My Convertible Life

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Pippi's Morning Mani-Pedi

Alternate Title:
10 Fingernails + 10 Toenails + 6 Ponytails + Taking Pip to School = 
1 Kick Ass Daddy + 1 Happy Girl

Friday, March 18, 2011

Remodeling 5: Kitchen Before and After

Consider today your virtual invitation into my new kitchen.

It's not "decorated" yet -- no artwork or photos on the walls, no curtains in the windows, no stools at the counter. But I'm so excited that most of the work is done (we're still waiting on the replacement window and a groovy chandelier for the dining room) and I just want to share the view.

All of today's photos have the "before" picture on the left or above, then the "after" photo is on the right or below. And if you couldn't see that without my telling you, then we've done something wrong. Or maybe I'm just a bad photographer.

1. Room with a view: The old kitchen was closed off from the dining room, with just a single doorway connecting the two rooms. We basically piled stuff in the dining room (notice the toys all over the floor) and almost never ate in there. Now the rooms are divided only by the counter behind the stove, allowing both greater access and a lot more light in both rooms. Also, I actually have a cabinet and some counter to the left of the cooktop now.

2. Open expanse: Looking the other way, the dining room seems so much larger now. It's also a lot less junky, although it remains to be seen if we can keep it that way -- I'm hoping that the new visibility and the fact that we're eating at the dining room table every day will inspire us to stick with the plan. We can now see from the family room on one end of the house all the way through to the dining room on the other end, with one beautifully lit, smooth, continuous ceiling above. 
3. Pantry: Before, most of our food was crammed into a pantry that was too small, yet too deep to be useful. Now I have empty shelves, there's so much floor-to-ceiling space -- and at a 16" depth, everything is accessible (credit to my smart architect for that one). I even have room for a bulk package of paper towels in the new pantry, so I don't have to store them upstairs in the linen closet anymore.

4. Cabinets and desk: In the old kitchen, we had only lower cabinets on the one long wall in the room -- a previous homeowner's DIY project left a mess of plumbing that stuck out from the wall and big gap where cabinets could have gone. And until we moved that desk down from Pippi's room (it had been her changing table), there was no place to work. Now I've got cabinets up to the ceiling, a built-in desk area for files and my laptop, a shelf for the microwave and cabinetry built around and above the fridge.

5. Clean and shiny: I realize that part of why the new kitchen is so clean and shiny compared to the old one is that it's, well, new. But more than that -- now there are places to put everything. I can put my crockpot, George Foreman cooker (aka our grilled cheese/panini maker), the electric frying pan, the big turkey roasting pan and every other pan I own INSIDE an easy-to-access cabinet. Amazing. And the sparkly factor is greatly increased by the stainless steel appliances and the glittering granite counters.
The only great flaw with the new kitchen is that it's not a self-cooking one. So which one of you people will be coming over to fix dinner tonight?

Remodeling Week in Review:

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Remodeling 5: Things He Left Behind

Do you remember Eldin Bernecky?

He was the chatty house painter who essentially moved in with Murphy Brown for six seasons while he supposedly repainted her house.

Well, after four (plus) months of home renovation, we kind of have our own Eldin. At our house, he's known as Mr. Joey.

He didn't actually move in, although we considered inviting him -- but I think his daughters would have missed him. Thankfully, he just lives around the corner, so it's the next best thing.

He exorcised the demons of the previous homeowner's dangerous DIY trail. We called him whenever we needed him, even on Christmas Eve. He hugged and high-fived the kids every time he came over. We chatted about religion and politics and the latest neighborhood scoop. He checked in even when it wasn't his crew in the house, just to be sure things were going right.

We're going to miss him -- and I think he might miss us a little, too. So today's remodeling list is in honor of our own Eldin.

