The grass (or wall) is always greener... (Part II, OMG)

Sooo, yesterday.  HAAAAA.  We went to a party hosted by Mark's boss last weekend, and I guess several of those "So what do you do?" questions kind of got under my skin.  Couple that with the kid thing (that I am not quite ready to talk about, though I do kind of wish the community cultivated by some of my favorite online people still existed in force), and BOOM -- identity implosion.  Good times.

Anyway, onward to that cheery decorating post!  As I was trying to say yesterday before I was so rudely derailed by feeeelinggggssss, I spend a lot of my free time decorating my house in my head.  We are big on home improvements around here.  Mark bought a house that was in great condition but had not been touched from the original 1995 builder basics (other than some hellacious paint we discovered in removing woodwork and mirrors -- holy Crayola).  We spent the summer of 2009 gutting the main floor of our house, ripping out carpeting and laying hardwood floors, gutting the kitchen and putting it all back together.  It was a looooong 6 weeks, particularly for Mark, who worked Every. Single. Night. after a full day at the office.  The work totally paid off though, because we took this:

to THIS:

Not bad for six weeks, right?  These were actually taken right after we finished the work, so it has been accessorized a bit since then.  (I would totally take new pictures for you if it weren't so filthy right now.)  We have a rug in the kitchen sitting room, hardware for the cabinets, Polish pottery plates on the soffit above the cabinets, a new light fixture to replace the fluorescent box, etc.

So here's the issue:  the yellow is grating on my last nerve.  It's cozy, but I feel like the room is too much of a jumble of color, at least right next to the more subtle feeling in the living room and dining room.  It's hard to tell from these photos, actually.  The living room and dining room are primarily a warm tan/taupe, with the one long, shared wall painted a pale, pale blue.  This works really well with the tan and blue striped chairs, the cognac leather sofa, and the crewel work drapery panels, which have the tan, the blue, a darker brown, and a sagey green on an ivory background.  I love these rooms.  The rollicking yellows and in your face riot of Blue! Red! Green! Yellow! in the kitchen, though, I am loving much less.

I am bound by a few things:  the granite counters in the kitchen, which are the very common "Santa Cecilia" pattern; the kitchen rug, which you can see in the mood board below (although it is definitely more muted in person); and the artwork, also in the mood board (because those custom frames were pricey and I have nowhere else to stick them, nor any suitable replacements).  So here's what I'm thinking:

I think the soft gray color would work well for the walls.  There is quite a bit of gray in the counters and the background of the rug, and the ladies in the posters have gray skin.  It would also blend well with the adjacent living and dining rooms.  The couch is an easy fix; the cover has taken a BEATING, so I am leaning toward just picking up a crisp white slipcover from Ikea.  It can be thrown in the wash with some bleach when it gets dirty, and it's only $39.  Perfect.

Where I am torn is fabrics.  I would like to make two cornice boards, for above the couch and for the bay windows in the kitchen, which would hang over the existing white sheers.  I love the subtle blues and grays in the fabrics above, but I worry that they might be too muted when paired with the more vibrant artwork and rug.  Do they blend enough?

The other issue is the furniture.  The cabinet we use as a tv stand is currently just your basic "Ikea Pine" and the coffee and end tables are a cherry-ish wood toned top with black iron base.  None of the furniture is precious, obvs, so I am toying with painting the wood.  Would white be too light with the dark kitchen?  Maybe a gray that's a little darker than the walls?  Or a blueish gray?  Maybe covering the cabinet shelves with cool fabric or shelf paper? 

So that's the currently state of kitchen dithering.  What do you think?

