June 9, 2015

Jumping In

When I was eleven years old, my mom bought our first house, still her home today. We had been renting a charming little cottage from my best friend's family for a decade, and while she had taken pride and invested in that space, I was ecstatic at the thought of a place of our very own, with two floors and a giant porch. The night she first came home with the keys, we got Chinese take out and ate on the rainbow colored carpet of her future bedroom. I ran through the front door and up the stairs, play acting at my new after school routine. I have such clear memories of my fantasies in those early days of home ownership, and in part they are lasting because they're so different from how we came to occupy that space. The view of the river seated cross legged in the middle of my mom's floor, only possible without furniture, the route through the front door that I would rarely repeat as we park in the back, the darkness in the hallway and kitchen, both of which we would open up, wallpaper and carpet and light and sounds that would all be altered in a matter of months. 

That farm house was a true fixer-upper, and for a child enthusiast of This Old House, it was heaven. I took satisfaction in steaming off wallpaper and attempting to sand floors, I loved having the buzz of workmen and watching my surroundings change everyday, these childhood  memories are some of my fondest.

When James and I set out to buy our own house, initially I was envisioning a total fixer-upper so that my own kids could get an early introduction to all the fun of transforming a home. I had no idea that the market would be so insane that contractors were waiting on curbs with cash deals for every 'diamond in the rough'. And so we settled on spending more than we wanted for an old house in pretty good shape with plenty of room for cosmetic improvements. Eventually we have plans to gut the kitchen, reconfigure the dining room, and add a deck, but for now the work will be basic, and largely DIY.

We have a list of small projects that we want to complete before moving in (in two weeks!); wallpaper that is literally in every single room has to go, walls need to be patched and skimmed and painted, light fixtures and hardware swapped, a few closets reworked... and of course we wasted no time getting cracking. Little Smith could not have been more excited to rip, peel, and scrape wallpaper. I only wish he was old enough to help with the steamer, he would have loved it! Roo has mastered going up and down the stairs and attacking floors and walls with any sharp object available, and James and I are seriously very very tired.

A few days ago, a friend noticed my car parked in the driveway and popped in to say hello and take a look. She quietly walked from room to room and then paused at the front door before leaving to add, 'Wow, it's a lot of work though'. The comment was somewhat deflating, we only have a couple weeks before we move in, we have a little travel mixed in the schedule as well, and this was supposed to be a house that did NOT require much work after all (which is why we chose to spend alll our money on it!)... But it also filled me with an (albeit nervous) excitement. We are already changing this home, a home built in 1930 and only owned by two families before us. With every sheet of wallpaper we pull off, we discover careful notations from the last owner, who was a cabinet maker and raised three children here. I have scrubbed and chipped away at every wall, and I can see all the different types of plaster used, water damage from old plumbing, and where walls were added and changed. We have only owned our house for two weeks, and already I feel a part of its story and know that the Little Smith will remember these days for the rest of his. It's the kind of relationship that you just can't build with a 'move in ready' house. I'm exhausted and worried about getting everything patched and painted before we move in, but I'm also totally head over heels in love with our new place, and all the changes yet to be imagined.

Now if anyone wants to come over and pack our old place, we haven't packed a single box... living on the edge!

June 2, 2015

A Diversion


At the moment I am taking the night off of my current project; scraping wallpaper and holding my breath that the whole wall doesn't come down with it. We closed on our house almost a week ago (hurray!), and it has been a frenzy to try to get those paper covered walls stripped, patched, and painted before we move in a few weeks. It's an exciting and slightly overwhelming task, my hands are blistered and sore from peeling and pressing spray bottles a thousand times over through the night. James and I have been alternating nights since that's the most productive kid-free time. We are both slightly delirious, but we both love the house and feel so lucky that it's actually our's. I will definitely share pictures (there are way too few... time crunch!), but tonight I really need a break. 

And so I am remembering my birthday dinner, a month ago now, on a hot May evening. James did such a sweet job preparing a fondue feast (the idea seemed funny in warm weather but it was heaven, I want it right now!), making an amazing cake with a custard filling and dusted with coconut shavings, and probably the greatest gift, he made it all with Little Smith while Roo and I napped the afternoon away. 

I am already missing this dining room. It's my favorite spot in our current place, and also my least favorite room in our new house. Long term we'll fix that, but in the meantime, I know that I will be longing for this light, paneling, and hutch. We've had some good years and wonderful memories here, and while the time I have to maintain this blog is increasingly limited, knowing that I can always turn here for a zillion pictures of my beloved dining room makes me strive to return. And you thought it was about the kids ;)

I'll be back as soon as I grant myself another break from wall prep!

May 20, 2015

The Slacker's Garden

Each fall, as I'm savoring the last of our homegrown veggies and bracing myself for another winter of hibernation, I proclaim that next year will be 'the year of the garden'. I vow to sew seeds indoors, build that gate, and get everything planted in the right spot and on the right schedule. And then, without fail, a baby or a project sails into our lives and eclipses all those garden plans. 2015 is proving no exception, and will now officially be dubbed, 'the year of the house'. 

