Variations on a Theme: Bench by Bench

Wildlife Bench MIchigan

We explored Michigan last summer, my husband and I. I mentioned we grew up in the Detroit area, but despite spending our childhoods in Michigan, we have never really explored the western half of the state. Our opportunity to rectify that came in the guise of the Row by Row Experience 2015.

Since the theme for 2015 was water, what better place to participate than Michigan? (Okay, maybe Minnesota.) My husband started planning out our trip, and because he is an engineer, he designed our itinerary to maximize the number of shops we could conquer.

Let’s just say, I have more than nine rows.

Here are some of the benches I came across in the beautiful state of Michigan (yes, I know I am partial!)

White Bench Michigancalifornia-oregon trip nikon_2015 06 15_0797Michigan Fence BenchBlue Bench CompanyLog BenchPetoskey Stone BenchPetoskey Stone Bench AerialChainlink Bench MichiganBoardwalk Bench MichiganPark Bench MichiganRed Building Bench

I Have an Idea: Entrance Poster (Part 1)


The entryway in our home has been an important space for me. I like the idea of a welcoming entrance to our home. Our entrance isn’t grand – like most of our home its dimensions have inherent problems when trying to do something with it! Mostly I try to keep it picked up and the closet doors shut.

But one year I was decorating for Thanksgiving and came upon a turkey and pilgrim my children had made in elementary school. They were packed away with Thanksgiving decorations, but I never knew what to do with them!

I decided to put them in a poster frame and hang them in the foyer. They looked surprisingly good there.

Pilgrim Poster

In fact, it looked so good that the space looked bare to me when I took them down.

That’s when I decided to hang a poster-sized picture, which I would change out periodically to fit the season.

My first choice was a picture I took on our daily walk. It was a peaceful winter scene.

Winter Poster

As much as I enjoyed the poster, when the snow was gone, it was time to move on and store it away until next winter with the hats and gloves!

Variations on a Theme: A Journey of 10,000 Steps Begins with a Single Mailbox

Barn Mailbox

I began noticing more mailboxes after my initial appreciation of the Mack bulldog.

My morning walk with my husband is about 3 miles. We have walked 1 of 2 routes for about 3 years now. Despite having lived in the same neighborhood for decades, I never paid very much attention to my neighbor’s mailboxes, unless of course I collided with it with my car (which did actually happen. Another story for another day. Let’s keep this post positive!)

But once I started walking the same route consistently, I began to appreciate the creativity and care that a surprising number of my neighbors put into their mailboxes.

Here are some from my neighborhood:

DSC_0430IMG_6066IMG_6060IMG_6059IMG_6050DSC_0435IMG_5953IMG_6047IMG_6048Saddlebag MailboxIMG_5952

I Have an Idea: Bourbon Bottle Vanilla


How many bottles is too many bottles?

I may be a pack rat, but I prefer to think of it as being a “saver.”

Part of the reason why I save things is that I like the idea of a new use for an old thing. I think that most things can remain useful even if I haven’t figured out in what way yet.

I especially like bottles. This became an issue when my husband became interested in visiting craft distilleries. When we finished the bourbon we bought after visiting Tuthilltown Distillery in upstate New York, I couldn’t get rid of the empty bottle. It was just so lovely.

Tuthilltown Sign

Where it all started.

It wasn’t until my son was visiting for Christmas and mentioned he made his own vanilla for baking that I realized I had found a way to repurpose my bourbon bottles!

(Side note- most baked goods are better with a splash (or 2) or vanilla instead of a teaspoon as usually suggested!)

Vanilla with filter

We ordered vanilla beans online and bought the least expensive vodka available, since my son said, “the cheaper the vodka the better.” We cleaned out our bourbon bottles, added the vanilla beans, then poured in the vodka. The beans soaked in the vodka bath, and after a week or so it was ready!

Unaged VanillaUnaged Vanilla in cabinet

Aged Vanilla

Wish you could smell it!

That’s how I ended up with a bourbon bottle full of vanilla.

Variations on a Theme: Mailboxes

There was a movement in the late 1990s and early 2000s when communities adopted an animal statue and decorated them. Our town participated in the Miles of Mules project. Big, dramatic mules.


(Notice the bench in the background!)

We were driving in another town that was also participating in the project and saw one of the mules. I enthusiastically proclaimed to my family, “I always notice them!” It struck us as a hilarious statement since they were impossible not to notice!

Since then, this statement has been a family joke whenever you point out something unusual. But the joke also has a truth in it that we sometimes don’t pay attention to things right in front of us, and it does add to our life experience to notice them.

For example, mailboxes.

My husband decided to take a challenge at work to walk 10,000 steps a day. I joined in. We walked in our neighborhood every morning. During these walks I started noticing mailboxes that I never noticed while driving through the neighborhood. It actually started with one particular mailbox. I loved this mailbox at first sight!



