Monday, December 31, 2012

pull yourself together.

Our mantle has needed some love. For a long time. In a big bad way. Case in point? This is how she looked on move-in day, June 2009.

In other words...she didn't yet exist. As I mentioned here, for those first few months, I toyed with the idea of having J.J.'s brother, a carpenter, build us a bookshelf-mantle that would flank the fireplace and hearth. After we realized how little flexibility that would leave us in terms of furniture arrangement (slash, how difficult, expensive, and time-intensive that would be to design and build), we went with a mantle kit - I think from Home Depot - that J.J. and his brother stained, assembled and installed. 

Et voila! A mantle, complete with a wintry Andy Goldsworthy framed poster and a jumbly collection of teeny-tiny picture frames and candles. Hey...at least the mantle existed now. The cool thing was how it made the fireplace look so much bigger, not to mention complete.

Our 2010 wedding provided us with some new mantle fodder - namely, pretty silver candlesticks (the Arden set from Crate & Barrel - a wedding present from my friend !Rachel), wedding photos to frame, and that cute box on the hearth. My mother-in-law painted it blue and added silver hardware, and we used it at our wedding for collecting cards. Nowadays I use it as a pop of color...and to store fabric scraps. It's also probably my 20-month-old niece's favorite thing to play with at my house. Oh, and I switched out the Goldsworthy poster for a Picasso drawing ("Don Quixote"). It doesn't have any special meaning...I just love it. It's simple but striking.

As for the fireplace doors, last winter, in a fit of random house updating, I decided to replace them. In all honesty, it was January and freezing cold, and I was hoping to install a gas insert in the fireplace (which already has a gas line inside). I had to measure the fireplace opening in order to choose a gas insert - which is how I discovered how easy it was to remove the doors, and how much cold air was seeping in around them. The fireproof insulation was worn away, and the gold face was dated and ill-fitting. Sounded like shopping time to me! I perused the options online and wavered between black and oil-rubbed bronze. ORB doors were so purrrty, but I decided on black for a more timeless, universally appealing look. Also? Almost all the other hardware in the house is silver/stainless steel (or gold, if we've been too lazy to update it), so it would be pretty random to have bronze fireplace doors. Pretty, yes. But also random. Plus, the hearth tiles are black. I think I usually resist black for some reason, but in this case, it was the right choice.

So black it was, and the gold doors hopped off to the Habitat for Humanity ReStore. I love the new doors - they're much more modern, they open smoothly (unlike the "curtains" in the old face), and we took care to install the new fireproof insulation pieces so there wouldn't be quite as much cold air creeping in. The gas insert? Still hasn't happened. It's costly, plus we have to have a plumber do a tricky installation, and...well, it's on the back burner. (Fireplace...burner...no pun intended. Or achieved, really.)

Fast-forward to a few weeks ago. My sister-in-law recently decorated the mantle in her new home, and that inspired me to create a more purposely-pulled-together look for ours. Despite my usual resistance to black, I liked the black and white we had going on with the hearth tiles, the fireplace doors, and the Picasso drawing. I also have some black frames on the wall kitty-corner to the fireplace and thought it might work out to continue that trend:

Between Christmas and, um, you know, a certain recent expensive kitchen renovation, I didn't want to spend much money on styling the mantle. I decided to keep the Picasso drawing and the candlesticks, along with two small lanterns I already had. Off to Ikea, where I managed to find a large black frame (can't remember the name, but I think it was $14.99), two 99-cent Ribba frames, and a large Borrby lantern (for $14.99). I also scrounged up a small, secondhand, white Ikea picture frame to break up all the black frame-age. It's hiding there in the lower right-hand corner of the Picasso drawing.

In the frames, from left to right: a picture of our hand-holding shadows from our second anniversary; us on a yacht at my best friend's wedding; my family at my parents' 35th wedding anniversary (that one is hard to see - it's in the tiny white frame that's being consumed by garland); and one of our engagement photos. 

