Beating your DIY addiction

Beating your DIY addiction

In our last post, I came clean about my chair challenges and promised to share my principles for recovery from DIY addiction.

Because, sadly, this empty little graphic is just as true of my chair project progress today as it was the day I made it in the summer of 2012.

chair makeover Collage Beating your DIY addiction

But before I dive into the solution, maybe I need to back up and explain what the problem is. Maybe you’re wondering…

What is DIY addiction?

To me, it’s being so hooked on the high you get from the potential of a project that it gets in the way of creating the kind of home/life you want. It can manifest in all kinds of ways.

Some of us get our hit from project supplies. We’ve got a stash of fabric or yarn or wood or paint or pretty papers that we’re sure we’ll use someday. And even though we have more than we’ll be able to use in this lifetime, we cannot resist the urge to go browsing (and buying) more–wasting money and creating both physical and psychological clutter.

Others of us get our rush from a great find that we’re sure we can turn into something amazing. A chair that needs some recovering, a lamp that would look fabulous with a can of spray paint, a dresser that can be stripped and stained…you get the idea.

diy crack.jpg Beating your DIY addiction

For some of us, the problem is that our projects involve more dreaming than doing. Maybe we start them, but too often we don’t finish–because we’re constantly shifting our attention to the next great thing we’re dying to do.

For others, it’s the opposite sort of problem:  We get so wrapped up in doing our many great projects that we lose sight of why we’re doing them in the first place.

Home DIY is supposed to be all about creating a better setting for our lives, but we’re not doing that if our projects cause us to neglect other things that need our attention, such as routine maintenance, housekeeping, and bill paying. (Not to mention our health, our relationships, and our finances.)

IMG 0946 Beating your DIY addiction

And if you’re like me, you ping-pong between both modes. I buy stuff I never use, and I ignore things I shouldn’t (like organizing my paperwork) because I’m doing other projects that are more fun.

As I shared in my last post, I hit bottom last summer when I added up how much I’d spent on a chair project I finally admitted I was never going to finish. It was then I identified 4 questions that have been helping me stay on the DIY wagon ever since:

infographic final Beating your DIY addiction

These questions have kept me from making more than one mistake. And even though the chairs I shared in my last post might look like a first step on the slippery slope back to a garage full of them, I knew they weren’t because of my answers to the 4 questions.

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1. Do I have the space for it?

Yes. While Cane and I both love the bargain industrial chair we found for the desk area in our family room, we haven’t been able to find a companion for it at a price we’re willing to pay.

Everything we’ve found in the Portland metro area is well over $60, and even though we only spent $3.50 on the one we have, it just sorta chaps us to think of paying that much for such a chair. (Maybe because we only spent $3.50?) We’ve been making do with the industrial chair and a 70′s dining set chair (a garage sale mistake) while waiting for the perfect thing to appear.

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My new purchase isn’t exactly a set of dream chairs, but after months of looking and thinking and talking, we’ve realized we’re not willing to pay for our dream. At $15 a piece, these have most of what we want:  affordability, wheels (we love how easily the industrial chair moves on our concrete floors), comfort, and sturdiness.

2. Are we willing to let something else go?

This question isn’t always necessary. Sometimes we have a place for something new that won’t displace anything else. Since our new chairs will take the place of our industrial chair, we have to be willing to either discard or move it.

Our library table is currently being serviced by two Ikea chairs we don’t love at all. We feel just fine about moving the industrial chair we do love into that space and letting at least one Ikea chair go (until we find another one we like better).

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3. Do we have the resources we need to make these chairs work?

I don’t know about you, but I’m not loving the gold oak and daisies on our chairs. If I were going to bring them home, I knew I’d have to be able to make them something we’d actually want.

That means I made sure that I could do the fixes I wanted to do on these. I knew I’d want to change the fabric on the cushions and (most likely) paint the chair frames.

I examined the chairs thoroughly and could see that the previous owner was able to cover the cushions without sewing. It was clear that they were being held in place with a few screws, and the base would secure and hide the edges of the fabric I would wrap around them.

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Although there would be some additional cost for paint and fabric, this was definitely an affordable project that I can do. We’ve realized that if we don’t have the skills for a project (or time to execute it even if we do have the skills), we need to pass on it.

4. Do we have time to do the project right now?

If we don’t have time to do the project pretty much immediately–or we’re not willing to live with the item in place as-is–I’ve realized I have to let it go. Otherwise, the undone projects just pile up, and I start to feel overwhelmed by all I haven’t done.

We are in the midst of working on our bedroom–and I have updates on that I can’t wait to share here!–but these chairs were a strong enough solution to a challenge we’ve been working on that I was willing to put the bedroom projects on hold while I do these.

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The first weekend we had these, Cane and I got them disassembled and sanded. These are ready to be primed and painted, and then we’ll cover the cushions with fabric we already owned.

I really like the idea of matching chairs in our desk space, and these were a really good deal, even with the additional cost of paint and fabric (which I also factored in before purchasing).

Because of my new rules, I felt really great when I bought these–and I still feel great because we got right on this project.

Wish I could show you the finished transformation right now, but it’s been a week, y’all. In addition to the usual school/work load, we had drivers’ ed, state robotics competition, an engineering fair, open house at Cane’s school, an application deadline, and my babies’ Sweet 16th birthday!

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The one thing we didn’t have? Any new DIY projects! icon smile Beating your DIY addiction

While the questions I now ask before taking on another project have been super-helpful, it is remembering what’s most important that is the real key to getting the DIY monkeys off my back. My kids’ childhood is flying by fast, and I don’t want to miss any of it because of a DIY mess I need to clean up.

But enough about us!

