Category Archives: DIY

Use Everything: DIY Dried Vine Wreath


This house has awakened in me a desire to live more simply and responsibly. I’ve developed a bit of a use everything mentality. It’s partly because, unlike our life in the city, I have extra space here at the house that allows me to hang on to things until I can make use of them. We can barely fit our clothes into the closets in the apartment. I’m certainly not going to waste precious space on old plastic containers and other odds and ends. So whereas back in the city I’d throw a plastic container that once contained feta into the recycling bin, I’m much more likely to hang on to it here at the house. (And, by the way, those feta containers have proven to be very effective vessels for paint and stripper!)

Our first fall here at the house I trimmed some of the vines off the carriage house. I didn’t know what I’d do with those vines but it seemed a shame to throw them on the fire pit. Instead, I placed the vines on a hook in the garage and let them dry. Later that winter I made a small wreath by weaving the dried vines together. That wreath now hangs on the front door of our apartment in the city. Just a little piece of the house that welcomes us back to our city home.

Every time I’ve cut back the vines since then, I’ve saved the pieces on a hook in the garage. I’ve amassed quite a stack of vines at this point. And so on the night before my birthday I sat outside and weaved together a large wreath. I found a metal form from a Christmas wreath that we bought from a roadside stand a few years ago (Look at that – recycling again!) to use a base and then wrapped, wrapped, wrapped until I had a big, ol’ wreath.


It’s silly, I know. I mean, like the world really needs another wreath, right? I really could have just thrown those old vines on the fire pit and no one would have cared. Except for the joy that I felt in the hour or two that I spent making that wreath! It was literally joy, folks. Joie de vivre! As I sat outside on a starry moonlit night and wrapped those vines around in a circle, I had a giant smile on my face. (OK, maybe the drinks that were sloshing around in me didn’t hurt.) There I was: working with my hands, turning trash into treasure and satisfying my eternal desire to make things prettier. Nothing could me happier!


I was originally making the wreath to hang on the fence at Christmastime. But we’ve recently had the fence repainted (more on that later!) so the vine wreath would get totally lost. Now I’m thinking the wreath will hang on the fireplace when it’s finally finished. The vines look great against the gray bricks.

Rhubarb Jam: Hello Summer!

Freshly Canned Rhubarb JamMemorial Day weekend was jam packed with activity. Literally! We cut down the rhubarb in the garden to make way for other plants and found that he measly little plant I had plopped in the dirt last year gave us a lot of fruit! Since I had such a big pile of rhubarb and – thanks to the gift of some old canning supplies from a friend – a package of Sure-Jell, I got the sudden inspiration to make rhubarb jam.

I Googled around for a recipe and came across this one from Kraft, makers of Sure Jell. Making the jam is actually quite easy. Canning it is easy, too. It’s just all so damned time consuming! And I swear that at one point we had every pot and pan in the kitchen in use.

It was a lot of work for 8 jars of jam, but it was actually kinda fun. And this jam is going to taste so good this winter when we’re baking bread and fattening ourselves up to stay warm.

And you know what else? It really gave me an appreciation for home canning. It was only 80 years ago that most homes relied on this form of food preservation to survive. We’ve got it so easy, with our store-bought, high fructose corn syruped jams!

Fountain Grass on Display

DIY Fountain Grass Centerpiece

As I was doing a little yard clean up this weekend, I found myself with a pile of fountain grass. I was about to sweep it up and dump it in the compost pile but then I stopped myself. Instead, I gathered up the grass, tied a string around it and created a simple, autumnal centerpiece on the sun porch. Don’t you just love it when beautiful accidents happen?

Getting High with Mr. Belvedere: Repairing the Leaking Roof


Back in the 1980s, when I was impressionable young lad with a lot of time on my hands, I spent a lot of time watching television. I was easily entertained back then and was particularly drawn to family sitcoms. Mr. Belvedere, one such sitcom, was one of those shows that entertained me. This is the one line synopsis from IMDB: “The humorous adventures of an English housekeeper working for an American family.”  That really does say it all. Christopher Hewett plays an English gentleman who uses his proper English traditions and manners to keep a typical American family, led by Bob Uecker, in line. Hilarity ensues. Well, I’m sure the term ‘hilarity’ is relative. What was funny to me when I was 10 to 15 years old would probably not hold up today.

This is all to say that when we learned that the little box that sits on the top of the roof is called a belvedere, the first thing I thought of was Mr. Belvedere. And since that discovery I’ve been referring to the the rooftop box as Mr. Belvedere. As in, Mr. Belvedere sprang a leak!

