And it only took two years…….

Over Memorial Day weekend we painted Hazel’s room. We have now painted every. single. room. in. the. house. That includes hallways, bathrooms, stairwells, and weird pass-through areas between the main rooms.

As you may recall, when the house was re-wired, the electricians had to punch holes in every wall to access the old wiring and install the new. So we were left with large unsightly drywall patches all over the house.

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We painted our bedroom first, then all the downstairs rooms, and ended with the kids’ rooms (hey, they don’t pay the mortgage). Hazel, by virtue of being the youngest, went last.

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Her bedroom is my favorite, and I knew from the first time we toured the house it was meant to be hers. It is on the northwest corner of the house, and gets pretty light all day long. Both sets of windows look out over metal roofs, making the rain sound awesome. It was painted a soft buttery yellow, which was perfect for Hazel’s sunny disposition.

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While we were at it, I decided to edit Hazel’s furniture and furnishings. Like most kids, she is a magnet for castoff items – mostly hand-me-downs from the older kids, but also free coozies and sunglasses and keychains and whatnots.

One of the biggest challenges in her room is that the big, beautiful windows are….big. I’d put a low chest underneath one set of windows, and put Hazel’s books in it. But the books often ended up in other places, and the top of the chest was a tempting spot for clutter. I decided to get it out of Hazel’s room to see if that made a positive difference. We also discarded anything that was broken or missing pieces, and re-organized her toys.

I don’t believe in letting children have total control over the color of their bedrooms, but I do get their input. Hazel vacillated between yellow (essentially the same color already on the walls) and pink. As much as I love the yellow, I was interested to try something different. The winner was “Quaint Peche” by Sherwin Williams.

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If you’d told me I’d ever paint a room pink, I would have called you a liar. But it turned out beautifully, and Hazel loves it.

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Most of her things still “go” with the new color, but I did have to remove some artwork. I was able to hang up the buntings I made for her third birthday party, and they make the windows look quite festive.

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And there you have it – a sweet space for a sweet girl. And now we can hang up our brushes for a while!

 

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Hi, my name is Windy, and I have black thumbs

I have always said that I am terrible at plants. I don’t have houseplants, I don’t know much about the things growing in my yard, and every time I’ve tried to have an herb garden it ends in shriveled brown disaster. All these plants? Dead by the time we sold our house (two months later).

I didn’t think it mattered much, until this spring. During Lent, I took a photograph of one thing every day that brought me joy. Looking back, I was surprised to see how many photos were of the outdoors – flowers and plants and sky and trees.

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It turned out that nature brought me a lot of joy, and since I wanted to carry that joy with me throughout the year, I resolved to spend more time outside – and to give plants another go.

Spending time outside is easy and pleasant. Our porch is my favorite place on earth, and I could sit there and watch Bebe and Hazel chase each other around the yard all day.

Incorporating more plants into my life felt like a challenge.

I have killed plants from Florida to Massachusetts and points in between. I have watched tomatoes flower, grow…and then wither from blossom end rot. I have neglected herbs and slaughtered orchids. I am unpersuaded by the Joanna Gaineses of the world, who stick plants everywhere and hashtag photos with #crazyplantlady.

I’m just crazy. No plants required.

However, I sucked it up and bought some baby plants. I went to an actual plant nursery and grilled some unfortunate employee for 30 minutes about the care and maintenance of the plants I was getting. I ended up with two different tomatoes, one jalapeno pepper, one pimiento pepper, and a variety of easygoing herbs.

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Almost two months later, everything is still alive! Holy smokes!

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My cherry tomato plant is making tomatoes. LIKE A BOSS.

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(Sorry it’s blurry, I got excited.)

Yes, I have to set reminders on my phone so that I water these guys. But they are bringing me unexpected amounts of gratification, as well. Now when we sit on the glorious porch, I am surrounded by my plants. I use my basil, parsley, and rosemary all the time, and even the mint has made several appearances this spring (especially around Derby day). I even brought home an orchid to keep inside. It’s…..um…. not doing great, honestly, but I’m trying to find a spot it likes.

This is the most success I’ve had with plants to date. I don’t think I’ll become a #crazyplantlady any time soon, but developing new skills and challenging myself to keep something alive has been pretty rewarding.

 

 

 

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Buy this house: Ahoy, Matey

In my ongoing quest to save all the houses, I recently took a peek inside this amazing – but dated – home in our neighborhood. Someone needs to buy it and hire me to re-design it. And by “hire” I mean “just let me do it, please PLEASE PLEASE.”

I mean, LOOK AT IT. It’s like the Boy Scouts went into residential architecture.

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If you are brave enough to embrace the quirky/unique front facade, you’re in for a treat. This 4 bedroom, 3 bathroom house is over 2500 square feet and sits on more than half an acre of land. It’s listed for $269,000, but it’s been on the market for a while.

