Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Home Improvement vs. Self Improvement

This last week or so, I've been angry at a lot of things--Jenny McCarthy, the entire profession of orthopedic medicine, people who appoint themselves the doyenne of an entire home decor trend, picky eaters, blouses without sleeves in stores in January, shoppers who fill out checkbook ledgers in express lanes.

The fact that this much LPC and LMC (little plastic crap and little metal crap) came off
just ONE window is pretty irritating. 
You could say the little stuff is getting me down and though there is a lot of that, sometimes to the point I feel like I'm being pecked to death by chickens, it's also a lot of larger, more abstract things I'm wrestling with that are quite frankly pissing me off. And unfortunately they are all about my own annoying self.

It seems like home bloggers don't write about anger much, which has always surprised me. It seems like we have plenty to be mad about sometimes.

Like this plumbing leak that destroyed my entire bedroom wall:

Or the time I cussed an entire clump of maiden grass out of my border. My tools were an axe and fury:

Next time I'm using a flame thrower. 
But I'm beginning to realize (I'm a bit hard-headed, I know) that this is the stuff that actually happens while we're writing to-do lists and thinking it's gonna be a breeze. That "progress is progress" mantra from my New Year's goals is part of dealing with that. Realizing that no matter what happens, it's only going to get done one thing at a time anyway, even if that includes leaky pipes and stubborn weeds.

So you'd think with that attitude adjustment I'd be good to go, right?

Yes. And no.

I'm chugging along on my bedroom renovation just like I talked about, and I'll have some posts about it soon. But I'm discovering the "progress is progress" concept is a hell of a lot easier to apply to painting woodwork and wiring lighting than my other work in progress, which is me. For that, sometimes angry is all I've got.

1. I don't want help. Yes, I do. No, I don't.

I want to be self-reliant. While I am not irrational enough to think that I'm going to be able to do every single thing this house needs all by myself, I think I've got enough smarts, ability to work hard and willingness to attempt new challenges to do a lot of it. Sometimes it's not even that, but the fact that most of the time it's only me, and it's the only way it's going to get done.

But I only have so much time. I am only one person. I only have so much physical strength. And sometimes, things just go to hell well beyond my control to stay ahead of the problem. All of these facts tick me completely off.

In the almost three years I've lived here I have had help from my mom, my dad, my sister, my sons, an electrician, a plumber, and a handy man.

No one should ever feel bad about Dad help. It's one of the best kinds. 
Don't get me wrong. I am grateful for all the work from others which has made my house my home. And yet I get angry at myself for needing it. I know it doesn't make any sense; I think I'd feel less conflicted about it if I were in a relationship, as in, "we-the-couple" welcomed help from family and friends or hired it done, rather than "me" being a woman on her own who needed help, who couldn't do it on her own. It's that hair-splitting gender difference that makes me feel inadequate. Even when it's help from people who love me and would do it anyway. What's the difference between having assistance and being rescued? I don't know, and I worry about that part.

One of my favorite bloggers, Kit over at DIY Diva, recently wrote a post about this issue, only she did it much better and it included tequila and a raccoon in a cage; you can read it here. She said, "...sometimes I am only strong by default, not by choice. And it's not in my nature to accept that. Some day I might invite someone along on this adventure of mine, but not until I'm sure that I can walk the path on my own." This. So much this. Which leads me to:

2. I am single again, which is a good thing. Unless I'm mad about it, which I frequently am.

Because my personal life isn't really the focus of this blog, it didn't get mentioned that Mr. Man and I stopped seeing each other in August. It was no one's fault; he's a great person, and we're still friends. But after having that two and a half year relationship come to an end, followed by what can only be described as some.....communication weirdness I guess... with a guy I've liked for a really long time, I decided it was time to take a big long vacation from dating. I'm giving myself a year off.

Love me, love my chickens.
Partly because of number one, part two is necessary. I need to be not only competent but comfortable on my own, and honestly, I might be that way a lot longer than a year. Most of the time, I think I am. Comfortable, that is. But I'm also ambivalent. I run all the way from a slightly (and only slightly) more mature version of Boys Are Stupid, to having angst-y episodes about whether I can ever meet anyone when the only places I go are the grocery store and the hardware store. Then I realize I'm worrying about this during my supposed year off, and I get mad at Boys and myself all over again. So, the short version of all this is: boys stupid, me stupid, me angry that I'm stupid.

