12.02.2014

CABINETS AND CHRISTMAS THINGS

Is blogging dead? I don't know, but my blog is certainly taking a back burner lately. Speaking of burners, we've been stoveless (again) the past week. I snapped this with my phone on Saturday, one of the rare days when I am actually home during daylight hours.


Ez is currently building the cabinets for underneath the rangetop as well as the small cabinets flanking either side. (Our stove had previously been sitting on a semi-level stainless steel work table--workable but not ideal.) We'll be using butcher block for the countertops and a combination of white-painted pine and salvaged planks for the facing. Butcher block and reclaimed wood are probably on their way out, trend-wise, but if they will work in any house it's certainly ours.

I am looking forward to having this fairly major improvement checked off the list. It'll be much more convenient for cooking (though I've been lying around lately more than I've been cooking) and much tidier too. Having a place to put things is always nice, especially because I'm kind of a messy cook.

This is also one of the critical projects on our Resale To Do List. I will spare you the full list, but it includes things like closet shelving, installing the master bath tub, filling nail holes and painting baseboards, etc. -- mostly manageable things, I think. I have not been much help so far considering the extreme nausea and exhaustion, but thankfully I do feel a lot better than I had been. I'm officially in the second trimester, and I am spending less and less time on the couch just in time for the holidays. Which is really good, because the clutter and dust bunnies have been piling up, despite Ez's dedicated attempts to pick up my slack.

Aside from cleaning, Johnnie and I have been slowly working on our Christmas tree the past few days. In 8 years of marriage, this is only the second time Ez and I have put up a Christmas tree. Between continual renovation and spending Christmas mornings elsewhere, we haven't felt like putting in the effort. Now that Johnnie is 3 and gets excited about every little thing, we decided to stop being so austere. She picked out the colorful balls at Target, and together we cut the matching paper strips to make the chain. She's getting so good with scissors!

HomeGoods stools for reaching upper branches! And we still need to stain the steps and build a railing...
And while Ez was working on the kitchen cabinets, J and I also baked salt dough ornaments, which we then spent hours painting and glitter-gluing within an inch of their lives. After I shellac them, they'll go on the tree as well. So our bright and colorful tree is still very much a work in progress. Much like everything!


10.24.2014

FIVE THINGS FRIDAY


Despite the debbie-downer tone of my last blog post, I haven't meant to take such an extended break from blogging. It has been a very refreshing and productive break, though, and if you're reading this I'm grateful you've stuck with me. What have I been up to? Well...

1. This month I've been helping to edit my brother's doctoral dissertation during my free time, which has been both enlightening and challenging. I like to edit perhaps more than I like to write, so am I allowed to say the process has even been a little bit fun? It's almost done, and I am relieved--but not as much as my bro is, considering how long he's been working toward this goal. He's been a college student for 18 straight years, nine of which he's also been a professor/instructor. It's time to wrap this up already, and I'm glad to be of help.

2. As of September 1, I've taken on an entirely new role at work, on top of my old one. Unfortunately it did not come with additional prestige or pay yet, but it did come with a new budget to manage, two domestic trips so far (along with an upcoming trip to London), and what feels like endless proverbial cat herding. I am basically winging it, but the older I get the more I realize I'm not alone in that. It's actually going slightly better than I expected, so WOOHOO!

3. This month we also got new gutters and downspouts on the house. It's taken a good two years for the gutter man to finally make good on his promise to come "next week," but if such things can be called beautiful, these really are. (Our gutter man is the same guy who did the custom steel roof on the kitchen bump-out.) This spring I hope we can finally get that last row of chinking done...



4. I'm also working on growing the newest member of our family, due next spring! I'm not completely through the first trimester just yet, but since I've already told both immediate family and work, I figured I'd let all of you know too. It hasn't been the most relaxing time to be nauseated 23 hours a day, but there's never a good time for that I guess. And if I've felt stretched and busy, our superhero Ez has been on overdrive -- working his normal long hours, commuting an eternity each way and coming home to take care of his tired, queasy wife hunched over a laptop and a trash can simultaneously, and a bored and hungry three-year-old. Johnnie is completely thrilled about the "baby in mommy's tummy" though, and so are we.

