Reading Round-up

Reading Round-up

As we shared earlier this summer, we’ve been doing some writing for a new site called Purple Clover. We haven’t been linking to that writing from here, mostly because that site has a different focus from ours.

However, I’ve written a few pieces that I thought all of you might find relevant/interesting, and we’re rounding them up in this post for you. I’ll give you the first few paragraphs, then a link to take you to the site if you want to read the rest of it.

First up: A little piece about the challenges of staying connected as a couple, which in many ways was easier when we didn’t live together.

 Reading Round up

Keeping Romance Alive

This is supposed to be an inspirational and entertaining little piece about keeping romance alive in a midlife, mixed-family relationship. At least, that’s how I pitched it. But my pitch assumes two not-necessarily-true things:

1. It’s possible to keep romance alive in such a relationship.

2. I know how to do it.

Truth is, I’m not sure about either assumption. While it is true that I deeply love my partner, Cane, and we regularly feel a kind of connection that thrills me, it is also true that many afternoons, when I find yet another bowl in the sink filled with tepid water that has festered all day long with the remains of the morning’s batter for his waffles, I want to throw the bowl at him. For real….(read the rest)


Back in the spring, I wrote a post here about the day I learned that my first serious boyfriend had gone on hospice care. Cane and I visited him not long after that, the first time I’d seen him since 1985. I thought you might like to know how that went:

 Reading Round up

The Best Version of Myself

It was the kind of Facebook message no one wants to get:

They say Facebook is most used by men looking for old girlfriends …

This was, of course, from an old boyfriend, one I hoped never to hear from again.

As this kind of message goes, it wasn’t so bad. He was happily married, with two children, and obviously wasn’t looking to rekindle anything we’d extinguished more than 25 years ago.

Still, I was wary….(read the rest)


Finally, here’s one about our embrace of suburbia–location of the home we share so much about with all of you. Loving the home you’re in is a big part of the philosophy we’ve developed through writing our blog. For us, that started with loving the community we’re in.

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Lost and Found in Suburbia

According to Urban Dictionary, the suburbs are “an evil massive sprawl” and “the biggest waste of land on earth,” where “the adjoining wooded areas have often been removed after bored teenagers get caught going there to drink beer and smoke pot.”

My greatest wish as a teen was to flee Burien, the suburb south of Seattle my parents moved us to when I was 4. Sitting in my friends’ basements listening to The Who, I was pretty sure we were growing up in Pete Townshend’s teenage wasteland.

Where did I want to live? I didn’t know — in a city, on the ocean, in a small farming town. Anywhere but in a bland, boring, same-as-every-other-one suburb…. (read the rest)


That’s it for today! We hope you all have a great weekend, and we’ll be back next week with an update on our family room progress. We might even have a kitchen table/bench tutorial. Maybe not, though–doing the project was easier than writing the tutorial!

A little feedback?

I’m not planning on sharing any more Purple Clover pieces here, as we’ve decided that we’re not going to renew our contract there. (I’ll be sharing more about that next week, most likely.) However, I’ve been wondering if you’d be interested in posts that share content from other sites.

I’ve been finding some great stuff lately on the topics we write about here–things that I think many of you would enjoy. I often post them to our Facebook page, but I’ve been wondering about sharing them here.  (If you haven’t Liked us and want to so that you can see those articles and other things that don’t make it to the blog, please click here.)

This week I’ve started collecting them on a Pinterest board (which you can see/follow by clicking here).

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So, my questions are:

1. Would you appreciate a regular reading round-up sort of post, with excerpts and links to other content?

2. If yes, any particular topics you’re interested in?

Thanks all! And, of course, we’d love to hear any other thoughts you’ve got about domestic life, love, and suburbia. icon smile Reading Round up

Living in the summer moment

Living in the summer moment

Unlike many others this year, we’ve been living through a summer that’s bright, dry, and clear.

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And yet, there have been cirrus clouds of melancholy hanging over much of this season for me. I have been missing the summers of my childhood–when each day felt like a gleaming bead strung on an infinite ribbon of time.

They were filled with slow moments and family I no longer see. I miss both.

 Living in the summer moment

One year my grandma suddenly decided to take a bunch of us kids to a beach cabin for a week.

Much as we are trying to slow down and savor the gift of time each summer brings to us, we have been less successful in that than I hoped to be. In May I vowed that I would have some slow afternoons in the hammock, dozing off with a book, but it just hasn’t happened yet.

However, the other day Cane built a little reading loft in our backyard tree. We needed to replace some boards in our deck, and he decided to repurpose them into a nook for our girls.

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I climbed up the ladder he built to watch him pound the final nails.

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As I studied the leaves’ dappled shadows on the platform, I realized, wistfully, that we are half-way through July. Halfway through summer.

The days feel as if they are melting fast as the orange creamsicles we’ve been devouring this year, and I started feeling as sad for this summer’s passing as if it were already September.

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“Remember when we were kids and summer seemed to last forever?” I asked him.

“Why is it so different now?”

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Playing dress-up in my mom’s prom dresses.

I wondered aloud if it is because it is so much harder now to fully inhabit the moments we are in, our heads so full of memories and dreams and responsibilities that we find it hard to create a clear space and fill it only with what is directly in front of us.

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When I was a kid, I didn’t spend time mourning the past or worrying about the future.

