I would have never thought a gardening class would begin with a presentation on spreadsheets. The old adage, “if it’s worth doing, it’s worth measuring” obviously covers more ground than I realized.

Jim is one of our instructors, one of the longest serving Master Gardener volunteers in our community, author of the “You Can Dig It” column in the local paper, and a retired chemical engineer; the latter of which may help explain things as we go along. He kicks off every class with a tip-of-the-day. Sometimes it’s a clever product that makes our gardening chores ever more efficient, a book that may prove invaluable to our future gardening careers, or a quick lesson on drip irrigation. I can’t think of a tip-of-the-day that I haven’t taken to heart, but the spreadsheets were surprising, maybe a little frightening.


The TubTrug was a tip-of-the-day because it’s lightweight and durable, but flexible enough that you can grab it by both handles with one hand; which means you can fill it with flowers, vegetables, weeds, or whatever, and still have one hand free to carry a tool. It comes in various sizes and colors.

The Home Gardener’s Problem Solver was written by ORTHO some time ago so the chemical recommendations are out of date, but the front is filled with pictures of common problems and a brief analysis to help diagnose almost any plant issue.

A quick internet search on ‘gardening spreadsheets’ reveals a gazillion different varieties. There’s spreadsheets for managing the budget for buying seeds, companion planting references, crop rotation tracking, formulas one might use to determine the size of your garden based on the number of people eating the vegetables, and spreadsheets to keep track of the seeds you’ve already bought. It’s the same kinds of things you might track if gardening is your business.

One of Jim’s spreadsheets identifies every gardening chore from pruning, weeding, and cutting down the dahlias to unhooking hoses, disconnecting headers, and moving the drip irrigation valves inside before winter. Another includes a full calendar year of fertilizing reminders, another lists all the plants that didn’t survive his garden, and yet another tracks daily rainfall totals. Jim also uses a spreadsheet to track dilutions for the major chemical products complete with a conversion rate based on the specific buckets and bottles he mixes them in. There’s more, but you get the gist.

courtesy: Jim Janke

Most gardening spreadsheets help organize rather than measure, but there’s plenty of things to measure in the garden, and sometimes the plants will do the measuring for us.

Seventeen years ago, the visibility in the area where I live was less than a mile. Ozone levels have improved significantly since that time, but it prompted the installation of ozone gardens in schools all around the area to educate our children about the effects of air quality and to teach them how to monitor air pollutants using native plants.

Ozone-sensitive plants reflect ozone damage on their leaves with tiny, evenly spaced purple to black dots, known as stippling. Eventually, the leaves will yellow, die and fall off. In this part of Western North Carolina, the cut-leaf coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata), black-eyed Susan (Ridibeckia hirta), yellow crown beard (Verbesina occidentals) and common milkweed (Asciepias syriaca) are just a few of the native plants that are good indicator species for ozone gardens.

Ozone leaf damage occurs on the top of the leaf while the lower leaf is clear of symptoms. Photo Credit: handstheland.org

The National Park Service has compiled a list of plant species found within National Park boundaries that are known to have a negative response to high ozone exposure. You may find native plants for your area on this list, or you can even sign up to establish your garden as an official Ozone Garden at handsontheland.org.

If you are a spreadsheet kind of gardener – well, you probably already have your own spreadsheets. But if you’ve just entered my new mind-blowing world, maybe you’ll find some inspiration within the examples below. Happy Gardening. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Seed Organization for the Gardener With Too Many Seeds; courtesy northwest edible life
Courtesy: Walking In Chicago, Leah Ray
Courtesy: Jim Janke
Courtesy: Jim Janke

A community of volunteers measure precipitation across the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Bahamas every day. CoCoRaHS (pronounced KO-ko-rozz) is a grassroots volunteer network of backyard weather observers of all ages and backgrounds working together to measure and map precipitation (rain, hail and snow) in their local communities. Visit the CoCoRaHS website for more info or to volunteer.

Plant Lessons: a guide for humanity

If a flower contains both male and female reproductive parts, as some flowers do, it is said to be a perfect flower. Flowers that lack one of the reproductive structures, either the stamens or pistils, are known as imperfect flowers. An imperfect flower is also therefore, by definition, incomplete.

