bathroom makeover: from leaky to lovely

My second-floor bathroom is done, by the way. Totally forgot to mention that and give you the wrap up a couple weeks ago! Long story short, I love it. Immensely! No more weirdly giant nasty jetted tub (that leaks out of two jets), no more totally Eighties scallop-edged vanity. Oh, yeah, and no more non-functioning tub spout. Or weird pink and gray tiles. Ok, you get the point - it was bad... reeeeally bad!

I made the somewhat-begrudging decision to replace this uber-tub with a step-in shower. This means that my house now has no bathtub, which terrified me on a resale basis, but I realized that I could either do a really lovely, classy step in shower, or a pretty mediocre, boring tub. I also realized I have taken precisely 2 baths in 5 years, which I didn't even enjoy - I always end up taking a shower after. Oh, and that I probably won't want to sell my house for at least 5 more years. Minimum. SO shower it was! But this meant that I could get gorgeous tiles, put in a bench, replace my vanity and floor tiles, and repaint for less than it was going to cost me to get a replacement tub (crazy old tub = crazy custom/non-standard tub needed to replace it = crazy added expense).

Here's an evolution for you - as per us', I forgot to take "before" pictures. Well, to my credit, I HAD before pictures on my old computer that bit the dust 100%. Sorry... just use my intense description and your imaginations. Here we start with the bathroom totally gutted:

Here are some shots mid-renovation - at last, my tile had arrived! The waterproofing was done! My main goal was to avoid creating a super-cliche bathroom. In my line of work, I see a lot of, a lot a lot...and I swear 97% look identical. To avoid this, I decided to create contract while sticking to a simple black and white color palette (classic, easy to change up by adding splashes of color with new towels, and never goes out of style) I got these really large rectangular tiles , oriented vertically, for the bottom 4 feet as as well as the bench. Above that, is a six-inch band of black, white and gray glass skinny tiles:

Already was loving it. And then! Oh, then, my beautiful subway tiles arrived! These were expensive, but I am so glad I didn't end up going with the cheaper option with a lower length-to-height ration. I oriented theses horizontally, to contrast with the huge vertical rectangles on the bottom. As you can see, it was still a mess at this point, but getting there:

Have I built enough suspense for The Big Reveal by now?

So....what do you think?

love k

the craziest race in our glorious city

Look! It's a bird! It's a plane! It's... a thirty-five foot long, eight foot tall giant pink poodle? Yup, that is a legitimate possibility this Saturday. "But how?" you ask? Duh! The Kinetic Sculpture Race is a'comin' to town! Hosted by the American Visionary Arts Museum, the Kinetic Sculpture Race celebrates all things wild and ridiculous. For eight hours, human powered amphibious works of art race fifteen miles through the city, into the Harbor, and battling through mud and sand pits. Yup. It's crazy, but it's true.

Inspired by the California Kinetic Grand Championship, our race is now in it's thirteenth year! Last year, 28 teams came to town, including the winning sculpture, "Candy Haus" - a giant gingerbread house complete with enormous lollipops..that were also oars - "Go Ask Alice," and "Platypus," but to name a few. They're all really quite awe-inspiring in their looks, not to mention that they complete an obstacle course and brave the harbor.

Even the awards are silly! The Golden Dinosaur goes to the sculpture
with the most memorable breakdown; The Worst Honorable Mention is awarded to the sculpture whose "half-baked theoretical engineering did not deter its pilot from the challenge of the race"; The Golden flip is for the most interesting water entry; And, my personal favorite, the National Mediocre Champion has the dubious honor of finishing with the time closest to average. Heck, you can even get points for bribing the judges!

Long story short, you obviously have to go. It you're a Patterson
Parker like me, you're in luck! The Park is where the Kinetic Sculptures navigate the obstacle course of mud and sand pits and hills. But no matter where you are, you can catch all the fun throughout the city. Check out this route map and estimated times.

The whole thing arrives in the Park around 1:15, so that's where you'll find me, for sure. In the meantime, cross your fingers and toes for lovely weather! Oh, and I almost forgot! Spectators are strongly encouraged to get in on the crazy action and dress in you finest foolishness.

love k

sink hole!