I lived fully in each day as I was in it, not really knowing that one day the grandmas and grandpas and aunts and uncles and cousins who defined my world would pass from it.

I mean, I knew that I would grow up and things would change, but that was all so abstract and far away.

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“I want some time to sit in this tree,” I said to Cane that day. “I want to come up here with my book, and eat an apple, and look up at the leaves and not think about anything but the apple and the leaves and what’s going to happen on the next page.”

Just like when I was a kid.

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“I want to pay full attention and not think about the days already spent or how few of them we have left. I don’t want to let tomorrow’s sorrow rob me of today’s joy.

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And so, a few days later, I climbed the ladder with my book, an apple, and my camera. I took some time to see, some time to just be.

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We’d spent the morning and the evening before it with my cousin and his family. Seven years ago, when our grandma died, my cousin and I made a pact of sorts. We promised to spend more time together than we had been. We wanted our children to know each other the way we had.

They don’t, of course. They don’t share a grandmother, and they haven’t shared as many summer days as their dad and I did. But they do know each other, and they look forward to our visits, and within minutes of meeting at an old-school video game arcade, they were huddled around the same machine, laughing and boasting and trading insults.

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To see our lanky, almost-grown babies like this made something inside me swell, made of equal parts joy, gratitude, and sorrow. We’ve fulfilled the hope of our pact. We’ve given them at least a little of what we had. But for them, the time of childhood summers is nearly past.

I might easily have slipped into a pool of sadness, but for the 18 hours we got to share, I didn’t. I didn’t think about the past or the future. We made food, we laughed, we got the kids to do some chores, we went out for ice cream, we talked and talked and talked. I didn’t take any photos (other than that grainy phone shot above). I was too busy living our moments to document them.

I was just present, and grateful.

When they left, I felt tired and out of sorts. I took a nap. I did some errands. And then–missing my cousin, missing my younger kids, missing all kinds of things–I went to the reading platform and tried to recapture my childhood days ways of being.

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Of course, I couldn’t really. There are lots of reasons I will never feel quite as safe and carefree as I did on those summer days when I could burn hours lost in the pages of a book.

A reading platform in a tree will never be quite the haven that our grandmother’s lap was.

rita grandma Living in the summer moment

But I’m glad that I can still get a taste of it.

I’m beginning to understand that I will always miss the family I can never see again, that time is not going to dull that kind of pain, which is all the more reason I’m thankful to be building a new one with a man who looks at a pile of cracked decking boards and sees a place of respite for our girls. And for me.

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Maybe, 40 or so years from now, our kids will look back on these summers and the hours they spent reading in the arms of a tree as fondly as I do my own young summers. Maybe they’ll even build a reading platform in their own backyards, for whatever children fill their lives then.

And if I’m lucky enough to still be here 40 or so years from now, I’m sure I will look back on the imperfect days of this summer with as much longing as I currently do the ones from 1973.

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(A related note: I’m still planning to finish Susanka’s Not So Big Life by the end of this month. If you’re reading it, too, please let me know if you’re up to answering a few questions via email. I’d love to incorporate reader responses into the post about it.)

Linking to the William Morris Project at Pancakes and French Fries.





Fail Harder

Fail Harder

A couple of months ago I took my students on a field trip to Wieden+Kennedy, one of the most successful advertising firms in the world. On the third floor of their huge office is this mural:

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This greets all the creatives as they reach the top of the stairs every day.

One of the big messages that Dan Wieden gave to my students is that spectacular failure is important to the creative process. He said that designers aren’t useful to him until they have failed big a few times.

Well, in making a kitchen table for our eating nook, I went for it and failed harder.

I thought it was going to be a success up until almost the end. I had written most of this post–and thought all I’d need is a few finished pictures to complete it–when it all fell apart. Rather than rewrite the whole thing, I thought I’d let you see exactly how it all unfolded.

Here goes:

Summer project update

The saga of the kitchen nook re-do continues, but slowly. We had a bit of a heat wave recently, when it was too hot to do much of anything.

The heat was a good thing for me, really. I had been on a project tear since school let out. For some reason I get it in my head that as soon as school is out I have to bust out all the projects that I’ve been saving up all year. It was nice to have a forced break.

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Beating the heat at Blue Lake Park. We love the paddle boats. (Ed. note: You can see from the smile on his face that he’s not totally cool with forced fun. But he’s trying. -R.)

I managed to get the floor done in the family room, though. We’re really happy with how it turned out. It’s exactly what we had in mind.

And, the children actually like it. That’s a big bonus because they pretty much don’t like anything that we do to the house. Most of our efforts are met with either eye rolls or pointing fingers with the word “NO” expressed over and over.

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Here’s a look at our downstairs family room floor. We really like the way it turned out.

The floor looks great and Rita and I got the walls painted, too. The kids don’t like the wall color but we like it a lot. When we put up our sweet thrift store art on those gray walls they will really pop, you know?

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Rita is messing around with painting the fireplace orange. We really want orange to work. We’ve tried at least 6 different oranges. We’ve narrowed it down to one.  We could have just gone easy and painted the whole damn thing a dark gray or something like that, but we couldn’t give up the orange without a fight.

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Here’s the fireplace in progress. It’s almost finished now. We think it looks way cool. Rita will probably do a post on it soonish.

Oh, back to the subject: the kitchen eating nook.

