladder, its flames dancing up the wires. Bent over the table in the center of the chamber was a figure like none I'd ever seen before. Tall, thin and wearing a filthy lab coat and bloody gloves he was working feverishly with a saw........

I promised I'd show you our Jacob's Ladder so here it is. (It's those two bits of white flame between the pumpkins.) Let me explain how it is made. In our business we use transformers to excite the neon in outdoor signs. The transformer turns 120 volts into 12,000 volts causing the electricity to jump quite a distance. So by taking an old transformer, attaching some coat hanger wire to the leads and bending them close together, then up and slightly further apart we can cause the current to zig zag its way up the wires just like Frankenstein's lab. THIS IS DANGEROUS! If you make one, NEVER leave it unattended, use in well a ventilated area, unplug it and allow it to cool every half hour, and NEVER let anyone touch it. In fact, don't even get close to it while it's on. It's my idea of a really cool Halloween decoration: spooky, dangerous and a touch of weird science.


Here is Teen2's costume. She is Edward Elric from Full Metal Alchemist.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Faux Painting

I'm just so faux sometimes. I like everything to look old, but of course everything in my house is sort of new, so I just faux paint stuff. Like these light fixtures from Home Depot. They were shiny black and so new. By the way, those spider webs are not poor housekeeping, they are Halloween decorations. Anyway, I just sponged on some dark grey, medium grey and blueish grey, and there you go, instant age.

And our address sign was all clean and new before I got to it. Now is has lichen and dirt and looks just perfect. Actually I think some of that is dirt and green stuff that falls off the oak trees.

I faux paint furniture too. This is our chalkboard in the kitchen. Hubby made the frame out of some bland wood and I made it look like ancient pine. First I scratched it with an ice pick and poked some worm holes in it. Then I wiped on different shades of brown, gold, and yellow. Finally I used some Ralph Lauren antiquing glaze, and put a coat of wax over it. I really does look old, doesn't it?

This is a wall in our Library. The photo doesn't do it justice. I actually looks like leather. First we painted the walls a deep red. Then we used the antiquing glaze again and working in small sections, applied Saran wrap to the wet glaze. After patting it into the paint, we peeled it off and it left this gorgeous mottled pattern. I just love the irregularity and depth of this technique.

I also faux painted this little castle/fort in our backyard. The girls played in it a lot when they were younger, but now High School is taking them in different directions.

And when we first bought this house, the kitchen had horrid wallpaper, so I just painted it all off white, drew 9"x 18" stone blocks, and sponged on some grey, beige, tan, and white, painted the cracks with dark grey, and we suddenly had stone walls. It's a little dark in this photo, and the kitchen has since been all redone, but I really enjoyed it for a few years.

So here's my theory: If life hands you tatty wallpaper, faux paint it!

Sunday, October 28, 2007


We like to eat, really we do, but we just may have to give it up. I just got back from the grocery store and I spent $236.89! And this is all I have to show for it. What could have cost so much? It couldn't have been these vegetables.

Maybe it was all this meat?

This stuff? Ohhhhh, maybe it was this bag, but Wednesday is Halloween and we needed candy, and uh, we needed champagne?

Oh wow, maybe it was this stuff.

Look at that! It looks like an ad for Dreyers.

But the good part is I won't have to go to the store for a whole week. And the root cellar is stocked.

And all this rubbish was cleared out.

And the pantry shelves are full.

And we're ready for Halloween here Amongst The Oaks.

Saturday, October 27, 2007


I promised I'd show you some of my dishes, so last night I played with table settings. These are my very first dishes ever; Noritake Parkridge. You know, the "wedding gift dishes". I remember going to Pardini's when I was only 18 and selecting these, wondering where and when and with whom these fancy dishes would ever be used. But here they are many meals and 34 years later, still loved and used.

These dishes, Spode's Tower Pink, belonged to Hubby's Nana. The whole family enjoys them, not only for their beauty, but for the stories associated with them. One favorite is when Nana was tired after dinner and asked her husband to wash up. He said, "Fine" and proceeded to throw all the dishes away, breaking several. That old school male chauvinist was never asked to wash up again! Luckily plates were found to replace the broken ones.