What do you you do to keep your DIY ambitions from crossing over into a an unhealthy place? You know we’d love to chat with you in the comments.

Our kind of quickie: a bathroom makeover

Our kind of quickie: a bathroom makeover

When we tackled the renovation of our first bathroom, I was a DIY virgin.

Sure, I’d fooled around some. In my previous house I’d done a lot of painting. Cane helped me put in some new flooring, and we’d overhauled one of the bathrooms there by swapping out a boxy cabinet for a pedestal sink and on-the-wall shelving.

IMGP0165 Our kind of quickie: a bathroom makeover

I don’t have a “before” shot of the kids’ bathroom, but if I did, you’d see a boxy oak vanity, white walls, and dog-pee-stained green carpet. Yuk!

But that was nothing compared to the day I started swinging a hammer in the master bathroom of this house and the walls came tumbling down.

diy virgin Our kind of quickie: a bathroom makeover

That was the first time I really went all the way.

When the hammer cracked the first tile, I knew we were crossing a point of no return. I didn’t know if the story was going to end in heartbreak or ecstasy, but I knew it was going to be big, whichever way it played itself out. (If you want to know how we went from two leaky tiles to demolition in about 15 minutes, click here.)

DSCF3683 Our kind of quickie: a bathroom makeover

In the months that followed, Cane and I obsessed/fantasized/agonized over every part of the room, sweating, groaning, moaning, and breathing heavily as we wrestled a tub in and a vanity out, as we built storage and rebuilt walls, as we laid a new floor and new (to us) tile.

bathroom Collage1 Our kind of quickie: a bathroom makeover

If we were smokers, I’m pretty sure both of us would have inhaled an entire pack of cigarettes in the afterglow we felt when the project was finished. (You can see why if you click here.)

So why has our other bathroom–the one that guests use–languished in the months (OK, it’s now been years) that we’ve lived here?

Why, if we know the crescendo of satisfaction that cascades through our beings at the conclusion of a total DIY renovation, have we not jumped in and loved on this other bathroom the way we did the first? (Especially when we consider how much it’s been in need of some love?)

bathroom before Our kind of quickie: a bathroom makeover

From our first house tour pics, taken exactly two years ago. This is what it looked like at its best.

Because we’re not innocent anymore.

We know in ways we never could have then that making love is making a commitment. It’s not all shiny faucets and new fixtures, people!

Loving a house long-term (just like loving a person) isn’t for the faint of heart. Sure, there are moments of dizzy exhilaration, but it’s just like you always hear at least one old (long-married) person muttering at a wedding:  It’s a lot of hard work.

The reward–the true mad deep real love–comes from sticking it out through the tough times, the moments when you aren’t sure if you’re ever going to get to a wondrous, glowing end.

discouraged cane Our kind of quickie: a bathroom makeover

Here’s the thing: What we’ve got going on with our home is bigger than any one room in it. We’re married to the whole house, and we’ve learned that sometimes, to keep that marriage going, we just need the simple, easy, feel-good of a quickie renovation.

While many might think the start of a new year is the perfect time to dive deep into the heart of a rock-your-world DIY affair, we’re here with a how-to for those of us who might instead need a quick little kick-start to get our DIY motors revving again after idling through the holidays. We pulled this off in two weekends, but it could easily be done in one.

We are here to celebrate the joys of a one-night (or weekend) stand, a little bathroom pick-us-up that hasn’t moved the earth but that has put a small, satisfied smile on our faces.

bathroom after notations Our kind of quickie: a bathroom makeover

Same old vanity, tub/toilet/sink, tile, and flooring.

Step One: Paint the walls

When we finally removed the last of the wallpaper from our kitchen and painted the walls last fall, we kicked ourselves for letting the wallpaper we really hate linger for so long on the bathroom walls—because it really didn’t take much time at all to remove the paper and paint, and because just changing the paint can make such a big difference in how the room feels.

wallpaper Our kind of quickie: a bathroom makeover

While I generally avoid use of the word “hate,” I really don’t think it’s too strong for how I felt about this wallpaper.

Because we weren’t going to change anything major, we needed to choose a color that would work with the existing khaki/orange tile, white cabinet, pinky-peachy-fleshy sink/tub/toilet, and dingy, used-to-be-white flooring. No easy task!

bathroom keep Our kind of quickie: a bathroom makeover

Since our master bathroom had dark brown walls, I would have preferred something lighter in this room. It gets wonderful afternoon light, and I’d like a bright, airy bathroom for guests.

However, there is the matter of the pinky/peachy toilet and tub, and the white cabinet, and the rather grungy-looking floor. We were afraid that white walls with the cabinet would be too much white and make the floor look even more dingy, and we had a hard time finding lighter peach/brown shades that would work with the fixtures/tile and not look like a color one of my favorite bloggers refers to as swine beige. (Yes, I totally stole that from her for the photo above.)

So, we went with a chocolatey brown. (Do we know the color/brand? Is there a left-over can labeled “bathroom walls” that would tell us? Says Cane:  “I don’t really know.” Yes, this is how we continue to roll, even though our shed is knee-deep in various shades of brown paint.)

bathroom walls watermark Our kind of quickie: a bathroom makeover

Is it my all-time favorite wall color? Not really. But it’s a huge improvement over the wallpaper with a prominent seashell that looked like a private body part to me and a taco to Cane. (If you really must, you can scroll back up to the photo above and find it. But I’m warning you:  Once seen, it cannot be unseen.)

Step Two: Swap out the brass fixtures

We had a discolored brassy faucet in the sink and a brass light bar and  brass towel bars and such. We already owned a simple chrome faucet we bought (and didn’t use) for the other bathroom, so we put it in here.