This post will be bit of a how-to. Really, though, you shouldn’t try to do things the way I do because I almost always don’t really do things the right way. This will be no exception, of course.

I tend to do quite a bit of creative play and experimenting. About half the time it means I screw something up. Other times though I end up with something cool.

I started designing the table as part of the MOOC (massive online open course) that I started this spring. I didn’t much like the class but it did allow me to think through the design quite a bit. Here are some prototypes and sketches I did for the table top:

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Small mock up of the table and benches.

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Table top sketch ideas.

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Here’s a mock up of the table top and benches.

Well, I didn’t use any of those shapes for the top. (I’ll show you in a bit what I decided to go with.)

One of the problems that came up in my design process was that benches are great but they are difficult to get in and out of. The table legs get in the way and you have to do some real acrobatics to get in the bench and around the legs. You can see that in my prototype here.

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You can see in the bottom left of the image that there is a table leg right next to the bench. This is a design problem.

I managed to solve that problem with my next prototype (below). If you read my last post here, you know how I solved the bench design issue. I was really enamored with Enzo Mari’s design simplicity and wanted to replicate that in the table.

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You can see how the T shaped legs sit out of the way and make it much easier to get in and out of the bench.

I thought about building my own table legs, but in the end the simplicity of these cast-iron ones won out. They were cheap enough. I found them on Amazon for 20 bucks per leg plus shipping.

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Once I got these I knew I wanted a big old slab table on top of these legs. The slab table would work well with the bench. It would have that same kind of simple form-follows-function elegance. Off to the Depot I went in search of some Big Wood.

In the lumber section I found 8 foot long fir in 12 x 2 inch boards. They looked good. I liked the coloring and grain of fir. It’s a soft wood for sure, and not as suitable for a table top as a hard wood would be. Hardwood like oak or maple would be super expensive, though. I wanted to make something easily affordable that anyone could make.

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Not bad. 10 bucks per board. I need 3 for the top.

I dug through the stack and found the 3 best ones. I also got a 2×6 as well, as I thought I might split it in half and put one piece on each end to give me just a bit more width to the table.

Once I got everything home I dug around on the internets to see how to join up all the boards. I like doing DIY on the cheap where I can, but I quickly learned that “cheap” and “right” don’t go together in this project.

In order to do this the right way, I’d need a planer to get all the pieces flat.

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Planer used to get boards to a uniform thickness. This tool gets them flat and true. Image via

And I’d need a joiner to get the edges straight and true.

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The joiner is perfect for getting edges straight and true. This allows you to edge glue boards with perfect precision. image via

Then I’d need a biscuit joiner to put all the pieces together.

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The biscuit joiner makes slots in the sides of the boards so you can slip in the little football shaped pieces you see here called biscuits. Why are they called biscuits? I don’t know. You cut a corresponding slot in both boards and slip a biscuit in the slot. It fits halfway into the slot of both boards and helps to build a strong glue bond.

Then I’d need a bunch of clamps.

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I’d need 8 or so big clamps for my table top.

Well I don’t have any of these tools–and I wasn’t going to go out and buy them. My goal was to make the table top essentially with the tools I already had. I almost did that.  I spent 12 bucks on a clamp and 10ish on a block plane.

So, here’s how I made a table top on the cheap.

Step 1- Cut the boards flat.

The first step was to get the edges as straight and true as I could. To do this I used my table saw and ripped off just a hair from each edge. This wasn’t perfect. It’s not as good an edge as I could get from a joiner, but I didn’t have to go out and spend a thousand bucks one one. This was a case where good enough is good enough.

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This is the best shot I have. The board is coming off the table saw. You can see the thin strip on the right side that’s being cut off.

I also ripped the 6-inch board in half and trimmed the outside edges as well. I did a dry fit of my boards to see what orientation would work best. I immediately found that the boards didn’t fit super tight. One of them was bowed a bit, and I had a space of about a quarter inch on one side. I’d have to force the boards together with clamps.

Step 2- Join the boards together.

The best solution I had for joining the boards together was my pocket screw jig. It cost me less than 20 bucks and I find I use it all the time. You clamp the jig on the board and use a drill bit to make a pocket hole. The screw goes in the hole and grabs the other board tight and pulls the two together hard.

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Here’s my pocket hole jig. This is the most economical one made. It comes with the drill bit. The bit has a collar on it that you use to set the depth of the drill depending on the thickness of the wood.

My plan was to drill pocket screw joints on the back side of the table where they wouldn’t be seen. This would hold the boards together tight while the glue set. That way I wouldn’t have to go out and buy a bunch of clamps. I put a pocket screw hole about every 10 inches or so. I wasn’t too perfect about it as it won’t be seen at all.

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Here’s the first 2 boards getting joined together. I used a glue called Titebond II. Any carpenter’s wood glue would work just fine, I’m sure.

If you look at the image above you can see that there is a tiny space where the boards don’t touch. That space is the difference between using my table saw and buying a couple of thousand dollars worth of tools. I decided that rustic is just right, and I’ll deal with the space later.

I had to pry quite a bit with the clamp to get the 2 pieces together as one of the boards was bowed a bit. I left the clamp on one end and let the whole thing dry overnight before adding more boards.

