These are a few of my favorite things...

We went to the Hagerstown outlets over the weekend and picked up some new linen sheets and super soft chambray euro shams at Restoration Hardware on mega-clearance plus 40% off. We had the white diamond-stitch quilt already (from Pottery Barn). I just love this combination of rumpled, earthy fabrics with the canvas headboard. (As if we needed any more reasons to sleep in, said Ez.) I already regret not buying more of these linens for the guest bedroom... It was our last stop of the shopping trip though, and Johnnie was in the red zone of a major meltdown. Otherwise I might still be rifling through the bins of random bedding.

I have done a lot of complaining about this house lately, but even I can't find anything to complain about when it comes to this bedroom. It's not even completely finished yet, but it's every bit of the calm, cozy retreat I envisioned from the start.

Now to get the master bathroom (and the rest of my existence) up to snuff.



Look at that cheese face!
This weekend we went to check out our new shed. (Are you tired of the word shed yet? It's starting to lose its meaning for me...) We had it custom built by some Amish carpenters. The double doors are for the lawn tractor, and on the other side there will be storage for all the other extraneous items that come with ownership of a fixer-upper and a yard.

We picked this green color for the siding because the stock red was a lot darker than our house and just didn't coordinate. We thought green would work better with the red house than the other stock colors--white, beige, blue, gray--and it will help the shed to blend into the landscape a little. It was a pretty easy choice for once. Eventually, after we finish the more important things like filling it up and organizing it, I think I will paint the white trim the same beige as the house's chinking and trim.

Johnnie was disappointed though. "Why isn't it purple? I wanted purple!"

If the weather holds, delivery is scheduled for tomorrow. I'm actually excited for several reasons: 1) no more digging and leveling, 2) organization! 3) it will make the yard feel less barren, and 4) Ez will no longer spend every free moment in shed preparation mode.

In other news, I found a house I loved in what is currently our most desired neighborhood, and it was a fantastic price. Everything about it was perfect -- amazing curb appeal, a good size, an older house with lots of character but newer updates, beautiful garden, great neighborhood. I called the realtor and... someone else already has it under contract. We aren't looking to move immediately, but we would've packed up and moved into that house tomorrow if we could have. At times I think it will be hard to leave this house and all its elbow grease-covered memories, but that house made me realize that great options are out there when we're ready.



For the past several days, we've been busy readying the spot in the yard where our new shed will be delivered this week. I was told that the pre-fab shed option was going to be easy. They build it to your specifications and just plunk it down in the yard, I was told. While none of that is false, it's only that easy if your designated location is already perfectly level. Of course ours isn't, so now we're stooped over and have blistered palms from all the digging, and it kind of feels like we're working in someone else's yard because my favorite tree is gone and my heart just isn't in it.

Losing that tree has been really hard on my attitude, and I am working to overcome that and to regain my motivation to see this house through to completion. I keep thinking that once the storage pod is removed from the driveway and the shed is in place, my spirits will lift. There will still be multiple things about the yard that I will hate and not have the ability to change, but this will be a strong push toward order and practicality -- the things I seem to thrive on.

And that is where the closet comes in. After we come inside and scrub the dirt from our faces, it's actually really nice to retrieve clean clothes from my tidy, civilized, grown-up closet. It's kind of silly, but this house has taught me to take my comforts where I can get them and to value things that are clean and orderly.

Sorry these photos are terrible.
The drawer unit, as I mentioned, is a PAX system from IKEA. It has more drawer space than I really need, and for the first time since I can remember, I don't have to smush my t-shirts down to close my drawers. It is luxurious. At some point, we plan to move the ironing board into the adjacent laundry room and put a little vanity right next to the PAX. 

On the opposite side of the closet, Ez built a rack for our hanging clothes out of white melamine sheets, a hanging bar and a shoe shelf. It coordinates well with the PAX and is so convenient.

I am so happy with how it turned out. It actually makes me eager to get the rest of our lives in order, even if it means a few more days of digging, leveling and tamping until the shed--with all its organizational potential--gets plunked down into the yard.



I had a pretty rough week as a homeowner. As planned, a tree removal crew came to cut down a few trees to make way for the new shed. To make a long sob story short, they also cut down a huge, beautiful tree that was not supposed to be on the chopping block -- my favorite tree, right in the middle of the yard, nowhere near the clump of trees we hired them to remove. It was the tree that made the yard look magical. I cried like I'd lost a friend, and every time I pull in the driveway my heart sinks. I wish I'd worked from home that day so I could've run out there and stopped them. They are refunding part of our fee and will replace the tree at a discount, but it won't look the same for another, oh, 40 years. And I really hope I'm not still living here then.