Some plants have just one flower; these are called solitary flowers. Others produce clusters of flowers. Scientists first thought flowers bloomed based on their exposure to light. Later they discovered that it’s not the light, but the uninterrupted darkness that triggers flowering – giving us the classification of short day, long day, or day-neutral plants. Day-neutral plants are indifferent to uninterrupted darkness. But some plants, petunias for example, don’t really fit any category because they’ll bloom in all different combinations of day lengths.

A lecture on botany in week two of Master Gardening school queued up a lecture the following week on diseases. Inga, our local expert on the topic, warned that most students wonder how plants survive at all after learning of all the diseases to which they may succumb. I was among them.

Inga made the point early on in her lecture that to identify a plant problem, you must first know what a healthy plant looks like. Some plant’s normal characteristics, or habits at certain stages of growth, can be similar to the symptoms of a disease. Diseases and symptoms of disease are plentiful nonetheless, including leaf spots, fruit rots, blights, fungi, too much moisture, not enough moisture, bacteria, viruses, the dreaded nematodes (tiny roundworms), and even mistletoe. On this note, Inga reminded us that although some diseases cause symptoms and the plant may not look perfect, not all diseases kill. You have to decide what you’re willing to tolerate in terms of appearance.

The lecture on disease was a natural segue to insects. Sam, who has his master’s degree in entomology, and proud owner of an insect collection, had more first-hand knowledge of bugs than I ever imagined possible. Of course, his first point was to remind us that just as soil is not called dirt, real gardeners know that insects are not bugs – although there are a few exceptions, naturally.

For every pound of human on earth, I have now learned there are approximately 300 pounds of insects. They thrive in more environments than any other group of animals, and they are among the oldest animals on earth. They live in the air, in the water, on top of the soil, and in the soil. There’s an estimated 100,000 different insect species in North America alone. By some estimates there are 10 quintillion (10,000,000,000,000,000,000) individual insects on earth at any given time; a typical backyard contains 1,000 or more different species. I wish I didn’t know this.

Even so, the vast majority are harmless or even beneficial; less than 1% are considered pests. That sounds encouraging unless the 1,000 in your backyard are all part of that 1%. That’s highly unlikely in reality since pests have natural enemies, and the beneficial species help control at least some of the worst pests. In fact, insects and weeds are part of a natural ecosystem.

If you plant a garden or establish a grassy lawn, the natural process begins to re-establish a balance of native and non-native plants. The weed that takes hold in the lawn is the first stage in a sequence of events that, if allowed to continue, could eventually result in a forest. Cultivated plants are not nearly as competitive as our native plants, weeds and insects; cultivated plants survive only with the constant help and intervention of the gardener.

The wheel bug is the largest of the 150 or so species of assassin bugs, a predatory insect of great benefit to gardeners. (Photo by William Johnson)

Master Gardeners are taught that it’s not possible or even desireable to rid the garden of all pests. The best way to control the over-population of pests is to keep your plants healthy and reduce plant stress. Healthy plants tend to resist infestations by pests while plants with low vigor actually attract pests.

Remember, however, in a true ecosystem there is no such thing as pests. Only humans consider something a pest when it occurs where they are not wanted.

We’re taught to visit our gardens regularly to observe what’s going on. Know what to look for and intervene early with a strategy that’s economical, physically feasible, effective, and the least toxic.

If all this is true of plants, maybe it’s also true of humans.

Sometimes we prefer a solitary life while others prefer clusters of friends. There are morning people, night owls, and workaholics. Some folks don’t really fit any category because they’ll bloom no matter what their environment. We’re all vulnerable to disease from time to time, although much less so if we are healthy and stress-free. And an uninterrupted, good night’s sleep goes a long way to help us rejuvenate and produce our best blooms.

Sometimes our gardens seem to have been invaded by pests that threaten the balance of our environment. But what we call “pests” are actually part of a natural system at work. An ecosystem has no pests. Only humans consider something a pest when it occurs where they are not wanted.

Some of us are more competitive while others will require the constant help and intervention of a gardener. No human is perfect, and therefore, by definition, incomplete. The famous line, you complete me, comes to mind.

History suggests the best way to maintain a healthy ecosystem is to check in with each other regularly to observe what’s going on. Know what to look for and intervene early with a strategy that’s economical, physically feasible, effective, and the least toxic to each other – and our planet.

