his Tom Sawyer moment

IMG_5246 We've been in this house for seven years now and in the last year have really just started settling into it. I have more to say about that. All my thoughts about sinking into this home deserve a post of their own, I suppose. But this post is about Callum and the fence. We've added a tiny bit of fencing, perpinducular to the house to train some plants and such along. It's the one idea about the front yard that I've had that Neel actually agreed to. The fence went in two weeks ago, and last weekend Callum painted it.

IMG_5254 We paid him cold hard cash to do the job, and he made great work of it. He was nervous at first, but he took his work very seriously (much more so than his father would have, ahem). As a result, the fence looks great. We have another step to get the project completely finished (that will involve more painting and another paycheck, I imagine), and I'll post pictures after that. Nice work, young man.

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IMG_2743 Since redoing our family room, we needed something on the wall above the computer. I thought about blowing up one of my photos, but couldn't quite find the look I was looking for in this spot. I wanted a pop of color, something funky and original.

Enter etsy. Such fun to go browsing. I could do it (and almost do!) every day.

IMG_2080 I found this vinyl wall letter at Circleline Studio, and it feels like the perfect choice for this spot. The walls are more blue than the gray that appears in this photo, and the tangerine of the "K" is a perfect pop of contrast. It took a lot for me not to put vinyl decals on every wall.

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Last 12 Months - 4554 Our kitchen project is finally nearing completion (I know! Can you believe it?). There have been several milestones that I've failed to document here, and one of those important ones was the backsplash. I plan on writing a post on how it all began... once we've reached completion, but a new backsplash was a big part of it. Once the counters were in, Neel took a class and tackled the tiling. He learned pretty quickly that there's a difference between tiling horizontally (like they did in the class) and vertically (like on our wall), but he managed it. He sees all the imperfections, but I think it's beautiful.

Last 12 Months - 4556 I helped with the grouting and even that was harder than it looks on the DIY network!

Last 12 Months - 4692 Imperfections or not, I think it's beautiful.

Last 12 Months - 4852 Even better than I expected, and how often does that happen?

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while he was out

IMG_0549 Callum went away with some friends (and their parents, of course) on Friday, so Neel and I decided to take the time and blow out a room makeover for him.

IMG_0551 His room was last painted when we first moved here and he was four. So while it's a great room, the vibrant colors and chalkboard border had become a bit juvenile for him. Picking out a color proved tricky, which is part of why we waited until he got out of town. He wanted blue, and I was down with that. But Callum's choices fell in the electric, or neon category. I wanted a blue we could all live with, and it proved a bit trickier to pick than I anticipated.

IMG_0554 We'd already moved out all the toys and ten year old's clobber (Junk is in the eye of the beholder, I guess.), so Neel came home early, and we moved all the furniture to the center of the room and started taping things up.

IMG_0569 Afterwards, the Kilz to get rid of all those bright colors.

IMG_0602 We caught a huge break because the Kilz and the paint only took one coat each. That meant we finished painting Friday night and were able to use Saturday to put the room back together.

IMG_0804 New shelves for all those toys (pared down a bit).

IMG_0619 A cleared off desk,

IMG_0608 and a cozy spot to sleep. Neel and I were so happy and the room looks so nice. Callum, however, was totally underwhelmed. Too jacked up from his overnight, I suppose. He's saying that he likes it, though. That it's a room he can relax in. Thank goodness for that. The kid could use some relaxation like nobody's business.

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weekend wonderland

IMG_9709 Oh, hearts beating with unadulterated joy. This is what we woke up to Saturday morning. What a dream! A dream snow fall. The excitement started on Friday as the predictions rolled in. Everywhere there was a sense of anticipation and giddiness. Neel and I went to dinner at our favorite, pre-storm restaurant, just to keep the momentum going. By the time we all tucked into bed, nothing.

I woke up around 1-2 a.m. and still nothing.

IMG_9802 At four, when I looked out again, the rooftops were covered. We managed to stay in bed until seven, but after that I couldn't wait for Callum to finally see it. This poor Southern Californian boy yearns for snow and doesn't get enough of it here.

IMG_9818 The view out the windows was stunning.

IMG_9794 Even with the snow beating down, everyone came outside.

IMG_9772 There were sleds to be pulled and snowballs to be thrown. (Although the real snowball fight came Sunday until someone -no names mentioned- threw a snowball at his dad and cut his eyelid. The dad had to be taken to the ER for five stitches, and even though it was a total accident and didn't happen to my family, all the moms were probably thinking, "It's all fun and games until someone gets an eye poked out.") 

