A Tale of Two Closets

For an old house, our second floor bedrooms have enormous closets. Two of the bedrooms have two closets apiece – but alas, neither of these is the master bedroom. Tyler, a 13-year-old boy who has decided that “closet” is code for “floor,” obviously does not need two closets, and it just so happened that one of his closets backed up on the master bedroom.

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The plan was simple: hire a carpenter to remove the entire door assembly from Tyler’s side of the closet, and move it around to the master bedroom side, giving Jason and me separate closets (which would lead to increased marital bliss, and eventually our own space program).

Step 1: Cut a hole in the box

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At this point, we told Tyler we’d changed our minds and were going to leave this as a pass-through into his room. Much horrified gibbering commenced.

Please note the boxes on Tyler’s desk. Despite living in the house for six months, he has not fully unpacked. This drives me insane. To be fair, we have a couple of boxes of “things we will get around to sorting out eventually,” but we had to unpack 90% of the house, and he was only responsible for his own stuff.

Anyway.

Step 2: Move your junk from one side of the box to the other.

There was a slight snag in the proceedings. In Tyler’s room, the door was a left-hand outswing – meaning the hinges were on the left and the door swung out into the room. In our room, it would need to be a right-hand outswing, which means the carpenter had to flip the door inside-out. Or something. I didn’t watch.

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So that’s done. And by “done” I mean “except for puttying, sanding, and painting….and also putting rods and shelves inside.”

Basically, done.

This was a somewhat nerve-wracking project for me. I want to be respectful of our house’s history and the original intent of the architect, but I also want it to function for our family. Adding the gas lamps and painting the walls didn’t change the house in a meaningful way. This did. I’m very happy with the result, and I hope the ghosts of the previous owners are, too.

 

 

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Hack This Recipe: Chicken & Wild Rice Casserole

I love to cook. Nothing makes me happier than spending time in the kitchen with a glass of wine and a Cook’s Illustrated recipe, dirtying every one of my pans in the pursuit of a good meal.

Most of the time, however, I do not have the time or energy to meticulously craft a meal for our party of seven, so I “dumb down” recipes for large-family use. It occurred to me that this might be useful for other families as well.

I love a good chicken and wild rice casserole, but I’d never made one myself until this week. After reviewing several options, I decided to use this one, from Better Homes & Gardens, as my starting point.

First step: Double that action. “Serves 4” sometimes means “serves 4 skinny people as a side dish.” Plus, leftovers are glorious.

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Second step: Halve the meat. (Or, since we just doubled the recipe, keep the meat the same.) Add a vegetable to make up for it – in this case, mushrooms and carrots.

Now let’s look at the ingredients! I’ve mentioned before that I don’t use single stalks of celery, so that’s right out. I also try not to use “cream of” soups, because I have very limited pantry space and making your own is easy. In the summer I grow basil, but in the winter I’m not paying $4 for a handful of basil so I can use 2 TB of it. Dried basil it is. And while I sometimes cook a big batch of chicken to have on hand for recipes, I didn’t this week, so I needed to factor in the chicken cooking time.

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Next, the method. If I cooked chicken, made cream of chicken soup, and followed the recipe, that’s four pans. I looked for ways to consolidate. I was kind of SOL on the rice, but reasoned that it could do its thing while I was cooking everything else. I decided to cook the chicken, then saute the vegetables, then make the soup, then assemble per the original recipe.

Here’s what I ended up with:

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Weeknight Chicken & Wild Rice Casserole

Serves 8

2 6oz. packages long grain and wild rice mix
2 TB olive oil
1 chicken breast, sliced in half (butterflied)
Salt and Pepper
4 TB butter
1 large onion, chopped
8 oz. sliced mushrooms
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 tsp. minced garlic
Celery salt (about 1/2 tsp.)
4 TB flour
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup milk
2/3 cup white wine
1 cup sour cream
1 tsp. dried basil
1 cup Parmesan cheese (grated or shredded)

Preheat oven to 350.

Prepare rice mix according to package directions.

Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper and cook about 4 minutes a side, or until cooked through. Remove to plate. Add the butter to the pan, then the onion, mushrooms, carrots, garlic, and celery salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened, about 8 minutes. Add flour, stirring until  totally incorporated into the vegetable mix. Add chicken broth, milk, and wine to skillet, stirring until mixture is thickened and bubbly. Turn off heat, add sour cream and basil. Chop chicken, add to pan. When rice is finished cooking, add that to the pan as well. Adjust seasonings. Transfer mixture to a casserole dish and top with Parmesan. Bake at 350 until bubbly, about 20 minutes. This recipe can be prepared in advance – adjust cooking time accordingly.