5. This weekend I turn 31, and I have barely thought about it. In fact, I keep thinking about weekend plans/To Dos and forgetting about it altogether. I'm thankful for another year of life of course, but I don't have any profound sadness or excitement about this particularly birthday. There are so many other important things on my mind!

So that's the update. It's been such a big month!

Is anyone still reading? How are you guys?




9.09.2014

STANDARDS OF DOMESTICITY



I started writing this post two years ago and couldn't bring myself to finish or publish it, because I didn't want to push negativity out into the world. However, my feelings about this have only intensified over time, and in light of mega-blog Young House Love's announcement about "taking a break" today, I decided to finish this post in the hope it will resonate with someone else out there.

*

Renovating with a six month old, 2012

A couple months ago there was a post on Apartment Therapy that bothered me so much I still think about it regularly. It opened like this:
I feel like I am late getting to the painting game with my 19-month old. She is still enthralled by crayons, but it seems I have recently seen a slew of blog posts talking about painting with kids under two. Tomorrow I am determined to make it happen. 
It's sad and telling that this person, despite admitting their kid was perfectly content with her experiences, allowed a "slew of blog posts" to guilt them into making an unnecessary mess happen tomorrow.

Oh boy.

"Lifestyle blogs" have exploded since I first started reading them several years ago (and then casually writing this one back in 2009). As a result, blogs have increasingly become a way to prove yourself as the crafty homemaker, the courageous DIYer, the bold tastemaker, the hands-on mommy, the urban homesteader, or whatever your aspiration may be. If you were to Google "DIY" + anything at all, you'd undoubtedly unearth tidy how-to instructions (and step-by-step watermarked photos) by a cheerful blogger on how you, too, can make it happen with your own two hands. Admittedly this has been helpful in our home renovation journey, but generally speaking I'm sort of over it.

There has been an evolution. Instead of merely reflecting our lives at home, blogs (and now Pinterest, which came onto the scene after I started writing this post) are shaping them. Babies have started celebrating their birthdays with more stylish and lavish parties, with sophisticated themes and all the details artistically photographed (and, of course, blogged.) When Johnnie turned one, a Pinterest-savvy coworker asked me what her party theme was going to be. I said, "balloons and cake?" She responded that it didn't sound very exciting. "It will be for Johnnie," I said. (And for the record, I was right! What a sweet day that was.)

After awhile, it was not enough to have a nicely decorated home; to get all the blogging cred, you had to sew your child's quilt yourself, with fabric you bought with a coupon you kept tucked away in your special hand-bound coupon organizer. The insides of kitchen cabinets have become photographed just as frequently as the outsides, showcasing how there are no skeletons of disarray hidden in any closets. Christmas trees are not just tastefully decorated; the ornaments are handmade and sold in bloggers' Etsy shops. People began decorating their dining tables for dinner parties they weren't having just so they could take photos for their blog. (That one really gets me.)

Somewhere along the line, the keepers of the blogosphere (mostly women, but some men too) have adopted a new form of domesticity. It's cheery and has a can-do attitude: We bake bread. We raise chickens. We celebrate every holiday with a craft. We paint and organize and sew, we decorate and re-decorate, and we carry a camera to document it all. But then, when we realize our 19-month-old has never held a paintbrush like all the other bloggers' kids, or we realize nobody likes Keep Calm posters (and now chevron) anymore, guilt and even shame creep in. There's a lot of superficiality and performance underlying this shiny new standard of domesticity, and when you inevitably fall short somewhere (who can keep up?) -- or when your aesthetic missteps are documented so publicly -- the oppressiveness of constantly striving for perfection or attention begins to feel a little overwhelming.

As George (my favorite character) says in You've Got Mail, "The internet is just another way of being rejected by women." As bloggers, if we don't measure up to the standard -- even if we're the only ones in our households who are holding us to it -- page views drop, comments wane and maybe GOMI points out our bad decisions. Even worse, rejection will also come from within ourselves, because we're the ones extolling this domestic virtue through carefully curated public promotion. And because (as bloggers) we are both the creators and consumers of blog fodder, we are never ever done fixing up our homes (or whatever your "passion" is) or grasping for page views to show them off. Such a vicious cycle.

