Lucky Horseshoe

My family hikes a lot.

One day near the beginning of July, not long after my mother’s memorial service and after a few weeks of gorging ourselves on sympathy food, I got fed up (so to speak) and suggested that we find a woodsy park where we could take the dog for a walk.  We’ve been hiking once a week ever since — 85 miles total by my Runkeeper records!

We find all kinds of interesting things while hiking.  Not just snakes and bees and freaky fungi, although they certainly make appearances.  This past weekend Dad spotted a 105 year-old dime.  We got pretty excited about it until we googled and found out that a Barber dime that has been sitting in a field for a century is worth about $4.  Not gonna pay for a post-hike dinner.

Two weeks ago, I spotted this thing in the dirt near what may have been an old farmyard back in the day, but is now a weirdly desolate part of the Wissahickon Valley Park:

An ancient horseshoe!  Who knows how long this thing had been sitting around.  Perhaps as long as the dime?  Parts of it were nearly rusted through, but I like rusty old things (and horses, of course!), so I took it home where I could attack it with some vinegar and a steel bristle brush.

This was the night, for those of you who follow me on Twitter, that I ended up putting my iPhone through the washing machine.  So I’m a little suspicious of this “horseshoes are lucky” thing, but I mounted it above a doorway anyway.  This is the correct position, right?  I was told I hung it upside down the first time.  I am a bad luck magnet.

Work, little horseshoe!  Win mama the money she needs to finish those baseboards already!

48-second gift

I owe you some house updates, but I wanted to share a different sort of project first. This past weekend, a very dear friend of mine married her awesome fiancé in a really sweet, fun ceremony at a nature conservancy in Maryland (congrats, guys!).

Flash back a few months: I was debating what to give the couple as a gift, and the bride suggested that I go off-registry and make something by hand. This is kind of a tricky proposition — as well as you know someone, it can be difficult to narrow in on the style of art she would appreciate in her (and her husband’s!) home. So I thought it might be best to focus on something classic, nature-based, and calming.

My inspiration for the piece came as I was editing photographs for this post. In one of my shell dishes I have a lone cluster of seed pods, plucked from the sidewalk not far from my house. I love the shape of these pods. They have a form that reminds me of a tulip just beginning to open. Their structure implies action — a promise that something good will be arriving.

I started to picture a field of them, reaching up from long stems, almost as though they were flowers emerging from a morning fog.  They don’t grow this way in nature, of course, but that’s why we have such a thing as artistic license.  I think you win one of those after you’ve spent 4 years sketching ugly ceramic pots on rumpled sheets.

I gathered a bunch of additional pods over the course of a few days, and began to sketch an arrangement of them on a pale gray illustration board. I thought it might be fun to document my process and share it here in video form:

[flickr video=6244681651 secret=44fb3d1c0d w=640 h=360]


I used an app called TimeLapse to capture an image every 30 seconds (except in the beginning, where the images were spaced out over a few minutes as I played with the app settings). The video a little wonky since the piece itself is big, requiring me to move it/myself frequently, and it’s filmed over several days in different lighting situations. But still: warp speed drawing is fun to watch.

I took my finished piece to a great local framing shop, where they got to work making the thing all proper and archival and stuff.  No cheap-o plastic frame from the craft store, here!  This is a gallery-quality product.

When my gift came back to me it was wrapped in heavy brown paper, which was practical but not pretty.  So I took on a second, last-minute project: stenciling my own wrapping paper. I used a template to trace a pattern of diamonds with alternating stripes in silver marker.

Et voila!  A DIY wedding gift.  I hope it suits your home, Marissa and Dan!  May your marriage be full of lots of little promises of good things arriving.

Glass Menagerie

I solved my shell dilemma the way I solve most dilemmas: with a trip to my favorite thrift store. There, I spotted a “set” of “floating candle dishes.” I think the store’s employees just bundled two random glass bowls of a similar shape together and slapped a 95-cent sticker on them, but it worked for me.

In the larger of the two I put my clam and oyster shells, plus a few feathers and one big seed pod. The pod is from a Philly weed tree. I tell you this to illustrate just how serious I am when I say that I can’t not pick things up — I really can’t. I don’t care if it’s a weed in the gutter. I will get my hands dirty and I will bring it home.

I think the large bowl is too similar in size to the plant pot to sit together like this, so I’ll probably end up moving the shell bowl somewhere else. Perhaps to my office, when it’s finished. I recognize that Armageddon may happen first.

The second bowl found a home on my pipe shelves, where I rearranged some things to create a little sea collection.

The dried starfish is something I’ve had since I was a kid and my grandparents took my siblings and me to a huge store packed with all sorts of ocean-related goodies. What I wouldn’t give for another shot at that store as an adult — with real pocket money! I don’t recall what town we were visiting, unfortunately.

