Planting a terrarium

While cleaning and organizing in my basement recently, I found an old fish bowl/terrarium that I had picked up at a thrift store a couple years ago. I had always intended to set up a little nature scene in it, but I never found any houseplants that were small enough, so the terrarium languished, empty, on a shelf.

Then last Saturday morning, I was making the rounds at the Lake Mills citywide rummage sale, when I happened upon a plant sale being held in someone’s front yard. Among the plants there were some tiny succulents — the perfect size for my small terrarium. The hen and chicks plant in the big pot at the top was $2. The three smaller square containers were three (pots) for $5 (and each pot had three or more plants in it). I picked up the plant that looks like peas at Wal-Mart the next day.

I had to buy some cactus potting mix and some small stones (I used aquarium gravel), but the rest of the supplies I already had.



I started with an inch or so of gravel at the bottom of the container for drainage.


Then I added a layer of charcoal, to filter the air and keep the soil fresh.



Bonus: the charcoal adds a pretty layered stripe to the terrarium.


On top of the charcoal: the soil. Instead of regular potting soil, I used a special blend that contains a mixture of Sphagnum moss, composted forest products, sand and perlite. It’s designed to promote drainage, which is important for succulents.


I put the largest plant, the “hen” from the hen and chicks plant, in first.

I positioned it toward the back of the terrarium …


… and then burrowed a miniature birdhouse into the soil next to it.


Then I filled in the front with a bunch of the smaller plants.


After I had everything planted, I spread some sheet moss across the top of the soil to make everything look pretty and green.


As a finishing touch, I added a path up to the little house with my aquarium gravel.


I took a few photos through the terrarium glass, but with all the reflection going on, it was hard to get a good shot. This was about the best I could do. It’s a sweet little tableau. Now I just hope the plants grow (but not too fast that they outgrow the terrarium).


Spring | Going back to the porch

One of my favorite rites of spring is the annual Return of the Patio Furniture. In our household, we celebrated the occasion last weekend.

patio furniture
Over the winter, our chairs head south (to the storage space under the porch), partly to protect them from the elements, but mostly so the deck is clear of obstructions when we inevitably (and repeatedly) have to shovel the snow off of it.

patio chairs

Unfortunately when we pulled the chairs out of storage on Saturday, I saw the paint had chipped off some of the edges, so they needed a little TLC before I could set them out.

painted patio chairs
After cleaning up the chairs, sanding a few of the rough spots and giving the pieces a quick all-over spray paint job, they looked almost as good as new.


painted patio chairs

The finish isn’t flawless, but the imperfections are hardly noticeable once the whole set is on the porch.

patio cusions

The cushions, which we’ve had for about five years, were also a little worse for the wear. The fabric on two of them ripped as I was handling them.

I knew Wal-Mart carried the same size cushions, so I made an emergency shopping run on Sunday morning. I was going to buy four sets, but I could only fit two into the cart, so I decided the other two could wait for another day.


The backrest cushions are reversible, which is kind of fun.


Calvin, of course, had to test them out immediately. I think he liked the new cushions better than he did the cat grass I grew for him last week. (Or at least he hated them less. Nothing ever really meets with Calvin’s approval.)

I like the black and the green together. The fabric is really brittle, though, so the cushions are going to have to be replaced soon.

After I had the main seating arrangement on the deck, I added a couple of “tables” to put plants on. See the milk can on the right? That came from the farm I grew up on. By the time I was born, we had  a bulk tank to store our milk in; but I have old photos of my dad and grandpa loading milk cans onto the back of my grandpa’s truck to haul them to the co-op.

milk can
The raised lettering on the can reads “ALTO COOP CRY,” which would be short for “Alto Cooperative Creamery” (still operating today).

Pottery Barn lantern
The “table” on the left is an old crate I bought at a garage sale years ago. I put my new Pottery Barn lantern (that I found at a thrift store last winter) inside it.

repotting plants

It’s still a bit on the early side to be planting outside here. We’ll get frost yet through at least the first half of May. But I wanted to put something green out on the deck, so I grabbed a few of the plants that had survived the winter in my basement and repotted a couple of them.

repotting plants

The plants are awfully wimpy looking now, but as long as I remember to bring them in the house on the nights when there’s a frost advisory, they will fill out quickly.


