Category: Uncategorized

Fish Heads, Fish Heads…

Tomatoes in the foreground with a view of the fortified strawberry patch on the right

Inspired by how they plant tomatoes at Love Apple Farms, I’m going to dig ours up today and re-plant them. Dunno if this is a good idea or not, but who knows, it may help. I planted them back in April straight into the ground – duh! And here we are, sitting on gobs of worm castings from our basement worm set-up and lots of crushed eggshells.  The only thing missing are fish heads and those should be easy enough to get from our local fish monger.

Wild salmon head, crushed eggshells and organic fertilizer

Later: well, got the fish heads and my 8yo helped put them in the holes.  The kids are having a blast telling everyone about them.  8 yo to friend: “Do you know what we have under our tomatoes? Dead fish heads!”  He wanted to pop the eyes before we covered them up but I was too squeamish.  Thanks to hubby for cutting the heads (quite large, from wild salmon) into more manageable halves.

It’s been a week now and after some initial shock and a dropping of all their lower leaves, the tomatoes are now busting out.  What a difference the fertilizer brew seems to be making!  The plants are greening up, setting on blooms and have grown several inches.  We also planted them deeper into the ground so they’ll hopefully have a solid support system as they grow up.  Here’s hoping!!

8/9/12 – Update, three of the tomato plants died, one is flourishing.  I was baffled because they were doing fabulously and then suddenly started to brown and die except for one plant in the corner.  I was so sad!!  Then, while reading a book on companion planting I learned the reason they died was the potatoes I planted next to them.  Because they are from the same family, they are more susceptible to blight which is exactly what the tomatoes died of.  The potato plant is ailing too compared with a sister plant elsewhere.  I also had a total fail with the radishes planted in the same box. Turns out tomato roots release and exudate that radish roots do not like.  I should have planted the radishes with the beets but not next to the eggplant (it’s in the same family as tomatoes).  Next year I will be much smarter!!

Spring Thoughts

Path made of Ohio foundation stones

Nothing like winter’s chills to get us thinking about spring. After so much work on the inside of the house, we spent the spring and summer months of last year planting in the garden and enjoying our first harvest of vegetables and flowers. Mom and dad K helped us install a bluestone cap to the unfinished retaining wall in the back and brought hand-hewn flagstones from Ohio that used to be in the basement of the farm house dad grew up in for a path in the front garden.  (For their age, my parents totally rock!) The kids love meandering via the garden to the front door while we unlock it and it’s a lovely sentimental connection to our country roots.

Away went the old scruffy holly and gangly rose bushes (mom replanted them at her house in Ohio – she loves orphan plants) and we repurposed gravel-bound hosta and day lilies to new locations in the updated layout, added an assortment of flower and foliage plants topped it all off with a Japanese Stewartia tree.  The garden now looks like the start of a shady woodland path with clusters of like plants grouped together and interesting discoveries to make as you wander along the path.  The top photo was taken shortly after the garden was planted in July and the one below is how it looked when we first moved in.  In October we planted hundreds of bulbs for waves of spring color along the path and clusters of crocus and daffodils here and there among the bushes.  A bed of bearded iris will make a big show in front of the stewartia tree through June and July. The kids have no idea and I can’t wait to see their faces when the things wake up and the delight begins.

Front Garden, before: hosta & holly and gravel covered dirt
Mom & Dad buttering the wall
Bluestone sets the retaining wall off nicely

In the back we planted raspberries, tomatoes, beans, strawberries, onions, eggplant and herbs in raised beds along the fence and in March started our family composting operation that includes worm bins in the basement and a year-round compost system in the back garden.  Because the soil is contaminated from the nearby Gowanus Canal with industrial waste from the last two centuries, we are careful to practice safe gardening and installed a barrier at the bottoms of the new beds to keep the roots contained and put clean fill in the beds.  We’ll use the composted organic kitchen waste in the garden.  We mulched tree leaves to provide winter cover for the flower beds. Both the front and back will likely undergo major changes with future renovations – thank goodness they look half way decent now in the mean time! It was a lot of back breaking work – especially digging all the trash out of the back flower beds.  That was a project that took the whole family weeks!

