Well, sort of. The brick man got started on our foundation yesterday, but clearly it's still a work in progress. It's almost shocking to see bricks there after seeing exposed styrofoam for so long--but in a good way, of course. He still has to install the final ledge at the top, which will be angled so water will flow right off. (Speaking of water, we're still waiting on the gutter man...)

This is not the same angle, but here's a good look at the front last year, before bricks:

Embarrassing in so many ways.

I do wish we could've matched the original stone foundation so it could be uniform all the way across, but that turned out to be a next-to-impossible task. Not only were the original fieldstones really tough to match, but building a new foundation under an existing structure AND incorporating stones that matched was sort of a pie-in-the-sky idea structurally, financially and otherwise. So we'll work with what we have here, and I think it'll be pretty good.

And once the bricking is done and the stones are repointed -- unfortunately not today since April is living up to its rainy reputation -- we can start getting some vegetation growing out there. (Mom! Help!)



I don't have a lot of exciting updates or the time to share them lately, but here's something of note: baseboards! What a difference they make. Our house is really wonky and out of square, so we have to have both shoe molding on the bottom and a trim piece on the top to cover gaps and disguise unevenness. It looks a little fancier than I might have originally chosen, but I like the effect. Especially compared to what it looked like before.

So far we've only finished the master bathroom -- which took more than three hours to install, caulk and fill the nail holes. (Ez installed everything and I did the finishing. For the life of me, I cannot conceptualize how to configure the corner cuts in a remotely timely manner.) We still have like 6 more rooms to go, but this was the most complicated. Theoretically, it gets easier from here. (Then I have to go back and give it all one final coat of paint.)

Providing the weather stays this gorgeous (I'm seriously thrilled with the spring weather we've been having!), we should have the kitchen foundation bricked and the stones repointed this week. The brick guy dropped all his supplies off last week, and we're just waiting for him to come back and actually do the job. Once those tasks are done, we can finally do some much-needed planting and landscaping out front. 

It's the little things, isn't it? 



Hello from my lunch break, which I am spending at my desk eating a very boring salad, like I do most days. (Just when you thought my work was all exciting.) Anyway, I snapped this crummy photo on my way out the door this morning. Sorry (Veronica!) that this is yet another photo of a tiny corner instead of a full room. Ez installed the night stand shelves in our bedroom last night, and they're so convenient! Especially compared to our previous solution of throwing everything on the floor next to the bed and grumbling when we couldn't reach it. Now I can have my tissues, eye drops and phone within arm's reach, which is dangerous because I already have trouble getting out of this glorious bed every morning. 

The shelves are 14" long stained pine planks, supported by these brackets from Signature Hardware. Installing them was a slightly more annoying process than it should've been thanks to the placement of the outlets underneath, but Ez was persistent and I was sympathetic. (Note: I was cleaning the bathroom at the time of installation and I held the level for him twice, lest you think I'm a non-contributor.) 

If we estimate the cost of each shelf at a maximum of $25 (brackets, wood, stain, poly, etc.), and add in the $100 cost of Ez's homemade headboard, we have a pretty nice budget-friendly setup here for maybe $150. (The walls lamps are listed at $99 each at HomeDecorators.com, but I rarely buy anything online without a discount code...) One of the best parts is I don't have to dust and mop under and around any table legs, which makes me happy. 

I've probably said this before, but it feels so nice to finally begin to settle into our own home. I really don't need a lot of stuff to be content, but I really appreciate convenience and functionality -- especially after such a long period of construction and upheaval. Though it's cheap and simple, this little shelf does a surprising amount to make me feel at home. 



An old friend's band released a new 5-song album this week. Check it out!

"Worn" is my favorite, though I loved an earlier acoustic version of it. This is a peppier, more electronic take on an earnest little tune.

Happy listening!



Hiya. Just a quick check-in over here... I was in NYC for work most of last week, and I'm still getting my footing being home. (Long story short: Johnnie is tired of my traveling.) While I was away, our new dining room rug arrived. After a week or so of scouring ebay and a dozen other places, I bought it on Etsy from a Turkish shop called decorpillow. It wasn't much more expensive than a mass-produced option, and it's a much, much nicer handwoven wool. During my hunt I told my mom I was looking for something a little grown up, but a little playful too. I think we landed on it. We love it, and I'm so glad we opted for something a little colorful to break up all the wood.

