Tuesday, February 26, 2013

One thousand.

This morning I officially gained my one thousandth (!!!) Pinterest follower.

I am ridiculously excited about this, though it seems like a really small thing. I don't publicize this blog, so no one is following me because they like my blog. I'm not famous so I don't have a celebrity following. And my Pinterest page lacks real focus, so it isn't as if there is a single community that is identifying with my pins. I have 65 boards that cover pretty much anything and everything, from all types of crafting and creating to home inspiration to single colors. I guess what I am trying to say here is that I don't know how or why so many people have found my page and decided they liked it, but I am glad. Four digits worth of followers makes me smile.

Things have been a little rough on the home front lately. M traveled a good bit in the past few weeks leaving me alone with the two littles, save for a couple of nights when our fantastic babysitter came to help. I am tired and discouraged with our lack of a good routine and very ready for everyone to be well. But we are moving on and hopefully March will find us settling in a little more.

Be well,

Me

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Freeze frame.

I love Pinterest. As of this writing, I have 64 boards, 3,905 pins and 923 followers and have averaged 5 pins a day since I joined in 2010. Clearly I spend a significant portion of my very limited free time trolling the internet for inspiration that I can save for later. As much as I love Pinterest, it constantly makes me feel like a giant failure as a parent. It seems like all of these other people keep baby diaries, take monthly or weekly photos and create keepsake ornaments of their baby's hand/foot prints or their artwork. I make sure my kids are fed, clothed and hugged regularly, but handmade keepsakes are few and far between.

For the most part, I am okay with this. Numa and HH* know they are crazy loved and cherished and we have a great time together when everyone is rested and not throwing tantrums (because, say, their banana cannot be reassembled after breaking in half - true story). I do wish that I had a better record of what they were doing at various ages though. Not just pictures - pictures are great but they don't tell the whole story. I need a way to take a 5 senses snapshot of our life. What HH's first teeth look like and the smell of her head. The sound of the Numa using his silly voice and the feel of him giving me giant kisses (which are just regular kisses, but lots and lots of them) and the taste of the biscuits we make every weekend for breakfast. How my heart swells when they smile and breaks a little when they are sad. When I am very old (fingers crossed) I want to be able to be transported back to this time when they were little and carefree and oh so happy just to be with one another.

Numa

The Numa has just turned 3 and continues to be a joy and a challenge. He is super strong willed, which means that his listening skills are directly proportionate to his desire to listen. He is easily frustrated and forgets to ask for help nicely, instead choosing to scream or stamp his feet. He has a crazy amount of energy on good days and a crazy amount of unfocused energy on bad days. Missing his nap = disaster. He is also getting a little bossy and constantly reminds M and me of our house rules while shaking his finger at us. But despite all that he is a good little chap. He LOVES his sister. When he comes down from his nap or she wakes from hers he gets right in her face and asks: Did you take a gooood naaaaaap? She loves it and she worships him. He kisses her all the time and drives us crazy by climbing out of his chair 14 million times during dinner to get the toys she has gleefully discarded. He is a great helper, setting the table, feeding the cats and fetching things for us or for HH.

His current favorite songs are Silence by Depeche Mode and Party Rock Anthem by LMFAO, the latter of which he dances to enthusiastically. His favorite thing to watch on "da TB" is Wild Kratts. (It is too adorable when he asks "Mom, want to watch something on da TB with me?") He runs around the house imitating their intro jump and yelling "what if" and encourages us to do the same. He just started preschool and so far is doing pretty well. We have to pack his lunches now and I spend most days worried that I haven't sent enough food cause the little man can really put it away when he is in the mood. He likes hot dogs, cantaloupe, waffles, BANANAS (we tell him he is going to turn into a banana and he giggles), strawberries, eggs, rice, ham and cheese. Also Veggie Booties (the plural form is his, not mine). And dried fruit and gummy bunnies and pistachios and bacon. He eats an awesome variety of food (but still manages to be pretty picky) but doesn't like anything on his plate to touch anything else or be combined, like in a sandwich.

His silly voice never fails to make me smile. Tonight, he spent 15 minutes singing 10 Little Monkeys but would leave out the part about the doctor. Yesterday he missed his nap at school and fell asleep in the car on the way home which was actually better than today, when he didn't fall asleep and was a total loon by bedtime. He can put on all of his clothes by himself, including his socks and shoes. He is getting really good with the games on his LeapPad and will sit still long enough to put together one of his floor puzzles most of the time. His favorite place to go is the Boston Museum of Science but he also likes the Children's Museum, Uncommon Grounds and Trader Joe's, where he pushes his own little cart and fills it with things that look good. He likes talking to Gma B, Gma P and Aunt E on Skype and loves having breakfast every weekend with our closest friends. He is funny and caring and determined and he makes every day better.

