double thumbs up

1011_alfrescodinner2 On Tuesdays and Thursdays Callum stays late at school for play practice. I pick him up at 5:30, and by the time we get home he's ravenous. On these nights Neel comes home before us, and (if I leave detailed instructions) he finishes up dinner to have it ready and waiting. Last night (leftover taco soup and salad), we came home to this lovely surprise on the new, almost-done patio. Dinner al fresco! I couldn't ask for anything more.





For the evening's entertainment, we have...

1011_alfrescodinner6 three hounds. Looking out instead of in for a change. And so put-out and forlorn! They kept us laughing the whole meal. Get a load of all those spider webs, would you? Fall's a-coming, I tell you. Neel's patio rocks.

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island living

0911_banana1 Ya'll didn't know we lived in the tropics, did you? We don't, but somehow we're managing to grow (and go!) bananas! Neel and neighbor-Tyler planted several banana trees around each of our yards this spring, and a few weeks ago Tyler noticed that one of ours was flowering! To say we were stunned was an understatement. I mean, we're hot and muggy here, but not nearly tropical. Remember all that snow we got last winter?

0911_banana2 But if you look closely, behind that gorgeous flower, there they are. Little tiny bananas!

0911_banana3 None of Tyler's trees are bearing fruit and our feeling about this is that our own tree has been blasted by the compressor from the air conditioner all summer. Kinda like it's own little micro-climate. I have high hopes for these little guys, but even if they don't get any bigger or yellow enough to cut up into our cereal, I'm calling it. We grew bananas.

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tart's boudoir

0911_tart2 This was my great-grandmother's chair. We call it the "Tart's Boudoir." I think I told you that we tend to nickname things around here. Everything except me. Anyhoo. Doesn't that look like where this chair belongs? All carved wood and deep red velvet. Perfect for a tart's boudoir.

0911_tart3 I don't actually have a lot of good to say about my great-grandmother. I don't think I ever met her, but the stories my dad could tell! Boy-Howdy.

What I do remember of this chair is of it in my grandparent's house. Not a tart's boudoir. Past the days of parlors (and whorehouses, I suspect), this chair never looked like it belonged. It just didn't look quite right with their green shag carpet, ya know?

Still, this chair appealed to me, and when my grandparents died, I knew I wanted it. We tried it in the living room, but it just wasn't a look I was going for. Still formulating that look apparently. It landed in the dining room for awhile, but it was damned uncomfortable at the table (too low), even though the red looked really lovely against the turquoise walls.

0911_tart4 We have a bare corner in our bedroom where once sat a leather club chair that Neel took into his office, and suddenly this weekend it struck me that Tart's Boudoir would look really nice against the dark blue walls. I had but to suggest it to my husband, and he snuck it up when I wasn't looking. It works, it really works. There's a window on this side of the room, and even curtained it lets in the most delicious shaft of subtle light.

The Tart's Boudoir belongs. In my bedroom no less.

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what we did

0911_Callums_Room9 The nature of gifts change as our children grow, and we're not buying boxes of Legos for birthday gifts anymore...sniff. For some reason this birthday felt different (and fear not, I'm already worried about how we'll handle THIRTEEN), what with turning twelve and entering 6th grade and all. At Callum's school it's not middle school, but oh lordy it's close. Anyway. This year felt milestoney somehow and we wanted to honor what a big deal turing tween seemed to be.

We've been joking for years that when Callum became a teenager he'd move into our third floor attic, fondly referred to as the "soft stairs." Callum named it when we moved in because it's the only room in our house that has carpet. But let's face it folks, I don't think he'll ever sleep up there.

What he might do however, is play up there.

And I guess that's what I mean when I say that things have changed. He plays differently now. Friends running in and out, the Wii or X-box on. So maybe a growing up kind of boy needs a growing up kind of space for himself.

Trouble is, our attic has been looking like this.

  Attic2 I apologize for the iPhone photo. And I have to admit that this picture was taken not at the beginning of the clearing out process, but part way through it. Pretty scary, huh? We've just been throwing stuff up into that cave for years. I swear I could feel the weight of all that crap just bearing down on me, you know?

So what did we do on our summer vacation?



0811_Room_prep3 We cleaned out the attic! We knew we couldn't manage this as a surprise, and we wanted Callum to be involved in every step of the way. As soon as he picked the paint color (Pier 14 by Valspar at Lowes), we started the big clear out. After that the big paint. As soon as the walls were covered, we kicked Callum out to do the rest and surprise him on his birthday.