This mailbox was the beginning of an obsession!!! Stay tuned…

Favorite Things: Brown Paper Packages Tied Up with String


Because I live several states away from most of my family, I have to mail presents. We used to exchange Christmas and birthday presents with everyone. As our numbers grew, we lowered the number and decreased the expense of gifts by picking names among adults and children. Some families exchange birthday gifts and some don’t, but regardless, I have mailed more gifts than I can count at this point.

Because so many gifts were being exchanged for some years, I had plenty of opportunities to experiment with wrapping and packaging presents. I like to tailor the package to the person just as much as the gift. My goal is for the receiver to see a cohesive display of gifts from the moment they open the box that hopefully makes them smile and feel special.



One wrapped present that I was especially pleased with was the “bow-tie ribbon.”

Our friend is a snappy dresser, so I decided to make a “bow-tie ribbon” for his birthday package.

I used brown craft paper for the gift wrapping and had fabric left over from a Birthday Quilt Runner I made for a quilt guild contest (another story for another day– it ended badly) that I thought would make a festive looking tie.

I found wonderful directions and a pattern on the site  I measured the circumference of the box, which was 16 inches, so I made the pattern that length.Pattern

After a few tries of tying it this is how it looked! He loved it!


I also made one for my son- here is how it looked!



Variations on a Theme: Ode to the Simple Bench


This picture says it all. Enjoy the view.

I am not sure I would have noticed this bench as part of the view if I hadn’t gotten into the habit of appreciating benches in my neighborhood.

A rush of affection for the person or more likely people who made that effort to provide a bench to the traveler came over me. Like the well laid trail I was walking on to get to this view – this bench felt like a kindness.

I’d like to share with you some other benches I noticed while visiting Northern California.


Tilden Park, CA


Tilden Park, CA


Tilden Park, CA


UC Berkeley Campus


UC Berkeley Campus


UC Berkeley Campus


Timber Cove Inn, Jenner CA


Sonoma, CA


Marin Headlands, CA


Marin Headlands, CA


Marin Headlands, CA

The benches were simple, roughly hewn and part of the beautiful view.

I Have an Idea: Barn Door Desk (Part 4)

d5200_2015 05 03_0149

I finally had all the materials I needed: my old door and two amazing sawhorses.

Unfortunately, the sawhorses were just a bit too tall to be the right height for a desk. Since sawhorses are on an angle, cutting them wasn’t as easy as I originally thought it would be. I mentioned earlier that I married an engineer.  My husband was enlisted.

d5200_2015 05 03_0151

You know it’s serious when you break out the calculator!

Next—time to use some elbow grease! We washed and sanded and removed the paint from the door.

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It was surprisingly stubborn, but finally the wood grain could be seen. We decided to stain the legs ebony and the desk top natural.

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Three coats of polyurethane later, and we were ready to construct the desk.

We used angle irons to fix the door to the sawhorses. We were lucky that the door we found fit perfectly and was easy to attach—I was right to be so particular!

We moved the desk into our office, where I use it every day. It is a fun and functional addition to our home!


(I cleaned it off for this photo.)


I Have an Idea: Barn Door Desk (Part 3)

As I have discussed in my previous posts, I was on a mission to find the owner of a pair of sawhorses, and I had put my daughter on the case. Since I still don’t know how she actually found out the guy’s name, I asked her to explain it herself. Here is what she said:

Daughter here.

I’m sad to say that tracking down the owner of the erstwhile Weed Shop was not my first foray into internet sleuthing. First I tried to do a reverse address search, but I didn’t have any luck.

Then I remembered that property tax information is open to the public, so I searched the records online to find out who the owners of the property were. From there, it was a quick Google search to track down the phone number.

All told, it took me about a half hour to track down that name, and in the process I discovered that I was maybe a little too good at internet stalking.

Me again.

I had a name and a phone number, now the ball was in my court.  I wondered how to start the conversation with him.

“I was trespassing on your property…”

“You don’t know me…”

“I really love your sawhorses that I saw while I was on your property– deep into your property.”


What I imagined his reaction to these introductions would be.

Well, I’m not sure how I started, but it ended with the owner suggesting that I call her husband about it, and he wasn’t home. She suggested that I call back when he was home. The ball was moved forward.

I called him when she suggested, and he was agreeable! We set up a meeting time for the upcoming Saturday since he was planning on being there working on restoring the house on the property. My husband agreed to join me.

My last hurdle to jump was the price. “How much would you like for 2 of them?” I asked.

He said, “How much were you thinking to pay?”

I threw out a number. “How about $10.00.”

“How about $5.OO?” he said.


I had never been negotiated down before. I really liked this guy and his sawhorses! I hoped they would be as nice as I remembered them! (They were.)

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It just goes to show that you never know what the day may bring, and sometimes people can really surprise you in a good way!