Here are the dishes I selected for our sailboat Tilly Whim. It was a beautiful 1947 Laurent Giles designed sloop that we lived aboard for a couple of years BC (before children). We painted it cream colored with green trim and mahogany cabins. These Mikasa Capistrano dishes looked lovely on the little table and proved to be tough enough to take the constant bashing. I still use them in the fall.

These are plain white with a little gold rim. They can be dressed up or down and are very versatile. Here they are dressed up for a fancy fall dinner. You saw them two weeks ago at the Oktoberfest dressed down for outdoor dining.

I got these Johnson Brothers Summer Chintz at an estate sale. My sister has some of these and I had always admired them, so when I saw them I snapped them up a quickly as I could;they were only $30.00. They have a few chips, but I don't mind. I especially like the square salad plates and little square cereal bowls. I think these will go in the guest house when it's finished.

These Noritake Grandeur came from an estate sale too. They are so delicate and beautiful I just couldn't pass them up. Alas, I don't have a full set and they are no longer manufactured, but they are available on Ebay.

I got these especially for my mother's birthday parties. Her birthday was February 14th and I always did pink and white with roses. I can't look at these dishes without thinking of my Mom.

These are my Christmas Eve/Boxing Day soup bowls. We always have a luminary party on Christmas Eve, and soup allows me to join in the festivities outdoors, so I got these at Target one year. I saw the plates there last week and I think I'll get those this year too. Oops, there goes my dishaholism again.

These are my everyday dishes from World Market. They have lots of colors so they look equally good on green, red or yellow tablecloths. We don't have any serving pieces though, so we use different platters. Which we collect. Too many of. Oops, there I go again! I'll have to show you those now, won't I?

If you've slogged all the way through this, I sincerely thank you. Aha! You must be a dishaholic too!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Big Remodel Phase II

Another page in our home's transformation into an English Cottage....

After the Holidays the contractor started the exterior plastering, but first Hubby built and applied the faux door surround to the front porch and the tall attic vents for the gable ends. Then the chimney pots arrived and the masons applied them and the stone to the chimneys. I still love the look of those three characters up there. No, not the masons, the chimney pots! Then Hubby started installing all the rain gutters. We had these custom manufactured at a local sheet metal shop and hubby fit them and soldered all the joints. He is so smart.Then the exciting/messy plastering began. The crew did a good job, but what a digusting mess they left everywhere! Bits of sharp wire, soupy washout, sand, and even their lunch wrappers were piled everywhere. And guess who was the official job site janitor? Me of course. Every afternoon I'd come home from work and start raking up and dumping the mess. But the house was actually starting to look finished on the outside. And while skilled workers were building my home, I was faux painting it. Here I am working on some of it.

Meanwhile the drywall was finished inside, the bathroom was tiled, doors were hung, and carpet was installed. We laid the over 800 sq. ft. of floor tiles, but it went pretty quickly because they are 16" square.

Finally sometime in August, the house was completed enough to get our permit signed off. We were finally "approved for occupancy". Pretty funny considering we'd been living in the house the whole time. But we finally had the inspectors and contractors out of our home. Now we could begin the custom work on the inside; the mouldings, cabinets and architectural details that would make our house into our dream cottage here Amongst The Oaks.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Creepy Stuff

We've put out a few more Halloween decorations. We prefer the realistic, creepy decorations rather than the colorful inflatable things that are popular now. So we have tombstones, spiders, rats, pots of fire, skulls and gargoyles. These pots of fire are actually orange lights shining up onto silky fabric shaped like flames. A little fan blows the fabric around and it looks just like flames. I wish I'd bought several, but I only have two. I think it looks wonderfully Medieval. We made these tombstone out of styrofoam. Ages ago when we had a wild Halloween party we made tombstones for many of the attendees. Mine said, "A Small Fortune Lies Buried Here" and had an X like on a pirate map. I wish I still had that one too.