0911_Callums_Room8 We still have some work to do. Hook up the X-Box and a DVD player, touch up some paint. And isn't Callum's paint choice inspired? I never would have gone in that direction, but it totally makes the room. We had red velvet birthday cake and watched the Phillies on the donated flat screen (thanks, Tyler!). I'm so happy about this space for him. The Wii will stay downstairs, so hopefully we'll still see him sometimes, but in the meantime, this is good. Really good.

And in case you thought we'd had enough celebrating around here, today's my mom's birthday! Happy Birthday, Mom!

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0911_patio3 When we moved to the Little Gray House (eight years ago now), I bought all sorts of gardening books. It was our first time not living in an apartment or condo, and I thought gardening might be my thing. Turns out, not so much. I like being outside. I like plants and planning things for the yard, but I'm not passionate about it. I don't have the knack. Neel does. It's his place. It took him awhile to figure it out, but our yard and building our garden has become his passion. I was all too happy to hand over the reins. Turns out I'm the house person. We tend to do things pretty much in conjunction with each other (e.g. In Ikea last week I desperately wanted a gorgeous cream shag rug, but bowed to his better judgement and didn't get it. We do have three dogs and an almost 12 year old boy, you know.), and I don't think there's a thing in the house that he hates or a thing in the yard that I don't love. But still, the yard his his space and the house is mine. Where we each call the shots. Where we each have dominion.

0911_patio4 That doesn't mean I don't get to come play along sometimes. Right now, Neel is in the process of building us a patio, based on an idea from this blog. In addition to the 2x2 squares (and lordy there are a lot of those to pour), he decided to also pour four 4x4 squares in the center of the patio. My dad helped pour the first, which was clearly the most arduous (sorry, dad!), and our neighbor Tyler showed up in time to pour the second (it went a lot faster...sorry dad!).

Yesterday, Callum managed to go golfing just in time to pour the third. That left me.

Each 4x4 requires about 12 or 13 bags of concrete, which Neel pours one at a time. That part comes after  excavating and placing and leveling the mold. I helped dig. I helped square the mold and level it too. Then I was in charge of watering the concrete and scraping it out of the wheel barrow into the mold. It didn't take long for us to get a rhythm going, and it was fun! Hard work, sure, but so satisfying too. The concrete part took us less than an hour, and all told, I think we worked on it about an hour and a half. Not a bad Labor Day's labor.

0711_patio1 Three down with one more (big one) to go. It's exciting to see Neel's vision take shape, and it felt so good to be working on it together. I think we make a good team.

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cooking with grandma

We started cleaning out our attic yesterday. Backbreaking work. You should have seen the place. And you will, pretty soonish. Before and afters. We have big plans for that room. We cranked the AC, and moved and sorted, and Neel used the shop-vac on the dirtiest bits. There were a lot of those. It was a perfect day to get into a project like that, gray and rainy, and cool in the deep dark of the house. We ordered in for lunch. There's still a lot to do, but when we got to a stopping place and looked around it was already five.

In my infinite wisdom, I decided that I wanted lettuce wraps and hot and sour soup for dinner. Why, oh why did I not just throw something on the grill? Why didn't we order out again? Why didn't we have breakfast for dinner, which I can make blindfolded and standing on my head? No. I wanted Asian and labor intensive. The soup takes a bajillion ingredients and a million steps. The lettuce wraps take 100,000 ingredients and 10,000 steps. All at once. What was I thinking? Boiling soup makes the kitchen hot. Boiling rice makes the kitchen hot. A hot wok makes the kitchen hot.

The funny thing, and I'm not sure why it's funny, is that the whole time I was cooking, I thought about my Grandma Mercedes. My mom's mom. I wrote about her here, a long time ago. As I mentioned then, Grandma was an amazing cook and baker, the kind of intuitive in the kitchen who could taste a dish and list its ingredients for you. She made simple foods, good basic cooking. Corn pudding. Hot chicken salad. Pie crust to die for. Even though she loved Chinese food, she didn't really make it, so it seemed funny to think about her while stirring my hot and sour soup. But when I tasted the special sauce for my lettuce wraps and I wasn't quite right, I thought about her. When I tasted the filling for the lettuce wraps and felt like they needed more...something, well, I thought about her then too. The soup was a surprise. I hadn't made it before, and while it wasn't quite what we'd order at Number Seven down the street, or even PF Changs, it was still hot and sour soup. I think she would have liked it.