IMG_9757 It snowed all day. A real event around these parts. Neel brought in so much firewood that we had to pile it on the floor.

IMG_9826 I snuggled up in a cozy spot, while Callum was out, out, out. Only coming in to change out his three layers of socks. Weekend wonderland.

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home stretch (for Mark)

IMG_9291 We had a bit of a Christmas Miracle with the hallway. On Christmas Eve, after Graham finished putting in the lights, Neel moved the cabinets back into the pantry.

IMG_9292 On Christmas Day, after presents and before dinner, we cleared the shelves that had been sitting in the living room and loaded the cabinets. We still have a long-ish way to go. Shelves, counter, floors, doors and some new piece for the bar. But it's a working pantry now. I love it. Like a weight off.

IMG_9294 This picture is especially for Mark. It was his original idea to put in the doorway, and I'm so glad we did. A whole new room, but the house feels more open and intimate. I need to thank him, and we should probably do it in person.

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progress continues apace

IMG_8868 We've hit a new phase of the hallway renovation... the part I don't get to be around for.

IMG_8867 While we've been at work and school, the drywall went up and the doorway was framed out.

IMG_8872 It's definitely starting to feel more like a room. I have mixed feeling about this part of the process, because I've enjoyed the being there for it all. I've enjoyed meeting the people who have worked on the little gray house and seeing the work as it happened. Still, there's no denying the special thrill of coming home to such a transformation.

IMG_8884 Especially when this is the transformation! Hello Violet.

IMG_8886 The plasterers were in and out on Monday and I walked in that evening, speechless with delight. We're coming home late every evening and it's been cloudy, so there's no way that my camera can capture the artistry of the work they did in the hallway. I was simply stunned. I don't even want to paint!

IMG_8889 Now we really do have a room!

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it's electric

IMG_8839 I think I've enjoyed no one more in this process than our electrician, Graham. He was lovely. He probably wouldn't like it that I've called him lovely, but I quite like him. At one point I said to Neel, "He's my kind of guy," and Callum took great umbrage at that. "So's Papa," he said hotly. Well, duh. But Neel knew what I meant.

IMG_8841 The place is in a midden again, but not due to him. He powered through the electrical rough in of the new hallway, and it was fascinating to watch him figure things out. He spent his evenings here and most of a rainy Sunday where I kept the Redskins game on so he could listen (poor sap) while he worked. 

IMG_8782 He went

IMG_8782 under

IMG_8784 the house. Where little dogs fear to tread.


IMG_8790 And he even let Callum help.



IMG_8799 I don't know what part Callum enjoyed more: pulling up the wires through the hole in the floor or talking to the man under the house through that same hole. Whatever. We have boxes for outlets and switches and dimmers and I'm looking around for more for him to do.

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wide open spaces

IMG_7770 It occurred to me as I was putting things on the shelves, that this is a bit of a dream come true for me.  Open shelves in the kitchen.  A coming true of a pretty old dream.  I had such fun deciding what pieces were going to go in this space.  My very favorite kind of editing.  They look pretty nice, don't they? 

IMG_7764 You know those boxes that they sell at craft stores?  The kind that holds video tapes or photos?  Although who has video tapes anymore?  Anyway, I have one of those boxes filled with clippings of rooms and houses from decorating magazines.  Inspiration.  The one time I let someone peek, she pointed out that a huge chunk of my pictures were of banks of white-framed windows.  Windows after windows after windows.  It's fascinating to me what threads other people find that may have escaped my notice. 

I guess another thread for me are these open shelves in the kitchen.  Many, many years ago, my in-laws had a cottage in western Virginia that I loved.  Simple home, a combined kitchen-dining-living room with a view for days.  And the kitchen had open shelves.  Now, looking at my own kitchen, I remember that kitchen, seen over fifteen years ago, and I remember my box of inspirations.  I pulled out page after page of of kitchens like these Wide open spaces, spare of cabinets with dishes and glassware within easy reach.  These two are my favorites.  Lord only knows how long ago I pulled these pictures from an old Better Homes and Gardens magazine. 

IMG_7771 When we planned this kitchen and these shelves, I only knew that I was simply doing something that I wanted.  What it took awhile to realize was that it's about time.