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January Highlights

January 1: After 37 years, I have finally managed to properly cook rice. Yes, rice. Up to this point, my rice has been mushy, sticky, and unattractive. But tonight, it was glorious. I used Alton Brown’s technique, which didn’t take any additional time or dirty any additional cookware. It was a win for everyone, basically.

January 10: I stopped buying the hype. Some time over the last few years, I began believing that baking soda and vinegar was a clean-all miracle that would Save The Children From Exposure to Evil Chemicals and Probably Also Get Them Into Harvard. I used it to clean my shower, my kitchen sink, my jewelry, my coffeemaker, etc. In some of those applications – most notably the jewelry cleaner and the shower scrub – it performed admirably. But on two notable occasions, the baking-soda-vinegar combo let me down. Way down.

The first time was in the laundry room. When we moved, we inherited a set of front-loading, stacked laundry machines. The washer, as is common with front-loading washing machines, was pretty nasty. I washed it and washed it with vinegar and baking soda and my tears, to little avail. Finally, wedged in among the well-lit photographs and amusing mommy anecdotes on Pinterest, I found a woman who was brave enough to state a truth. Every week, she washed one load of whites with 1/2 cup of bleach. (Bleach! I couldn’t clutch my pearls fast enough!) Her machine never got moldy and never smelled bad. I gave it a try. It worked perfectly. Now we have sparkly whites and a clean washing machine. LIVING. THE. DREAM.

The second instance was in my oven. I cook a lot, so my oven gets a ton of (ab)use. I made pastes with baking soda and vinegar, I sprinkled and sprayed and scrubbed and cursed. Nothing was getting the gunk off the inside of my oven.

You know what gets gunk off ovens fast? Easy Off Extra Strength Chemical Shitshow (TM). I cleaned the new oven for the first time today, after spraying it in last night and letting that funky junk do the hard work for me. Clean oven. Zero tears. Beautiful.

January 29: After looking at photographs of my freshly-painted foyer, it seemed a little austere. So I spent some time re-hanging a gallery from the old house, and creating a new grouping by the front door. Here are the updated results:

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The front door group includes an antique barometer. FANCY.

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On to February!

 

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Forty Eight Hours in New Orleans

Because “Forty Eight Hours in New Orleans with Two Tweenagers and a Toddler, Thank God for Alcohol” is just too long for a post title.

Very occasionally, Jason gets to travel somewhere awesome for work. On Monday, he had three depositions scheduled in New Orleans, so we decided to take advantage of the long weekend and haul everyone over there. Well, everyone except Hollyn, who chose to stay behind so she could train with her crew team for the upcoming erg sprints. Noble, but foolish.

Every time we go to New Orleans, we do several touristy things requested by the kids – this time, beignets at Cafe du Monde and browsing the French Market. But I also like to try a few new things each time I go, to keep things interesting.

On this trip, we used AirBnB for the first time, and booked an apartment in the Garden District/Freret area. Overall, I was pleased. The price was reasonable and the apartment was comfortable for the five of us.

I am unable to resist a used book shop, and this trip I found one I’d never visited before. The Librarie Book Shop has a well-curated collection of used books and the proprietress was extremely knowledgeable about New Orleans and the authors who call it home (or spiritual home). I picked up A Pattern Book of New Orleans Architecture, by Roulhac Toledano.

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Traditional pattern books were like DIY manuals for amateur builders, especially in areas where there weren’t established architects or designers. They are filled with sample floorplans as well as detailed drawings of architectural elements like mantels, doorframes, columns, and windows. Iconic architect Palladio published one in 1570, and pattern books were an invaluable resource to American colonists trying to build homes and municipal buildings in the wilderness.

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This is not a pattern book in the historical sense, but is nonetheless a great resource. It outlines the various styles of architecture, including floorplans, used throughout New Orleans, and includes vintage real estate advertisements.

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When I put it on the checkout table, the bookseller confided that it was her favorite book in the shop. For a moment, it looked like she might not let it go. I promised to give it a good home.

Monday morning, Jason boarded the streetcar for work (he reports this was an awesome way to commute) and the kids and I headed somewhere new – The Bank Architectural Salvage & Antiques. Located north of St. Charles Avenue on Felicity St., this place was packed with salvaged doors, mantels, hardware, corbels, windows, and other decorative bits from old New Orleans buildings.

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I had to force myself to walk away empty-handed.

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As should be pretty obvious, we love the architecture of New Orleans and seek to incorporate it (in tasteful ways!) in our Tallahassee house. This trip provided plenty of ideas and inspiration for future projects.

 

 

 

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Making an Entrance….Gradually

I am happy to report that, after five months of making our house weather-tight and functional, we’re beginning the process of making it pretty.

Jason and I took an anniversary trip to New Orleans and bought two gas lamps for the house. They increased our general happiness by at least 87%.

