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.


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.


Sunshine in a vase

Flowers

Remember in the winter, back when I was on the hunt for cheap flowers as a way to maintain my sanity through the interminable winter?

Well, I got addicted.

But I’m trying to behave.

At a time when we’re meticulously budgeting, $10 here and there might not seem like a big deal . . . but sometimes it’s hard for me to justify purchasing things that are just going to perish. Until we get a handle on certain expenses, I’m trying to be really careful with our funds.

It’s interesting. Hard, but a good sort of challenge.

When it comes to flowers, though, I can’t seem to help myself. They’re too lovely to ignore. Fresh blooms in the house just add such light, airiness and joy — simple joy. Beauty.

At the farmers’ market over the weekend, I came upon the most gorgeous bouquet of sunflowers — giant sunflowers, with heads larger than my fist. They’re yellow and orange with colorful blooms intermixed, and the Amish children that sold them to me smiled like sunshine as I carried them out.

For a whole five dollars.

I look at them every morning while making my coffee, and each evening when we’re pulling dinner together. They’re on the table in our new kitchen, the one still lined with boxes and bobbles and so many things I just don’t know what to do with — at least until our pantry is done. (The previous owners ripped out the shelving, leaving only dust and holes for us to patch — but we’ll get there.)

When will I learn?

It really is the little things.


Settled-ish

photo

Morning light from our window


Well, friends, we made it. It wasn’t pretty — and frequently sucked, in fact — but we’re reasonably settled-ish into the new house and I am relieved. I think.

I mean, there’s stuff everywhere. I can’t find anything. My clothes are all in trash bags, and a fine layer of dust from the plank floors upstairs covers my feet constantly. I’m bone tired and bedraggled and ache all over, and some of my poor family members who helped are much worse off than me.

But we did it. We are moved.

(Mostly.)

(There are still things at the condo, but I’m trying not to worry about them. I mean, we’ll get them. This week. And the furniture is all moved, which is the most important stuff. So it’ll be okay. Right? Right.)

Posting will be light this week as we are without Internet for a bit, but I’ll return soon with updates and a little house tour — and hopefully be a little perkier! I am far from perky. I’m actually really disoriented and fighting this urge to want to “go home,” except home is not where it was.

But I’ll adjust. Just have to keep moving.

Good thing we unpacked the coffeepot first.


Stormy breeze, hope

Rainbow

I had a breakthrough last night.

After all the worry and planning and anxiety and uncertainty, I finally felt my burden lift. I felt calm.

Should have known I’d have the sky to thank.

The weather has fascinated me since I was a kid — back in the days when I fancied myself a future storm-chaser (I blame “Twister,” though I’d been watching the Weather Channel religiously for a while already). At some point I realized tornadoes are actually scary and maybe I wouldn’t want to drive into or near one, so I curbed my dreams of becoming a meteorologist and pursued other hobbies.

Also, I’m terrible at math.

My passions have evolved over the years, but I always come back to clouds. The sky. Weather. Hurricane season was once my prime time, and I scoured the news every morning to hear how storms had developed overnight. I distinctly remember waking up at my grandparents’ house in the summer and running into the living room to click on the news, desperate for updates on tropical storms brewing over the Atlantic.

I was a weird kid. Kinda cute, though.

As an adult, the weather still fascinates me — but more in a curious or “red alert danger” kind of way. Various iPhone apps keep me informed on what’s happening out there, and I’m known to friends as the Weather Cop — a title I wear rather proudly. If a storm is on the horizon, I’ll tell you all about it. And probably show you the radar map, ’cause that’s how I roll.

When Spencer bought the condo in 2011, we immediately fell in love with the large windows overlooking town with an unobstructed view of the skyline. High up on the second floor, everything looks beautiful — and the sunsets we’ve enjoyed from our apartment have been incredible. I’ve taken countless pictures, and my weather-loving self has rejoiced at the unparalleled views right from our couch.


La Plata sunset


Spence had little when he first moved in. Coming from a house shared with roommates (and their furniture), the living room held only fold-out camp chairs and a tiny, cable-less television for months. We entertained ourselves through sky-watching. One of my earliest memories there is of the two of us peering up at the encroaching dusk through opened windows, the warm summer air ruffling our hair. We used to lay on the carpet and talk, looking up at the stars. We didn’t need more than that.

Three years later, we’re boxing up the last of our belongings to leave our first marital nest this weekend. We got word that potential buyers were coming to look at our condo last evening (!!!), so Spence and I hurried home to tidy up and move more boxes to the new house. I was in shorts and flip-flops, sweating and tired — but suddenly so buoyed and hopeful that someone was coming to see the apartment. The one we’ve loved so much.

Things are in motion. After several long months, the end is in sight.

At the new house, Spence and I walked around cleaning in advance of the crew coming today to cover our bare plank floors with carpet. Real carpet. And last night was the first time I looked around and thought, This is our house. Though we had, you know, signed our lives away a month ago (terrifying) and spent nearly every weekend and most weeknights slaving away in there, it hasn’t felt real. Transitioning from “construction zone” to “moving in” has been . . . an adventure.

But we’re getting there.

We’re almost there.

Upstairs, we heard rumbles of thunder as we jimmied the washer and dryer out of the guest room. It was warm, both of us sweating. After we managed to get the appliances off the to-be-carpeted floor, a flash of lightning lit up the hall. “Storm,” we said. Spencer and I moved to the large glass windows above the garage and stared out, quiet. Waiting.

Our view at the new house isn’t as expansive. We don’t have the clear views to the west, and the twinkling lights of town don’t beckon us. It’s wilder out there, deep and thick; the woods behind our house are impenetrable in summer, and a little scary at night. We’re much farther off the highway. It’s quiet, too.

But standing there with Spencer, both of us looking up at the night sky, I felt just as I always have. Like I’m home. It called me back to those early days at the condo — back when we had nothing but an empty room and daydreams. Those memories will always taste so sweet to me.

Heat lightning streaked the sky, illuminating the newly-cleaned corners of the room. Lightning bugs buzzed on the lawn.

I put my hand on his back. And we watched.