As someone who has spent considerable time living in a house with no heat and cooking soup in a coffee pot, I had to start removing myself from the endless stream of blog inspiration, aspiration and self-promotion awhile ago. I still look at Pinterest for very specific things like recipes or room layouts, but I'm so tired of aspiring! Blogging has been a therapeutic activity for me, but being (even a small part) of the blogging community has also been somewhat poisonous at times. I mean, somewhere, some blogger is writing a post about how you can "get the look" of their newly renovated bathroom -- complete with tile and wallpaper they were given for free by manufacturers -- while I (and maybe you?) have been furiously googling for coupon codes and peeing in a bucket while my bathroom is out of commission. How am I supposed to paint with my toddler and make my own laundry soap in these conditions? How do I afford both the designer trash can and the organic hand towels? (Fingers crossed that I win them in a blog giveaway!) Why can't my kid just like wooden toys instead of plastic things that blink? How does the construction dust get inside the microwave? The domestic standard perpetuated on the internet has been and is still out of reach for me, considering my unique circumstances, talents (or lack thereof), resources, time constraints and interests. Though I'm drawn to beautiful things and the calming thought of a curated life, admitting to and accepting my limitations -- and cutting back on my blog and Pinterest consumption -- have helped to unload a lot of guilt from my apron pockets.

Whew!

In the meantime, I have seen numerous small-time bloggers work their way up to impressive success, somehow navigating what I consider to be a rather exploitative industry that asks you to sell your personal website and your persona to shill new product lines at Target or wherever. Yet because they are bloggers, and blogs have been touted to be more trustworthy and personal than mainstream media, it's packaged to seem like everything is genuine, and that this is real life. But usually it's not. Lifestyle blogging has, in some ways, become the reality TV of real domestic life. Instead of sharing our real lives, we're staging them and passing them off as genuine. And we're dragging our families along with us and curating their lives to the point of farce. And frankly, the idea of performing my life instead of living it is a little depressing.

All of this is to say: A lot of people are trying to sell us these idealistic standards -- along with all the products and accessories required to achieve them -- and we (especially women, and even more especially mothers) need more "shoulds" in our lives like we need napkin rings for every season. We all have context, baggage and extenuating circumstances. One size will never fit all, and the formula will never add up for everyone the same way. I think on some level we all want to be the best version of ourselves, but that looks so different for each of us. I guess, after all these words, my point is that there's a strong Martha Stewart-inspired "ideal" out there that just won't add up for everyone -- myself included. So if your Dream House Pinterest board makes you feel depressed, consider deleting it. If my eternal home renovation makes you jealous of my awesomeness, by all means stop reading this blog! Discontentment is not healthy, and you're probably already doing a great job of keeping your home and family from falling apart -- which, some days, is all you can realistically aspire to.

Now I'm not saying people shouldn't make money from blogging, or that all blogs are evil or anti-feminist or whatever, or that all bloggers are perpetuating this mythical standard. (I know some people who fully embody this domestic lifestyle in a genuine way, showoffs.) I'm just turned off by the frivolity and materialism that I'm seeing so much of; by the idea that my worth or success is tied up in my domestic/decorating/homekeeping skills; by endless staged and sponsored content; by the idea that nothing is ever good enough; by guilt when things aren't up to par.

Also, I do still read some blogs. These days I am drawn most often to the regular old personal blogs, the ones written by normal people doing normal-people-stuff: finding the perfect pair of shoes, having babies, eating good food, renovating houses, writing thoughtfully about whatever they're thinking. They aren't hoping for a book deal, a product line, free tile (does the Tile Shop actually sell any tile, or do they just give it all away to bloggers? serious question) or hundreds of adoring comments on every post. They aren't prescribing anything or presenting themselves as domestic role models, but reflecting on who and where they are, and sharing a real piece of themselves. And they aren't urging me to aspire to be like them, but to relate to them. The authenticity is refreshing.