Of course, I don't always have a Christmas-light garland wound around the mantle items, or stockings hung by the chimney with care, or red candles glowing in the lanterns, but, hey - it's Christmastime! (...ish.) Oh, the two smaller lanterns are from Target. So are the snowflake stocking holders. 

So that's the mantle! It's not very kid-friendly, what with the glass-doored lanterns chillin' on the hearth, but...well, file under Perks of Not Having Kids. I'm actually kind of excited to see what it'll look like without the Christmas decorations. (Dork.) Buuut I do need to add some gratuitous Christmas tree shots here, since it's coming down this week and I'll miss it:

She's a bit...curvy.

Han Solo guards the tree.

And (just for kicks) a shot of the snowy back yard, which is on my to-update list for next spring, summer, and fall. We added a shed in fall of 2011, and this past fall, a nice neighborhood group removed all the invasive buckthorn between us and the park. Which means...this past fall, a nice neighborhood group removed the visual and physical barrier between us and the park. Bummer.

We're not uber-touchy about interlopers, but now there's literally nothing that lets park dwellers know where the park ends and our back yard begins. We'll probably add a fence, and I have dreams of creating a wildflower garden in the shady area behind the shed. Time will tell...but meanwhile, I'll be cuddled up with my space heater and enjoying the cozy view inside.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

store it yourself.

This house was built in the 1960s and has (had) the aesthetics and storage space to match. I'm pretty sure the alluring salmon-colored exterior siding is original to the house, and the fact that we have two hall closets has led to some creative organizing. So it makes sense that, for the kitchen renovation, updating the overall look and adding storage were our two major goals.

That said, it is just the two of us here. And given my minimalist nature, there isn't a ton of stuff we need to store in the kitchen. Still, if we were going to update the kitchen, might as well look towards future functional needs - which meant adding a pantry.

Prior to the reno, we stored all of our dry goods in two of the base cabinets:

Yep. All our food. Shoved into the two cabinets to the right of sink cabinets.

Besides food, we also were looking for more storage space for small appliances. Again, we don't have very many, but (*first-world problem warning*) it was such a pain in the ass to have to unload an entire cabinet to access the hand mixer or fondue set. (Shut up, I warned you.)

A pantry was definitely the way to go, but where would be the best place to put it? Back in the beginning of all this, I spent lottts of time doodling kitchen floor plans in my journal. Like a lovesick teenager, but with hearts floating over ranges and pantries instead of  CATHY + MICHAEL STIPE 4EVA. In those original kitchen doodles, I thought we would definitely need to reserve space for a kitchen table in the actual kitchen, which wouldn't leave a lot of room for a pantry.

Switching the table into the family room allowed for more pantry placement options, thankfully. (Sorry, future owners of this house...you're just going to have to follow our lead on this one.) The newly-freed-up space made for a great office nook for a while.

Soon, though, we turned an upstairs bedroom closet into our office, which meant we now had two options for the pantry: the wall where the desk had been, or next to where the fridge surround would be. I used our bookshelves to simulate what it might look like in each place...

The one on the left would be the pantry, and
the one on the right would be the fridge surround.

Obviously, the pantry simulation happened a few separate times,
since the bookshelves are unstained in Pic 1 and stained in Pic 2.

For a while, I really thought the pantry belonged next to (attached to) the fridge surround, and that we'd put a little bench or something on the old desk wall. But after standing back and staring at the kitchen (for MONTHS...#SoWhat), I realized that the balance of the whole room would be off if I did that. Spoiler alert - still not sure if I made the right choice, but, um, file under Too Late To Change Now, Sucker!

We also originally planned for J.J.'s dad to help us build a pantry, but by the time he and J.J. had finished the fridge surround, it made more sense - in terms of time frame and general sanity of everyone involved - just to buy one. I had specific dimensions in mind, and the Prepac Elite Storage Collection (which I found on Amazon) had two options that, together, would fit the bill.

It ended up costing almost $350 for these pieces, but at that point, there was still wiggle room in the budget...and not in my sanity stores. It took me about two minutes to grasp that it was totally worth it to purchase instead of DIY these babies. They were delivered in under a week and were super simple to assemble, and we finally had a place to put all the food that had been homeless since March.