Test your knowledge:
Plants are categorized by their growth habits. These include:
A. Shrubs, trees, and ground covers;
B. Evergreen and herbaceous;
C. Annuals, biennials and perennials;
D. Monocots and dicots.
True or False: Fungicides kill fungi.
Which of the statements below is false?
A. It’s not possible (or even desirable) to rid gardens of all pests.
B. When you see a plant problem, the first thing to do is spray it according to the label
C. Prevention is the first tool in pest management.
D. Misuse of pesticides can result in the pest evolving a resistance to that particular chemical.
E. All of the above statements are true.
True or False: The vast majority (>99%) of insects are considered harmless or beneficial.
Answer Key:
C. Annuals, biennials and perennials;
False: Fungicides slow down or prevent fungus attack; they do not kill the fungus directly.
B. When you see a plant problem, the first thing to do is spray it according to the label instructions. False: the first step is to identify the plant.

Life After Running

I can vouch that there is no good way to begin this topic after writing dozens of different openings over the past few months. I’ve reminded myself that athletes retire all the time, and it’s probably a difficult transition for all of us. But it seems especially difficult when your head is still in the game, and it’s only your body that has given up. At a time when there appears to be no limit to human endurance, it’s hard to accept that your body does indeed have its own independent limit.

I’ve been a runner since the early 90s. My son was in elementary school at the time, and now he’s thirty-six. I ran every morning with an inexpensive watch on my wrist to be sure I made it home in time to dress for work. And when I took a new job that required travel, I ran in beautiful and interesting cities all over the country.

I was lucky enough to have the opportunities to run in Italy, Spain, and Ireland; and on a treadmill in India where I watched the miles go by in kilometers for the first time. I experienced the horrible side effects of running at altitude when we first moved to Ecuador, and the excitement of running with an elite runner when I went to Africa. But the long runs here at home that followed the river down the mountain to the next town over where my husband met me at LuLu’s for lunch – those were my favorite runs.

Runners remember every race – the mood of the race, the course, every ache, pain and decision we make along the way, but it’s the places I remember most.

My husband encouraged me to run a 10k race in 2007. “It’s only six miles,” I remember him telling me. He realized it was actually 6.2 miles while he was waiting for me at the finish line. I found out when there was no finish line at the six-mile mark, and my lungs were already about to explode. The Chicago marathon followed a few months later, and that race changed everything. Training for marathons, recovering from marathons, planning for the next marathon, researching my injuries, researching new training plans, writing about injuries, writing about training – this became my favorite pastime.

The funny thing about following your passion is that if you go in too headstrong, according to some experts, you may crash and burn at the first sign of hardship. You have to ease your way into this new love, bond with it, and nurture the relationship over time. This way you don’t throw in the towel and quit when the going gets tough.

On the other hand, if you don’t throw yourself into this passion wholeheartedly at some point, you may never realize your full potential. I had the pleasure of easing my way into running slowly over many years, and also throwing myself at it completely.

If you truly follow your passion, your life is going to change. The challenge is to regain control of your life afterwards. The Passion Paradox

Achilles tendinitis took hold in my right foot in 2018 a few months after my first 50k. It was my new favorite distance, and I was determined to run this new further distance again – and as many times after that as possible. But when the swelling subsided there was another problem.

Some runners have run with Haglund’s Deformity in one or both heels for years, but it’s a painful existence that never improves. Your heel feels like there’s glass moving around inside. It swells, gets stiff, and then it’s painful to even walk. Surgery is an option, but it’s not pretty nor a guarantee.

I spent much of the spring and early summer of 2018 doing physical therapy to resolve the Achilles tendinitis and re-strengthen my calf. Eventually I could run without pain, but it didn’t last because the bony protusion of Haglund’s irritated the area around the tendon. So I ran every other day, continued therapy, iced my heel daily, and basically spent the last half of 2018 experimenting. I was willing to try anything, but nothing worked, and the pain and stiffness grew consistently worse. About a year ago, I threw in the towel and retired.

An injury leaves you irritable because of the lost time from training. Knowing you won’t ever run again leaves a pit in the bottom of your stomach that’s hard to resolve. I had been careful to identify myself with things other than running all these years, but there was still the question of what would I be associated with so strongly going forward that it would give my heart a place to land.