And so I leave you with a song: "In My Mind" by Amanda Palmer, in which she comes to the conclusion that all her aspirations are silly because she doesn't actually want to be the person she has been aspiring to be. Take note, blog friends, and leave the guilt on the shelf at Home Goods with all those meaningless tchotchkes you don't really want to dust around. Then invite some friends over for a real dinner party -- and, unless you really and truly love to cook, don't feel guilty at all for ordering pizza and letting the Cards Against Humanity box be your centerpiece.

xo


8.28.2014

THREE

We celebrated Johnnie's third birthday on Saturday. I keep asking myself if it's really been three years since those dimpled cheeks came into our lives, but the calendar confirms it. I don't know about you, but this past year was the fastest of my life.

We threw a dance party for her and 15 of her little friends. It was the most fun mayhem we could've hoped for. She asked us several times for a strawberry cake for her birthday, so we ordered a strawberry-filled, strawberry-shaped masterpiece from a local bakery. So good and so adorable.


When the last song ended and the last guest left, Johnnie collapsed on the living room floor for a few seconds, limbs splayed and eyes closed. I didn't get a picture of that because I was right there beside her--the universal sign of a good celebration.

The great thing about Johnnie though is that she finds something to celebrate every day. When she hears music, she dances. (That's how Ez got the idea for a dance-themed party.) We could all use a little more of that joy in our lives, and I'm so thankful for the three years of dancing and belly laughs she's given us so far.



Happy birthday, lovebug!

8.20.2014

RED, RED WINE

Someday you'll be celebrating a very special occasion -- perhaps the annual celebration of your husband's birthday and your wedding anniversary all wrapped into one. (In our house we call this day The Birthiversary.)

8 years ago! 
After a delicious dinner and an adorable rendition of "Happy Birthday" led by an almost-three-year-old, you'll pop open a long-awaited bottle of one of your favorite reds: a Rosenblum Rockpile Road Zin from 2006, the year you were married.

After you sit back and take a sip or two, you might be shocked when that normally very careful almost-three-year-old grabs a towel out of the laundry basket and, without warning, starts whipping it around for some unknown reason. (Birthday cake sugar high?) Said towel might take a powerful swipe across the coffee table before you even know what's happening, shattering a wine glass and spraying wine all over your white couch.

This is a thing that happens, friends. Believe me. And when it does, forget the white wine, the vodka, the salt, the club soda, the baking soda, the white vinegar, and everything else the internet tells you removes red wine stains.

You will need good old fashioned Carbona, #8 to be exact.


This morning, I was ready to wave a white pillow cover in defeat after the stains on the couch cover wouldn't budge, even after an overnight soak in the tub. (I'm patting myself on the back right now for buying a couch with a fully removable slipcover. Gold star for me!) Then my mother-in-law mentioned Carbona, which I've seen on the grocery store shelf a thousand times but have never used.

I went to the grocery store during lunch to buy some, followed the instructions (dissolve in hot water, which was scary, then soak) and was amazed when, after a 30 minute soak, the stain was gone. Not even a trace. I can't believe it. I wish I'd worn gloves though -- I didn't really soak my hands in the stuff, but the little bit I touched did irritate my skin a little.

One tip: I did make sure the stain stayed wet. That probably helped.

So, just when I was thinking we'd need to shell out for a new slipcover (not cheap), a $3 bottle of specialty cleaner did the trick. I thought you might want to know, just in case...

8.13.2014

OF LATE...


Very little has been happening at the house the past two weeks... We spent a few days with my family in Pennsylvania after my grandmother passed, and as soon as we got back home Ez's sister and family arrived from Chicago to spend the week swimming, picking crabs on the patio and hanging out. All last week we were home only when we were sleeping, going straight from work to my in-laws'. I wish every week could be packed with so much fun and so many lovable people, but we're all definitely a little baggy under the eyes and ready for a reboot on our regular schedule.

