Monday, March 24, 2014

Spring projects: The Back Door.

The  bummer thing for me about owning our particular 60+ year old house is that we weren't  fortunate enough to snag any of the cool architectural details that you sometimes luck out on with older homes. We don't have any cool molding it anything like that, but what we did have was this oddly embellished back door. Unfortunately, as the last area on the ground floor that I hadn't gotten around to painting since we moved in, the exterior of the door was just dirty, sad, and weird.

(The truth is that I forgot to take a picture before I cleaned it up really well and started painting the top half, so you only get the bottom part of the door for reference. Also, imagine it dirtier.)

Now, I love me a good door (see the front door transformation here) so a change was in order.

Using some paint I had around the house, I spruced up the door to a nice light grey color, and highlighted the embellishments with white glossy trim paint. This way, they look intentional instead of like some tired throw back to when my grandparents were young homeowners.

Here's the total before and after look. What do you think?

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Heart of the Home, or, Finally, my kitchen isn't a total embarrassment.

Right in the middle of a million other major life changes (they're exciting! and nervewracking! and stressful! Let's not talk about them right now!) we decided to finally finish some of the upgrades to our kitchen. As you might remember, we've done smaller cosmetic upgrades from time to time but we hadn't really tackled much of the major stuff, beyond replacing the appliances. Basically, up until last week, this was the status of our kitchen. Admit it, you're jealous of the vast, sweeping expanses of counter space. Don't worry, it's EASY and FUN to prepare dinners with only THREE INCHES OF FLAT AREA to work with.

The worst offender, by far, was the atrocious floor. It was hideous, stained linoleum with paint splatters. Interestingly, you can see that it wasn't the first ugly linoleum to be laid down. At some point, our orange kitchen must've had the very flashy green flooring you can see peeking out from under the dishwasher.

During some other era, the floor must have been this disgusting carpet, which for some reason wasn't pulled up from under the old, wider-than-standard stove. (Packing tape to hold it down is so classy, don't you agree?)

After putting it off for a million years, we decided to go ahead and redo the floors. We knew we wanted tile as opposed to a wood laminate because the rest of our home has lovely hardwood floors hiding under the carpet (just waiting for someone more energetic than me to refinish them.) We figured tile would be a better compliment to those someday-floors. Paddy's flooring guy, who also scored us the remnant carpet piece for the toy room, had a great deal on some tiles. They were a nice, large size and neutral color, so I didn't mind that we didn't really have much choice.

PopPop and Paddy scraped out the laminate that curled up the walls and pulled up the aforementioned carpet piece.


Particularly given the tricky stair section, we opted not to try our novice tiling skills out on our floor, and instead let professionals do the job. We are thrilled with out it turned out!

And after!
(You can see we still have baseboards to add, but I was too excited to wait to share.)

Once the floors were in, we knew the hideousness of the countertops and sink would really be highlighted. Despite my best efforts, the red Rustoleum countertop paint I snagged for a great price turned out to be about as durable as a ripe peach. (CURSE YOU, RUSTOLEUM! Also, your customer service kind of stinks.)

Given the finishes in the rest of the house, we thought granite countertops would likely not be worth the dollars, particularly given that this isn't our forever house. We found a nice laminate that looks great and will hold up well.
We also replaced this gem of a sink. Believe it or not, I scrubbed that thing with Comet on a regular basis. Not even my furious, obsessive scraping and polishing can remove 50 years of grime, it seems.

Though you can't tell (even in person), I ended up repainting the backsplash a lighter, creamier color. The green in the new countertops ended up making the grey backsplash read really blue-ish and bizarre. I also painted the bottom trip of the cabinets where there used to be linoleum coving black to match the rest of the cabinets. Here is the final transformation!

From this:
To this!:

What do you think?

Wednesday, February 26, 2014


 Nearly nine years ago, in a fairly unforeseeable turn of events, I found myself in my pajamas, sitting cross-legged on the floor of my grandparents’ bedroom in the faint early morning light, my hair tied back loosely from my face. I could hear Bandie’s deep, regular breathing in the background, but Papa and I were entirely focused on each other. Our eyes met in the pale blue light, a withering smile passing between us.

It wasn’t exactly a tender grandfather-granddaughter bonding moment. In fact, he didn’t offer me ONE SINGLE WORD of wisdom or life lessons.

Instead, I was using most of my body weight to force down the plunger of a large syringe full of hot water into a frustratingly small plastic tube that went directly into my Papa’s stomach. The goal was to dislodge a hard, congealed clump of dried liquid nutrition that was clogging the tube; we joked that when it finally broke free it would shoot right out the back of him. And we’d been trying for nearly a half an hour.