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Over the Christmas break, Jason and I sat down and made a (long, very long, oh so long) list of things we’d like to do to the house over the next year. It included simple things, like removing broken birdbaths from the yard, to complex projects, like completely stripping and re-painting all the trim.

We got started on New Year’s Eve by painting the foyer.

Here’s how it looked before:

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This room totally won me over from the first time I looked at the house. I love the beautiful sidelight windows on either side of the door, and the beveled panes in the door itself. I love the spaciousness of the foyer – it’s technically a non-functional room, but it’s also the axis on which the house rotates.

I didn’t love the color. In fact, I am a little surprised by how well the color photographed. It looks like a classy gold color. In real life, it was a yellowish brown with green undertones, and looked vaguely sickly. And, obviously, the large drywall patches were an eyesore.

My dream for the foyer was a space that was warm and welcoming, clean and fresh. My inspiration was the 2015 Southern Living Idea House. It’s my favorite of all the SL Idea Houses, and I immediately fell in love with the main color used throughout the living areas, Sherwin Williams’ Steamed Milk. It’s a cream color, just enough to stand apart from bright white trim. Here’s the foyer from Southern Living’s house:

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As you can see, this foyer and mine are very similar. We even have a gas lamp on a similar bracket just outside our front door. TWINSIES.

We bought a five-gallon bucket of Steamed Milk, borrowed a 24-foot extension ladder, and got to work.

Here’s a better picture of the “before” color. This is around a window, with the new color at the bottom of the photo. See how much greener the old color looks compared to the earlier photo? Yeah. Not good.

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Two days and three coats later, we were done.

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Here are a few more before-and-afters, from different spots.

Looking towards Hollyn’s room, before:

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and after:

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Looking towards the kitchen, before:

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(I know. Ignore him.)

and after:

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There are no more visible drywall patches! It’s so nice! The foyer does feel a little spare right now, but our next step will be to bring in more color through MOAR ART. Replacing the stair runner is also on the to-do list. My dream is to add custom millwork too.

I’d better start planning a bake sale or something.

 

 

 

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Reading Materials: January 2017

1. Breaking the Silence, Diane Chamberlain. (Digital library) This book was solidly fine. It was engaging, but not gripping. There were a lot of loose ends, and all of them were neatly tied up at the end – a bit too neatly for my taste. Some of the plot devices stretched believability, especially in the age of the internet. This must be a terrible time to write mysteries or shoot horror movies.

2. Love Warrior, Glennon Doyle Melton. (Received in conjunction with Women’s Connection Conference) Oooooooh boy. Let me start off by stating that I haaaaated Eat, Pray, Love, and have continued to be aggravated by memoirs of women who are, basically, Far Too Special To Cope With Reality. I have read both of Melton’s books, and I have seen her speak, and every chapter of hers I read sets off a tiny alarm bell. I simply do not trust her as a narrator. In fact, I might argue that the only absolutely true thing she’s written was, “I just love to shock people.” This is not to say that she is being willful about her narrative choices – I think she believes she is telling the whole, authentic truth (TM). My problem is that she has cultivated an internet following who will provide her a hit of sweet, sweet adulation any time she feels like gifting them with a Shocking Truth. Most of these truths can be summed up, “I’m a mess! Don’t judge!” When Elizabeth Gilbert (of Eat, Pray, Love fame) got divorced in her early 30s, she coped by going on a fully-funded round-the-world jaunt. Melton deals with her various problems by moving her family to a beachfront city, checking herself into a beachfront hotel for two days of “me time,” and picking up a daily yoga practice. Most women do not have the time or money to “cope” in these ways. Most women in crisis have to continue to slog along, going to work and caring for their kids while feeling embarrassed and upset and nauseated all the time. I’d like to read their stories. I do not believe that women like Melton are actually any more sensitive or special than women like me; rather, I think many women find comfort in a modicum of privacy and in relationships that are guarded by a low wall of discretion. Anyway, that got long. If you like Melton, and Brene Brown, and Oprah, you’ll love this. If you’re vaguely suspicious of them, you probably won’t.

3. Ready Player One, Ernest Cline. (Digital Library) This book was SO GOOD. As with The Martian, much of the appeal stems from the narrator, Wade Watts, who is funny and sharp. I grew up in the 1980s, so I enjoyed the wall-to-wall pop culture references. The story is a very traditional hero’s quest, dressed up in a tech-driven dystopian near-future. I found it particularly insightful in light of some recent conversations I’ve had with friends on the difference between one’s real life and the life one leads on social media. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book and am going to force my 13-year-old geek-culture-obsessed son to read it too.

4. The Red Umbrella, Christina Diaz Gonzales. (Middle school student-parent book club selection) This book draws on the experiences of Gonzales’ parents, who were children during the revolution in Cuba. Along with thousands of children, they were sent to the United States via Operation Pedro Pan. The experiences of these children, and the heartbreak of their parents, makes for a powerful story.