The grass (or wall) is always greener... (Part I, OMG)

Back when I was working as a lawyer, I used to spend my days researching food and drug regulations, writing memos, writing emails, managing lawyers' (very large) egos, and managing the assorted needs of clients who want everything yesterday.  (Yesterday and for free, which, HAAAAA.  Each one paragraph email I write in response to your many requests for updates costs you $100 because the firm bills in quarter hour increments!  My best advice is for you to stop speaking and let me work!)  I would daydream about taking a "staycation" during which I could organize my closets and catch up on laundry.  Or!  Grocery shop sometime other than during the Sunday afternoon melee!  I had had the briefest glimpse of this life back in 2006.  There were about 8 weeks between the end of the contract on my first job and my move to Chicago to begin my next job.  I was young, single, and completely broke, but so were all of my friends, and I had a freaking BLAST.  My apartment was always clean, and I always managed to find things to do, even if it was just driving out to the outlet malls for a day of browsing among the moms with small children.  When I began dipping my toes into the waters of housewifery last year, I assumed that my experience would be just as gloooorious, and perhaps even more so, seeing as my husband still had income.  This was both true and, well, not so true.

You see, I had no idea how much not working would be a blow to my own image of myself.  Yes,  I was completely miserable and left because I could no longer stand living with my heart pounding in constant fear, thisclose to my next panic attack.  I really missed sleeping instead of tossing and turning, then just lying in a cold, gut wrenching sweat, panicking about the day ahead.  Going to the office should not be so painful an exercise that you circle the block a few times, working up the courage to scurry to your office.  Mental health absolutely should win out over a big paycheck.  But what comes next?  Once you choose to step away from the career you have been working toward for a decade, who are you?  This is where I am struggling. In the beginning it was fine, great even.  I was euphoric about the decrease in anxiety.  I loved getting out to run errands without traffic and making nice dinners that were ready before bedtime.  However, things get old quickly, particularly when you realize that the traffic-free hours around here are really only 11-3.  All these months later, I am having a tougher time finding a rhythm without the routine of going to an office.  It is so easy to stumble downstairs in the morning, turn on the computer, and fall into an internet wormhole.  It's a vicious cycle of unproductive days making one feel like crap, and feeling like crap making one more unproductive.  

I also kind of struggle with my own identity.  It's not 1950, so what the hell am I doing as a housewife?  It would be one thing if I had kids (and ohhhh, the rosey places that topic will take me), but for now, I definitely don't.  I was always a good kid, a good student, a rule follower, an organizer, a good employee.  And now?  Who, what am I?  What do I do, aside from stammering nonsense, when someone asks what I do?  I for sure do not want to go back to law firm life; I did choose correctly in valuing a life over a job.  But what do I want to do?  I know I have always loved, even in a legal context, editing; I often have blank page paralysis, but hand me something someone else has started and I will make it rock.  However, I have no training in editing, unless you count grammar dorkery (which Mark totally counts, particularly after the rousing discussion of subject vs. object pronouns last weekend, the poor thing), which makes it somewhat challenging to find work in the field.  I think I am at the point, though, where I need to do something to feel like I am actually contributing.  I just have to figure out what that is.

(Whoa, so this existential crisis was initially supposed to be about a refreshing of my kitchen decor, but went completely off the rails somewhere in the latter half of paragraph one.  Oops.  I was trying to get to the fact that instead of legal stuff, I now decorate my house in my head, occasionally acting on these plans when the budget allows.  I'll take up the kitchen decor issues in Part II, OMG.)

"Budget" Is a Four-Letter Word

Ohhh, the laundry room woes, you guys.  After all of our discussing before the long weekend and all of my plotting, planning, and mood board creating, Mark came home that Friday night and blew it all to hell.  As we were chatting, I brought up wanting to get out early on Saturday morning to make the rounds of stores, so we could be sure to get to Ikea before Rt. 95 went to hell in a handbasket, as it does (even on weekends!  I hate how congested NoVA is!).  That's when Mark piped up with, "Sooo, about that...." Evidently he had spent some time that afternoon playing with our finances, and he determined that this month was perhaps not the best time to dive head first into a renovation project.  This was disappointing to say the least; I was also kind of ticked that he waited until AFTER I had spent two days working on plans before bringing this up.  (Insert Mark's howling laughter at the understatement here.)  However, I kind of love the fact that he handles all of that stuff, so I usually just suck it up and get over myself, challenging as that may be.  (Mark is now clutching his sides and convulsing, because OH HOW THE LAUGHTER HURTS.)

