a toolbox towel bar.

Last year I bought quite a few old toolboxes and turned them into planters.  My favorite was this ‘hello fall’ planter painted in Fusion’s Mustard.

This kind of toolbox often comes with a lift out handled tray, like this …

There are lots of fun ways to re-purpose one of these.  You could fill it up with succulents or use it to hold all of your craft paint.

But I like the idea of hanging it on the wall and using it as a towel bar.

So while I had my Cricut out last week I went ahead and cut out some vinyl letters for this project and after giving the tray a good cleaning, I added the word ‘dry’.

I also drilled a second hole in the tray so that it could be hung with nails or even with screws for more stability.

It would be perfect in a kitchen …

but it would work equally well for the bathroom.

It would also be a fun addition to a potting bench, if you are lucky enough to have one of those.

What do you think?  Toolbox towel bar, yes or no?

road trip.

One of the best things about having my sister and niece living in Minnesota now is that they like to explore the area and Mr. Q and I go along for the ride.  Last weekend we took a road trip south to visit the National Eagle Center.  Apparently this is prime eagle viewing season.  By the way, if you’re curious, that photo above is of Lake Pepin which is the widest naturally occurring part of the Mississippi River and is taken from the Wisconsin side looking towards Minnesota.

One of the things that my sister really loves about living here is our bald eagle population.  We often see them flying overhead, and occasionally even see one perched in a tree.  She gets excited every time she sees one.

We followed the route suggested in my sister’s Minnesota guide book, Quick Escapes.

We headed south on highway 61 through the charming towns of Hastings and Red Wing about 75 miles to Wabasha.

I love these old main streets with their brick buildings and beautiful ornamentation, don’t you?

We had some lunch in town and then headed over to the National Eagle Center.

There were some interesting displays with facts about eagles and other birds of prey.  One thing I learned is that eagles are actually much lighter than they look.  The average weight is between 6 and 13 lbs.  They look big but are mostly feathers.  The farther north you go, the bigger they get, so our Minnesota bald eagles are on the lighter end while eagles up in Alaska tend to be bigger and heavier.  It’s a total myth that an eagle can scoop up your dog or cat and fly away with it.  They can only lift about 3 lbs.

The best part about the center, in my opinion, was seeing the eagles up close and personal.

Don’t worry, these are not birds that were snatched out of the wild and put on display solely for our amusement.  They are rescued animals that are no longer able to fly or survive on their own in the wild.

I also enjoyed taking a quick photo of my sister and niece in the eagle nest.

After leaving the eagle center, we crossed over to the Wisconsin side of the river to head north again towards home.  We’d heard that this was the more scenic side, and I have to say those rumors are true.  Mr. Q claims it’s only because you’re looking across at Minnesota from that side.

You also get to see fun things over there like this fence made out of old skis.

Since we were feeling adventurous … well, OK, maybe it was just me feeling adventurous … when we passed a sign saying “this way to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s birthplace” I convinced everyone that we needed to make the slight detour to see it.

Of course this is not the actual home she was born in, it’s just a replica of her ‘little house in the big woods’.  You are able to go inside and get a bit of a feel for what living in a log cabin might be like.  It certainly wouldn’t be worth the trip all the way out to Pepin, Wisconsin just to see it, but if you happen to be passing by it’s a good spot to stretch your legs.

Plus, if we hadn’t made this little detour we also wouldn’t have chanced upon the Maiden Rock Winery & Cidery near Stockholm, Wisconsin.  This place was pretty much deserted, I suppose it’s not really winery touring season and by the time we got there it was overcast and drizzling.  However, the proprietor was pouring free samples to help warm us up.  We managed to leave there with some Honeycrisp Hard Cider and some Cyser.

Yum!

When we finally met back up with highway 35 along the river, we had our greatest surprise of the whole trip.  Although we had seen dozens of bald eagles flying overhead, it was a real treat to see them roosting in the trees along the highway.  We saw so many that we lost count!