Around the same time that I retired, I also partially tore my left rotator cuff leaving my shoulder in a painful frozen state for months. Adding insult to injury, a 60-pound dog jumped up and bit my nose while I was saying hello to his owner.

I can’t begin to count the dozens of angry, untethered dogs that have scared me half out of my mind over the years. Two boxers would bolt through their invisible fence on my long runs down the mountain every week. I dreaded them with all my heart. One particularly lively laborador in South Carolina nipped at my elbows, jumped onto my shoulder, and tore the shirt right off my arm. Dogs were everywhere. I had developed a strategy of sorts: turn off my music, move to the other side of the road, stop for a minute, walk, and I’d yell “FOOEY!” when all else failed. Not one of them ever made me retreat, and they never bit me. Then, this seemingly harmless dog on a leash across the street from my house bites me while I’m standing still. It was as if my whole identity was being attacked.

My husband helped me sort through my thoughts in those early months of 2019. He researched surgery options, different shoes, orthotics, even other sports I might try. Meanwhile, I started walking the trail around the lake by my house. The pace was soooo slow, and every runner that passed me was an awful reminder of why I was on the trail around the lake in the first place. But I could walk for as long as I wanted without pain, and when I finally let go of being angry I realized I really enjoy these long walks.

Abby Wambach writes in her memoir, Forward, that she realized, “Soccer is no longer what I do, but it will always be a part of who I am, an indispensable thread of my past.” She recalls a friend giving her a metaphor about retirement:

“Trapeze artists are so amazing in so many ways because they are grounded to one rung for a long time, and in order to get to the other rung they have to let go. What makes them so brilliant and beautiful and courageous and strong is that they execute flips in the middle. The middle is their magic. If you’re brave enough to let go of that first rung, you can create your own magic in the middle.”

I’ve traveled all these miles for all these years with just my own two feet, and it’s been an amazing journey in every way. My shoulder has recovered, the scar on my nose is hardly visible, I’ve learned to manage my injured heel, and I’ve let go of that first rung.

The Chicago Lakefront 50k was my last race, and my favorite race.

Who’s a Master Gardener?

A class was advertised in the community newspaper that my husband just happened to read in December. He thought I should sign up. The last time he thought I should sign up for something I spent a year jumping off the top of telephone poles, climbing the Alpine Tower, hiking through the mountains, and paddling the cold whitewaters of the Nantahala Gorge. I no longer take these “you should…” suggestions lightly.

I sent off my request to join the class nonetheless, and was immediately met with a questionnaire: “What are your top three areas of gardening interest? (anything I can get to grow?), Other Horticultural Training you’ve received? (None) Gardening groups in which you are currently active? Gardening magazines you currently receive?” (None, and none) I must have managed a suitable answer to every question after all, and the next email announced, “Welcome to the Extension Master Gardener Program!” There were 20 future EMG volunteers enrolled. The first day of class was last Tuesday.

Everyone was invited to stand up and introduce themselves when class began. One man had been gardening for more than 30 years. A lady discovered dahlias last year, grew them in her garden, and won three first-place prizes at the County Fair! Everyone spoke of the challenges of gardening in the mucky clay that dominates our area versus the sandy or loamy soils of their previous gardens in other parts of the country. I finally volunteered to speak, and all I could think to say in the presence of these experienced gardeners is that I just really enjoy playing in the dirt. I could have mentioned that my husband and I had planted over 300 plants and 40 trees this past summer (we planted one more tree a couple of weeks ago), or that I live next door to one of the most special native gardens in the city. But my mind went blank, and no one seemed to mind anyway.

Most of our first class was spent discussing the bigger part of the EMG volunteer’s commitment, which is surprisingly not the 50 some odd hours of training we’ll complete between now and April, but the 40 hours of volunteer service we’re obliged to perform before the end of December. There’s community gardens to help out with and a booth to man at the County Fair, newsletters to write, questions to answer from the general public, wreath making workshops at Christmas, garden tours, and a plant sale. There’s even an opportunity to participate in a workday at the Corneille Bryan Native Garden next door to my house. It will hardly feel like work. But first, we’ll learn everything there is to know about gardening.