The other item on the shelf is a cast porcelain shell with a Delftware-style painting of a pheasant. It’s hanging out in the little red display case and was a gift from a student sculptor I met through my last job.

So there’s my little attempt at bringing a piece of the ocean to Philly. Hurricane Irene probably did a more impressive job of that (har har), but she didn’t damage this here house so I won’t hold it against her.

Beach Vacation

Living in Philly, it’s traditional to visit the Jersey shore at least once a summer.  My family hadn’t been in a decade, though, so we decided to rectify that this past week.

I’m not much of a beach person anymore — I love the ocean, but an hour of lounging on the sand is plenty for me.  I’m a little uncomfortable with the level of tan-ness I have achieved, in fact.  I hardly recognize myself right now.

Luckily we found lots of other things to do (in spite of the rain, which came and went nearly every day):  we went running on the boardwalk, hiking through dunes, shopping, searching for shells, hunting for a seafood place that wasn’t mediocre, and we cooked up a storm in our rental’s surprisingly well-equipped kitchen.

But now my question is this:  what do I do with all of these?!

I’m incapable of not picking up things that happen to have an interesting shape or texture — especially natural objects.  Call it the sculptor’s disease.  Now I have pounds of seashells, and I have to come up with an interesting way of displaying them in the house.  What do you think?  Bottle them?  Sort them by color?  Hot glue them to something?  (Kidding about that last part.  I promise that this blog will remain tacky craft project-free.  Please don’t unfollow me.)

Day 16: Snowtorius BIG

I can’t take credit for the title of this post. I heard it on Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me.

The contractors will be delayed another day due to this unfortunate situation:

That puts our new target finish date at Monday the 31st. There is still a chance that the carpet installer could make it out here today to take measurements, but I doubt it. There’s no way anyone in this neighborhood is leaving a parking space without filling it with random lawn furniture.

I have a coat of primer, though!

OK, time to start my work day from my…bedining office.

A Gecko Named Ox

Ever since the passing of my pet praying mantis, Carolina, and my fish, Phineas, this ol’ house has felt a little lonely. I decided that I wanted a pet that offered a bit more interaction, but could still be left to its own devices when I’m not around (read: no dogs! My parents have that covered. I’d link you to pictures, but both of their Flickr accounts have privacy settings, dammit.).

My thoughts drifted over to the reptile kingdom. Most species seem to require a lot of upkeep, which sounded like a bad idea to this newb. I’m not feeding anything baby mice, or clearing a section of my living room to make way for a 4′ x 2′ tank complete with replica desert. I needed something simpler and more foolproof. Finally, months of research and preparation culminated this week with the delivery of this little guy:

Meet Ox!

Ox (short for oxide, chosen because of his rust color), is a crested gecko. Cresties are perfect for new reptile owners; they stay fairly small, they prefer temperatures between 60-80 degrees, they don’t need special lighting or heating, and in the wild they eat mostly fruit. A powder diet developed for pet cresties (that smells like a fruit smoothie when you mix it up) is all they need to eat. Some of them do like crickets, which make a good treat, but it’s not a necessary part of their diet.

He’s eating off of my finger!?

Ox here is just a baby, born last December. If I keep him happy and healthy he could live for 15 years. Actually, we’re not really sure about the natural lifespan of a crested gecko. The species was once thought to be extinct until a population of them was found on an island in the mid-nineties. From some samples that were brought back to the US, a growing captive breeding program has sprung up thanks to their popularity with reptile keepers.

I especially like that this species is arboreal, so I got to make up a fancy planted vivarium for my little guy. But he’s got some growing to do first before he’ll be ready for his big cage. Right now he lives here, in his starter home:

If you look closely you can see his butt perched on top of the larger pant. Ox can climb anything; he’s got sticky pads on his feet (and tail!):

What a character. I’m glad to have some life in here again.

I may have mentioned before that I’m looking to get a new pet. While my shelf project is temporarily on hold (sell me 3/8″ pipe, damn you, big box hardware stores!), I’m pleased to say that the pet project is now underway.

I’ve settled on a reptile, although I think I’ll keep the specific variety a secret until the pet arrives. I’m a tease, I know — sorry. Gotta get those blog hits up somehow. But! The cage is here, at least!

Finding the perfect cage was tough because, of course, I make everything difficult by insisting that the things I buy must integrate into the design of my house. I don’t want a secret reptile room where I shut the door to hide the ugly plastic tanks and electrical wires; this cage is going in the living room and it’s gonna look like it belongs there.