In fact, that felt like the last straw. Though I have calmed down quite a bit since Monday, I've been making lists of all the things we'd have to do before we could put the house on the market... poking around Zillow for potential new home purchases... calculating the commuting distances of new neighborhoods... I don't know if/when we'll be in a position to sell, but entertaining the thought of moving -- even at some highly uncertain point in the future -- has been a good distraction.

As I have worked my way through the stages of grief this week, the house must have understood my sorrow and gave me a gift.

It grew me a flower -- of a variety we don't have anywhere else in our yard.

Sorry for ruining the last six years of your life. Here's a daisy.




Though we still have a few bigger projects to tackle around the house, I think the last frontier of this renovation for us is really organization. We're not pack rats, but it would be nice to, you know, have places to put things. Places like a shed. Like more than one drawer in our kitchen. Like shelves in our closets. This house has eight closets; only two have any sort of worthwhile shelving or organizational value so far. The rest are closets only in theory, lacking everything a closet needs except the door, while real life clutter threatens to overtake our lives at any moment. It is embarrassing and completely ridiculous, not to mention messy and inconvenient.

But... Progress!

It took a surprising amount of researching and measuring, but I managed to find a customizable closet system that worked with the sloped ceiling in our master closet. I looked at everything -- Container Store, Rubbermaid, Martha Stewart, etc. -- but for the price and comparable level of quality, it was hard to beat the PAX from IKEA. It eluded me for awhile and I didn't think it was going to work, but once I realized it didn't need doors and we could remove a stretch of baseboard to make it fit better, the standard PAX was actually perfect. It fits so well it almost looks like it was made for the space.

A couple inches to spare...
I guess buying a thing from IKEA and shoving it into a corner is not necessarily blogworthy, but I've been imagining a closet in this space since 2008, so let me have my moment... All this storage space feels so luxurious -- and luxury is still not something we're very accustomed to in this house. 

Directly to the left of the PAX is a space a little more than three feet wide, where we'll put a small vanity for makeup and jewelry. On the opposite wall, Ez is going to build a long rail for our hangup clothes. We were going to put a separate armoire for him out in the office, but we don't think we'll need it. (It's always an option if we somehow amass larger wardrobes.) Instead, we'll share the hang-up rail and he'll just have a separate dresser in the bedroom or office.

I haven't moved my clothes into the PAX from the guest bedroom yet, because we still have to remove the baseboard behind it and secure it to the wall. Details, details.



Saturday we went on a family shed shopping adventure (because we are that much fun) and put down a deposit on a 20-foot custom shed for storing our lawnmower, tools and gardening supplies. It was such an overdue purchase. We currently have a Pod in our driveway, and everything about it -- cost, placement, size, aesthetics -- is just subpar. It was a good temporary solution, but we'll be thoroughly happy to see it go.

One sad thing is that we'll be tearing down the little red shed at the corner of the yard to put the new shed in its place. While the current shed is certainly charming in its rusticity, it's also very small, poorly constructed and not providing any sort of solution to our storage needs. Trust me when I say it's way cuter than it is functional. But don't worry -- I plan to save the old wood for a little project I have in mind... The new shed is being constructed to our specifications and will be delivered sometime in the middle of July. I haven't seen Ez this excited about a purchase since we ordered the foie gras and black truffle-stuffed roasted chicken at The Nomad back in March. That was life-changing, but this shed promises to be that and more.

In the meantime, we also have to get rid of a few scrubby trees to make room for the new shed. I'm not one for cutting down trees willy-nilly, but I won't mourn their loss. (They are the reason we had to tear down the old garage, which is why we need a shed at all.)

Just when I thought we were all done with demo...



Five quick updates on my lunch break:

1. I sometimes have dreams of moving to the city, but I think I'd miss my garden. It's doing well so far this season, and working in it and thinking about it generally makes me happy. Granted, it's not without its stresses... Last night I stayed up late researching why our new magnolia tree has started wilting a little the past couple days. I'm really hoping it just needs more water and doesn't have root problems.

