Gray Day Gardening

Mr. MM and I are itching to get out in the garden and get to work but we know we have to wait a few more weeks before we even start our garden prep.  In lieu of digging in the dirt, I’m sitting here digging around the internet doing garden research.

Want to know what hardiness zone you are in?  Check out the USDA’s website.  Manayunk is located in zone 7a.

USDA's PA Plant Hardiness Map.

USDA’s PA Plant Hardiness Map.

The USDA released this Plant Hardiness Zone Map in 2012.  What I find interesting is that when we moved into our house in 2009, our zone was 6 per the USDA.  The Morris Arboretum’s website has an interesting article on this change to our hardiness zone.

Last year we planted a small rosemary ‘bush’.  He was so small, I can hardly call him a bush.  Well, it looks like he didn’t survive the winter.  As you probably know, this winter was unusually brutal and long for our zone.

This year we’ll be looking for either ‘Arp’ rosemary or ‘Hill Hardy’ also known as ‘Madelene’  rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis cv.)  both of which are winter hardy through zone 6.  From what I’ve read, the ‘Hill Hardy’/’Madelene’ seems to be the more hardy of the two.  Both should be planted sheltered from winter winds and in a sunny spot.  Placing large rocks around the rosemary will provide thermal mass during the winter.  They like sandy soil so we’ll add sand to the soil adjacent to the bush and use sand for its mulch.  We use alot of rosemary in our cooking so it would be nice to have a bush that will be with us for the long haul.

Potted Rosemary.

Potted Rosemary.

I’m on the fence about whether to plant directly in the garden or find a nice terra cotta pot (short and gracious in diameter) to fill with a mix of potting soil and sand.  This way, the rosemary could be moved onto the porch near the house during the winter.

The other ‘bush’ we’re interested in is lavender.  I suspect it’s because of my romantic image of lavender fields in Provence.  Looks like ‘Sawyers’ lavender might be our plant.  Dark blue flowers on silver foliage.  Although lavender prefers warm sunny weather, this hybrid supposedly holds up in cool wet weather.  Various sites claim that its easy to grow, fragrant and adapts to most sites.  It can be cut back heavily in March / April if needed.

Lavender in Provence.

Lavender in Provence.

Our biggest challenge is that our neighbors have a mature oak tree that shades our garden.  Although it’s a beautiful tree, we have very limited ‘full sun’ space.  Most of our garden is in partial shade to full shade.  I’ve been in denial about our lack of sun and torture myself with our mass murdering of sun loving plants.

I found this nice plant encyclopedia at the Better Homes and Garden website.  Typed in our zip code and our shade condition.  81 results.  Maybe I’ll be able to accept our shady garden with some of these beautiful plants?

I can’t wait to make our an annual pilgrimage to Groff’s Plant Farm!  They carry both rosemary species and the lavender species.  The first time we went to Groff’s we didn’t know that they do not take credit cards.  After a couple hours meandering through their nursery we rolled up with two wagons filled with plants only to find that we couldn’t pay and there were no ATMs anywhere near by.  I was shocked when they let us take the plants with us with the promise of mailing them a check!  Amazing!  We mailed our check right away.

Hopefully we’ll be able to start our garden prep in a few weeks.  Cleaning up the winter mess.  Turning over the soil and mixing in compost.  We’re lucky that we live in the City of Philadelphia as residents can pick up free organic compost at The Fairmount Park Organic Recycling Center in West Fairmount Park.  The recycling center is open on Saturdays starting in April which marks the start of garden prep for us.




Repurpose: Christmas Tree Skirt Alternative

Whenever I need something for a utilitarian (or not so utilitarian) purpose, I first think ‘repurpose’.  What have I bought at a flea market that I can use or what can I buy at a flea market and use?  I like objects that come with baggage … history’s patina … a story.

Our 1910 twin is a cluster of smallish rooms.  The first Christmas season posed a question … real tree or fake?  I do love a real tree but our living room is pretty tight.  During a trip to Target I spotted the perfect tree for our living room:  a 7′ tall pre-lit slim balsam fir tree.  Slim being the key word.  Nature is not familiar with slim when it comes to Christmas trees.

After a few years of covering the hideous metal base with a traditional tree skirt, I was in the market for an alternative.  Where do I go to look for inspiration?  Pinterest, of course.

I settled on the idea of using a galvanized tub as an alternative tree skirt.  But a vintage tub would feel better than a new one. I found the perfect one on Craigslist for $25.  A Nesco galvanized tub that was used by the owner’s parents for apple bobbing when she was a kid.  Baggage … patina … story.