When you hire a contractor, you expect to find dust, invoices and maybe a tool or two at your house after he's gone. But here are five things we didn't expect our contractor to leave behind:
  1. A fairy dress. While cleaning out closets at his house, Joe found an old fairy costume and wings that his daughters had long outgrown. Clearly he knew Pippi well. When she walked in from preschool and saw it hanging on the coat closet doorknob, she immediately pulled off her clothes, sat on the floor and dressed herself as a fairy (see photo above). He also brought Pippi roses from his garden until the weather turned too cold for blooms.
  2. A plastic sword. Another gem found when cleaning out closets at his house, the plastic sword was hanging from a picture hook in our foyer when Junius came home from school. Under normal circumstances, it might make a homeowner nervous to see a sword dangling inside the front door. But Junius was thrilled. We've since had to duct-tape it together because of over-use.
  3. A book. No, not a Home Repair for Dummies book. It's a copy of Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein. Joe has two tween-aged daughters and he's working hard at being their dad. He read the book himself, then passed it along for us to read -- I'm looking forward to discussing it with him once I'm finished.
  4. A CD. Even better, it's a CD by The Desmonds featuring none other than our very own Mr. Joey on drums and back-up vocals. We first discovered Joe's drumming talents coincidentally on our Holly Raleigh Kidsmas disc (click the Desmonds link and listen to "One Wish This Christmas") -- he gave us a less seasonal album so we could keep on listening to him after Christmas was over. Pippi's favorite is track #6. We've listened to it 847 times in the car over the past few weeks.
  5. A house key. And by house key, I mean one to his house. The weekend after he tore out our kitchen, Joe was out of town. So he gave us his key and invited us to make ourselves at home -- cook dinner, let the kids play his drum set, watch TV, sit in a calm, clean space with an in-tact floor. Totally lovely, although it made the chaos of our house seem even crazier by comparison.
Oh, and that beat-up looking foyer where Pippi was sitting in the photo above? The one with the sad fake wood floor, dirty carpet, missing drywall and banged up closet door? 

Now it looks like this:

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Remodeling 5: Tips for Prospective Remodelers

Let me be clear up front. Today's post is not going to filled with tips about HOW TO remodel any part of your home.

This is about how to SURVIVE while someone ELSE remodels the home you are currently living in. Because I sure as hell didn't lift that steel beam up into the ceiling. And in case you're wondering, all those 2x4s are, in fact, supporting the upstairs above my family room in that photo. Yikes.

Actually, my first tip would be to NOT live in your house while it's being remodeled. Go to the beach for a couple months. Travel around Europe. Move in with your parents. Get a hotel room. Whatever it takes not to live in a half-destroyed house with two young children.

Because in real life, it's not at all like Divine Design, where Candace, Chico and HunkyCarpenterPaul make it all beautiful in 30 minutes. It's messy and chaotic and loud and exhausting in ways you cannot predict.

But if moving out is not an option (and it wasn't for us), then here are five suggestions to help you weather the insanity that is home renovation.
  1. Hire people you trust. See Monday's post for my recommendations. These people are going to be in your house all day long for weeks at a time -- you can't be there every minute (and trust me, often you won't want to be there). If you can't trust them in your home while you're gone, then don't hire them. And if you don't think you can stand looking at them regularly for the next four months, don't hire them either.
  2. Get organized first. In order to renovate the downstairs of our house, we had to move most of the stuff that normally lives in those rooms and stash it upstairs. This created a whole new level of chaos in all the bedrooms and the upstairs hallway. If we'd been smarter (or taken more time), we would have cleared out all the extraneous stuff first, had a big yard sale and made a few runs to Goodwill before we started boxing things up and storing them in every corner. The more you can get rid of or at least get sorted, the better you'll be during and after the reno.
  3. Select materials early. Before anyone starts knocking out walls or tearing up floors, go ahead and make as many decisions as you can. Pick out your cabinets, appliances, flooring, paint colors, hardware, counters, whatever -- that way everything is ordered and waiting when your crew is ready to install. Many of the delays in our project were caused by us, not our crew, because we didn't always plan our decisions ahead.
  4. Recycle the old. We filled an entire dumpster in two months with construction debris and demolition from the house. Blech. Thankfully, we also sent a lot of things -- cabinets, light fixtures, hardware -- to the Habitat ReStore. And Progress Energy paid us $50 (that's them paying us, not the other way around) to pick up our old fridge and recycle the parts. Some of our crew even took things home with them if it was something they could use. Anything you can keep out of the landfill, do it.
  5. Have a Plan B place. You absolutely must have a safe place to go when you really need to get out of your house -- particularly if you have a toddler who needs a nap during the day and can't sleep through the wrecking crew lullaby. My sweet friend Ms. S gave us her house key and an open invitation to make her home our own while she was at work -- this was particularly brilliant since her daughter is close to Pippi's age, so we could borrow her crib (and now her big girl bed). On more than one occasion, we napped, cooked, ate and played at her house, even when she wasn't there.
The good news is that it will eventually end. And today, where once there was only 2x4s, a steel beam and a pile of brick rubble, we now have this (as-yet undecorated) view...