This is a more accurate representation of the colors in broad daylight:

Our dining chairs have also slowly but surely made their way in. I ordered eight chairs from Overstock, and four of them arrived in the wrong color. We got the four replacement chairs on our doorstep this week, and I still have to find time to load the four wrong ones in the truck and drive them 15 minutes out of my way to the closest UPS store. That's what I get for buying the knockoffs, I guess. On the plus side, they are surprisingly very comfortable, and they fit perfectly at the table Ez made. We've already eaten our first meal in here, and I'm excited for so many more.

Lately we've also been settling more into the master bathroom and working a little on the office -- making small and practical improvements as we have time. I'm thrilled to be at this stage, and I'm looking forward to sharing the updates with you. And maybe soon, a dinner party!



Johnnie napping with her BAD BLANKIE
If you've been reading for awhile, you know that I am the strange bird who can't wear perfume, burn candles or use normal shampoo without breaking out in a rash. (If you are a perfume wearer, know that if I hug you it's because I really love you a lot.) My sensitivity seems to only get worse over time, but fortunately I've noticed a huge difference in the health of my skin as a result of switching to natural, fragrance free products. I've mentioned before that we try to keep our household and personal care products as natural and organic as possible. While I can't claim we are a model family for green living, we do try to make choices that are better for us and for the environment as often as we can. Something about that makes our home feel better too.

Before Johnnie was born, I went on a hunt for affordable organic, dye-free bedding for her crib. It was a harder endeavor than I thought it would be, and it made me more aware of exactly what goes into the things I buy. We're now in the process of looking for a new coverlet or duvet for our own bed, since we upgraded from a full to a queen. I still haven't figured out what we'll end up with in the end, but the search has turned out to be fruitful in other ways. Sometimes the internet is magical like that.

I was poking around on Etsy one night, searching for organic linen and cotton coverlets. I happened to stumble upon and favorite the "BAD BLANKIE" -- a 55% Organic Hemp; 45% Organic Cotton blanket -- made by BAD Organics. Though it's not really a coverlet, it stuck out because it looked so soft, simple and inviting. A couple hours later, I got a sweet message from the shop owners, Brittanny and Daniel. They thanked me for liking their products and told me they had read my blog, were inspired by our family and our story, and wanted to send a blanket to Johnnie as a gift. No strings attached. We started emailing back and forth, and it turned out they got into the organic blanket-making business for the same reasons I was in the organic blanket-buying market -- unpleasant reactions to synthetic products. They even articulated something I've felt but never put into words: that natural/organic products don't emit harmful chemicals, yes, but that's not all -- they also send out positive vibes. The kind that make your home feel better. Kindred spirits.

The BAD BLANKIE arrived last week (after a slight delay thanks to another snowstorm here in Maryland), with a handwritten note addressed to Johnnie that was so sweet I got a little teary. J loved that a package came just for her, and she helped me wash it and put it on her bed. The blanket is made with two layers of thin, soft fleece sewn together, and it's super soft and plush. We never bother using a top sheet on her bed since she'd only get tangled in it, so the softer the better. Every morning I find her thoroughly snuggled in it, so from her perspective I think it's a huge hit. It even arrived at a perfect time, because we recently realized her comforter was too hot, and her crib quilt was too small. BAD BLANKIE = perfect solution.

It does cost more than I might normally pay for a blanket, especially one I hadn't felt and tested for myself, but the BAD BLANKIE the nicest blanket we've ever owned by a long shot. I'm officially a fan, so I encourage you to check it out if you're into this kind of thing. I am thankful to have met Brittanny and Daniel and to know a little of their story, as well as for their sweet generosity in sending us a BAD BLANKIE so we could try it out. (Thank you, B©D!) We are happy, snuggly little campers over here.

Full disclosure: We received this blanket free as a gift, with no obligation for a review. Opinions are my own. 