Vintage Nesco.

Vintage Nesco.

Although the tub is 24″ in diameter, the tree base was too big.  Issue resolved:



Bricks placed in the bottom of the tub to raise the tree base to an elevation that works.

Tree assembled in the tub, canvas drop cloth added to the tub, ornaments placed, and we’re ready for Christmas.

A Manayunk Mod Christmas.

A Manayunk Mod Christmas.

We’re adding to the baggage / patina / story.

Thanksgiving 2013

This is my last Thanksgiving as a non-married.  For this I’m thankful.  Mr. MM and I will be tying the knot in December.  We decided to stay home and prepare our own little Thanksgiving feast.  There’s nothing better than spending the better part of a cold fall day as Mr. MM’s sous chef.

The menu consisted of roasted chicken (I don’t particularly like turkey); stuffing/dressing; roasted vegetables (the benefit of roasting a chicken); sweet potatoes; gravy; and brussels sprouts.  For dessert, Mr. MM made an apple and fig pie from scratch.


stuffing/dressing mise en place.

Over the years, I’ve tasted many a variety of stuffing/dressing.  This apple, shallot and herb dressing is by far the best I’ve had.  I love that it incorporates celery root instead of celery stalks.  You get the subtle note of celery without the bits of stalk that overpowering your fork full.

Years ago, when I lived in Brooklyn, I hosted my family for Thanksgiving.  Since I was hosting, I mixed up the menu.  I swapped out our ‘traditional’ recipes for updated versions including the apple, shallot and herb dressing recipe.  While I was at work, my parents and sister took on the task of gathering all the ingredients for dinner (particularly for the stuffing/dressing) at the Union Square farmer’s market.  This was just before the foodie movement went into high gear so they had a heck of a time finding said ingredients.  

This year, we found everything at Wegmans.  Easy breezy.


bird’s nest.

We loaded up the roasting pan with potatoes, parsnip, carrots, onion, and herbs as a nest for the bird to rest.  Mr. MM rubbed the bird with this amazing spice mix that I bought in Istanbul two years ago.  It’s an amazing blend of spices that has a bit of heat to it.  We’re running low!


bird is the word.

Amazing.  For a vegetarian, Mr. MM sure does know how to roast a bird … and make gravy.

I’ve never been a fan of pie.  So when Mr. MM announced that he would like to make a pie from scratch (including the crust), I wasn’t that thrilled.  He asked me what kind I would prefer.  Apple.  While making the crust, he discovered that it’s hard work.  The filling recipe called for dried apricots.  I suggested we use figs (as we had a bag full in the freezer) instead.


apple fig pie mise en place.

Yes, that is a jar of cinnamon sticks in the photo.  I not only zested a clementine rind into the mix, I also zested cinnamon sticks.  It’s amazing how much more flavorful and aromatic freshly ground cinnamon is.  We let the filling sit and incorporate all the delicious flavors.


fuel for the chefs.

You do not cook in our house without proper fuel.  A bottle of Chandon, goat gouda, gruyere, Robiola Bosina (soft, mildly stinky, mushroomy), and a baguette from Whole Foods.  We’ve tried baguettes from Trader Joe’s, DiBruno Brothers, and local grocery stores.  Hands down, Whole Foods makes the best ready-to-go baguettes in our area.  Although the baguettes at Bistro Le Minette are even better!


the table is set.

Why don’t we use our Russel Wright dinnerware everyday?  When I set the table for Thanksgiving dinner, it made me so happy to use the Russel Wright.  Or is it because I only use it for special occasions that it makes me so happy?  It’s become something precious. Will it lose it’s preciousness if we start using it every day?  We did find flatware that would look gorgeous the Russel Wright.

A little side rant … do you know how hard it is to find reasonably priced and nicely designed flatware that is NOT made in China.  When I saw the Lucca flatware at Crate and Barrel, I fell in love with the pewter finish and classic design.  Plus it is one of the very few flatware sets that are not made in China.  It’s made in Italy.

Around 17:30 (preparing for our trip to Germany), all the hard work paid off.



How many hours to prepare?  And only 20 minutes to feast.  Sigh.  But it was delicious.  The apple and fig pie with vanilla bean ice cream was yummy … for pie.  Such a lovely last non-married Thanksgiving.

Old Navy opens at 19:00!  Target opens at 20:00!  Let’s go!








Autumn is definitely one of my favorite seasons.  I love that first morning after a hot summer when the crisp air hits my face, the sky is bright blue, and I think …. college football.