The North Carolina Extension Gardener Handbook is 728 pages covering twenty-one different topics from soil and composting to propagation, diagnostics and wildlife. When the instructor introduced our first topic he emphasized that “Dirt is what you bring inside on the bottom of your shoes. Soil is what’s in the garden.” And away we go.

Our first homework assignment involved selecting two sections of our own gardens to submit to soil sampling. We would dig seven or eight holes from each site, take a sampling of soil from each hole, mix it all together in a plastic container, and transfer the combined soil to a small box that would be shipped off to Raleigh for analysis. The most challenging part of the exercise, our instructor warned, was to give each section of your garden a name you could remember. My husband came up with the idea of right field, left field, center field and home plate, and so I collected samples from right field and home plate. Apparently, we’ll be reviewing the soil content of our gardens on a Tuesday at some point in the future.

Botany is the subject of next week’s class, and I have made some fascinating discoveries in my assigned reading. For example, some flowers have landing platforms that match the body parts of the animals that perform the pollination, the bitterness in cucumbers and lettuce is caused by high temperatures, and it’s actually the stems on the dark side of a plant that elongate making it appear the plant is growing toward the light.

Plants are amazing, and I’ll be learning just how amazing every Tuesday now through April. Maybe they won’t mind if I go back to playing in the dirt when class ends.

The Garden Review 2019

Some of my favorite sights of the year.

The first sign of spring arrives early (in February) at a house by the lake. (All pictures are my own except where noted.)

The Corneille Bryan Native Garden next door to our cottage has some of the most unusual native plants. This photo is of the Yellow Sessile Trillium in full bloom this April.

In 2018, a pair of bald eagles built a nest in our neighborhood and took up residence. This year they had babies. It’s not unusual to see the eagles all around the lake, but it took a powerful long-distance lens to capture video of the babies. (Photo and video by local photographer/videographer Joseph Thomas of Carolina Photo Art)

April 10: the dogwood by the lake is spectacular.

A view from the Blue Ridge Parkway (April).

The first cygnets of the year were born in May.

The Lake Junaluska landscaping department won a third-place finish in the national 2019 Pamela Crawford Side Planting Photo Contest. The Pamela Crawford planter has holes throughout the liner to allow for unusual and innovative designs. Nineteen of these planters were used in the landscaping design for the first time this year. (Photo: Melissa Tinsley-Lake Junaluska, NC)

More babies. . .

The native garden is dense with flowers in July.

We added more than 300 plants and a garden shed to our own newly excavated garden space behind the house; including 25 trees, dozens of shrubs, ornamental grasses, perennial flowers, succulents and ground cover. The windmill was added in August to commemorate our 20th wedding anniversary.

Our wildflower experiment was generally successful. They grew over 6 feet tall, gave us oodles of cut flowers, and bloomed well into October. However, they literally took over the back corner of the garden, and were so thick they obstructed our view of the other plants. It took me all day to cut back the dead stems, and four trips – holding all the dead stems I could possibly muster – to haul them to the street. We’re re-thinking our strategy for next year.

Lavender would rather die than be transplanted, but the one I moved to the front of the house last year has defied all odds.

This one scraggly lavender plant produced more lavender than I could have imagined. Scary as it now sounds, there’s 26 new lavender plants behind the house that could be ready to harvest next summer.

Butterflies frequented the planters on the front porch all summer.

An unusual flower blooms by the Memorial Chapel.

The cygnets at one or two months old.

Four more cygnets were born in July. This photo was taken by Jim Pearson, the cygnet caretaker.

The statue in the foreground was erected years ago in memory of the first swan of our neighborhood, Malcolm.

An eagle attempts to prey on small water fowl, but they cluster together and flap their wings to scare him off. After four or five tries, the eagle finally gives up. There’s something to be said about the little guys’ strategy.

There were stunning vistas from late September through November as fall showed its best colors.

September 29:

October 2nd:

October 25:

October 31st:

November 2nd:

By December 11th, we had our second light snow of the season.

Five days before Christmas we found three Japanese Cedar trees significantly discounted at our local garden shop. We had to move six other plants to position them where we needed them most, but I’m beginning to believe there’s never too much evergreen.

I made a small donation to the Arbor Foundation this summer, and they sent 10 flowering trees as a thank you gift. This brings the total number of trees we’ve planted this year to 38 – even though 10 of them could take the rest of our life to look like trees. After this last day of planting, on the eve of winter solstice, my gardening year is a wrap.