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Remodeling 5: Eating Without a Kitchen

When your kitchen looks like this, you have to rethink dinner. And breakfast and lunch, for that matter, since there's no table either -- but dinner is the most significant challenge.

With a major renovation under way, we couldn't afford to just eat out for every meal. And who really wants to drag a 3-year-old and a 5-year-old to a restaurants every night anyway?

For the second installment in Five Lists about Home Renovation Week, I share with you five survival tips for getting by without a kitchen and without breaking the bank:
  1. Phone a friend: Without the kindness of friends who invited us over to eat or cook and one who even gave us open access to her kitchen (thanks, Ms. S!), we would not have made it through. I pulled lasagna from the freezer and heated it at a friend's house while the kids played. I brought pizzas to another friend's and cooked enough for all of us. It was so nice just to sit at a table in a home to eat dinner, even if it wasn't my own home.
  2. Grocery dining: My grocery budget was way down for the past month since there wasn't anywhere to cook. So we decided to just eat at the grocery store instead. Harris Teeter sells tasty-fresh, custom pizzas for $7.99 on Mondays -- we just took ours upstairs and people-watched at the store while we ate dinner. 
  3. Coupon/Groupon: We got a lot of use out of our CityPass coupon book and some strategic Groupon purchases so that we could get special deals at restaurants when we needed them. Somehow, a BOGO deal makes everything a little better.
  4. Family night: On Tuesdays at Chick-Fil-A, kids get a free meal with the purchase of a grown-up meal. Plus we had a very generous gift card from another friend (thanks, PY!), so that made the deal even sweeter. Of course, other restaurants offer family night deals, too (like Moe's), but CFA is always the favorite at our house. I think it's the free ice cream.
  5. Grilled cheese: When we just needed to have an easy meal at home, we pulled out the George Foreman cooker panini maker and fired up some grilled cheese sandwiches. Heat up some soup in the microwave, throw some fruit on the kids' plates, and it's a surprisingly well-balanced meal. Just had to get a little creative about the location (and notice, there's ALWAYS cereal):

But after too many nights of watching my kids eat dinner like this...

...I'm more than excited to be fixing dinner in this...

That sneak peek photo is courtesy of the little comment fit that Momsicle threw yesterday. More to come later this week, so stay tuned!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Remodeling 5: Hire People You Trust

Last August, I warned you what happens when you give a girl some crown molding. When I wrote that post, we'd actually completed the story through the shower remodel.

The rest started in November.

And by "the rest," I mean tearing out walls, installing a 600 lb steel beam in the ceiling, adding lighting, replacing ceilings, replacing floors, gutting the kitchen, removing the fireplace facade, adding lots of bookcases and cabinets, installing new trim, and painting everything. Plus relocating all the furniture and accessories a million times to accommodate all the work.

Damn. No wonder I'm exhausted. And we didn't even do any of the construction work ourselves.

But as of March 11, 2011, I have a fully functioning, totally remodeled kitchen. Let the people say Hallelujah! Can I get an Amen?!

It's been a long road -- and even though we're not 100 percent completely finished, I thought I'd designate this week as Five Lists About Home Renovations Week.

Today's theme is The House that Lakemont Built. One of the cool things about this big fat messy project is that we got to work with people in our neighborhood.

