My new happy place

Though I admitted yesterday to reading less than I would like lately (thank you all so much for your rut-busting recommendations!), I am happy to report that our home library is now functional, pretty and perfect for settling into with a good read.

From the moment we stepped into the house, I pictured this bright, sunny and quiet room near the door as a space for reading and relaxing. I lobbied for a library just as my husband campaigned for a basement workshop, and we’re both pretty happy with the results! (And our separate spaces. One does benefit from a room of one’s own.)

The bookcases were originally from our local Borders, purchased for Spence’s old condo and finally moved to the new house. They were gathering dust in the basement until a friend helped us bring three upstairs, and then I was doing my happy-happy dance all over the room until I just couldn’t shake it anymore.

I love that the room feels a little random. It’s filled with goodies we’ve collected in the last few years and is already shaping into the fun, funky, colorful room I envisioned.

The chair was a purchase from Target, the throw a gift from my grandmother. My beloved book pillow was purchased from a French-inspired shop during a trip with my mother- and father-in-law to Niagara-on-the-Lake in April.

I bought the cushion for a future library before there even was a library. The ultimate “If you build it . . .,” wouldn’t you say?

Of course, the books themselves draw most of the interest . . . and rightfully so. I have childhood favorites, beloved series, collections and review copies. There are hardcovers, cookbooks, old journals and photo albums.

A little of everything. Everything I love.

On an end table are coasters for tea (of course!), a painted initial from our wedding and a favorite photo from our engagement shoot. With a tiny piece of Parisian lamp, too, because classy.

Back when I was silly and thought I needed to decorate the house immediately, I made canvases featuring my favorite cover art from three cherished books: The Great Gatsby, Pride and Prejudice and I Capture The Castle.

I’ve had them for months and debated their placement approximately 10,000 times, but Spence and I finally settled on a spot and hung them last week — along with an older “Keep Calm” poster I had in my childhood bedroom. I love that it’s back, displayed proudly again.

Though we still have a few things to work on and will eventually get an ottoman and couch for an adjacent wall, it feels good to have one room close to “done.” I love passing through there daily, even if I don’t have much time to sit, and look forward to all the quiet mornings of coffee and daydreams I’ll enjoy in that chair.

And the reading, of course. The words and stories and change.

And just because before-and-afters are always fun . . .

old library

New library


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Thrifty finds and learning to re-purpose

It’s kind of like a sickness.

Once you start looking at auctions and vintage sites, yard sales and estate sales, you find yourself steadfastly refusing to buy “new” and peering into every nook and cranny for something to “re-purpose.”

I blame my husband, who loves seeking out unique items to fix up and give new life. And budgeting, of course. Buying a new house devoid of most furnishings has meant I’ve spent a crazy amount of time online looking for the right this-or-that for the closet, the bedroom, the kitchen.

And friends? I bought my chair. You encouraged me and you were right: it was necessary and I’m so happy I took the plunge.

After tracking the package from Savannah with a fervor typically reserved for kids checking SAT scores, I came home to a gigantic package in front of the garage. The chair is in the library now and looks awesome — just what I wanted! I’m going to do a little tour next week because I have a library now and am simply too excited about it.

As Spence was opening the box yesterday, I was literally stamping my feet like a 3-year-old. A toddler ripping through packages from Santa.

Not even sorry about it.

But that? That was my first “new” purchase in quite a while. For the last few months, Spence and I have been getting up early on many Saturdays to check out a big flea market. Folks come from all over to sell their random stuff, and we usually don’t leave empty-handed.

My husband has loaded all manner of tools, equipment and movies into the car since we started going, but I typically leave without spending cash myself. Especially as we prepped to move, anything new we bought was something else we had to schlep from the condo to the house . . . and I was already done with schlepping.

Now that our things are (mostly) unboxed and the house is not a complete disaster, I feel pretty confident moving into the new phase of homeownership: DECORATING.

And I cannot be stopped.

It started with fall pieces here and there . . . on the mantel, for one, after I felt sure that our colony of bees living in the fireplace either a) no longer exists; or b) figured out another escape route. Other than, you know, through our living room. So with the plastic tarp removed (yay!), I felt good about adding some decorative elements up there.