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We like chrome for bathrooms because, while it’s never super-stylish, it’s also never really out of style. It’s classic. You just know that in 10 years, everyone will be groaning about their oil-rubbed bronze faucets the way they now groan about their brass ones. We’re not big fans of trendy choices for things that last far longer than any trend.

Bonus:  The chrome faucet (with its kitschy crystal knobs) went with the original tub plumbing fixtures that we’ve always really liked.

P1022326 Our kind of quickie: a bathroom makeover

We also replaced the towels bars and toilet-paper holder with simple chrome ones. In an earlier attempt at sprucing up this room, I spray-painted the brass ones that came with the house with antique bronze spray paint.

painted towel bars Our kind of quickie: a bathroom makeover

I also tried to embrace the wallpaper and lighten the room up with these seafoam towels. It kinda worked, kinda didn’t.

Antique bronze was a common (and trendy) choice in the 70s, when this house was built, and as we’ve written many times, we’d like to restore as many original elements to the house as we can. But we’ve realized that the rest of this bathroom isn’t going to be restored to any kind of 70s glory any time soon (if ever). Antique brass with chrome plumbing fixtures and our very 90s plastic-covered vanity weren’t adding up to anything that made sense.

So we decided to go with chrome throughout the room (which also would have been common when the house was built.) We thought about trying to find some towel bars at one of our favorite salvage places or getting the most basic economy ones we could find new, but we decided to spend a little more than we usually do and get some that we think we’ll like no matter what we might decide to do with this room down the road.

P1022310 Our kind of quickie: a bathroom makeover

In addition to swapping out the bars, we also swapped out the knobs on the vanity. The knobs were made of discolored white enamel with  brass trim, and they looked as dingy as the floor. We still don’t love the vanity, but we dislike it less.

PEN41209 Our kind of quickie: a bathroom makeover

Finally, we got rid of the brass Hollywood lights above the sink and put in a simple bar light with a vintage glass cover that we also bought but didn’t use in the master bathroom renovation.

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Step 3: New towels and shower curtain

Yes, this is a project that required more money than sweat or creativity. Originally, I thought we’d keep the white shower curtain we had and put already-owned white towels in the room, but the contrast with the brown walls was too stark.

I brought home some wheat-colored towels and shower curtains, which seemed to take a lot of the pink out of the toilet/sink/tub, and it softened the whole room. It came in fairly far to the left on the splurge continuum.

PEN41207 Our kind of quickie: a bathroom makeover

Towels and shower curtains found at Bed-Bath-and Beyond.

Step 4: Shop the house for art

Because we are thrift-store art addicts, we already had some pieces to choose from. We moved the large embroidered floral you can see in the photo above from our bedroom, and then we decided to go with vintage, floral embroidery art as the theme for this room.

embroidery art Our kind of quickie: a bathroom makeover

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Easy and inexpensive, and it brings both cohesion and a bit of our style to a space that previously had none of either.

And that’s it!

Are we over-the-moon in love with this room? Nope. But does it feel better than it did before? Absolutely.

We’re thinking about replacing the floor with cork in the near future, which would be another quick, inexpensive, weekend-scope job. But other than that, this bathroom is going to be like this for quite a while. Maybe for as long as we live in this house. (Though I’m not ruling out another paint job, especially if we replace the floor. I’m not totally sold on the dark brown.)

The cabinet and toilet/sink/tub aren’t really doing it for us aesthetically, but unlike the original ones in our master bathroom, they function just fine. It’s just not worth it to us to tear out these perfectly good pieces because we’re not totally into their looks. Sexy can be over-rated and way more trouble than it’s worth, you know?

DSCF1021 Our kind of quickie: a bathroom makeover

But if you have to tear out a sink, might as well replace it with something you like looking at. We still love the one we put in the master bathroom.

As with any long-term relationship, our love affair with this house waxes and wanes. If we tried to burn red-hot all the time, the whole thing would flame out–and we’re in this for the long haul. That means that while we’ve got some DIY projects on our list that might get us all hot and sweaty again, we know we also need the other kind that provide just enough breeze to fan the embers of our affection during the times we don’t have the resources for full-on seduction.

Speaking of hot and sweaty, our bedroom is next on our list of rooms to get down and dirty with. It’s been so awful and depressing that we’ve rarely mentioned it in the time we’ve been blogging, and you’ve seen it even less. But last week, while I was visiting my parents, I got these intriguing texts from Cane!

IMG 0959 Our kind of quickie: a bathroom makeover

He wouldn’t even give me one hint while I was away, but I will tell you that it did rhyme with “tearing up carpet” and it made me fall in permanent love with the awesomely awful lamps we picked up back in 2012. And I’m now ready to dive deep into reclaiming the bedroom.

PEN41226 Our kind of quickie: a bathroom makeover

I am hoping that by writing this teaser, I can put pressure on Cane to get the post about the project written soon. Please feel free to join me in persuading him!

Hope that you all had good holidays and are enjoying the return to normal. Whether you are happy, sad, or a little of both to see 2013 leave us, we hope you’re looking forward to a new year and all the opportunities that fresh starts bring.

We sure are. Would love to know what projects you’ve got planned for this month.

bathroom after watermark Our kind of quickie: a bathroom makeover


Getting a head start on the holidays

Getting a head start on the holidays

There are two things I thought we’d never do here:

1. Write a sponsored post.

2. Write a Christmas/winter holiday post before Thanksgiving.

I’ve gotten on my soapbox before about my dislike of holiday craziness (for example, in an early-blog post here), and one of my pet peeves is the way in which Christmas has almost obliterated Thanksgiving.

