Monday, May 2, 2016

French Country

Screen as doorway
If you've followed this blog for a while you are aware of our acquisition of two cats and a puppy in fairly short order since the fall. Throughout our marriage we always have had two dogs and two cats and for the past decade, a bird. I don't know if I forgot or if our other animals had different personalities, but we have had a heck of a time with this group. The last of our cats died (at age 15) shortly before we moved here and the kids were begging for a kitten, so we got one for our daughter's birthday. Before getting the kitten we noticed a patch of gray wood in the dining room floorboards, back in the corner. This house had some water damage in the past when a refrigerator flooded, so we assumed it was water damage dating to that time. Well, as soon as we got the kitten it was apparent it was not water damage but damage from urine. We couldn't smell it (then) but the cat sure could. A month after the kitten arrived we were alerted to an abandoned former show cat in need of help and added her to the family. We also added territorial disputes between the cats to the mix. I tried essential oils, aluminum foil, feeding the cats in the areas they were trying to mark, etcetera, etcetera... nothing has worked.

In December our 14 year old Sheltie died and we were apparently delusional with grief, because in January we added a puppy to the mix. This puppy, let me tell you... She's an Australian Shepherd and smart as a whip but she is the most headstrong stubborn brat of a dog I've ever owned. Anything she knows she isn't supposed to do she sneaks off and does the minute your back is turned. I have to crate her even for a quick trip to the bathroom because she absolutely has to be supervised all the time. She knocked the computer off the table and broke it and chewed up my daughter's eyeglasses, and runs upstairs every chance she gets to try and steal socks or toys or towels or anything she can find to chew all up. My husband recently refinished our carpeted stairs to wooden and we were having to keep a baby grate blocking the stairway. It was scratching the new finish all up from being moved back and forth when people used the stairs. I decided containment is the only solution. I didn't want ugly baby or pet gates all over the place, however.

Wall hangings as a Dutch door.
Let me just say, while I'm on the subject, I am not a fan of open floor plan houses for this very reason. I think they're just a way for builders to avoid the cost of framing in doors at the expense of the homeowners' quality of life. I far prefer being able to close children and pets and guests for that matter out of rooms that are clean or dangerous or messy. And if you put in doorways then you can always open the door if you want to see into other rooms. I wanted to be able to close off the front of our house without making it dark.

A couple years ago we traveled to New Orleans and I fell absolutely in love with the French and Spanish influences there. As soon as we returned I started reworking our patio in the backyard to resemble a New Orleans courtyard. I wanted the same style inside the house. I bought a metal screen off Facebook from a lady who is redecorating. It perfectly fits in the hallway and we can open the side panel and push it forward to use as a door. My husband has plans to put casters or something on the feet to protect the floor and so it's a little easier for our youngest to operate. The kitten can, of course, squeeze through the screen as it is so we wired the back with large chicken wire. It has a French Provincial look and keeps her out of the front rooms. It's almost invisible as well, as you can see from the photo.

Then I went to Hobby Lobby and bought two wall hangings made to look like old gates. My step-dad and husband, and son all worked on hanging them. I wanted to hang them up with the curved ends on the top and bottom but the kitten can squeeze under there too, so we had to put the curved ends in the middle. It still looks neat, I think, and it operates like a Dutch door: you can close just the top or just the bottom or the entire thing. I love the cast iron inserts; now I really feel as if we live in a converted French abbey or something! The cats have been sitting around in the laundry room (with a vinyl floor!) all day, pouting, but everyone else loves it! I think it adds a lot of character to our home, but if we were ever to sell the house each of these things are easy to remove in case the new owners didn't like them.