We haven't eaten a proper meal at a real dining table (in our own home, that is) in years. Though I'm proud of our efforts to actually cook healthy meals and eat together most nights, DVR will be a tough side dish to rid from our diets. Both Ez and I agree our brains are sufficiently rotted by now though, and it's time for a change. With the floors finished and the dining table built, there's no time like the present.

Also, the dining room is basically the center of the house, and it's kind of a bummer to walk through it every day when it's so overwhelmingly brown and empty. It's better now than when it was our workshop, granted, but I fear it needs a lot of help before anyone will want to eat in there.

This week our dining chairs arrive -- a good place to start, I thought. I bought the Tolix knockoffs from Overstock. I know some people are appalled at the idea of ever buying a knockoff, but my math skills are so limited I can't wrap my mind around how much it would cost to buy eight chairs at $250 apiece. I looked at all sorts of options -- wood, metal, tufted, slipcovered -- and these seemed to be the best combination of durable, affordable and attractive. (I'm putting some faith in the many online reviews that say they are also comfortable. Here's hoping.)

Anyway, here's our sad, poorly color-corrected but still very brown dining room as of this week:

And here are some things that are on my mind as I think about turning it into a real room:

Tabouret chairs from Overstock
Tree Ring Print by LintonArt on etsy.
Nomad Sideboard from World Market. It's 25% off right now, FYI...
Vintage Turkish Kilim rug from misterpillow on etsy. Too steep for me, but I can admire, no?

The sideboard may have to wait for now -- lots of transactions happening at the moment -- but this is the direction I'm headed. My next purchase will probably be a rug, since the thought of chair legs sliding on my new pine floors makes me a little panicky. Since our table and the floor are basically the same color, I'm looking for some bolder color on the floor to break up the brown a little. We'll see what I can find that fits the budget.

Who wants to come over for dinner?



This is what we're looking at lately... Even with all the baseboards still to paint, shoe molding to install, and details to attend to, I have to admit the mood around here is considerably lifted. We're walking around barefoot, picking out furniture and enjoying our newfound spaces. Since these rooms are still in blank-slate territory, I wanted to post a few photos to show you where we're starting from. In a way, these are kind of our new "before" pictures. That cozy little corner above is where our desk will go -- and hopefully soon, too. Setting that up is one of our next priorities so we can have a designated spot for bills and paperwork, which have a way of getting out of hand quickly.

I love this ceiling.

Here's the straight-on angle of the office corner. (As you can see, we also still need balusters for the handrail... In due time.)

And here's a closer view of the headboard Ez made. I'm not going to post a full shot of the master bedroom quite yet, because it needs some work. I haven't found a new coverlet yet, so we're temporarily using the one from our old bed. Not only is it too small, but it also has these thick gray and white stripes that clash terribly with the similarly stripey exposed log wall... Not a good look. I don't want to scare you. Nonetheless, our new bed remains the most comfortable surface on this planet, so no complaints here.

And here's a little peek into my closet. I've been researching tons of closet organization systems, and I've pretty much decided on the PAX from IKEA. (Does anyone have one? Thoughts?) It's really the only thing I can find that seems sturdy enough and will fit the incredibly restrictive space I have to work with. Also I'm not looking to spend thousands of dollars, so...

The photo below will give you a better idea of the steep pitch of the ceiling, which is a real challenge in this design-your-own-closet adventure. I really wanted a Stolmen system, but unfortunately there are about a dozen reasons why it won't work. However, it seems I can fit one of the shorter, standard-width PAX units in the taller corner without bumping into the ceiling at all. I'd pack it with drawers and shelves and then run a clothing bar from the outer left side of the unit to the short back wall for my hangup clothes. We went to IKEA on Saturday and had a thoroughly dissatisfying experience (sold out of everything we wanted), so hopefully they'll pull through for me on this one. Please, IKEA. I'm counting on you.

And finally, just for good measure, here's what things look like when you first walk in the front door. It's a little sparse, I realize, but we're working on it. The dining chairs I ordered are on their way, and we're spending our evenings comparing thoughts about dining room rug options. (Meanwhile, I keep expecting those baseboards to paint themselves.)