This was the perfect time of year for seeing them since there were no leaves on the trees to interfere.  Ironically, after a whole day of eagle watching, we had our best view as our trip was coming to an end.

This was a great way to spend the day and I highly recommend this little road trip to any of you locals.  As for the rest of you, do any of you have eagles where you are?

please watch your step.

Hey, any of you guys feel like you’re the only one who doesn’t get projects completed very quickly around your house?  Well, you are definitely not alone.  In fact, I may just be the poster child for unfinished projects.

Three years ago I posted about wanting to spruce up my front hallway and stairs.  I started a pinterest board (because isn’t that the way you start every project?) and Mr. Q starting ripping out the carpet.

Once the carpet was out, it looked like this.

And I’m embarrassed to admit that it stayed this way for well over two years!

I managed to get the risers and the baseboard painted last fall, and that was definitely an improvement.

But the treads still looked like this.

One of the factors that contributed to my procrastination on this project was the inability to make up my mind.  Numbered stairs?  Grain sack striped stairs?  Wallpapered risers?  All fun ideas, but I just wasn’t sure.

In the end I really just wanted old farmhouse stairs, maybe with a fun twist.

And I wanted worn looking stairs.  I love old stairs where the paint is worn away from years and years of use.

So in the end I decided to paint the treads with black milk paint (in this case, Miss Mustard Seed’s Typewriter), and I finally got around to doing exactly that last weekend.

I think it will be interesting to see how the milk paint wears over time.  Also, I was originally planning to put black wax over them, but quickly realized I didn’t have enough black wax on hand.  So instead I used hemp oil.  I know that hemp oil is not going to provide a lot of protection, and I’ll definitely have to re-apply at some point.  But I’m OK with experimenting a little and seeing how it goes.  I may end up ordering some more black wax and adding that over the hemp oil.  Ha, ha, is anyone else rolling their eyes?  Do you really think I’ll get around to doing that when it took me three years to get this far?

Maybe not.

But in the meantime, after I got the treads painted and oiled I decided I needed to add a little bit of quirky fun.  So I got out my Cricut and some black vinyl and added a simple message.

The nice thing about the vinyl is that it’s removable.  So if I get tired of this (or come up with a better idea), I can just take it right off.

But for now I kinda love it.

Isn’t it amazing what you can do with a little paint, some vinyl letters and three years?!

the queenstown gray buffet.

I shared the ‘before’ picture of this buffet with you last week.

My friend Sue purchased this piece via Craigslist for herself.  She got as far as removing the hardware to get it ready for painting, but then she decided she didn’t really want to tackle it after all and she offered to sell it to me.

Since Sue lives only a couple of blocks away, this was one of my easiest ‘Craigslist’ pickups ever!

I waffled between using Fusion’s Midnight Blue or the General Finishes Queenstown Gray on this buffet and I think either one would have been a great choice, but in the end I went with the gray.  Had I realized I would end up posting this on St. Patrick’s Day I would have chosen green!  No, not really.  Green might be a bit much on this one.

Plus, there was a pretty good chance that the red stain on this piece was going to bleed thru my paint, so going with a dark color helps disguise that.

I’ve generally had really good luck with this strategy, but be forewarned that a dark color does not always solve bleed thru problems.  Sometimes you will have to seal a piece to prevent bleed thru from showing and you can use shellac or a clear primer for that.  I like using the Rachel Ashwell clear primer when I need to seal something.

But I did not seal this piece.  I sanded it very lightly, wiped it clean with a damp rag and started painting.  After giving the first coat of paint about 24 hours to dry (because some times bleed thru can take a while to show up), I gave it a close inspection to see if there were any spots of bleeding.  If there had been, I would have then added some clear primer to those spots before adding a second coat of paint.  However, there weren’t, so I added a very light second coat of paint and voila …

I staged it with a lamp wearing my Florence map lamp shade.

