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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It’s been six months.

Saturday marked six months since my mom died. To be honest, it didn’t really register until late that night. I tend not to mark dates of death – I remember my family’s birthdays, but not necessarily the days on which they died.

I’m still dealing with her estate. I’ve had to file her taxes, just like the last few years. I sold her house. I’m trying to get rid of her three timeshare weeks, which has been the most obnoxious part of this whole process. No one wants to buy timeshare weeks, I don’t want to use them, and the association won’t take them back. Grrrr. Don’t buy timeshares, kids!

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I still get a lot of mail for her. Most days, she get more mail than I do.

 

The remains of her personal possessions are still hanging out in a storage unit. I go through one box at a time. I have let go, and let go, and let go, editing down my own possessions to make room for the most meaningful of hers. We’ve sent a few large pieces of furniture off for restoration and repair – it was cheaper than buying new pieces, and the restorer was able to tell us interesting trivia about each piece. You know how I feel about trivia.

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The guest house no longer smells like her. I don’t automatically say, “Hey, mom” every time I go in.

I missed her on my birthday. I missed her at Thanksgiving. I missed her at Christmas.

Both my parents would have loved the new kitchen. My dad would want to hear all about the fixtures and finishes and shiny bits. Mom would want a dollars-and-cents accounting of how much we spent and where we were able to save.

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I’ve only really lost it a few times. The most memorable and humiliating breakdown was on Superbowl Sunday, which was also my brother’s birthday. He sent me an old voicemail from mom, recorded before she got sick. She sounded like herself. She sounded whole and healthy. I couldn’t stop crying.

Throughout this season of Lent, I have been more intentional about looking for moments of joy. If you follow me on Instagram (@wtaylor), you know I’ve been posting one joyful moment each day. I am not a naturally joy-filled person, but once I started looking for good, I found it everywhere.

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Don’t get me wrong – I’m not a walking ray of sunshine. Most of the time I’m still plagued by self-doubt and petty aggravations. But learning to look up, to quiet the constant low-level grumbling, has been an excellent practice for the last seven weeks.

If Easter is part of your tradition, I hope you have a happy one.

 

 

 

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Kitchen Reno Week 9: “Substantially Complete” is Music to my Ears

Welcome to week 9 of our kitchen renovation. This is the week we moved our stuff back in and I put my appliances through their paces – despite the fact we’re still not technically “done.”

Are you ready?

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I wasn’t ready.

Everything is just so lovely. Jason remarked that this is the kitchen our house always wanted to have.

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Cooking in the kitchen is a delight now. There is room on either side of the stove for bowls and utensils, and Jason and Hazel are frequently parked on those green stools, keeping me company while I make dinner. We have a speaker located near the fish tank, so I can listen to music or podcasts while I’m working. It’s just so pleasant to be in a space that functions so well.

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So what’s left? Painting, for one thing, and the cabinetmakers still have some adjustments to make (like installing the trash pull-out). The transitions from the kitchen to the rest of the house need thresholds, and the doors to the laundry closet and storage closet need to be trimmed down and re-hung.

In the words of the contractor, we are “substantially complete.”

I won’t post again until those items are done, when we can have a big before-and-after party. Huzzah!

 

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Kitchen Reno Week 8: The Home Stretch

Most of the week was spent waiting for the counters to be fabricated and delivered. We even started leaving piles of mail and keys on the peninsula, since that’s an inevitability.

In the meantime, all the shiny knobs and pulls were installed on the cabinets.

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It was like adding the right jewelry to a little black dress. Now the cabinets look finished.

On Monday morning the counter tops arrived. And there was even more rejoicing!

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They are glorious and I love them.

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On Tuesday the tile setters got to work on the backsplash. Because the rest of the room has so much texture, I chose a simple white subway tile. I was inspired in part by the “downstairs” tour we took at The Elms in Newport, Rhode Island a couple of years ago. Most of the behind-the-scenes spaces in that home were tiled floor-to-ceiling in white subway tiles, to reflect light and keep surfaces easy to clean. For example, here’s the kitchen at The Elms:

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Notice a few familiar elements? Black lower spaces, white upper spaces, touches of copper…. when it comes to kitchens, I definitely have a type.

Here’s the tile in progress:

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It will be grouted on Thursday, with a medium-gray grout. The plumbers are scheduled to be here today, to install the sink and hook up the dishwasher, and then this battle station kitchen will be fully operational.

 

 

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Short Story: Lady Luck

I submitted this story for the Midtown Reader’s monthly Story Slam, and was selected to read it last night. The theme was – shocker! – Lady Luck. 

The glass falls in slow motion. The sound of shattering is muted by the pounding of blood in my ears.

It started with the car. Not an actual car, mind you, but the idea of the car. A car that would allow my far-side-of-40 husband to zip along the roads instead of plodding. A car that would be quote-fun-to-drive-unquote, whatever that means. I mean, you’re still going to your soul-sucking job and Publix and the dentist – what is the maximum amount of quote-fun-unquote we’re talking about?  

I watch wine dribble off the edge of the countertop. I think, distantly, that I’m glad it’s white and not red.

Maybe if I’d let him buy a stupid car, this wouldn’t have happened. But I reasoned that the car lust was a symptom of an underlying dissatisfaction with work, or with me, and I thought he would get over it. I temporarily retired my sweatpants, bought a new color of lipstick, and hoped for the best.

I should have seen this coming.

No one could have seen this coming.

He has come home hours late, radiating a high-definition sobriety usually reserved for religious fanatics and herding dogs. I’d just poured my after-dinner wine when I heard the door, and then there he was. Shirtless.

“Hell….o?” It came out as a question.

He smiled, small at first but getting bigger until it ate his face. Good God, he was practically vibrating.

“Hi!”

“Where have you been?” I hated the words as soon as they came out of my mouth.

“You were right,” he said, ignoring my line. He swayed a little, and I checked his pupils. Normal. Dammit. “You were right! I was trying to fix everything but myself. I needed to change ME,” he said, sticking a thumb to his chest.

“That’s….gratifying,” I said. “Where’s your shirt?”

He turned to look towards the door, and I heard a soft crinkling. Around his flank I saw a flash of white.

“What the hell is that?”

“I think my shirt’s in the car,” He shrugged. “Anyway, I was saying, I’ve been thinking a lot about what you said. About not waiting around for a lucky break. How I need to make my own luck. So I did.”

“You did what?”

“I took control of my luck, made it my own. Want to see?”

“Do I want to see your….luck?” I thought, if this is just a euphemism for your wiener, I swear to God I’ll lose it.

He bounced on his toes, nodding. “Yeah! I think you’ll like it!”

And then he was turning, and I saw that his lower back was covered with a large bandage. He was fumbling with the corner, wincing as he did so, and then with a soft ripping, he pulled it to one side.

The first thing I noticed was the blood. The second thing I noticed was the boobs.

“You got a….tattoo?” I whispered.

“It’s Lady Luck!” he giggled. “See the four-leaf clover?”

It was covering Lady Luck’s lady bits. The rest of Lady Luck was nude, reclined across my husband’s soft, pale lower back.

She was winking. Lord have mercy, she was winking.  

I look up from the glass I have just dropped and try to absorb the full horror of it all.

“You got a tramp stamp. Of Lady Luck.”

“No, it’s way better than that! What’s under her?”

“Your ass?”

“Right! Lady Luck, my ass!” He points at one, then the other, then breaks into giddy laughter. “Get it?”

Oh, I get it. I get it perfectly.

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