No Christmas before Thanksgiving is one of my mantras (much to the irritation of my children.)

simple holiday header Getting a head start on the holidays

This post from last year outlined our less-is-more approach to the holidays.

And sponsored posts, well…I don’t much like them as a reader of blogs.

We’ve never said we’d never do one, but we always maintained that if we did, it would have to be for something we really like and would really use that we think some of you might really like knowing about.

So, when Minted, a paper products company, contacted us about doing a post on their holiday cards, we said, “no, thank you.” We don’t do holiday cards. (It’s not how we want to spend money, time, and natural resources.)


We really like their business model and values:

Screen Shot 2013 11 10 at 11.03.38 AM Getting a head start on the holidays

Minted holds regular design challenges, in which artists submit designs and the Minted community votes for their favorites. Minted then produces and sells the winning designs. The artists are given a cash prize and a percentage of the sales.

We love so many things about this: promoting independently-produced creative work, giving underdogs an equal shot with more established dogs, paying artists for their work.

So I did a little looking around their site and discovered that they sell photo calendars.

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Every year, I give my parents a photo calendar of the kids for Christmas. In the past, I’ve used a standard, big-name photo company, and I’ve never been unhappy with the calendar. I was planning to use them again.

 Getting a head start on the holidays

One of my favorite images from last year’s calendar. Teenage boys don’t like to smile for the camera!

However, Big Name Company is never going to notice if they don’t get their yearly photo calendar order from me. On the other hand, my order might make a big difference to some Small Name Artist, especially if I write about it here and send some of you to support the work of Small Name Artists.

AND, thanks to my online friends Alana and Katherine, both of whom have written recently about how doing some things this month might make next month less crazy, I have actually been thinking of doing some things in November to get ready for the holidays. (Please don’t tell my kids. I can’t take the “hahs!” I know I would get from them.)

So here I am, writing a sponsored post about a Christmas gift. In November, because this is one gift I’m going to take care of in November. Even old dogs can change their spots.

PA191806 Getting a head start on the holidays

(Speaking of old dogs and spots, the white one on Daisy’s rump has been expanding.

Because I haven’t yet placed an order, I cannot vouch for the quality of the calendars or the process of getting them. There are some things I do know, however, that would make me willing to order one even if I weren’t going to get one as compensation for writing this post:

1. I can customize the calendar. Within each style, it appears that I can add my own text to each date on the calendar, and each design offers some choices in terms of color and photo layout. This is important to me.

One calendar I’m considering is Pop of Color by Georgia designer Kelli Hall. As you can see here, there are 3 colors to choose from as a background for the dates, and the interface for uploading and customizing text looks pretty easy to use:

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2. There’s a nice variety. There are 78 photo calendar designs to choose from. I prefer simple designs without elements that distract from the photo, and there are several I like.

book shop calendar Getting a head start on the holidays

This calendar, Book Shop from designer Alton Wise, is definitely in the running.

moderne date Getting a head start on the holidays

So is this one, Moderne Date by Carrie Oneal.

My mom, however, might like something a little more sweet and decorative. Since the calendar is for her and not me, I’m thinking about this one, too:

blooming grand calendar Getting a head start on the holidays

Blooming is by designer Robin Ott–and takes me to the next thing I really like:

3. You can learn about the designers of each calendar. Although I doubt I’m directly related to Robin Ott, her last name is the same as my maiden name. I know that my parents would really like the idea of having a calendar designed by someone who’s connected to our clan in some way.

Designer considerations are a reason this next one is a strong contender on my list:

earmark Getting a head start on the holidays

Earmark has the simple, uncluttered style that I prefer, but more importantly, its designer Jenn Johnson is the kind of designer I’d like to support. She’s from a small town in my home state (Snoqualmie, Washington), and this is one of only 3 designs that Minted offers from her.

I love the idea of supporting someone who’s just starting out, especially someone local.

4. The quality appears to be high. This screen shot of Jennifer Wick’s Day in the Life calendar includes information about the materials used in the calendars. (This is another one of my contenders. I like that you can add a caption to the photos in this design.)

day in the life calendar Getting a head start on the holidays

This screen shot also highlights the only drawback I’m seeing:  Price.

If I were going to go with my standard calendar company, I’d pay about half this cost for our annual calendar. I could do what I did last year, and order 2 (one for my parents and one for myself).

You know we love being frugal. It’s what allows us to do so many of the things we do.

However, we also believe in paying a little more sometimes for higher quality and for supporting businesses that do things in line with our values.

Being frugal so much of the time allows us to do that. Although I can’t vouch for Minted from personal experience (yet), I did a quick search for reviews and found that they are highly rated on both Wedding Wire and Trust Pilot. This company feels like one we can support.

I’d rather buy one calendar that supports a young, local artist and the company promoting her than two that support a large company that only gives me a calendar in exchange for my money.

So which one is it going to be?

Afraid I can’t tell you that!  My parents do read our blog, and while the calendar is never a surprise, the photos and design usually are. (Hey Mom and Dad–if you want to cast a vote, now would be a great time to leave your first comment! :-))

I will, however, share this photo that will likely make it into the calendar:

will and grandma Getting a head start on the holidays

As you can see, the nut doesn’t fall too far from the trunk of our family tree!

Feel free to weigh in with a calendar choice in the comments, and please let us know if you’ve had any experience with Minted. I’d also love to know if any of you are Christmas curmudgeons like me and if starting early is actually a path to greater (rather than less) holiday happiness.

(And, just in case we haven’t been totally clear and transparent:  We are being compensated for writing this post in the form of product from Minted. We were asked to link to the company early in the post, but no other content requests were made. All opinions are our own.)

Cow Photo Credit: Vincent_AF via Compfight cc

Hey, anyone still there?

Hey, anyone still there?

