Category Archives: Home Improvement

Tokens of Ownership

Just now Mark pulled three brushed nickel house numbers out of a rumpled Restoration Hardware bag. The receipt tumbled out with them.


Three days after my 28th birthday. The day after our closing. Our first house. Our wedding less than two months away. Unbeknownst to me, my current job will end very soon, another opportunity presenting itself favorably. So much change, so much new responsibility. Going into Restoration Hardware, on the corner of Boylston and Exeter Streets, and poring over the styles and finishes, wanting to purchase a small, perfect something. A token for the house. Something to make it immediately ours. Feeling very adult, going to buy new numbers for my house at a fancy store in Back Bay.

Now, Mark sits at the kitchen table, an Azek board and a screw gun in hand, and mounts the numbers to the board. Three more minutes and the board is on the house.

Five years, four months and seventeen days later, those numbers, my token of ownership, are finally on the house. In that time, Mark has gutted eighty percent of the first floor, replumbed and rewired the whole house, built two new staircases, a bath/laundry room, a home office, a new front porch and back deck, reroofed, and fenced in the yard, we’ve decorated a nursery, brought home two puppies, and our small boy. I’ve planted gardens, transplanted flowers from my mother’s gardens, we put in a sandbox. Through all that, the old numbers stayed where they were, on the old front porch post, leaning up against the street face of the house. Somehow all those responsibilities and lists crowded around, jostling for attention, and time slipped away.

Today, though? We have three new brushed nickel numbers on a block on the front of the house.


Yard Sale!

Yesterday was our fifth wedding anniversary. We’ll start there. A week ago, my Mom called and offered to take Felix overnight, so we could have anniversary date night. Initially, we were like, “Um, yeah, but can we do it Saturday night instead?” Then Mark had a brilliant idea!

Rewind five years and two months. Wibbly wobbly…timey wimey… (extra credit if you get that)

A soon-to-be-married CDG and Mark sign a mortgage on the house in which they now reside. Mark promptly begins gutting it. Over the next five years, he systematically guts 75% of the second floor and rebuilds it all–beautifully, I might add.

All the stuff we needed out-of-the-way while various parts of our home were unfinished find their way into the spare bedroom. Chaos ensues. Our cat, who went to live with a very nice lady named “Cindy” about six months ago, spent four and half of those years being angry at me for:

  1. moving Mark in with us
  2. moving her to a new home
  3. renovating the home, loudly, with power tools,
  4. getting dogs, and
  5. having a baby

Then, and I found her “Cindy.” Everyone, including the cat, loves this situation. But I digress.

She spent those angry years peeing on the carpets in the spare bedroom. If we shut her out of that room, she peed in the bathroom, or on the basement floor. Just. Eeew.

Due to the overwhelming amount of stuff in the spare bedroom, we couldn’t get the carpets up and out until after the cat was gone. Until we suddenly found ourselves with a free and childless Saturday morning in June. And Mark had a brilliant idea!

Say it with me now, “Yard. Sale.”

So, last week we cleared everything out, sorted, purged and organized. The carpets came out, along with the smell–halleluia!–and we got ready for our yard sale.

What? A romantic fifth anniversary weekend shouldn’t include a yard sale? It worked for us! We also squeezed in dinner out, sushi to celebrate the sale, and adult… conversation. Gutter minds…

So, for the past week, the words “yard sale” have been in large font around our house, and my mind keeps turning back to the ski resort slang term yard sale, referring to a spill so bad that all your gear scatters when you fall, as though it were on display at a yard sale, rather than assisting you with your alpine descent.

Since what I lack in skiing prowess and athleticism, I make up for in enjoyment (my Dad, who taught me to ski, always says, “If you don’t fall, you’re not trying hard enough!”), yard sales were a frequent and prominent part of my downhill skiing experience. If I had a dollar for I hit the snow with my poles ten feet away in opposite directions and my skis on their way down the mountain without me, listening to some yahoo on the lift calling out, “YARD SALE!” I wouldn’t need to go back to work.

Of course, it’s been more than five years since I’ve skied. So we put my ski boots out. At an actual yard sale.

Happy Anniversary!

Suburban Eden

I planted my first vegetable garden this summer. It is very likely that it’s an overly ambitious first garden. I’m not good at reining myself in when it comes to new hobbies. I have four different types of tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, pole beans, English peas, yellow squash, carrots, pumpkins, and lettuce and a full complement of herbs in containers (except the cilantro, which arrived later than the rest).

