Be our guest

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Though the entire concept of “interior design” and, er, decorating is still a new one for me, I’m getting better at the whole visualization thing.

When we bought our house last year, I was most excited about the idea of a blank canvas I could design to my heart’s content. I spent weeks before move-in obsessing about paint colors, art work and color schemes . . . overlooking the fact that we had repairs to make before all the fun stuff could start.

Also, that I wasn’t entirely sure what I was doing. At all.

It’s taken almost a year, but we’ve made major progress in our guest room! Our energy had to shift to Mr. Oliver’s room this past spring, but we have the nursery just about finished (and I’ll plan to give you a tour soon). With my mother- and father-in-law coming to visit next week, I’ve felt the urge to push and get our guest space looking nice for them.

We started out with a dusty, closed-off room with featuring walls where the previous owners had painted around furniture. That’s right, friends: furniture lines.

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Painting that room was our first order of business, actually, because it was just so hideous. The dark blue carpet was stained, quite possibly by coffee, and the shelving in the closet had been unceremoniously ripped out. Spencer patiently patched the holes, removed any lingering wood bolted to the walls (hunks of plywood, specifically), and we painted the entire space a cool, calm dark gray.

The antique white bed was a purchase from Overstock, and the tables were recent finds at Christmas Tree Shop. I spent months looking for cute, affordable end tables that would match the overall style of the room, then stumbled upon these when I least expected it. Isn’t that always the way? Bonus: they were the cheapest ones I’ve seen!

Finding yellow lamps to pop the bedspread, purchased at Target, became my recent mission. Every yellow lamp I could find was either a) super expensive; b) the wrong style; or c) both.

Enter Goodwill!

My husband is addicted to the thrifting experience. He adores the thrill of the hunt — the serendipitous way certain items will fall into your lap. We spent many Saturday mornings at a giant outdoor yard sale, combing through others’ trash and treasures looking for it. Whatever “it” might be.

I’ll admit that, in the beginning, these adventures held little appeal for me. I went because I know he loves it, and he does have a knack for finding awesome things quite cheaply. Because he’s so handy, items that are broken or old to others are just brimming with possibilities for Spence . . . he can envision something more. I love that about him.

On Sunday, we were running errands and taking Ollie on his first Goodwill/Lowe’s run when I spotted them: two perfect, vintage yellow lamps high on a top shelf. Dusty and missing their shades, they were nevertheless exactly what I was looking for . . . and I got both for $15.

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We have a little more to do . . . mostly sprucing, like hanging the sheer curtains currently draped on the bed. And all the artwork I’ve found over the last year or so. But the bones are finally there, and I’m loving how tranquil the room is feeling! Especially by soft lamplight.

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We’ve come a long way, baby.

And now I can’t wait to go back to Goodwill.

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That sweet bird feeder life

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I never thought I’d turn into a crazy bird lady.

Or, um, a faithful Walmart shopper.

But here we are. Ah, the suburban life.

At some point in the homeownership/adulthood process, Walmart — and its seasonal department — became our new hotspot. You know you’ve settled into married life when a stroll through the potted plants, bird baths and mulch is fine entertainment . . . especially when combined with a trip to Lowe’s. (Likely your third that week.)

My pregnancy-addled feet are so swollen that walking anywhere is a chore right now, so I prefer to lean on the cart and waddle behind my energetic husband. Now that spring is here, with trees beginning to bud and our dormant yard is coming back to life, my husband has big plans for grass and gardens and grilling.

All the Gs, basically.

Our bird feeder — like a new grill — was a bit of an impulse buy. While I’m more of a saver than a spender, especially with Baby J on the way, I was lured by the idea of having a cute spot for birds to hang out. Our persistent cardinal and his girlfriend are still around, tapping on windows and loitering in Bradford pear trees, along with lots of other birdies. I love to hear their trilling in the woods behind the house.

Armed with a new cedar feeder and a starter bag of seed, Spence suspended the birdies’ cafeteria from the deck railing near our living room. It’s visible from where I typically plant myself on the couch, giant feet propped on the coffee table, and we’ve already gotten hours of enjoyment out of it.

First of all, there is nonstop traffic trying to land at the feeder. I can look out at any given moment and find birds coming in for a landing or quickly departing, depending on who is in charge, and usually they sort of . . . line up along the railing for a turn. It’s a veritable smorgasbord of chaos.