Here are five of our neighbors who helped make this new house possible -- plus a bonus neighbor from the first round of projects:
  1. Architect: Jennifer Heron Brock, JHB Architect. Jennifer spent many hours designing a plan that would be both structurally sound (important when you don't want your upstairs bedroom to land in your family room) and also incorporate all the changes to make the house live the way we want to live. Having architectural plans in place before anyone started swinging a sledge hammer gave me peace of mind that everyone working on the project would literally be on the same page.
  2. Contractor: Joe Fiore, Residential Remedies. Joe practically became part of our family over the past 4+ months. From hoisting a steel beam into the ceiling (with a little help) to sweeping up at the end of the day -- and everything in between -- he made the whole project come together. Plus, he let the kids feel like they were part of the project, too, even when it would have been easier to send them out of the way.
  3. Drywall: Juan Martinez, freelance. Juan made our ceilings so smooth they look like a freshly-Zambonied ice rink. You'd never know there's a layer of crappy popcorn hidden under there. He also spent a lot of time repairing all the walls after the electricians and plumbers were finished so that the paint would look perfect.
  4. Carpentry: Matt Kesterson, Kesterson Finish Carpentry. Matt turned a pile of wood into the most beautiful cabinetry, shelves, trim and mantel you can imagine. The level of detail -- from the way the baseboard traces behind the toilet plumbing to the special touches along the crown molding -- is absolutely gorgeous.
  5. Flooring: Jeff Armstrong, Brentwood Flooring (Cary). Jeff helped us select the perfect flooring for our house -- then made sure that the installers got everything just right. We had a not-so-great experience with hardwood installation at our last house, so it was a relief to know we were in good hands this time. And considering that the new floors cover the entire downstairs, we really had to get it right.
  6. Shower: Wally Ackerson, Acclaim Builders. Wally took care of our shower problem last year after we discovered the leak. Even though it meant cutting into the kitchen ceiling (leading us into the rest of this project), he left us with a beautiful shower that makes starting the day much brighter -- which is particularly important when the whole downstairs was such a disaster.
Stay tuned this week for tips about remodeling, how to survive without a kitchen, surprising things our contractor left behind and some much-anticipated before/after photos.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Friday's 5: Movies Not to Watch This Weekend

Now that the Oscars are over and you've made your list of movies you still need to see this spring, I thought I'd help you out. I've only seen two of the movies that were nominated -- The Fighter (love a good boxing movie, plus you can't go wrong when Mark Wahlberg is topless for most of the film) and Toy Story 3 (I laughed, I cried, I wanted to hug my children) -- so I can't give you much feedback on the winners.

Instead, I'll warn you about movies you should NOT watch this weekend. I'm generally open to most movie genres (except for horror, although I do like a good Hitchcock-style suspense film) -- but once in a while I suffer through a movie that just really sucks.

Here, in no particular order, are five of the worst movies I've seen:
  1. Con Air: I like a good summer blockbuster action movie. But not this one. At all. 
  2. Eyes Wide Shut: All hype, no delivery. And not even all that sexy.
  3. Little Children: Far too disturbing to be interesting. Images from this one still haunt me.
  4. Punch-Drunk Love: Great title. Wanted to like this one, but just couldn't find a way to care.
  5. Harry and the Hendersons: The only movie I ever walked out on. I was in high school, so it must have been pretty bad.
Have I offended you by listing your all-time favorite flick here? What disasters would you add to this list?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A Decade of Dancing

Ten years ago today, during my graduate school spring break, I wandered through the Musee D'Orsay and saw this painting ("La Danse á la Ville" or "Dance in the City") by Renoir:
Paris - Musée d'Orsay: Pierre-Auguste Renoir's Danse à la ville

Then a couple of hours later, I found myself strolling across this bridge (Pont Neuf, the city's oldest):
La Seine

And before I realized what was happening, this man was kneeling in front of me with a diamond ring sparkling in his hand:

He looked up into my eyes and said, "Je vous demande commencer la danse de nos vies ensemble..." (Translation: "I'm asking you to begin the dance of our lives together...")

I gasped, clutching my heart, and stammered, "Oh my gosh! Are you SERIOUS? Is it REAL?!" (Translation: "Yes, a thousand times, yes!")

He smiled at me and slid the ring on my finger as a misty rain fell over the Seine. We wandered around Paris in a daze for nearly an hour before finding ourselves back on the bridge and then stumbling into Côté Seine for a champagne dinner.

Ten years later, my answer would simply be: Oui, bien sûr. And what a dance it has turned out to be.

Renoir photo: wallygBridge photo: Gregory BastienHusband photo: Evolve Studio.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Moody Toddler Available to a Good Home


One rapid-mood-swing toddler.

