My Convertible Life

Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 Convertible Life in Review

Thanks to friends who (like us) have young children and aren't planning to party through midnight tonight, we celebrated "Happy Noon Year" today with friends, neighbors and lots and lots of kids.

So if you're like us (admit it, you can't stay up past midnight unless you're reading The Hunger Games -- oh wait, that's me) and you don't have big plans, you can entertain yourself with this recap of posts from 2011. This list isn't necessarily the most popular posts, but they're a selection of posts I liked writing or ones that capture something particular to the past year.

Happy reading -- and hope to see you in 2012!

January: Still Catholic After All These Years
Where I wrestle with my religion some more.

February: Saturday Strategery: Moving to the Big Girl Bed
Where I come to terms with the fact that my baby doesn't need her crib.

March: Moody Toddler Available to a Good Home
Where I admit that I don't always enjoy the company of my daughter.

April: The F-Word
Where Junius gives me a vocabulary heart attack.

May: Is That a Leak in My Ceiling or Just My Own Tears?)
Where I am more than done with home renovation projects.

June: Hair
Where Junius tries out a bold new look.

July: Camping: A Timeline
Where we go family camping and live to tell about it.

August: Big Teeth
Where Junius grows up when I'm not looking.

September: Tenth Anniversary of 9/11
Where I remember the day and am grateful for blessings.

October: Dread
Where I terrify you into wearing sunscreen.

November: Love Letters
Where my dad shows me he loves me.

December: The Burden of Making Decisions
Where I bemoan one of the hardest parts of parenting and complain some about schools.

If you've made it this far, then you've earned some credit for yourself. Share a link from your own blog (or one you like to read, if you're not a blogger yourself) in the comments to take us to one of your own favorites from 2011.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Friday's 5: Christmas Decorations

Many of you probably kicked your Christmas tree to the curb on Monday. You Scroogey Grinches, you.

But because I have a strict no-tree-before-my-birthday policy, I'm not tired of our Christmas decorations just yet. In fact, I like to keep them up until Epiphany, although sometimes they come down a little earlier because we need to get it done over a weekend.

So in honor of the festivities still lingering around my house, here are five of my favorites from holiday decorating this year:

1. Mantel: This is the first year we've actually had a mantel in a long time, so I loved having a place to hang stockings and display my nutcracker collection. Throw in some branches trimmed from the tree and a sparkly Target wreath and it all fills in quite nicely.
2. Window: No drapes in the dining room? No problem. Just hang some of those leftover balls that wouldn't fit on the tree. They're even pretty at night, but especially fun sparkling in the sun during the day.
3. Cards: We're lucky to receive lots of cards from friends and family across the globe -- but I've never had a good way to display them all. This year I stretched string across those quick-release hooks along the empty dining room wall, covered the hooks with bows and used kid-painted clothes pins to hold the cards on. Next year, I think I'll do three rows so I don't have to cram them in so tight.
4. Napkin rings: These little gems are not only festive and useful for setting the holiday table, they also provided a craft project that distracted my kids for about 15 minutes while I was cooking on Christmas Eve morning. Just cut toilet paper tubes into thirds, cover with stickers and enjoy an instantly festive table.
5. Carolers: If you've been reading this blog for a couple of years, you know I can't take credit for these winners. My crafty neighbor one-upped herself again (see brilliance from 2010 and 2009), using my one leftover Halloween pumpkin and four of her own to create this caroling crowd that she left on my doorstep. In case you can't see their song sheets, they're singing "Silent Night" (*snort*). You can only wish you lived across the street from her, too.

So what was your favorite holiday decorating trick this season? Share your best so we can add it to our list for next year.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Guest Room Gone Wrong

Update 12.29.11: It worked! Thanks to Molly's contest with Tempur-Pedic, we'll be getting a brand new bed!

Recently I've shared some of my favorite details from our big renovation project, along with pictures of my house. But in case you think that my home is all clean and sparkly and new without any mess or chaos, let me make a little confession.

My guest room? Total disaster.

So when Molly Gold announced a contest inviting her fans to share a video story of the worst guest room they've ever stayed in, well...

I'll let you see for yourself.

Nonna and Grandpa -- I promise we'll be ready for you by Saturday. And if it weren't for the prospect of winning a Tempur-Pedic bed (courtesy of Molly), I would never have given you that video tour.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Friday's 5: Family Room Remodel

Part three of an occasional series about what I'm enjoying in my "new" house one year after we started our big renovation project.

The dining room isn't the only space that will feel different for the holidays this year -- the family room got a total overhaul as well. Last year we were able to get a tree in there about a week before Christmas, but the room was otherwise mostly empty given that most of our belongings were boxed up in the guest room or stashed in  a pod in our driveway.

Now we have a brand new room to enjoy (although it's still the same old furniture) -- we took out a load-bearing column that chopped up the space, installed a steel beam in the ceiling to support the second floor, added recessed lighting, replaced the floor and completely changed the focal wall of the room (as a reminder, I don't recommend tackling a project like this without consulting a good architect first). Within all those changes, here are the details that I like best about the space...