Her Highness

HH is almost 7 months and is determined to be nothing like her brother (except in looks; they look just alike). The Numa was crawling by now but HH would rather have the mountain brought to her. The Nums had no teeth until he was almost a year old but HH just finished cutting her second. Both of her bottom front teeth are finally through and it looks like her top front teeth may not be far behind. Numa has never had a fat roll in his life but HH has the most delicious chunky baby thighs - not too fat but definitely chubby. Like her squirrel cheeks. I just want to kiss them all the time. She constantly has lint between her fingers (we call it troll fingers) because her hands are always in her mouth. She likes to be warm and right now she sleeps in two onesies, socks, tights and a footed fleece sleeper, with a blanket over her. She hardly ever fusses unless she is really tired, really hungry or doesn't feel well. She babbles all the time.

HH is obsessed with the Numa and her mommy but I am fairly certain that if the Numa could carry her she wouldn't bother with me at all. She finds him hilarious and her whole face lights up when he is near. She is sitting on her own and loves to throw things over the edge of her high chair and then look interestedly at them until someone gives them back. She immediately throws them again but we never learn. She has started eating baby food, something the Numa was never into, and it is astonishing how much cereal she can eat. She currently likes apples, pears, bananas and spinach with potatoes but we are cutting back on fruit due to some output issues. She is really warming up to her daycare teachers and loves being with the other babies. I usually call her by her first name but if I need another moniker, my current favorite is Monkey Shine.

She is not a great sleeper, during the day or at night. When she is at home, she naps really well but at daycare is only doing two or three half hour naps which isn't enough. Last night, she only woke once which was an amazing treat for me. (I haven't had a full night of sleep in over 7 months so I almost cried with joy when she only got up one time.) She drools constantly but fortunately Gma B has provided her with enough clothing to sustain the 2-4 costume changes she requires each day. Her cloth diapers make her butt huge. I am pretty sure that she is starting to understand some of our words as I can ask her "where's Daddy" or "where's the Numa" and she will look around for M or the Nums. She loves to pull hair and sometimes, when she is tired, she lays her little head on my shoulder and sighs and I wish we could stay like that forever because it is perfection. She is a happy baby and, if I do say so myself, a very pretty baby as well. (What can I say - I make pretty babies.) She is cheerful and cuddly and inquisitive and I can't imagine our life without her.

In equal parts, I want them to stay just as they are now and I can't wait to see the people they become. Being a parent is the hardest thing I have ever done in every way but it is also the most rewarding and the most fun. I have read several studies which found that people with children are less happy than those without and I wholeheartedly disagree. My life has a depth and a richness now that it never had before the kids and they bring me joy each and every day. I wish that everyone could be this blessed.

Be well,

Me

* The nickname Numa came from one of the little guys first "words" that he would babble over and over. Sometimes we call him the Nums or Doobie, but Numa is the one we used the most. Her Highness just seemed a fitting title for our second child who is a good baby but very determined to be the center of attention and have her own way. We don't actually call her that.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Kitchen progress - Chapter 3.

When last we spoke, the kitchen was prepped and ready for all the new things that would go into it. To refresh your memory, this is what it looked like:

Widened doorway.
Ready for flooring, cabinet, appliance and fixture installation.


And this was our end goal:

Final Kitchen Layout.
Final layout, looking in from dining room.

You would think that we (and by we, I mean Doug, the electricians, the plumbers and the painters) were almost done but you would be wrong. There was so much more to do...

Once we finalized the kitchen plan, we headed back to IKEA to order all of the necessary parts. And there are a LOT of necessary parts when building an IKEA kitchen because everything is packaged separately. From the cabinet frames to the drawer fronts to the soft-close hinges, it all comes in individual boxes or bags. This is where the staff in the kitchen department comes in. If you, like M, have spent hours and hours and hours toiling over the less-than-user-friendly kitchen design tool, you can save your final product online and the nice people at IKEA can access it from there. (If you have not, they will sigh heavily and open a session for you.) They inspect your work to be sure that you haven't inadvertently done something stupid that will cause you much woe and more trips to IKEA (which you should just resign yourself to anyway...there is always something else you need) and once they have fixed your amateur mistakes, they print a huge list of required pieces and parts that will eventually become your dream kitchen. They place the order for you and you pay right there but unless you own a semi-truck to cart your dream home, there is no escape from the absurdity of IKEA's home delivery process. In case anyone is interested, I can offer a few tips that will make purchasing an IKEA kitchen (especially during a sale) much less stressful:

1. Take good measurements of your kitchen and then take them again. And again. Having the correct measurements for your space (including those for the floor plan and, unless you are planning some major reworks, the locations for anything requiring power, plumbing or both) will ensure that the dream kitchen you design and purchase will actually fit into your home. I can't tell you how many people we overheard telling an IKEA kitchen rep (hereafter known as IKR) that they were "pretty sure" their kitchen was x width or y length - you need to KNOW these numbers or be prepared for the many repeat trips to IKEA it will take to fix the resulting problems.

