Study Hall: From Bedroom to Office

The downstairs study has undergone some transformations in the three years we’ve lived here. First, we upgraded it to be Hollyn’s bedroom. That involved replacing the floor and light fixtures, and painting. Last year, Jason ingeniously solved The Awkward Toilet Problem, just in time for Hollyn to start at the University of North Florida.

As you may recall, this is how the study looked when we finished updating it:

Since Jason primarily works from home, I wanted to create an office space for him in the nook where Hollyn’s bed was. That meant bringing in a desk and eliminating the closet wall (you can see it in the photo above). I decided to replace the closet with some office-appropriate storage and shelving.

First, we removed all the closet hardware, which consisted of a skinny shelving unit and a couple of clothing rods. Then we added a pair of stock base cabinets from Home Depot. I installed hardware to match the kitchen cabinets.

Next, Jason built some sturdy floating shelves, similar to the ones he made for our master bathroom. Here they are in progress. Each one is constructed out of 1×2 boards covered in a thin plywood skin.

Once the shelves were built, he made a simple top for the cabinets out of 1×10 boards. We stained everything and then it was time to dress up the shelves.

And here’s the long view.

The base cabinets hold all the office detritus – files and printer paper and pens and whatnot. If we run out of space down below, we can migrate some things to the shelves. For example, the shallow baskets up there are for papers awaiting final disposition. And if we get to a point where we don’t need it as an office any more, it can easily hold books (booooooks!) or board games or even a bar.

I love the way the nook turned out. It’s useful without looking too office-y. The design allows it to continue being a flexible space we can adapt to our family’s needs.

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Looking Back, Looking Forward

As mentioned previously, this was a year of books, food, and travel. And if I fill a blog post with discourse on those topics, we can conveniently ignore the fact that I utterly failed at the word of the year, which was finish.

Books

I read 55 books this year, which is my lowest total since 2015. Only six were non-fiction. My top ten:

  1. The Starless Sea, by Erin Morgenstern
  2. Circe, by Madeline Miller
  3. Skeletons at the Feast, by Chris Bohjalian
  4. Window on the Square, by Phyllis Whitney
  5. Florida, by Lauren Groff
  6. Daisy Jones & The Six, by Taylor Jenkins Reid
  7. The Passage, by Justin Cronin
  8. Educated, by Tara Westover
  9. World Without End, by Ken Follett
  10. Beneath a Scarlet Sky, by Mark Sullivan

Food

I expanded my baking repertoire, becoming competent at macarons, French bread, and several recipes from The Great British Baking Show. I also cooked dinner for my family almost every night. Here are 10 recipes that I enjoyed trying for the first time.

  1. Baked Gnocchi with Vodka Sauce
  2. Sweet Potato Biscuits
  3. Hyderabad-style Chicken Biryani
  4. Fig Rolls
  5. Chicken Vesuvio
  6. Melon Caprese Salad
  7. Spinach Basil Pesto
  8. Heirloom Tomato Pie
  9. English Muffins
  10. Homemade Pasta

The heirloom tomato pie deserves special mention; it was worth every minute of prep time.

Travel

We traveled a LOT in 2019.

I returned to some of my favorite places: Montreat (NC), England, New Orleans, Chicago, Ellijay (GA).
And I visited new places: Minnesota, Scotland, Auburn, Chattanooga.
Then there was all the crew travel – Jacksonville and Tampa and Sarasota, oh my.

All that travel means that I feel I am starting the new decade weighed down by the things I didn’t get done in 2019.

Finish

Last year, I chose finish as my word for 2019. Not only did I not finish some of the big items I hoped to tackle, I added several new endeavors to my already-full life.

Basically, I’m a moron.

Instead of finally cleaning out the storage unit that holds my mom’s things, we added more to it. Instead of finishing the novel I started in 2018, I pushed it to the back burner. Instead of making sure that this introvert got time to breathe, and read, and recharge, I crammed too much onto my calendar’s pages. I said yes when I should have said no.

It’s tempting to make NO my word of the year for 2020, but that seems excessively negative and unproductive. So I’m going to make my word Refine. I would like to refine my list of commitments. I would like to refine my priorities. I would like to refine the things with which I surround myself.