Ez did manage to get the shed floor painted and the lumber racks installed somewhere along the way. The rest of the stuff has just been shoved inside without much organization, since we wanted to ditch the storage pod ASAP/we didn't want everything to get rained on/we haven't been home. This is not exactly how I envisioned the process going, but I'm actually not bothered by it. That ugly pod is gone -- hallelujah! We desperately need to mow and do some other yard cleanup, and then I'll share some updated outdoor photos.

Speaking of the outdoors, my garden is still producing like mad (so many green beans!), and it's finally tomato season! (I'm writing this during my work lunch break and simultaneously enjoying a tomato sandwich. My summer dreams are coming true.) My window box is still looking glorious too, but it seems as though our magnolia tree is officially dead. We dug it up and replanted it after we determined it was root-bound, and I've babied it for weeks, but the last of the green leaves have finally dried up. This might be a controversial thing to do, but I'm contacting the nursery to see about an exchange. We followed planting and care directions to the tee, and I called them for advice as soon as it started looking sick, so I don't feel it's terribly entitled to ask what our options are.

It's ironic that we live in a log house and are having such bad luck with trees lately.

Or is it???


8.08.2014

REMEMBERING GRAMMY


My grandma passed away last week. Still as beautiful at 86 as she was in that photo, she slipped away peacefully while reading the newspaper, and for that I am thankful. Though she was just a little waif of a person, she had more strength than anyone else I knew; she survived colon cancer and lived with a colostomy for 30-plus years, she survived a broken neck (complete with halo) after a fall down the stairs at age 83, and she endured a broken hip at 84 and a series of mini-strokes after that. After everything, I'm so glad her passing was peaceful and easy.

She was my last living grandparent, and that feels very significant. My parents have now become the elders, and there is no denying that I am, officially, one of the Adults. I spent a lot of time with all my grandparents growing up, so this is an idea that I am still getting used to.

I think I knew Grammy as well as anyone did. During my preschool years, I spent my days with her and my Pappap while my parents were at work, and our favorite games were School (a dirty trick of a game that successfully taught me to read at an early age) and "Guessing Cars" -- which involved sitting with Grammy on her porch swing and guessing what color car would drive past next. In high school, she made snacks for my friends and me before volleyball practice and woke us up from our various napping spots to ensure we got out the door in time. She was the one who, when I was 15, recognized that something real was wrong and rushed me to the hospital when my appendix was about to burst.

She was a very giving but also very private person, sharing very little about who she really was inside. She had endured a lot of pain and loss in her life and was emotionally fragile; as a result, she was very guarded and kept things close to the vest. Her love was demonstrated more by her servitude--by her sometimes oppressive way of fussing over and taking care of you--than by her affection. She'd cook you a feast when you only asked for a snack, and she'd force you to wear a wool hat when it was 50 degrees out, but hugs were rare. She'd want to know everything about you, but she wouldn't talk much about herself. It was challenging to truly bond with her. When she died, I was sad that there was a whole other part of her that I never really got to know.

The last time I saw her, earlier this summer, she told me about a recurring dream she had. In it, I am a toddler again, sleeping next to her in her bed. Still dreaming, she wakes up and discovers I'm no longer there. She frantically searches the sheets, worrying that I've smothered. Finally, after tearing the bed apart in a panic, she wakes for real and remembers that I'm all grown up and sleeping in my own bed. If you've been reading this blog for awhile, you might remember that this is pretty much the exact dream I frequently have about my daughter. The way she told it was almost word-for-word how I have experienced it since Johnnie was born. It was strange to hear her describing it while picturing it so familiarly in my mind.

Really, I don't think she could've said anything else that could have made me feel more bonded to her. I know she told me that dream so I would know how much she loved me, but I don't think she knew the significance it would have for me. I'm so glad that was my last conversation with her, the thing I was thinking about as I drove away and she waved out the window, and I'm so glad I get to tell Johnnie this story one day. She might not remember Grammy when she's older, but maybe that shared dream will help her understand a little about her, and about me too.


7.28.2014

LINEN, DENIM AND CANVAS


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.


7.22.2014

SHED

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.


7.21.2014

CLOSET UPDATE

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.