This food pile moved around the kitchen about
47 times throughout the course of the renovation.

Installing the pantry pieces was more of a hassle than assembling them was; luckily, J.J. helped. A LOT. Like, he basically did it while I whined about how they wouldn't sit flush against the wall, and then wouldn't sit flush with each other. 

We sawed off a piece of the base so the pantry would,
in theory, sit flush against the wall. FlushER, anyway.

There was also one more issue to work around - the wall outlet. I wanted to preserve it. Yet another fascinating feature of our 1960s-era house is the small overall number of outlets, and especially three-prong outlets, which these are. It just seemed unwise to block off the entire outlet. Plus, I had beautiful visions of storing our Dustbuster on the bottom shelf and using the outlet for recharging. (BEAUTIFUL.)

So, we had to cut a hole for the outlet to peek through. No biggie, right? At this point in the reno, I was well-versed in performing random feats of awesomeness such as this one. I measured - three times, so I'd only have to cut once - and sawed away.

I don't have a picture of the initial result, but here's a picture of the pantry after I had calmed down and corrected my, uh, mistake:

Look closer, my pretties.

Post-replacing the accidental cut-out. DAMMIT.
So. Much. Cursing. And deep breathing. I forgot to reverse the measurements to make up for the fact that the cabinet was lying face-down on the floor when I cut the hole. J.J. thinks we should make the accidental piece into a fairy door. Hasn't happened yet; instead, I employed the age-old trick of covering it up with shit so it's out of sight, out of mind....But I actually think a fairy door would be funny.

Anyway, J.J. finished screwing the cabinets into the wall...

...and I filled the gap between the upper and lower pieces with wood filler...

...and the pantry was nearly ready to go. Buuut, you know, "nearly ready" in this kitchen renovation translated to a few more weeks of painting everything (yes, I painted the white cabinets white; trust me, it was worth it for the matching sheen and shade), adding moulding to the doors and sides, attaching the doors, and caulking the gap between the wall and one side of the pantry. I had to get creative with the gap on the other side.

It was too big to caulk - about a half-inch to an inch from top to bottom. I ended up finding a piece of flat moulding at Lowe's, cutting it to size, and nailing it in.

And - finally -

Finished! Since then, I've added a sneaky organizing solution to the left side, and I'm working on balancing out that bare wall to the right. But at least we finally have somewhere to put our dry goods! And daaamn, check out that Dustbuster on the bottom shelf. How convenient to have an outlet right there. And? Beautiful. Word.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

plans for yourself.

Guess what Santa brought me?!

Photoshop Elements, a massage gift certificate, a partial backsplash installation, gallons of sugar, aaand...my very own Dark Passenger!


Yeah. It is what it is. I had my day(ish) of feeling cranky about it, which actually, unbelievably, gave way to a bubbling excitement. ME. I know, right? The thing is, I just feel...good. Like good things are coming my way. Like good things are already here.

Like this guy. I love this guy.

I have goals for the upcoming new year, but in the meantime, I have some winter vacation goals, too. (LISTY McLISTERSON MAKES LISTS OF LISTS.) I've been off work since Friday evening, and I don't go back until next Wednesday, and ooooh you best be believin' I'll be taking advantage of this free time. Some of my goals are pre-pregnancy rewards, some are house-related, and some are - well, kind of the opposite of goals...

  • Take as many hot baths as I damn well please
  • Sleep like (my younger niece as) a baby (morning nap, afternoon nap, and a solid 12 hours at night)
  • Steroid-cream the crap out of my omnipresent face rash (since there's no fetus to worry about)
  • Whiten my teeth (ditto, and they could use it)
  • Spend stupid amount of money on new record/tape/CD/MP3 player (again, ditto on the lack of fetus to consider)
  • Go sledding, hopefully with Leonard and Ebeth
  • Watch Season 7 of "The West Wing"
  • Really, get my hair cut already, seriously
  • Purposefully, consciously decorate the fireplace mantle (as opposed to "randomly throw shit up on the mantle")
  • Read, read, read
  • Gorge on the sugary presents I received, because I smell a sugar detox approaching
  • Put 9378 things on Craigslist (i.e., everything from the huge pile in the basement)
  • Plan the front room updates (adding two Expedit bookcases?)
  • Get those kitchen reveal posts going
  • Or, you know, NOT...because it's vacation

The mantle's been begging for love for a long time (it's so needy, I swear), but I wasn't really sure where or how to start. Considering the fireplace looked like this when we moved in...