Lizard cages are not, on the whole, very attractive-looking. Most of the ones I saw had doors that swung open in front, leaving seam lines and hardware and bits of plastic trimming obstructing the view of the wildlife. Plus they were all just a bit too wide to fit on the shelving unit I have planned. I needed something just shy of 11.5″ deep. It quickly became apparent that I’d need to DIY a solution; either the shelf had to be made wider or I’d have to find a way to make a narrower cage. I went with plan B.

First, I ordered this cheap but attractive mesh cage on the internet. The mesh was impractical — my future pet will need the humidity in the tank to elevate at least once a day — but the cage had the right footprint.

So I started off by cutting out the mesh and enlisting Lowes’ help to cut some sturdy acrylic walls. The cage came with a removabe glass bottom, but I needed this sucker to be water-tight so I glued it in. I popped all the acrylic walls into place and siliconed their seams together. And just like that, the cage was seaworthy. Or, um, mudworthy.

Next came the fun part: changing this boring (but attractive!) tank into a vivarium — or, the fancy world for a terrarium housing living animals and plants. I filled the first few inches of the tank with “jungle earth” — or, the fancy name for some dirt and peat moss packed in a bag featuring a picture of a reptile, selling for some insanely inflated price.

The future pet is arboreal, so it’ll need plenty of things to climb. Instead of giving the pet supply people any more of my money for a stick, I went out and found something on my own.

Fancy! Fancy free.

Some quick cuts with a hacksaw later and I was well on my way to creating the perfect lizard jungle gym.

Next came the plants. I had a few suitable houseplants hanging around to take cuttings from, as well as some “terrarium plants” purchased from the pet store a week ago that I had been neglectfully dehydrating. I planted them along with some moss I cultivated during this project.

Throw a light on the whole thing and it really looks nice.

I expect it will take a month or two for the foliage to start filling in, at which point it might be warm enough to have my pet shipped in from a reputable breeder. Tune in next… season?… for the exciting conclusion!

When I was still in college, a friend’s mom bought one of the new cowhide rugs from IKEA, triggering a mini-obsession for me. It was an impulse buy for her and I think she never found anywhere to put it, but for the brief time it lay out in her living room I couldn’t keep my hands off the thing.

For some people I suppose that seems strange — a hide is evidence of the death of an animal, after all — but I’ve always been strange. I like cowhides for the same reason I like peacock feathers and funky plants and skulls and driftwood and praying mantids, and probably for the same reason I studied sculpture in college. The structures and complexities of natural objects are just fascinating to me.

Nature is the best artist of all, so they say.

Anyway, I put off owning a cowhide myself because a) they’re expensive and b) I wasn’t really sure of how to incorporate one into my home without the pattern becoming too dominant. But I’ve been seeing some great examples on design blogs:

Lots of hides, here!

Love the brindle pattern and the angle of the placement. Via The Brick House.

Via Apartment Therapy.

Blog posts mentioning cowhides always seem to attract controversy, with the con people arguing that they just aren’t classy and the pro people arguing that they bring a nice sense of organic irregularity to balance all the right angles of modern furniture.

And although I’m aware that I may someday have house guests who are skeeved out by my choice of floor coverings, in the end the cowhide was also a practical option; hides are easily cleaned with soap and water, and, unlike square rugs, you have more freedom in arranging their placement to suit your space. So I picked one up second-hand on eBay. And for just $80!

The hide is super soft, with really nice patterning. I’m tickled pink.

It’s cold out, yo. Maybe not so much today, but my thermostat told me yesterday that my internal house temperature was 58 degrees (you can tell how much I hate paying for heat). Anyway, it was time to take the garden down, and that’s what I’ve worked on for the last day or two.

I got a few more quirky peppers!

All that’s left now is some lettuce, this crazy mess of sugar snap peas…

…and this one giant tomato vine, which exploded like a plant possessed sometime after the growing season should have ended.

I have suspicions that this one managed to bust a root through the bottom of its pot and through a crack in the concrete below, where it is now feeding on radioactive subterranean Philly waste. I’m leaving it up as a science experiment.

As I was chopping up and composting my dead plants, I kept a careful eye out for mantis egg sacs. Figured I must have one around here, somewhere, considering that I couldn’t pick a veggie all summer long without disturbing a mantis. They’re smarter than to plant their babies-to-be on a flimsy tomato plant, though. I found this thing on my fence:

Looks like the population is secure for next year!

On my last tomato plant, I found the mother mantis herself. She hadn’t really strayed from my backyard all year. And since I’d grown fond of having her around, and it’s getting cold out there (did I mention that?), I did what any true weirdo would do and brought her inside.

I got Carolina some crickets and a black fly, which she caught in about 45 seconds. Damn, these little monsters are quick.

I actually had a pet mantis as a kid for a while. The adults only live about 6 months, and I think my last one made it to January before dying, fat and warm, of old age. Well, I suppose “warm” is a relative concept in this house…