Last week there was a sink hole in the middle of East Baltimore Street, just East of the Park! Sometime in the late afternoon a huge section of the road - we're talking like 5 feet by 7 feet - just sunk, finally coming to rest some four or five feet below the rest of the road. It was quite a spectacle and people literally took to the streets to examine it, sitting on stoops with quite a carnival atmosphere. Gotta love Baltimore!

Not sure if it is a coincidence or if we're entering in to some apocalyptic disaster, but I feel like there have been sink holes popping up all over the place lately....please get on that, City Hall! While there was nothing exciting down there, the mind reels at how and why dirt beneath the roads is being so rapidly corroded. Maybe it all comes back to Baltimore's issues with rain water run off!
Anyways, the city quickly put up barricades to stop any unfortunate car vs. sink hole situations, and within three days the city had it all fixed up and, hopefully, good as new.

star spangled in the sunshine

A week ago found the miraculous combination of sunshine, no appointments, and N's day off! What are the odds, right? Deciding to seize the day, we headed around the harbor to Fort McHenry for my first visit to the birthplace of our national anthem. What a treat! If you haven't been, I suggest you put it on your summer "to-do" list, pronto.

In case your history is a little rusty, this star-shaped fort played a major role during the War of 1812, during the Battle of Baltimore. A thousand Americans successfully staved off the British invasion of the Fort and Baltimore's harbor while Baltimorean's watched on baited breath from rooftops throughout the city all night. Also watching this battle was Francis Scott Key, who was inspired to write a poem that became the Star Spangled Banner as he saw the American flag rise over the fort after a horrendous night of cannon bombardment. Due to the valiant efforts of the soldiers as well as Baltimore's merchants - who sunk 22 of their own ships to create an artificial reef to block British ships from entering the harbor - Baltimore was saved.

The fort was later used as a military prison during the Civil War, and was then made in to a national park in 1925, and then a "National Monument and Historic Shrine" in 1939 - the only place to hold this double title!

There is a lovely visitors' center, with a great (though somewhat glossed-over) video documentary of the Battle of Baltimore. When the Star Spangled Banner start up, the screen rose into the ceiling revealing a wall of windows, and the American flag was seen gently flapping in the wind atop the fort, even I felt a little teary. A walk through the fort was informative and interesting, with recreated soldiers' quarters, etc to poke through, and sweeping views of the city and harbor from the fort walls. Next time I'm taking a picnic! I also hope to see the Fort McHenry Guard - a volunteer group that helps bring history to life for visitors; I believe they will be there starting May 28th.
Each September, Fort McHenry commemorates the successful defense of the city from the British. I don't have details on the affair, but I imagine it's a sweet scene and worth checking out! Hey, you could even take the water taxi over and make it a real lil' urban adventure.

love k

pink poof explosion!

I am lucky enough to live on a street lined by old cherry blossom trees - the city doesn't plant these anymore, since apparently they grow too laterally and get in the way of trucks and street cleaners. In fact, I've stopped city crews from hacking down branches on more than one occasion (one was especially awkward since I heard them starting up their wood chipper and had to leap out of bed and throw on whatever clothes were on hand and bolt out the door, hair everywhere, to literally beg them to go away. It worked) I also have scrubbed off their white spray painted marks meant to indicate future chopping, and bound a broken branch assaulted by a street cleaner truck passing by until it healed itself...Hey, whatever it takes. What the city and its wood chipping employees don't understand is that I value what the trees offer way more than the street cleaner's ability to hiss down my gutter. I can sweep up street trash, but I can't replace the immense pleasure each and every twig of that tree brings me.

You see, each spring my street is transformed into a fairy arbor, with ridiculous, almost unbelievable, explosions of the wildest pink you can imagine. Over the course of three days, the whole street is transformed from ho-hum winter branches to intoxicating color. Fluffy cotton-candy balls of flowers literally surround you as you walk out the door. Walking my dog at night, I pass beneath boughs that pulse pink even in the dark. It is magical. Even as the petals fall, the spell continues, as the entire sidewalk is transformed to a soft pink carpet, so much more dazzling than any hollywood red carpet walk could be.