We watched A Few Good Men (the clean TV version -  Callum's been in to courtroom drama since he hung out with the judge a few weeks back) while we ate dinner, and I was too tired to go find my camera to take a picture for this post. I just reached behind me for my phone where it sat on the sofa. That's all I could handle. We're all still tired today, but yesterday was good.

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house love

Diningroom-1 It's been a whirl of gaiety around these parts lately. My mom was here for nearly a week, and just as she left we geared up for some dinners out and dinners in. The dog hair is driving me crazy. Just as I thought we were on a downswing, it's as if the girls have started shedding again. There's no keeping up with it. We had some new-ish friends for dinner on Saturday, and when we have company the girls go into their crates on the sunporch. I mentioned the dogs to Beth, the wife of the couple who came to dinner, and she was stunned to hear we even had dogs. In my head I did a HUGE fist pump in victory over the dog hair. By Sunday we needed to vacuum again. But on Saturday night things looked good.

I am in full-on house love right now. Sort of. There's so much I want to do here in the little gray house. Indoors and out. But this space feels good. Summer vacation is so good for helping me feel on top of things (like the dog hair, and the dusting...). The living room still eludes me. Upholstering may be more trouble than it's worth, but I'm not sure how much longer I can stand to look at our not chic-ly shabby furniture. And remember that long list of things that I mentioned wanting? It includes new dining room chairs too. Still, it feels good in here.

Neel's working on the back patio. I'll post some pictures of his progress here really soon. He has a rhythm where every Saturday morning, first thing, he heads to Lowe's to buy concrete. He pours four pads each weekend, and lets them sit through the week. The following weekend he pops the pads out of their molds (using the broken ones to line a path) and starts all over again. Slowly, slowly a patio is growing.

Since I'm on a France Mayes kick these days (I re-read her books every few years, and summer more than any other time seems to be the time I dive in to ex-pat/house love/culture shock memoir.), I've decided that I want a long, rustic table for the patio. A table for parties (we want to have more parties) and dinners and lingering in the summer evening light. Neel thinks he can make that too. And Callum, bless his heart, has decided that rather than a party at Go-Kart world, or even Great Wolf Lodge, all he wants for his 12th birthday is a neighborhood cookout. I love that about him. He's happiest here, surrounded by his neighborhood family, grown-ups and kids alike. We have a little time to prepare, but the patio (and table?) will need to be ready for that.

So it feels good in here, and the order is part of that. When I was 14, my family traveled to London for our summer vacation. After we came back, I had a cigar-type box in which I kept a few souvenirs. Some British pounds, subway tokens, museum ticket stubs, playbills...that kind of thing. As appealing to me as looking at each individual thing I kept in that box was the satisfying order of the items in the box itself. I like order. I'm just not so good at it.

I've made a commitment to myself to just knuckle down and make the bed every single day. It's not at all hard...just sometimes hard to get around to. It's made such a difference. Like the order of that made bed filters down to the whole house. Neel and I were sitting in the front yard having a chat yesterday afternoon and some friends-of-friends walked by with their daughter. Our house is pretty fetching from the outside (I can say that because I just bought the place, I didn't build it!), and the wife of this couple was so sweet and admiring about it. I suggested that she come in and take a look around (knowing that I'd fought the dog hair and won, just the day before), and it felt really nice just to offer my sweet home up and show it off to this near stranger. I think it was the made bed that made me unafraid to do that. We even went upstairs!

I'm not going say there isn't clutter around. There's a pile of junk by the phone that never goes away. Right now there are placemats drying on the counter in the kitchen hallway. Once when being invited for the first time into the house of a woman I much love and admire, she explained the folded laundry on the dining room table by saying, "We live in our house." I quite like that. It's not a show place here. We live in our house. But I'm gaining order. I'm finding balance. It feels good in here.

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come and see the kitchen, what it is

There were three things about this kitchen remodel that were really important to me. Open shelving, concrete counters, and a gas range. I stuck to my guns on all three, and I'm so glad I did. The open shelving took convincing the contractors. I know, you shouldn't have to convince your contractor, but they did try to talk us out of them. Someone pointed out that you'll see the clutter. Well, we have plenty of cabinets to hide the cluttery stuff. Someone else pointed out that the stuff on the shelves will get dusty. Well, I have an answer for that too. The things on the bottom shelf, and most of the middle shelf really, we use almost every day. The things on the top shelf, my pretty platters, well we always wash them before we use them anyway. Dust-schmust.

