Archive for the 'house' Category


Life update

Feeling: Fine.

Marveling: At how this 300-square-foot apartment can be transformed into 24 different rooms. I’m frequently reminded that fierce limitations (in this case, geographical) can result in amazing creativity and innovation. (And here’s another variation the same theme.)

Disliking: This story. I heard about this woman a couple of years ago, and again a few months ago when the update was posted. It’s amazing how many people thing she is awesome because she has this massive yarn collection. I know that knitters like to boast about (or bemoan) the size of their stashes, but this seems like a case of hoarding to me. I should point out that I’m not a fan of collecting for collecting’s sakeā€”the “I just had to have it!” thing. On a similar note, I think people like Jerry Seinfeld and Jay Leno, own own so many cars or motorcycles that they actually need entire buildings in Manhattan, no less, to house them are idiots. Yes, there’s the argument that people can spend their money on whatever the hell they want, and to a point I’m on board with that. But this kind of spending just seems so incredibly wasteful, irresponsible, and meaningless. Maybe my opinion of this woman’s spending and hoarding habits is a bit harsh; but by the same token I’d say that people who idolize her are misguided.

Loving: Everything about this playground. And wishing something like that would be possible where we live.


Life update

Watching: A corgi in a swing. Yes, that’s what I said.

Chuckling over: The best of Craigslist. One of my favorites is “Looking for Rabbi Versed in DARK TALMUDIC ARTS to create GOLEM.”

Being impressed by: These recipe redesigns. The use of illustrations as instructions is a recipe is nothing new (for example, Molly Katzen does it in her awesome cookbooks for preschoolers, Pretend Soup and Other Real Recipes” and Salad People and More Real Recipes), but the designs here are especially nice.

Hacking:…my ramen.

Wishing: I had an extra $300 lying around. I think this project is awesome, and I really love the design of this chair.

Getting back from: The Netherlands. We were there for nearly two weeks and returned a few days ago. Once the jet lag fully wears off and I get my act together, details and photos will be forthcoming.


It’s official: we are nuts

When Jan and I were signing the closing papers for our house four years ago, our brains temporarily went on vacation, and we invited our out-of-town families (my parents from Illinois, his mom from upstate New York, our two brothers and the girlfriend of one of them from New York City) to come here for Thanksgiving. That year, Thanksgiving arrived ten days after we moved in.

Talk about motivation to get the unpacking done! It was exhausting, since we didn’t take any days off from our jobs and ended up working a full day at our offices (plus commuting time–Jan’s commute was thirty minutes each way, by car; mine was ninety minutes, by car, train, subway, and foot), working late into the evening, and collapsing into bed and falling fast asleep almost immediately. But we managed to finish it in time to host overnight guests for the weekend.

Somehow, the impending arrival of out-of-town parents motivates us to get started on (and finish, thank goodness) those around-the-house projects that would likely linger undone if we didn’t have visitors coming. Last spring we rushed to redo our living room and fix the shower in the master bath before Jan’s dad arrived for a two-week visit and my parents arrived for a long weekend (both visits overlapped and coincided with Sylvia’s second birthday).

In our subconscious, Jan and I have apparently decided that we really prefer our last-minute home-renovation panic to revolve around Thanksgiving. This year, we are hosting Thanksgiving (his mom, his brother and girlfriend, my brother). And this year, we have decided to redo our den.

Every since we moved in, we have hated the den. Along the top two-thirds of the wall is a yellowish wallpaper with small brown flowers in rows; along the bottom part of the wall is wood wainscoting. But it’s not the charming, New England-y wainscoting you might be imagining. Oh no. Imagine that someone found huge pieces of dark-brown wood at the city dump, chopped it up into wainscoting-ish pieces, took a hammer or chisel to the surfaces to get them all nice and jaggedy and uneven, then nailed it to the wall. “It’s rustic,” Jan explained. He liked the stuff. Me, I always hated it. We recently decided that, rustic or not, it looked pretty dated and that its dark color made a not-very-large room look even smaller. So yesterday morning, we ripped it all down.

(You all know that Thanksgiving is next week, right?)

The paneling came down easily. Armed with a wallpaper steamer borrowed from a friend, we figured the wallpaper removal would be a simple task. One wall of the den is a brick wall with a fireplace in the middle of it, one has the door to the power room, one has the doorway to the kitchen, and one has the sliding door the patio. So there’s not a huge amount of surface area to deal with here.