Though I’m not the craftiest person, I’ve started checking out Pinterest projects and other blogs with more interest. Like all skills, I’m sure I can get better with practice — and in terms of transforming yard sale finds, I’m guessing I just have to experiment.

I’m starting slow.

After chatting with a nice older couple on Saturday, I brought home this vintage-y artwork from them:

Art print


Don’t ask me why, but I love this piece. I’ve seen similar prints in vintage shops, but they’re upwards of $50 a pop. I don’t know the history of them (anyone know?), but each month seems to have its own print with flower varieties listed.

This one? July. My birth month.

As the woman happily sold it to me, she said, “I just marked that one down! I’ve had it around forever. I guess the right person comes along at the right time.”

Indeed.

Though it seemed fated, the frame was badly damaged and a corner of the print is a bit waterlogged. Rather than just break it out of the wooden frame and buy a new one, though, I’ve decided to re-purpose it.

This is the part where I should be like, “And LOOK! Look at it noooooow!” . . . but, unfortunately, I haven’t painted it yet.

I know. I’m sorry.

I did go to the craft store for paint and a foam brush, and I consider that a win during a crazy work week. After spending way too much time deciding between various shades of red, brown and yellow, I bought a dark brown that should complement the furniture in the library really well.

Old me would have shelled out $20 for a new frame without any character, but new me — er, the thrifty me — is just makin’ it work.

Kind of proud.

And if you need me, I’ll be in the library.


Spreading fall to the hall

I held out as long as I could.

With kids lined up for buses on every other street corner this morning, fall is definitely in the air. I woke up looking at the golden light with a sense of excitement — the same one I mentioned last week — and pulled open the front door to let a cool breeze in as Spencer was leaving for work.

We got so much done around the house this weekend. Two months into homeownership, we still have boxes tucked into nearly every room . . . but Spencer finished the pantry, friends, and it is glorious. I know I sing the praises of my handy husband all the time, but trust me when I say that every word is true. The guy is awesome.

As a side note, we apparently have tons of sauerkraut, taco shells, grape jelly and canned corn beef. So if you’re hungry?

Finishing the pantry created a domino effect: we could then finish unpacking all the bags of canned goods, kitchen appliances and other food-related goodness because the contents of the cabinets could be shuffled to the pantry. That means I could continue emptying the boxes in the future library, which has been operating as a makeshift pantry.

Which means I’m one step closer to having a library.

My reunion with my books — now languishing in boxes for three whole months — will be a joyous one.

But back to autumn, the most fantastic of seasons. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t imagining pumpkins in every nook and cranny back when we were just looking at the house in March. As soon as August rolls around, I’m usually dreaming of cool temperatures and county fairs and boots, and this year is no exception.

And I have a whole house to scatter with gourds. This is so happening.

In my pursuit of only buying pieces for the house when I have a “clear vision” for the space (ha), I finally broke down and bought a console table for the hallway. It’s kind of funny to be decorating when you have boxes and stuff everywhere, but whatever. We’ll get there.

I wanted a little table and found a little table, but that little table was just so . . . barren.

It needed pumpkins.

But what doesn’t, really?

I know it’s late August . . . and that I’m quite possibly jumping the gun. But I’m just so pumped and totally in the “pumpkin everything” camp. From drinks to designs to just the burnt-orange color itself, I’m all about fall and gourds and happiness.

And now I can spread that to the hallway.

Seems only appropriate.


Never promised you a (hosta) garden

There are a lot of Things in our yard.

Green things. Purple things. Weed-like things. Bushes, shrubs, flowering things.

I’ve never had a garden. I’ve never had my own yard. I lived at home until I was 28, and the collective idea of yard work was waking up to the hum of my dad’s lawn mower on Saturday mornings and occasionally ridding a small flower bed of its weeds in the spring. I remember planting impatiens with my mom as a kid, but my interest — and help! — was minimal. Very minimal.

We raked leaves in the fall and blew dandelions in summer, sure, but there wasn’t really work to do out there. My sister and I splashed in a kiddie pool, took friends to swing on our wooden bench and played with dogs in the backyard, but it was — to me — a maintenance-free space. One I took entirely for granted.