So, um, yeah…we’re still here. Sorta.

In our last post, I did say that we might be posting a bit less as we entered back into the school year, but I didn’t expect to go more than a month without writing here. Since we began This (sorta) Old Life nearly two years ago (on Oct. 11, 2011), we haven’t gone more than a week between posts. Most weeks we posted twice. For a while we aimed for 3 each week.

crazyellagrace1 Hey, anyone still there?

This shot was in our very first post (can’t believe how young our girls look).

The longer our silence has stretched, the more I’ve felt a need to explain. But where to start?

After drafting a wordy explanatory post that I found tiresome to read, I’ve decided to just cut to the chase: We’ve had a lot of big things going on that aren’t connected to home renovation: new job (for me), new school (for one of the kids), shifting priorities, health challenges.

IMG 0609 940x702 Hey, anyone still there?

Cane waiting to meet with a neurologist back in August. He’s recovering from the Bell’s palsy that came out of nowhere in July, but it is very slow going.

Cane is dealing daily with eye irritation, fatigue, ear-ringing, and impaired speech. And I’m struggling with migraine, a chronic condition that has worsened in the past year.

It was wonderful to go almost the entire summer without one. I had a good 6-week run with no migraine at all. It proved to me that I really don’t need to go on a daily preventative medication (which the last neurologist I saw said was necessary); I just need to manage the sources that trigger it for me:  sleep, exercise, stress. I was determined to do so when we returned to school this fall.

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Summer afternoons like this one helped keep the migraines away.

On Thursday of that first week back, I got slammed by a 3-day migraine. My regular medication didn’t work, and because of the time lapse required between my oral meds and the kind I receive via injection, I got to spend a hellish 16 hours doing nothing but enduring pain before I got to spend another 3 in the abyss known as Urgent Care. And then there was another day of recovery and one healthy day before returning to work–which, of course, was spent mostly on chores that hadn’t been done the previous 3 days.

It felt like hitting bottom.

I suppose it was, because the bottom line for me, right now, is that everything else has to come second to my physical well-being. I cannot afford to lose days every week to illness.

This means I need to eliminate/better manage sources of stress and make time for healthy eating, 7 hours of sleep, and regular exercise–all the things I’d been able to do during the summer.

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I’ve got to build in time to chill out like Rocky does.

All of which is to say…

I’m not sure how much we’ll be writing here.

When I’m working, time for food shopping and prep, sleep, and exercise means giving up other things. Like writing. Doing one job well–the job I get paid for–is less stressful than trying to do two jobs (the one I get paid for and the one I do here) the best I can. It has become increasingly and painfully clear that I can’t sustain the same level of work here that I have in the past.

As Cane and I have talked about this blog and what it does for us and what we’d miss by not doing it, we’ve wondered if a blog is like a TV show and if our story of home/life renovation has run its course.

It’s not that we think we’ve done/learned/said everything there is to say about creating a healthy, happy, pleasing home in the midst of a full life (kids, work, family, etc.), but we want to be true to what we hope our blog is about. It’s pretty hard to write an authentic blog about home/life renovation if writing the blog is keeping us from building the kind of life we aspire to live.

will rita on computer 940x705 Hey, anyone still there?

I feel such regret when I see this photo from the first winter we were writing the blog. I wish I’d been focused on listening to my son, rather than on the computer screen.

It’s all about seasons, and surrendering to them

I often see the idea that our life is lived in seasons, and that we do well to remember that all seasons pass.

In this season of my life, I have only 3 more years with my children (if all goes as we hope for them), and I want to be as fully present for them as I can be. I want the same for my relationship with Cane. I do not have decades left to set myself up for the time when I physically cannot work as I once did. (Um, hello? I think I might already be at that place.) I need to attend now to things I can no longer afford to put off until later. That’s a large part of why I’ve taken a new job and let go of commitments to do other kinds of creative work on the side. I need to be healthy, or I cannot do any of these things.

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I want more moments like this one with my goofy kid and my mom, who is the best grandma ever.

Yes, it’s important for all of us to have a creative outlet, and this blog has been a big one for both of us. We both want way more of that than we get right now. But we know there will likely be more of that when this particular season of our lives passes.

Right now, we’re acknowledging that everyone in our family is entering into a new season, both literally and figuratively. We can’t stop the metaphorical change any more than we can stop the leaves outside our windows from turning and falling.

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Still, Cane and I aren’t planning to shut this blog down. We are hoping that we’ll still continue writing here, and that we can do so in a way that still has value to those of you who read us. We know it’s going to have to be different, though, which is why we’ve revised our About page.

We wanted to explain here why that is–not just because we feel like we know so many of you and owe you some kind of explanation, but because we think the things I’ve written about here are germane to what this whole blog is about. It’s never really been about the house. The true subject has always been about the life lived in the house.

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We’ve all got to make the kinds of choices Cane and I have been making–ones about what we need to live well, how we will procure what we need, where our resources will be best spent. We think that sharing some of this part of our story might be useful for others who are facing similar questions and having to make their own hard choices.

If a blog is like a TV show, we don’t ever want to be one that jumps the shark. Blogging as we really can, and living a life true to the one we depict here, is our way of not doing that.

We  hope you’ll continue to follow along. (And please click here if you haven’t yet subscribed to get the news when new posts are published.)

Hope you’ve all had a good transition to fall. We hope to be back with more updates soon. Maybe.

The not so great book review

The not so great book review

I am so full of such big plans at the beginning of every summer.

I’m going to clean!

I’m going to paint!

I’m going to organize!

I’m going to exercise!

I’m going to read!

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And then reality (often in the form of the 3 kids we are raising) sets in. I’m happy to report that I’ve actually done a fair amount of painting and exercising. Reading? Not so much.

