Fred the Fish

This is it. This is the first real blog project post at Land of Laurel. Are you excited? I am excited! Maybe a little too excited. It might be the pint of Three Twins Organic ice cream I just finished, but I’d like to think these butterflies in my stomach are from blogging excitement! Let’s just keep our fingers crossed I don’t have food poisoning. Again… 🙂

Before I dive in and talk about Fred the Fish, let’s put him in a little context. Fred is not just any Fish. Fred is a very special Fish. To me, at least. And here at Land of Laurel that’s what matters. 🙂 When I was growing up, I lived on the eastern side of the Caldecott Tunnel, but my grandmother– who we called Oma– lived in Berkeley, CA, the same town I live in now. I have many dear memories of Oma; she had a huge presence in my life. Oma was born in Germany in the 1928. She survived the war and its aftermath, eventually immigrating to the United States in the mid-1950s. She lived with distant relatives in Indiana and soon met the man who would become my Opa! She settled down, had four daughters in quick succession, moved her family to Long Island, put four kids through college, then followed those four kids to California. The Oma I remember growing up was an impeccably dressed and mannered woman who read the New Yorker, New York Times, and toy catalogs with no discernment of difference in quality. Oma would babysit my sister and I after school on Wednesdays; she would host sleepover weekends; she taught me how to make Käsespätzle. It is from her I inherited my skills in organization & punctuality, appreciation for a great view & a good park, and drive for perfection. My Oma passed away in April of 2014 after suffering from Parkinson’s Disease for several years. Although it was hard on me and my family, it was the right time.


Now, this post is not supposed to be a sad story! My Oma lived an amazing, exciting life and enjoyed every minute of it. She loved her family, her daughters and eight grandchildren especially. She meant so much to us and everything in her life and home was full of meaning. After she died, her things were passed on to my mother and her sisters, but after they’d gone through everything, I got the chance to pick a few things for myself before everything was donated. One of those things was Fred the Fish.


Now Fred lived on the chest in my Oma’s dining room when I was growing up. She kept many plants on the chest and Fred wasn’t all that noticeable among them. In fact, if you’d asked me about those plants when my grandmother was still alive, I would have drawn a complete blank. The last time I walked through Oma’s house before it was sold though, a cluster of her plants sat half-dead in and around her sink. They were nothing special, but to me, they were amazing. My Oma had always kept tons of houseplants. Houseplants– to me– represent my Oma and her ever-welcoming home. I took every last one from her kitchen.

At home, I rehabilitated the plants, eventually repotting most of them, since they hadn’t been properly cared for in the 8 years my Oma declined. Fred the Fish held one of the few plants I did not repot: ivy. Ivy can survive almost anything, so I largely ignored it for a year or so. Finally this summer, the ivy wasn’t looking so hot and I got the chance to give Fred the Fish a new life!

First I had to get that ivy at of there! Now, ivy is not my favorite plant, but it certainly isn’t the worst plant out there. Ivy grows like the wind, which makes it a great plant if you have the patience of a five year old like me! I dug out the ivy with this weeder tool. It popped right out for the most part, though I did have to dig around inside Fred a bit to get the dirt that was hiding in Fred’s nooks and crannies.


The ivy is a perfectly good plant and although it wasn’t my favorite for my dear Fred, I decided to use it somewhere else. I had a random white IKEA pot lying around so I popped it in there and added some dirt. I trusted the ivy to bounce right back after it’s repotting. It’s basically impossible to kill ivy.


Once the ivy was repotted, I brought it inside and found it a home. I’d had a different plant in this corner, but it wasn’t a sun-lover and seemed to be dying. I stacked up some books, plopped down the plant, and hoped the ivy would do better in the sun. I’m happy to report, it’s going strong! And looking great on those books.


After that I took Fred inside, took the picture below, and gave him a good long bath. I made sure to scrub every hidden crevice and washed behind his ears! There was some guck along Fred’s top edge where the planter opening starts; I had to dig in to get that off. Other than that it was very quick! Now, Fred has several chips; he is a well loved planter. I was a little nervous about the chip near the corner of his mouth, but I decided to ignore these chips and hope they disappeared under a few coats of paint (laziness is always the answer!). Speaking of paint though; Fred is old. Probably very old. Lead paint old. Which means, I wasn’t even going to try to sand him. I needed an alternative.