The previous owner was clearly in the Navy or Coast Guard. There are anchors everywhere, and the kitchen door has a sign reading “Private Mess.” Although, I guess that could also be a commentary on someone’s cooking. I don’t know their life.

Let’s step inside, shall we?

One of my biggest problems with this house is that there are about seven different types of flooring throughout the space. There are tiles in the foyer, different tiles in the living room, parquet in the dining room, yet another tile in the kitchen, etc. Each of the bedrooms has different flooring. It’s baffling. So, to start, I would put down a single type of flooring throughout the house.

The foyer/entry is a good size, but daaaaark. It sports dark wood paneling on the lower half, and a dark woven wallpaper on the upper half. It’s….. a lot.

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Here’s a closeup of the wallpaper:

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In this space, I’d replace the sassy brass light fixture, replace the dark paneling with bright white wainscoting or board-and-batten, and freshen up the paint color. If there was a bit more money, I’d replace the front doors.

Like this:

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Moving on to the formal spaces. The living room runs off the foyer along the front of the house, then the dining room is at the corner, and the kitchen is along the side of the house. I would reconfigure this space so that the old kitchen and dining room became one large kitchen, and the living room became a good-sized dining room.

Here’s a picture taken from the corner of the dining room, which is also the corner of the house.

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I’d expand the opening into the now-living room (on the left), and take out the wall between the now-dining room and now-kitchen (on the right). Because this kitchen is 1) small and 2) not very awesome.

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The new kitchen would be roughly twice as long, and you could make it a double-sided galley kitchen, like this:

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Or an L-shaped kitchen:

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Continuing down the side of the house, we come to a washer/dryer closet and then the first of two master suites.

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Please note: yet another type of flooring, and the terrrrrrible, soul-crushing light fixture.  The same flat, square, recessed light is in every bedroom.

I think ideally I would borrow some space from the kitchen to make a proper laundry room and walk-in closet. But barring that, new flooring, new lighting, and paint would go a long way to improving this room.

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The bathroom has plenty of space. I’d replace the vanity cabinet , re-tile the shower, and maybe move the toilet to the sink wall (but moving plumbing fixtures adds a lot of dollars). I’d also rip out that wallpaper and burn it in the yard. Dayum.

The house is basically U-shaped, and we’ve now covered the right arm of the U. Now let’s go back to the center of the U, which is this quite-frankly-amazing room at the heart of the house.

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Again, there is a LOT going on in the room, texture-and-color-wise, but it would be pretty easy to simplify. I’d remove the paneling, replace the floor, and (if the homeowner could not embrace the rock climbing wall/fireplace surround) cover that fireplace wall with brick, stucco, or more millwork to echo the foyer.

Like so:

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The back of the room makes almost no sense:

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The bi-fold doors and smoked-glass windows look out on… a hallway. I’d remove the entire back wall and side wall to open up the interior corridors, which are dark and cramped. If safety was a concern, I’d add a waist-high metal railing or a half-wall around the corner. And, despite its awesomeness, that bar would probably have to go.

The left side of the house’s U-shape consists of three bedrooms and two bathrooms. The middle bedroom is very small, and has no closet. I would cannibalize that space to upgrade the master suite, adding a walk-in closet and expanding the bathroom.

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Also: burning the very, very plush floral carpet. Shudder.

The bathroom features reflective patterned wallpaper. Everywhere.

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Both master suites, as well as the living room, open onto a large multi-level deck.

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There’s a detached garage with workshop, and a paved courtyard at ground level.

Despite the dated appearance, the house was clean and looked well-maintained. It just needs someone to love it. With the interior opened up some, it would be a great house for a family, or for entertaining – or both.

If you’d like to see this house, call a realtor. If you don’t have one, use mine – her name is Patty Wilson, and she’s great.

 

 

 

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Deja Vu, All Over Again

Yesterday I attended a memorial service. It was held at the same church where we memorialized my mom, and was attended by many of the same people. The same violinist played. The same platters of tiny sandwiches and bowls of punch were waiting for us in the same fellowship hall.

It was eerily, terribly familiar.

The service was for Betty Rosenbloom, one of my mom’s oldest friends. They were a few years apart in age, but grew up at Riverside Presbyterian Church together. In 1983, both my family and Betty’s family moved to Sherwood Road, across the street and a few doors down from each other.

Growing up, we had a very tight-knit street. In the evenings, neighbors would wander down to each other’s houses for visits that would stretch into the night. We kids would ride bikes, or play in the vacant lot, or watch Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Betty’s middle son, Hoyt, was in my grade, and her younger son Carter was around my brother’s age. I joke that my first co-ed sleepover was at the Rosenblooms, when my parents were there late one night and I fell asleep.

