Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Some Last Words About the Kitchen Project

Before leaving the subject of our newly remodeled kitchen, I wanted to show you what it looks like with the new custom fused glass drawer pulls and cupboard knobs installed. Sorry this photo isn't very clear; I got up very early one morning to admire our work and the sun wasn't up (and the coffee wasn't on). 

The laboriously painted (primed, sanded, painted, sanded, painted) cupboards need all the protection they can get. In the past when I painted them we had no pulls and knobs, a situation which led to lots of unsightly wear and tear. Now we have beautiful and practical art installations in place to take care of that problem.

Emma is always pleased to show off her kitchen

Here is a close up photo of the knobs and pulls, designed and made by my very own sister, Jean. You can see and purchase her fused glass pieces--plates, jewelry, buttons, and kitchen hardware--at her Etsy shop, Jean Harris Fused Glass.

It took Bill and me a very long time to start this big kitchen project, and that's not a bad thing. In living with the kitchen in its original form for several years we knew which problems we wanted to fix, and we took care of them all. There's a place for everything that was formerly in view and making a big clutter: Trash slideouts in a dedicated cupboard, cleaning equipment storage, and lots more cupboard and workspace. We are very pleased with the results, and certainly very pleased with ourselves for doing all the work. 

Of course, in our house all rooms are continually evolving. I'm still not completely satisfied with all those white walls...

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

In the Kitchen with Frida

In the previous post, I showed you our kitchen as it was when we first saw it...

... and the Frida Kahlo tile that got us to thinking about making some changes. 

It was finally time to begin a Big Kitchen Re-Do. So, a month ago we tore out the old countertops, sink, and faucet and called ReStore to come and take them away. No turning back now!

We moved the tall pantry cupboard from the spot right next to the stove where it was too close to the burners, and reinstalled it at the other end of the kitchen. In doing so, we created a new work surface as well as an out-of-sight spot for the broom and dustpan that we'd been tripping over for years. 

We cut plywood and cement board underlayment and fastened it down. We bought a power jigsaw and measured and discussed, and measured some more and crossed our fingers and cut a hole for the sink. We had to rest up a lot after that adventure. (Yes, wine was involved, during the resting-up, I mean).

We added a couple of cupboards and even some new interior features, like this wonderful gadget that holds two containers, one for trash and one for recycling, and slides the whole business out of sight when not in use. Genius!

We painted walls and I congratulated myself for doing ladder work in my 8th decade. 

Then we watched some how-to YouTube videos, and watched some more, took a deep breath and started tiling. I grew very, very fond of the power tile saw we borrowed (thank you, James). 

We installed the sink and faucets. We weren't feeling good about the results, woke up in the night with thoughts of the whole thing collapsing, and took them out (this included removing some freshly-installed tile) the next day and reinstalled everything properly. Then we felt very good about ourselves, and even better about the new sink's long-term integrity. 

We took the doors off the cabinets, pulled out the drawers, and took everything out to the garage. Things were very chaotic in the kitchen for a few days, with all the contents of the 17 drawers lining the countertops. (Yes, Kathy D., this was the day you visited and told me stories of hoarders who could hardly find the way through their houses). 

Following directions found on various Pinterest pages, we scrubbed the cupboard parts, then sanded, primed, sanded, painted, sanded, and painted again. I GET sanding now, and really like my little power sander. 

We used this paint, which was expensive but well worth it, because it contains urethane and results in a very, very tough and scratch-proof surface. 

Then we put it all back together and started embellishing. That was the really fun part, and that's when many different versions of Frida started appearing.

Here's what it looks like today. My talented artist sister is designing and making fused glass drawer pulls and door handles, and I will show you those when they are installed. But I wanted you all to see the results of our work to date. 

The freezer now goes where the unused kitchen desk was pulled out. It wears a serape.

The stove wall: New base cupboard on the left, with an added work surface. All the stove burners are finally accessible with the pantry cupboard moved. There will eventually be another wall cupboard on the left, with a professionally installed microwave/exhaust fan unit over the stove.

 The tall pantry cupboard in its new position, looking like it was born there. 

Lots of color, but not as much as I would really like to have!

This is the sort of color I would really, really like--from my Pinterest Kitchen page

But this is the amount of color that my New England self will allow. Things may change...

The sink is deep, the drains work fast, and look at that gracious faucet. I like it a lot! Bill did a wonderful job of plumbing. 

You can almost see the tiled plant shelf I designed and installed between the sink and the window. There used to be a bottomless hole and I dropped a lot of stuff down there that I got back once we started tearing into things. 

Bear with me on this one, it's a close-up of the sink just so you can see the little [faux] granite sparkles. Look hard! They give me great joy because they are shiny.