2. We finally bought a claw foot tub for our master bathroom! Every now and then I check the Craigslist postings in my parents' region for items on my wish list, because everything is listed for a small fraction of what it would cost here in Baltimore. Yesterday I saw an old 5' tub in very good condition, listed for $125. I contacted my dad, and he happened to be running an errand two miles from the seller's house. (This was a miraculous coincidence, considering how wide their stomping grounds are way out there in the country.) He inspected the tub, gave it the Dad Seal of Approval -- a very valuable accolade -- and then sealed the deal for us. Now we have to go fetch it from my parents' barn, which is well worth the 2.5 hour drive considering we're saving at least $300 (probably more) on the deal.

3. The Terrible Two's have officially hit. Johnnie is such an awesome kid -- so smart, spunky and well-behaved. That said, she's been getting a little too bold and confident the past couple weeks. Like a tiny teenager, she thinks she knows everything and doesn't like to be corrected for any reason. If she doesn't want to comply with your request, she will disrespectfully decline. We love her determined nature, and I of course think she's destined to be Madame President one day, but first she needs to understand that she isn't the boss quite yet. I feel like the real parenting is just beginning. It's actually kind of fun, once you separate yourself from the initial frustration.

4. Winging it. I'm in the middle of (what I think will be) one of the most important projects of my career to date. I keep telling myself that once it's finished, I'll be less maniacal, more balanced, impeccably organized. Then I realize I've pushed other big things aside to work on this project, and by the time I get to those other things, the deadlines will be pressing down hard and fast. The reality of my work is that I will never be caught up. This isn't a complaint; it's just a circumstance I am somehow still learning to manage. This article rings so true to me. I really am winging it, all the time. And until last week, I only took 5 days off in the past year -- three to celebrate Christmas, and two to clean my house. LAME! Last week I finally took another 4 days off (lest they expire on June 30th per company policy) to go to the beach with my mom, and I still had to take three conference calls and respond to emails. (As a result, my intern just sent me this article.) And I'm just a minion, not a VIP by any means. I think I just need better time management skills, and maybe a daily shot of B-12.

5. A tiny thing. We have a new nephew on the way, and by that I mean sometime today. We can't wait to meet him, and of course neither can his overdue mama who was induced this morning. Johnnie has been running around with stuffed animals tucked under her shirt for months in anticipation, and Ez is ready to bolt out of the office and speed over to the hospital the moment he gets the word. There's something very special about the babies of one's siblings. While they don't belong to you, it feels like they are still wholly yours. I really hope I can concentrate the rest of this afternoon (see #4), but the excitement!



I love this photo. Sometimes a day is just so beautiful you don't need an instagram filter to spruce it up. We've been having quite a few of those days lately, and our moods have reflected it.

It's been fairly quiet the past few weeks. Ez went to Honduras for a few days to do some work on an orphanage we support, but all did not go as planned. He started feeling sick on the flight there, and, long story short, nearly three weeks later he's still in the process of recovering from a bad case of pneumonia. Thankfully he's doing much better... I was pretty worried for awhile.

On the plus side, it has forced us to slow our pace a little bit, and that has been good for all of us.

As for progress, we did manage to plant a little tree recently -- a Butterflies Magnolia, which will hopefully produce glorious yellow blooms early next spring. I've decided to embrace all the colors in our outdoor landscaping, just because. (Nearly anything will look better than that patchy grass...)

Meanwhile, my vegetable garden is taking off, and Johnnie has been carrying around a tiny watering can (from my childhood, found in my parents' attic) and being such a helpful gardening sidekick. Last year around this time a tornado felled a giant pine in our backyard and shredded most of my vegetable plants, but since tornadoes are rare here, I'm maintaining optimism about this year. I don't want to wish the summer away, but I am already looking forward to some fresh tomato and avocado sandwiches...

Until then, I wish you your equivalent of many leisurely walks down the lane to see the horses with the people you love. (Or sandwiches... your choice.)



Ez is in the process of installing our shiny new front porch railing (see stack of railing pieces above), and two weeks ago I had a bright idea: black iron porch railing + black iron window boxes = one step closer to a harmonious façade at this hodge-podge house. 

I thought window boxes would both give dimension and draw attention to the front of the house, which may in turn take attention away from some of the other curb appeal deficiencies we haven't been able to address yet (e.g. patchy grass, lack of landscaping, muddy driveway). 

