Frugal Frannie Rides Again

Today’s the first day of school for the older kids, so let’s celebrate with a good old-fashioned DIY. Last week I updated a dresser that’s almost as old as I am. I wish it were that easy to update myself!

This dresser started life in my brother’s bedroom, at least 35 years ago. It’s held everything from boy clothes to bank statements, and currently sits in Hollyn’s room, where it is stuffed to bursting.

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It’s….fine. A basic, simple, vanilla dresser. I wanted to make it stand out a little more, since it’s the same color as the walls, and give it a bit more personality. I emptied the drawers, removed the knobs, and gave the whole thing a good cleaning. As you can imagine, thirty-odd years of use leaves its mark. In the photo below, the top drawer has been cleaned, and the bottom one has not. Yeesh.

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After cleaning, I lightly sanded the whole thing and prepared to paint it using leftovers from Jensen’s bedroom – City Storm by Valspar.

During the kitchen renovation, the cabinet configuration changed after we’d already ordered hardware, so we were left with ten extra knobs. Guess what I used on Hollyn’s dresser? Go on, guess.

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The dresser looks brand new!

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It wasn’t free, because we had already purchased the paint and knobs for other projects, but it didn’t involve any new spending.

Now, instead of blending into the wall, the dresser has a personality of its own. I love the way it looks with the floor – if you look at the black tiles, you can see it’s almost the same color as the grout. This was a happy accident.

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This dresser is ready for several more decades of loyal service.

 

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A perfectly ordinary summer. What a miracle.

The older kids return to school in just under two weeks, and I think everyone is ready for the big day. For the first (and only!) time in the history of our eleven-year-old family unit, the three big kids will be attending the same school. PONDER THE MAGNIFICENCE.

This summer feels like the first normal summer we’ve had since 2013….because it is, in fact, the first normal summer we’ve had since 2013. Hazel was born in May of 2014, mom’s brain tumor was diagnosed in May of 2015, and those two events simply consumed the summers that followed them. The summer of 2016 was spent preparing to move, moving, and unpacking, and last summer was devoted to spending quality time with mom as she lived the last months of her life.

So what did we do this summer?

Jason changed jobs at the end of May, leaving his large-firm lawyer job for a small employment boutique. His main office is in the guest house, and I help him out with administrative and paralegal tasks as time permits.

We took everyone to Chicago in June, which was tremendous. We went to a Cubs game, visited museums, rented bikes along the lakefront, and ate our weight in tasty food. Chicago is very much my kind of town.

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Hazel went to Farm Camp, two different VBSes, and Ballet Camp. She also got her first haircut ever.

Our neighbor got goats. I love them.

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Our unexpected goldfish, Kitty the Fish, passed away at the end of June.

For someone who has lived in Florida most of my life, I visited a lot of Florida sites for the first time. We took the kids to Wakulla Springs. Hazel and I accompanied Jason to a work event in Palatka and visited Ravine Gardens State Park. And on another work trip, we stayed at the Don CeSar, which is (apparently) kind of a big deal hotel.

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I managed to get my patriotic bunting up over a week before July Fourth – a new record.

I painted Hazel’s toes and Tyler’s hair, both for the first time.

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I slipped off to Orlando to spend a couple of days with a friend from college. I listened to podcasts, ate half a cheese board, and watched TV in bed.

In house news, we re-arranged some rugs and did some frugal improvement by sanding and spray-painting the dirty (but functional) floor vents and ceiling diffusers throughout the house. They look good as new, at a fraction of the price.

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My outdoor plants have not died, although my jalapeno and heirloom tomato have steadfastly refused to produce anything. My Sweet 100 tomato plant has made dozens of tiny tomatoes, all of which have gone straight into Hazel’s mouth. She refers to this plant as her “snack bush.” I snort every time. I have ventured into the scary universe of houseplants, after being impressed that our Chicago AirBnB was full of them. I have a fern for the dining room, succulents for the kitchen window, and two new plants I just picked up on Saturday.

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It has been a normal summer. A beautiful, ordinary, normal summer. I never thought I’d be so grateful for one.

 

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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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