5. Cutting for Stone, Abraham Verghese. (Friends of the Library Book Sale) This book has been on my to-read list for years. I bought it last year at the library book sale, and it’s been calling to me from my shelves since then. It is a gorgeous read, beautifully written and completely immersive. I looked forward to every opportunity I got to pick it up. The book follows a set of identical twins, starting with their unexpected birth in Ethiopia. It is also a meditation on belonging and home – the twins are half-Indian, half-English, raised by an Indian couple in Ethiopia. But though they have no other home, they are reminded frequently that they are Other. Several reviewers on Goodreads remarked on their discomfort with descriptions of medical procedures, but they didn’t faze me. I loved learning about the practice of medicine in earlier times and different places. It was a great story with a side of History Channel. I will be keeping this book, which is rare for me these days.

6. The Great American House, Gil Schafer III. (Gift) Jason bought this book for me for Christmas, and I’ve been slowly reading it cover-to-cover. It’s a beautiful book, satisfyingly heavy and filled with beautiful photographs. The first half is about creating a home and the elements that go into making that home harmonious. The second comprises four case studies: two new construction homes that were designed to look and feel old, and two historic homes that were given new life – one as a renovation, one as a restoration. My biggest takeaway is that the principles of good design – proportion, rhythm, and line – do not change based on the style of architecture. You can look at a rustic farmhouse or a Greek revival mansion, and both will be pleasing to the eye because they follow the same underlying rules. I learned a lot and got a ton of inspiration for our house.

7. Dead as a Doornail, Charlaine Harris. (hand-me-down) After making my way through a coffee table book, my brain needed a Sookie Stackhouse break. I continue to adore these books.

2017 Totals
Fiction: 5
Non-Fiction: 2

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The Day of White Knuckles

We knew from the beginning that last Friday would be a long day. The plan was for Jason to wake up in Wesley Chapel, catch an early morning flight to Hollywood (FL) for a deposition, then fly back to Tallahassee by way of Orlando. 

As you can imagine, things didn’t go as planned.

The deposition ended around lunch time, so Jason headed back to the airport to kill time and work until his 4:00 pm flight.

Around 1:15, I got a breaking news alert that there had been a shooting “in Ft. Lauderdale.” Figuring that Ft. Lauderdale is a pretty big place, and the airport is one of the more secure locations therein, I called Jason and jokingly asked if he was being shot at.

“I was just texting you. That was in the next terminal.”

Record scratch. 

I turned on the news and got off the phone, so he could conserve his battery and pay attention to his surroundings. It’s the second time in my life I have been grateful for non-stop coverage of breaking news. The first time was on September 11, 2001. I watched and waited, occasionally texting Jason for updates. I knew that making my anxiety (rather than Jason’s safety) the focus of my energy was counterproductive. So I tried to stay calm and process the information being broadcast.


There was only one time I nearly lost it. The on-air anchor was speaking with a witness to the shooting, who was still in the baggage claim area. Suddenly there was a commotion in the background, and the witness said an announcement had been made over the PA system that there was more shooting, that everyone needed to get down and stay down. He was choked up, panicking, and I was right there with him. 


Jason had been on the floor of Terminal 1 with everyone else, but eventually that terminal was evacuated as well. He did not run – he told me later that, when you don’t know from which direction your threat is, it’s senseless to run. You might be running right towards the danger. He took his bags to the tarmac – even though he was not freaking out, he had no desire to go back into the airport building. Possibly ever. 


Everyone was moving away from the terminal building, so Jason started walking across the runways and grassy strips towards the hangars at the back of the airport property. At one point, he took shelter under an overpass bridge. A police officer with his group stated that they thought the shooter might be on top of the bridge. After a bit, the group continued away from the airport, ending up at a maintenance building. 


That’s when Jason got lucky. He spotted a cab that had come to the shed for maintenance. He convinced the cab driver to get him out of there, and shared the car with a couple from Indiana. The cabbie took them to a rental car agency outside of the airport property, where he rented a car and started driving north. 

The universe had one more surprise for Jason, though. He drove home through a terrible winter storm that also traveled the length of Florida on Friday. I tried to watch TV. I compulsively checked his location using my phone. I felt the temperature falling. The cold rain beat him home by half an hour, and by the time he pulled into our driveway at 11:00 p.m., conditions outside were pretty miserable. 

He was exhausted, in shock, and angry. He was practically vibrating from the emotional toll of the day. 

Jason says he’s fine. I believe him. He doesn’t like to talk about his experience, because he IS fine. He wasn’t hurt, he didn’t panic, he handled the situation with his usual level-headedness and good cheer. But on the other hand, he did go through an ordeal that was objectively stressful, not to mention devastating for at least 11 families. He was a part, however small, of a national tragedy. It’s a weird place to be. 

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