It's a teensy bit stressful for me to make so many decisions at once, but it's really fun too. Especially when Ez and I manage to agree on something once in awhile! Anyway, that's our blank slate for you. Looking forward to cozy-ing it up a bit over the next few weeks and months.



That Ez... While I was in Africa, he gave me the impression that he wasn't able to even clean the house let alone work on it. But, ah, he is a tricky one... I arrived home on Sunday evening, all jet-lagged and dehydrated, to stained and finished floors upstairs and down, a new mattress and bedding, and a beautiful new headboard that he made himself! I was so excited to see my two favorite people that I didn't think being home could get any sweeter. But after two weeks of sleeping under mosquito nets on questionable bed linens, I got to spend my first blissful night home in my brand new master bedroom -- an event I've been eagerly awaiting for almost five and a half years.

Husband of the year, no question.

For those who care about such things: The mattress is a Tempur-Pedic Cloud Select, which we've been pining over since we got married seven years ago. (And we even upgraded from a full to a queen!) It is every bit as comfortable as we hoped. We needed new sheets for our larger bed, so Ez had the bright idea to search Amazon for the highest rated sheet set, which is an incredibly soft flannel/satin blend. Then he went from one furniture store to the next looking at upholstered headboards (which we previously agreed we wanted), but was discouraged that they were all made in China and would take 8+ weeks to come in. So, thanks to the magic of the blogosphere, he found a tutorial and made one himself out of a canvas drop cloth for about $100 in materials. I was so thrilled with the end result I almost cried, and I'm already excited to go to bed tonight.

Still to do in here:

  • Install shoe molding
  • Final coat of paint on baseboards
  • Replace bed skirt with a homemade drop cloth version
  • Nightstands: I'm looking at options for a wall-mounted/floating shelf or drawer (no legs to vacuum around)
  • Stain and finish the bathroom door
  • Buy a new duvet cover or bedspread (Ez says the IKEA one we have is too scratchy) 
  • Frame and hang a special art print I bought him for Valentine's Day

It's not much! And though it's not completely finished, the vibe in there is so calming -- it's like the perfect retreat. The room is practically empty, but I think it's proof that if you choose your furnishings carefully, it doesn't take much to make a room feel "finished." Also, after just two nights, I can say I'm completely thrilled with the wall-mount bedside lamp decision. (So convenient, no cords, etc.)

So anyway, when I left, this is the only progress we had made on staining the floors in the entry, dining room and master suite.

Inspiring, right? And that's what I expected to come home to. My jaw dropped when I walked in the front door and saw it all finished. I've only been home for a day and a half, but I can't wait to take more pictures and show you how everything looks now! What a difference.

And now that the floors are done, that means there's nothing stopping us from finally settling in to our entire house. I can hardly believe it. What a surreal couple of weeks! And now the real fun begins.

PS - Thanks so much for all your prayers and encouragement while I was away! I didn't get sick at all (my #1 fear), and we accomplished every single objective on our list. It's a trip I'll never forget... Congo thoroughly sucked me in, and I hope I get another opportunity to go back again sooner rather than later. ♥



Instead of spending February 14 with Ez at our favorite restaurant downtown, I had an interestingly intimate Valentine's Day -- or V-Day, I should say -- with hundreds of my newest, closest friends halfway around the world.

I joined the V-Day One Billion Rising for Justice rally in Bukavu, DRC. We paraded, danced, sang and shouted our way through the city, calling for the end of violence against women and girls. While I was content to hang back in the crowd and soak it all in, my Congolese colleague (holding the white flag) grabbed me by the arm and said, "No no, Emily. To the front!"

What a good reminder to be bold about the things I believe in. To the front we went.

Somehow I ended up next to this guy with amazing glasses, whom I later found out is part of a well-known acting duo that was performing at the festivities. The guy in the blue shirt behind us is one of the most famous singers in the Congo. It pays to be bold!

This has been such a great trip. I'm writing this from a cockroach-infested missionary hostel out in the bush -- complete with cold, brown shower water and free wifi -- and I feel awesome. Even though I miss my family so much and am still saddened about some severely malnourished children I met today, I'm feeling energized and ready to take on the world. It turns out that pushing toward the front and taking cold showers are require pretty much the same type of courage.