Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Dining Room Update

I realize that I haven't written a real update in... practically forever. So I thought I'd just jump in and let you know how things stand in the dining room.

You know I've been working on this room for a while, and its still not finished, but when we started, it looked like this.

As you recall, we added a chandelier back in October, and then just waited it out. I needed to know how I really felt about this wide pine plank "wainscoting". And here is the really terrible truth... I couldn't stand it. It was stained a dark brownish color, which prevented you from really seeing the grain. It also hid a crazy amount of mold that accumulated during last summer's endless humidity wave. Additionally, this room is on the north side of the house and is incredibly dark. I decided to just paint it all white. Well, linen white technically speaking. 

After three coats of shellac and three coats of linen white, the room was already much brighter. I felt guilty for the longest time about painting the trim because it is true to the historic character of the house, but I took solace in the fact that I could walk around the corner into our office to see more pine planks if I really wanted to. So the next step was paint selection for the walls. This was also a tough decision to make... I really liked Sherwin William's "Smoky Blue" but then I painted a swatch on the wall and felt scared... it was such a bold color and I didn't know if I could handle it. But facebook voted...

And I still wasn't sure. So I told the guy at Sherwin Williams (who knows me on a first name basis) to just pick a color. 

He went with Smoky Blue. 

Once I finally had done allllll of that painting (it was ridiculous) I decided to get rid of my table and chairs and acquire something new. As you may have guessed by now, there is something wrong with me that causes me to take on endless projects. The new table and chairs were much of the same -- endless. 

I began stripping the table first, that was the quick part. 

I really liked how the wood looked completely naked and I tried many different methods to see if I could get it to stay that way. Wax, "white wash" stain, etc. All that ended up happening with those methods is that I made more work for myself and had to strip it back down when I wasn't happy with the result... again.

This photo doesn't look that bad, but it was much more white-orange in person, like that classic 1980's look that everyone has come to hate in the 2000's. It was a fail.

The search continued as I decided I couldn't really leave it naked or light colored because the yellow hue of the oak would find a way to shine through. I experimented with different stains and finally settled on a combination of half "weathered oak" and half "classic grey".

With the stain and poly complete, it was time to tackle the chairs. Oh... the chairs. 

First, I cleaned them with a cleaner that also contained a deglosser. But I'm never one to skip the proper steps, so I sanded them down and then washed them again. By this point in the dining room overhaul process, it was May, and nice enough to set up my paint tent once again and paint gun these bad boys. 

As you can see, the chairs had other plans. These photos were taken after three, yes, three coats of primer. They just flat out rejected the paint. Not interested. Chalk this up as fail # 2. Realizing my only option was to sand these down AGAIN and then do a coat of shellac, the old fashioned way (with a brush... like some sort of Neanderthal) I groaned and moaned and whined like a baby, then finally, sucked it up and did the shellacking. 

I'm fairly certain that I will be buying an additional gun that I can use exclusively for oil-based products moving forward. The problem with old woods rejecting water-based paint is common enough that I know what to do when it happens, so odds are good I will have to do it again sometime. A gun would really streamline the process. 

After all of this, I was finally able to paint the chairs the linen white that I wanted them. So, let's talley the painting that went into the photo below.... 

3 coats of shellac on pine
3 coats of paint on shellacked pine
2 coats of Smoky Blue
2 coats of misguided stain (later stripped)
1 coat of the correct stain
3 coats of poly
3 coats of primer on chairs
1 coat of shellac on chairs
1 coat of paint on chairs

In the photo directly above you can see that I rearranged the room a bit to accommodate a very large seagrass rug generously given to me by a friend/co-worker/boss' daughter. It has a navy blue border which works perfectly . 

With the room painted, furnished and trimmed with a rug and curtains, it's looking pretty good. We're still missing out on some wall art, but I'll leave you with the sight for my source of inspiration. 

Good chat. 

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Everglades and Biscayne: Day 3 & 4

Day 3: Sunday, March 2, 2014

By the time Day 3 rolled around, we were practically professional waffle-makers. The hotel we stayed at had a pretty serious free breakfast, which included the ability to make your own Belgian waffles. Since we only had a 15 minute drive to our activity in Biscayne National Park, we took a leisurely pace with breakfast. Had we known just how long it would take to launch said activity, we could have stayed for lunch.

Biscayne National Park is actually a fairly new park. It was a National Monument for years before finally gaining park status in 1980. Something like 90% of the park is underwater, so it was pretty unfortunate that the only concessionaire allowed to rent boats and operate scuba tours within the confines of the park had an expired contract. Just another example of the government dropping the ball. The busiest season for the park is November - May... the contract expired in September. When we visited in March, 99% of the park was not accessible.