No batteries required. Comes with her own sippy cup, snack pack and other accessories. Dressed inappropriately for the cool temps, but still very cute.

Activities alternate wildly between pouty, wailing, stink eye tantrum-throwing followed by sweet, sing-song, cuddle snuggling. Regular naptimes highly recommended.

Will throw in blanket, lovey and a fresh diaper if you can pick up before dinner.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Sex Ed with Julia Sweeney

I hope that my days of discussing the birds and the bees with my children are still far in the future -- at the moment, I am so unprepared for that one. In the meantime, enjoy this moment from Julia Sweeney.

Warning: You should watch this when your kids are not around. Unless, of course, you're looking for a way to start The Conversation. 

Thanks to Minnesota Public Radio for posting this video and to my friend J for sharing.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Friday's 5: Things to Know After a C-Section

When I was pregnant with Junius, everything went pretty much by the book -- got pregnant almost instantly, had minimal sickness in first trimester and happily ballooned up to an extra 50 pounds along the way (including my nearly C-cup breasts, which were fantastic). I had every reason to believe that delivering the baby would be just as straightforward as gestating him had been.

Then my due date came and went. And went. And went.

Ten days later, after two days of back labor, my water breaking, an epidural and whoknowshowmuch pitocin, my OB was whisking me into the OR for an unexpected c-section.

It wasn't until several weeks after I came home and struggled through the recovery that I learned some of my friends had had similar experiences. But they never told me about their c-sections because they didn't want me to worry. I was stunned to realize that they had answers and advice that could have been a huge help during those first couple of weeks -- but I didn't know to ask them.

Today I'm thinking about my friend who is scheduled for an induction with her first baby. I wonder what she knows already or if she's even thought about a c-section -- other than wanting to avoid having one. And I wonder why I didn't already tell her any of these things.

Well, because I didn't want her to worry.

So as I'm sending prayers to my friend for an easy, healthy delivery, I'll share with the rest of you five things you ought to know if you have a c-section (all of which I learned the hard way with Junius and managed much better with Pippi):
  1. Ask for access. If you can talk with your OB ahead of time, ask how much access you can have to the baby in the OR. See if they'll let you hold the baby quickly while you're still in surgery or at least have a free hand to touch that tiny new face (like Pippi in the photo above). See if they can do the initial stuff (weight, cleaning, etc) in a spot where you can see what's happening while you're flat on your back. If you're someone who likes to know what's going on, see if the nurse anesthetist will talk you through the whole process while it's happening. [Also, I'm intrigued by this "natural" c-section, but not sure anyone is doing it in the U.S.]
  2. Take the drugs. Whatever the nurses are offering in the way of pain meds, take them. All of them. Every time they're available. You get no extra credit or superhero cape for toughing it out. Your baby will not be harmed if you're breastfeeding. And you'll be able to enjoy your baby more (and maybe even take a nap) if you're not suffering from incision pain. Did I mention you should take the drugs? Seriously.
  3. It's surgery. This may seem obvious, but it didn't really register for me or my husband after Junius was born. Don't expect to be able to do the things your friends did after a vaginal delivery, like drive a car (two weeks) or walk easily (several days). If you'd had abdominal surgery without a baby, no one would expect you to be up and around in two days entertaining visitors. With a c-section, it should be the same thing -- except that you have this new little person placing a lot of demands on you all of a sudden. Which brings me to #4...
  4. Be nice to yourself. Ask for help and accept all offers. Let someone else make dinner, do laundry, clean house -- this should be true for all new parents, but especially for a c-section mama. You'll need someone else to drive you to doctor's appointments for the first two weeks, so go ahead and let that person take care of grocery shopping and errand running, too (like going to the pharmacy to pick up your pain medicine, ahem).
  5. Keep everything close. Going up and down stairs is particularly difficult at first. Be sure you can camp out on one floor for most of the day -- set up a changing station, a place for the baby to nap (or rock or whatever) and access to snacks for you so you're not having to chase after things. Get lots of pillows for making yourself comfortable. Also, keep your feet up while you're sitting -- something about the surgery tends to make your legs swell for a few days.
Okay, mamas -- what did I miss?