I added another chair and table on the opposite side of the patio set.

plant trivet

The plant is sitting on an old clockface that I found at a thrift store. (No moving clock parts in it, just the wooden face with Roman numerals.)

plant trivet
For a clockface, it makes a lovely plant trivet.

Here’s what our porch looked like on Saturday morning:

And here’s what it looked like on Sunday afternoon:

Unfortunately, the day after I got everything out on the porch, the weather turned cool and rainy — we even had a touch of snow today — so we haven’t been able to enjoy the space yet. But when it warms up again, we’re ready.

The asparagus fern is always greener

I bought a package of cat grass a while back and finally got around to starting it last Saturday. (Yes, the picture above is of grass that was planted just six days earlier.)

I found the seeds in the pet department at WalMart for a couple dollars. Inside the package is a small bag of oat seeds and a plastic container filled with potting soil.

It could not be easier to get the seeds started. You just poke a few holes in the bottom of the plastic container for drainage…

… then mix the seeds in with the potting soil…

… and add water.

Then you put the cover back on and place the container in a dark spot, checking on the seeds periodically to see if they’re sprouting.

I planted my seeds on Saturday morning. By Monday night, a few tiny sprouts were already starting to poke up from the soil.

Here’s what the grass looked like on Tuesday:

On Wednesday:

 On Thursday:

And on Friday:

If only my tomatoes grew that fast…

By Friday, I figured the grass was established enough for Calvin to start noshing on it, so I set him up on the plant bench and showed him the healthy organic delicacy I had grown for him.

He was not impressed.

He sniffed the cat grass for about five seconds and then turned his back on it and started chowing down on a half-dead asparagus fern that had (barely) survived the winter in my basement.

I also gave a package of cat grass to my son’s girlfriend for her cats, and they love it. Evidently Calvin has  more discerning tastes. Or maybe they just don’t have a half-dead asparagus fern as an option.


Memories | My mom, the family filmmaker

Hollywood’s got nothing on my mom.

The 25 8-millimeter films above are all Joyce Friese productions, shot on an old Kodak Brownie movie camera between 1963 and 1973.

Isn’t she cute? Mom didn’t own the movie camera yet (in fact, she wasn’t even a mom yet) when the above photo was taken (I believe in my Grandma and Grandpa Harmsen’s kitchen). She would have only been 19 years old and married to my dad for just over a year in 1956.

I think my sister has Mom’s Brownie still camera (from the picture) today; but the movie camera no longer exists. The manual that came with it, though, was packed away in the same cardboard box that Mom stored the family movies in.

It’s a treat to page through (even though it’s not in the best of shape).

It’s filled with lots of photos and diagrams explaining how to use the camera.

It even offers instructions on how to take a movie selfie.

Judging by the dates on the film boxes, it seems Mom was at her most prolific in the early to mid ’60s. (She also gave birth to four kids between 1959 and 1966, so it’s probably understandable that her filmmaking trailed off a bit over the years.)

For the most part, the films are pretty standard family movie fare, featuring highlights of birthdays and baptisms, holidays and hay-making.

The production values are a bit lacking, and there is no sound. The early ones are in black and white. But they’re a piece of our family history, and I am so glad Mom documented the important events in our lives.

When we’d have family movie nights when I was a kid, we’d sometimes watch the films forward and backward (because they had to be rewound back onto the original reel anyway). My brothers and sister and I thought it was the funniest thing in the world to watch the movies of Dad and Grandpa Friese mowing and baling hay in reverse.

Most of the films are on small reels, but a couple are on larger ones that can hold up to 400 feet of film (which takes about half an hour to watch).

Mom used a splicer to cut out the parts of the films that didn’t turn out and also to combine a number of the smaller reels onto one larger one, so we wouldn’t have to constantly be changing reels when we watched the movies.

The splicer is still with us, in the box with the movies, and in like-new condition.