From my garden to yours, Merry Christmas! And the very best New Year!

Main Street, Waynesville N.C.; A Luke Sutton Photo

The Family Room Reveal

John, the contractor, stopped by on an early Friday afternoon in December 2018. He sank down into my husband’s chair and casually talked to us about our vision for the one-room addition to our cottage. By the time he left, I realized our casual conversation had covered every important design decision about the project. We would have a brick floor, sliding glass doors, double-hung windows, a wood ceiling, drywall, four recessed lights, a chandelier, and two sconces. The only decision I hadn’t yet made was the color of the walls.

It wasn’t a big job, just one room and a carport, and therein was the problem. The previous three contractors had given us their best ‘what the hell’ bid. In other words, if you’re willing to pay this much money, I’ll take on your (small) project. Fortunately for us, John actually seemed excited about doing our little project, and he gave us a fair bid.

A few weeks earlier we had hired a local designer to draw up the plans for our new room, including where and how it should attach to the house. The challenge was that the house sat too close to the property line on both sides, and the back of the house was essentially a mountain of trees. Ultimately, the best answer was to remove the mountain and the trees behind the house to create enough level space for the addition. Excavation wrapped up in March, and construction began the first day of May.

September 2017: The space to the left of the cottage was originally a large drainage ditch that was overgrown with foliage and trees. One of our first projects was to install a new drainage system, fill in the ditch, and create a driveway. During the process, the excavator uncovered enough rocks to cover the entire bank by the driveway.

March 2019: after removing most of the trees behind the house, the excavator began hauling out enough dirt to create a level area adjacent to the house.

After burying a new propane tank and moving the HVAC, the foundation was poured on the first day of May. A few weeks later, the addition was closed in.

Finishing the interior always seems to take the longest time in any project, but our delays began to snowball. The electrician got held up by delays on a different job, which messed up the schedule for insulation and then drywall, which delayed the painting. The brick floor was supposed to be finished over a weekend, but it took more than a week. The gutter company was delayed for months as pieces of gutter lay strewn across the yard all summer. By late August, there were a multitude of little things left straggling.

My husband was thinking we needed an impending event to help move things along. He dreamed up a ‘party’ that we would have scheduled before construction slowed to a crawl, and threatened that we were moving in whether they were done or not. They weren’t done.

Throughout all these months of construction we had anticipated this room’s major function would be to hold my piano, a wall of bookshelves, and a couple of comfortable chairs – it would mostly be a music room. Once the windows were installed, however, we realized how bright and quiet it was at the back of the house. We measured the family room furniture over and over again, plotted out various furniture layouts, and finally, it seemed possible to relocate the family room to this new room. The added benefit of this strategy is that it allowed us to create a dining room adjacent to the kitchen at the front of the house.

To make the furniture layout work it was necessary to find smaller chairs, and to replace our oversized cocktail ottoman with something smaller. E.J. Victor had a showroom sale in July where I found the perfect chairs, and we used a smaller bench that had been in storage as our cocktail ottoman.

We found the bookshelves and the chandelier on Wayfair. The walls hadn’t been painted when the bookshelves arrived, and they spent a full week outside under the carport before we could move them into place. We weren’t sure we had accounted for the little piece of trim molding when we measured the bookshelves’ height, and we held our breath as they were positioned against the wall. They fit. thank goodness. We bolted them to the wall – just in case.

Regarding the color of the walls, I had narrowed my choices to about a half dozen colors, but then found a beautiful pale green on the oops paint rack at Lowe’s (I know it totally looks blue in the picture above – can’t explain that). When that pale green paint went onto the walls, we thought it was stunning against the backdrop of the garden outside the windows. Goes to show that one person’s oops can be another person’s treasure.

After we had already moved into the room, I remembered a piece of leftover fabric from an upholstery project at our last house. It was just large enough to replace the not-so-very-dog-friendly ivory seat cushion that originally came with our sofa. The drapes are from the same E.J. Victor showroom sale, and are made from a coordinating fabric to one of the chairs I bought that same day.

So the paint came first, but the chairs and drapes matched the paint, and the sofa cushion fabric had been there all along, but forgotten – even still, everything matched. There’s something to be said for always buying things (or colors) that you love.