I purchased my lamp shade at Junk Bonanza from a vendor called Light Reading (check them out here).  They make gorgeous stuff, and it looks like they will be at the Minnesota Junk Bonanza again this spring.  So if you are in the Twin Cities and could use a cool lamp shade, check them out.

The 2nd drawer down on this buffet is very shallow and has dividers for silverware storage.  It came with some pretty grungy felt lining.  I replaced the felt with some toile patterned fabric instead.

When my sister popped by to pick me for another afternoon of house hunting last weekend, she really loved this buffet.  But she has to wait until she has a house before she’ll know whether or not she needs any new furniture.  And actually that may be soon, but I don’t want to jinx it so I won’t say more.

 In the meantime, this buffet is for sale!  Check out my ‘available for local sale’ page for more details.

open air museums.

I am a huge fan of open air museums.  How about you?

If you aren’t familiar with the concept of an open air museum, it is basically a collection of historic structures that have been gathered from across the country and brought together in one park like area to preserve them.  Frequently they are also ‘living museums’ where ‘costumed interpreters portray period life in an earlier era’ (wikipedia).  The first open air museums were in Scandinavia, so it’s no surprise that they have lots of them there.

My first experience with an open air museum was Den Gamle By in Aarhus, Denmark.  I went on a tour of Scandinavia with my mom about 25 (or more?) years ago and this was one of our stops.

I loved everything about it; the quaint buildings, the history, and especially the gardens.

Fast forward to 2003 when Mr. Q and I were in Stockholm and we visited Skansen.

Skansen was the world’s first open air museum and it was established in 1891.

We spent a lovely day just wandering around.  The occasional building had a costumed interpreter inside and we had plenty of time to chat with them about life in Sweden, and Mr. Q really loved that.  He is a big fan of interacting with people from other places.

I have a photo somewhere of Mr. Q sitting on the patio shown below drinking a cup of coffee.  That was before I went digital though ,so I can’t share that with you here.  Why does the coffee always taste so much better in spots like this?

The cool thing about open air museums is that they encapsulate all of the different styles and time periods of a country in one convenient place.  Some critics of open air museums think they have a fake, Disney-esque quality to them since the buildings have been moved into an artificial setting and in some cases only parts of the buildings are original while other parts have been re-built.  I say bah humbug to those people.  There’s always got to be somebody to spoil the fun, right?

We have a couple of open air museums here in the Twin Cities including the Gammelgården Museum in Scandia, Minnesota that focuses on the lives of the Swedish immigrants who settled in this area in the 1800’s.  It’s a lovely little spot, but not nearly on the same grand scale as Skansen or Den Gamle By.

While researching our upcoming trip, I was super excited to discover that Oslo has an open air museum, the Norsk Folkemuseum, and it is very easy to get to on our own from our ship’s dock.  There is a ferry from there that goes over to Bygdoy and the museum is within walking distance from there.

We probably won’t get a chance to see a Norwegian stave church in situ during our trip, so how nice that we can see one at the museum.

Since this will be my 3rd (but Mr. Q’s 2nd) visit to Oslo, we have already seen many of the other sights in the city so we are planning to spend our entire time in Oslo at the Norsk Folkemuseum and I’m so excited about it!  I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed for a lovely sunny day, but even if it is overcast and rainy I know I’ll still really enjoy it.

Initially I thought the one open air museum would be sufficient on this trip, but then I discovered the Beamish museum in County Durham, England.

Yeah, that’s not a real town folks, it’s an open air museum.  How cool is that?

And how could I possibly resist this place?

 So it has been added to the itinerary for our one port in England, which is Newcastle Upon Tyne.  I believe it is about an hour away by car and I couldn’t find any public transportation that could get us there in a timely fashion, so this is one case where we will take the ship’s shore excursion.

I can hardly wait!