Here's our front window. See the cat next to the Celtic tombstone? It's the most perfectly well behaved cat ever because it's fake. On Halloween night we'll put the Jacob's Ladder here. And what, you ask, is a Jacob's Ladder? It's a cool thing Hubby made out of an old transformer. Think shades of Frankenstein's laboratory. I'll show you that closer to Halloween.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Bird Watching

It's a birder's paradise here Amongst The Oaks. Not only do we live on the Pacific Flyway so we get plenty of visiting birds throughout the year, but our little ecosystem beneath the oaks maintains a special year-round bird population. We always have Acorn Woodpeckers, Red Shafted Flickers, Sparrows, Finches, and Crows. Also Hummingbirds, Jays, Robins, Doves, and Starlings. My favorites are the Anna's Hummingbirds. In June of this year we found a nest with two tiny eggs in it and watched them as they hatched, grew and flew away all within 45 days. The photo above shows the two babies the day before they left the nest. It was getting a little crowded, wasn't it? Just yesterday a hummingbird hovered 2' from my head with its magenta throat glinting in the sun. It didn't seem afraid of me; I wonder, was that one of our babies?

Another of my favorites is the Mockingbird. Very early in the mornings they can be heard running through their repertoire and if you watch long enough, you'll see them fly up into the air a few feet and then settle back down, singing all the while. It seems to me they just can't contain their enthusiasm for life. I also enjoy seeing Mourning Doves snuggling on the power lines, they seem so faithful to their mates. Another attractive bird here is the Robin. They frequently gather on the wet lawns searching for worms, but must compete with non-native Starlings. I find the Starlings annoying; they've adapted too well and there are now large groups of them chattering and waddling where the robins used to feed.

Another common resident, not necessarily one of my favorites, is the Western Scrub Jay. They seem bold and pushy to me. They will often dive down squawking an alarm just to scare the robins away. A pair nested in our climbing rose once and hatched four eggs, but the babies left the nest before they could fly and I'm afraid they ended up as kitty breakfast. One year a particularly bold jay took to hopping about on our patio table while we were using it. We had to be careful because it stole small items like pencils. Then it started coming in the kitchen through the open door. I made the mistake of feeding it to get this photo, and then it really became a nuisance. See what I mean about bold and pushy?

During the winter several species make their way through our area. One winter our persimmon tree was inundated with Cedar Waxwings. It was a beautiful sight to see their colorful forms among the bare branches. They stayed for several days eating every last bit of fruit off that tree, then they were gone. Ruby Crowned Kinglets and Dark Eyed Juncos spend some time in our garden every winter too. Their fluttering and chirping is always a welcome addition to our winter garden. To help me identify these seasonal visitors I use Cornell's site. Their recordings are fabulous for positive identification.

Our high flying predators are Barn Owls, Great Horned Owls, Red Tailed Hawks, Swainson's Hawks and Cooper's Hawks. The owls eat pesky rodents, but it's common to see songbirds harrassing the hawks because they eat their young. By walking only a few blocks, I can see Phoebes, Kingfishers, Barn Swallows, and Geese around the sloughs and man-made lakes. With a trip to the marina we can easily see Turkey Vultures, Herons, Bitterns, Mallards, and Coots. A friend of ours is re-establishing Wood Ducks along a creek near his home. Venturing into the surrounding farmland we can see Red Winged Blackbirds, Ring Necked Pheasants, Meadowlarks, Killdeer, and California Quail. If we venture further afield, we can easily see migrating Swans, Sandhill Cranes, Egrets and Geese. We make a point of visiting these Sandhill Cranes every winter. I've always enjoyed watching birds, how 'bout you?

Monday, October 22, 2007

House Names

Throughout England most older houses have names. The English are totally accustomed to it but most Americans don't understand how you could write: Meldon View, Chagford, Devon, TQ13 8AR on a letter and it would actually arrive at your friend's house! But it works and has worked for ages. We've visited homes called The Hazelton, Tipton, Barnsmuir, and The Lodge. And here are some interesting names from my latest issue of The English Home: The Old Bakehouse, Cosy Cot, Bucks Cottage, Broomhill Cottage, Stoneleigh Hall, Eller House, Eversea House, The Old School House, Field Cottage, Middle Ord Manor House, The Old Vicarage, Horton Hall, Clifton Lawn and Wood Norton Hall. I like the mental images they create for me and just love the concept of naming one's home.