3. Getting older is also stupid.

I took up running last year as a way to bond with my sister, lose weight, and to, ironically enough, manage my anger. Running is meditative, cathartic, an excellent way to blow off steam. But I injured my hip, and I've been laid up recovering for a couple of months. After multiple appointments with an orthopedic surgeon and an MRI, what they can tell me is this: they don't know what happened, and they can't find anything wrong.

It was anti-climatic. And infuriating. The good news is they don't see anything wrong and I've got the go ahead to start running again. But the bad news is it's all uphill from here, as they say, to regain the level of fitness I lost, and to re-lose the weight I re-gained.

It's at this point I try to inject a little perspective. It's easy to give the sleeveless blouses and children who turn up their noses at chicken side-eye and move on. At the other end, none of my anger problems are real problems in the grand scheme of what the universe can dish out, just.....dissatisfaction aimed in an uncomfortable direction--at myself.

So while I think I've found the right philosophy for my home-improvement projects, I'm still finding what works for my self-improvement projects. "Progress is progress" isn't cutting it just yet, though maybe I'll come around to it.

In the meantime, I'll just shake my fist in its general direction.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Closet Remodel: Make a Music Studio

That's Noah second from right. 

My 14-year-old, Noah, is a rock musician. He's been playing guitar since he was four, and electric since he was eleven.

More than anything else, this is who he is. Sometimes, our house is pretty loud, and I never know what I'm going to get-- Nirvana, Green Day, Johnny Cash, Rage Against the Machine, Led Zeppelin, Ozzy Osbourne, Miles Davis, Pink Floyd.

Some moms wonder how I can take it, but really? I love it. I enjoy listening to his practice become something concert-worthy. He was in his first band last summer as part of a "school of rock"-type project, and he was a natural on stage.

But his bedroom was slowly becoming a shambling pile of equipment, and we were trying to figure out a great way to deal with it.

Luckily he has two closets, side-by-side, in his room, and he and I decided to figure out what we could do with one of them for what he called a "fold out studio." It was part of his birthday present.

This was not a project about getting things perfect. The interior of this closet is missing trim, is full of nail holes, and even has a cold air return rough-cut into the bottom right side.

I didn't care. It's a closet. We weren't going to get bogged down in the (slightly shabby) details.

Noah chose a color scheme: turquoise, red, black, and metallic gold.

We picked up a quart of Valspar's Aqua Dance paint:

And got right down to business:

This is a teenage rock star looking dubious about being photographed, and how the paint color looks on the first coat:

And he's right. The first coat in bright/dark/intense colors always looks terrible:

But with a full three coats, it got dark and rich in there, and was a perfect backdrop for red, white, black, and metallic gold art and furnishings:

Meet D.J. Max. He was named as a pun on the chain store, and in honor of Max Headroom (remember him, Generation Xers?) He's a foam head, painted with metallic gold acrylic craft paint. He's mounted on a wood craft square, spray-painted glitter black. Max is there to hold Noah's head phones when not in use. The sun glasses are just because he too cool.

The letter "N" (which Noah says stands for "notorious" rather than his name) is also a craft store item, spray painted red.

I bought a piece of metal lattice screen at the hardware store to cover up the cold air return near the floor, but we got the idea to use it as a template for street-graffiti-like paint on the wall. I held it up and spray painted over the piece horizontally in gold, and vertically in black. I didn't try to make it perfect, or nice. I just went with it.

The record turntable graphic is from Etsy seller Benton Park Prints, and both the colors and quotes are customizable. The Jimmy Page quote is one of Noah's favorites, and the print was a birthday present for him.

The closet organizer shelf is one I had in my own closet upstairs, but it was so far in a deep corner it was always empty. The magazine organizer is from Ikea and is for sheet music and notebooks. The bottom soft-sided basket I found at the grocery store, of all places, in the back-to-school section. It holds smaller pieces of gear. Since these photos were taken we've added a pencil/pen holder, a small tray to hold guitar picks, and his metronome on the empty shelf.