We sifted buckets of debris from the back flower beds

We used a pick axe and our hands to break up the cement-like soil packed with bricks, rocks, broken glass, household trash and riddled with roots. Next was sifting 10 gallon bucket after bucket of gravel and glass shards from the remaining soil and adding back at least a dozen bags of soil and amendments to take the place of all the rubble removed before finally planting roses, shrubs and flowers. The difference was amazing.  Mom and dad took the buckets of gravel for their driveway in Ohio so I suppose you could say we traded some small rocks in for some bigger ones. Every time they visit now they bring us a truck load of good Ohio topsoil – we’re so lucky!!

Construction of the raised garden beds
Before: rear garden weed patch

Over the winter we have a couple more projects: building a fence with a gate to protect this year’s vegetable garden from the digging adventures of our new pup, Roxy, and installing a raspberry trellis before spring comes and thorny canes take over the yard.  We’ll be sure to post pictures of the bulbs when they come up in spring and keep you updated on plans for the vegetable garden.  Last week we worked close to forty pounds of worm castings into the soil and have plans to raise one of the containers another 12″ for nice deep tomato roots.  This year I’m buying plants instead of growing from seed – we only need six tomato plants so it’s a lot more practical.  We’ll definitely plant Japanese eggplant again, some pole beans and look forward to our first season of mature raspberries and strawberries – that is if we can outsmart the critters who like to eat them. The down side of having one of the only gardens around is you’re the go-to snack joint for the local birds, squirrels and raccoon population.

Summer eggplant growing in the vegetable garden


Where the kids LIVE when they're at home

We’ve been dying to post the kids’ room and finally it’s presentable enough to make public. Of all the transformations in the house, this one is not only the most dramatic, but is also the most loved and lived in.

When we originally saw the house, the layout of the two extra bedrooms was key in making it work for our four-kid combo pack. The one larger room (16′ x 13′) would become a boys’ sleeping nook and kids’ play room and the smaller room (8′x 6′) would be for the girls to sleep in (and also meets their very important girlie privacy needs).

Kids' Room - Before

The original room had the same lovely linoleum as the master bedroom and a drop ceiling like the kitchen. A former kitchenette from a long ago apartment had been closed off and turned into the strangest closet you’ve ever seen (13′ wide x 3 1/2′ deep with a 28″ door in the wall to get to it). This space would become the boys’ sleeping nook and closet.

The door to the old closet
The demolished closet
New closet, in progress with sleeping nook, left
Painting the boys' sleeping nook

We did a lot of demo in this room, including the exterior wall and ceiling to add insulation. The floors came out revealing more linoleum which we left, installing wall to wall Berber carpet over top. We chose not to level the floors in the upstairs due to time constraints and pushing it off until later down the road when the kids move out. They like to spend all their spare time in the new space. Who wouldn’t? They have their own iMac, art gallery, a TV where they play Wii and do TV stuff, they play games, do their homework and have a cozy sofa for curling up and reading. On any given evening, we grown-ups are downstairs making dinner and the kids will all be upstairs: playing Lego, drawing, goofing and chasing around. It’s their own little universe made just for them and is a BIG reason why our tiny house works.

Boys' sleeping nook
We bought this artwork for the kids' room because the characters reminded us of the four of them
TV & Media
Computer Corner

Just Add a (back) Splash of Tile and It’s Done

A quick post to give you a peek at how the kitchen is progressing. It’s mostly done and only awaits back splash tile, a new floor after our backyard is done (the linoleum is a placeholder) and some wall paint. The first photo (below) is how it looks right now and the second one shows the same view from when we first saw the house. Amazing the difference!  The yellow-green paint sample you see next to the trumpet print is the what we’ll put on the walls and we’re thinking of using a colorful glass mosaic for the back splash tile.  The cabinets are the AKURUM/ RATIONELL system from Ikea, as are the Domsjo sink (sorry, no link) and TÄRNAN faucet .  The counter tops are Caesarstone in ‘Blizzard’, the Halo fan is from The Modern Fan Company and the stove is a 36″ Blue Star range with six burners.