Now, if you know about Pinterest Fails ("Where Good Intentions Go to Die"), you'll understand what's going on here. I meant to make a cool copper and leather paper towel holder, but the results are... well, I just call this piece Paper Towels in Bondage. Not exactly what I was going for, but at least the countertops are less cluttered, leaving space for those totally non-functional but cute Oaxacan armadillos. 

Now we come to all the Fridas. She appears in reproductions of her own self-portraits, and in illustrations by various other artists. *

Look, there's the original Frida tile!

A sweet illustration of Frida and her husband, Mexican muralist Diego Rivera. 

An odd piece we bought in Mexico. 

Details from the cross...

It's hard to take photos through glass without getting all those reflections.

And one last view of the new kitchen.


*The Frida illustrations come from:

Frida (Spanish language edition), by Jonah Winter, illustrations by Ana Juan

Frida Kahlo; The Artist Who Painted Herself, by Margaret Frith, illustrations by Tomie dePaola

Viva Frida, by Yuyi Morales (author and artist), Tim O'Meara (photographer)

The Old Kitchen and Some Inspiration

When we first moved to our little adobe house in the Mesilla Valley, the kitchen looked like this.

Because we had just done up our last kitchen in New Hampshire with beautiful countertops and an undermounted sink that I really liked, I wasn't thrilled with the stainless steel sink and formica countertops. But, hey, we are lucky enough to live in a first world country and have indoor plumbing and running water. So we lived with the kitchen as it was for quite a few years.

 We replaced the old appliances that you see in these photos one by one.

I painted the cabinets a couple of times, but not very well and with the wrong paint that wore off easily. We got to know the local electricians, and I added lamps for extra lighting and atmosphere. We made do with what we had.

But my sister and I used to picnic in a little park across from a house with a Frida Kahlo self-portrait tile mural on the side. That mural really sparked my imagination. 

Then one day, years later, Bill and I came across a single Frida tile in a little shop in Mesilla. We bought it, and eventually realized we had a theme. All we needed was a new kitchen for Frida. 

Monday, October 12, 2015

An October Post From the Past

This post was first written in 2007, when I was a very new blogger. I like to take it out and look at it every October. Please excuse the formatting; I had trouble with it when this post was first published, and am still having problems with it now. 

There are as many ways to think about death as there are cultures. In my own culture (Anglo-Saxon New Englander roots), we tend not to talk about it too much. But think about the beliefs expressed in this poem* that was read at the funeral of a friend, who was given back to us with these words:

Do not stand at my grave and weep.

I am not there, I do not sleep.

I am a thousand winds that blow.

I am the diamond glints on the snow.

I am the sunlight on the ripened grain.

I am the gentle autumn's rain.

When you awaken in the morning hush,

I am the swift uplifting rush of quiet birds in circled flight.

I am the soft stars that shine at night.

Do not stand at my grave and cry:

I am not there, I did not die.

I think of that poem when it is time to celebrate Los Dias de los Muertos (Days of the Dead) here in New Mexico, observed from October 31 to November 2. On November 1st the souls of children—los angelitos—are believed to return, with adult spirits following on November 2nd. It’s a time to celebrate the lives of those who are no longer with us.

In her book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Barbara Kingsolver tells how she is drawn to this celebration because our culture “allows almost no room for dead people.” It’s true, we honor our military dead in a formal way on Memorial Day and on Remembrance Day, but there really is no holiday that gives us a chance to honor our own lost loved ones in a personal way.

When I first moved to New Mexico and experienced Los Dias de los Muertos, I have to tell you that it shocked me in some fundamental way to see children happily munching on candy skulls, surrounded by grinning skeletons on display and altars (ofrendas) built in remembrance of the dead—perhaps for a grandmother or grandfather, a beloved pet, or even, in the case of the Las Cruces Museum of Natural History, an altar built in memory of extinct animals. Some ofrendas may be publicly displayed, as they are in the plaza of La Mesilla in Las Cruces, and some may be built at home. The altars might contain pictures of the deceased, religious symbols, objects to remind us of the person, dishes of their favorite foods, marigolds, and lots of candles—maybe even a calavera (also a colloquial term for skulls), a short mocking poetic epitaph. I was amazed to see the familiar attitude expressed toward death—a kind of sly, humorous, and elbow-nudging nod to our mortality.

Here is a calavera that I found on a teacher web site, with their English translation.

Ahi viene el agua por la ladera,
y se me moja
mi calavera.
La muerte calaca,
ni gorda ni flaca.
La muerte casera,
pegada con cera.

Here comes the water
down the slope
and my skull
is getting wet.
Death, a skeleton
neither fat nor skinny.
A homemade skeleton
stuck together with wax.