But back in June I promised a review of Sarah Susanka’s The Not So Big Life, first on a list of books I’ve wanted to read for some time.

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Several of you joined me on this one, and I can’t wait to hear what you thought of it. Because I don’t have a whole lot to say about it.

The main reason is that I didn’t finish it–which I know is a kind of review itself.

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Unfortunately, I fell asleep soon after this shot was taken.

My first challenge in this book is that it contains exercises. One is supposed to have a notebook in which to do the exercises. I wanted to do a good job of reading this book–since I’d gone all public with my intentions and all–and it seemed to me that one couldn’t really comment on this book if one didn’t read it as the author intended.

So I got hung up very early in July, waiting for a time when I could fully do the exercises. I lost a good two weeks this way. I did do the first exercise, finally. It was OK. No clouds parted for me or anything, though.

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I decided to take the advice of some of you and just keep reading and not worry about doing the exercises. Or, to simply think about the questions even if I didn’t write the answers to them down. Doing that got me going through a  next little part, until I hit  the exercise in chapter 3, which was to help me understand my relationship to time. There were a full 7 pages of questions! With, like, one question on each line of the page!

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The irony of not wanting to take the time to answer questions about my relationship to time was not lost on me.

I skipped it. I mean, I did skim the questions, but I didn’t answer them.

I was OK with the next chapter (“Removing the Clutter”), but she really lost me in chapter 5, “Listening to Your Dreams.” I stuck with it part-way through Chapter 6, “Learning to See Through the Obstacles,” but that’s as far as I got. (I’ll still write what I thought about the book, but please be aware of a big caveat:  I didn’t actually finish the book.)

So, what was the problem?

The biggest problem for me is one that’s particular to me, so it might not be relevant to many other readers. I just couldn’t shake the feeling that I’ve read all this before.

I did really enjoy and appreciate the house renovation metaphor that runs through the book. It’s the same one that runs through this blog, and I was interested to see how Susanka developed the metaphor. But in terms of the nuts-and-bolts of how to renovate a life, I didn’t learn anything new.

And, frankly, I was irritated by what feels like glib platitudes. Such as this:

“By making the time and place to listen to your inner longings, you’ll start to live them. You’ll find that you are capable of a lot more creativity than you had thought, and you’ll find opportunities falling into your lap that allow you to do what you’ve always wanted to do–not by your seeking them out but simply because you are ready to engage and able to be present in what you do.” (14)

I mean, yes:  There is truth in this. I know this from my own experience–to some extent.

But making this happen is not easy, and making the time and place to listen to your inner longings not some magic bullet to a smaller, fulfilling, meaningful life.

I guess my main issue with this book is that it feels as if it is written from a perspective of privilege that many don’t have. There seems to be an assumption that all the activities we all engage in are a matter of choice, and we can simply choose a smaller, more meaningful life. We just need to know what to choose and make a commitment to choosing it.

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I’m glad for the shift in perspective that’s made me slow down to appreciate the simple beauty and pleasure to be found in a bowl of berries. But even this is an image of privilege.

Reading this book, I felt the same irritation I felt when reading this article about reinventing our careers in mid-life. Each person profiled in the article already had a successful, professional career–as well as an affluent spouse who could provide a financial cushion during the transition period from the old successful career to the new one. Nice work if you can get it.

Susanka posits that we are all addicted to “nut accumulation” (56) and our real problem is that we don’t realize when we have enough nuts. She makes a connection between the (often unquestioned) idea that a bigger home means a better life lived in it and the idea that a “bigger” life is better:

“There’s a perfect parallel between our attempts to find home by building bigger and our attempts to find satisfaction by buying stuff and staying busy… . A bigger, busier, flashier life isn’t necessarily a better life. But we’re taught from an early age that that’s what we should aspire to, and we rarely stop to wonder whether this is really the case. We can’t we tell ourselves–we don’t have time!” (42)

I think there’s a lot of truth in that for many of us, too, but I couldn’t help thinking of the years in my very recent past when I truly did not have enough nuts–and of the many, many people in the world who still don’t. For many of us, our lives are “big” with doing all the things we need to do to take care of our families’ basic needs.

I couldn’t help thinking about how, through my own efforts at simplification and much more mindful consumption, I’ve greatly reduced the amount of “nuts” I earn and bring into my life–but it’s still a challenge to live “small.”

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Because Cane and I joined our households (simplifying!), we bought this house–which is bigger than the one I lived in when it was just my kids and me. And yet, I can’t imagine fitting our blended family dynamics into a smaller space. We use every inch of this place.

Here’s the thing:

Yes, a few years ago, I did make some changes to create a “smaller” life. I moved closer to work and to my significant other. I sold a house I could no longer maintain myself. I began working less (not by choice, but I am now glad that choice was made for me). I consolidated my home with that of another family (Cane and his daughter).

These changes all brought “small life” benefits, but they have all come with costs, too.

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While my life grew smaller in some ways, it grew larger in others. I have a much, much greater knowledge of what my “inner longings” are–and I also have (at times) greater frustration because I have not yet figured out how to fulfill them in ways I would like.

I’ve got two teen-agers that I am raising apart from their father. While my combined household does provide more help with that at times, the combined household at other times creates more complications. I’ve got to have a job that provides for their needs and financial agreements I’ve made about meeting them. I truly can’t ditch the job that gives me migraines to follow some other kinds of dreams I have–at least, I can’t do that for a few more years. Getting to small is no simple thing when the non-negotiables of your life are complicated.