We kept everything mostly in the same places, adding a stacked washer/dryer where the old refrigerator was (they were in the basement) and moving the sink over toward the stove to accommodate a dishwasher – a must have for our big hungry family.  We love the height of the restored tin ceiling that was hiding behind the old dropped one, and the full-depth counter that replaced the 12″ wide one that was there before.  The Room and Board kitchen table and Eames, lcm chairs from my old apartment fit perfectly and we’re even able to put both leaves in.  The eat-in style of the kitchen helps to create a wonderful family atmosphere and with the south-facing garden light, it’s always the brightest, warmest spot in the house – just the way we like it.

New Kitchen
The Old Kitchen

Only Three Ceilings, Yes?

Time flies and blog posts don’t happen when you finally start a renovation project.  The only reason I’m writing now is because it’s 7 am and too early to be at the house, banging on the pink plaster meringue in the living room with a sledge hammer. Three weeks ago this Tuesday we became the proud owners of 112 and right away, the demolition on the ceilings began.  By that Wednesday night, the drop ceilings in the kitchen were history, the basement was cleaned out and Jeff and I were covered with dirt from head toe.  The next thing we knew, our trusty crew arrived and started tearing away at the layers of acoustic tiles, tin, plaster and lath.

In our bedroom upstairs, the peaks of ceiling plaster and faux beams came out and the guy you see in the photo, below, groaned when he saw what was behind it: tin over plaster.

The ceiling goes

In the boys’ room next door, an acoustic drop ceiling hid old plaster and lath – all to come down.  In the photo below, their ceiling is now gone (no tin here thank goodness) and you can see the roof of the house above the ceiling joists.  As old as it is, we were thrilled to discover it to be in excellent condition with little to no water or bug damage.  We joked our house has a great foundation and roof – it’s all the stuff in between that needs replaced.

The other thing you might notice in the ceiling above is the complete lack of any insulation.  That’s not beacause we took it out – there wasn’t any to begin with.  None.  Not in any of the walls or ceilings. It’s one of the main reasons we’re doing all this so the house will be snug and stay cool in summer and warm in winter.

So two and a half weeks in, our amazingly good natured contractor’s favorite line is now, “So only three ceilings, yes?” followed by a smile and a chuckle.  Our ‘quick’ redo of just the bedroom and living room ceilings has morphed into something MUCH larger, but then we kind of knew it would and so did he.  Three ceilings became all the walls, new electrical throughout, 21st century cable and data lines in each room (no more painted over stuff running everywhere across walls and moldings = a happy Jeff), a new bathroom and now, as of this week, leveling the floors in the downstairs which in the kitchen alone, involved tearing out six glued down, nailed together layers chronicling 150 years of flooring fashion.

Up comes the old kitchen subfloor, and the joists will next be leveled

We estimate the weight of the extra walls and floors taken out to be in the tons and imagine the house breathing a huge bariatric sigh of relief as it sheds the excess pounds.  Today, the old sub floor started to come up and we’re eager to right the sag that in some places measures 2-3″ and to not having to ‘climb’ the kitchen floor instead of cross it to get something out of the frig.  Although it may sound extreme, it’s not so unexpected.  After all, if you think about it, you’d be sagging a bit in the middle too if you were born in 1865.


The counter Jeff set up on the blog is counting down the hours, days and minutes until we are the owners of 112.  Last night I couldn’t sleep, thinking about all the things to do between now and Tuesday, after Tuesday, and into infinity.  Sheep were not an option.  The next thing I knew, this TV commercial was going through my head and I had to laugh.