That’s the goal, at least.

Happy New Year!

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A Big Year, a Small Christmas

Oh hey there.

A few notes up front: It is December 19, and we do not (yet) have a Christmas tree. I did not make Christmas cards, something I normally love. (I’m hoping for New Year’s cards.) We put no decorations on the outside of our house. We are not hosting a Christmas party.

One might think these are indications that we are just not into Christmas this year. While this is partially true – with a late Thanksgiving, Christmas has snuck up on me like woah – it’s mostly the result of me meeting the holiday where I am as a person, and where we are as a family. A friend sent around a lovely post about expectation vs. reality during the holiday season, and I found myself nodding along emphatically.

2019 has been a huge year. It was a year filled with travel, and new adventures in cooking, and the shedding of a few outgrown habits. Jason and I celebrated ten years of marriage. I turned 40. Hollyn is headed off to the University of North Florida in January. Tyler got his driver’s license. Hazel started kindergarten.

2019 has also been a year of lowering expectations. We did a few projects around the house, but most of our home improvement money was spent on un-fun things like tree removal and replacing duct work. I didn’t write much, here or anywhere else.

The most meaningful project we did was fixing the World’s Most Awkward Toilet. Our house has a tiny half bath on the first floor, and the placement of the toilet in that room was….a choice that an actual person made.

We got quotes from a few plumbers to rotate the toilet 90 degrees. The estimates ranged from NINE HUNDRED to ELEVEN HUNDRED DOLLARS. For that kind of money, I’ll sit side-saddle, thankyouverymuch.

Then, my brilliant and long-suffering husband had the idea to turn the toilet a mere 45 degrees, which not only makes it look very dashing, but only cost us the price of a new wax seal.

As a bonus, we get to keep the tile floor and walls, which are suddenly fashionable again.

2019 was the Year of Vehicles. Jason, who has patiently driven a selection of older hand-me-down cars for the last few years, finally met the car of his dreams, a three-year-old Subaru Outback. And after many years of faithful service, I was able to turn in my minivan for a gently used Honda Accord.

We also bought a camper. I know.

After years of complaining loudly about all the primitive tent camping we had to do with the Cub Scouts, I find myself the owner of a pop-up camper we bought off Craigslist. I call her the Dawn Treader. Her maiden voyage was last weekend, to Falling Water State Park, and it could not have been more different than the aforementioned tent camping. We were warm! And dry! And comfortable! How novel!

I am actually – gasp! – looking forward to camping again in the near future. Not as much as Hazel, though. She definitely has her father’s camping enthusiasm.

I hope that you are able to meet the holiday where you are, and not where you feel you ought to be.

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Short Story: Attachment

Last Friday, I was selected to share a short story at the Midtown Reader’s Story Slam. The theme for February was “Attachment.” Here’s what I did with it:

I ate my twin in the womb.

I know, I know, lots of people say that, but in my case it’s true. I devoured him, bite by bite.

It took months. I had no teeth, you see, and flippers for hands. Try eating a hamburger with mittens on, and you’ll get the idea.

Anyway, my brother. I ate him. I guess I knew that someday we’d be separated, and I couldn’t stand the thought of that. I couldn’t imagine life without bumping up against him every second of every day. I figured if I could hide him inside my body, we’d never be apart. And it worked. I felt him, from time to time, nudging up against my lungs, or squirreling his way through the marrow of my bones.

Then he started talking to me.

The first time it happened, I was two. A friend of my mother’s asked for my name – why do adults do that? She knew perfectly well what my name was. She’d given me monogrammed diaper covers when I was born – no matter. She asked my name, and from somewhere in the vicinity of my left kidney, a small voice said, “David.”

My name is not David.

I was so surprised I couldn’t answer the woman. My mom said I was being shy. I was emphatically not being shy – I was dealing with a crisis! My twin brother who lived in my body was speaking to me. I needed a moment. I toddled into a corner and sat with a crinkly thud.

“Hello?” I whispered.

Hello, he replied. You don’t have to whisper. I hear inside your head.

