Saturday, April 12, 2014

I Know What Time It Is; It's 7:17

Photo by Amy Vinchattle Photography

When my oldest son was four years old, his summer was as perfect as a little boy's can be. He had a tricycle, and a little wood playhouse built by his daddy, and a garden with vegetables and flowers and worms and dirt, and a mom who didn't care if he got mud under his fingernails and sand in his underpants.


He was chubby and sweaty and had little ham fists, part baby fat and part infant manliness. He ate dill out of the garden and poked sticks at toads and chased birds. And talked. And talked. And talked.

One of the things he talked about was learning to tell time. He didn't quite have the hang of it yet, but since his favorite number was 17 he always told me the time was 7:17. Or 17:17. Or sometimes even 70:17 or 77:17.

That time, that real time in the summer of the real 1999, was as fleeting as his imaginary points on the clock, as fleeting as the chubby dimples on his knuckles, as fleeting as the years since.

What was once sweet toddler speech stuck with me, and 7:17 has become my time of day, my waymarker of life's miles. I smile with my heart whenever I notice the time and it's 7:17. These days, in the morning it's the time of breakfast cereal and stuffing sheet music into backpacks. In the evening it's the time of showers and toothbrushes, and books about greek mythology and dragons.


I've been very aware of the passage of time recently, in an almost painful way. It hits me in the middle of the mundane, when I'm slapping my way through yet another round of lunchbox packing, or finding myself at the arse-end of a Thursday night, out of milk, out of clean socks, out of energy.

"And now's the time, the time is now, to sing my song...."

It also hits me too, in the large and inescapable fact that little boy has run through the flowers in a garden I no longer tend, around the corner of a house I no longer own, and disappeared into young manhood. So too, all my other baby boys. He and his brothers are growing up.

Let the adventure begin.....

As the 7:17s come and go, morning and evening, spinning into tomorrow, next year, five years from now, I'm tired and hopeful and grateful in equal and dizzying parts. I am measuring the time more carefully these days.

What do I put between my 7:17s each day? Unlike so many self-help articles, I don't believe you really can "make every moment count." Practically speaking we have too many hours we must hand away to paperwork, washing dishes, errands, obligations. But some moments can count very much, and I've been focused on finding them, my 7:17s-- observing them, loving them, realizing them when they come to me. One can miss them if you're not watching.

Some of my 7:17s this spring:

A walk on the Iowa High Trestle Trail. Spring is finally here!


I taught myself how to make crepes for the family tradition that has developed since we moved into this house, Sunday morning brunch. Why did I wait so long to try this? The boys think I need to make up for lost time. I think they may be right.


After a somewhat serious hip injury last fall, I'm back to running again, and it feels like a small miracle to be able to run outside instead of at the indoor track. I like to find paths for running that also help me clear my head:

Inuksuk, an Inuit waymarker for travelers. 
And I'm not ashamed to admit to the most obvious cliche of them all: stopping to smell the roses. Or in this case, stopping to photograph the pine needles:


I loved the layers, patterns, and graceful lines of this bed of pine needles. I couldn't just walk by it.

That's the strength of that old maxim, isn't it? That the happenings of our lives have to be observed, marked, pointed out, in order to honor them? Whether that comes in the form of the time on a clock face, holding a child's hand, painting a painting, writing, knowing the contentment from sitting at your own kitchen table, some small internal prayer of gratitude.


We have to point it out to ourselves to appreciate it. It's that recognition that makes it count. At 7:17 a.m., or p.m., or any other time in between.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Do I Have To? Organize a Closet


I haven't done a "Do I Have To?" post since August. I hadn't forgot about what I'd imagined would be a monthly feature. It's just that philosophically speaking I was more in the mental state of "I don't want to" and even more possibly "You Can't Make Me," neither of which really bodes well for doing the work, taking the photos, and posting to the blog.

A few weeks ago when I was working feverishly on the bedroom and the bathroom, and had not an iota of patience or energy left, I decided to start a third project, mostly based on frustration over not being able to find a single AA battery in a house I was sure had several packages. Somewhere.

I emptied an entire closet out onto my dining room floor.


Beginning anything mid-hissy-fit is never a good step, and this one involved a few broken light bulbs.

But it felt good, too, as embarrassing as these photos are. Contrary to most older homes, our house has a lot of closets. A LOT. There are six closets on the main floor alone, and that doesn't include the bedrooms. If you include the bedrooms, there are TEN closets on the main floor. And I'm still not counting the dining room built-ins. Go ahead, be jealous.