I got up the next day and removed the clamp and proceeded to add the third 12-inch board. It joined up just fine as it wasn’t bowed. The nice thing about pocket screws is that they take the place of clamps so I was able to remove the clamps as soon as I put in all the screws. After I joined up all three 12-inch boards, I decided I wanted the table a bit wider. I also added the two pieces of the 2×6 that I ripped in half. I put one on each side for symmetry. I let the whole thing dry overnight.

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Here’s the whole glue up from the bottom with all the pocket screws.

Step 3- Sand the top flat.

You can see that it’s pretty tight, but there are some spaces.

The next step was to flip it over and get the top flat. No matter how hard I tried to get the boards to sit flat as I joined them I knew that it wouldn’t be perfect. It wasn’t.

I got out my palm sander and put on some 60 grit paper and proceeded to sand the top to death. A belt sander would have been great here but I don’t own one and wasn’t going to go out and get one just for this project.

Step 4- Mess up the top.

After 2 or 3 sheets of paper I had the top reasonably flat. I could have been content here and started to sand it with finer grades of paper to get it smoother. But no, I didn’t do that.

I had this hair-brained idea that I could get a hand planer and plane the top glass-smooth. How hard could that be? I imagined pushing that razor-sharp plane across the top and watching the ribbons of paper thin wood peel away from the top.

Of course I should do that!

Off to Harbor Freight I went to get this guy:

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10 bucks at Harbor Freight

I brought it home and adjusted it the best I could and had a go.

It was very hit and miss. In some places it cut beautiful ribbons of wood. In other place it tore out chunks.

I decided that maybe it wasn’t sharp enough, so I took out the blade and sharpened it. It did work better with a sharper blade.

I still had the problem with the plane occasionally taking out a small chunk of wood. I managed to smooth out the edges where the boards joined together. I’m not sure if the plane did more harm than good. I tried sanding out the chunks but they were too large. In the end I filled all the low areas in the top with wood putty. I wanted a rustic table right? Well that’s what I got.

It’s beautiful smooth now though, and I’m going to say that the wood putty adds a rustic thing to the top. Here’s some images of the top with wood filler. I was also able to use the wood putty to fill in the spaces between the boards while I had it out. I wasn’t originally going to do that but since I was now using it why not?

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Here’s the filler before sanding.

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Here’s the filler after sanding but before finish. It gets a dark wood color when polly is put over the top.

Step 5- Cut to length.

Once the top was all sanded down smooth I clamped a straight edge to the top and used my skill saw to cut the top to length. I did this last so that the ends would be perfectly flat and I wouldn’t have to get them lined up super-exact when joining them together in glue up since I’d be trimming the edges later.

Step 6- Apply polyurethane.

Four coats of clear satin polly, and I’m done. I had to sand after the second coat of polly as it raises the grain of the wood just a bit. I used a 220 grit paper, as I only needed to take the bur off the top. With a simple clear polly, Doug Fir is a beautiful wood. I really like how it looks. The simple slab reflects our design aesthic and I think it’ll look super cool in the kitchen.

My next step was to attach the legs. I marked where the legs will go and drilled pilot holes in the garage. I attached the legs when I got the top up the stairs and into the kitchen. It weighs 4 tons and would have been really hard to move with the legs in place.


(And that’s where the original post stopped. Thought all I needed to do was add a picture of the finished table in place. Nope.)

Step 7- Profanity.


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Woke up and checked it in the morning and the thing was crooked. One of the boards had warped quite a bit. I didn’t mind it being a bit warped because of the whole rustic thing and all, but this was beyond usable. My guess is that the wood I bought was still green and when it dried it warped and twisted. They stack the wood high at the Depot and it sits flat until you take the weight off of it and let id dry. It’ll then warp and twist.

I find that sometimes a situation  calls for liberal amounts of profanity. This was one of those situations for sure. Searching for some to share with all of you allowed me to escape from the question of what to do next for just a bit. I think there’s just about the right amount in this video to express how I was feeling.

(Ed note: Don’t play this at work with the volume on. Of course, there’s not much point in it with the volume off. So, just don’t play this at work, OK? -R.)

I think I would have been okay if I had let the wood sit a few days before using it. Lesson learned. Which brings us back to the idea we started with:

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This idea goes with our philosophy that says you have to have big balls to do creative stuff. If you aren’t making mistakes and trying some things just above your pay grade, then you may not be learning anything, you know?

Now, I know that some failures are easier to deal with than others. When I was running plumbing for the new tub in the bathroom failure was not really an option. The pipes had to work and not leak. Spectacular failure there would have not been great.

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Even still, there was failure with this plumbing. We did get a leak, and I did have to re-do this.

Sometimes. though, you can design a project where failure IS an option. I designed this project that way.

I knew that my method for putting this together was untried and could possibly fail, which is partly why I chose wood for the table top that only cost me 35 bucks. I knew that if it didn’t work out I wouldn’t be out a huge sum.

I think the idea of designing with the possibility of failure in mind helps us to try new things. I learned some things along the way, and if I was to attempt to make a slab top from fir boards again I’d do a few things differently. That’s cool–and we’re OK with spending $35 for that learning.

Step 8- Rethink it.

After I whined to Rita for a while, we decided to scrap the tabletop and do something else for the dining room table.

We did have the great idea of cutting off the bent part of the slab I made and using it for the desk we’re building in the nook in the family room.

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You might remember this plan from a month or so ago.

A couple of quick rips with my circular saw later I had a top just the right size for the opening. I attached some old school desk legs that we found at an office furniture resale shop. I put in a bit of trim around the edges and just like that I have a desk downstairs.