Not a bad spot for a ranger station

The ONE method for exploring a small portion of the park was a ranger-led canoe/kayak trip. In this instance, the canoes and kayaks are owned by the park, and are free for anyone participating in the trip. Because Biscayne National Park is practically in Miami, there are many efforts made to engage some of the city-dwellers to enjoy the park free of charge. You can host BBQs and other events at the Visitor's Center, you can take a free kayak trip with a ranger, and there is no fee to enter the park. The hope is that by engaging local residents, they will create park advocates who will love and support other parks. My opinion is that they are bleeding money, and should minimally charge a $5 entrance fee.

We had enjoyed our kayak trip so much on day 2 that I had high hopes for this trip. We were slated to begin at 10, so Dan and I made sure we arrived early this time. After "checking-in" with the ranger (who seriously must have had some sort of learning disability) we waited nearly two hours before putting our kayak in the water. Not kidding.

It was honestly the most inefficient thing I have ever seen. First, the ranger hemmed and hawed for an hour (literally, an hour) about how many people she could take out on the trip. I don't understand why this was such an issue... if you have the kayaks to take 20 people, then that is what you can accommodate, no more and certainly no less if you have 20 people interested.

When it was finally decided that we could in fact take all 20 people, we began the boating safety instruction. At this point, it was nearly 11:30, and I was starving. When we finally got on the water at noon, it had been so long since our arrival, that you couldn't even be mad. It was one of those things where the delay and snags are so insane, you become a little loopy and start laughing at everything.

Blue crab, the most exciting thing we saw on our trip

Once on the water, several of the 20 in our party worked hard to learn how to maneuver a kayak, as this was their first experience. We were able to spend our hour on the water moving a grand total of about 500 yards. Sadly, we did not get to explore any of the keys included in the park, we did not get to scuba and we spent a very frustrating three hours not doing much of anything, and certainly not learning anything we didn't already know.

As far as I could tell, the ranger (who later explained that she had been at Biscayne National Park for 3 years) was hired exclusively to cater to the local population by her ability to speak Spanish. I can only imagine how many rangers would kill to be in Biscayne, especially in the winter. Presumably, all of the other rangers would be far more knowledgeable and faster moving.

So after our huge disappointment of a morning, we returned to the hotel to sit by the pool. As I've mentioned several times, relaxing is not really my thing. I was able to sit out for about an hour and a half before deciding I would go out for a drive to some of the nurseries we had passed on our drive to the Gulf the previous day. Driving the mini-van around I had to stop for gas and was delighted to walk into the station and discover a frozen coffee machine akin to the Slurpee machines found in gas stations at home. I filled up a cup and paid the $1.17 or whatever it was, and reveled in my cheap frozen coffee. After giving it a little bit of thought, I decided it was probably for the best that we did not have such machines at home... frozen coffee is not light is calories.

I drove out quite a ways until I came across the nursery that I wanted to explore. Unfortunately, it was Sunday at 5:00 and everything was closed. So I returned to Homestead, did a little quick shopping at Kohls for flip flops (how does one forget to pack flip-flops when traveling to Miami?) and polarized sunglasses for Dan.

This super-exciting day featured a similarly super-exciting dinner: Dairy Queen for me and Domino's for Dan. We ate in our separate hotel beds and watched movies. Yeah, it was a little lame but hey, not every day can be exciting.

On Day 4, I got up before Dan and ate breakfast by myself. I spent the morning at Issac Farms, as discussed in detail here. We then spent a few hours by the pool before heading back to the airport and getting on a plane to return to a solid temperature of 0 degrees F. New England really knows how to welcome you home.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Everglades Day 2

Day Two: Saturday, March 1, 2014

We had to wake up really early on Day Two to be able to drive out to the Gulf Coast in time for our 10:00 a.m. kayak tour. I think we left the hotel by 8:00 a.m. I still ended up flying down the Tamiami Trail, cursing the local area industry (farming) for its slow-moving Saturday workforce. I did enjoy passing all of the nurseries though, as was evidenced by my return to Isaac Gardens not once, but twice. The road that connects the eastern and western portions of the park also runs through Big Cypress Natural Preserve, which is about as stereotypical FL swamp as it gets! I do wish we had a little more time to explore that particular area, but the schedule for Day Two was pretty tight.

Finally arriving at the Gulf Coast part of the Everglades, we rushed around to get our tandem kayak rented, apply bug spray and sunscreen and check-in to our ranger-led kayak trip. Did I mention that my boss, Lucinda, was also there? As it turned out, we both planned to be in Florida at the same time... they stayed in Marco Island and we were in Homestead. I suggested that she and her husband Tom join us for the kayak tour of the Ten Thousand Islands. They greeted us as we hustled around (late - as usual).

Within 10 minutes of our arrival we were out on the water, trying to figure out how to paddle together. You can surely imagine the challenge involved in that escapade! As we worked our way against the breeze we were able to get across the bay to our first little stop. The tide had gone out on the "3 sisters" or "3 witches" little tiny cluster of mangrove trees that was called an "island". Our ranger - Andrew - told us a little bit about the wildlife that he asked us to turn up. Mostly crabs, starfish and other microscopic sealife. The area that we were in was all saltwater coming from the Gulf, unlike most of the Everglades which consists of freshwater coming down (slowly) from Lake Ocochobee. The ranger's assistant - I think his name was John - appeared to be aggravated by our very existence, which became a great joke as the day wore on.

