Our {remodel} mantra

Read in context, this quote is even more important and valuable. Really, it's goes beyond remodel, I think this is simply how I yearn to experience home, always.

"Believe me if we want art to begin at home, as it must, we must clear our houses of troublesome superfluities that are forever in our way: conventional comforts that are no real comforts, and do but make work for servants and doctors: if you want a golden rule that will fit everybody, this is it:

'Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful'

And if we apply that rule strictly, we shall in the first place show the builders and such-like servants of the public what we really want, we shall create a demand for real art, as the phrase goes; and in the second place, we shall surely have more money to pay for decent houses."

by William Morris
from The Beauty of Life (1880) part of Hopes and Fears for Art


How to stuff a pouf

I love myself a pouf. Have since I first set my eyes on them. But for $400+, I just could not get myself to spend that much. Ever. So, I set out to do it on my own.

I found this large square size shown above on ebay and won it for $35. Great. Cool. I felt pretty proud of myself. But then I had to figure out how to stuff it and let me tell you, I almost threw the damn thing away and called this mini-project a failure.

I tried blankets and rags and shirts, I tried my local upholstery store and my local oriental rug/kilim dealer. Then I turned to the internet where I found 30 pounds of shredded foam for $30. And when it arrived, it looked something like this...

And then I opened the vacuum sealed plastic covering and like some space aged wonder bug, it slowly grew and grew and grew and grew. Not sure what to do with my expanding mass of shredded foam, I figured I just had to go for it, so I started to stuff and stuff and stuff, making the most unbelievable mess in our back-yard. Foam everywhere.

Then I ripped the seam, then I realized that the zipper wasn't really a zipper so there was no way that I could close it off and I had no idea how to pack the foam dense enough to make the pouf dense. It would have been perfect to put the vacuum packed foam inside but thought of that after I had stuffed it 75% and I was not going back. Almost gave up again.

But I kept stuffing.

And ended up with a 98% stuffed pouf that gives a little when you sit on it so I think we'll use it as an ottoman/foot rest instead. Not perfect but not $400.


Heading to the Beach House

Do you ever go on Artist's Dates? Do you know the concept? It is from Julie Cameron's Artist's Way and it is simple: Take time for yourself that nurtures your creative self, whatever that may be. For me, Artist Dates often include thrifts stores and flea markets. I haven't been on many Artist's Dates in the last 5 months - have been doing baby.

I finally made it to Beach House Style in Fairfax though last week, with my sidekick in tow. It only took me two years. I knew I would love it. And I did.

A perfect sunny day and dreams of our garden remodel becoming a reality made me want to load up the car. Luckily I had a baby in one arm and a rug purchase from craigslist taking up all the room in the trunk. But I didn't leave empty handed.

Love this peg rack for outside for hot tub towels?

Or this dreamy work table?

Or these orange chairs? Just need some white cushions and ooh, la, la!

But it was these babies who came home with me. Not quite sure where they will go or if they will stay their natural rattan color but I couldn't leave them behind.

And now a week later I am still thinking about the work table. Might have to see if its still available...


Getting organized

Here is the thing, I am envious.

I am envious of Samantha over at The Renovation Diaries because she is smack dab in the middle of renovation mayhem. I am envious of the posts I read on my favorite blogs because these women have found the time or made the time to share their thoughts and ideas without being up at 3:45AM. 

But I shouldn't be envious. The thing is that I have a 2 month old baby and a toddler and a house that needs all kinds of attention and a head that is so full of ideas it fills like its going to explode. And browsing Pinterest and reading my favorite blogs only reminds me of the projects I am not doing and the time I don't simply have. And that makes me envious. And I don't like how that makes me feel.

And what is worse, is that all these ideas and all that thinking about what I want to do on this house is keeping me from being present to the two littles who need my attention the most right now and taking care of myself, which is what I said was my one and only priority for 2012. So when the baby sleeps, I need to sleep. And I need to choose 10 minutes of meditation over 10 minutes on Pinterest and yoga over the flea market. Argh, I just want to do it all.

But I can't. So, I need to compartmentalize and that means getting organized.

It means organizing my time to allow for browsing my favorite web sites, writing a blog post myself or meandering the flea market. It means choosing which small projects I could work on and when. It means setting aside the time to create and dream and plan. It means getting myself onto my meditation pillow for somehow when I find the time to sit, I am able to access the well of patience that allows me to be with things (and this house), just the way it is.

