killing fruit flies

fruit flies on windowsill

Okay, so the biggest difference I've noticed since moving downtown, other than the occasional late-night drunk shouting out on the street, his or her voice floating up the alley, is that city fruit flies are hard-core compared to suburban fruit flies. These urban suckers jump right into your bowl of yogurt and roll around while you're eating: "Move it, human—my turn." And they're big, the bouncers of their kind. So after enduring them for three weeks and yesterday watching a cloud of them rise off a split ripe banana in a fruit bowl, I had to take action.

fruit fly reflection in vinegar-dish-soap potion

Jeff had given me a simple, cheap recipe for killing them with three cupboard ingredients: cider vinegar, sugar, and dish soap. They're attracted to the vinegar and sugar, and the dish soap alters the surface tension of the liquid, allowing them to drown. I didn't know or look up the proportions ahead of time and so just did squirts and shakes, mixing it up with my finger in a small shallow bowl. Within minutes, they were poised on the rim of the dish. But only when the midday light hit the kitchen windowsill today did I realize the killing potion is working. I'm counting at least 12 dead fruit flies in the photo below, and more outside the shot.

drowned fruit flies

For this post, I did a quick Google search on the topic, and some recipes omit the sweetener and use a whole cup of vinegar or recommend a paper cone or plastic wrap with tiny holes on top of a jar. But a small amount of cider vinegar, sugar, and dish soap in a shallow dish works just fine. Save the rest of that vinegar for your summer salads. And per the Web, you can use whatever cheap liquid sweetener you have on hand, like leftover juice or wine, instead of the vinegar. Also, vinegar does evaporate, so add a little more of the concoction to the dish as needed.

Even more of the tiny pests are floating in the killing field two days later. Bye-bye fruit flies. (Thanks, Jeffrey.)

brick wall reflection in potion dish

fruit-fly killing field: two days later

now you see them, now you don't

Note: Portland doesn't yet have composting set up for apartment complexes, except on a case-by-case basis, so I've been keeping my compost container in the fridge as when actually composting but then dumping it in my bag of trash right before I take it down to the alley bins to help reduce the scourge of fruit flies and nasty smells under the sink. I should soon look into what it would require to get composting started in this complex. ¡Si, se puede!

Edited 6/1/14 to add: Last year I stopped using the sugar and just mix vinegar and dish soap, and it still works fine. Fruit flies don't seem to be picky. The only problem is my kitchen smells like vinegar, even with the window open. But that's better than having fruit flies swinging off my hand towel and loitering on my cutting boards.


field trip: Hippo Hardware

vintage white glass ball light, Hippo Hardware

A couple weekends ago, Jeff and I popped into Hippo Hardware, the longtime southeast Portland establishment specializing in vintage knobs, lighting, drawer pulls, sinks, tubs, hooks, and anything else an old home needs in the way of period fixtures. This stuff isn't the fake Home-Depot, antique-y, made-in-China crap most people buy to dress up their particle-board McMansions, in which everything looks okay-ish as long as you're 50 feet away and squinting but up close looks as if it were made out of painted Styrofoam for the set of a local theater production of a Tennessee Williams play. (I was just at Lowe's the other night, and the contrast between old and new hardware quality and design is yet another reflection of Western civilization's decline.)

vintage glass doorknobs, Hippo Hardware

No, Hippo has the real goods: faceted glass doorknobs like the original ones miraculously still intact in this apartment ($60 a pair), Victorian hooks, clawfoot tubs. And maybe I've gotten too used to nonprofit reclamation stores like the Rebuilding Center up on North Mississippi and Habitat for Humanity's ReStore (which I just learned has closed up shop under the Morrison Bridge and reopened way the hell out halfway to Gresham around SE 103rd and SE Washington in a much, much less convenient location for car-less me)—because Hippo is definitely not a thrift store. Hippo makes profit selling old, reclaimed goods, and they deserve full props for promoting this kind of reclamation long before the nonprofits got in on the building-materials reuse racket. But Hippo is out of my budget.