Our little Japanese maple is putting on quite a show as he does every autumn.  The first morning I noticed him all decked out in gold, I thought of Robert Frost:

Nature’s first green is gold, 
Her hardest hue to hold. 
Her early leafs a flower; 
But only so an hour. 
Then leaf subsides to leaf. 
So Eden sank to grief, 
So dawn goes down to day. 
Nothing gold can stay.

I don’t know if I love this poem for its own merit or my love of ‘The Outsiders’.  Hmmm.


I’ve tried my ‘luck’ with Ebay and have never been satisfied with my purchases.  The sellers were not misrepresenting their wares, it’s just that the descriptions and the pictures didn’t match the images in my head.  So I’ve given up on Ebay.  I need to see the items in person prior to purchase.  I need to spend a little bit of time with the item before handing over payment.  This is why I prefer flea markets over auctions and this is why I stopped browsing Ebay and started browsing Craiglist.

I’m always amazed when I read about fellow Craigslist browsers who make magazine worthy finds at astonishingly low prices.  Seems like every ‘design’ magazine has a home renovation / decoration project where the owner has scored an amazing find on Craigslist.

Well, I’ll tell you my tale.  I have been browsing Craiglist for about four years now using the same search words:  Russel Wright; danish modern; Heywood Wakefield; mid century modern; etc.  Four years and three scores:

My first score was a set of six dining chairs from the 1950’s Drexel Declaration line:

1950's Declaration by Drexel ad.

1950’s Declaration by Drexel ad.

Declaration by Drexel catalogue page.

Declaration by Drexel catalogue page.

6 Drexel Declaration chairs for sale.

6 Drexel Declaration chairs for sale.

The original picture in the posting showed hideous floral fabric on the chairs.  I asked about the fabric when I contacted the seller.  Told him I was interested and wanted to come take a look.  While working out the details via email he took a look at the fabric and discovered that if he too the seats off the fabric came right off to reveal the original black pleather.  When he sent me the above picture, I knew I had to have them.   On a chilly winter evening I drove out to his house in the back of beyond to check them out.  $350 for six solid walnut with rosewood inlay dining chairs that are in very good condition.  The seller bought them at an auction, cleaned them up, wiped them down with beeswax, and put them up for sale.  That’s $58 a piece!

The next score was the foundation for my collection of Russel Wright dinnerware.  (I’m working on a post devoted to Russel Wright.) I decided that I wanted this to be our nice dinnerware and saw a posting on Craigslist which included six place settings (dinner plates, cups/saucers, and bowls), cream and sugar servers, and a couple of serving pieces (platter and side dish).

Russel Wright in Oyster.

Russel Wright in Oyster.

I already owned the pitcher and have added to the collection since the Craigslist purchase.  This time I made Mr. MM go with me to the seller’s house.  We walked into my dream house.  A sprawling ranch completely renovated in a cool mid century modern style.  The seller was moving and thus selling several sets of Russel Wright dinnerware.  I chose his Oyster set for $125.  I think I did pretty good on this one too.

The most recent purchase was spawned by an unfortunate ceiling light purchase … twice.  After we renovated the living room we installed a new ceiling mount light fixture.  After we turned the light on, we realized that you do not want a fixture that shines light on your ceiling when your ceiling is a 100 + year old plaster ceiling.  Sigh.  Fixture one was removed.  Next I bought a very cool Louis Poulsen fixture that proved impossible to install.  I won’t go into the details but I do love this fixture and will find a home for it … our bedroom?

Louis Poulsen PH6.

Louis Poulsen PH6.

Plus we already have one hanging in our dining room.

Given the size of our living room and the furniture / art already in place, we really needed a smallish fixture.  I started searching Craigslist for chandeliers.  This was one of my more odd Craigslist experiences.  I had to email the seller several times before they returned my email.  The seller was then hesitant to tell me where she lived.  After all sorts of back and forth, we met in a parking lot in Manayunk.  Weird.  But I did shell out $80 for this little cutie:



It was imprinted with 1973 so I’m wondering if that’s the model number or the date of fabrication.  I love the ‘bubble’ glass and the pineapple crown.  We put it on a dimmer and it provides such a lovely glow and pattern of light.  I think it works perfectly in our living room:

The living room is getting there.

The living room is getting there.

One Craigslist post for a Heywood Wakefield dining table  got me all excited but proved to be a huge disappointment.  What the seller didn’t tell me via email but I saw in person was that they let there kids carve their names into the table.  And this was not something to be sanded out.  Are you kidding me?