We did eventually force that chunk free, and lots of others, too. We spilled bright red Gatorade on their pristine bedroom carpet in the middle of the night. We survived a potentially fatal medication error (thank you, moron pharmacist), and we survived him re-learning how to drive, including a near-miss with a semi-truck. His slow reflexes pulled our car right in front of the speeding truck, and when he realized what he’d done, my Papa swore—loudly, clearly, and intentionally. I didn’t mind; it was good to hear his voice. We covered his swollen, flaky legs in lotion. We made a few trips to the ER to reinsert the feeding tube into the open hole into his abdomen until I finally learned how to fix it myself, and we entertained a parade of therapists and nurses who slowly nursed him back to health after a devastating aneurysm repair over the course of one impossibly short college summer break.

That summer I spent hours weeding his impossibly congested flower beds, and he took wobbly steps outside to inspect and critique my work. It is only now that it occurs to me that perhaps his impulse to be completely in control of those petunias was more about his own inability to be at all in control of his own body’s painfully slow recovery. Purple petunias, I guess, can handle the grumbling.

Last Friday night, my Papa died.

And while I have wrapped my head around the idea that he is gone today, it is somehow impossible to wrap my heart around the idea that he will still be gone tomorrow—that when that garage door opens to let me in the next time I visit, he won’t be standing at the top of the stairs, his hunched shoulders leaving him shorter than his regular six-foot four height.

I have memories of my Papa that are different than many of my peers’ memories of their grandfathers. When I was young, Papa was strong and robust. He taught me to ski and built me bedroom furniture. Maybe other people haven’t seen their grandfathers in swimsuits; I have swum with mine in the pool behind his house in California more times than I can count, both before and after he acquired the long purplish scar down the front of his chest. When I think of my Papa, I think of his tall frame and strong arms, his thick, course, wavy hair forced into perfect submission with gallons of hairspray and the sheer, overwhelming force of my Papa’s will.

It was inconceivable that he look the least bit disheveled. Other people look disheveled. Papa looks perfectly composed, pressed shirt tucked in and slacks perfectly ironed and belted, and he smells of Drakkar Noir.

That summer, after weeks of leaving me solely in charge of his nutrition, hydration, and transportation, the day finally came when the speech therapist asked us to bring solid food to the appointment. Weeks of strapping electrodes to his throat by wrapping his neck and face in CoBand (“I look like a nun”, he’d point out, wryly) had paid off, and it was time to try to eat. A turkey sandwich was on the menu.

Though I had single-handedly dosed his medications—blood pressure, anti-coagulation, supplements, pain medications—without the least bit of supervision, he hovered anxiously behind me while I pulled the condiments from the fridge.

“Mayo on that piece, and mustard over here. You can put the lettuce wherever you want, but the turkey has to go that side and the avocado over here.” He directed, squinting just slightly in concentration.

I put the knife down and turned to him slowly, one eyebrow raised to show my mild displeasure at his coaching. He smiled, understanding the irony of his bossiness without a word, but unrelentingly added, “And don’t forget the pepper.”

Papa was back.

Once, when I was too young to fly by myself, my Papa drove me from Utah to their home in Northern California. I remember very little about the trip, other than that we went together, just the two of us, in his old, brown Honda, and that we stopped on the salt flats to let me stretch my short legs. I must have made him crazy with my incessant four-year-old chattering.

He bought me fruit snacks.

I never got fruit snacks.

Years later, we made the trip many more times with my siblings and grandmother. We towed his trailer over long miles on the way to the redwood forests, playing a silly game where we picked at item on the horizon and guessed how many miles away it was and then watched the odometer, cheering at whoever guessed closest, all the while Bandie snoring contentedly in the passenger seat. Traditionally, on the way from our home in Utah to his, we stopped at the Peppermill Casino in Wendover for brunch, and Papa put the change from our check in the slots on the way out. I remember his wide grin when he made a few quarters, and his refusal to put them back in the machine to try again.

“Nope,” he said, with finality. “That’s how they get you.”

Before that day with the turkey sandwich, Papa was prohibited from swallowing, including his own saliva. He had a suction machine at home, but on the long road trips to appointments, he brought a long a small Dixie cup and every few minutes, he’d quietly spit in to it. It must have been torture for my proper Papa to find himself spitting into a cup. It must have been nearly unbearable.

At least that’s what I tell myself when I remember the time he asked me to pull to the side of the road a mere 6 houses away from home, apparently unable to wait a moment longer to throw out the offensive cup. He unrolled his window, and took aim at the open garbage can a neighbor had left out on the street for pickup.