Hippo Hardware storefront, Portland, Oregon

vintage house numbers, Hippo Hardware

dummy legs in ceiling, Hippo Hardware

stuffed hippos, Hippo Hardware

sink section, Hippo Hardware

nun (dummy) in clawfoot tub, Hippo Hardware

sconces & candelabra, Hippo Hardware

I went in hoping to find a mix of inexpensive vintage knobs in sparkling glass and white porcelain to replace the silver plastic nipples my mysterious landlord corporation stuck in the kitchen (ah, landlords: the cheapest, tackiest remodelers in the world). Ha! Silly me: the smallest, least expensive, most basic old knobs at Hippo were around three dollars each, and I needed 17. So I left Hippo promising myself to take my time and thrift them one-by-one, here and there.

But then Jeff texted me a couple days later, saying he'd happened to spot a bag of what looked like old knobs sitting near the cash register at one of the Goodwills in town, and he'd bring it over to pick through.

vintage brass (?) knob via Goodwill

The bag of Goodwill knobs turned out to be a mismatched set of 18 (!), one of which was a new, made-in-Taiwan, white-and-gold piece of plastic feigning porcelain and metal, but the other 17 were white porcelain and actual metal with patina (either brass or copper, maybe plated, hard to tell), though no glass. A few of the porcelain ones will need new screws to fit my mismatched cabinets, but they'll all work. And the whole grab bag, which also included two large metal hooks (and a flimsy gold drawer pull to give back to Goodwill along with the one plastic knob), was a mere five dollars. Happy birthday to me! (Thank you, Jeffrey. And thank you, Goodwill.)

vintage porcelain knob via Goodwill

So I will now fantasize about one day soon coming across a giant white glass ball light at one of the thrift stores for my apartment's main room (plus a smaller one for the kitchen), costing a fraction of the $150 that Hippo justly wants for such glowing vintage-modern loveliness. One can dream.

white glass ball lights, Hippo Hardware

white glass ball light fixtures, Hippo Hardware


Goodwill organizers

rubber bands, free with Goodwill purchases

So, yes, I recently moved. And I didn't do much culling this time because a) my mind is already permanently set on the cull dial and b) I wasn't technically downsizing. Other than wanting to trade in the hand-me-down purple futon for a smaller upholstered piece with actual legs, I like the stuff I have, for the most part—even though I do still have fantasies about living with almost nothing, which of course could only ever be a fantasy as long as it's a choice. I like knowing I can put together a cozy, comfortable, quirky space for not much money, giving used things a second chance with a fresh perspective. But even though I'm mainly using what I already have to style this hundred-year-old apartment, certain things are still needed to increase efficiency and organization since the space is configured differently from the previous one. So of course I turn to Goodwill and other thrift stores to fill gaps.

over-the-door hook via Goodwill, 50 cents

It's not a large apartment, and anyone who's ever read anything about small-space decorating (though this is not technically a small-space apartment, though it's smallish) or stepped foot into any IKEA knows to use the walls to get things up off the floor. As a lifelong renter, I've never fully explored the topic of wall use because of just how many holes that would entail for patching. It's much easier to commit to your walls when you own the place and can create your own built-ins and floor-to-ceiling shelving without having to ask permission. But in this place I'm planning to expand my use of wall space (at least in the closets) more than I've done before, maybe because I really like the apartment's layout and can see myself here for a while. It already feels like home—and I'm still unpacking.

golden pothos start, free

But not everything has a place yet, and I'm also waiting on three furniture pieces a friend is helping refinish. So I've been thrifting for certain types of bins and hooks: storage pieces. Goodwill is the poor person's Container Store. (Yard sales are even cheaper but take even more time and are especially hard to navigate without a car for getting into the 'burbs.) In the last couple weeks, I've found various wall hooks, more baskets, a dish drainboard (aka rectangular glass microwave tray), and a colorful vintage plastic silverware tray.