This one-room addition has completely changed our little cottage and how we live in it. We’ve wondered if we would have created a slightly larger room had we known we would use it as our family room instead of a music room? A few more feet might have given us more options, but it’s cozy (like the rest of the cottage), the acoustics are great. . . and we love it.

Just Beyond the Front Door

I snapped this picture 3 days ago on the trail around the lake in our neighborhood.

Our neighborhood was created in 1913 to host the Second General Missionary Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. The ‘Assembly,’ as it’s locally known, covers about 5.6 square miles (roughly 14.6 square kilometers) in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina; including a 200-acre lake, 16 gardens, a golf course, gym, various meeting, lodging and sports facilities. There were only 13 homes here in 1913, but summer cottages continued to pop up throughout the Assembly over the next few decades. Quite a few of these cottages, such as ours, have remained in their semi-original condition for years.

Our front door opens onto two rooms: the kitchen and a living area. We’ve since learned this front area was a 1960s addition to the original 1945-era cottage. Somewhere along the way the first owner’s family probably grew large enough to require extra rooms to accommodate their summer get-aways. This two-room addition followed the sloping landscape, leaving it two steps down from the front door of the original cottage.

Our first carpenter came up with the idea to expand the steps and incorporate a platform of sorts on the right side with a large storage drawer underneath. The antique wine rack we found while living in Ecuador found a home atop the platform, and the big drawer has become the best spot to store dog leashes, extra dog food, and stuff in general.

Although our cottage sat idle for 60 years or more (decoratively speaking), we’ve re-worked these two front rooms three times in the past two years. The first decor was designed around using the cottage as a vacation rental property, but we decided to move in before we went through with that plan. In the second decor we used our own furnishings – minus those things we kept in storage as we went through construction to add one more room onto the back of the house. With construction finished and everything out of storage, almost every room in the house has been re-worked again.

We finished the first kitchen renovation last year, but since then we’ve switched to all black appliances, changed the rug, added a backsplash, upgraded the light fixtures, and most recently, exchanged a small table in the center with a counter-height table/island and two stools.

The Kitchen (version III):

Once or twice a year there’s a sale at the E.J. Victor showroom in High Point, or sometimes at their factory in Morganton. Even when there’s nothing in the world I need, I love going to these sales. Earlier this year, there were boxes and boxes of chandeliers at the sale in High Point. Two of them came back home with me.

It wasn’t an easy job to add overhead lighting. The metal roof had been installed directly onto the ceiling joists leaving no room to run the wiring. Recessing anything into this ceiling was out of the question. A local investor had won the initial bid on this house when it first came on the market, and she was renovating things for several weeks before we convinced her to sell it to us. Her electrician was implementing an altogether different approach to the overhead lighting before we arrived on the scene.

He didn’t mind re-thinking things at all, and eventually we came up with a more inconspicuous option by adding plugs to the chandeliers and running the wiring on the back side of the ceiling beams. Old houses seem to require out-of-the-box thinking at times, and I think this was one of those times.

The chandelier plugs into an outlet above the cabinets on the left by the ceiling beam:

The living area side of the front rooms had been our family room in both of its previous iterations. This was the Living Area after we moved in with our own furnishings:

Now it’s a Dining Room (version III):

We added a gas starter to the wood-burning fireplace last year, but this year we went a step further and opted for artificial logs – less work, no mess.

We’ve accumulated some interesting furnishings over the years, and although we didn’t have room to keep everything when we downsized, I tried to be thoughtful about keeping things that might work. Then the challenge became to use what I had kept!

Several of the more unique accessories we’ve collected over the years have come from Maitland-Smith – a by-product of having owned a home furnishings store. I’d sit at my desk whenever traffic was light and study the methods the artisans use to create these treasures.

One technique is Lost Wax Casting where the artisans create a finely carved wax model surrounded by a special form of lightweight concrete.The mold is filled with molten metal through holes carved into the material, which melts the wax model which then drains away through a small exit hole. When the mold cools, it’s broken open to reveal a finely cast metal object that was once wax. Then the pieces are finished in verdigris, aged brass, dark bronze or another popular finish. Some of my favorite accessories have been created using this method.

I wouldn’t say our front rooms’ decor will remain as-is for the next 60 years, but we’re definitely done for awhile.