Kitchen-4 The gas range was important to me too. I would not say that it took convincing necessarily, but Neel might have needed time to understand how important cooking with gas was to me. Given that getting gas to the kitchen was a tricky task, I had a bit of a stand to take, but he gets it. Cooking is a big part of sustaining our family, not only physically but emotionally. We had a gas stove in California, I dearly missed it when we moved here to Virginia. This stove has an electric oven (bonus) and a griddle that we use all the time. It's good. Good to me and good to our family.

Kitchen-15 I felt pretty strongly about concrete counters too. Partly for the look, partly to not take something else away from the earth, and partly just to be different! Neel took some convincing here too. After he let me do some research and looked into it with me, he was on board. Our contractor didn't have any experience with concrete, so I can't blame him for suggesting granite. We didn't want granite.

Kitchen-3 Here's the sink. You can't see it in this picture, but under the dish rack the counter is sloped to help the water drain into the sink. Neel loves that part.


Kitchen-6 It was our concrete guy who recommended that we place tiles from the backsplash in the counter in the hallway. Good call! The thing that's tricky with concrete is that you can do anything you want with it. Any color, most any shape. If you want to add your wine-bottle collection, well, do that too. It was hard to decide. Ultimately (obviously) we thought that the dark charcoal would provide a nice contrast to the light cabinets.


Kitchen-5 Now the hallway and kitchen go together.

Kitchen-10 The backsplash ties into the counter in the hall...cohesive. My mom got me that gorgeous stockpot for Mother's Day. I love the way it looks in here.

Kitchen-11 We put in new floors too. The old floors were pretty beat up, and knowing that we couldn't match the orignal floors in the house we went with full-on contrast. The floors tie the hall, kitchen and family room all together.

Kitchen-13 Here's the family room from the dining room doorway.

Kitchen-14 Violet loves it there.

 Are there things we don't like or things we wish we'd done differently? Oh, sure. The sink is a bit low to be as deep as it is. Especially for taller folk. I wish we had a better placement for the microwave too. Right now it's on the counter in the hallway (see above), and I really, really don't like it there. I'm working on it though. Much as I'd love to tuck it away somewhere, I'm not sure it's possible. At this point I'd settle for getting it up off the counter. Maybe a shelf above the counter in the hall, but I might be getting carried away with shelves! We need some doors in the hallway, one in particular to hide a storage area (I'm leaning frosted.), and I'd like a better bar/wine cabinet. In the family room, the coffee table is too small, but it works for now. We probably could use a better tv table too...more to scale. But seriously? That's it. Not too bad.

Kitchen-1 This might be my favorite part of the house, but...

Kitchen-12 I'm not sure the dogs agree.

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come and see the kitchen, what it was

Our neighbors Rebecca and Evans are remodeling their kitchen, and watching their process really takes me back to our whole major kitchen re-do. I'm happy in this space every day, and believe me, we spend a lot of time in this space every day. I'm not sure I ever gave a tour of the finished project (There are still bits and pieces of quarter round to go up, but what project is ever really finished, ya know?), so I thought I'd do that. But first, let's look back, shall we, to what once was...

IMG_1855 It started like this. When I had the flu and was home sick for a week, I watched a lot of HGTV. HGTV is perfect when you have the flu (or any other illness, I imagine) because you can be awake for the first part, doze off for the middle, and stir yourself just at the end to see the final product. All I wanted to do was paint the walls (they were, at the time, a rich mustardy yellow) and get a new backsplash. We ended up with new paint and a new backsplash, yes, but also counters, floors, a new range and hood, sink, dishwasher, and a whole new hallway/room. Not too shabby. However, because I often think that Neel thinks I'm the excessive one in our marriage, I feel it's necessary to remind him that all I wanted was to paint and maybe put in a new backsplash.

  IMG_2605 Here's a really messy in-progress "before" shot. Note the detrius on the counter. Note also the mustard walls, going gray and the hated backsplash above the stove. Fortunately, getting rid of the backsplash meant getting rid of the counter, which I also hated. Let me see if I have a picture of that....