How about you?  Have you been to any open air museums?  Do you have a favorite?  Have you been to the Beamish or the Norsk Folkemuseum?  If so, I’d love to hear about it so be sure to drop me a comment.

general finishes milk paint.

There are several furniture refurbishers out there whose work I really admire and they extol the virtues of General Finishes Milk Paint.  So when I ended up in a shop that sold this product while out shopping with some friends recently I decided to pick some up and give it a try.

The first thing you need to know about General Finishes Milk Paint is that it isn’t really milk paint.  I know, confusing right?

Here is what they say about the paint on their website:  GF’s Milk Paint is not a true Milk Paint – it is premixed and does not contain any casein based ingredients. We named our product Milk Paint with the intention of putting a clear, bright, contemporary spin on an old fashioned furniture paint tradition. It is designed to mimic the low luster finish of old world paints.

So if you are buying this paint and expecting to find a powder you’ll mix with water inside the can, guess again.  And if you are used to using this ‘milk paint’ and then you buy some Miss Mustard Seed or other true milk paint, don’t be surprised to find that it’s totally different.  Also, just know that you won’t get the chippy look that milk paint is known for with this paint.

The fine print on the can says that this is an acrylic paint, and for that reason it didn’t surprise me to find that it is very similar to Fusion paint.  Much like Fusion, it does not require a top coat (whereas chalk paint and milk paint require a top coat to be water resistant).  It also has the same self-leveling properties as Fusion.  It also distresses in a similar fashion, and by that I mean that neither of these paints distresses as easily as a chalk or milk paint.  These paints are meant to be very durable, so the longer you wait between painting and distressing, the harder it will be to sand off the edges for a distressed look.  Just be sure to distress promptly, if you plan to distress at all.  For those who prefer a non-distressed finish, both of these paints are perfect for that.

OK, so now that we have all of that info out of the way, let’s see how it looks.

I started with this petite desk that a friend gave me a while back.

I have to admit, I thought this desk was kind of hideous but it was either me or the Goodwill so I took it.  If nothing else, it provided a great canvas for testing out a different brand of paint.

You got a little sneak peek at this one in my post about my painting chair

Yep, this is where I paint in the winter.  Smack in the middle of my house.  And that chair was the perfect height for painting all of those spindly legs.

And now that it has a couple of coats of General Finishes Milk Paint in Queenstown Gray, well …

it’s kinda cute now, don’t you think?

As you can see, I did distress this piece and I did it about a week after I painted it.  So it can definitely still be done, it just takes a little more effort.

I lined the drawer with some pretty map paper.

Although I’ve called this piece a ‘petite desk’, it’s definitely too small for me to use as a desk.  It would be perfect for a youngster’s desk, but I think it would also work really well as a console table in a foyer or behind a sofa.  It also is the perfect height to be used as a nightstand.

Back in the day, it would have made a great telephone table, but nobody needs those anymore, right?

In the end I think this paint is very comparable to Fusion paint.  It’s just a bit more expensive (at least at the shops where I buy my paint), but not a lot.  If you love working with the General Finishes Milk Paint, you will also love Fusion paint and vice versa.  But obviously, if you’re looking for a true milk paint you aren’t going to find it here.

If you noticed in my first photo, I also bought a can of General Finishes Flat Out Flat topcoat.  I did not use that on this desk.  I have heard really good things about it as well, and I hope to test it out on something soon so stay tuned.

In the meantime, this little desk/nightstand/telephone table is for sale.  Be sure to check my ‘available for local sale’ page for more details.

my mind is just not on painting.

For the last two years or so, Mr. Q and I have been saving up for a trip to Belgium and the Netherlands.  We were planning the trip with my sister and another couple for this fall.  As it turns out, the friends decided they can’t afford a trip this year, and my sister decided to buy a house instead, leaving her with no budget for travel either.  So, there we were.  A healthy travel fund saved up, plenty of vacation time on the books, and no idea what we wanted to do (we are saving the Belgium trip for another time when my sister can join us).