He missed. Widely. The cup bounced off the can, flinging his last hour’s worth of spit all over the can and road.

Enormously amused at himself, he laughed out loud, and then turned to me without hesitation.

“Just leave it. Let’s go home. They’ll never know.”


Papa wasn’t a perfect person. He made mistakes. He could be formal and stubborn and old-fashioned, he cursed, he grew short-tempered when he didn’t feel well, and as it turns out, he was persnickety about the construction of his turkey sandwiches.

Who wants a perfect person around, anyway? All I needed was a perfect Papa.

I miss you, Papa. I love you. Slug bug green.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Mister Baggins Turns Two.

Hello, sweet son-

Exactly two years and twenty minutes ago they put you on my chest, naked and sticky and pink and crying like a baby lamb. I breathed in deeply, filling my lungs with air and marveling at the roundness and realness of you. The new emptiness in my belly was soothed by the weight of you in my arms, and I looked upward through my tears at your daddy, barely believing you were here.

You were finally here, but really, you had been mine all along. Before I saw you and held you and nuzzled your soft baby skin, and before I felt you kick and tumble and wedge your wiggly little self into that spot in my pelvis that ached all through the time I grew you, and even before I knew of you at all, you were mine. You are woven into my soul because I am your mother and you are my son and there cannot be a time in the universe when that was not true. 

And those thoughts, my boy, are what I work very hard to keep in my mind when I find you covered from head to toe in bright blue bath paint a whopping FIVE ENTIRE MINUTES after I pulled your clean, drippy self out of the tub. I look at the blue gloppy mess dripping down the bathroom cabinets and spreading all over the tile floor and I think, MAN that kid is so lucky that I like him.

And listen to my words, son, you ARE lucky. You are lucky that you have an adorable, impish, toothy little smile that fills my heart with sunshine because otherwise, SO HELP ME CHILD, I might have simply let the vultures have you after I found your freshly-dressed self grinning widely and sweetly repeating the phrase "sorry, Mama" over and over again while you methodically pumped all the liquid hand soap from the bathroom sink down the front of your shirt and on to the floor. And then threw the container in the toilet when I caught you.

Oh yes you did. 

Someday, you will have a curious little guy of your own with chubby little cheeks and a penchant for dumping snacks on to the carpet at every opportunity and playing with the toilet plunger on the carpet no matter where it is hidden and guess what? You will NOT sell him to the gypsies, however tempting that may be after he smears your makeup all over his face and clean clothes. (Oh yes you did.) Do you want to know why? Because somehow your father didn't sell YOU to any roving bands, not even when you dragged your sister's Strawberry Shortcake stool out of her room and into the kitchen, climbed on it, and cheerfully swirled and flapped your hands into the water left soaking in the crockpot in the sink, soaking the sleeves of your clean dinosaur pajamas in spaghetti sauce-infused dishwater.


You will cherish that little boy of yours, Buddy, just as much as we cherish you, even when he squirts Windex into his mouth (yep, that too) or empties your wallet for the one millionth time, flinging insurance cards and credit cards and driver's licenses above his head like rice at a wedding, or if he soaks his diaper, pajamas, and sheets with baby pee every. single. blessed. morning yea, from now even until the end of time, amen and amen.

You'll love him, because he is a treasure.

You are a treasure. You are MY treasure, and you always will be. I love you to the moon and back.

Happy birthday, Mister Baggins. 

Monday, January 27, 2014

Worth a thousand words: Cabin Edition

(Also, I cheated and just now posted a similiar picture-filled post from Christmas here. Mommy blogger fail.)

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Spring Projects: The Stinky Room

(See some other house upgrades here and here.)

There is a large bedroom in the basement of our house that we have not-so-lovingly referred to since we moved in as 'the stinky room.' This moniker was decided upon based on the following criteria: the room smelled really bad.

Like the rest of the basement, the bedroom was finished, but only sort of. It's a strange hodge-podge of exterior walls (which are not framed or insulated) and interior walls, which don't have sheet rock or proper framing, either. Instead, they're basically made of some wood paneling painted white.

It's incredibly obnoxious that the former owners didn't just do the job right the first go 'round, but since they are deceased now, I'll cut them a break. We aren't interested in gutting the basement to start over at this point, (which is what really needs to happen) but we are interested in making it more livable.