IMG_5167 Lordy, I hated that counter. U G L Y. Buh-bye.

Last 12 Months - 0079 For a long time we lived with the pantry in the family room and dining room. Neel attached a faucet to a piece of plywood so we'd have a sink, but was rough. And dusty. More on the dust in a bit.

Last 12 Months - 0093 The kitchen gets demolished and cabinets get delivered.

Last 12 Months - 0180   Cabinets get installed.

Last 12 Months - 1640 Counters get built and installed.

Last 12 Months - 0148 Through it all (and the installation of the concrete farmhouse sink was especially tricky), Neel kept laughing. That's why I married him, people.

Last 12 Months - 0141 After we started on the kitchen, Neel couldn't help but take a look at the useless little hallway we had off the kitchen. This hall ended with the living room on the other side of the back wall. It was narrow and dark, housed a pantry of sorts and a big water heater. It was my friend Mark who first suggestedt that we look into blowing a hole into that wall, making a straight path from the front door through the kitchen.

Last 12 Months - 0346 Neel's tricky. He lulls you into thinking he's cautious, but as soon as he decided on something, he pulls the trigger. He surprised me with that little hole - that's the wall on the living room side.

Last 12 Months - 0361 It quickly became this.

Last 12 Months - 0367 Then this.

Last 12 Months - 0435 And this.

Last 12 Months - 2536 Cue the electrician. (only the best electrician ever, by the way)

Last 12 Months - 2814 Add some gorgeous plaster work...

Last 12 Months - 2615

Last 12 Months - 2985 And in addition to a new kitchen, we have a hallway/butler's pantry...with a door at either end. When Neel and I first started talking about re-doing the kitchen, I pointed out that we spend 90% of our waking time in the kitchen and family room. Why not make it something we really, really loved? And now we do. While I feel like there are maybe one or two things I'd do differently, and a couple things I'd still like to figure out, for the most part, we didn't compromise at all. Check back tomorrow to see how it all turned out.

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Mantle-1 So the great living room redo continues apace. Slowly, but still. It continues. I painted the fireplace wall, which had been a color called "tamarind" (It can be seen here.), and now it's PINK. I know, PINK! It's almost barely pink, and I love it. Actually everyone does. I'm so glad I went with my instincts and just did it. The room already feels lighter and brighter.

Cabinet-1 Finally, finally, we're I'm starting to tackle painting the trim. Of course the dentil moulding is taking three coats. Of course it is. But, oh good grief, it looks so much better. I can't believe we waited so long. So the windows are done, the baseboards almost, and the dentil...Well, we're working on it.

Next up, furniture. I'm not sure I'm going to manage Mark's $500 limit (we have to reupholster a sofa and need at least one new chair), but I'll try.

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harvest (#2)

Potatoes-3 After reading the information that came with the Yukon gold potatoes that Neel planted (which basically said, "harvest when ready"), we decided to pull out a test batch.

Potatoes-2 Baby potatoes!

Potatoes-1 It may have been early to pull them, but they sure were tasty (cleaned up and cooked, of course!). We're going to let the others go a bit longer, but it's hard to wait. It's a process, I know, and so far Neel's test garden has been a delight. We're battling squirrles and sometimes birds, but everyday there's something new to see. Those are the kinds of works-in-progress I like.

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first harvest

Basil We had our first harvest from Neel's garden for dinner this week. Nearly everything is growing, the potatoes and tomatoes especially. The corn is as high as a beagle's eye.

Carmelized onion and chicken quesadillas. Never mind that he brought basil when I asked for cilantro, it was wonderful to flavor our food with herbs from the garden.

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corners of my mind

BannisterWe had a great weekend around here. Starting with Mexican food in the backyard on Friday night (I still owe the cornbread recipe to some folks), and then Field Day at Callum's school on Saturday. Field Day is A.Big.Deal. at Callum's school. It was our first real Field Day (although we'd been invited last year as a new family) so we kept asking around, "How long has Field Day been going on?" Pretty much as long as anyone could remember, really. Someone placed it back as far as the fifties, and that made sense. There's a raffle at the end, and just before the last item was raffled off the headmaster spoke and asked what we'd been asking all day. "Who knows how long Field Day has been going on?" (I had to wonder if he asks that question every year, why more people couldn't be definitive in their answers.) How's this? Since 1891. That's a long time. The Lower School alone sold over 20,000 raffle tickets, and apparently there's a tradition at the end of the day where everyone throws their tickets up in the air. It was quite beautiful, actually. I tried to take a picture with my phone, but my camera on that thing moves as slowly as I do some days. It's getting old. Aren't we all.