Perhaps I should be selling farm shares? Probably not. I will, however, be canning, pickling, and freezing my vegetable bounty for most of July and August.

Of course this is all assuming that there’s no tomato blight, drought, pestilence, my own debilitating laziness, bunnies… The litany of potentially destructive forces to be driven down upon my defenseless chicken-wired garden by vengeful gods is long and frightening. (Inflated sense of self, much?)

My neighbors must think I’ve finally gone ’round the bend. Sometimes I just stand there, looking down on my tiny plants with a maternal expression. Oh, look, Squash has a new set of leaves. Mama’s so proud!

The best part right now is the early harvest. My herbs are going crazy and the lettuce is beautiful!

So green!

Big Boy Bed

Last Friday we made the transition from crib to bed, and I was, to say the least, apprehensive. I underestimated my little munchkin, not to mention my own parenting skills. I know how to transition. I’ve been there before, and the the tee shirt is old, stained, and holey.

He took to it beautifully, even “helped” the delivery guys set it up (and by “helped,” I mean he played with his GeoTraks on the floor nearby, and chatted with Jackson, the truck driver, and his assistant). He’s slept in it happily for a week, and has been on the phone to both Memere and Gramma to tell them the news. He even brought our friends upstairs to see it when they were over for dinner this past weekend.

From a design perspective, it’s a little big for the room, and should be oriented with the headboard against the wall, but until I’m sure he won’t hurl himself out, one side stays against the wall. I only want to buy one bed rail.

Things I love? The robot sheets I found at Home Goods, and the cars & trucks duvet from IKEA. The quilt and bed skirt came from Circo by Target. The bed came from Bob’s Discount Furniture. Nothing fancy, no Pottery Barn, no Land of Nod, no pricey theme. Oh, and storage drawers? In a room with a teeny closet, those are a godsend!

So, here it is. The Big Boy Bed:

I love his 80’s stylin one leg up on the jammies. Also, it took him less than two minutes to start using it for trains. Kid is seriously a vehicular junkie.!

Felix’s Nursery (with Bonus Video)

With all the home improvement posts I’ve done, I’ve never really posted much about the nursery. I am so very proud of it, too. I only realized this while I was mentally shuffling furniture around for his Big Boy Bed, which arrives tomorrow.

I thought, Wow. I should take some pictures of the nursery before it’s gone.
My baby’s not so much a baby anymore.

When we were expecting, I thought about the nursery all the time. I could picture it behind my eyelids when I was falling asleep. I wanted something authentically ours, but also something both playful and put together that our little boy could put his stamp on. There are a lot of family pieces and hand-me-downs in this room–that means a lot to me. There are also more than a couple oooooh!-impulse-buy-for-the-nursery items from my beloved Target and IKEA.

So, to start off my wee tour, I’ll show you some befores. I lurve me some befores.

Before: Our walk through, 3/2005
Before: All the baby swag jammed in the room before nesting kicked in. 9/2007
Before: painted, still with a pile of baby swag in the middle of the room. 9/2007

And now, the afters. Yay! Afters!

View from the door, with the bookcase my Dad made me when I was little, and the rocker–which came from Mark’s late aunt’s estate, and my Mom had recovered.
Perhaps my favorite little bit of the room–these three Pooh paintings were done by my maternal grandmother, whom I never got know. They hung in my room when I was little, too.
The crib, passed on to us by my former employers (I’ve put four babies down to sleep in this crib!), with the quilt made my all the women in my family, my Mom’s old toy chest, and one of the three Roman shades she made for the room.
This is a section of the growth chart my dear friend Andrea, at Bouncing off the Walls Murals, painted for us.


The changing table/dresser came with the hand-me-down crib–new knobs from Target.
Boy wonder himself, showing off his Adirondack style rocker (and making a really weird face).

And now, the minute, thirty-one seconds you’ve all been waiting for, Felix’s big interview. Hang on, kids, this is some serious docu-drama!

(not quite) Good (enough) Housekeeping, Part One

Five half-assed housekeeping points from my weekend.

~assuming that the dishwasher has done its job, that there isn’t a smear of sterilized leftovers in your favorite saute pan, and simply putting it away without checking.

~substituting sunshine and fresh air via open windows for actual cleaning, ie: vacuuming and dusting

~washing and drying the laundry on a weekly basis. folding it bi-monthly. putting it away seasonally.