Hoyt and I are the same age. We went to the same church, the same schools, and even rowed on the crew team together. We were always friendly, but never friends. I have tried to explain it to Jason, and the best I can come up with is, “We were children together.” We grew up in the same time and place.

Betty and mom frequently served as team chaperones on our many crew trips in high school.

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Spring 1998

Betty and Percy were close to my parents, and felt like a second set of parents to me. When my father was diagnosed with kidney cancer, mom and I immediately drove to the Rosenblooms’ to research the disease online and discuss strategy. Percy delivered a eulogy at my father’s funeral.

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October 2009

Betty collected rescue animals and re-homed them. In 2013, she collected an elderly Boston Terrier named Boots, who came to live with us here in Tallahassee.

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October 2013

 

Betty was diagnosed with leukemia within months of my mom being diagnosed with her brain tumor. We joked about them getting adjoining rooms at the Mayo Clinic. Betty was in and out of the hospital over the last years of mom’s life, and the Rosenblooms came to visit mom in Tallahassee – together and separately. Betty was not able to come to mom’s funeral, and I still remember how upset she was on the phone when she told me.

When she died last week, I finally began to experience what everyone else must have felt when my parents died. It was a terrible shock. Because I live a few hours away, I had to make do with updates from her friends. I didn’t want to bother the family. I thought about them almost constantly. I wept for them.

I had a hard time making it through her memorial service. I felt so many layers of grief – for Betty, for my mom, even for my dad. The service took place one day after the fifteenth anniversary of his death, and the sanctuary was packed – just like for his service.

I wish I could say I have learned the magic formula for getting through such a terrible loss. But I find myself utterly unprepared. It’s weird and uncomfortable to be on this side of a death. I don’t know what to do, or say, and I find myself uttering the same trite phrases I heard over and over just seven month ago.

I find myself with a whole new set of awful skills to learn.

 

 

 

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Prom-tastic

Saturday was prom night for several high schools here in Leon County. Hollyn has a boyfriend, so going to prom was kind of a given for them. They decided to go alone, because most of her friends from the crew team attend another school.

When I was in high school, I had a very stereotypical prom experience. I bought a dress, I got my hair done at a salon, I bought a boutonniere, all that jazz. Both my junior and senior years, I went with a group. I think we rented a limo. It’s all very hazy now. My favorite prom memory was going back to my friend David’s house after the dance, where his mom made us a huge delicious breakfast in the middle of the night.

And all of that was fine.

A couple of weeks ago, she asked me if I would help her with her hair, because “you’re crafty with hair.”

Excuse moi? Crafty? With hair? Have you seen my head lately? I recruited a friend to help me help Hollyn, because I do not even own hairspray. Since I have finally learned how to apply eyeliner, I also offered to help her with her makeup. What could possibly go wrong?

I did feel comfortable volunteering to take pictures of Hollyn and her date, and I offered to help her make a boutonniere, because good grief how hard could it be? A little flower, a little greenery, some hot glue and a ribbon, and voila.

We started with the boutonniere. Hollyn and I cruised the yard, cutting rosemary, boxwood, and ligustrum, and then we ran to Trader Joe’s to pick up an inexpensive bouquet.

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I gathered my supplies, and Hazel climbed up on her stool to supervise. I told her we were making a boutonniere for Josh. A few minutes later, one of the other kids walked through the kitchen and asked Hazel what we were doing.

“We’re making a…..” she searched for the right word, “butt-chugger. For Josh!”

UH. NOPE.

After I stopped laughing and got my glue gun heated, it took about two minutes to arrange the stems and wrap them in twine, securing the ends with hot glue.

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It looks substantially similar to this one, which would have cost $13 with shipping. Hollyn reported that Publix sells them for between $10 and $20. Ours cost pennies, and looks (dare I say it?) rather high-end. As a bonus, I stuck the rest of the bouquet in a vase and have been enjoying it ever since. Everyone wins. 

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Once the butt-chugger was done, it was time to move on to makeup and hair.

(Cue scary music.)

It wasn’t that bad! Hollyn and I worked together on her makeup, which looked lovely, and then it was time to break out the hot rollers. WOOOOOOO.

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After they were cooled, we cracked our knuckles and sharpened our bobby pins. Hollyn wanted a fairly straightforward updo involving a bun and two French braids. My hair helper Alison suggested adding flowers to the ‘do when we were done, and the result was delightful.

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The shoes went on, the date arrived, and we headed outside for photos.

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Not pictured: a peanut gallery that included Hazel, Butterbean Sparkleface, Jason, and Josh’s parents.

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We sent them off for an evening of dinner and dancing, and then I made us some celebratory mojitos.