Now, technically, this is not really a belvedere. By definition, belvedere is “an architectural term for a structure in the form of a turret or other vantage point designed to incorporate a view.” As there are no windows on our belvedere, it shouldn’t really be referred to as one. As we don’t have any other name for it, however, I’m going to stick with calling it a belvedere.

belvedere08One night while a friend and I were watching a movie, I kept thinking I heard dripping. It was raining that night and I just assumed that the drip was coming from outside. It wasn’t until I was on my way to the restroom that I noticed the little puddle of water that had collected in the upstairs hallway directly under the attic door. It was dark that night and I had a couple glasses of scotch in me so my first solution was to place a bucket under the drip. Given my tipsy state, it seemed safer to wait until daylight (and sobriety) to climb into the attic to investigate the drip.

In the light of day I was able to locate the general area of the drip. I was pleased to discover that the leak didn’t seem to be coming from the main roof. Instead, the water was leaking from the belvedere. Of course, there’s nothing we could do about the leak from inside the attic. This would require some Spiderman style investigation up on the roof. belvedere04

The first time I climbed up on the roof, The Mister held the ladder and loudly worried about my safety. I was worried about my safety too. The Mister’s knees knocked so much from worry that he was shaking the ladder! It also happened to be one of the hottest days of the summer which made the roof feel like the surface of the sun. I climbed up, surveyed the rooftop and then climbed back down again. When I relayed this story to our friend Steve later that night he volunteered to lend a hand in repairing the roof.

Climbing up and getting on the roof is actually pretty easy. That is, it was easy once we figured out the best way to get up there. Last year when I cleaned the windows, I discovered exactly how TALL the house is. While our extension ladder reaches up to the roof, climbing up there from ground level is absolutely frightening. Climbing up to the addition that connects the house to the garage and then up another ladder to the roof of the house, on the other hand, is quite easy. And once on the roof I was happy to discover that it isn’t steeply pitched. I was also happy to see that the shingles on the roof appear to be in great shape. It’s just the belvedere that needs a little attention.


The roof of the belvedere is flat and covered in a sheet of metal. The top layer of sealant is the silver, heat reflecting type. Under that is some red paint that I assume was also a sealer. I used a steel brush to try to scrape off the loose flakes of old sealant before applying a thick coat of Sta-Kool Elastomeric Roof Coat  to the entire surface. I took a paint tray up to the roof with us but Steve had the wonderful idea of simply pouring the roof coat onto the roof and then using the foam roller to spread it around. That was much easier than trying to hold a paint tray while also trying not to fall off the roof.


I couldn’t quite tell where the leak was originating so I also applied a generous layer of Through The Roof Sealant around the base of the chimney. The sealant is the consistency of model glue (it smelled like it too!) so I used a big foam brush to glob the entire can of it where the chimney meets the roof. I’m hoping that this will cover our bases should the leak be coming from the seam around the chimney.


And, of course, while I was on the roof I had to snap a photo of the view. The trees are still quite full of leaves and that hampered the visibility a bit. But if it weren’t for the fact that the roof is so dangerously high, I’d want to get up on top of it more often! It’s from up here that you can really appreciate the rolling landscape and the fact that our little town is surrounded by farm fields on all sides.

Here’s hoping this fixed the leak. I’d like to not have to climb back up on the roof any time soon.

Before & After: The Stenciled Entryway
Throwback Thursday

Before & After: The Stenciled Entryway

We haven’t been making very fast progress at This American House, so I’m digging back into our photo archives and seeing how the city apartment has evolved over the years. First up is my favorite room in the apartment. Which, actually, isn’t a room at all. Even five years after stenciling it, the teeny tiny little entryway still is my favorite space.

Stenciling the Entryway

When we first moved into the apartment I painted everything in cool pastel colors. I don’t know, I guess I was feeling very mellow or something. The entryway got a few coats of pale pink that seemed like a good idea at the time. And then I quickly grew tired of it. So I did a complete 180 and went from pale pink to black and white.


Painting the entryway black was a giant leap of faith. I mean, there’s nothing like taking a space that’s 2 feet by 4 feet and painting it a really dark color. I had a what-have-I-done moment when I stepped back and looked at the black walls before me. Once the stencil started going on, however, I could immediately see that I was doing the right thing. Whereas the black walls made the small space feel dark and claustrophobic, the addition of the white pattern opened it all up and actually makes the space feel bigger.

The Stenciled EntrywayI was able to reuse the existing furniture and accessories in the space. I painted the table and coat rack bright red to allow them to stand out from the patterned walls. (These are the only things that I’ve tired of over the years. I’d like to replace those red accessories with white ones.) I even repurposed the canvas that hangs over the table and hides the electrical box. I applied white fabric over the canvas and then used black paint to apply the stencil, creating a negative effect of what’s on the walls.

Black and White Stenciled Entryway

This little entryway is the first thing that people see when they enter the apartment and it always gets a reaction. Whether it’s a friend dropping by to visit or a delivery driver bringing us food, their eyes usually widen as they look up and down the walls. “That’s really nice wallpaper,” they’ll usually say. “Oh, it’s a stencil actually,” I’ll proudly inform them. “Wow, that must have taken forever,” they’ll reply.

Yes, it did. It was a long, painstaking process that left my arms sore. And it was worth every minute.

Images: This American House