After some discussion, the plan for the weekend morphed into information gathering.  Our first stop was the Crate & Barrel Outlet -- my happy place.  I wanted to check the prices on the glass canisters I had eyeballed for detergent and clothespins.  They were the same price as in the regular stores, but at $10-12, you really can't go wrong, so I grabbed them.  Also in our wanderings we found a little stainless trashcan, the perfect size for dryer lint, and at $12?  SOLD. 

Next we decided to hit the Habitat for Humanity ReStore nearby, just in case there happened to be another smoking deal like this one.  We lucked out there last winter when I was looking for a printer table.  We found a 1960s mahogany Music Minder record cabinet that was in need of some love.  The innards had been removed, and it looked as though the back had been hacked a bit to allow it to be used for media storage.  We picked it up for $30, and a few coats of glossy black spray paint later, it became a perfect printer table, with tons of room for supply storage inside.  We weren't quite so lucky this time.  While the ReStore had lots of cabinets, most were being sold as complete sets (in the neighborhood of $700!), and regardless, the cabinets in stock were primarily lowers and we were just looking for uppers.  We poked around the tile remnants and light fixtures, but eventually had to move on.  You win some, you lose some.

Last stop was Lowe's. We wanted to check out flooring, paint, and the light fixture, which was our first stop.  They had the really cute vintage schoolhouse style light in stock for only $25, so we decided to pick it up.  Replacing the existing fluorescent bar would be a must even if the rest of the reno never materialized.  From there we moved on to flooring where we found self stick vinyl tiles for $.88 each -- perfect.  We preferred the look of the tiles with grout, but that would require removal of the washer and dryer for a week or more, so we'll have to play that by ear.  We wandered by the paints and grabbed some great swatches.  Then, as we were wandering through the kitchen area, it occurred to me that they might have some inexpensive stock cabinets, so we looked around and sure enough, stock cabinets!  They came in white and ready-to-finish; the white ones looked kind of plastic-y to me, so we seriously considered the ready-to-finish.  They came in the same sizes as the Ikea cabinets, but would have been only about $220 total.  Sure, they weren't as pretty, but I kind of liked the idea of making the ordinary pretty -- a challenge!

However, I played with some numbers upon returning home, and it turns out the ready-to-finish cabinets really aren't that big a bargain.  Once you factor in the supplies needed (sandpaper, paint brushes/rollers, paint, etc.), there was only about a $20 difference between the unfinished Lowe's cabinets and the pretty, glass-doored Ikea ones.  Ikea it is!  Well, someday...

So yeah, after all of that (and all of my yammering), the only real change we've made thus far is the light fixture.  Don't get me wrong -- I LOVE the lack of fluorescent lighting -- but I am also totally impatient very much looking forward to the upcoming stages of transformation too.  I'll keep you posted.

Weighty Topics

Sooo, you know how people commonly gain weight after getting married despite swearing it would never happen to them?  HAAAA.  I am appalled by the state of my ass these days.  APPALLED.  Like, I stepped on the scale the other day and died.  DIED.  (Yes, I am repeating myself in caps; these are desperate times.)  I stepped off the scale and hauled my (suddenly ENORMOUS) ass downstairs where I promptly registered for Weight Watchers Online.  It has been about a week so far, and I'm down about 4 lbs. (WOOT.)  However, with the new PointsPlus system, it has kind of required a whole new (low fat and carb) lifestyle.  My carb heavy breakfasts of yore had to be kicked to the curb.  It was time to bring back an old friend from the South Beach days:  the Egg Muffin (Hold the Mc).

Egg Muffins
(Sure, they're a little work intensive at first, but super easy as you're running out the door in the morning.)