Now that we’re responsible for a hunk of the outdoors on our “property” (man, that feels fancy!), I’m learning the care and keeping of a yard is time-consuming. And I have no earthly idea what I’m doing. Since I cower from mosquitoes and bees and generally anything categorized as “creepy-crawly,” my preference isn’t to spend much time out there . . . but we have a big front yard facing our street, and people see our house.

We’re still the new kids on the block — and I can’t get lazy this quickly.

Spence and I haven’t officially selected chores yet, but I’ve naturally fallen into the role of flower-bed-keeper because he cuts the grass, chops down poison ivy (and gets poison ivy . . .) and saws through fallen logs while I have trimmed hedges and pushed hair out of my face. So I guess we’re even? (Kidding.)

I’ve unofficially taken over the task of weeding the rock gardens near our front porch because they’re chaotic and ugly, and it seems relatively simple to solve.

I mean, if you don’t mind sweating.

When my mother- and father-in-law were here to help us move in late June, they kindly tackled our grown-over flower beds before returning home. We had straight-up trees (!) growing near the shrubs, and the weed situation was pretty horrific. Basically, it was a strip of weeds in front of the house — weeds that were choking all the “good” plants that had started to appear in spring, and something had to be done about it.

I did a little maintenance a few weeks ago — the first time the yard needed work since that late-June purge. The shrubs were hacked to nubs back when we first went to see the house in March, and we worried they were all dead . . . but they sprang to life as soon as the snow thawed, and they’ve been growing strong ever since.

It looked like this in winter:

Dead yard

And then, left untended, it looked like this:

And then, with some cursing and sweating, it transformed into this:

. . . For now, anyway!

We have hostas, as you see — a plant I couldn’t have picked out to save my life, but visitors have all exclaimed, “Oh, you have hostas!” And now said hostas have really tall, really weird purple flowers sprouting out of them? And hopefully this is normal?

I’m learning.

I’d like to say I’m making progress toward my green thumb, but that would require me actively caring for a plant . . . as it stands, I merely hack out what I don’t want growing here and hope for the best.

Come spring, I have great ambitions of contracting our yard out to a friend’s wise daughter and actually making some executive decisions about what to do with the ample outdoor space we have languishing here.

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For now, I pull weeds from the roots, avoid bugs and wave to Spencer on the lawn mower.

A plan that works for everyone.


Barefoot in my kitchen

Cupcakes

I think I’m happiest when baking.

Though I’ve spent plenty of time in the kitchen post-college (when I realized I’d eventually be responsible for feeding myself), homeownership — and our new kitchen — have inspired me to really get serious and creative about meals. On a budget.

When we can get our act together ahead of time, Spencer and I love making big pots of soup in the slow cooker (this one is simmering right now!) for leftovers throughout the week. We have our containers dutifully stacked in the fridge — and I’ve gotten really good about adding fresh fruit and veggies into the mix, too. Our obsession with the farmers’ market continues, and I can often be found at a cutting board slicing cantaloupe or strawberries.

That’s all great, of course . . . and healthy. But my real passion? Baking. The eternal struggle. Last night I was in the kitchen until 8:30 — three whole hours after getting home from work — cutting up steak for the aforementioned soup today, creating another batch of the cucumber dill salad, shucking corn, cleaning counters. And we made dinner before all that, so we had some serious dirty dish action going on.

But it was fine. Good, even. Now that the house is coming together, I’m working on tackling the residual boxes we have hanging around — and that meant finally unloading my “baking” box. Said box is full of my cake mixes, sprinkles, baking soda, powdered sugar. So many cupcake liners for every conceivable occasion it’s insane (side note, me: don’t ever buy them again).

I’m someone who craves organization, and having each room of the house in a state of disarray was definitely not good for my anxiety. You’d think I would have, you know, done more by now, then, but . . . well, I guess I’ve just felt overwhelmed. I know people move and unpack every single day, but they’re apparently stronger of will than I am. I’ve found the whole process scary, but everything seems to be settling down — and settling into place.