...and that it's currently looking like this...

...I can't say it's been completely neglected. Nonetheless, it's ready for some changes. I found some 99-cent black Ribba frames at Ikea today that will tie in nicely, along with a big black lantern (I already have two smaller lanterns up there). I'm not planning anything huge - just hoping to make it look more intentional, more stylish, and more pulled-together. Always good to know your goals going in, right?

More on that later. Right now, time to work towards the winter break goal I've come closest to accomplishing: sleeeeeep! 

Friday, December 14, 2012

losing yourself to bitterness.

Here, let me try to articulate for you the humiliating/harmless/black hole event of the night.

SCENE: Work holiday party. Fifty or so women clustered in our small gym, gorging ourselves on turkey and potatoes, gabbing, and cracking the inappropriate jokes that we hold back every day while surrounded by kids. Someone starts a game of Telephone, and in the meantime, a Soul Train dance party erupts. As the dancing winds down, our boss is asked to share what phrase she heard.

She chuckles. "What I heard was, 'Cathy's pregnant!'"

Aaand one hundred eyes swivel to my belly (sporting a lasagna pooch, yes, but void of offspring), and then to my own widened eyes. I've worked with most of these women for over ten years, and my husband used to work with them, too. A bunch of my co-workers were at our wedding two years ago, and I'm sure they've been expecting to hear we're expecting already.

Cue awkward laugh and dismissal of the rumor by me, followed by about a minute of everyone trying to distinguish whether it was a misheard Telephone message or an actual pregnancy announcement. In the meantime, a curious, exquisite sensation of - is it regret? - snakes through my chest. No. No, I'm not pregnant, and you all have no way of knowing that it's a sensitive topic right now, but - no. No, I'm not pregnant.

One thing I've learned for sure over the past five months? Even offhanded remarks to someone about his or her family planning process are inappropriate. You never know the wound you may be scraping open. If it hurts like this after such a comparatively short (and fun) time of trying to conceive, I can't imagine how it feels for people who have been trying for years, who are muddling through infertility, who have a long or scary or atypical path to parenthood. Certainly not all atypical paths to parenthood are painful, but I sometimes wonder if gay and lesbian couples just want to glare at heterosexual couples who are whining about hard it is to conceive.

Or is this all my negative personality shining through? Maybe I'm just jealous of the people who don't let the TTC bitterness take root. Who don't have to suppress the urge to slap every woman who giggles, "I can't believe it happened the first time we tried!" or "He just has to look at me and I'm pregnant!" Who don't wonder if having children just isn't in the cosmic cards for them. Who don't stare at family pictures and wonder if those parents know how lucky they are. Who don't question whether this is a punishment, a karmic comeuppance for all those times they rabidly prayed they weren't pregnant. Who don't have to bite their tongues when friends groan, "Just be glad you don't have all these kids to buy Christmas presents for." Those people, those non-bitter people - maybe I'm just jealous of them.

Whatever. The party's over. I'm home now. And the crazy puppy went back to his home tonight, too, after nearly three weeks in our decidedly non-puppy-proof abode, which means I can go watch mindless TV on the couch without fear of anyone trying to teethe on my face.

And - pain is relative. Watching the news trickle in today about the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre, a distinct thread of doubt wove its way through my heart. Why would I bring a child into this world? Why would I leave myself or anyone else so vulnerable? But I reminded myself to look for the helpers, like Mr. Rogers' mom used to say, and not only to be one, but to capitalize on any method I may have to nurture the helper side in others.