With my brain in a frenzy over the impending packing of boxes, steaming of wallpaper, and converting of heating systems, the attitude towards gardening has been decidedly laissez-faire. We have direct seeded this and that, not worrying about being late or planning. With everything shifting and in an upheaval, it's a comfort to know that we will keep our little community plot, and gardening is proving a great family escape. Who knows what will grow, but maybe we will get lucky and finally achieve that effortless success I've always envied. And if it goes bust, there's always 2016.

*these photos are from my iPhone, and if you follow me on instagram you have seen most of them. that's a real pet peeve of mine! but our camera lens is struggling and i thought if i didn't blog soon, this space might grow cobwebs. the one benefit of the iPhone though is the ease of taking videos. this one below just makes me happy, our girl is easily entertained.

May 3, 2015

Holidays and House Hunting

Throughout this past winter, I became more and more obsessed with the idea of buying a house. It's something we've always hoped and planned for with a deadline of kindergarten enrollment a year from now, but Little Smith is so anxious about change that I really would love a full year to get settled, and maybe launch him into grade school with a few familiar faces. I have been stalking real estate listings as a hobby for years, but my intensity ramped up so much in recent months that James had no choice but to take it seriously and climb on board.

Owning a 'single family house' has been a lifelong dream for both of us house enthusiasts, but as luck would have it, we ended up locating ourselves in an area where that is no small feat. Add an extremely hot market to an already outrageously priced locale, and it's basically stomach turning to attempt to buy anything. Houses are snapped up the moment they list for well over asking. Anything that needs work is grabbed by 'flippers' with all cash deals, anything that doesn't need work is flooded with dozens of offers. It's all fast and competitive and very intimidating for a family like ours, without a small fortune buried under the mattress.

After a few heartbreaking (perhaps a spoiled use of the word when referring to housing, but that's how it felt!) twists and turns, we were starting to lose hope and decided to run away and celebrate Easter weekend on Martha's Vineyard. We took advantage of the off-season rates and splurged on a water view suite and a fancy holiday brunch. We never stay in hotels, and Little Smith kept asking if we were going to sleep in our tent and wandering down to the lobby in his pajamas, as though the whole place was his own personal home away from home. 

We took long walks on the beach, celebrated Easter with a big island egg hunt, strolled into town for dinner and stayed out late, by some miracle the kids even slept in one morning. Everyone was happy and light and everything felt easy. I can see why people do occasionally travel without camping, what a breeze!

We came back refreshed, the way I always want to feel at the end of a vacation, but rarely do. Then predictably, once we relaxed our focus, we got the thrilling news that a house we thought had slipped through our fingers was destined to be ours after all. Or it will be, at the end of this month!

We are so excited and freaked out and overwhelmed that I am finding it hard to visit this blog. As things are looking more and more certain though, I am feeling the urge return. What better a place to voice my deep conflict over levers versus knobs and best methods for stripping copious quantities of wallpaper... this is going to be fun!

April 20, 2015


My break from this journal has been so long now that I'm not sure exactly where to pick up. There's the day to day; Roo talking and bossing all of us around from dawn 'till dusk, Little Smith shifting devotions from trains to dinosaurs to superheroes... and then back again, James and I shuffling and balancing work and play and the neverending piles of laundry. There's the hope of a big change ahead; fingers crossed and crossed again, it looks like we may be very close to buying a house... join us in thinking 'good thoughts' while we wait in anticipation through this spring. And then there's the only photographs we have bothered to capture in the last month, all from our family escape to Martha's Vineyard over Easter weekend.

After years of compulsive documentation, it's been strange to snap so few photos of the kids. I scroll through my iPhone camera, and even the shots there are few. It makes me sad, to have missed new teeth and silly anecdotes. I am a 'project driven' person, and I'm only starting to understand what that implies. When I set a goal, everything else recedes until I make it happen. I still go through the motions of the day, I laugh and listen to my children, fill all the bellies and gas tanks and forms that are in my charge... but there's a constant pull to do whatever it takes to make visible what is in my head. This relentless drive is both my best and worst quality, and it is very much active right now. I have long wondered if taking pictures and journaling distracted me from being present in the moment, but in these weeks that I have suspended documentation, I feel less present than ever.

And so we will see, maybe I will be better keeping up here, maybe I won't. At the very least, I have some more pictures from our trip to the Vineyard, which was such a perfectly timed escape for our little family. And, if all goes according to plan, we'll have a whole lot of show and tell come June.

March 24, 2015

A Little Luck

st. patrick's day 2015

Although winter temperatures linger, it's been such a welcome treat to enjoy the daylight stretching into our dinner hour. The seasons are slow to shift this year, but tonight I drove into the city to teach an evening class with the skies still blue, and even more notably, parked on the street and fed the meter without scaling a mountain of trash encrusted snow. The thaw is on, and we are patiently waiting for invitation to plant peas and shed coats. 

Life has been busy and full, and James and I have been working hard and holding our breath on a few big plans. It certainly feels as though March has been a month of looking forward, and so I am doing my best to close it out by being present and accepting in the moment. That's nearly an impossible task for me, but I'm giving it my best shot. Wish me luck.