1. Bookcases: The biggest feature we added to the room is the built-in bookcases flanking the fireplace. As lifelong book nerd and former English teacher, I love having books out and available. There are still more books in boxes upstairs, but at least I've got lots out where I can see them. Plus, what you don't see are all the toys tucked away inside those cabinets.
2. Dictionary shelf: In case having lots of books isn't nerdy enough for you, I also love being able to have a big, fat dictionary open and ready. Yes, I know you can look up anything on the internet. But it's just not the same.
3. Fireplace with mantel: Our old fireplace had a crumbling brick facade and no mantel -- nothing for hanging stockings or displaying treasures. Now we have sparkly mica tile (complete with a keystone) and a gorgeous mantel that ties into the book cases on either side. IT's so pretty that we didn't want to cover it up with a big fireplace screen (and it's just gas logs anyway), so we found this funky metal design with leaves and birds -- a great bit of quirky on an otherwise traditional design.
4. Media cabinet: No, this photo doesn't look pretty. But that's exactly the point. All those cables and boxes and electronics stay hidden inside that cabinet below the TV. And thanks to some kind of magical sensor that my husband installed, the remote works through the wood cabinet doors to run the TiVo box inside.
5. Trim work: The beautiful molding around the bookcases isn't the only trim detail in the room. Our talented architect and carpenter (who also created the bookcases and mantel) added a column effect at the corners of the room, which is open to the kitchen on one end and the foyer/hall on the other end. It's a great touch that helps separate the room (and the wall colors) without taking up any real space in the floor plan.

What little details make your family room great? Or what projects are you plotting to turn the space into the room you're imagining?

Check out the rest of this series...
- Part 1: Powder Room
- Part 2: Dining Room

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Burden of Making Decisions

I think I liked it better when we didn’t have all these so-called choices.

The new student assignment plan for Wake County is supposed to create stability and give parents greater control over their children’s educational options. All it’s creating for me is headache and heartburn.

Junius is a first-grader at our original base assignment – a year-round elementary school just over a mile from our house. While it isn’t our “neighborhood school,” it is close by, the schedule works well for us and we’ve had good teachers there.

But under this new plan – for better or for worse – I find myself wondering about other options. Wouldn’t it be great for him to have Spanish instruction every day? Or maybe he’d excel in a program with smaller classes? Or would he get more benefit from the consistency of six years in the same school? And will any of the schools on our list even have seats available for second graders?

One of the toughest things about parenting is the millions of decisions, both small and large, that have to be made every single day. Do you vaccinate? Buy only organic foods? Do you let your daughter wear a tutu to church? When is bedtime? Who do you trust to serve as guardians in your absence? What’s an appropriate punishment for a 3-year-old who tells lies? Is your son sick enough to stay in bed or is he just trying to skip school? Is he too young to watch Star Wars? What school is the best fit?

Where’s my Magic 8-Ball when I need it?

The truth is that I’m tired of being the decider. I just want to know that everything is working out for the best. I want to believe that any school he attends will be the right one, that every teacher will challenge him with high expectations, that his classmates will encourage him to excel, that every experience will help him grow into a successful adult.

So how will I know if we made the right choice?

“Reply hazy, try again.”

Monday, December 5, 2011

Showing Your Work

Today Junius came home with information about Math Superstars -- it's an extra math program that his teacher offers during lunch once a week to give kids a chance to explore problem-solving and logic beyond what they're doing in class. It involves some extra homework, but also a chance to do independent thinking work.

I'm a supergeek -- we all know that already -- so I'm totally psyched about Math Superstars.

As part of the info packet, his teacher included a sample sheet of problems for a test-run. I'm proud to say that Junius got five out of six problems right without any help. After he finished, we talked through the questions to see how he got to the answers.

This is the one I was most impressed about:
I mean, I didn't expect a first-grader to understand enough about percentages or probability to get that one right. I expected him to pick the bird since that's where the arrow was pointing.

"How did you know the answer was fish?" I asked him.

His response? "Well, I figured that Julio and his parents might be allergic to dogs or birds, but they probably wouldn't be allergic to fish."

Looks like we've got a qualitative -- not so much quantitative -- researcher on our hands.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Friday's 5: Dining Room Remodel

Part two of an occasional series about what I'm enjoying in my "new" house one year after we started our big renovation project.

Last year, in the midst of renovating most of our downstairs, we hosted Christmas. It wasn't fancy, given that most of our furniture was still outside in a pod in our driveway. But we made it work.

The dining room was only partially finished then, so I'm extra excited about hosting Christmas dinner in there this year. It's not a very big room and mostly square, but here's what I like best about the room...

1. Open space: Because the space was small, we opened it to the kitchen (by removing the top half of the wall) and living room (by widening the doorway and adding the pass-through openings between the columns) to give the illusion of more space. It's a less formal space that way, but it also means that we use it every day now.
2. Woodwork: The wainscoting adds interest to the room and dresses it up a little. It also breaks up the expanse of wall along the side of the house, so we could use a darker wall color above without having it overwhelm the room.
3. Display cabinets: Again, because it's a small room, we didn't want to put a lot of furniture in the space. But we desperately needed storage. So our talented carpenter built cabinets into either side of the doorway with the living room. Now we have beautiful storage/display space inside the cabinets, as well as serving and display space on top.
4. Hidden cabinet: Not as showy, but no less lovely than the display cabinetry is this little wonder tucked into some dead space on the back of the kitchen wall. Our fabulous contractor built the cabinet door right into the wainscoting, so you almost don't even see it -- but it's hiding a huge storage space that otherwise would have been wasted. (Unrelated to the dining room, that pumpkin sitting there is the one I used to make this soup.)
5. Chandelier: The piece de resistance in this room is definitely the chandelier. Originally a gift from my husband's grandparents to his parents when they were married, my mother-in-law passed it on to us a few years ago. We waited until the renovation was complete before installing the fixture. It's tough to capture with my amateur photography (which may or may not have been done with my iPhone), but the design is funky and sparkly and beautiful. Combining the fancy lighting with the rough table adds just a little touch of quirky to the room that makes me very happy.
Now all I have to do is order our Fresh Market holiday dinner, and we're ready to go!

Check out the rest of this series...
- Part 1: Powder Room
- Part 3: Family Room