When we decided to build an English style house we knew we'd have to name it so we kicked around lots of ideas. Often an English house name will reflect a natural feature of the land or some previous use of the building. So we discussed the oak trees on our property, our valley location, and the views of the nearby mountains, but we kept coming back to the oak trees. We live under Valley Oaks also known as Quercus lobata, so we tried The Oaks, Twin Oaks, and Heritage Oaks. The Valley Oak is said to be the monarch of the white oaks, so we then tried Oak Manor, but "Manor" seemed a bit too grand for our home so we came up with White Oak Hall. When hubby carved it into the mantelpiece in the Library it became official and now we are known as White Oak Hall, but don't try to post a letter to us using "White Oak Hall" because the postman has no idea where that is! But we know it's a cozy little place nestled here Amongst The Oaks.

Sunday, October 21, 2007


Teen2 and I were so totally awed by Erica's mice we just had to try to make some little felt thing. Our craft store only has that awful polyester felt in garish colors. We bought some of it, but it just wasn't right. Then we got lost in blogland and found out how to make felt, so we tried that and WOW, what fun! We were able to get the exact color she wanted. Here's the little character she made. It's a Picori, something from the Legend of Zelda, hangs with Link I think. She's a great craft buddy, and often has way more patience than I do. Great job Teen2!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Spa Day

Hubby and I celebrated our anniversary today at the Spa. First we had an elegant lunch and a bottle of wine. Then we had the Swedish massage. It was fabulous to forget about everything else and simply relax and be pampered. We really ought to do this more often. Sigh. I can't write any more because I'm just too relaxed.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Big Remodel Phase I

...or another page in how we turned this house into a proper English Cottage.

I spents weeks going over and over the plans making adjustments, refinements, and corrections. We first submitted them to the City on July 6th and after a month they were returned for corrections. We re-submitted them and FINALLY on September 5th they were approved. While the City had the plans we had been busy arranging financing and hiring a general contractor who would allow us to do some of the work on the house ourselves. We also packed most of our furniture into a storage shed, rented a giant dumpster, and moved plants away from the construction zone. We were finally ready. It was time for the Big Remodel.

So early one Saturday morning we literally took a Sawzall (bless the inventor of that miracle!) and started cutting the little red house into manageable chunks and stacking them into the dumpster. I'm sure the neighbors thought we'd gone mad and at times I did too, but we persevered and in a fortnight only one third of the house was left standing. You could see all the way to the back fence where the living room and dining room used to be. We left two bedrooms, a bathroom, the laundry room and the kitchen untouched. We continued to live in those rooms for several months but the absurdity of walking out of the bedroom hall and into a construction site was sometimes startling. Since there was no connection between the bedroom area and kitchen area we really had no choice.

By October the general contractor was pouring new sections of foundation and framing up new walls. The new walls were made taller so they would come out even with the old walls plus the old flat roof. We set the roof trusses on these taller walls in some areas and on the old roof in other areas. It was an exciting day when the trusses arrived and the roof began to take shape. Then the windows were installed and the exterior walls sheathed in plywood.

By December the house was all sheathed and roofed and we had a new walkway to the front porch. We had no wallboard, tile or carpet in the new area, but we set up a tree in the new front window and celebrated our newly found privacy along with Christmas.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

California's Second Spring

We have an interesting phenomenon here in California's Central Valley. After summer's heat abates and we get a little rain the flowers start popping out again as if it were Spring. Look what I found in my garden this past week. This "Second Spring" usually lasts until about mid November when the first cold spell hits and the tender annuals are killed, but the roses can sometimes bloom into December. It's also a favorite time for planting everything from lawns to shrubs. It doesn't last long but isn't it nice while it lasts?