6 cups egg substitute
1 tbsp dill (dried)
3-4 bell peppers, diced
8 oz. mushrooms, diced
6 slices of canadian bacon, diced
1 1/2 cups 2% milk sharp cheddar, shredded
1/2 cup scallions, chopped
olive oil cooking spray
  1. Preheat oven to 375.
  2. Saute the peppers over med-hi heat in a pan coated with cooking spray, tossing regularly.  Season with salt and pepper.  Once peppers have softened somewhat, add in the mushrooms and canadian bacon and continue cooking.
  3. In the meantime, measure out the egg substitute and season liberally with salt and pepper.  Add the dill and whisk to combine.  
  4. Prepare muffin pan by spraying each cup with cooking spray.  Fill each cup half way with the meat and veggie mixture, then sprinkle with a pinch of cheese.  Pour the eggs over the veggie mixture to just under the top of the cup.  Sprinkle each with green onions and use a fork to mix slightly.
  5. Place the muffin pan on a sheet pan (in case of spillover) and bake at 375 for 30-35 minutes.  The eggs will puff up a LOT while baking, but will settle back down as they cool.
This is enough for 24 little muffins.  You can either bake them all at once, or else only mix up 3 cups of the eggs and freeze the rest of the veggie mix for later.  That's it!  I store them in ziploc baggies, two to a bag.  One goes in the fridge and I freeze the rest.  As I use the one in the fridge, I pull another out of the freezer to defrost.  Pop them in the microwave for a minute or two and you've got yourself a hot and tasty 3 point breakfast.

Other little tricks:
  • Rachael Ray style post-grocery shopping prep work:  All fruit gets washed, and grapes even get plucked from the vines.  Veggies get peeled and sliced as necessary and popped into storage containers in the fridge.  Easily accessible zero point foods make actually eating them for snacks and meals SO MUCH EASIER.
  • Keeping wedges of lemon and lime ready to go in the fridge.  Helps even water haters like me keep up with drinking water, again for zero points.
  • Menu planning:  Much as I hate it, I am much better at making logical meal choices if I don't have to think.  (I know, but it's TRUE.)  I used to this just for dinners, but I've started including breakfast, lunch, and snacks in there too.  This is great for making sure I have everything on hand that I need, but that I'm not wasting a ton of pricey produce by buying more than I need.  Sounds simple, yes, but it took me an embarrassingly long time to get there.  It's also great because I can plot out the number of points I'm using each day and make sure I'm sticking to my budget.  Hopefully this will become less involved over time as I get used to the system and begin acquiring meal lists.
More obvious observations (my specialty!) to come as they occur to me!

Why would we spend a long weekend relaxing when there is a room in our house we could demolish?

Waaaay back in July, I was sort of obsessing about my laundry room.  We have a laundry closet, really.  It's in our basement family room (which is actually the entry level floor of the house) (which is one quality of the house that I LOATHE ("Welcome to our home!  Please ignore the bachelor pad tv room, exercise bikes, and Mt. Washmore!")), with the machines and a very utilitarian shelf hidden behind some bi-fold doors.  It is UG-LYYY.  (See?  That's it, in all its bi-fold door glory over there on the left.)  I spent a good couple of pre-vacation weeks drooling over gorgeous, Hollywood fantasy laundry rooms, and making Mark promise that we can build something like that in our long-term house, wherever that is.  Then I went on vacation and toured The House, promptly fell in love, and forgot all about the ol' laundry nook.

Well, now that Mark has denied me The House*, my thoughts have returned to laundrylaundrylaundry.  We decided to stay home this weekend rather than travel back up to MA, and the laundry room is on the agenda.  We spent some time down there last night, measuring and planning our attack.  Our first step was to remove the bi-fold doors and OMG, it looks giant already.  (Trust me, it's more dramatic in person.)