We quickly realized that this wallpaper is original to our forty-something-year-old house. And then, with mounting horror, we realized that the wallpaper had been applied directly to the wallboard. To get a real sense of the kind of horror we felt at that moment, try to imagine the phrase “directly to the wallboard” being pronounced in the same voice as “we’ve traced the call, and it’s coming from inside the house.” Yeah, it’s that bad.

‘Cause you see, when you remove wallpaper that’s been applied to the call is coming from inside the house, er, I mean, directly to the wallboard, you get a huge mess. No matter what technique you use (steamers or chemical removers), the wallboard gets damaged. The “proper” solution is to then go over all of your walls with a skim coat of wallboard mud, and then sand the whole thing down before painting. At least that’s what all the online how-to/fix-it sources I checked said. (Incidentally, nearly all of those sources used words like incompetent, lazy, and cheap to describe contractors who applied wallpaper right on top of wallboard.)

(Um, you do remember that Thanksgiving is just a little over a week away? And did I mention that the carpet installer will likely be showing up next Monday?)

We don’t have time to do all of this. And frankly, even if we did, I don’t think I’d want to do all that stuff. This room is not a showcase room. That doesn’t mean I’d be happy with a crappy paint job, but I am willing to have a result that isn’t quite up to snuff for the pages of House and Garden.

So Jan and I have decided to paint over the wallpaper. Yeah, those online how-to sites all said that’s a bad idea and that you should remove wallpaper rather than paint over it. But they all also said, “Sometimes, when the wallpaper situation is just really, really bad, you just have to paint over it.”

We’ve decided to do a test area: the narrow bit of wall between the powder room door and the archway leading to the kitchen. Last night we used wallboard mud to cover the vertical wallpaper seam (between strips of wallpaper), the lower edge (where it had met up with the paneling), spots where we’d tried to remove the wallpaper, and any other divets and whatnot. It dried overnight, and after dinner this evening we sanded it down (and generated an unbelievable amount of white dust–holy moly!) and applied a coat of oil-based primer (which you need to use on top of wallpaper or on top of anywhere wallpaper has been, in order to prevent the wallpaper glue–which can never be completely removed, apparently–from seeping through your top coat of latex paint). That’s drying now, and so far it’s looking pretty good.

If all goes well, we’ll mud the rest of the seams, etc., tomorrow evening, sand it the next night, and have it primed before the weekend. We should be ready to paint on Saturday, with that part of the job completed well in advance of the new carpet.

Somehow, we’ll find time to prepare the fare for Thursday’s feast. Hmmmm…there’s a Wawa just a five-minute walk from my house. And they never close. I wonder how everyone would feel about giving thanks over egg-salad sandwiches, Funyons, soft pretzels, and pints of Ben and Jerry’s…


A space-saving solution

About a month ago, in a post about polenta, I mentioned not having a double-boiler insert but really really wanting one. “We don’t really need one,” my husband pointed out. “And think about how much space it would take up.” He’s right on both counts, of course.

But I just stumbled upon a collapsible double boiler at Amazon. Wow. How cool is that? I could make gobs of polenta easily, melt chocolate fearlessly, and do all those other things that require a double boiler. All without eating up much more of our precious storage space in the kitchen!

I’ve never cooked with silicone before, though (aside from those heat-resistant silicone spatulas). Nor has my husband, who does all his baking in an extensive collection of metal pans. Have any of you used silicone cooking containers before? How do you like them?


A very, very large FO

The living room is finished. The living room is finished. Whew! As promised, here is a photo of it.

We got our paint from Sherwin-Williams. For other painting projects, we’d used Behr, but this time we decided to throw down for some really good stuff (this is, technically, the “showpiece” room of the house) and get some much-needed advice from People Who Do Know Squat About Paint. Yes, it cost a bit more than Behr, but wow, it was really worth it. This stuff went on the walls so easily and smoothly. Even our friend Gina, who has loads of experience with painting projects and helped us with this one, was impressed with it.