And I love it. Luuuuuuurve it. But sometimes when you have an embarrassment of riches, be it wine or money or closets, you tend not to use it wisely. In my case, I was trying to move my possessions from three different location to this one home, saw all that vast empty space behind closed doors, and began cramming everything in as the moving boxes stacked up.

It helped for the short term, but in the long term we were looking at this:


I can not even. This photo begs a variety of questions:

Who needs three plungers? (Don't answer that.)
What earthly logic stores a stud finder with bath towels?
When are you going shopping for toilet paper? Soon, I hope.
How can you live like this?

Let's start with what I was absolutely not going to do:
Remodel. I had five fixed shelves (actually six with a little half shelf up at the very top), covered in sheet linoleum and edged with aluminum.


The person who'd built out this closet intended it to go the distance, and almost 75 years later, I'm disinclined to mess with something that's lasted this long. (That opening at the bottom is access to the shower plumbing. I needed to put the panel back up.)


You know those closets that are as beautifully decorated as an entire room, with their own design scheme and everything in labeled vintage containers? The ones with more magazine spreads than a minor celebrity?

Nope. Not gonna happen. I probably have the least Pinterest-worthy closet on the planet with 75-year-old linoleum shelving, but I just need it clean and organized. At the very least, I need to have it not looking like a small tribe of poo-flinging monkeys live in there.

I started by removing the trash. There was an astonishing amount of empty wrappers, probably courtesy of my children, operating on the same philosophy of leaving the cereal box in the kitchen cupboard with a 1/2 tablespoon of cereal in it.

Then I started organizing things in piles. Paper goods, light bulbs, batteries, toiletries. The first aid kit's contents had been strewn about the entire closet, and I got those all back in the box.


Organizing made me realize I'd been overshopping a bit. Clearly I won't need deodorant or shampoo for quite awhile. Or barber talc, though that was a three-fer deal. (I do the boys' haircuts.)

I moved all the tools out and the cleaning supplies went elsewhere too. Batteries and light bulbs also went someplace else. I decided this was going to be strictly bathroom supply.

I did purchase two of the baskets shown, but already had two in house. They were all from Target. The two large baskets are categorized as general toiletries for me, and general toiletries for the boys.


The plastic toolkit contains first aid supplies. The two smaller baskets are for seasonal needs. The small basket on the left holds suntan lotion, bug repellent, and hydrocortisone. The small basket on the right holds winter things, like dry-skin cream, mentholated rub, cough drops, hand sanitizer and chapstick, but it's empty because those items are in use around the household.

Isn't amazing how much spacious it seems when it's organized? It's almost a little spare. But that's okay by me. It's such a relief to open that now and know I can find what I want in an instant.

I also got out the paint and gave the door a fresh coat, inside and out. I know, it leaves the trim left to do and an obvious contrast between the new creamy white and the old pinky-beige, but that door. It was so grubby. Now it's clean, and I can get to the rest when I have time.


So now I've got this closet and one of Noah's closets (the rock studio, shown here) done. Only 8 more closets to go on the main floor. And yes, they all need a little work.

No wonder I threw a hissy fit.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Better Reflections: Bathroom Mirror Moves Out


While bedroom improvements take a small break so I can organize my tools and supplies for the next push, I'll update on a little progress with my bathroom.

Last summer, I got so frustrated by the gigantic 90's style half-acre mirror that dominated my small bathroom, I ripped it out.




Just the blank, cobwebby space felt better than that overwhelming mirror, but then I also painted to get rid of the oddly brownish purple mauve paint.


I still have to contend with the "airport landing" light fixture, and the counter, sink, and faucet. But I hung a small 25 inch square piece of scrap mirror to use until I figured out what was happening with the big mirror. 

Unfortunately, it ended up waiting in my dining room, leaned up against the wall.


And waiting.....


....while I painted outside all summer and the pages flew off the calendar. This last weekend, I got so frustrated by stalled piles of various things that I crammed a bunch of stuff in my van. Goodwill got six bags, the curb got two or three, and the mirror? Gone, daddy, gone:


But only for a little while. Instead of investing in an entirely new mirror, I decided to have the large one trimmed down to a more manageable size. It's gone to visit a glass and mirror fabrication shop for a little cosmetic surgery.

I'll have another post when it's back in the house and mounted on the wall. I'm looking forward to the results of the bathroom's next mini-facelift!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

I've Got the (Bedroom) Floor

I have only two things to say, up front:

I have no idea what happened to the last three weeks. None. 

