April 13, 2014

She's Four.

Springtime in Nashville is so beautiful it'll about break your heart. It makes perfect sense that my feisty, tender, gorgeous, much-loved firstborn came to me in the spring. This pint-sized force of nature continues to prove to me that even when it seems unlikely, when the days with her are dark as night, she will burst into bloom and dazzle me once again.

One morning last fall, while Livvy napped upstairs, Tessa and I planted tulip and daffodil bulbs along our front walk. I told her that they'd bloom by her birthday. As I watched the squirrels unearth our bulbs and hurry off with them, as the ground seized up with frost, I wondered if that could really be true. Over the winter, we weathered our most difficult period with Tessa yet. It's something I've tried to write about here, but I haven't been able to and I'm going to stop trying. It's part of the reason this blog has gone all but dormant. Let's just say: we wanted our money back. We wanted to take her back to from where she came, we wanted to stand there and shake our fists and demand our money back. That, it turns out, is not really an option as a parent. For a while there, my little girl felt like such a stranger to me that I was almost spooked. While she struggled through a behavioral issue, Nekos and I held on to one another. We cheers'ed to "Team Barnes" and found some strength someplace. Because we didn't have a clue what to do to help her other than to love her, we put away our attempts at disciplining her for a while and instead dumped a whole bunch of extra tenderness and understanding on her. She responded beautifully. It's true what they say about phases, which is that they pass. Whatever it was Tessa was going through--it vanished as quickly as it came.

We had Tessa's fourth birthday party at our house a couple of weeks ago. There was a breeze on that sunny day and it rustled through all the Disney princess crap we'd strung up above the back porch. Her new Disney princess bicycle with the glittery handlebar streamers was parked in the lawn. Ten little girls came over for maraschino cherry cake and coloring and dress-up. And Cheetos. Tessa loves Cheetos on her birthday. Out front, the tulips and daffodils bloomed, big and bright.

March 20, 2014

Public Service Announcement for Moms Who Think They Are Still Cool and Want to Get a Nose Ring

This is a legit Public Service Announcement for Moms Who Think They Are Still Cool and Want to Get a Nose Ring:

Don't do it.

I did it.

I was in San Francisco with a girlfriend, it was my 31st birthday, my kids were across the country, and I thought getting my nosed pierced was the best idea ever.

This is the fateful sign that was outside the shop on Haight Street where I got my piercing. I thought, Yes! Today is the day!

This is me right afterwards. It was still kinda throbby and I was still tentative about it and still had ahead of me the learning process of how-to-pick-your-nose-with-a-nose-ring-in (which is, like, a whole new world), but anyway I was happy. I was drinking a beer in San Francisco--a beautiful place I'd never been--with my best friend and that was The Day I Got That Piercing I Always Wanted.

What about the fact that I had two young children at home? And the fact that my nose needed time to, like, heal and stuff? The fact that I needed to give it salt baths twice a day and all kinds of other TLC that I would probably never get around to because moms don't exactly have time to give TLC to themselves? I thought I just wouldn't worry about that. It would all be okay.

That was before I knew the specific, exquisite agony of having an afro catch on my nose ring and then to have the little person attached to that afro lurch away. For the record, it feels like someone is trying to pull your entire brain through a tiny, tender hole in your nose. Like someone has tied one end of a string to your nosering and the other end to a doorknob and then slammed the door--like pulling a tooth, except it's a tooth in your nose. OK, you get it.

Needless to say, seven months in and my nose still feels as tender and throbby as the day I got it.  Because it essentially gets re-pierced once a week, no thanks to one of my kids' errant curls.

Most days, I still feel like I am a cool mom, for the record. And most days I do still look in the mirror and think, Damn, that piercing looks good. But those aren't the days, like today, when the whole snag-on-the-crazy-kid's-hair thing happens. 

I would just take it out if I knew how. But it feels somehow like it's locked in there and someone has thrown away the key. No clue how to get it out. I would have to go to someone here in town to take it out for me. But I don't have time for that. Because I have two kids.

Which is why I'm writing this today--to tell you that just in case you think that nose rings and babies mix, you're wrong.

March 14, 2014

What I Learned from Painting My Kitchen Cabinets

Painting my kitchen cabinets is something I’ve wanted to do for years but was very daunted by, especially when I learned that I would need to use oil paint if I wanted the paint job to be durable and easy to wipe down. In case you didn’t know, oil paint is the opposite of awesome to work with. It is stinky and sticky and you have to use either paint thinner or vegetable oil (yes, this works!) to get it off your hands. Worst of all, it takes 24 hours between each coat to dry, and it doesn’t respond to sanding as well as latex, so you’re more likely to have to live with your mistakes.

Here's what the cabinets looked like before I started:

And here's what the kitchen looked like before I painted the walls about a year ago. Makes my eyes bleed now. Still amazed about how quickly my tastes can change over a five-year period:

Because I was painting my kitchen, which we obviously use often, I completed the project in fits and starts over a period of three weeks, usually working on the weekends. I always imagined I’d paint my cabinets white or cream, but then I found this gray that I fell in love with—Martha Stewart’s “Bedford Gray,” which I thought would look super pretty against my mint walls (Benjamin Moore’s “Cool Mint”) and perhaps not show dirt quite as easily. I found this color on another woman’s blog, where she wrote about painting her own cabinets this color. I believe Martha Stewart herself has this color in one of her kitchens.