I guess I needed to undergo an attitude change toward death, because it was something I was so uncomfortable with. I believe that now I’m ready to take part in the Days of the Dead celebration. I have the short life of my own little “angelita,” to celebrate. My daughter Angelina, who died not very long after being born, has never had a birthday party and has never been included in any other family celebrations. This year, I will build an ofrenda to help remember her, and I’ll make another for the lives of my parents.
Please enjoy my sister's photographs of the amazing ofrenda she built in Angelina’s honor. Thank you, dear Auntie.

*Note about the poem, "Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep" from information I found out on further research: It turns out that there is much controversy surrounding the origins of this poem. Some believe that it is the work of Mary Elizabeth Frye (1904-2004), but apparently she neither published nor copyrighted it, although that doesn't mean she didn't write it. It is often thought to have native American origins. On the prayer card from the funeral of my friend, it is called a Hopi poem.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

When the Farmer is Your Neighbor

Eating fruits and vegetables in season is good: Getting them right from your neighbor's farm stand is even better. This summer, we are eating fresh, and we're eating just about as local as we can get. 

Every Wednesday and Saturday morning during the summer, we experience what might be considered a little traffic jam just down the road and around the corner. The cars and trucks line the sides of the road, waiting for 8AM when the family owned and operated Hale Farm's stand opens up. 

While we wait, we admire the rows of vegetables and flowers and the view of Picacho Peak in the distance. 

At opening time, folks grab a little red wagon and fill it with green chiles just brought in from the field, watermelon, garlic, onions, okra, cucumbers, black-eyed peas, tomatoes, cabbage, new potatoes. eggplants, squash of all kinds, green beans, fragrant basil, honey from the hives out back, and cut flowers. Oh, and the best sweet corn on the cob that I've eaten in years--Bill grills it in the husk. Those are just some of the items I've seen so far, and we're still at the beginning of the season. 

The line at the cash registers stretches out to the road, while the neighbors chat and kid each other good-naturedly. The lady at the register says "There's got to be a place where no one's in a rush, and this is it!" We all agree, while reaching over for a few more fresh green beans. 

This is part of our haul from this past Wednesday. Tonight we're having grilled corn on the cob and a salad made of those red new potatoes, green beans, and pesto made from that good-smelling basil. So healthy, and so delicious!

If you want to see what's going on at the farm, you can like them on Facebook at Hale Farm (Las Cruces). 

Sunday, July 26, 2015

We Find a Bee Man

July is our time for big storms. In fact, the storm that took down one of our big Chinese elm trees and knocked the top off the gas meter happened in July 2010. You can read Librarian Needs Spelling Lessons and the following posts for that frightening adventure. This year was no different; the wild storm of July 10 brought down half of another Chinese elm and its branch full of bees. 

The swarm hanging off of the branch on the ground

The swarm was located in that shady area in the foreground

Bill sawed away the surrounding wood

Ours were honeybees and very calm and focused on their job of protecting the queen and waiting for the scout bees to find them a new home. They were not "killer" or Africanized bees, which will attack in great numbers at the least little disturbance.

Normally, we would let nature take its course and just wait for the swarm to relocate. However, the rest of our trees are going to be removed, and we are surrounded by pecan orchards that are regularly sprayed. Out of concern for the welfare of the bees, we decided to find someone to relocate them.

It took a lot of asking around until we spoke with some honey producers at the local Farmers Market. They directed us to Anthony, who is starting up some hives. This was only his second time gathering up a swarm and he did a wonderful job, with his calm demeanor and gentle movements. 

Not all bee swarm captures are so calm and successful; to see some really awful ones just go to YouTube and search "bees swarms gone bad." I couldn't watch any of the videos to the end!

Anthony uses the smoker to calm the bees

High-tech equipment: An old bed sheet

The chunk of wood with the bees is carefully lifted and set onto the sheet

The whole thing is carefully wrapped to keep the bees safely inside

When the swarm and the branch were all wrapped up, they were placed in the bed of Anthony's truck and off they went to their new home up in the Organ Mountains. 

Once the bees are settled in their branch on the ground at Anthony's place, he plans to "build around them," using the top-bar method. We had a delightful time talking bees, sharing the capture experience, and taking pictures along with Anthony, his wife Lydia, and their sweet pup Lennie.

If you need a good bee whisperer in the Las Cruces area, let me know in the comments.


"The telling of the bees is a traditional English custom, in which bees would be told of important events in their keeper's lives, such as births, marriages, or departures and returns in the household. The bees were most commonly told of deaths in their master's family. The custom was prevalent all over England, as well as in a few places in Ireland and Wales..." -- From Wikipedia, Telling the Bees.

You'll want to see this video of a four-year-old handling bees.