Oh, I thought.

Yes. Oh, he agreed, and hugged my esophagus.

From then on, I had a constant companion. My parents remarked on how self-reliant I was, how easily I entertained myself. They took all the credit. I let them.

When I was four, my parents had another baby, a boy. They named him David.

Not David, David muttered in my clavicle. I called the baby “Not-David.”

Not-David was nothing like me. He cried in the night, was perpetually after my parents’ attention, and needed constant stimulation.

Perhaps he’s lonely, David mused. He must not have a twin. Poor thing.

What should we do? I asked.

We should probably eat him, David said, matter-of-factly. There’s always room for one more.

Triplets! I was delighted. Not-David would stop being so needy, and David would have someone to talk to all the time. To be honest, sometimes my twin was a distraction. It was no longer acceptable for me to stare off into the middle distance for hours at a time. My parents were starting to notice.

I studied Not-David, who was asleep in his bassinet. Where should we begin? Top? Bottom? Fingers? Toes? You didn’t have bones when I ate you. You went down like a Jello jiggler.

Lucky you, David said.

I touched one of Not-David’s silky earlobes. Seemed as good a place as any. I took the scrap of flesh between my teeth and, after a deep breath, bit down as hard as I could.

Not-David began screaming.

I had not managed to sever the lobe, merely puncture it. There was a good deal of blood, and Not-David’s flailing was getting it all over the bassinet. He was purple with rage.

Perhaps he did not want to be eaten, David observed.

Perhaps, I agreed.

My mother came running. Then she also began screaming.

Should I be screaming too? I asked David.

Best not, he said, from the back of my neck.

I’m so glad I have you, I told him.

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Everything Old is New Again

Let’s talk about brass.

For most of my peers, brass was the metal of our parents’ homes in the 1980s. It was everywhere – cabinet knobs, table legs, bed frames.

If you did not have at least one of these in your home growing up,
you are not a child of the eighties.

Naturally, when my generation became adults, we hated it. It was old, sad, tired, dated, and lame.

Brass table bases, brass lamp accents….and a landline phone. Time warp!

My father amassed a collection of brass candlesticks and knicknacks, and if you’d asked me 15 years ago, I would have not taken a thing. I confess, when my mom gave me a sassy brass lamp to use in my first apartment, the first thing I did was spray-paint it.

And now? Humble brass is the comeback kid of home decorating…just in time for me to inherit a metric ton of it.

But my brass did not look like the glamorous photos from Pinterest. Most of the brass I took from mom’s house looked like this:

Gnarly.

I was going to spray it with Hammered Gold paint, but Jason begged me not to. He was going to save my brass. We picked up an accessory kit for our Dremel tool and he got to work.

The satisfaction of using this tool is like the satisfaction of pressure-washing a nasty driveway. After using successively finer grits of sandpaper, he polished it with Brasso. The results are, quite honestly, mind-blowing.

The glass shade has been washed (not quite dry in this photo!) and re-attached. If you told me you just picked this up at Homegoods, I’d totally believe you.

Since this unbelievable transformation, Jason has become a polishing fool. Armed with a bottle of Brasso and some elbow grease, he polished this table lamp.

Then he set to work on this bowl, which looks like it was designed by a team of hipsters in 2019, rather than being 50 years old.

He polished the lamps that sit on our bedside tables.

Then he ran out of Brasso. And daylight.

I am always in favor of repurposing rather than buying new, and I’m happiest searching for treasures at estate sales and antique stores. A little time and patience – and the right tools – can give secondhand brass a new lease on life.

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Finishing up the Master Bath…for now.

Back in September, Jason and I repurposed an antique buffet and turned it into our master bath vanity.

This was a vast improvement over the lonely pedestal sink we used to have in that space, but the bathroom still needed some personality above the tiles.

For Christmas, I asked Jason and Tyler to build me some slightly chunky floating shelves to put in a 4.5-inch deep recess to the right of the vanity. A previous owner (who is now my next-door neighbor) said that when he bought the house, this was a Jack-and-Jill bathroom, and the recess was the location of the second door.

