Category Archives: Projects

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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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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Saved by my Own Hoarding: A Vanity Story

I love furniture with history, and we have been fortunate to inherit a house full of it. On the flip side, I have a very hard time parting with any of these sentimental pieces – even when they may be damaged beyond repair.

Take my great-grandmother’s buffet, for example. I acquired it around 2004, after the death of my mom’s first cousin Tommy. He had a storage unit filled with furniture from my great-grandmother Hazel’s house, and this buffet was one of the pieces I claimed. (I was pretty low on the totem pole when it came to choosing items. Obviously.) It was filled with mildewed linens, and only had 3.75 legs – and only two of those were attached.

I put it in my garage in Alabama, vowing to do “something” with it.

Fast forward 14 years and four moves.

Our master bathroom is a decent size but featured a small pedestal sink and almost no built-in storage. When we moved in, it looked like this:

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Over the last year, we painted, removed the large wall mirror, and replaced the light fixture. We planned to replace the pedestal sink with a vanity, add shelving, and replace the tumbled tiles with something more historic-looking.

Then the pedestal sink top came dangerously loose from the base. That moved the pedestal replacement to the top of the priority list. And I thought about OG Hazel’s buffet, which was resting upside-down in the guest house closet.

When we pulled it out, it looked even more rickety than I remembered. But it was constructed of solid pieces of wood, and Jason stabilized it with some small angle brackets.

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We decided to salvage the front legs and use wood blocks to mount the buffet to the wall.

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We bought a basic vessel sink at Home Depot, a drain on Amazon, and splurged on a cool faucet from Wayfair. Including miscellaneous plumbing equipment, we probably spent $400, which seems like a lot until you look at the price for a new 48″ bathroom vanity. We would have spent at least twice that – maybe three times – for a similar piece.

Jason had to modify the drawers on the left side to make room for the plumbing, but that ended up being a lot simpler than I thought. We decreased the depth of the top drawer to about five inches, and cut a wedge out of the big bottom drawer. I used this article from This Old House as a guide.

After some trial and error in the plumbing department (and only a moderate amount of cursing), we were done.

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(This bathroom is particularly difficult to photograph, because the window and light fixture keep all the light at the top of the room. I apologize.)

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And just as a reminder…..

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Our next bathroom project will be installing some chunky shelves in that recess to the right of the vanity. We’ll get to it. Eventually.

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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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