My first organization project: creating a weekly schedule. The second organization project: the house binder.

My pile of magazine tears plus...

some hand drawn ideas plus some plastic page protectors...

plus Domino's manifesto (I think I need to frame this one)...

and you get one little binder that is ready for the next step.

Let the "meet your architect" process begin.


A solution for shoes

Do you remember the bench?

First it was our dining room table bench as seen here. Then it was a window bench with toy storage as seen here. (This was my favorite use for it by the way.)

And now it serves to answer the question"Do you want us to take off our shoes?"

I wish I could say that this bench solution means that there is not a pile of ungodly shoes lying on top of each other right as you enter our house, but there is. It is only meticulously clean for 5 minutes after our wonderful Dinora vacuums or I straighten them up when I just can't stand to look at them anymore.

But you get the idea and I like looking at this tidy picture. 

Finally, the kitchen

Do you have drafts of emails sitting in your draft folder that have been there for, oh I don't know, weeks? No, you say. Well, I do and they hang in the back of my mind like a laundry forgotten on a clothes line. And what is worse, I have drafts of blog posts hanging out in my iPhone, just waiting for the moment when I can snap that one photo or write those few words and these have done little things make me absolutely mad. Like in crazy and insane.

This post was one of those. So, finally, I present to you the finished kitchen.

I have shared bits and pieces of corners and appliances but never really the full view. We have been living in for months, so the novelty is a bit less shiny as it was when first it was complete, but now that I see the dreariness and datedness of the old oak cabinets and sad appliances, I have to smile. 

Budget is a big deal for us and a significant part of this project haus is to stay within a very tight budget for each project we choose to complete. That means splurging on what is most important (to us) and be savvy consumers on the rest. We planned on $10K for this kitchen reno and ended up spending about $11K, which included:

- Repainting all the cabinets
- Replacing all hardware
- Adding crown molding
- Removing dated details and repaired granite countertop
- Adding new Miele dishwasher
- Adding new microwave
- Adding new stainless French door refrigerator
- Adding new restaurant grade double faucet
- Adding new CB2 lamp in breakfast nook
- Reupholstering nook seat cushions
- Sewing new pillows for nook
- Building new table for nook
- Transforming pantry into large storage closet

Lessons learned:

- No one will ever paint as meticulously as you paint (if you happen to like painting) so find someone who gets really close and then just inspect their work over and over again

- Have everything in writing, especially when it comes to expectations and money

- IKEA hardware can make a huge difference for a fraction of the price (just make sure to pick the right style)

- CB2 has fantastic light fixtures at fantastically reasonable prices

- Appliance shopping is terribly overwhelming but at the end of the day, Sears came through with the best deal

- Splurge on your priorities, you will appreciate it them everyday

- Oil based paint is so crazy smelly, but totally worth it for covering oak and other wood finishes

- Bottle sprayed painting leaves a gentle spray of color in all kinds of places, that you slowly discover months after the work is done

- You get what you pay for, most of the time


Pantry mentality

I think this ginormous closet in our kitchen must have been a pantry. A "shop at Costco or make everything from scratch and canning and jamming" kind of pantry.

For a city dweller and non-cook, I had no idea what to do with all this kitchen storage. I had visions of a laundry closet or a craft table or an office nook. I am still hooked on the idea of an office nook but as I began to realize, storage in the kitchen is actually quite important. I know, I am a slow learner.

So, now it's full. And now that I see the images, I much like the empty closet space better but it is functional and spacious and well lit. Everything has its place.


Saturday morning mess

I started to say "Do you want to watch a movie?" and am so very glad he didn't hear me or at least didn't respond. I am glad because my reason for asking was purely selfish: it would mean that I would have less of a mess to clean up.

But instead, I stepped away and just the next 20 minutes unfold.

It was in my stepping away that allowed the play to begin. Because if I had supervised, I would have steered the creativity into "less messy" options and made suggestions that would have not wasted 1/2 a roll of paper towel. But in stepping away and doing my own thing, unsupervised paint time led to:

A roll of paper towel becoming a street, the blank canvases becoming a cake with the paint being the dough, a handful of crayons being stripped of their paper shell to become something I don't totally comprehend and the boy covered in blue and green paint. 