Dan preparing to walk on the 3 Sisters 

Andrew offers instructions

3 Sisters

I forget what this is, but its alive.

3 sisters, tide out. When the tide is it, you can't see the orange branches of the Mangroves

Dan explored

many different sized hermit crabs
Pushing away from the 3 sisters, we began to navigate many small channels of "islands" consisting of mangrove trees and the silt and shells they collect under their unique tentacle-like roots.  We had to stop for a few minutes to wait for one of the couples who joined us in a canoe. As it turned out, they had no clue how to operate it! Meanwhile the husband, also named Dan, had lost his glasses at our first stop and had tried to return and find them with the assistance of reluctant Ranger John. Andrew and the rest of our group of pale northerners waited in a cluster of mangroves, trying to find some sort of shade to hide us from the hot tropical sun.

our "shady" spot

As we waited, Andrew told us about some of the wildlife in the park, including one particular type of bird. Apparently, this bird spends an insane amount of time picking out a stick. This stick needs to be the Mary Poppins of sticks (practically perfect in every way) because he is going to present it to his lady bird. If she accepts his offering, they will use the stick to build their nest together and will remain monogamous for life. If however, the stick is found wanting, she rejects him by hitting him over the head with said stick. Seems a little harsh, but if you're going to make it the corner stone of your nest, it needs to be a good stick, right? So as it turned out, our "Uncle Fred" bird from Day 1 was actually just a man in love. Adorable.

Lucinda and Tom

Can you see the creepy tree crabs?

us, having fun!
Ranger John and his compadres finally showed up, with Dan in a single kayak and John in the canoe with Dan's wife. This was all very hilarious to me because Dan, a Vietnam Vet wearing a Harley Davidson tank top, didn't strike me as the kind of guy who liked to admit that he needed help with his canoe. Our group continued the tour learning more about the area and ecosystems as we paddled along. Just when my Dan and I finally seemed to figure out the whole tandem kayak thing, we stopped on another island for lunch. This island - Sand Fly Island - was actually once inhabited by Seminole Indians. We explored on a short trail for a little bit before finishing lunch. As we all got back in the kayaks I had another laugh at Veteran Dan's expense. He was slowly lowering himself into his single kayak and slowly just tipped over. It was honestly in slow motion, I don't know how he wasn't able to stop it from happening.

Flock o' Birds

Sand Fly Island

sandfly island on google maps
Within a half hour, we were back on shore returning our kayak. We bid goodbye to my boss Lucinda and her husband Tom and got back in the car to head east. The guided tour was really informative, it moved at a quick pace and it was a bit of a workout. Dan and I both ended up with blisters on our thumbs and slightly sore arms the next day, but overall, it was a great experience that was well worth the $45 it cost us to rent a kayak for the 4 hours.

Our next stop was Shark Valley and the lookout tour which is as close to the true middle of the park as you can get. We arrived just in time to hop on the 3:00 tram tour which brings you the 7 miles to the tower. Alternatively, you could rent a bike and ride out - but there is NO shade, and very little breeze. Plus, alligators EVERYWHERE. I'm just not cool with being that close to a wild animal with the jaw strength of 2000 PSI. Plus, under the roof of the tram we enjoyed a little shade and the breeze created by riding around at 10 MPH. Our guides pointed out all kinds of wildlife and gave us some of the fun facts that I already shared with you. It was another nice experience, and certainly recommended. I believe our tickets were about $15 each, so it was fairly inexpensive and we got some great pictures - Including the one below of the alligators laying across the walkway to the tower. Trying to get around them was NOT an experience I enjoyed. Although I guess now I can brag that I escaped being eaten from an alligator... right?

waiting to eat me...


pink spoonbill 

view from the Tower

look at all of the fish!

Full size alligators = super scary

This guy looks like he is smiling, right?
The pink spoonbill actually gets the distinct pink color from the amount of shrimp it eats. No kidding! Looks like this one was a real shrimp glutton

seeing these gators walk is seriously the creepiest thing
Momma and babies

baby Anhingas

Snowy Egret - the bird that first brought the Everglades into the limelight. In the early 1900's poachers would kill the Egrets for their feathers (they were worth more per ounce than gold because fashionable ladies like to wear them in their hats). The plumes only develop on female egrets who just laid eggs. John Lacey (a congressman) brought the issue of protecting the area and the birds before the Senate.

After it was over we piled back in the minivan and drove the rest of the way to Homestead. Dinner was had at a nearby Olive Garden, and our experience resembled the first night. We were both shocked to discover that service could be so poor in such an obviously busy and developed area. Was this their first night as a restaurant... ever? This turned into a 2 hour affair in which we both left disappointed and dissatisfied with our meals. We vowed to get takeout on Day 3.