We have an ongoing debate, Jeff and I, about what ketchup to have around the house.  I buy only organic, he buys only Heinz – me because of pesticides, he because he fancies there’s a family connection.  Amazingly, Heinz introduced an organic ketchup, and they now have it in our small urban grocery store, saving us the potential conflict of a dual ketchup household when we move into 112.  Jeff takes his ketchup VERY seriously, right up there with not eating Dunkin Donuts because it’s not Donut Pub (he and the kids hold their breath any time they walk by one).  He occasionally has mid-life fantasies (unrealized) about getting a tattoo but can’t decide what he wants.  How about this one Jeff?

Sign ‘O’ Our Times

It’s been 23 years since Prince released  Sign ‘O’ the Times - a double sided album featuring multiple musical styles and messages.  And, as I walk through our soon to be new neighborhood, that title song rings in my head.  It could be something as literal as “the signs” or it could be the urban vibe of his music or just the dated graffiti (note, we cannot play the song in this post because last week Prince announced that the Internet is “completely over”).

So, be that as it may, below are some “signs” of what our neighborhood was, is and could be,  a block East over towards the Gowanus Canal (which has it’s own storied history).

The next sign to appear in the ‘nabe?  How about “Home Sweet Home”.

(click on the pictures to enlarge)

Dead end before canal
No dumping means no dumping

Gowanus Canal tranquility
Graffiti boats

A tree grows in Brooklyn
Urban art complete with a plaque

Before the After: The During

Everyone loves a good ‘before and after’ story.  Entire home improvement networks have sprung up as a result, luring us with the promise of the ‘reveal’ after the commercial break.  One thing I’ve always loved about renovating is looking past the ‘before’ and imagining the ‘after’.  But the part I especially enjoy is precisely what makes a lot of people squeamish – the DURING.  It’s not too surprising  the words enduring and during are related; both come from the Latin, indurare, which means to ‘make hard’.  Renovating a home is an endurance test to be sure and a guaranteed problem solving challenge.  No matter how experienced you are it can be a humbling process.  I have to give a lot of credit to my parents – without their renovators blood in me, I wouldn’t be considering such a crazy project, and to Jeff, who seems like a pretty good sort, for taking on the challenge together.  At each turn, we keep asking each other, “You still in?” and the answer (so far!) is always, “Yes.”

So for those of you out there who think we’re nuts (and to remind myself I have done this three times before and may survive another and hopefully last one) here are some ‘before & after’ pics of the place I live in now.  It’s a five story brownstone in the same neighborhood as our new house and the apartment is on the second floor on what used to be the master bedroom level.  The room that is now the kitchen/living room would have originally been the master bedroom for the home, with grand, 12ft ceilings ornamented with plaster cornices.  When I bought it, it had last been renovated in the early eighties in a patched together way over an earlier 1960′s job that covered up some 1930′s work that was probably the original conversion from rear bedroom and front sitting room to single floor apartment.  First is a picture of the kitchen from when I first bought the apartment.

The next picture is of the bedroom on the left. Look close, and you can see the only way to fit the bed in was up against the wall on one side with the head right next to the radiator.  Nice.  The kitchen window to the right looked out over an asphalt roof littered with broken bottles.  The ceilings are dropped to 8 ft in this photo and the windows are 5 ft tall with bars over them.  The overall dimension of the room was 16′ x 16′ with a wall down the middle creating two eight foot wide rooms,  the kitchen on the right and the bedroom on the left.

Bedroom Next to Kitchen, Before
Kitchen Window, Before

The next photos are of the demolition process.  This is the part where things can start to get hairy.  In this case, when the crew started to tear down the sheetrock on the ceiling, they discovered that a previous job on the 3rd floor had used the three foot space between my ceiling and their floor above to dump all of the demolition debris from their renovation.  Hundreds of pounds of extra plaster, wood, old food containers and trash had to be carted away as the ceilings were carefully pulled down.