~hiding that which you can’t (or won’t) deal with in a guest room until a later date. five years later, regretting that decision.

~leaving the dinner dishes until morning

Another Complete Room: Downstairs Bath/Laundry

This room has been 95% done for quite a while now, just awaiting a few last punch list items, and a chunk of time for Mark to make up the cabinet door fronts. Older posts pertaining to the bathroom can be found here, here, and here. Just to bring everyone up to speed:

This is the space when we first saw the house. That closet over there on the right had vinyl floors and the washer/dryer hookups. What looks like a white wall on the left is actually a 2′ square pillar around the chimney that sat awkwardly in the crook of this L-shaped room. We will not discuss the awful emerald green carpet.

Here is approximately the same shot today. We’ve taken down and put up some walls to reconfigure the space. Now the bathroom occupies the closet and adjacent area, and a wall divides everything to the left into a small office/library (whose door you see here), and the wall facing the camera encloses the office and makes a front parlor/entryway of sorts.

And now, a short video tour of the new bathroom:

It’s very exciting, after living with a house in transition for so long, to finally have so much of the space not only livable, but the way we dreamed of it when we bought this sad, neglected house.

The Family Room: Five Year Evolution

Inspired by the awesomeness over at Orion Victorian, I’m going to show you all the most recent update to the house. This project actually happened over five weeks in October and early November of last year, just in time for Felix’s birthday.

This is what it looked liked when we first looked at it. It was far more turquoise in real life. ::shudder::

Here it is, poorly lit, with all the furniture heaped in the middle, after I repainted, which was the first thing *I* tackled in the house. By this time, Mark had already gutted the adjacent dining room, and rebuilt the floor joists.

This is what it looked like for most of the interim. Mark put in new laminate flooring, and we covered the icky brown vinyl windows with reed shades. We occasionally “stage” the room with “friends.” It makes our claims of a social life seem plausible.

Flash forward four and a half years, and it’s empty again, stripped of window trim, and awaiting its fate.

Exterior shot. Look, Ma, no insulation under the siding!

And the walls come down…

One new wall up, one old wall down.

Windows in, trimmed, and drywalled.

Present day, renovated and checked off the list!

I’m thinking about doing a five year retrospective in April when we celebrate the anniversary of the closing. What do you think?

Orion Victorian! Go Check It Out!

I have, from time to time, posted about Mark’s progress on the house. Various projects are underway, but nothing that’s finished enough for a post (save one, but that’s for another day). Over our five years here, I’ve developed a healthy appreciation for real life home remodeling (as opposed to the foolishness you see on This Old House, or anything on HGTV or DIY). It doesn’t hurt that I married an exceptionally talented carpenter/general contractor…

But for today, I turn your eyes towards a friend of mine, and her new home adventure in Michigan.

She’s wonderful, they’re adorable, and I can’t wait to see the soon-to-be three of them settle into and make their mark on their new home!

Confessions of a Suburban Murderess

Weeds. Not People. Let’s just get that settled straight away.

I have these weeds. They plague me. I spend hours plotting their demise. They have deep, strong, hardy roots, and grow up from underneath the old concrete of our driveway. I dig, I pull. I cannot get the roots up. I cut them back and they sprout like hydras. It’s obscene.

I’m loathe to use commercial weed killers because of the kiddo and the dogs and the healthy shrubs and perennials I have on the property, so I called my old friend, the internets, to find a home remedy for the problem. After a few sites, I managed to cobble together a rudimentary understanding of the remedy.

Here’s what I made*: 1 T. strong spirits (gin, preferably, though I didn’t have any, so I used vodka), 1 T cider vinegar, & 1 T dish soap in a 16 oz. spray bottle. Top off with hot water. I would not use this is in a broad application. It kills indiscriminately from what I’ve read. Also, you would need gallons. It’s not super concentrated.

I cut back the foliage of these nasty, invasive chard like weeds so that the stalks were raw, and then I sprayed the bejeezus out of them, right up in their faces, so to speak. I am optimistic that they won’t come back this time.

Mwah ah ah ah….

*Hello, fine print! I am not a chemist, a horticulturist, or even an avid gardener. I cannot be held responsible for you trying what I did and deriving unacceptable results. I’m just sharing what worked for me. Then again, it hasn’t worked yet. I’ll get back to you on that…