All in all, I’ve been very pleased with my Craigslist experiences / purchases.  I’ll definitely keep browsing but the ‘hits’ are few and far between in my opinion … or am I just missing them?  Well, it is a way to survive the winter months without proper flea markets!

Wine Enthusiasts

Mr. MM and I do fancy a glass or two of wine in the evening.  Well, maybe more than a glass or two but who’s counting!  I have been squirreling away the wine corks for years.  Why?  At the time I had no reason other than thinking it was a waste to toss them.

I’ve been looking for a autumn wreath for our front door and saw a wine cork wreath on Pintrest.  Save on Crafts does a fantastic job at showing one how to make said wreath.  I bought a glue gun (should have bought a large one); glue sticks; and a 12″ straw wreath.  I had a box full of corks.


I started by hot glueing the corks to the straw wreath from the inside and worked my way out.  I forgot how much I hate hot glue.


Once I had the entire wreath covered, I started adding a few ‘random’ corks that were from our favorite wines and wines we drank in Napa.  Our favorite winery in Napa was Artesa.  Great wines, nice staff, and very cool architecture.  From their terrace, we had a foggy view all the way to San Francisco Bay.  When I look at this collections of corks, I think of all the memories associated with them.

Before hanging the wreath, Mr. MM sprayed the wreath with matte clear finishing spray.


All done!  We both agree that we need to add a bow or ‘flair’.  Maybe we’ll need to take another trip the Michael’s?  I do have enough corks to make at least one more wreath.  Maybe it’s time to start an Etsy account?

Our Staghorn

Well, Mr. MM and I finally gave our staghorn a proper home. I was himming and hawing about what sort of base to use for our fern. Vintage board, section of log, driftwood, plaque?

The city had just finished cutting down a tree on Main Street when I drove past and saw the perfect opportunity for a base!  A slice through the tree that was cut down. When I asked the workers if I could have a piece for this project they actually showed me a number of options.  How nice … and surprising. I think this is the best on offer.

A slice of Main Street.

A slice of Main Street.

Staghorn ferns are like orchids in that they do not require soil to grow. They attach themselves to other plants to gain nutrients without harming the ‘host’ plant. They have two sets of leaves, sterile and fertile.  The sterile leaves form a shield that covers the roots and helps it attach to the ‘host’. The sterile leaves are brown, crispy, and look dead … but they aren’t. Do not pick these leaves off. The fertile leaves grow out of the center of the shield in the shape of staghorn ‘antlers’.  Crazy.  I just love the shape of the leaves and the form of the plant itself.

It’s nice that the slice still has bark on it. Mr. MM took the electric sander to the cut sides to smooth out the chainsaw marks.  I slathered the cut sides with beeswax to stabilize the wood so it will not dry out and crack.  I didn’t want the bark chipping off so Mr. MM sprayed the bark edges with a finishing spray.  We’re planning to have the wood (and fern) sit on a table so we installed protective ‘feet’ under the wood slice.

There seem to be as many ways to mount a staghorn fern as there are to skin a cat. Gross. Here’s what we used:

1.  Staghorn fern (see post about Terrain)

2.  Sphagnum moss (Michael’s)

3.  Florist wire (Michael’s)

4.  Black plastic mesh (our basement)

5.  Drill and bit

Mise en place.

Mise en place.

Why these items?  The moss will be the base on which the fern will be mounted and the mesh will cover the moss (and fern) to hold it in place until it attaches itself to the wood.

Here’s what we did:

1.  Decide where the fern will be mounted on the wood.  Drill four holes at what will be the perimeter of the shield.

2.  Soak the sphagnum moss in water until saturated.  Wring it out so it is wet but not dripping.

3.  Mound the moss on the board.

4.  Remove the fern from the pot and loosen the roots.

5.  Cut a hole in the center of the plastic mess and put it around the base of the fern above the roots but below the shield.

6.  Place the fern on top of the moss and position it just so. Our wood slice is angled so we made sure the shield is at the high end of the slice.

7.  Once you have the fern situated, cover the fern’s roots with pieces of the moss.

Here’s where it gets tricky:

8.  Thread the wire from the bottom of the slice through one of the holes (keeping a nice length sticking out the bottom), loop it through the plastic mesh several times and thread it back through the diagonal hole from which it came. Repeat four times so you have a thread originating from each hole.

9.  Take the wires that are sticking out of the bottom and tie them to each other so that the mesh, moss, and fern are secure to the wood.

10.  Spritz the leaves with water.

11.  Fuss for hours figuring out where to set the mounted staghorn fern.



Let's hope he lives!

Let’s hope he lives!