The whole thing only lasts about one week, but it is my favorite week of the entire year.

love k

moving from local food desert to local food distribution

Let's just start by talking about how cool the American Brewery building is. Built in 1887 by a German immigrant, the Brewery was one of the largest in Maryland with a 10,000 bushel grain elevator, a 30,000 square foot Brewhouse and 60,000 square foot Bottle Building . It rocked and rolled until Prohibition shuttered its operations in the 1920s. In 1931 the building was sold the American Malt Company, who modernized the operation until 1973, whereupon it was listed in the National Registry of Historic Sites.

Over the following decades, this once bustling, beautiful building fell into disrepair and neglect in one of East Baltimore's most blighted neighborhoods. In 2004, the non-profit organization Humanim (a social and human services organization) secured $22.5 million to restore and renovate the building into
their new headquarters. It is truly stunning - you should really go by sometime and check it out!

Now that that is out of the way, I can actually talk about why I was there on Tuesday evening for, shocker, a Baltimore Green Week event. This one was a combo of a presentation by Baltimore Green Space followed by an awesome documentary crated by MICA students, entitled Baltimore Food Ecology Documentary (of, B FED - how clever!). Tracing the exodus of supermarkets from the city after the 1950s, as well as the disintegration of the city's systems of local food production, the documentary explored by the dominant food system falls short for so many Baltimore residents. With much of the city situated in what are known as "food deserts," the BFED team explored community gardens, produce warehouses, a local fish-farm, corner stores, and urban farms to find hope for a brighter food future for Baltimore.
The idea of community gardens was elaborated upon in the presentation by Baltimore Green Space. Working with residents throughout the city, BGS has helped fascinate the transformation of abandoned, desolate vacant lots into thriving community gardens that help nourish the neighborhood, both in terms of food and community-building. With help from BGS's land trust, communities can take ownership of these spaces and keep them safe from future development. With a future characterized by immense worldwide population and high transportation costs, the availability of locally grown food becomes an attractive, and necessary, reality. Additionally, green spaces create permeable surfaces for rain water to be absorb by the ground and make its way to waterways "naturally," as opposed to running off through storm drains. I just wrote a whole blog about this, though, so I won't go back into details again, so as not to bore you, my darling readers.
There was so much to think about, so many ways to improve, and myriad ways to take action. What are your ideas to reduce the "food desert" effect in Baltimore? I want to know!

love k

waste water magic (or, what the city is doing to try to stop us drowning in our own filth)

Are you sick of hearing about Baltimore Green Week yet? You better now be because you have some serious blogging coming your way about all things water-related: rain and runoff, sewage and streams. Let's get down to the murky business of what happens between a raincloud and a river.

Monday was my day-long BWG marathon, with two back to back "City Day Tours" collectively called "Energy and Stormwater Solutions." Oh man, were we all over town! We learned about energy saving technologies the city is implementing, such as those at the Back River Treatment Plant. There, they use the residual methane gas to power the treatment plant, and even put energy back on the grid in the summer! It's a little horrifying to me that we are producing that much grossness, but.... at least they're making good use of it. It was really neat to see how the whole plant runs, with myriad
steps to ensure that water being released back in to our rivers and bay are free of nutrients (that lead to algae blooms, and ultimately fish kills). Of course, we got to see the enormous golden digesters which have become infamous icons of Dundalk, as well as tour the engine rooms that make sure things keep flowing forward. One thing which was really disheartening was hearing about how our old sewage system is rife with cracking pipes, which inevitably lead to the cross-contamination between rain run off and sewage. With our bay already in dire straights, thinking about a constant leakage of sewage into ground water and run off drains is really....awful.