We have never used the stinky room for anything other than storage and a rough sort of office space. MJ and Maddi lived in that room while that side of the family was house hunting/moving, but the broken bed they used has long since been gifted to a couple of newly weds. For a long time, the room looked basically like this (only usually it had a lot more crap in it):

A large space with a big closet, the room definitely had potential for something better, but oh boy, was it rough. That hideous blue cloud carpet was just sort of lying on the ground with a tiny bit of glue to hold it in place. It didn't have a carpet pad beneath it (why you would bother doing it this way is just beyond me) and it smelled like old people. There were random wires sticking out of the walls with old school plugs. It was far from the toy room Paddy and I were envisioning.

Luckily for me, I'm related to a pretty great electrician, and with a few chuckles and head shakes, he took care of the shoddy wiring problems.

I scrubbed out the gross window surrounds, wiped down the walls, and painted the entire room with a fresh coat of paint. (You can't really tell a difference in the color in these photos, but it's no longer stark white, but still light enough to stay bright even with those postage stamp sized windows.)

Paddy contacted a friend of his who has access to carpet remnants so we could change up the flooring without spending a bunch of cash. We didn't have a lot of choices about color since we needed a pretty big remnant, but we weren't picky. We were really happy that we ended up with a really high quality carpet (and pad, like civilized people) in a neutral brownish shade for a great price.

The best part was moving lots of the larger toys the kids got from Christmas out of their bedrooms and down into one organized space.

Turns out that the secret to happiness in family life is a toy room. The kids play in there without bothering me, and when I check on them it melts my heart to find them hiding together in the tent or playing/bossing/being bossed on the proper way to play babies. (I'll let you guess which kid is which in that scenario.) Mister's train set has been spread out on the floor of this room since we finished it, and he LOVES it.

This house is probably not our forever house, and we've found ourselves wondering about where it makes sense to upgrade, how much to spend, and what to leave for the next set of people who love this old mess to fix. Even though this room is still not finished properly, we know we'll use it, and we hope that future buyers will see a functional space that is clean, comfortable, and user-friendly until they decide to demo the entire basement.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Football, as it should be played.

Since the NFL Conference Championship games are next Sunday, I thought I'd take the opportunity to offer Commissioner Goodell my suggestion for the improvement of the game of football.

Let's back up a little bit. Paddy is a big fan of football, and I like watching it, too. When I was a lot younger, my little brother (Shout-out: Ashton! Hey! Oh!) taught me the basics using the framework of the original Ninetendo's TecmoBowl. Remember this?

Image from here

We played game after game, Ashton teaching me about downs and how to cheat by peeking at the other person's play choice-- when he wasn't too busy oogling the cartoon cheerleader still-frames that lit up the screen every time he scored. I later used that skill (cheating on plays, not looking at cheerleaders) to solidly beat my college friend Guillermo every time we played on my roommate's old gaming system.

College didn't do a whole lot to expand my knowledge of the game, since at the time my beloved Aggies were--how do I put this delicately?--not exactly the bowl-game winning program they are today. After we got married, though, Paddy was able to build upon my rudimentary knowledge of the game to create in me a football fan who at least most of the time understands what is going on in the game.

Armed with this history, I have developed a brilliant plan to improve the excitement factor in every football game we view. I submit to Commissioner Goodell (who I hear is really into taking suggestions from strangers) the following changes, illustrated for his convenience.

The change would involve altering some of the hardware of the game, as follows:

 A small platform would be anchored to the side of the uprights in each end zone. Also, a framework of bungees (not pictured) would be installed.

The improvement would also require the addition of one player position on each team. A member of Special Teams, the player might often find himself in this position during the game, relaxing on his perch.

The real excitement, however, comes each and every time the opposing team attempts a field goal or point after goal. Then, the new player (I lovingly refer to this position as "Keeper", but will defer to Comm. Goodell's judgement on the official title) springs into action, leaping from his platform in an energetic attempt to block the ball.

Image not to scale. Obviously.

Right? RIGHT?! Tell me this isn't brilliant! If the Keeper is able to successfully bat the ball out of the uprights, no good! When the football hits the turf, the ball is dead. The kicking team can recover the ball by catching it on the way down (interception-style) but not advance it (if they recover it in the end zone, it is not a touchdown, but will result in a fresh set of downs from the 20 yard line.) The defense can recover and advance the ball, recorded as a turnover against the kicking team. After the kick and block attempt, the keeper, who is bobbing gently in his bungee harness, is hoisted back up to the platform to either climb down and move to the other end zone or await his next opportunity to leap in to infamy.

I know, I know. It's awesome. I eagerly await response from the NFL legal offices. I'll accept payment in the form of SuperBowl tickets for my husband, fathers, and brothers. Oh, and a convenient Patriots loss next week as a signing bonus.

You're welcome.