vintage orange plastic Rubbermaid silverware tray via Goodwill, $2

Like dental schools that offer a discount on services because of sucking up more of your time, thrifting for containers and organizers takes far more time and repeat visits than popping into, say, West Elm or Target. But when money is less available than time, you either do without or spend precious weekend hours sifting through thrift stores to collect what you need over time, knowing it all won't match but being okay with that because who wants everything to match? Yuck. Matchy-matchy décor is for the unimaginative. Yet somehow, many of these recent purchases have been either bright orange or white, little pops of tangerine creamsicle hanging out in my drawers and closets to brighten up the dark spaces.

orange cardboard bin via Goodwill, $3



vintage glass bathroom doorknob, morning

houseplant at kitchen window, morning

windowsill geraniums, evening

While unpacking and fitting my belongings this week into closets and cupboards, trying to anticipate the most logical configurations of where things should go—predicting "user experience" without the experience—I've been watching the early summer light move around the apartment. The light shifts unexpectedly each hour, bouncing off the surrounding buildings. There is more light in the bathroom, say, in early morning than in the evening, though it faces west. This is not a bright apartment, despite being south- and west-facing, because of the surrounding buildings, so the constraints on photography will prove challenging, especially in winter. But those same cocooning buildings block most of the street noise, and the brick-wall view from the main room offers textural interest and privacy, if not light: trade-offs, the stuff of life.

Psychologists claim moving is fairly high up on the list of common personal stressors. One is faced with the physical evidence of choices made over time, having to reassess all possessions (Why do I own this? Do I want to keep it? What should I do with it?), worrying about things getting damaged in the actual move, unpacking and reconfiguring one's nest—decisions, decisions, decisions. And of course, there's a long to-do list when moving residences, from address changes to utility calls to fix-it checklists. Some people hate moving so much they rarely do it. But Americans, historically restless, tend to move for better jobs (though not as much as in the past), especially, say surveys, if they are educated, affluent, or urban rather than rural. Oregon is one of the states currently attracting the most relocaters, despite all our rain.

Residence changes are bets, calculated risks. Though mine was only a matter of a ten-minute drive downtown, when carless, that's a major shift, cutting off one whole leg of a public-transport commute. I'm betting on increased quality of life from being more centrally located for future jobs in the densest urban core, mere blocks from Portland's main public-transit mall, hoping for payoff.


field trip: Pendleton Woolen Mill Store

Pendleton Woolen Mill Store: Pendleton blanket, hanging

Everyone knows about Pendleton blankets: expensive, multicolored, quintessential Western-themed, made-in-the-U.S. woven woolens. Admittedly, ranch-themed cabin décor has never been my style, maybe because I was reared among a herd of high-desert, southern Oregon ranchers and farmers, so I've never paid Pendleton gear much attention, though even on design blogs, they still earn respect.

I've driven past the Pendleton Woolen Mill Store on SE McLoughlin Avenue too many times to count, back and forth to work or on errands, their sign outside advertising seasonal sales. Out of curiosity, I've always wanted to peek inside. Yesterday was the day.

Pendleton Woolen Mill Store, Portland, Oregon

My friend Jeff recently found a long mid-century sofa in need of reupholstering, and because he's Jeff and knows practically everyone in town, he has a friend in the upholstery business who'll do the work. But he needed fabric. Finding enough vintage-fabric yardage for a large sofa is difficult if almost impossible these days, so most everyone in the reclamation business buys new fabric.

The day before, while running errands, we'd stopped into the Mill End Store near closing time down on McLoughlin, but their cheapest upholstery offerings were around $15 a yard, with the fabric content mostly guesswork. (A staff member even pulled out a lighter and lit up a scrap for a touch-and-smell test.) Jeff wanted to pick something right then to get the project going, but when you need 14 yards of fabric at $15 a yard, it's a significant bit of wallet. I suggested he wait and mull it over, maybe even check out the Pendleton store across the street, just for kicks.