Also in the box were a few of these “You’re the Director” pamphlets that the Kodak lab must have included when they sent back the processed film.

Even though my mom was the filmmaker in the family, my dad’s name appears on the “customer” line on the form that was attached to each box when the film was sent out to be developed.

Mom always bought film at Stoffel’s Drug Store on Main Street in Waupun. The movie camera and projector that we used to view the films came from Stoffel’s, too.

I don’t remember Stoffel’s, but I found this postcard of Main Street in Waupun, in what I’m guessing was the 1960s, judging by the cars. (There’s no date on the postcard.) The Stoeffel Drug Store sign is hanging on the south side of Main Street in the building that Radio Shack is in today.

My parents also bought their first Polaroid camera from Stoffel’s, and the clerk who waited on them took a picture of my dad and my sister in the store to show them the miracles of the Polaroid Land Camera. (You snapped a picture, pulled it out of the camera, waited 60 seconds and then peeled the paper off and, voila: instant photo.) I believe that picture still exists somewhere in the Friese family archives, but I looked high and low through my mom’s house last weekend and couldn’t find it. I would have loved to have included it in this post, because in addition to featuring Dad in his cool horn-rimmed glasses, the photo offered a glimpse of the inside of the store back in the day.

Mom gave the old projector to my son recently, and he has it displayed in his movie-themed apartment (which I blogged about here).

Unfortunately we haven’t watched the movies in a long time because the bulb in the projector is burnt out. But I have been scouring eBay for replacement bulbs in between writing this post, and it looks like there are a few out there. So hopefully we can revisit some of Mom’s best work (like “Summer of ’69” and “Lisa’s Baptism”) again soon.

Decorating a home theater

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away….

now showing sign

… by which I mean, in August of 2014, in Milwaukee ….

… my son and his girlfriend moved into their first apartment together and decided to decorate it in a movie theater theme.

I made the Now Showing sign for them that I blogged about earlier. Everything else they made or bought themselves.

Yes, those are genuine red velvet theater seats around the dining room table.

JT and Anna bought them from an old theater that had gone out of business. The chairs were still bolted to the floor and attached to the adjacent seats when they went to buy them, so they had to do a little disassembly work before they could even take them home.

JT built a platform for each chair out of 2x4s and attached casters to the platforms. Then Anna gave the wood and metal parts a fresh coat of gold paint. The seats are a little banged up in spots from years of wear and tear, but they still flip open and closed.

The casters make the chairs easy to move, so they can be pulled away from the table and wheeled over to the big screen for extra seating there.

The curtains were fashioned out of tablecloths and tacked to the wall.

Opposite the screen, JT built a shelving unit that holds their projector.

He hooked their surround sound, GameCube, XBox, computer and TV cable into it.

The rest of the shelving unit holds a mix of modern equipment, movies and vintage memorabilia.

I made the clapboard as a prop for a kids play a few year back. The old film reels were picked up at garage sales and thrift stores over the years. (There are more sprinkled throughout the apartment.) And the vintage movie projector on the right belonged to my parents when I was a kid.

The inside cover of the old projector, which still has the operating instructions attached to it, is displayed on another shelf.

The projector still works, but the bulb is burnt out. (Anybody know where you can buy replacement bulbs for vintage equipment?)

In addition to the old projector, my mom gifted JT with a whole box full of family movies that date from 1963 to 1972. (I forsee another blog post about those coming soon.)

Kodak 8 millimeter film

Elsewhere in the apartment, JT and Anna have an old-time snack bar set up.

home theater
Anna found the piece in an antique mall. It was originally a jewelry display case. When she bought it, it was painted a light blue, and some of the glass was missing. She replaced the glass, added shelves, cleaned it up and painted it black, then filled it with traditional movie snacks.

They also have a retro popcorn maker (it’s new; it just looks old) …

home theater
… and lots of other small film-related items, like this miniature projector:

vintage pencil sharpener
It’s actually a pencil sharpener. (The sharpener part is on the back.) For a miniature, it’s got a lot of great details: The reels on the top even spin.

Did I mention JT is a film major?