On my nightstand there is a hammer, a chalk line, a multi-pack of pantyhose, a self-help book, and a pair of broken sunglasses. And if there's an off-color joke in there somewhere, I'm far too tired to look for it. Be my guest. 

Those two things together might give readers an idea the state of chaos my bedroom has deteriorated to, around the edges of the photos I'm about to show. I'm not courageous enough to reveal those edges, just the dead center where some stuff got done. You can catch my previous discussions about renovating my bedroom here and here

When last I left off I was working on the window, getting it from brown to white:


A week after I got the window finished up, I was able to work on the floor, which in a sort of reverse direction, was going from bare plywood to....brown. 

Just to review, I decided that lacking a budget for a floor in this room, I was going to paint the plywood subfloor and be done with it. 

First, the base coat, which went on a couple of weeks ago. This is Valspar's floor and porch paint, in Brown Velvet: 


Just getting this done helped make the room suddenly look more calm and put together, and that's with something as bare bones as painted subfloor. 

However, it was far from perfect, as this closeup below reveals. That's a lot of construction adhesive and wear: 


I decided that would look even less noticeable with a stencil. I'd been plotting this idea for awhile. Now, over on the blog This Sorta Old Life, blogger Rita suggested in a comment thread here that I take a look at the website Young House Love, because the homeowners there had recently stenciled a master closet and vanity area subfloor as a temporary fix between larger renovation projects. 

I had noticed their project and thought it looked great. But I also have a bad habit of daydreaming and hoarding away ideas and supplies way ahead of when I get to the actual project. Not that it's at all an idea original to me (I've seen it elsewhere too) but I just want to show proof: 


I've been sitting on this idea a long time! But Rita was already guessing exactly the direction I was heading. Great minds, as they say!

I chose Royal Design Studio's large Hollywood Squares. Though I bought this back in 2011, the stencil is still available here. It's a biggie, 18.5 inches wide by 31.5 inches long. That means you can paint big sections of stencil without having to lift and reposition all the time. 


I wanted this to be a subtle, washy, barely there, tone-on-tone stencil, since it was an all-over pattern. I also wanted a little hint of contrast. To get both, I went with a dark gun-metal gray metallic acrylic craft paint. 

Royal Design Studio's website has tons of tutorials and tools, and every stencil they sell comes with thorough directions. However, I have to admit I don't do it with either sponges or stencil brushes because I am as impatient as a toddler and I love my knees too much to spend two days on them. I use a 4-inch wood trim sponge roller (this is the one I use) with barely any paint on the roller. I always do a test run on butcher paper first, but by doing this method, in small areas over each small design motif, and in right angle directions toward the center of each design motif, it moves along so much faster. I knocked a 10X10 foot area out in three hours, including matching those fussy partial stencils around the edges. 

The stencils have registration marks so you can match up the next row of stenciling, but I was having trouble seeing them with the dark tone-on-tone. So I just popped the stencil over on an already existing row (you use so little paint to stencil that it dries very quickly) and used that method to line up the design. 


I didn't really cover any demonstration photos while I was doing this, because, did I mention I'm as impatient as a toddler? 

A few things to keep in mind: 

1. Stenciling a floor in an all-over design requires snapping a chalkline to find the center and square of your floor, just like laying flooring or tile. I was lucky in that my room was pretty close to square, and the design was forgiving enough of the few goofy angles that nothing ended up "off." 

2. Stenciling a floor is actually easier than a wall, because you have gravity working in your favor. I've done complicated wall stencils before where I thought I was going to win some sort of world prize for swearing swears. This was as simple as a few pieces of painter's tape. 

Three hours later, the floor in the bedroom nook was looking like this. I leaned a piece of baseboard molding against the wall to give an idea of the look with trim in place: 


There are a few places that appear to be smears in the photo, but no fear. They are places where dust from the chalk line still need to be cleaned up. They aren't errors. 

And now to go all the way back to our very first "before" photo: 


And now from a slightly closer and different angle: 


The project was in many ways very freeing because....it's subfloor. If I'd absolutely wrecked this? No biggie. Roll another layer of brown and start over. If I'd hated it? Easy enough to just coat over and try something else. Or nothing else. But I like the results, and the balance of a vintage pattern in more modern colors. 

My next step? Baseboard molding. It's something I have to teach myself. So, by the time the next three weeks elapse, there might be an air nail gun on the nightstand. And probably another self-help book.