After Fred was nice and squeaky clean, it was time to prep for paint! First I set up a big painting tarp in the courtyard. Since we don’t have a yard, I have to work on top of concrete in an area surrounded by wood. It’s pretty much terrifying. I’ve mastered the art of hanging my canvas painting cloth over the fence, tacking it to the exterior wall of the neighbor’s shed, and weighing it down with miscellaneous pieces of wood and a lone brick. It pretty much dwarfed Fred.


Since I wasn’t planning on risking lead poisoning, I picked up this liquid deglosser at Home Depot. It’s probably filled with horrible toxic chemicals, but I was desperate and had no time. I wore gloves, goggles, and a mask for application. After putting on my protective gear, I simply wiped Fred all over with the deglosser. I poured a dollop about one and a half inches in diameter in a rag and swiped the rag all over. I concentrated mostly on the outside of Fred, since I wasn’t planning on painting every inch of Fred’s insides.


Once that was completed, the fun part started! I love the transformative power of paint. It’s magical. For impatient people such as myself, the instant transition, the obvious changes is like candy! I took thisRust-oleum spray paint primer and sprayed a thin coat on Fred.


I did this while sitting on the ground so I would be more on his level and better able to get his undersides and curves. Suddenly he was looking different! This is not a noisy photo, the spottiness on Fred is actually just how the paint looked after the first coat. The goal for this first coat was not coverage, but rather a starting point.


Then came the second coat. Now Fred was cookin’ with gas! Fred looked great in white! This actually threw me for a bit, I liked the white look quite a bit. White is classic, simple, clean, and always looks great! Should Fred be white? Originally, I’d actually purchased a bright happy yellow paint for Fred, but then I decided fish should be one of the colors of the ocean. So I bought a sage-y green paint. This paint looked to be an almost-match with the greens in the pendant light in our kitchen. I was originally planning on leaving Fred on the kitchen island directly beneath this pendant, so the coordinating green seemed like a great idea. Then with the primer on, I paused. Should Fred be white? What do you think?


Ultimately, I decided to forge onwards with my original plan. The walls in the main areas of our home are white, so a pop of color is definitely needed. I gave Fred two coats of Rust-oleum Painter’s Touch 2X in Glass Sage Green spray paint in Gloss. This is kind of a grey-er, calm green. It’s pretty and colorful, but still allows plants to shine. And boy did Fred the Fish look fine!

Here he is after the first coat.


And then after the second!


You can really see how glossy this paint is. Fred was really shining in the sun at this point. He looked I love it! I am so glad I didn’t leave him white. This green is a fantastic balance of color pop and neutral. And honestly, green goes with everything! It literally can’t clash. #colorofnature

Once Fred was painted, I let him dry outside for the rest of the day, then put him into the little sports closet off the side of our house for a week. He was out of sight, out of mind in there, but it also gave the paint a chance to cure and the VOCs to air out. By the time I brought him back inside, he didn’t smell at all! Which is ideal. If you can smell that paint, you’re smelling VOCs. That is bad news bears. Air it out longer if you smell fumes, although being patient for this is difficult, it’s worth it for your health! This photo is a lot darker, but I just loved the way Fred was looking!


Once Fred was all painted up, I was ready to plant!!! I’d bought these succulents at IKEA right around the time I moved into this house. They’d been sitting on a plate in our kitchen for several months (yes, my roommates are angels!) waiting to get a new start. They’d grown quite a bit since I’d bought them and I was surprised by their height. The plan from when I first bought them was to plant the succulents in Fred the Fish. Now was the moment of truth, would they fit? I’ll let you know how it turned out it my next post.

What about you? Do you have something from one of your grandparents in your home? Does it remind you of them and make you happy? Every time I walk in the door and see Fred the Fish it makes me happy!

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.