If you recall, our original plan was to sort of follow the Young House Love approach and remove the frame around the laundry area, turning it from a closet into a recessed nook.  However, if you can see on the edge of that second photo, there is an identical door frame right next to it for the HVAC closet.  After some debating last night, we decided that if we were to remove the laundry door frame, the wall might look a bit unbalanced.  Not gonna lie, this was kind of a relief.  While Mark is really, really handy, he just cannot do drywall.  Well, he can hang the drywall just fine, but mudding?  Forget about it.  We're also thinking that if we decide later on that creating a true nook would be better, it would be much easier to take out the frame then than to try to recreate the frame if we don't like the look of a nook. 

I have been playing around online, bookmarking and pinning away, and this is what I have come up with for a motif:
Here's what we need to do to make this happen:
  1. Demo!  This is now exponentially easier since we are not cutting into the wall.  However, we need to pull out the washer and dryer, and oh my hell, are they heavy.  In addition, it's a gas dryer, so a plumber may be required (OH PLEASE GOD, LET A PLUMBER BE REQUIRED).
  2. Light fixture:  Remove the nasty fluorescent bar thingy, paint ceiling, and install adorable Schoolhouse-esque fixture (which is actually the cheap knockoff available at Lowe's.
  3. Patch and paint walls and trim.
  4. Install self-stick vinyl tiles in the pretty slate-ish color while reminding selves that it's only a laundry room and the floor will mostly be covered by the washer and dryer and it won't scream "LINOLEUM!".
  5. Install pretty Ikea cabinetry!  This is our splurge, but I think the added storage will be both pretty and really helpful.  We've settled on the Akurum cabinets in Stat White; we'll do a 36"x30" two-door cabinet (glass doors) in the middle, and a 15"x30" single-door cabinet (solid doors) on either side.  We had originally planned to do single glass doors and solid doors on the double cabinet, but we had to flip this to get the 30" tall cabinets.  This will give us some float above so that we do not need to move the light fixture.
  6. Reinstall the washer and dryer.  It does, after all, need to function as a laundry room.
  7. Install pretty Ikea countertop!  Did you know they sell gorgeous slabs of butcher block countertop?  They do!  It's called "Lagan" (of course it is), and it's solid beech.  Best of all, for a 96"x25" slab, it's only $59.  I know!  This will give us plenty of material for the 67" width of the closet, plus some extra to create simple brackets to support the counter.  (We're planning to just rest the counter on top of the brackets so that it is easily removable in case of repairs.)
  8. Decorate!  Because, as we all know, the only thing that separates us from the animals is our ability to accessor-ahz.  I am totally stealing the YHL tack of covering up pipes and hoses with framed art.  Have you all heard of Vintage Printable?  It is the greatest thing ever -- all of this public domain artwork, ready to print and display.  I'm thinking a couple of botanicals popped into some Ikea Virserum frames would be perfect.  I'm also planning to snag a tabletop ironing board to hang on the wall.  I might even try to make a pretty cover for it!  (Though I'll probably just buy one on Etsy.)  I'm also planning to grab a couple of simple glass canisters at Crate and Barrel, one for detergent and one for clothespins.  I have the same ones in my kitchen and love them.  What else?  Oh!  Maybe a little countertop trashcan for lint and a cute soap dispenser for hand sanitizer.  I also love that little "Keep Calm and Wash On" poster, which could be cute on the wall.  Basically I'm trying to create a pretty little corner of the male (ahem, Red Sox) dominated basement.
Oh my GOD, I need to stop talking now.  But there it is:  the plan.  We're going to hit Home Depot and/or Lowe's tonight, then be waiting on Ikea's doorstep tomorrow when they open.  Keep your fingers crossed!

*I kid, he's not "denying" me; it's just not buttering his bread, so to speak.  What can you do?  We'll just keep looking until we find one we both love.  Don't worry -- there's another house across the street from The House that's for sale for about $150k less.  It's a knock down (teeny tiny, vintage '60s (not in a good way) with '70s decor -- lovely), but I think we could buy the land and build the house we really want and still not outspend the neighborhood.  We'll see...