The Demolition

Kitchen Corner by the Window (after demo)

The entire renovation, including the bathroom, laundry room, two front bedrooms, new hardwood floors, and central air conditioning was completed at a breakneck speed in only six weeks.  We had a day crew and in the evening the sheet rock and plaster crew would come.  During the last week there were four crews working at once.

Sketch for the new space
Almost done: back of house showing the new window and door

This picture above is a view of the back of the house showing the new window to the left and door to the right that leads out to the new deck built over the kitchen extension of the apartment below.  The deck cost $15K and added $70K in value to the apt which goes to show you just how precious outdoor space is in NYC!

So that was the BEFORE & DURING, now for the AFTER.After: New Kitchen

New Back Wall with Terrace View
Computer Desk Nook
Living Room (computer nook is to the left)

The two separate rooms in the back are now one open kitchen/living room/office and the formerly eight foot ceilings are now eleven feet and the whole room is open to the Southern exposure and new terrace.

So what are we in for with the new house? Who knows – could be anything. The things we don’t know vastly outnumber the ones we do. Maybe we will find that bag of money in a wall. Perhaps we’ll discover termites outnumber us ten thousand to one. We live in Brownstone Brooklyn – anything is possible.

Our stove at 112: 'Lights with a Match'

It’s not what’s on the outside that matters…

…its what’s on the inside that counts.  This adage may apply to people, but when it comes to one’s home, I’m not so sure it’s true – or is it?

The Kitchen...Complete with faux brick, faux paneling, faux countertops and faux stove.

Our new place is like a time capsule from 1972 housed inside a structure from a hundred years ago, with very little done to it in modern times that doesn’t need to be completely torn out and replaced.

Ty-D-Bol Blue Toilet

Layers of linoleum.  Meringue ceilings that make popcorn look puny, and yes a couple rooms with dropped acoustic tiles hiding old tin ornament behind them.  Lead paint, asbestos tile, termite ridden floor joists, pitching floors that make the furniture bounce when you jump on them – oh joy!

“Why put in copper pipe to fix that leak in the bathroom when I can glue up some pvc from the hardware store?” one can picture Mr. Nazario saying.  “I’m not going to patch the plaster anymore – it’s a waste of my time when they sell perfectly good paneling you can nail over top it in a day.”

Plaster Meringue Arches

And so it must have gone.  It’s a house repaired over forty years of weekends, decorated as needed on the cheap.  Thing is, even though their taste is not ours, you can feel the love as soon as you walk in the front door.  It will take us a lot of work to peel back the layers, revealing the wide pine plank floors and plaster underneath, but it won’t take us any time at all to feel at home.

A Taxing Time

As we continue on our journey of moving forward, there is an uncontrollable urge to look back – back in time as to how things were in a previous era.  Even though we don’t have a time machine yet in this modern age, we do have access to photographs that the city government (not Google) took of all properties for tax purposes.  Here is a brief description of that act from the New York City Department of Records:


Between 1939 and 1941, and again in the mid-1980s, the city photographed every house and building in the five boroughs. Photographic prints of these unique images are now available for purchase.

Sample 1040s Tax PhotographHISTORY OF THIS COLLECTION:

During the 1930s, local governments began to use photography as a tool for appraising real property for taxation purposes. New York City was the largest municipality to adopt this technology. The result was 720,000 35mm black-and-white pictures of every building in the five boroughs. By the time the Municipal Archives accessioned the collection, the original nitrate negatives had begun to deteriorate and exhibit signs of “redox” blemishes (which look like giant snowflakes). With grant funds from federal, state, and private sources, the Archives duplicated the original negatives so that new prints can be produced and copied them to microfilm so that patrons can easily and safely view the entire collection.

So, being tax-paying citizens, we obtained our proof for “461 – 31 BK”

I love the kid sitting on the curb.  He must be at least 75 years old by now.  Does he still live on the block?  Wonder if he was looking back or forward?

40+ years into the future, I think this might be the mid-1980′s photo:

Ahhh, “Those were the days.”