You can see in the photo above the metal lattice panel that covers the cold air return. Right now it's not even fastened to the wall, but it will be as I finish up little details. It's spray painted gold, and adds to the industrial look. The posters we hung with binder clips nailed to the wall, so Noah could switch things out as his tastes change.

There is room for Noah's guitar stand (with the beloved Fender Strat) and his mini-amp. When it's all closed up he can also tuck in a folding stool and sheet music stand. We spray painted the closet shelves black (one is missing from the photo above), and left the hanging bar in so the space will convert back to conventional storage quickly if it needs to.

It's at its best as a stage for what Noah does every day: practice. Because it's a long way to the top if you want to rock-n-roll.

That's a laid-back, practice version of the guitar hook from "Good Times," by Led Zeppelin. And we had a good time putting this together. It was nice to just shoot for the effect, have fun, and not worry about the details. Kind of like a good jam session.


Design Note: 

This is the weirdest design note ever. Trust me. It has to do with the making of D.J. Max:

Uh. If you ever get the idea that you need a painted craft foam head in your life (and I'm sure that happens almost daily, right?), please remember this.

DO NOT use spray paint.

When Noah and I first conceived of this idea as a cool way to park his headphones, I just thought I'd pick up one of those mini-cans of metallic spray paint, and away we'd go.

Only, as I sprayed, it was clear something wasn't going right. It was kind of a horror show. The first Max began melting before our eyes.

His skin became pitted, and he had a severe cranial depression right on top of his skull. We learned the hard way that the solvents in spray paint dissolve styrofoam.

Now you know. If you need to know. Really, did anyone need to know this?

Monday, January 13, 2014

First Steps of Progress in the Bedroom: Painting Window Trim

As part of my discussion of goals for 2014, I mentioned this charming space, above, otherwise known as my bedroom. 

Actually, that's what the room looked like a few weeks after we moved in. But with carpet removal, floor sanding, dry-wall sheathing, and painting, we've got it to a basic bare-bones room in this alcove: 

But it still needs lots of help in others: 

Before I can get on with taking care of the rest of the drywall work, I've got to move my bed into the alcove. But before I can move my bed into the alcove, I need to finish the alcove. To finish the alcove I need to: 

1. Paint the window trim. 
2. Paint the floor.
3. Put in baseboard molding.

Working in my new philosophy of "progress is progress," I took my first steps toward finishing the alcove this week: painting the window. Nothing more. 

You'll notice that in all of these photos, the window trim is dark brown. While I'm not against brown, in the case of these windows it seems to trap the light right there, and none seems to get into the room. As low-ceilinged as this room is, I want all the sunshine I can get. I'd also like the window trim to match the rest of the house, which is white. 

It took a while just to get all the years of window treatment hardware and weather stripping off it. It was like taking barnacles off an old ship. 

It was also a bit unnerving to remove the wasp's nest. I had no idea that was there. And um....how did they get in? 

I'm not blogging a how-to on this because everyone knows the drill---yawn. Scrape, sand, tape, prime, paint. Pretty tedious. Extra irritation points on this one for all the weather stripping adhesive residue. I used two coats of stain-blocking primer. 

I used Valspar's Cream Delight in soft gloss. It's not a stark white--it's got a little drop of yellow and a little drop of gray in it--so it seems in keeping with the trim in an older house. The gloss has a bit of sheen to it, but nothing harsh or glaring. And it's not as glossy as it looks in these photos.

I proffer my progress photo with these conditional statements: 

1. I know this photo is terrible. (Anyone with tips for shooting photos of windows and overcoming the backlighting, please let me know. Please.)

2. This is only a first coat, and a second, maybe a third will be necessary. So will touch-ups, because painter's tape is never quite perfect. (And I can see that I missed a spot in the upper left hand corner of the upper sash? Photos never lie.)

3. The fire safety sticker is coming off the glass when the weather warms up (it's on the outside). 

4. I left the holes in the wood so I could stick a few nails in them and clothespin a sheet to the window. I love my neighbors, but I'm not really planning on treating them to a burlesque show every evening until I figure out my shade/curtain choices. I'll go back and touch up with wood filler and paint when I'm ready to rock on those. 