And my Mother's Day was quite lovely, thank you. We went out for a delicious brunch, and Neel and Callum got me a tripod for my camera (that picture of our bannister was one of the first shots I took using it.). We ran some errands, and I took some pictures for my class assignment this week (You'll see those on Thursday, probably.) It started out cloudy and then the sun came out. A great day, really.

Lately, through all the work I've been doing and big decisions I've been making and pictures I've been taking, there is a corner of my mind where all I can think about is redecorating my living room. Deep stuff, here people. I may have mentioned before that it's been a rough winter around these parts. Every so often panic would set in, and I'd fear we'd have to leave this house and sweet life we've built for ourselves here (job issues are the worst). For the most part, I'm pretty good at trusting that things will be okay, but those moments were few and far between in the dark days of winter this year. Now that we're coming into the light of spring and things are looking up, I'm ready to redecorate! It's almost like Neel and I have had a recommittment ceremony to the house. His work in the back yard is paying off in spades. We love how the kitchen turned out. It's a good place to be, this house. And I'm ready to turn my attention to the living room. It feels heavy and dark and thrown together to me, so while I'm not sure exactly what I want it to be yet, I do know what I don't want it to be.

Summer is around the corner and change is in the air.

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victory garden

Wheelbarrow (1 of 1) Neel's been getting his hands dirty (and everything else) pretty much every weekend. It's thrilling to see the backyard come together. There's still A LOT to do, but slowly, slowly we're he's making progress.

Garden (1 of 1) This weekend he focused on the vegetable garden. Using wood reclaimed from our kitchen demolition (all but one small piece of 2X4), he created raised beds in the sunniest part of the yard. A good, rich mix of soil went into them, and the dogs were ordered to "keep out!"

Neel & Callum (1 of 1) Sunday was planting day. Neel and Callum worked together to figure out the optimal placement for everything. He has a mix of seeds and plants (even corn!), fruits and vegetables. We both agree that this is trial and error year, but I'm so excited to see it start to come together. I'm looking forward to a bounty of veggies this summer. There's part of me that can't wait, but the bigger part of me is grateful for this part of the process as much as I know I'll be grateful when our little garden really produces. The waiting and watching is just as important as what comes at the end.

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the blue rain room

Studio desk 2 As a physical space, the Blue Rain Room still completely exists. It's become a workhorse of a room, in fact. In an email on the Friday before last, I told my friend Seamane (who is also an editor of mine) that I had so much work to do, but all I really wanted was rearrange my office. Don't worry, S., I waited until the weekend, (!) but I'm so glad I just did it.

Studioshelf This room used to be at the back of the house. When we moved in, the previous owners were finishing an addition that added a master bedroom and made what used to be just a bedroom into more of a pass-through room. It's hard to know what to do with a pass-through room. If we'd had a babe, it would have made a great nursery, but as it is, if the room's purpose isn't clearly defined, it becomes a dump-all kind of place. The place where you drop the pile of books that you've already read before you head back to bed to read more. My wall of yarn was there, my sewing machine and the ironing board. And when I started writing from home more full time, there went the laptop. But still, there went the knitting needles from the last project I worked on and the pants that needed a button sewn on. And when I'm trying to write, I feel the weight of all that stuff pressing down on me.

Studiodesk So we put the sewing machine, which I rarely use, away. I can get to it easily, though. I moved a bookcase to free up some wall space to start hanging more pictures, and we I cleared off the tops of shelves and tables. It felt good.

Studiodesk2 I spent a lot of time figuring out exactly how I use my desk (I need room for the mouse and extra room to write notes; I want the books right in front of my face and the pencils too...) before settling on just how I wanted things arranged there. I thought about eliminating one of the shelves (more wall space for photos), but Neel talked me out of it. I talked to Neel about my pipe dream of a Mac side-by-side with my laptop (our Mac is a family computer and it's downstairs) in this space for photo editing, and he pretended to be interested, but he gets nervous when I spend even pretend money. So that didn't go very far...