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In creating my NOLA courtyard I am a bit hampered by several things. First, it's a patio without walls. Second, it has a very American white picket fence surrounding part of it. Third, there are kids' and dogs' toys scattered all over the yard no matter how much I pick up after them, so it kind of wrecks the ambiance. The previous owners planted Greenback magnolia trees all around the yard, years ago I guess. This type of magnolia doesn't get as big as the traditional variety. I wanted to umbrella-prune them, as I fondly remember the magnolias at ECU being pruned when I was at school there. I spent many a happy hour sitting on a blanket in the shade under those trees, studying or drawing. The resulting umbrella-ed trees with their shiny dark green leaves lend a quintessential  Mediterranean flair to the patio and create a living wall. I interspersed potted citrus trees, as I have seen at Borghese Palace in Rome, between the magnolias to make a small "wall". Last year we dug up half the stone patio and rebuilt it and added new paver base so now it's a gravelly, dry stone pavement, just as you see all over Italy and France and (I assume since I've never been there) Spain. My step-dad and son made me new planter boxes for the fence and I have cascading herbs and flowers planted in there so in a few weeks I hope they will be tumbling over the sides and down to the ground. The only thing missing from my "courtyard" was the obligatory fountain. For the past three years I have kept a tiered herb planter in the center of the patio. It had a fountain-ish look, but it kept getting blown over in storms and in the summer it had to be watered twice a day sometimes because it dries out so fast in that beating sun.

Well this year for my birthday my parents got me a wonderful battery-operated fountain! It has several spray settings and lights up. I was planning to save up to build a raised pond in the patio center with those stacking wall bricks and a pond liner, but now I can put that off. If I do decide to do it I can put a pedestal in the center and set this fountain up in the middle and it will look wonderful! I am really happy with this part of the yard now and I sit out here and eat my lunch almost every day.

My new fountain

I've been really working hard on the yard lately. I've accomplished a lot but I still have a long way to go. I put in three new vegetable and flower beds along the patio and grass. We moved a ton of trees and shrubs back into the shadier part of the yard in the fall and now I can grow sun plants along the edge of the grass. I built a stacked-stone wall partway along the grass until I ran out of stones and built two new paths which transition from stone to pinestraw and lead into the back yard. The back is still wild, and as you can see it's totally full of toys and piles of limbs and brush we cut back. Someday when we chip or burn all the brush I plan to move the sandbox and resulting clutter further back behind a screen. The children are all old enough to play by themselves now so I don't have to have them and their mess in clear view all the time anymore. We moved several roses into one spot to make a rose garden and erected a metal gazebo in the center with a stained glass compass stone my step-father and son made at the entrance. I planted climbing vines all around the gazebo and I'm looking for a chair that will fit inside so someone can relax there in the shade if they want. Far in the very back yard we have a hammock with mock orange planted all around it, and I want to eventually make a path to the hammock and plant something worthy of going back there to view.

One of my new gardens with a path.

Another new bed
All in all, I think I am slowly getting a kind of European estate sort of yard, at least here in the back. I have fruit trees around the fire pit and will find chairs or benches one of these days. I can't wait until we have some seating out there and can sit out under the blooming trees in the spring! We have a wonderful library here in town and it has an amazing garden all around it, staffed by volunteers. Although it's not enormous, they've made so many winding paths and little garden rooms you can walk all around for quite some time out there, getting pretty good exercise and enjoying the beauty as well! That's my goal for our yard!

The rose garden

Besides the house and yard work I created a new multiple doll stringing kit variation this weekend. If you have several dolls in various sizes to re-string this kit contains enough cord and hooks for at least five dolls (more if your doll has her own hooks). That comes out to about $8 a doll with shipping, so it's the best value I offer on stringing kits. You can find those in my Etsy store.

My new doll stringing kits

My health and fitness group is still chugging along. This month we are doing three fitness challenges, completing a certain number of squats, abdominals, and burpees each day. I've finished my 75 squats already today but still have the other stuff to do. We use essential oils and Young Living products to help us reach our goals. If you'd like to join us please email or message me through my Naturally Amanda Facebook page. The gifts with purchase from Young Living (shown below) are incredible this month, so it's a great time to start!

May gifts with purchase from Young Living

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