Pendleton Woolen Mill Store, interior

The Pendleton building is a big warehouse space, with polished cement floors, high ceilings, and lots of tables and hanging fabric bolts. Last year's or past-season blankets and other finished goods are on sale, and by sale I mean a small throw here will still be $150. Pendleton isn't known for cheap products, and with good reason: this is one of the few companies in the country still producing in America. Made in America—versus in China or Bangladesh—almost inevitably means higher prices. However, Pendleton's sweet little secret is that great deals can still be had here, if you look around and take your time.

Pendleton Woolen Mill Store: ceramic sheep head

Or better yet, ask a friendly salesperson. I'd been envisioning Jeff's sofa in a medium-gray wool felt as the most sellable fabric choice. And indeed Pendleton's gray felts were beautiful and tightly woven, available in the perfect shade; but at Pendleton, the price was more like $60 a yard. (Sixty times fourteen equals $840 just for fabric, plus $600 in labor, plus the initial $75 for the used sofa, in case you want to do the math.) But instead of giving up, we pressed on. We expanded our options beyond gray felt.

Over on the wall of hanging bolts, with help from our pretty sales fairy, we hovered like bees around a stack of lightly textured upholstery fabric in vintage shades of chartreuse, plum, mahogany, and teal selling for $8 a yard for 80% wool and 20% nylon blended for durability. This was not your average Pendleton faux-native print, jacquard, or cowboy plaid. These were mid-century colors and texture. (Why didn't I snap a photo?) And to sweeten the deal as we were debating, the salesperson said she'd give it to us for just $5 a yard since that's what the table pieces were selling for. Jeff selected a staid mahogany for the rather masculine sofa and also picked up enough of the chartreuse and teal for future teak chairs. They were almost giving the stuff away. Thinking ahead, he also bought four vintage spindles ($5 a piece) to use as table legs for some future repurposing project.

Pendleton Woolen Mill Store: sale fabric displays

Pendleton Woolen Mill Store: fabric displays and sale bags of selvedge

While two salespeople were rolling Jeff's fabric into take-home bolts on a big wooden contraption, I browsed the selvedge section. You might remember the used-sheet knitted-rug project I'm planning for my new bathroom, so seeing these precut wool strips got my gears spinning. I ran the idea by the sales fairy, who showed me some round crocheted-rug samples using the gray-wool selvedge I was considering for a rectangular shag rug. But that type of selvedge was badly felted on the samples from wear and looked more like dirty sheep flattened by a semi-truck. (Sorry, but true.)

So I shifted from the worms back to the $1.25-a-pound wool-felt scrap strips that I'd first been drawn to in shades of gray, tan, cream, chartreuse, gold, and turquoise, all sitting bunched up in a big wooden bin, the new stuff thrown on top of the old. Jeff helped me pull out each strip, like drawing a loose thread from a seam. Instead of shag, this rug would be nubbly, maybe like woven jute, only softer. I won't know exactly how it will look all knit up until I make some swatches, and I may have to knit with sharpened broomsticks because of how wide the scraps are. And the last thing I need right now is another decorating project when I have a whole apartment to put together. But for a mere $13.13 to DIY a pristine, one-of-a-kind Pendleton-wool rug for the new apartment's old wood floors, I'm in.

Pendleton Woolen Mill Store: bag of wool selvedge, $1.25/lb.

If Pendleton prices on new items are out of budget and you can't make it to the Pendleton Woolen Mill Store here in Portland, good deals on vintage secondhand Pendleton blankets can be found on eBay and Etsy. Some are truly striking and graphically modern. Because I'm all into fuchsia at the moment, if I had a spare $200 right now, I'd buy something like this like-new, hot-pink, green, and gold, graphic-triangles shawl blanket—it's like Madonna mating a Turkish carpet.

Do you have a Pendleton story? Tell it here!

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