5. I haven't scraped the paint of the glass yet, and I also need to remove and spray paint the window lock and sash lift. 

6. I really, really wish I'd gotten further on this. But.....progress is progress. Right? 

Another half day on this window, tops, will mean I'm onto the next step....painting the floor. I'd like to get started on that next weekend. 

Thursday, January 9, 2014

For the Lady of the House: A Bedroom

When I bought this four bedroom Cape Cod in 2011, two of the bedrooms (upstairs) were an utter disaster, and two (main floor) badly needed paint and furnishings.

It was really important to me the boys felt welcome and excited about their new home, so we started with their bedrooms first.

We went in a fairly rapid sweaty pace from this in the twins' bedroom:

to this:

Noah's room got paint and a few spiffs for this: 

Grant, my oldest son, got a school-colors-but-not-overtly-sports-themed room here: 

The lady of the house (that would be me) started with this: 

I am still trying to figure out why a Viewmaster
disc is on the floor at the bottom of this photo. Weird.
Well, sorta. The photo above is an actual improvement from where it was originally. The walls had been covered with cheap glued-on vinyl wood-paneling. Instead of tearing out old carpet and pad before replacing with new, the previous owners had slapped down another layer of padding and another layer of carpet OVER the top of the old. They did this three times and yes, you read that right. The entire floor was a malignant spongiform growth of disintegrating padding, smelly carpet, dirt, cat hair, and..... yeah. My skin crawled just being in that room. For awhile my "bedroom" was actually in the dining room downstairs; it was that bad.

In this next paragraph I will use the word "heroically" three times. Please reference the picture above one more time so you understand why.

My son heroically tore out vinyl paneling and three layers of nasty carpet and pad; my sister heroically sanded the entire blackened stained mystery gook (pictured above) down to the solid plywood subfloor, and my sister and I both heroically sheathed the walls in 3/8 inch sheetrock to cover up all the damage. 

I then plastered, sanded, and painted the alcove to end up with this: 

And that is where it stopped. I've been living in a construction zone bedroom ever since. 

The bedroom consists of the alcove in the front gable of the house, facing east, along with a larger, partially full-height ceilinged room that is accessed from the hallway. 

There's a north bedroom window on the house end gable: 

That's closet door trim stacked up in the corner. This girl knows how to accessorize. 

Here's another shot showing how the parts of the room connect to each other: 

Over on the other side of the alcove, we have the bedroom wall that had to be demolished because a slow sink leak on the bathroom side had gone unnoticed long enough in the unoccupied house to ruin the drywall: 

....Along with a stray bookcase crammed with clothes I mean to consign, and my motley crew of second hand dressers. The wall framing and plumbing run is a look I've lived with since we moved in. I'm not sure I really have to point this out, especially to my female readers, but this is NOT glamorous. 

I'll admit I've allowed this room to become some sort of horrific teenage girl's wasteland/construction zone mash-up of the worst conceivable kind, only I didn't have the guts for those kinds of pictures on a blog. I tidied up for the photo shoot. There's only so much reality I can cope with. It's why I drink wine. 

Perhaps my little touches look silly in a room with unfinished walls and floors, but it's my way of keeping my future hopes for the room in front of me, even in some small way. Sparkly lamps! Precious babies! My friend Kristy calls it the future "lady lair." I sure could use one. 

Still, I've got miles to go before I can even hang a curtain. 

In my new spirit of "progress is progress," I'll be working in small steps toward the distant landmark of the finished room. The next time I blog about the bedroom we'll be taking on one of them, to complete the alcove. Let's make this lady lair happen. 

Monday, January 6, 2014

New Year, Old Goals, Better Strategy

At the beginning of 2012, I chose this quote to be my guiding point of the year:

"A place belongs forever to whoever claims it hardest...wrenches it from itself, shapes it, renders it, loves it so radically that he remakes it in his own image." -- Joan Didion.

It is clear to me now that I had no idea how exhausting Ms. Didion, her quote, and this house were going to be.