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Right now, her dreams are more important than mine. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

All of that said, I think Susanka’s book is a great introduction to the idea of living a more meaningful, mindful, simpler life. I probably would have benefited greatly from it earlier on my journey, and I really do love the house/life metaphor. I think her basic plan (the parts of it I read) is sound:

  • Notice what inspires you
  • Identify what isn’t working
  • Remove the clutter from your life
  • Listen to your dreams
  • Learn to see through obstacles
  • Improve the quality of what you have

I would just have liked to see more of what these steps look like in the context of a life that looks more like mine.

The last few chapters of the book might actually provide the thing I’m looking for–a more concrete set of how-to’s for getting to that smaller life. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get past some frustration and irritation to get there.

Enough about me:  What about you?

If you read Susanka’s book, I’d love to know what you thought of it. I know from some of you that you had a much different experience from mine. I really wanted to like this book, so I hope you help me do that!

Please share your thoughts in the comments, or if you’ve written your own post about the book, I’d love for you to share a link here.

And a little PS:

Thank you so much for your kind wishes last week. It was a hard one. Nearly two weeks ago, Cane developed Bell’s palsy. In addition to paralysis on one side of his face, he also experienced vertigo, ear ringing, terrible headache, and severe fatigue. These symptoms are not typically part of Bell’s palsy–at least, not to the degree Cane was affected–which had us worried that the problem might be bigger.

A late-night visit to the ER led to further tests, which was scary but ruled out the possibility of much bigger problems. He’s still got some vertigo and fatigue, but things are much better. The prognosis is a long recovery (months, not weeks), but most people do fully recover.

As you can see below, nothing slows this guy down completely for long:

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He needs to wear an eye patch some of the time. Because of the paralysis on his right side, his eye lid doesn’t fully close and his eye can become irritated. Sexy pirate jokes are allowed. :-)



Simple Living in Real Life

Simple Living in Real Life

If you follow our Facebook page, you might already know that Brooke at Slow Your Home is one of my favorite bloggers. I’ve chosen several of her pieces as my FB lunchtime read of the day–because she’s smart, practical, honest, and down-to-earth on the subject of creating a better life through simple living.

I loved her most recent post on how easily social media can have us slipping into dissatisfaction with our lives and homes–because we lose sight of the truth that all those perfect images we see are not the true reality of anyone’s life.

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Looks pretty perfect, doesn’t it? If you read Brooke’s post, you’ll learn that appearances can be deceiving! (Clicking on the image will take you to it.)

So, I was more than pleased when Brooke asked if she could feature us on her blog. (OK, after I responded to her call for suggestions of people to feature for her Simple Living in Real Life series and said, “Us!” :-))

As long-time readers know, we’ve struggled at times with reconciling our love of home design with our desire to live a simple, sane, and meaningful life–and that’s the focus of our interview with Brooke. If you’d like to see the interview, please click here.

And if you are visiting for the first time from Brooke’s site, welcome!

We hope that you’ll stay and poke around a bit. If you’d like to see a sampling of some favorite posts, you can click here. If you’d like to know more about us and why we’re blogging, click here. And if you’d like to know our philosophy about making home, you find that by clicking here.

Wishing everyone a week with peace and moments of joy. We’ll be back soon with some updates on our summer projects.

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We’re pretty pleased with the DIY paint job we did on the front and back of our house last summer. We’ll be writing soon about why we hiring someone else to do the remaining sides.

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I have finally finished the fireplace painting project. Can’t wait to show you our economical make-over and share why this project was mostly a joy.

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We are super-stoked about the eating nook table and benches that Cane has built entirely from plywood, requiring nothing more expensive/difficult than a radial arm-saw. A tutorial and finished pics are on the way.

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Our deck was in pretty sad shape at the beginning of the summer, but we just don’t have the funds to replace it. We’ve come up with some making-do solutions for that space that might work for you, too.

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We recently toured the only Frank Lloyd Wright house in Oregon, where we saw all kinds of simple design principles we think are great ideas for any home today.

As always, we struggle a bit to find a balance between doing projects and blogging about them. You can see that we’ve been pretty busy with the doing and have fallen behind on the blogging about the doing. We’re not sure how fast we can get these posts together, but they’re all on the docket.


Making a summer project plan

Making a summer project plan

We are in the midst of what I think of as The Dream Time.

Both Cane and I work in schools, so we are at the beginning of summer break. For some reason, the weeks between the end of school (in late mid-June) and the 4th of July always seem like not-real time. It feels like we have all the time in the world stretching ahead of us, and like we can do anything, because it will be this way for such a long, long time.

Once we pass the 4th, time speeds up and I’m acutely aware of the ticking clock, but right now all things feel possible.

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Proof that all things are possible: Our carrots are growing!

As we learned last summer, this can be dangerous. We can start way too many projects and end up frustrated and disappointed come late July when things don’t go as we thought they would during the dream weeks.

I found myself there last week, even though it is nowhere near the end of Dream Time.

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Cane got quite a bit done on our family room, but I didn’t do much more than snap a few pictures.

I was busy every day, and yet it felt like I was getting nothing done–nothing that I wanted to get done. I really wanted to do something–anything!–on one of our house projects, but I never seemed to get to any of them.

Cane and I kept talking about making a plan for our projects, but we never seemed to actually do it. I started fretting about having another summer like last year’s, in which Cane felt resentful because he was doing way more than his share of the project work, and I felt resentful because I was doing more than my share of the other kinds of work.

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The paint roller flung (yes, by me) in the midst of a melt-down last summer.