Studio table So it is a work horse of a room. It's my home office, steps from my bed, where I spend many hours a day writing, but we also wanted it to reflect more of the photography work I'm doing. I used to set my lighbox up on my ironing board, which sat in front of that window. We moved the ironing board out and the table (which had floated awkwardly in the middle of the room) to its place. That wall above the lamp is wide open for photos. 

Studio wall The bulletin board got cleaned off and is awaiting more photos and inspiration. I can't wait.

Oddly, the hardest part for me was that darn ironing board. I mean good grief! But seriously people, even if I don't iron much, you can NOT deny the convenience of having the board set up and ready to go if you need to do a quick swipe on a pair of pants before work. At one point Neel cautioned that I may need to just fold up the ironing board and get it out when I need it. But I know myself, and I need that ironing board to stay out or we're going to be walking around with A) wrinkled clothes or B) a diminishing wardrobe as the pile of wrinkled clothes grows. So I set it up in the guest room. It's there waiting for me. I can live with folding it up when we have company.

Studio I like it that in a lot of these pictures you can see my ubiquitous can of seltzer. I should have also probably added my Tervis tumbler full of tea, without which I can't seem to start my day. Or my laptop actually open (ha!). Or me banging my head against my desk as I can't make a sentence work or find a bit of information I need. Now that would have been authentic!

But even without these things, the room feels good. Right and proper. Fairly minimal, with clean lines and filled with the stuff that's important to me (minus the additional Mac, of course). I'm lucky I get to work here.

PS: Still shooting in RAW. Not so sure about it...

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words to the wise

IMG_2023 And since we were talking about food, I wanted to take a quick second to show you guys a piece I just got for our dining room. It came from Selma's, which I mentioned last week. (There's a whole post about that place coming soon, I promise...) I'd been in the store taking photos for a few hours, and my eye kept landing on this Box Sign. I'd been looking and looking for something for one spot in our dining room, and I couldn't resist. The woman who makes these (Primitives by Kathy) has many versions that are less, ahem, pointed. This seemed to suit our needs the best, however.

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about that glow

IMG_8317 Our family room, which is also our kitchen, is the coldest room in our house. The room where we spend 90% of our time is downright chilly in the winter. We joke that we heat our house along the lines of drafty Britsh coutry homes (circa WWII), but the tall French doors, which I love, don't contain the little heat that we do have.

I've been angling for one of those sweet electric fireplaces, but Neel is having none of it. Instead he dragged out our old kerosene heater and fired that puppy up. It's the kerosene heater from his childhood. From the drafty old house he grew up in. And let's face it, despite how ugly it may be, that thing is a dream.

IMG_8322 It casts a lovely glow and heat around the room, and we feel quite toasty cozied up around it. The dogs, as you can see, were wary at first. Lucy, poor Lucy, is wary of everything. She's the most skittish beagle you'll ever meet.

IMG_8323 Thea Turbo McFatty had different plans. She loves the heat, and she is unafraid. The first night we had it out, she watched it from the safety of her bed; every clatter of the heater's handle had her ears alert. By the second night, she was asleep with her head on its base. Toasty.

Still, I haven't given up on my hope for a fireplace. You knew that, right?

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washed up

IMG_8117 As is typical for us around Christmas time, we had a major appliance break down this year. Two years ago, the refrigerator. This time it was the dishwasher. To date, we simply have not had time to go and look for a new one. As Neel is the chief bottle-washer, this change impacts his life most directly.

We're all stepping up. Well, I'm stepping up. Normally, I can not be accused of having dishpan hands. Our division of labor falls, and I think I've told you this before, so that I'm primarily doing what I like, which is the cooking, and Neel is doing primarily what he likes, which is keeping things clean. 

We don't make a ton of dishes, but it's too much for one person to tackle alone. So I take better care when I'm cooking to clean as I go, and I help dry when Neel has a big batch in front of him. Our sink is big and deep, and he fills it with hot and soapy water. If I'm moving around in other parts of the house, I can hear the burble of the water and the clink of the plates and glasses. (Given Neel's propensity for breaking our glassware, this could get dicey, but so far so good!) A couple of days ago he said, "I actually kind of like doing the dishes like this. It's nice, and you can look out the window."

Now if you know Neel at all, doesn't this sound just like him? It really does, but I had to find out too. So one day when he was at work and we had a load piling up, I filled the sink myself and began the rhythm of rinse and soap, wash and rinse. It's the rhythm that draws him, and it draws me too. Rinse and soap, wash and rinse. He's right. You can look out the window, and you sort of lose yourself there and in the rhythm of the work. I'm reminded of a line from Enchanted April, "Your mind slips sideways." I should watch that again.