And, we decided to go with a plywood tabletop to match the benches. We like this even better than the slab top.

Our UnDesigning philosophy can sometimes zig-zag quite a bit. This project is no exception.

The idea of formulating a plan and following it to the letter just never sits right with us. We like a plan. We also like to throw it out if it suits us.

The table/ bench is sorting itself out just the way it was supposed to. The plywood table will be a better table in the long run, and I accidentally finished another project in the process. Allowing for the unexpected and being willing to try something even if you are not sure works for us.

How about you?

Have a great fail harder story? Happy accidents that worked out great? What’s your approach to planning with your creative projects? Would love to have you share your triumphs and tragedies in the comments.

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We still haven’t figured out what we’re doing with this earlier “fail harder” project–which has us at 7 cans of brown paint and counting.


Ikea as investment furniture

Ikea as investment furniture

Dear Ikea,

We know that haters love to hate on you. We’re pretty sure you’ve heard all the mean things they say about your stuff:

It’s cheap.
It’s generic and soul-less.
It’s for just-starting-out kids (not real grown-ups).
It’s for those without style who think you can buy style.

(And that’s just about your stuff–not to mention the experiences of shopping for it and putting it together.)

Well, we just want to say this:

We love you. We really love you.

sally field ikea Ikea as investment furniture

We didn’t know how much until recently, when we were replacing the covers on our Karlstad sectional.

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We bought the sofa almost a year ago. You see, we’d tried to be as cool as the hipsters we live so close to. We bought an awesome retro sofa and chair, but our kids hated them. They refused to sit on them. (I’m pretty sure our use of the word “awesome” here betrays us as terminally un-hip, which is probably the real reason our retro sofa was a bust. That, and we live in the suburbs. I think, by definition, one cannot be hip and live in the ‘burbs, you know?)

green couch angle 940x705 Ikea as investment furnitureAnyway, we decided we love our kids more than being stylish, so we compromised by getting the Karlstad. Which, as it turned out, was a far more functional choice. You can fit a lot of people on that big boat of a sofa!

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It’s a lot of couch for the money, which is part of what attracted us to it. And, while it’s not an amazingly comfortable couch, it’s a plenty-comfy couch. Our family has watched many a movie on it over the past almost-year. And some of us have taken a few naps.

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Those pillows and blanket aren’t for show. Those are nap time essentials.

We’ve been quite pleased with it, but it was in the cover-changing that our feelings intensified to love.

You see, we have not loved our original choice for the couch cover. We went with the Korndal in dark brown. We thought this was a practical choice–sturdy enough to stand up to the rigors of 1 almost-teen, 2 bona fide teens, and 2 cat-dogs. (Really, our dogs are more like cats. Which means they use our sofas a lot.) We also thought brown was the color we wanted in a couch.

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Here’s the couch with the original cover (before we moved it out of the corner and painted the room).

As it turns out, we hated the dark brown cover (no offense). Something about the texture of it captured every. single. crumb. and with aforementioned kids and cat-dogs, we’ve got more than a few crumbs in our household.

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Cane was forever swatting at the cushions and muttering under his breath, and that detracted quite a bit from the whole idea of what a couch is for. (You know, a place to relax.) Then he accidentally splashed some bleach on a cushion, sort of pounding the nail into the coffin of the brown covers. (He says it was an accident, but just between you and me, Ikea, I think there really are no accidents.)

So we decided to replace them with the Sivik dark grey, which we love. They are softer than the Korndal, which makes the couch just a little bit cushier, and they fit nicely with the 70s retro/industrial coffee shop style we’re creating in our family room.

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We’re not there yet, but we’re getting there.

Wrestling those covers on wasn’t exactly fun, and we did have to iron them, but as we did so, it did not escape us that it would have been a whole lot more trouble and expense to replace a whole sofa. (As you know, the set of new covers was about $200.)

And that got us to questioning the whole idea of investment furniture.

We’ve been toying with the idea of “investing” in a high-quality couch for our upstairs living area. Something in leather, perhaps. Something we would not need to assemble ourselves, trying to figure out how the heck to do that without any words in the directions.

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You know we love you, but, really: What is the relationship between the illustration at the top and the one at the bottom? Shouldn’t the order be reversed–so that, after inserting the sides into the bases with screws, one gets a finished sectional? And how about a little more detail on how those screws actually need to get in there. Because this? It wasn’t really helpful.

After last week, that’s an idea we’re pretty much abandoning, at least as far as a couch goes. The thing is, we aren’t designers. (We like to call ourselves UnDesigners, but we’ll save that whole line of thought for a different letter.)

We are not great at knowing what will and won’t work until we bring things in and try them out. (See green couches, above. And brown couch, above.)

We also change our minds, frequently, about what we want.

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See those paint swatches? This was from just a year ago. We went with the one on the right, which was recently covered with gray.

And that, Ikea, is why we love you.

Sure, we wish there were more direct paths to the exit in your enormous warehouse of a store and that you could put some words in your assembly directions.

But we love that you make it OK for us to get it wrong, to change our minds, to go in a different direction as our wants/needs change. AND give us a comfortable place to rest our weary bones while we’re working it all out.