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We had dinner with some friends over the weekend with the thought that we'd bring the kids back to our house to have s'mores over the fire pit for dessert.  It ended up too hot for the fire pit, but we came back here anyway (sangria!).  So these guys were appropriately appreciative of the progress we've made on the kitchen and the new counters (aw shucks), and we answered question after question about how they were poured and installed.  It reminded me that I hadn't posted any of that story here on the blog, so here, all your questions answered.

IMG_7160 Don, the guy who did the counters for us, called a couple of weeks ago to ask if we wanted to see the third section poured.  Um, hello?  Of course we do.  


IMG_7162 This is the mold of the last section of counter.  It's a corner section, so shaped like an "L." Don pours the counter upside down, and after it sets, he'll flip it over.  If you look closely, there's a black line around the perimeter of the inside of the mold.  That's the depth line.  We wanted 1.5 inch thick counters, so that line is 1.5 inches above the base.

IMG_7165 When we got to his studio, he had five big buckets lined up, ready to pour the concrete.  The buckets were filled with water, and after we got there, he added a cup of stain to each bucket.

IMG_7179 When it's time to add the concrete, the clock starts ticking.  Don says he has about thirty minutes after he pours the powder into the water before the mix starts setting up.

IMG_7183 Time to start mixing.

IMG_7201 I always go to food analogies, but this was very much like making a cake.

IMG_7212 And then right straight to the pouring.

IMG_7221 Bucket,

IMG_7224 after bucket,

IMG_7230 after bucket.

IMG_7247  Don scraped those buckets dry. He said he'd never had it come this close.

IMG_7252 After that, the gloves come off. Don walked around patting the back of this baby for quite awhile.  I may try that with my next cake batter.

IMG_7259 After the patting, a wire grid is added to strengthen the form.  It'll sink a bit, but not all the way to the bottom, which is really the top.

IMG_7269 Almost before you know it, it starts to dry.  The dull spots are drying first, and because drying concrete is an exothermic reaction, things start heating up from here. 

IMG_7271 By the time we left it was hot to the touch, and Don said that by the time he'd break the molds off that night he could fry an egg on it.  How cool is that?  We left soon after that, but from what he explained, Don broke the counter out of the mold that night, and flipped it as early as the next day.  From there on out it's about drying and sealing and getting the color right.

IMG_7604 Here it is, just about to be installed last week.  That little ramp, maybe you remember it from the mold?  That's where my dish drain goes so the water slides off into the sink.  Dear concrete counters:  I'm sold on you.

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moving day

IMG_7635 We moved back into the kitchen this weekend.  We were able to do this because Neel painted at 2:30 in the morning.  Go Neel!  Painting!  Who knew?

IMG_7636 I spent all day Saturday putting things away, and it was great. Once the hallway is done I'll have more drawer space, so I decided to move my spices out of the pantry and into drawers in the island.  This was some fun organizing.  I think I'm going to like it.

IMG_7639 Oh, my shelves. 

IMG_7651 This was some fun work too, figuring out what goes where.  It took some heavy editing.

IMG_7653 There are still holes in the wall and the back splash yet to go up, but I can feel it. We're almost there.

Oh, also, I Googled "twice blooming hydrangea" and the closest I got was this:

    Q: Do hydrangea bush bloom twice in summer?

    A: Maybe

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baby steps (when the baby isn't very good at walking yet and falls down a lot)

IMG_7284 This is how it was, for a little while at least.  Nice, huh?  And for the record, I know I disappeared for a week, but can I just say I've decided that September is absolutely B.R.U.T.A.L on my family.  This whole re-entry thing is a bear.  We're so tired.  We've had meltdowns.  I missed a publication deadline Friday for computer glitches that I just don't understand.  And this on a day that our Athletic Director came into my office (His office is next door to mine.) and said, "Hey, don't use the bathroom in this building, okay?  And that water out on the sidewalk?  Don't walk in it.  It's not water."  Last I'd heard, we're still not up and running.  Yeah, I am SO looking forward to work today.

Back to my kitchen.  Two-thirds of the counters are in and almost done.  They need some buffing and sealing and a little more work to match the sink, but oh, I love them.  We got to see the final third poured and it was amazing.  I'll do a whole post on that, really soon, I promise. And isn't the faucet pretty?  Except the sink is leaking now.  So what you're looking at doesn't exist at present.  We're back to washing dishes in the bathroom. 