Tyler and Jason built the shelves last weekend and stained them to match the vanity. OOOOOOOO

I dug out seven Blue Willow plates I’ve been hoarding, er, storing, and hung them on the wall over the shelves and mirror. Jason also moved the towel ring to a more logical location.

And here’s the view as you walk in. There’s much more visual interest up top, which balances the tumbled tiles and the heavy vanity. The room feels much more complete now.

Long-term, we’d still like to completely re-tile this bathroom, but we’ve gotten it to a place where we can happily live with it for another few years while we tackle more pressing renovations.

And now for a before & after. Or, rather, a midpoint-and-after.

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Looking Back, Looking Forward

Looking back….

Joy. I decided that the word of the year for 2018 would be Joy. I think I did as well as I could on this one. This year ended up being kind of tumultuous – Jason changed jobs, from a big firm to a small boutique, and his base-salary-plus-commission income has been a bit of a rollercoaster. I’m still getting used to it, but it’s completely worth it. He is much happier being more in charge of his own time and workload. We took the kids on a nice vacation to Chicago in June, and it was a joy to re-discover my love for exploring new places (and eating new foods!). I became a certified hospice volunteer and have been working there about three times a month. It seems a bit odd to find joy in such a setting, but working at hospice has been such a gift. I finished all the work related to my mom’s estate, which was a monumental task. And I published my book on the anniversary of my mom’s death. Friends and strangers alike have enjoyed reading it, and it’s been a joy to be able to connect to others going through the same experience.

It wasn’t all sunshine and roses, of course. I had to do any number of small, hard things – like finally deleting my mother’s contact information from my phone. Hollyn, the oldest, turned 18 and decided to live exclusively at her mother’s house – although we made lemonade from that particular lemon by turning her bedroom back into a study/office/writing room. Jason and I started attending a different flavor of church over the summer, which has caused a great deal of strife for this lifelong member of the PCUSA.

Books. I set myself a goal of 50 books, and read 68. Eleven of them were non-fiction, two or three more were historical fiction in the vein of Erik Larson (heavily reliant on primary sources). My top five for 2018:

  1. The Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett
  2. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke
  3. The Emperor of all Maladies, by Siddhartha Mukherjee
  4. His Dark Materials trilogy, by Philip Pullman
  5. Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders

Things. I know we’re not supposed to be in love with things, but there were a few everyday objects I bought this year that added tremendously to my happiness.

  1. Wacoal unlined underwire bras. They fit perfectly, they’re all-day comfortable, and the straps don’t slip. I’m in love.
  2. Yogalicious leggings. I have long ones for lounging and cropped ones for the gym. The fabric hits that sweet spot between soft and slick, and the length is great – I’m 5’7″ on a good day and these actually cover my ankles.
  3. Proper running shoes. After years of simply buying what was on sale at Shoe Station and then crying over my plantar fasciitis and chondromalacia patella pain, I went to the fancy running store and got properly fitted. The good news is that I’ve been wearing the right size and brand, so I’m not a total spaz, but they found a model that works wonders.
  4. Heel inserts. See #3. I now have plantar fasciitis inserts in as many shoes as I can get them in, and my heel pain has decreased to nearly zero. I can run 3-4 miles several times a week with no pain. NO PAIN. I can’t tell you how awesome this is.
  5. Running belt. Jason refers to this as my fanny pack. GOOD. LET HIM. It holds my phone and a key while I’m running (or hiking, or whatever) and it’s thin enough to wear under my shirt. No more shoving my phone into my waistband or an armband.

And now, looking forward….

I think the word for 2019 will be finish. I am great at dreaming up projects, large and small, but terrible at completing them.

One thing that will help me finish tasks is to put my damn phone down. My phone has started sending me a report of my screen time usage on a weekly basis, and it is sobering to see how much of my life is being sucked away by that device. I had my screen replaced last week after cracking it, and was without my phone for a whole hour. It was the longest hour of my life. I couldn’t even tell what time it was. Pitiful.

I also need to get out of my own head. I am a worrier, a planner, a fretter. Being busy keeps me from dwelling on insignificant minutiae, which helps me stay mentally healthy.

Let’s do this thing.

 

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