When I was growing up, doing the dishes was a family affair. Each of us had a job, and there was a rhythm to that too. My mom cleared and put away and my dad washed while I loaded the dishwasher. Rinse and soap, wash and rinse. That evening ritual was as significant as was our sitting down to the table together. Our rhythm here is different. There is much homework to be done, both before and after dinner, and blog posts to be written. So Neel bears the brunt of this important work each night. But I hear the water splash in the sink, and the clink of a glass, and it's all connected. I'm a little girl again. The past is now. Rinse and soap, wash and rinse.

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palette cleanse

IMG_5684 After years of near-riotious explosions of color, we're finally calming things down a bit around here. When we first moved from California I worried a lot about leaving light behind. We'd grown quite used to endless days of sunny skies, and facing winter again was a daunting task. I'm almost embarrassed to admit that I went a little crazy with the pastels for awhile there in an effort to counterbalance what I feared would be months on end of leaden gray, early dark afternoons. Our hall and entry was a sunny yellow, and for a (brief) while the living room was an almost sky blue. It was cheery all right.

In the seven years since we've been here, the dining room, living room and family room/kitchen have all changed color several times (the dining room and living room both a grand total of three each -yikes!), and we've gradually moved to a more muted color palette. Our family room is a sea gray (color: zircon from Sherwin Williams), the dining room is Valspar Brilliant Metals from Lowes, sort of a Tiffany box blue color, and the living room, also from Valspar is a creamy pearl. (I did a quick internet search for the actual names of the colors and didn't have much luck. Besides, I seriously doubt you're going to run out and paint your house just! like! mine! anyway.)

These three colors feel good together. They feel subtle and minimal, which was the sense I wanted in this wandery downstairs of a house, but that left large parts of the place with those (admittedly cheery) pastels that just didn't feel right anymore.

IMG_5693 Say goodbye to The Lavender Room. Remember our guest room with all of my grandmother's lovely things? What I decided I wanted was a unified color in the downstairs entryway, the stairwell (pictured at the start of this post), the upstairs hall and the guest room. One seamless flow of creamy white.

IMG_5705 So we started with the guest room. The alcove in that room is such a sweet spot that we kept it purple, but I wasn't even very sad to paint over the rest of it with that bright, warm white (Fresh Cotton, also Valspar, also Lowes).

IMG_5687 I'm glad we kept that little nod to the way it used to be. Although my dad was the first to stay in the rehabed room, I thought about my mom a lot as we I painted. It was her mom who loved purple so much. Her mom's painting hangs on the wall. Her mom's bed sits cozily piled with comfy blankets and pillows. But it seems though that my mom gets nothing but bad news when she stays in this room, so I'm hoping the color change will bring a sea-change for her in that regard.

IMG_5689 As the first strokes of the roller went on, I tried to fill them with warm and hopeful thoughts, but the Kilz was such a pain in the butt that I soon gave up and just wanted finished with the darn thing. So much for a sea change. My irritated mood might be more fitting, though! We didn't call my grandmother Eeyore for nothing.



IMG_5696 We didn't stop at the walls in this room. Added a shelf for some books, and topped it with a sweet blue fan from etsy to replace the ceiling fan we took out. Switched out some dressers and gave the ladder back chair we use as a night stand new life with some silver spray paint. Alfie pointed out that it's nice to have a chair to put your jammies on, so in when another chair, and hey! What about a mirror? That might be a nice thing for guests to use. All it lacks is a flat screen tv and a mini fridge and people may never want to leave.

After I got past the irritated part of the project, I moved straight into worried (one of the 8 stages of painting {excited, undecided, resolved, excited (again) worried, tired, whiny and satisfied}). Was it too white? Was it not warm enough? Too like the trim? Does it look like we don't care about color? Because we really do care about color! When I thought about these walls in my mind, I was thinking about maybe Parisian apartment or country farmhouse. Spare, unadorned. Beauty in their simplicity. In the old part of our house the walls are heavily plastered, and I wanted that work to shine. A few weeks later we were painting the hall the same white, and when Neel was doing the hard ceiling part, he said, "I really like this color, it reminds me of the whitewashed walls on those houses we saw in Greece."

Okay. I think we got it right.

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