Truly my hero. Picture from this inspiring Mental Floss piece.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

trick yourself.


It is not nice, what you're doing right now. I'm trying to be respectful of you. I'm trying to trust you. I'm trying my very best to just have fun with this - and it has been fun so far.


The rule is that if I'm trying to get pregnant, my predictable-to-the-hour period is not allowed to trick me and show up three days late. That's just rude.

So. Four months into trying to conceive (or "TTC," the irritating Internet abbreviation). The first month we tried, when my period showed up right on schedule, I was definitely bummed. I had already calculated a spring due date and how my maternity leave might be scheduled (what? I'm neurotic and a planner. Just bein' true to my anal self). The second month, when Aunt Flo arrived, right on schedule again - always - of course, I was disappointed, but less so than Month One. We were having A. Lot. Of. Fun. trying, and anyway, it usually takes a few months; no need to worry. The third month, I tried an ovulation predictor kit, in part to make sure I was actually ovulating. Ding ding ding, but a couple weeks later, thar She was, and (wait for it...) right on schedule - and right when a couple of the moms at my work (a child care center) announced their pregnancies. I gained a new appreciation and sympathy for my co-workers who are TTC while watching our parents' pregnancies pop up and out in heavy rotation. Slightly torturous.

Which brings us to month four. I was surprised when my Dark Passenger (file under Strained "Dexter" Reference) came fairly early, but it was just light spotting. I consulted the Web and discovered that it was happening right when implantation spotting would occur. It lasted two days and then went away, and I dared to let myself hope. I've trained myself for 32 years to hope for mediocrity and prepare for the worst, which is how every pessimist-mascarading-as-a-realist operates. But trying to get pregnant? This is a big dream. Huge. With this endeavor (every endeavor?), it's better to hope for the best, expect the best, and prepare for the best. The downfall of this mindset is the crushing disappointment that settles in when, three days late but unmistakably, the Dark Passenger starts a-flowin' and I feel like I've been tricked. RUDE. Would the sadness have been lessened if I'd allowed myself to doubt that it was actually happening? And maybe it did start to happen - maybe it was a chemical pregnancy. But neither of the tests I took - day before I was supposed to start, and four days later - were positive, so who knows.

Each time I've taken a pregnancy test (AHEM more times in the last four months than I care to share [seven. Seven times.]), I've convinced myself that it's going to be negative. It just seems easier than allowing myself to hope. Hope is...scary. Leaves me vulnerable. So, if hope is too scary, at least I'm having spontaneous surges of gratitude. 

Yes, gratitude. For one, J.J. and I are closer than ever, and I fell for him all over again when he came home from the grocery store one evening with foods that he read were good for boosting sperm health. omgggg. Adorable. I'm definitely savoring this pre-parenting time in our relationship. There's freedom, spontaneity, and expendable income, and I'm not taking any of that for granted. After all, even though it's upsetting to try to conceive and not succeed immediately, I still maintain a certain level of ambivalence about motherhood. So I'll relish this time for what it is.

The disappointment does take over sometimes, though. So, to soothe myself, and to sideline the anxieties that inevitably spring up as time goes on, I've decided to start "rewarding" myself with each arrival of the Dark Passenger by partaking in some pregnancy no-nos. Par exemple:

:: Gorging on goat cheese
:: Indulging in a long massage (which some consider risky in the first trimester)
:: Checking out a trampoline play park
:: Visiting the Hot Tub Gardens
:: Snorking down raw cookie dough
:: Splurging on just-for-me stuff (before that cash is earmarked for Baby Stuff)
:: Painting fun crafts without fear of poisoning a fetus

I'm starting the reward system this month: Tomorrow, I'll schedule a 90-minute massage at a new-ish place on my side of town that offers unbelievable Happy Hour deals. And I'm definitely open to any other ideas for rewards!

Off to bed for now, though, because ironically, we'll be up in the middle of the night with our three-month-old temporary roomie. I'll fill you in on our accidental puppy parenting adventure soon...complete with squee-inducing pictures and details on how I am sooo not a dog person.


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