IMG_7538 John, the guy we ordered our cabinets from, finally came to install our shelves.  It feels like it's been forever, but they're in now. We came home on Saturday from a sand castle contest to find John and Tyler having a drink with my friend Cathy who'd dropped her daughter off next door for a slumber party.  They'd never met but were having a high old time slugging whiskey (not mine) from a bottle.  This is what I love about Cathy.  She's very adaptable.  And here I'd been worried that she'd be gone by the time we got home!

IMG_7558 I wasn't sure about the shelves at first, but we painted today, and I'm feeling a lot better. Callum asked what else was left to do, and as we thought about it, it seems like a lot of little stuff.  

IMG_7556 There's the backsplash, of course, and the hood needs to shift a bit to the right, and the wood around these windows was never painted.  I got on that today.  I think it's going to take about a zillion coats.  One tiny baby step at a time.

IMG_7560 Oh, I know we're going to love it.  And really, I already do.  But when there are meltdowns every night and there's no place to do homework and we're still two weeks away from even starting the hallway and back to doing dishes in the sink, it's hard not to get discouraged.  Look at this mess.  Wouldn't you get discouraged too?

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hitting the wall

IMG_6225 I think we've done about as much as we, personally, can do. 

IMG_6226 Neel's removed all the plaster and lath from the kitchen side, and framed out and removed a chunk from the living room side. We don't want to go much further on our own for fear of sending huge cracks along the plaster walls.

IMG_6231 I feel for him because he clearly wants to keep going. He's enjoyed this part.  He comes home from work and just starts pounding away. He doesn't even take off his work ID (wish I had a picture of that!).  But we're reaching the limit of our capabilities: we've been washing dishes in the powder room sink for nearly two weeks, there's a layer of dust as fine as sifted flour all over my house, and I think I broke my toe yesterday. So we've hit our wall.

IMG_6239 But the water heater guys are here right now to move out the water heater.

IMG_6242 And of course the darn thing wouldn't drain so they had to move it out full, down several steps, across pea gravel and up one more.  Nothing difficult is ever easy (hat tip to Mom for that invaluable quote).

IMG_6244 Still, it's looking even more like a hallway now, so we must be getting somewhere.

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So when I came inside from chatting with some friends on the block last night, Neel was leaning against the living room wall where our eventual doorway is going to go.  "Hi!" He said cheerily.

And then he moved his head.

IMG_6174 See that little hole?

IMG_6150 See that hole? 

IMG_6166 And that one?  That's on the kitchen side, so I I knew we were going for it, just not so soon.



Just as I got used to that little hole...



IMG_6207 They kept going.

IMG_6208 Good-bye wall.  Hello doorway.

The dogs are worried, the mess is unbelievable, and I had a hard time concentrating on Top Chef Masters, but they did it.

IMG_6215 Lucy kept going around the corner, getting surprised and barking at the gaping hole in the wall, but Violet fits right in!

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kitchen by rothko



IMG_5958 Monday was cabinet day, and by Sunday night the room had been denuded.

IMG_5944 Neel enjoyed this process very much.

IMG_5965 I loved it sitting empty, but almost before I could blink there were things moving back in.  That's John, helping Neel with the corner cabinet.  Neighbor, friend, it's his company who we ordered our cabinets from (Remember, I can do that now, end that sentence with "from.").  He's ended up being our general contractor more than anything.  Friend first, I suppose.

IMG_5966 All those lines mark out where the shelves are going to go.  John's making the shelves himself in his shop (see what I mean?), and we needed to decide where they'd sit in order to determine how thick, wide and long they'd be. 

IMG_5972 Here are our only two hanging cabinets.  Over the fridge and a glass-fronted cabinet.  They were meant to have a Shaker style molding, but after the cabinets went up, I thought, "huh."  I liked it without the molding.  Oh, how hard it is for me to say that kind of thing out loud.  Why?  Everybody knows I have opinions.  But as soon as I said it, Neel said, "I was thinking exactly the same thing."  So we're molding free, and I love it. 

IMG_5979 Chris, the designer is on the left, and Phil, the installer, is on the right.  John clearly thinks very highly of Chris, and I can see why.  He's steady and his attention to detail is laser-focused.  Phil was great too, but apparently we got Phil on a good day.


IMG_5982Ah, now we're getting somewhere.

IMG_5985 This is where the dishwasher goes. 

And that Rothko thing?  Well look...

IMG_5968 I know it's a stretch, especially with the venting for the hood (coming today), and all the wires hanging out, but as I was looking at all the photos, the colors struck me and the lines too.  A stretch, maybe, but still Rothko-esque, I say.

We're getting there.

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