On the walls is Restrained Gold (probably the only color in the universe that goes with our furnishings, which are all from different color groups), in the Cashmere paint line, in a flat finish. It’s not completely flat–when you look at it from an angle, it has a slight sheen–but it’s nowhere near an eggshell finish. Unlike most flat finish paints out there, this stuff can be touched. That feature was pretty essential to us, since we don’t want to spend the next several years telling our child “Don’t touch the walls.” ‘Cause you know what? The walls will be touched. For the trim we used Alabaster (a white with a slightly reddish-gold tint, if you can imagine that), and the ceiling has plain old ceiling white on it.

The room isn’t 100% finished: we haven’t hung anything on the walls yet. We have a giant mirror (a five-dollar buy at a yard sale last spring) that will probably go above the piano after we sand and restain the wooded frame. We’re going to wait a little while before hanging any art, though, to give ourselves time to live in the room a bit and see how it feels.

So here’s a curtain question for you: what should we do with the windows? In the past, we had dark red floor-length drapes that we hated. (But they were left by the previous owners, and free is a very good price to pay for drapes–especially in a room that you’re planning to redo soon anyway.) We never closed them, though, preferring the natural light and airiness of open windows.

Let me say this up front: venetian blinds (vertical or horizontal, metal or cloth) are not options. I think wooden blinds or shutters would be too “heavy” for this room. I’m sort of inclined to go with a short curtain, something like a little longer than the windows themselves. But isn’t there some “rule” about how “formal” rooms are supposed to have floor-length curtains? I don’t have anything against floor-length curtains per se, but I think they’d end up getting stuck behind the table-chair arrangement on one side of the window. And I have two cats, so the bottom three feet of long curtains would be covered in cat hair in no time at all. So…any suggestions, anyone?

Finally, I want to point out one of the things in this room that gives me the most joy. This desk (a new IKEA purchase, as are the two glass-fronted bookcases flanking the piano) is what we’ve nicknamed “the dumping ground.” You know how you come in the door and your stuff just ends up in places–cell phones (and chargers) all over the kitchen counters, briefcases and purses and diaper bags all over the hallway? We decided to have a space dedicated to corralling this stuff. We don’t have a proper foyer, so we put this space just inside the living room, right around a short wall from the front door.

The large compartment of the secretary desk is where we put briefcases, diaper bags, and purses. The shelves above it give us extra storage for stuff we don’t need out all the time but still want accessible: camera bag, camcorder, external hard drive (back up your data regularly, people!). The bottom shelf is my favorite part: courtesy of an eight-slot surge protector, it’s the charging station for cellphones, camera batteries, wireless computer mice (yes, we are geeks), and other such gadgets. Everything has a place to go now, and when the doors are closed it’s all hidden. I love it.


I know these things are true

1. There is special circle of hell reserved for the people who put this god-awful sun-moon-stars wallpaper border in my house. Not only did they exhibit terrible taste in wallpaper, but they put this stuff directly under crown molding in the most formal room in the house. What in the world were they thinking? Fortunately, it all came off–though not without some elbow grease.

2. Home fix-it projects never take as little time or money as you think they will. A few months ago, Jan and I were talking about all the things we want to do with our house, and we realized that we were experiencing the sort of option paralysis that stops us dead in our tracks when we’re standing at the counter in an ice-cream shop: with so many choices, it’s hard to know where to begin. So we decided to choose something “simple” and do it, just to feel a sense of accomplishment.

“The living room!” we declared. “The supplies won’t cost much–just paint!–and painting doesn’t take that long to do, so we’ll be done in no time! And really, it’s about time we got rid of that wallpaper border before its ugliness causes permanent blindness.” It took about two whole months to settle on a paint color (tip: paint your sample paint on a big piece of foam board, so you can move it around the room and test it against your furnishings and in different lighting conditions), then nearly a full week of every-free-minute work to get the supplies we needed and to clear out, prep, and paint the room. Oh, and of course this cost about twice what we anticipated.

3. Shoving nearly two rooms of stuff into one heavily used room is no fun at all. We moved all of our living room crap, er, I mean possessions into our not-terrible-spacious dining room, which made for very crowded mealtimes and decreased enthusiasm for cooking. (In addition to being the Week of Living Room Painting, this was the Week of Take-Out Food.)