Looking at time differently

I decided to look at our time another way. Rather than thinking in terms of a list of projects to get done, I started thinking about categories of time. As I looked back at the week, I could see that we were using time for these things:

  • Household maintenance (laundry, groceries, cleaning, cooking)
  • Kid time (going to movies, going for ice cream, taking a walk)
  • Life maintenance (dental appointments, phone calls, filing paperwork)
  • Kid chores (this mostly means driving them places, and there’s a lot of that this summer)
  • Writing/social networking (here and for Purple Clover)
  • House projects (family room, deck, kitchen, garden, and more)
  • Couple time (kid-free, project-free, chore-free)
  • Exercise
  • Friendships/Socializing

No wonder I wasn’t getting to any projects! And personal leisure time wasn’t on the list at all–which probably has much to do with why I was feeling a bit cranky. I really want some time this summer to use these:

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This would be a great place to do some of the summer reading mentioned in our last post.

Setting intentions

I shared my list with Cane, and both of us could see that we have much more going on than we tend to think we do. For us, all those categories of activity are important. Some we enjoy much more than others, but we need to be spending time in all of them.

It was suddenly easy to see that there’s no way we can get done all the potential projects we’ve been talking about the past few months:

  • Finish the family room (paint the walls, built a desk, finish the shelving, figure out art)
  • Kitchen (paint the walls, build new table and benches)
  • Replace flooring in 3 upstairs bedrooms (tear out carpet, put in cork floors)
  • Deck (re-stain floor, paint rails)
  • Finish exterior paint job (two short walls)
  • Finish entryway (figure out stairs, paint door, finish painting rails)
  • Our bedroom (paint the walls, re-build the closet, new nightstands, new headboard)
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So, yeah: I did start tearing off wallpaper in the kitchen one night, even though we don’t have a clear plan.

This way of looking at time helped us come up with a list of project priorities:

1. Finish the family room. (It’s close to being done, and this room has a big impact on our family life.)

2. Stain the deck. (It’s necessary to preserve the wood.)

3. Get the exterior painted. (Also necessary for preservation.)

4. Kitchen projects. (Cane really wants to build the table/benches–post coming soon!–and I’ve wanted to paint the walls since we moved in. This one also impacts our family life.)

We might not get to #4, or we might not finish #4 this summer. The first 3 really need to be done, so they come first. I so badly want to replace the flooring in the bedrooms, but that project creates ripple projects in every room. I’ve had to let it go (for now).

Rather than trying to make some kind of complicated plan with charts and checklists and target dates, we’ve decided that we just want to be more mindful of how we’re spending our time.

We think we need to make general plans for a few days at a time, and to revisit our intentions for each day at the beginning of it. We think we’ll be doing well if we shoot for about 3 categories in any given day. More than 3 will probably have us feeling stressed. Fewer than 3 means we’ll probably start neglecting things we don’t want to neglect.

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This is what I woke up to in the kitchen Sunday morning. We need to acknowledge how much time it really does take to simply run the house, even without improvement projects.

How it looks in practice

I’m always up a few hours before anyone else, and that’s when I do most of my writing. That’s how Saturday started.

Then, Grace and I hit the gym in the late morning to walk on the treadmill and take a yoga/pilates class. (exercise and kid time)

Then we went to a picnic with Cane’s jiu jitsu community. (friendships/socializing)

At the end of the day Cane and I spent time doing some household maintenance (cleaning the kitchen and getting groceries) but we also spent a little bit of time hanging out with just the two of us in the backyard and later watching one of our favorite Netflix shows (couple time).

(I missed Freaks & Geeks back when it aired in ’99. I had toddlers then. We love this show set in 1980 as much for the period sets as for the way the creators nailed high school life then.)

As you can see, we had no project time at all on Saturday, so the plan for Sunday included some major project time:

We (mostly) painted the family room!

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But we also cleaned my car (life maintenance) and spent some time on housework.

We realized that many of our activities actually fit into two categories. I didn’t feel the need for any other exercise on Sunday, because painting the room involved a lot of that. Still, we think this will work best for us if we think of the primary category our activities fit into.

Why we like this approach

We like to be mindful/intentional, but we also like to allow room for spontaneity. A big part of UnDesign for us is letting things unfold. We think this approach to time will allow us to go in directions for the summer that we might not be able to foresee here in the midst of our June Dream Time.

However, we want to be a little less spontaneous than we’ve been in the past. When we just start doing things without thinking about how they fit into the larger picture of our life, it doesn’t go well.

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Grace still hasn’t really forgiven us for tearing up the stairs right before her party last year. Maybe because we still haven’t really finished them.

Seeing just how many demands there are on our time (even though we’re mostly off work) has been a huge reality check, especially when it comes to our home projects.

This is a little frustrating. We put off all kinds of big things during the school year, thinking that we’ll be able to do all of them when we have “the whole summer off.” Well, we don’t really have the whole summer off. We’ve got a writing deadline every Monday, and we’ve got at least one child here most of the time.

But that’s OK. It’s been good for us to see that although our daily activities are different during the summer, some truths remain regardless of the month:

  • We aren’t going to fix everything we’d like to fix all at once.
  • We’ve got plenty of time. Slow progress is still progress, and any progress is good.
  • Our house needs to serve our life–not the other way around.

And just to be clear:  We are aware of how fortunate we are to have so much time away from work every summer. In spite of being busy, there’s an ease to our days that we don’t get during the school year.

We need to remember that if we start feeling frustrated with our rate of progress, too.

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Yes, the barefoot DIYer was on duty again this weekend.

How about you?

Have any great summer project plans? How do you balance competing demands on your time? We’d love to hear how you make everything work for you.

And about the books: Let’s start with Susanka’s The Not So Big Life. My goal is to have it read by the end of July. Seems like that’s a more foundational book than the others. The different views of her work shared in the comments to the last post have me intrigued.

PS:  Sharing at The William Morris Project, our favorite place to share.