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I am just tickled that Hollyn resisted spending a bunch of money on her prom experience. You know I love to save money, but if she’d asked for anything I didn’t feel I could handle, I would have called in professionals. Instead, we listened to good music and had fun getting her ready in a relaxed atmosphere. It made the whole experience more meaningful (to me, at least). I wish I’d had an experience more like that when I was in high school – but my mom didn’t do hair or crafts. It would have been miserable and stressful for her. This just happened to intersect with some of my skill sets.

Finally, many thanks to my good friend Alison, who arrived with hairspray and a surprising amount of hair know-how to help me tame Hollyn’s mane. I couldn’t have done it without you!

 

 

 

 

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Done and Done.

The kitchen is done! Like, done done. The last check has been written, the paint is dry, and I’m ready for some serious before-and-afters.

Set the way-back machine to way back, aka January 2018.

Before:

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After:

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I wanted a kitchen that felt at home in our house, but which also worked hard to feed six people day in and day out. I wanted a space that was pleasant to work in, but not “decorated” or accessorized. I wanted clean lines but rich texture.

I got all that. And more!

The kitchen has always been my favorite room in the house, even when it was more boring. It has windows on three sides, so it gets beautiful natural light all day long.

Before:

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After:

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I cannot believe I get to work here every day. Even if I’m just toasting an English muffin, it’s so pleasant.

Before:

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After:

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Elements in the kitchen echo other parts of the house. For example, the entry area is now painted the same color as our living room. The floating shelves by the sink are stained to match the floors in the rest of the house. The upper cabinet knobs look like the doorknobs everywhere else. I wanted to be sure that the kitchen fit seamlessly into the house, and it does.

 

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I could compose odes on the brick floor. It looks incredible, like it’s been there forever. It’s my favorite part of the kitchen.

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Happy 90th birthday, house!

 

 

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How We Saved Money on our Giant Kitchen Renovation

A complete kitchen renovation is expensive. There’s no way around it. However, we worked hard to manage the cost of the project, and saved money in big and small ways. Every little bit helps!

There were some areas we actually put cash dollars back into our own pockets:

1. We paid cash. We’ve been saving for this renovation since we moved into the house, because we knew it was something we wanted to do. And some of the money came from my mom’s estate (thanks, mom!). By paying cash, we avoided the costs of taking out a renovation loan or other financing arrangement. Savings: Unknown, probably several thousand dollars.

2. We sold the old appliances. On Craigslist, I sold the wall oven ($100), the dishwasher ($75), the range hood ($50) and the fridge ($75). That’s $300.

3. We got a deal on the new appliances. We are getting a $700 rebate from Kitchenaid because we purchased three new appliances from them. Additionally, we got $150 discount from the appliance store because we paid cash for the appliances.

4. We got rebates from the city. We got $115 electric rebate and $240 natural gas rebate, for a total of $355 in rebates.

That’s $1500 in hard savings, as well as an unknown-but-large amount saved by not financing the entire renovation. This is definitely not a project we could have done ourselves, especially the multiple floor/subfloor issues we encountered.

In other areas, we made choices that lowered the cost of materials or labor:

5. We tolerated eccentricity. Our cabinet makers are two grumpy brothers from Havana. They have a pre-paid phone, and when that runs out of minutes, you have to get creative to contact them. Our contractor had to resort to leaving notes on their windshield at one point. But their bid was several thousand dollars less than the competing bid, and their work was excellent.

6. We prioritized. The floor repairs were important, so we were willing to spend more money on them. Likewise, it was important to me to have the hardest-working countertops I could find, which was expensive. To offset those spendy items, we chose plain white subway tiles for the backsplash – it’s inexpensive and classic. We went middle-of-the road for appliances, sink, faucet, and hardware.

7. We were patient and flexible. Several times, it paid to wait. When the first flooring company said they couldn’t install the brick, we waited until we found a company that would do it, rather than choosing a different, more expensive, material. We got several quotes for the countertops, and took some time negotiating. In the end, we saved $1,600 by patiently going from vendor to vendor to work out the best deal. We ended up with a piece of quartz that the vendor had on-hand – it wasn’t exactly what I’d envisioned, but it was close enough (and now I love it).

Whether you’re gutting your kitchen or getting ready to DIY a bathroom, these are good tips to keep in mind.

And since you’ve made it this far, I’ll share the last two details that finished the kitchen remodel.

First, the cabinetmakers created some floating shelves for the wall beside the sink. They stained the shelves to match the wood floors in the rest of the house, and I bought the shelf brackets on Etsy.

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Second, we left the original butler’s pantry area untouched, but wanted something to break up the whiteness of it all. I decided to wrap the countertop in a sheet of copper, to match the large light fixture (and our gas lamps, etc.).

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The kitchen continues to be a joy and a delight, and I spend most of my day in it. It’s even fun to clean.

 

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