Sylvia handled it pretty well. As an almost-two-year-old, she could have gone the way of “something has interrupted my routine, and I don’t like it” or “hey, cool–I have a different view from my high chair now.” Fortunately, for all of us, she took the latter path.

Those people who live through kitchen remodels? Gah, I don’t know how they do it…

4. Good friends are worth their weight in gold. In addition to serving as color consultants who surely saved us from some horrible mistakes, our friends Katie and Gina helped us out tremendously. Katie lent me her wallpaper steamer (which worked well enough that I didn’t have to resort to any chemical goo–hooray!), and Sylvia spent Saturday morning at her place (with her husband and daughter), which gave us a few hours to paint the ceiling and get the stinky oil-based primer on the walls (tip: use this type of primer over places where you’ve removed wallpaper, or else the adhesive–which you can never fully remove–will bleed through your paint and cause you much sorrow) without subjecting a small child to the fumes.

Gina, who has painted more rooms that she can probably remember and is a painter extraordinaire, spent pretty much her entire weekend with us. Jan and I, being the cowardly novice painters that we are, gave her all the tough jobs, like cutting in around the edges. (Going near white surfaces with brush full of colorful paint is, like using steeks, on the list of Things That Scare the Crap Out of Me.) And she was amazing–all the paint she applied went where it was supposed to go. Me…well, I had a few little spots to tidy up.

On Saturday, Gina’s husband, Todd, came with her and fulfilled the critical role of Baby Wrangler. He and Sylvia spent the entire afternoon in the den, reading books, drawing pictures, and building tunnels with pillows and blankets. (“Paint: $120. Brushes: $30. Having someone make sure your child doesn’t try to eat Sherwin-Williams products: Priceless.) On Sunday, Gina returned to help paint the trim, which took about as much time as the rest of the room combined, thanks to the three, large, multipaned windows in this room.

(Well, almost. Tonight we pick up a final pieces of furniture and finish putting everything away.) Pictures of the finished room will follow soon…when it’s fully finished!


Not-stupid investments

Many many years ago, I started reusing my Ziploc bags. It’s easy–just turn ’em inside out, wash them, then let them dry on the dish rack. The freezer bags are particularly durable; some of mine are three years old. The problem is that Ziploc bags aren’t renowned for their ability to stand up on their own, so they usually fall over and take a long, long time to dry properly. When I first heard about a thingy (yes, that is the technical term for it) that holds your bags open while they dry, I thought, “That’s stupid. No way am I spending twenty bucks on that thing.” Well, I finally succumbed and threw down the bucks for it a couple of weeks ago. And let me just say this: wow, I should have bought one of these things sooner.

Same goes for this compost bucket. I am a big believer in composting when you can. All through grad school, I lived in apartments with no yards or gardens. I yearned to have a compost pile of my own–and did, briefly, when I lived in Eugene, Oregon, for a summer while doing some predoctoral research. (I’ll write more about that experience another time.) I remember one time my housemate and I had a potluck dinner that was attended by about a dozen people. As people were helping with the post-meal cleanup, they asked, “Where is your compost pile?” (It was in the middle of the huge garden, in the side yard.) Not “Do you have a compost pile?” but “I’m assuming you have one–’cause, you know, this is the Whiteaker neighborhood of Eugene-so just let me know where it is.” I loved that.

When I moved to the Mid-Atlantic, I was delighted to have a garden–and a small compost pile. And when Jan and I bought our house three and a half years ago, one of the first home-improvement things we did was built a compost bin (a “3-bin yard waste composter”–the free plans are available here).

During my entire composting life, though, I’ve been putting my kitchen scraps into an old yogurt container on the kitchen counter, then taking it outside when it filled up. (This is a practice I developed in Eugene. After all, grad students don’t have extra money to throw around on fancy-schmancy compost buckets! Well, maybe the engineers and computer scientists, but not the impoverished cultural anthropologists!) This system has the great benefit of not costing anything. It has the great disadvantage of stinkiness–particularly in the winter months, when trips to the compost bin are less frequent (brrrrr!).

So when I decided to get the plastic-bag-holding doodad, I figured, “Why not? I’m already going to hell anyway for buying this incredibly yuppified and overpriced thing–might as well add on a fifteen-dollar compost bucket.” After using this green bin (which fits nicely under the sink) for a few weeks now, I have to admit that I really love this thing.