So I baked last night. Blueberry muffins. I made birthday cupcakes two weeks ago, so it wasn’t my inaugural baked-good-new-kitchen moment — but it was the first time I had my supplies organized in their own cupboard. The first time I felt calm and totally relaxed in the new place.

I was barefoot — in my own kitchen. White T-shirt, Ingrid Michaelson playing softly, answering the door to a kind neighbor who came by with a beautiful plant for us. Spatula in one hand, eggs in the other. Mixing. Folding. Filling.

The golden sun sank beyond our trees.

And I was . . . home.


Closet concentration

This was the weekend of The Closet.

Because we now have one! And I’m one happy, organized lunatic.

Closet locationSince our first visit to the house in March, I’ve been obsessed with the walk-in closet right off the master bathroom. Like, in the bathroom; you must go through the bathroom to find it. This seemed very convenient and very cool, and I like having one nook for all my getting-ready morning chaos every day.

Though our house was in good overall shape when we got the keys, it was still a foreclosed property that had been vacant for years. The carpets were musty and stained (and have since been replaced); almost every surface, especially the walls, were in need of a good scrub-down and visit with our trusty Mr. Clean Magic Eraser.

Most of the issues were cosmetic, though — including the troubles in the master closet.

The major issue in this space was the dirty, stained and buckling white(-ish?) carpet. The walls were also heavily scratched and dinged-up from what was, I’m sure, constant use — and the whole closet smelled less than fresh. When Spencer began to dismantle the built-in structures for hanging clothes, we discovered they were put up rather shoddily and “drilled” into drywall, not studs.

So. Dangerous, basically.

Here we were in there back in March, two innocent newlyweds with no comprehension of the dust in our future:

Closet

The first step in our closet renovation was to take apart the built-in cabinets, which were very heavy. Spencer and I nearly toppled under the weight of the first one, then worked to get our footing and disassemble that baby with whatever energy we had left.

I failed to take pictures of the closet after we really messed it up — probably because I was in physical pain looking at the destroyed wall where the mirror once hung. Trust me when I tell you it was bad, because I’m realizing that any sort of home progress requires wrecking things completely before they can get better.

We wanted that mirror down. It was, we thought, a simple task . . . because it was just a mirror, and don’t people accidentally break those and get bad luck all the time?

Well.

It was not going anywhere, friends. Rather than try to paint around the mirror, we thought it would be best to take it down and re-hang it later. After a long and complicated battle to remove the glued-on mirror, we broke it. And completely jacked the wall in the process.

Holes. Holes as big as my fist in the drywall.

When my parents-in-law were in town to help us move at the end of June, I asked my handy mother-in-law if she would mind tackling the patching of that closet to knock an item off our to-do list. She and my father-in-law did us one better by patching and painting it the same brown as our renovated master bedroom, and the transformation was stunning already.

That left us with the carpet.

We ripped up most of the existing carpet throughout the house because, yeah, the smell. A cold, musty, lingering odor that could have soured us on the place but was, we felt, a treatable issue. We correctly predicted that stench was hanging out in the carpet because, once removed, we’re fresh as daisies here in Southern Maryland.

Thank goodness.

If I may proclaim my husband’s awesomeness around the web for a moment, we would be in major trouble without Spencer’s expertise, patience and willingness to get his hands dirty. In less than two months of homeownership, he’s put some serious sweat equity into this joint — and the results have been so impressive. Especially to a lazy lug like me.

He tore up the carpet in the closet as well as the tack strips, and the two of us worked to remove all the lingering staples and vacuum all the dust. (Who knew there could be dust under carpet?) A fateful trip to Lowe’s brought laminate flooring on the cheap into our lives, and Spencer got it all installed so we could bring the built-in white cabinets back from a side room. A friend kindly came by several nights after work to help Spencer get everything reassembled and ready for business.

tl;dnr: we painted the room, replaced the flooring and re-installed the cabinets so we could actually hang up our clothes.

And now I have a space for everything — for the first time in my life. My bedroom at home had a very tiny closet, and our master closet in the condo wasn’t much better. I’ve always had my clothes in bins, piles and dressers; there has never been one “home” for everything I own, including purses and shoes and accessories. And certainly not a home where clothes could hang.

But that day has come.