Yes, there was a mess to clean up and yes, this was only possible on our enclosed porch because in 6 months the whole thing is going to get torn apart. There is paint in the floor that won't come off, I learned that red plus blue plus yellow paint makes a dreary brown similar to the color of our house and I discovered that crayons only need about 15 minutes in the roasting sun before they melt into an oozing rendition of their former selves and then only 2 minutes to cool and harden into an irremovable glob of color.

Yes, it was a mess.

But I think he and I both learned so much more than if I had plopped him in front of another episode of Thomas.


Protecting my time

Just because I could do something, doesn’t mean I should.

Do you ever read something that creeps into your brain and won't let go?

Just because I could do something, doesn’t mean I should.

Or a sentence that in its simplicity and basic wisdom, solves all of the problems that you can't seem to solve.

Just because I could do something, doesn’t mean I should. 

Can you guess that I read something recently?

I did. I read this post "How to protect your time from too many good ideas" on Small Notebook, one of my favorite places on the web. And it may have just changed everything.

I have ideas for new businesses and products and blogs themes and DIY projects at least 20 times a day. I daydream and ruminate and plan and execute and think about. And I spend vital life energy, that I don't have available to give. So when I read Rachel's blog post {last year}, it was like someone gave me permission to go take a nap in the middle of preparing Thanksgiving dinner. It was like pulling the get out of jail card. But what does that mean really?

It means that for all the simplifying and living with less that I have created in our external environment, I have left the one environment that really affects me the most, cluttered and disorganized. No wonder sitting in meditation in the last year has been more like 30 minutes of "mindful to-do list making".

Essentially, I am re-prioritizing, re-assesing and re-ducing the half attended ideas in my head. The new problem is that our "project haus" has more potential than I know what to do with and right now, well, all I need to be doing is taking care of this peanut and myself.

So for now, here are the good ideas that I am letting go of:
  • Making my own laundry soap, inspired by this post by Penelope Dullaghan
  • Setting up a weekly girls night every Thursday night, inspired by Thursdays
  • Making Montessori placemats, inspired by these on Etsy
  • Making a photo worthy breakfast everyday, inspired by the oh so lovely Bkfst
  • Writing a post on education, inspired by Sir Ken Robinson's TED talk
Care to let go of any good ideas today?


Day 3: A bodyscan to help relax + reflect

"Want to hear the Frenchman?" my husband asks.

"Yes, oh yes." I say.

This is not the romantic interlude you would imagine it to be, but instead a body scan - a guided meditation that reconnects you to your breath and body and soothes you into a deep relaxation. And if you are like me - a mom of two little people who forgets about the Relax + Reflect part of the day until it is too late and I fall into bed completely exhausted at 9:30 - you need something to help you transition from the doing the being.

The Frenchman is Gilles Marin, a man with a delicate and gentle voice who with his words, sends me straight into deep slumber, every time. He is the voice behind The Bone Dreaming Meditation, a guided meditation based on an ancient Chinese Taoist practice translated most simply into the practice of bone breathing. This practice can help the body and mind attain deep relaxation that can help to reduce physical pain, mental disruption and aid in reaching and maintaining deep, restorative sleep.

First introduced to me 6 years ago by Erene Lejeune, a friend and gifted practitioner of Chi Nei Tsang, it has become an occasional part of our nighttime routine. I say our for at some point along they way, my husband learned the benefits of this bedtime ritual on his own.

And now, in the age of iPhones and apps, the Frenchman is with us, even faster, for he was one of the first CD's I scanned and sent straight to my iTunes. Now, he can go where ever we go.

I had forgotten about him until this morning and realized that it is just about the perfect time to bring him back.

If you find yourself with a racing mind and an aching body, unable to calm yourself enough to get the restorative sleep that you need, consider this. Seriously.

{image from the Chi Nei Tsang Institute}


Day 1: So glad I am here

The subject of today's Re-Charge email was So Glad I am Here, accompanied by a moving video to the sound of "So Glad I am Here" by Elizabeth Mitchell. As I watched a "mom" walk through her life, with spilled sippy cups and unfolded laundry, I felt the immense constriction of "I am so not glad I am here" when I see those things in my own house and realized that today I had the opportunity to be glad. Two hours into the day, while two of my men were at Saturday morning swim, I walked around the house and snapped these photos. And then, instead of cleaning it up or making my bed or reading some blogs (which I am not doing for these 10 days) or searching on Craigslist, I took a shower. A really long, wonderful shower and the Legos stayed that way until 30 minutes ago.