For a little while we entertained the idea of spending some money and time on home improvements instead of travel.  We got a quote for refinishing our wood floors.  It was over $6,000.  And on top of the price, we discovered that you basically have to move out of your house, furniture and all.  Most people rent one of those Pod things, put it in the driveway and move all of their furniture into it for the duration and then stay with friends or in a hotel.

Um, no thank you.

And you know what?  Ten years from now are we going to be glad we spent the money on refinished floors?  Or would we rather have some amazing memories of some fabulous adventures?  In the end, we realized we’d rather spend the money on travel after all.

So, I started researching some new ideas for a trip this year.  It took a couple of months to find just the right thing, but we finally found it!  Mr. Q and I are going on a cruise that starts in Copenhagen, Denmark and then goes to five ports in Norway, followed by three stops in Scotland, one in the Shetland Islands and a final stop in England.

Now if you are a travel snob, you might be turning your nose up at a cruise.  But did you know that even Rick Steves believes there is value in taking a cruise in Europe?  There is a great lecture by Cameron Hewitt on the Rick Steves YouTube channel about cruising in Europe and Cameron points out that it is one of the most efficient ways to travel to multiple destinations.  After all, you get on your ship, unpack your stuff, and then every night while you sleep you are transported to a new spot to explore.  No living out of a suitcase and lugging it onto trains or ferries.  It’s also one of the most cost effective ways to see Northern Europe specifically.  The Scandinavian countries are very expensive places.  With a cruise, your room and meals are already paid for.  And as Cameron points out, Northern Europe is one of the few places where it is actually cheaper to buy a drink on your ship rather than on land.

But we aren’t going into this blindly.  We know that there is also a trade-off.  You don’t have the same opportunity to become fully immersed in the culture, and you also don’t have a chance to experience the nightlife since your ship will usually be leaving port by 6 p.m. or so.  In addition, you have to be very careful to not get sucked into incredibly over-priced ship sponsored shore excursions with 500 other people.  In other words, you have to do your research.  So that is what I have been focused on lately.

Here’s a good example.  One of our stops is in Flam, Norway.  A popular tourist activity there is to take a train up to the top of the mountains for beautiful views of the surrounding countryside and the fjord.

The ship offers this excursion for $149.95 per person.  But guess what?  The spot where you get on the train is about a five minute walk from the ship’s dock.  And you can buy tickets for the train online ahead of time for about $50 per person, thus cutting out the middle man.  Granted, the ship’s excursion includes a cup of coffee and a waffle at the café on top of the mountain, but do you think that is worth the extra $99.95?  You might find the markup on this shocking, but it’s not unusual for ship sponsored excursions to be ridiculously overpriced.

But actually, Mr. Q and I aren’t going to take that train at all.  I’ve discovered that there are also several really lovely walking/biking trails in Flam, and doing those on our own is free. And this, by the way, is what Flam, Norway looks like …

So we are going to hope that most of the people on our ship get on that train and leave the rest of Flam to us.  We like nothing better than just wandering around exploring a place on our own.  See that path along the river?  That’s the way we’ll be headed when we disembark our ship in Flam.

Anyway, since there are 10 ports of call on our cruise plus we’re spending a couple of days in Copenhagen before we sail, I have been spending all of my free time researching all of our destinations.  And when I’m not doing that, I’m going to look at houses with my sister.  She had a fantastic 1894 farmhouse picked out last week and for the 2nd time she was outbid by another buyer.  We’re heading out again tomorrow to see some more potential houses, so keep your fingers crossed.

 Unfortunately for you, dear reader, this doesn’t leave much time for painting furniture or for blogging about it.  My mind is just not on painting furniture at the moment.

But I will return to it soon.  I just brought home this buffet and plan to start work on it tonight.

 In the meantime, do any of you have suggestions about what to do or see at any of our destinations?  If so, I’d love to hear them!