In addition to painting the cabinets, I took down another one of the cabinets beside my kitchen sink and added open shelving with $10 corbels and lumber from Home Depot. We moved the cabinet we took down into our laundry room so we didn’t actually lose any storage. And now we have a great place to display some of our favorite dishes, including the beginning of my cake stand collection.

Part of the reason I want to share this project here, besides that I'm proud of the way it turned out, is that I learned so much during the process. I hope I can save others some time and frustration before they get going with oil paint on their own cabinets. So, in no particular order, here’s what I learned about painting kitchen cabinets with oil paint:

1. Don’t worry about painting the inside of your cabinets. No one will notice, and it will save you a ton of time if you don’t worry about this part. I do plan on one day going back and painting the insides with something easy—like chalk paint. But not any time soon.

2. To minimize the appearance of brush strokes, which are basically inevitable, in both your primer and paint use a paint additive called Flood Penetrol, which extends the already excruciatingly long drying time but really does make your paint less gloppy.

3. Spend a little extra on a paintbrush designed specifically for oil-based paints. I began with a cheapie paintbrush but switched halfway through the project to a natural bristle brush that cost $15. This made ALL THE DANG DIFFERENCE in how smoothly the paint went on. The expensive brush also shed far less so I wasn’t constantly picking stray bristles off the wet cabinets.

4. In spite of my paintbrush recommendation, try to use your paintbrush as little as possible. I got a far better finish when I rolled the paint on, and it also took me much less time. Also spend a little extra to buy a mini-roller that’s guaranteed to be lint free. I found mine at the Sherwin Williams store and loved it because it smoothed the finish out enough that I didn’t have to sand between coats of paint. Still, the final finish isn’t completely smooth; it’s just so slightly mottled because of the texture of the rolling brush. I suppose if you want a mirror-smooth finish, you need to pay someone a few thousand bucks to spray your cabinets. I spent about $75 on paint and supplies. (The corbels and boards for six shelves cost the most--another $150.)

5. Don’t paint in the dark. Oh, does this sound obvious? Well, since I have two small children, I like to do a lot of my projects after they go to sleep at night. This wasn’t a good one to do. I glopped on a coat of primer in low light one night and woke up the next morning to find a horrifying number of hardened drips. It took me at least an hour the next day to sand off all my mistakes. After that I did all my painting in the daylight.

6. Ventilate! It was cold when I took on this project so I didn’t open a window, and I didn’t think to wear a mask. This was dumb, dumb, dumb; lots of people have since told me this. I’ve had several blinding migraines in the weeks since and now wonder if this might have something to do with the paint fumes I huffed for hours on end.

7. I also learned: All the hard work was worth it. My kitchen makes me smile now, every single day. The cabinets were the one thing that was holding me back from full-on loving my sweet and humble and happy kitchen. Maybe one day we can knock down the wall between the dining room and kitchen and put in some white quartz countertops and a range hood (big dreaming here) to finish the picture—and I’m looking for the perfect pair of barstools, which I found at T.J. Maxx but then let get away from me—but in the meantime I am so happy with this space now. It seems like a lot of people are dying to paint over their dated cabinets. I say: Do it! It's hard work, but you'll never regret it. Just put on some good tunes and enjoy the process. And open a window for God's sake.

P.s. These pictures are not awesome. It looks better in person, and I am not super handy with my camera. 

February 15, 2014

Opening the Door

I'm baaaaack. Very ready to fire up my blog again after a several-months-long hiatus. This blog has been in hibernation for the winter because a) I'm not a winter person, b) We've just weathered a really tough and painful season with Tessa's behavior that we're now so happily emerging from, c) I took a break from home projects at my husband's request, and d) I've been really tucking into my work. I took on a few more freelance clients (D. Luxe HomeBynum Design, and T.J. Anderson Real Estate Partners), and it looks like a few more are about to sign on. I love that I've accidentally developed a niche with home improvement/interior design/real estate/building companies. It's probably, actually, not very accidental at all since these are the things I most like to write about and don't have to feign enthusiasm to do so. The irony hasn't been lost on me that I stopped writing my own blog so other people could pay me to write their blogs for them. But this space remains important to me. 

As always, it's been tough managing a full-time-work-from-home schedule while also managing these two little girls, wiping their perpetually snotty noses, staying patient and kind and fun--and staying focused on paying off our debt. We are proud to have paid off $10K in 2013 and have another $10K (and then some) left to go; this includes paying off our car but not our house. Some days I have to all but sit on my hands so I won't use them to online shop or drive as fast as I can to T.J. Maxx, which truly is my happy place. But I'm so thankful to have hit my stride with having two kids. It was a tough adjustment for me--going from having one apple of my eye to two--and it only took me a year. This is something I'd like to write about here soon. It's helped getting Livvy into one of Tessa's Mother's Day Out programs twice a week, and we're budgeting for even more childcare starting next month. I need the time to get my work done. 

I also need the time to get back to doing some of the things that make me happy. Like painting everything in sight. Yesterday morning, before the gray skies broke into a long rain, I got back into the swing of things by painting my back door Martha Stewart's "Duck Egg." I flipping love it. And this morning, I started the process of painting our kitchen cabinets. After much debate, I decided that I'm going to do it the "right" way--with more durable oil paint, which takes forever to dry--rather than with water-based or chalk paint, which I was considering using. I'm using Martha Stewart's "Bedford Gray," which I chose based on this kitchen transformation. Crossing my fingers it turns out as gorgeous and fresh as I envision. Here's what our kitchen cabinets look like now. 

Cheers to spring--I'm a little premature to be sure, but I feel her coming. She's in my heart--a whole new season.