We like that you create something that works well and looks good and doesn’t cost a million bucks. As we changed those covers, we realized that ours is a decently-constructed couch. It’s solid. It’s likely going to serve us fine until those teenagers are launched into their own first dorms/apartments.

I mean, really–if it holds up and looks fine and does what it needs to do, do we really need to spend thousands on a couch that looks nearly identical?

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I’m sure the Easton is a more well-constructed couch. But I don’t know that we’re going to get nearly 3K more value from it. And I bet you can’t get a new set of cushion covers for $200 if someone accidentally splashes them with bleach.

We think not.

We’ve been thinking a lot about our friend Jules’s review of her Ikea couch, and the story she shared about selling her beautiful Ethan Allen leather sectional on Craigslist for a song–because even though she loved the couch, it just didn’t fit in her new home after a move.

We are all about buying fewer things of higher quality and using them for a long time. (It’s why we’ve taken a pass on some of your cabinets and bookcases.) But we’re realizing (thanks to you and our Karlstad) that such an approach works only if we really really really know what we love and what will work for a long time.

When we bought our Karlstad, we knew we wanted a big couch in the family room while the kids are still here. But two of the three will likely be leaving for college in 3 years, and we might want to do something different in that space at that time. Heck, we might move to a smaller house within the next 10 years.

We just don’t know–and that’s why we’re a match made in heaven, you and us. It’s not just 20somethings and college kids who need decent-quality, good-looking furniture that they can swap out in a few years without some kind of huge heartbreak.

And so, dear Ikea, we just want to say this:

You light up our life (and our family room). We might not love our Karlstad forever, but we’ll always love you.






How we’re beating the heat this summer

How we’re beating the heat this summer

I am a Northwest native.

Well, not technically. My family has been in the northwest only as far back as the early 1900s–but most of them came from northern Europe, and I’m guessing that they stopped wandering and settled in here because  when they got to this land of grey sky, green trees, and cool temperatures, it felt like home.

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James Oakes, my great-great grandfather, was one of the early settlers in Whatcom County, Washington.

I grew up in a Seattle suburb (Burien), and after college I moved south all the way to Portland, which is really not all that different from Seattle, except:  It is about 5-10 degrees warmer on most summer days.

When I was growing up, 75 was a very warm day. If it got into the 80s, it was sweltering.

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Obviously it wasn’t too hot for a little lawn-mowing on this summer day. I bet Cane wishes I was still a lawn-mower–and in a dress, no less. (And hey, nice job on the bangs, Mom!)

So right now, I am DYING. We’ve been in the high 80s/low 90s since Thursday, and look at what’s still to come:

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And it’s flipping JUNE. It’s not supposed to be this hot here ever, but especially not in June (aka: Juneuary).

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The view outside our window just a week or so ago. This is how it’s supposed to be this time of year.

For years I’ve said, “You can’t really count on summer here until after the 4th of July.” When my kids were little I wanted to dress them up in those cute summer red/white/blue outfits that are in all the stores for our annual 4th of July parade, but I never could because they would have shivered to death.

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Notice the long sleeve t-shirt. The girl in the background wearing jeans. The SWEATSHIRT. (Then maybe you won’t notice those super-cool bike helmets my kids are wearing. Kinda the equivalent of a really bad bang job. There must be a “make your cute kids look goofy by messing with their heads” gene that my mom passed on to me.) This was one of our nicer July 4th parades. See the shadows on the pavement? That means sun. We didn’t get shadows every year.

And, I’m going to admit it straight out: I am horrible when the weather is this hot. I whine. I complain.

I get very, very cranky.

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The heat triggers my migraines, which have been off the damn charts the past two weeks. When I saw the extended forecast last week, I started feeling just a wee bit frantic and panicky about the whole thing.

I know that we have it better than most of the US. I know I shouldn’t complain when others have weeks of 100+ and so many endured horrible draughts last summer, but here’s the thing we don’t have that people in those other parts of the country do:  We have no AC.

I never knew anyone who had AC when I was growing up. No one needed it. Those few days that got to the mid-80s were scorchers, for sure, but we’d just fill up a wading pool with water and hang out in it and it was all good. Or we’d go to the beach.

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See all that blue on the left? That’s what home means to me. See that little tiny strip of blue projected for 2040? That’s in the mountains. That’s what climate change looks like, y’all.

Although I love our split-entry house like I never thought I would, I’ve come close to hating it during the past two summers. Heat rises (basic science), and all the main living areas are on the second level. Our kitchen faces west, which means that cooking dinner in there is torture on hot days.

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I LOVE those windows and their second-story view most of the time–but I curse them during a heat wave.

The only saving grace is our downstairs family room. (Which is coming along so, so nicely. Except for my little experiment with orange paint. That hasn’t gone so swell.)

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I’m liking the IDEA of the orange fireplace. Just not those particular shades of orange. I got this done early on the first morning of warmer weather. By mid-day, we realized we needed to get some new window coverings installed immediately.

The past two summers, I have fought the heat. I have tried to ignore it, going about my life as if it weren’t 100 degrees. I have raged at it. I have whimpered. I have pouted. I have left and gone to the coast.

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We were at the coast just last week. Note that I am wearing a coat. And my eyes are closed because the wind is blowing. That’s how it should be!

None of these have been particularly effective ways of dealing with it. I mean, I can’t just up and go to the beach every time I get too hot.

So this summer, I am trying a different tactic:  surrender.