Two years later, I still have many of the same things on my to-do list. While I got my kitchen cabinets refinished and the walls painted that year:

And I managed to launch an extensive exterior paint job in 2013: 

Other items on the list have languished, like my bathroom facelift from 2013: 

My bedroom is still a construction zone, my upstairs bathroom also needs some help, and well, I've got more painting and gardening projects to do. 

But one thing I learned from my exterior paint project is this: 

Big projects, viewed as one big task, tend to overwhelm me. Even breaking them down into a long list of smaller tasks, while perhaps necessary for long-range planning and budgeting, aren't a good way for me to tackle goals. 

I could be a goal weenie. Or scatterbrained. Or tired. All of these are true, I reckon. Add in family responsibilities and the desire to occasionally spend a Sunday afternoon on the sofa, and it's clear that it's not a way to get a lot done or feel good about it. I need a different psychological strategy.

One thing I said in this post, a review of the house painting season, I really liked. 

"Progress is progress." Considering the craziness of my life right now, I like the concept that implies--that even incremental bits and pieces, individually, make a difference, and taken together over the long term, add up. 

I'm still going to choose three areas, by way of prioritizing all these incremental bits of progress. 

1. Season two of house painting: 

2. Continue short-term improvements in the main floor bathroom: 

3. Pick up where I left off in my bedroom:

I can always add smaller projects in around the edges, or pick up another theme if one of these becomes fully realized. But for now I'm just going to concentrate on one small improvement after the other, and try to ignore that larger, scarier-looking picture for the time being. Progress is progress. It's a new year, let's go make some!

Friday, January 3, 2014

Sliding into the New Year (With a Little Rearranging)

We had a quiet and uneventful Christmas holiday, thanks for asking. It was just what we always wanted. And while I've got a few stray boxes yet to be packed in storage, most of the holiday riff-raff has been put away until next December. 

I wish I could say I'm prepared for 2014's launch, but I'm sitting here in pajamas at 11 a.m. on a Friday morning, I appear to be so behind on laundry that I can't find a clean pair of pants, and I really NEED pants today because it was -5 degrees Fahrenheit at dawn this morning. This is not cute skirt weather, even with cute sweater leggings and cute boots, all of which I have. 

What I'm saying is that readers are getting a blog post because I'm waiting on the washer and dryer, and clean pants. Clearly I have very high performance standards. 

I'll be following up soon with a New Year's/New goals/Famous last words type post in a bit, but in the meantime, here's something I did while I was waiting for my cookies to bake and my holiday plans to gel: I rearranged the dishes in my dining room built-ins. 

I get in this attitude that if a room is in transition, why bother with the niceties? And my dining room has been in that place for a long time-- fleshy beiges, tacky 80s vinyl wallpaper, furniture I no longer like. There was one other picture I was going to share, but decided showing blog readers a photo of a dining room with an ironing board in it looked too much like a stage set from the old television show Hee-Haw. But this is where I am with this space: 

I'm beginning to change my feeling about this. Even with wallpaper half-peeled, doesn't shambling disorder make the situation even worse? Why would I completely ignore this room if I walk through it every day going from the living room to the kitchen?

This is the east built-in cabinet, with stacks of various dishes, paint chips, and some odds and ends I didn't want to lose track of: 

And this is the west built-in, which looks even sadder to me, somehow. 

It's the land of Misfit Tableware, orphaned gravy boats and all. 

It was bugging me as I was doing my annual holiday foofing and baking, so I took half an hour to clean everything out of there, put away, and rearrange. 

Here are my afters. First, the east built-in: 

And here is the west built-in: 

These corner cabinets were about 15 percent of my decision to buy this house. Call me superficial, but it was love at first sight. Even so, they need a fresh coat of paint, and that wallpaper insert taken off the lower door panel. I'd like to do something with color/wallpaper/shelf-liner in the inside, but have no ideas yet. 

Still, just tidying up in both made the room feel just a little better. Incremental improvements are a way of making me feel like there's progress until I find the time, energy, and money for the big bang efforts. 

Here's hoping there are a few of those big bang efforts in 2014. Oh, and clean pants.