Shopping where we live is not the most convenient, so I relied on the internet to make this vision come true. After some googling and Amazon-ing, I landed on these online-only Chateau Trough planters from Target. I liked the style, they came in the lengths I needed (24" and 48" to span the 8-foot window), and the price wasn't bad. They turned out to be as sturdy as I'd hoped, so I am pleased.

Fortunately, unlike the porch railing (which Ez says has been one of the most challenging DIY tasks yet), installing the planters was simple: two heavy-duty zinc hooks for each planter, pre-drilled and screwed into the wood trim under the window. The planters can be easily lifted on and off as needed, and it was all so easy I fear something is bound to go wrong at any moment.

Then came the fun part: the garden center! I dragged my mom along because she has a good eye for these things, and she always has beautiful flowers that she manages to keep alive while being just as frenetic and distracted as I am on a daily basis. We spent over an hour huddled under an umbrella in the pouring rain, selecting plants and laying them out to see what configurations of colors, heights, leaves and blooms looked best. We got soaked and it was great.

Configuring one of the 24" window boxes at the garden center...

My Mother's Day gift to myself was planting them and taking a moment to step back and appreciate how nice it all looked. Theoretically they will look even better in a few weeks when the plants are bigger and fuller. (I took these photos 1 week after planting, and they had already perked up and grown significantly.) My mission is to keep them alive to see this part of the vision come true. We shall see!

This year's window box plants:

A - Alyssum Lavender Stream (Lobularia Maritima) - small, trailing flowers
B - 'Ponytails' Grass (Stipa tenuissima) - a spiky grass
C - Heliotrope Marino Blue (Heliotropium Arborescens) - tall, blue-violet flowers
D - Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia) - bright green trailing vine
E - Torenia Purple Moon (Torenia Fournieri) - shorter purple flowers
F - White alyssum
G - Sweet Potato Vine 'Goldfinger' (Ipomoea batatas)
H - 'Blackie' Sweet Potato Vine (Ipomoea batatas)
I - White Geranium

The harder task ahead is planning and picking out perennials for foundation plantings and general landscaping. I have no idea what I'm doing, but it's been therapeutic to flip through gardening and landscaping books lately.

I'm posting this full-façade pic so you can see the railing progress. I think the house is going to look so much better -- so much more finished overall -- with the railing done. I also cannot wait to get that bottom row of chinking done, now that the stone foundation has been cleaned and repointed. 

I am so happy that spring is finally here! And yes, our side yard always looks that magical. Seriously. It's my favorite part of living here.



It's been awhile, so here's a recent photo of the kitchen. I hope you like authenticity, because I didn't bother clearing our snacks from the island or tucking the unsightly things of everyday life out of the way.

The kitchen's really not finished, but it works for now and has decent natural light thanks to the giant front window. Before our Easter guests arrived, we rented an industrial buffer to deep clean the concrete floor. Even with regular vacuuming and steam mopping, the kitchen floor hasn't felt truly clean since approximately three days after it was poured. Considering how much construction gunk has been produced since its installation, the floor was really due for a hardcore scrubbing.

I'm so glad we did it! Now Johnnie can walk around barefoot without my "paranoid mom alert" going off, although now I'm tempted to buy our very own floor buffer, which I'm sure is neither cheap nor easy to store. I also completely love having a floor drain, which made this deep cleaning process much easier.

Things we still need to do in the kitchen:
  • Build a real base cabinet for the range area, with counter space on either side.
  • Build shelving in the pantry (right now it's just open space)
  • Build shelving inside the oven cabinets (again, it's just open space right now)
  • Hang the pendant light over the baking table. We have it. We just need to hang it. Pathetic.
  • Patch a crack in the floor (a pitfall of concrete even with all precautions taken) and reseal it.
I guess that's not really too much, but most of these are critical organizational tasks. Right now we only have one lonely little drawer, where we keep our flatware -- though the crates under the island are basically drawers, too -- and all our dry and canned foods are crammed together in what limited shelf space we have. I don't believe having a more organized kitchen will make me a better cook, but no longer having to dig around for my ingredients may at least make cooking more enjoyable. That'll be nice.

We'll get there soon enough. A higher priority right now is a railing for the front porch. I'm really thankful we've made it through two winters without anyone falling down our icy stairs with nothing to hold onto. For safety's sake, we're finally getting ready to tackle that little oversight. Alas, it will probably not involve custom ironwork, my preference of course, but oh well. For now I'll settle for nobody tumbling to their doom. You're welcome, family.