Just as I would never blithely go on my usual merry way if we were facing extreme weather on the opposite end of the heat spectrum, I’ve realized I can’t do the same with hot temps.

Rather than throwing a fit, I’m channeling my inner Laura Ingalls Wilder. Those ancestors of mine were pioneers and immigrants. They were farmers and fishermen. (Well, one was a dentist. But still:  They all had grit.)

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Obviously, these guys aren’t whining in the face of a hot day (although Mary and Carrie do look a little strained). (image via

It’s not life as usual when we hit temps over 90. That kind of heat–that’s like locusts have descended, the crops are going to die, Pa’s sick, and there are real natives at the door who would much prefer that I find some other land to squat on. (OK, so the heat tends to make me exaggerate a little. Everything seems amplified when it’s way too hot out.)

The point is, one can’t just sit around wringing one’s hands in such a situation. One. must. deal.

Here’s our game plan for doing just that:

1. We adjust our schedule.

Normally, I spend my mornings writing. That’s my best time to do it, but I’ve realized that when the weather is hot, I need to shift that to a later time of day.

If we want to do anything that requires much physical movement or that will heat up the kitchen, we do that in the morning.

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I was hitting the bricks by 7:30 AM last Friday.

Usually, we don’t do much of any work after dinner, but we’re realizing that during heat-wave weather, that’s some of the only time we can get things done. We installed the new family room blinds at about 9:00 pm the other day. Even then, it was sweaty work. (And can I tell you how happy I am to be done with the soul-sucking plastic mini-blinds we lived with for two years in here!)

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These are honeycomb window shades bought off the shelf at Lowe’s. They aren’t the most exciting window coverings, but they fit without cutting, they were easy to install, their purchase price didn’t require us to sell a child, they will be easy to keep clean, and they’ll be up at the top of the window most of the time, where we won’t see them anyway. We LOVE them.

We also stay up later and plan on an afternoon nap. Migraines have been making that almost mandatory for me, and we both realized that perhaps that’s a healthier schedule during times of extra-warm weather.

2. We find air-conditioning elsewhere.

Once it gets too hot to be at home, we often hit the road to find a coffeeshop that has AC. That’s a great place to work on writing or pay bills or do research (aka, dinking around on the internets). Another (free) option for getting the same kind of work done:  The library.

Afternoons are also the time we’ll do any shopping we need to do, as most stores have AC. Home Depot was a good place to be last Friday.

And if all else fails, we can always go to a movie (where Grace and I spent some of Saturday afternoon in blessed, dark coolness).

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Totally inappropriate language, but this is our kinda chick flick. See how Sandra Bullock looks a little crazed and like she’s ripped her clothes off because it’s just too hot? More what I wish Heat Wave Rita looks like. (See above for what I really look like.)

3. We plan food differently.

Cooking dinner is just plain out of the question, and even grilling on our back deck is ridiculous when it’s over 90. (It, too, faces the afternoon sun.) Our solution is to prepare food in the morning that we can eat all day.

Grilled meat (because we don’t want to heat the kitchen any more than necessary) can be eaten cold in a salad. We stock up on lunch meat and bread/crackers, cut up plenty of fruit and vegetables, grate cheese, and make rice or pasta that can be eaten cold or heated in the microwave.

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We keep bowls of cut-up fruit in the fridge. Or, we try to. We do have 3 teens in the house.

4. We’re looking for the bright side of these very bright days.

Heat like this forces us to slow down. Rather than fight it, we’re trying to embrace it. When the weather is cooler, we can get too caught up in our household shoulds. These warm afternoons and early evenings force us to abandon them.

Instead of gnashing our teeth and wailing (or whimpering or bitching), we’re trying to embrace these days as the opportunity they are to enjoy some guilt-free pleasures–such as taking naps, going to the river, hanging out and doing nothing.

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This is a very comfortable spot to do nothing in.

Truth is, we know we have it way better than my pioneer ancestors–and many other people today. 

We are so lucky that we don’t have to work in this heat. We don’t have to harvest crops or build high-rises or direct traffic with the sun beating down on us. We have plenty of food and the means to preserve it, and even though our house is very uncomfortably warm, we’re not in danger of dying here.

Keeping this positive perspective in the forefront of my mind is my best heat-beating strategy. 

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Appreciating the small things helps, too.

But enough about us…

How are you doing with the weather in your neck of the woods? If you’re a pro at dealing with heat and have some tips to share, we’d love to hear ‘em. Please share–you know we love hearing from you.

Oh, and one more thing:

I never used Google Reader myself, but I know that it’s gone as of today. If you’d like an easy way to follow all your blogs, many have recommended Bloglovin’. I sorta hate the name of it, but that’s a dumb reason not to use it. I’ve followed a few blogs with it because it was their only good option for following, and I’ve liked it. I get email notifications every day with new posts, which works well for me.

If you’re looking for a way to follow us, here’s a link that can help you do so with Bloglovin’:
Follow my blog with Bloglovin

UPDATE:  Last night we tried one more idea:

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As you can see, the sun is your alarm clock when you sleep outside.

Sleeping outside on our deck was great! Like camping, only better–inflatable mattress, inside toilet that flushes. Snuggling under the stars is a definite upside to heat wave!