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And my favorite part? That set of four dresser drawers on the left, one of which contains only scarves. One place for my scarves! A whole bin of scarves! I can easily paw through them and find whatever I need, though I tend to always wear the polka dot one. Hence why I left it on top.

Still. Options.

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Though there is still tidying to be done (like hanging the mirror, changing out the existing light for something brighter and prettier, etc.), it’s definitely coming along — and being able to run my hands across the entirety of my wardrobe feels downright luxurious.

I’m not going to lie: I kind of don’t feel worthy of this closet. I’m still getting used to having my clothing out of trash bags and recyclable totes, so . . . yeah. This? A little overwhelming.

But definitely fantastic.

And if you need me, I’ll be hanging tops and rearranging my cardigans . . . again.

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Brave new floor

Spence with floor

Spence. He is le tired.


I know I promised a home tour, and . . . it’s coming. I really, really promise! But I just can’t muster the strength to show you our new homestead still filled with boxes, crumpled newspaper and a fireplace covered to protect us from bees (bees. I can’t).

We chip away a bit more at our epic “to do” list each night, and we are leaps and bounds ahead of where we were just two weeks ago. My mother- and father-in-law were here to help us with the big move last week, and they were such a tremendous help. It felt strange when they were gone, actually, because we hadn’t spent a night there without them.

To be honest? It was sort of nice to feel like a “kid” again. With Spence’s parents here to help, we had ready assistance and other folks to help with decision-making. Though I’ll be 29 next week, I’m still not used to being an adult in the house. That probably won’t change until we bring a child home ourselves.

I just don’t feel grown-up to own property. Call it arrested development or fear or uncertainty, but part of me still expects to wake up in my childhood bedroom with my ‘NSYNC pillow propped in the corner. I slept in a canopy bed until eight months ago, and I’m not ashamed to tell you that. It just was what it was. I was a 28-year-old who still fell asleep with sock monkeys, and all this? It’s . . . challenging.

Exciting. But tough.

For the most part, though, I think Spence and I are settling in pretty nicely! It still feels strange to open my eyes in the woods and not our bustling apartment building (or the aforementioned canopy bed), but I’m getting familiar with my new surroundings and slowly unpacking all that needs to be unpacked. We have a spare bedroom across the hall that’s currently filled with the contents of our future closet (the one we’re working on at top), so I dig through trash bags for beloved shoes or work tops or accessories and eventually find what I’m looking for.

Eventually.

Our biggest stride to date — and I use “our” loosely, given my handy husband has been putting in most of the sweat equity — is in finishing the floor in the closet. The house came with large built-ins in the walk-in closet, but the carpet was stained, buckling and generally gross. An unattractive mirror was cemented to one side; the walls were builder’s grade white with scuffs and discoloration throughout.

It looks different now.

My mother- and father-in-law were kind enough to patch the busted walls and paint the closet last week, and we tore up all the carpet to expose the plank sub-floor underneath. A fortuitous find at Lowe’s had us coming home with three boxes of laminate flooring for about $40 after two trips. At a time of terrifying financial undertakings, that was a major score.

Spence finished putting down the last of the laminate on Tuesday night, then caulked around the baseboards to seal it off. We just need help reinstalling all the cabinetry (it’s super heavy) and we will be finished, and my clothes will no longer be strewn haphazardly throughout the upstairs.

I can’t wait.

I lack decent photos to demonstrate the scope of the change, but here is a tiny before-and-after while we’re still working:

floor progress

Great strides! Great strides.

Lest I take credit where credit isn’t deserved, my help was limited to bringing Spencer tools he needed (after he described them by color) and making sure he always had a drink in the hot room. I did help hold down portions of the floor while we snapped it together and carried boards down to the garage for cutting, but . . . yeah. My assistance typically revolved around doing a mountain of laundry down the hall.

I hate to be a female stereotype, but I was mostly in the way. I fully intend to pitch in on all sorts of other home projects (and have been cleaning like crazy), but Spence worked faster when I wasn’t hovering in the cramped room. I think.

And every little bit helps, right?

Also, I know what baseboards and sub-floor are now — and can talk about them without sounding completely ridiculous. We’re all winners here.