Our next stop was brand new, soon-to-be-opened LEED silver Homeless Services Center on Fallsway. It is just beautiful! With 275 beds, a green roof, reused materials, and a million other fancy energy efficiency features, this facility is truly inspiring on a lot of levels. What better way to help someone get back on their feet than giving them an address to temporarily call home with quality facilities, inspiring design, solid social services on hand, beautiful outdoor space and respect? As a society, this is what we should be striving to offer all our citizens. Way to go, Baltimore!

After some free lunch donated by Chipotle, we were off again to see various rain gardens and run-off control designs. Long story short, the more you can slow down rain run-offer and get it out of the storm drains and back in to the soil, the better we all are. Soil and plants naturally filter and clean the water they absorb, so that
by the time it gets back in to our waterways it is a lot more environmentally sound than if it just shoots in to a storm drain and out to the bay.

Additionally, projects to restore the health of our streams have aided in improving the health of our waterways, such as the restoration we visited in Mt. Washington's Western Run. Blue Water Baltimore and the Department of Public Works have been doing
great work creating bio-retention systems, tree boxes, community-lead storm drain initiatives and helping residents create low-cost rain gardens, such as the one pictured here (in Roland Park) which also had a rain barrel.

Start thinking about options and ideas you have for decreasing your impact on our waterways. Beyond using less water in your day to day life, could you install a rain barrel? Create a rain garden? Make a green roof? Replace pavement and cement with permeable surfaces to enable rain to seep rather than drain? Can you inspire others to do the same and more?

Oh man, I could go in to so much more detail, but I just wanted to give you all an overview of what we learned, what we saw, and what we can do to help! What questions do you have? What ideas have you implemented?

love k

living and loving local

Saturday's rain (or should I say monsoon?) threw a wrench in a lot of fun plans this weekend, not the lease of which was the cancellation of Baltimore Green Weeks' kickoff event, EcoFest. Set to highlight myriad enviro-friendly organizations and local vendors from throughout the city, EcoFest was going to be a rollicking good time with live music, fresh food, demonstrations and activities in Druid Hill Park. Alas, it was not to be. And no rain date. Boo hoo.

But Sunday saw an eruption of sunshine, and so Green Week's
activities marched on. I had read about and eagerly awaited "Localize It!", hosted by Baltimore Free Farm in conjunction with Baltimore Green Currency with the goal of showing how fun sustainability can be. And fun it was! We arrived at the moment of launch for "BNotes," complete with the release of green balloons and BNote currency. What on earth are BNotes, you wonder? So glad you asked! According to BGC's website, they offer an "alternative economic that will strengthen local businesses, create jobs, encourage the for formation of local supply chains, and ultimately rpovide economic opportunity and increased resilience to communities underserved by traditional economic
structures." Long story short, you trade "normal" money for "BNotes" which you then use at the 48 local businesses as cash (the list of businesses is growing all the time so stay tuned to the directory!). The goal is to get people to think local, buy local, and be local. Plus, the BNotes look pretty cool!

After much fanfare and cheering, the BNotes became official local currency and the festival got underway. At the core of Localize It! was a chili cook-off and home brew tap-off (I made that up. But I like it) called "ChiliBrew" - for a suggested donation of $10, you got a sweet tasting mug and all the chili and beer samples your heart desired. Oooh, how yummy! I don't even like beer and I enjoyed myself! Top prize in my books went to the Thai-inspired chili and to LOVEBREW beer. To round out the festivities, there was a line-up of neat local bands of all genres.
Localize It! took place on Ash street, which is where one can find the Baltimore Free Farm, a really neat organization striving to promote "urban agriculture and sustainability through the creation of green spaces and community sanctuaries which utilize reclaimed materials whenever possible." The huge hillside lot was open to the public to see how volunteers have transformed overgrown abandoned lots into wonderful and fruitful farming. It's such a neat project and incredibly inspiring to see what dedication on the part of so many has done to improve the lives of even more. I really suggest you go check it out!

Here are just a few other images from the day, to give you a feel for the fun and festive atmosphere!

Such a great and exciting day! I really didn't know what to expect this morning, but I'm so glad I seized the (windy) day and ventured over. I am even more excited to go to the other Baltimore Green Week events I have on my schedule this week!

love k