Simple kitchen design

Simple kitchen design

Well, I posted a while back about an online class I’m working through on design. It’s called Creation of Artifacts. It was 8 week class focused on solving a design challenge of some sort, which finished up this week. I had plans to post regularly about the experience, but that just didn’t happen. (I might do a post later about what I did and didn’t like about the class.)

Anyway, I decided I’d tackle the kitchen eating area as my design project for the course (you can see the beginnings of that in this post). This was basically designing 2 things. The first was a bench of some sort. We knew going in that we wanted a bench that would run the length of the kitchen wall and turn a corner and follow the wall under the window. We also knew that we wanted a larger table.

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This is our current eating area in our kitchen. It needs some work.

You can read more about my design challenge and the requirements of my final design on the website I created for the class here.

We’d been thinking quite a bit about how we wanted the area to look. What I had in mind back then was completely different than where I landed. Here’s my initial thinking about the way the bench would look.

7365558 orig Simple kitchen designI thought we’d really want to have more storage available in the kitchen area. Building some into the bench seemed like a no brainer at the time because it wouldn’t take up any more space. As you can see the long bench had a flip up top and the one under the window had sliding doors. I had been planning in my head how to construct these for quite a while and thought I had it all worked out.

Below is a rought 3D model of my concept.

3225400 orig Simple kitchen designWell, going into week 7 of my course this is where I was. I was pretty sure this was going to be a good design and the extra storage would somehow come in handy. Things started to change a bit after having a conversation with Rita, though.

We were talking about our future kitchen renovation and how we wanted to do things simply. We don’t have a lot of stuff in our kitchen and we like it that way. The idea of more storage started to sound out of line with our values. You know how it goes. The more storage you have, the more stuff you put in it. Suddenly the idea of lots of extra storage in the kitchen crammed with stuff was not appealing at all.

Luckily for me a design inspiration showed up just when I needed it. Rita and I are fans of no frills, form-follows-function type of design. You can see that in our Adirondack chair project. The Adirondack chair is a perfect example of the form of the thing coming out of the function. Nothing extra is added. No decoration of any kind. There’s a beautiful honesty about that kind of design. It’s an aesthetic I can get behind. I was looking through some chair images on google images when I came across this guy.

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Image via:

I was intrigued right away. There is a rugged honest simplicity to this chair that really is beautiful.

The designer, Enzo Mari (he’s the guy sitting in the chair), has a design philosophy that I can get behind:  He wanted good design for the masses. This chair was designed back in the 70′s as a way to get accessible design to anyone who wanted it. He’d send the plans for the chair to anyone who sent him a self-addressed, stamped envelope. Free of charge.

The beauty of the chair is that it can be made with off-the-shelf lumber. These are simple pine boards that you can find at the Depot. You just cut them to length and nail them together. That’s right. He put these together with simple nails. No glue. No screws. He wanted something simple that anyone, regardless of woodworking experience, could easily make.

He put out a book of designs for building simple furniture with off the shelf lumber called Autoprogettazione? which translates as self-designed. The book had plans for tables, chairs, bookshelves and more. The book seems impossible to find right now. I’m on the hunt for one though.

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Here’s some of the designs in the book.

Take a look at this table. The simplicity of the design and the ingenious way the parts fit together is really cool. Anyone who does even beginning level woodwork should be able to see how easy this would be to build.

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The leg structure on this table is all built from simple 1 x 4 lumber nailed together. Image via

Man! This guy’s stuff is awesome. The designs are really cool and they are accessible to anyone. It’s not trying to be anything it’s not. Even though they are simple they aren’t simplistic. There is real beauty in these designs. Take a look at the chair and you will see what I mean.

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*image via:

The base of the chair is squareish. The consistency of width to depth creates a pleasing proportion visually. The legs are just a bit more than twice the height of the 8 inch lumber it’s made of. This creates a bit of vertical lift and keeps the chair from looking squatty. the angle of the back rest is simply formed by making the back corner of the support line up with the back of the leg.  No need to measure. The slight-tipping back of the seat fits perfectly with this angle to make a surprisingly comfortable chair.

You can see that it was simply designed and not thoughtlessly designed. I can see that there was a great deal of effort put into this simple design challenge. Here’s Mari demonstrating the strength of the chair.

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Even though it’s nailed together the chair is strong and durable. image via:


Looking at this really made me rethink things. I looked at everything I could find online from Mari and found this.

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image via:

This is a Enzo Mari-inspired design. You can see they took his basic chair and extended it in both directions to make the bench. This really is a nice interpretation of Mari’s design idea.

The more I looked at it the more I thought it would be a great solution to our kitchen design challenge. Using this image as a guide I came up with my own version of the long bench on the right. I made some modifications to the design that I think updates Mari’s design a bit. I’ll put together a how-to on how it came together soon.

In the meantime, I still have to build the other 2 pieces. I’ll convert the short chair into a storage unit. We’ve been looking for a way to store our laptop bags when we get home from work and I can see just how to modify this design to make it work.

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Here’s a sneak peak at the bench I made. I’ll say more about it and do a how to tutorial for it soon. It’s designed to be made from one sheet of plywood.

What do you think?

Is this good design or does it look like a middle school shop project? We know the direction we’re going is in conflict with our kitchen cabinets (two totally different styles). But hey, that’s what UnDesign is all about, right? (Or not?) We always appreciate your input. Hope you’ll share your thoughts in the comments.

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.

P6230389 940x705 Making a summer project plan

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.