We’ve seen blue jays and woodpeckers, our cardinals and tiny bluebirds. And lots I can’t identify. Some are pudgy and stout, others lean and aggressive. Some prefer the feeder all to themselves while their compatriots are happy to share.

I spend a lot of time staring at birds.

And I’m oddly okay with it.


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There are times I still miss our condo, conveniently centered in a neighboring town. It was the first place Spencer lived without roommates and the first place we lived together as a married couple. I miss the gorgeous sunsets painting the sky from the second floor, and I miss walking to restaurants and bars when we wanted to combine exercise with a deliciously fattening pub dinner.

But we’re coming up on one year since we bought the house and moved. Though it was a process getting here, it has completely become “home” to me. I can run my hands along walls in the dark to feel for light switches I know to be there. Though I still have those weird moments where I don’t feel old enough to have my own place, let alone my own place with my husband, that has faded. And I’m sure will only fade further when our little boy is here.

Hanging the bird feeder feels domestic — and permanent — in a way that few other home tasks have. Though we still talk about the condo, living on our own in the woods is actually . . . pretty great.

Until the bird seed runs out — and those buggers totally turn on us.

Speaking of which . . . er, better run to Walmart.


Time for the tinsel

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Is there anything lovelier than a home at Christmas?

I love this time of year because, you know, our home has insta-style. And that style is holiday. Decorating is still a somewhat daunting task for me, so our house has many bare walls — but when you truss them up with sparkly garland, evergreens and jolly Santa figurines, you’ve really got something goin’ on.

And oh, it’s going.

I’ll be honest: Christmastime is still a little bittersweet for me. Despite the fact that I am happily married and expecting, part of me longs to be back with my mom, dad and sister doing all our old-timey holiday traditions. Last year? Kind of sad. Not because I wasn’t thrilled to be spending it with Spencer in our own place, our first married Christmas, but because . . . well, because it was different.

Different can be hard.

This December, I’m determined to be perky! and excited! and not stressed!, which has meant getting organized earlier (I have spreadsheets!) and starting to wrap gifts before it becomes an intimidating task that results in lots of gift bags and frustration. Fun fact? I actually love wrapping presents with all the bells and whistles, but I tend to wait too long to complete the task. I don’t want to be freaking out on Christmas Eve, you know?

Not. Doing. It.

You know how, when you’re a kid, the holidays are a theatrical production put on by Santa, elves and your parents — an event in which you’re simply expected to delight in the fruits of others’ labor and absolutely nothing is expected of you?

Adulthood is . . . not like that.

At nearly 30, I should have accepted that responsibility was coming down the pipeline. Speaking of which, I think hosting our first Thanksgiving was a resounding success. Did I panic a little at the thought of arriving at our house for the annual feast? Sure. Yes. Absolutely. But I had tons of help, Spence made the turkey and ham, my mother-in-law was an excellent help in the kitchen — and ultimately, our family chipped in big time . . . just as they always do. It was a grand time.

But now it’s the holidays and Christmas is shaking its sparkly stick at me, demanding attention. The pressure to contribute to the family holiday, come up with amazing gift ideas and somehow manage to spend time with everyone in a meaningful way is . . . difficult. I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know, friends; this is something we all coordinate, something we must all work out for ourselves.

And I’m getting there.

Our calendar is brimming with fun, festive events in the next three weeks (!!) — and even though I have plenty of shopping and scheming left to complete by December 25, I know that’s not what Christmas is really about.

It’s laughs and meals with family.
Crunchy sugar cookies.
“Charlie Brown” and hearing the angels sing.
Cinnamon rolls in pajamas.
Fat stacks of colorful cards in the mailbox.

And so much more. So, so much more.

As this is our last holiday without a little one, too, I’m determined to make it a happy and memorable one for our family of two. More than anything? I just want to adorn it all with sparkly tinsel, sip hot chocolate and watch cheesy Hallmark movies. You know the ones.

And I’m going to get there.

Extra cinnamon rolls may be necessary . . . but I’ve made my peace with it.

A sticky, delicious, gooey peace.


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 . . .

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New library


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:

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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.


Barefoot in my kitchen

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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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