Back to this morning. Showered, dressed and even proud that I had made the bed, I had 3 more things I wanted to do, when suddenly...

And what I realized as I quickly took the picture and then scooped him up in my arms is that the constant thought in my head about not being glad I am here is about "not being ready for you to.."

It goes something like this...

"I am not ready for you to be awake because I wanted to..."
"I am not ready for you to be done playing with the puzzles because I wanted to..."
" I am not ready for you to call me and need my attention because I wanted to..."

And in those few words and thoughts I see how I am creating in myself a dissatisfaction, impatience and irritation that manifests itself outwardly in impatience, unkind words or behavior, resentment and most importantly a sense of not being glad I am here or there or wherever I am.

And well, not being glad about where you are is cause for the worst kind of suffering there is: wanting things to be different than they are and let me tell you, I could write a book about it.

So there is my first lesson: figure how to be glad I am here and really mean it.


Getting reading for the Re-Charge: Refilling the Well

The 10-day Family Re-charge starts today. Wondering what on earth that has to do with remodeling a house?


Because a house is only a reflection of what is happening in the lives and hearts of those who dwell inside. And for now, in our state as a new family of four, all house projects are on hold and we are simply doing what it takes to refill the well. Our project haus just gets to wait.

What inspired you to join the 10-Day Family Re-Charge?
In 2008, my husband and I did a 10 day silent meditation retreat in Thailand that significantly altered the course of our marriage and individual lives. You can read about it here. Every February since, I have reflected back on that time and used it to re-align whatever felt out of balance.

This year - we are in a newly purchased house and have a brand new baby and a fire ball of a toddler. What inspired me to join this recharge? Well, basically, it's a structure to help us regain our equilibrium.

What are your goals (personally and as family)?
For these 10 days, turn off all movie and internet browsing, except the FB and email format needed for this recharge.
For these 10 days, prioritize eating, cooking, snacking and all food planning.
For these 10 days, sit on my meditation pillow 10 minutes a day.
For these 10 days, practice 10 minutes of yoga/movement a day.
By December 2012, my pre-baby #1 clothes fit again.

What’s working well in your family right now?
Consistency in parenting our toddler.
Asking for help and allowing it to happen.
Not over scheduling or overcommitting.
Asking for what I need.

Where are some places that you’d like things to flow more smoothly? 
Food, food, food, food.
Oh, and getting back to a meditation practice.

How are you doing with healthy eating and shared meals?
Doing great with shared, family meals. Its the food prep and actually eating that needs our attention.

Are you enjoying regular joyful physical movement (a.k.a. exercise)?

How are you doing with managing “screen time”?
Good - We don't own a TV so that helps immensely. But when baby is crying and mama is tired and a certain toddler wants to watch Nemo..well, you know the answer. However the iPhone is challenging me. My husband's use of the iPhone is challenging me to be more accurate.

Are you getting enough rest / sleep / downtime? 
No, but for a 5 week old, he could be causing way more havoc than he is.

What is your family most needing right now? 
A plan around food buying, prep, cooking and eating.

Our guiding word for this Recharge: Refill the Well


Before & After: A room for two...



It's officially done! No more projects left to do!

A mixture of vintage, hand-made, IKEA, ebay and a few special pieces, the kiddo room is by far one of my favorites in the whole house. 

Welcome to this room for two...or almost two. For now, it is still just a room for one as we wait for number 2 to sleep a bit longer before adding him to the mix. Our almost 3 sleeps like a new babe in his IKEA crib so I haven't had the heart to move him to the toddler bed. I mean, he hasn't tried to climb out and he sleeps almost 11 hours plus a 2 hour nap in the afternoon - why would I move him?



We'll have to move him when it's time to share his space but we still have about 4-5 months, so until then, we''ll just keep things as they are.

I do think it will be a great set-up for 2 and though we lost the closet, I love that the crib fits like a glove into the space. When they are ready, we will convert the toddler bed to a bunk bed and then the closet nook can become a reading nook or Lego shrine. For the closet before & after and wallpaper project, click here.

Vintage desk found at a local consignment store and vintage chair was given to us. The framed tree is actually something drawn by my husband - I assume when he was just a wee one himself. I couldn't help but frame it and hang it front and center.

As for the changing table, you can see the early transformation here. And yes, we still have two in diapers so this set up works just right for now.