2. Spend a lot of time visiting the IKEA kitchen department to look at all the options. It is really helpful to check out their in-house mock kitchens as well as their selection of finishes and fixtures. We had originally planned to have white kitchen cabinets but after seeing the "white" IKEA options in person we realized that they are all off-white instead and not a look we liked. Being able to see so many options on the floor will also help you to think about how you want your kitchen to be organized and since people don't often redo a kitchen more than once, your decisions will affect how you use the space for quite a while.

3. As much as it sucks, use the design tool to get as far as you can in the process before sitting down with the IKR, especially if you are shopping during a sale. We finalized our plan with an IKR about a month before the sale ended and ordered everything about two weeks later which allowed us time to make final tweaks and to avoid the crowds of people that were starting to appear. The IKR we worked with (let's call him Alex, which I think was his name - he was super helpful and knowledgeable and, as a bonus, had really cool tattoos) told us that wait times to meet with them get out of control in the final two weeks of the sale. Having the undivided attention of an IKR for as long as you need them is really important as they will be placing the order themselves and you don't want them hurried.

4. Know your design well enough to be able to competently check your parts list before the IKR places the order. Then check it again. When you design the kitchen using IKEA's tool it will provide you with a list of all of the necessary components as they need to be ordered. The IKR will use this list to place the order but it is a really long list and mistakes happen. Alex, wonderful as he was, ordered the wrong size for one of our cabinets and it is only because M had looked at everything for so long that he caught it.

5. Expect to have to make at least one return trip for wrong or missing parts. Even though M caught the incorrectly sized cabinet, we still got a couple of things that we shouldn't have and were missing a few things that we needed. Luckily we are only 45 minutes from IKEA, so return trips were a hassle but not a deal breaker. Public service announcement: I do not advise purchasing an IKEA kitchen if you are either unable or unwilling to make many trips to IKEA.

6. Plan to order your entire kitchen, including any fixtures, handles and appliances, at least 2 weeks before a sale ends or before you need the parts. Alex told us (and he was right) that the risk of having to back order pieces or parts gets significantly higher as a sale draws to a close, especially for cabinet parts. IKEA kitchens are popular in large part because they are already so cheap...add more discounts on top of that and IKEA kitchens become the Cabbage Patch Kid of the remodeling world. Since we were working with a very hard deadline we made sure to have our order in before the rush.

7. If you don't like the first IKR you meet, find another one. As with life in general, there are people you mesh with and people you don't, and also total a-holes that no one meshes with who should just stay home. You will be sitting with this person for a while so try to find someone who doesn't make you want to slap them.

8. Once you have a final layout, plan to be at IKEA for at least 2 hours when ordering your kitchen and know that it could take longer. Alex (helpful, helpful Alex) recommended that we come in just after lunchtime during the week, as the IKRs tend to be less busy at that time. We took his advice but we still needed all of those two hours plus some to finalize the order, check out, realize there was a mistake and have it fixed and wait for the home delivery process to finish. (This process was even more stressful for me because we were 45 minutes away from the Numa's school and I cannot deal with being late to pick him up.)

After all the months of planning and at least 5 trips to IKEA we now just had to wait for our kitchen to arrive. And arrive it did, in 99 boxes. 99 boxes people. And our kitchen isn't even that big. It took two guys almost half an hour to bring it in the house and they were almost running.

IKEA kitchen.
All boxes for the kitchen. (Though, to be fair, the one with the black writing wasn't from IKEA.)

IKEA kitchen.
Yet more boxes. It was ridiculous.

When I saw all the boxes my first thought was: "I am so glad I don't have to assemble this;" which was followed quickly by: "Where is my sink?" I think that Doug was also less than excited, but he did an amazing job and pretty soon the entire main level was covered in cabinets.

Holy cabinets, IKEA!
Holy cabinets Batman!

I still don't know how they all fit in our kitchen but fit they did and, pretty quickly, it started to look more like this:

Cabinet installation.
Hi Doug!

Once the base cabinets were installed the tile guys were able to start on the flooring. The kitchen abuts spaces with two different floor finishes: the original slate tile in the front entryway and the wood floor in the dining room. We didn't want to bring a third type of flooring into the space, but matching either of the original floors exactly was going to be difficult to impossible. We quickly ruled out wood floors since the cabinets were a birch finish and it seemed like using wood on the floor as well would be too much wood (that's what she said). We didn't really want to spend the money to put slate tile in the kitchen but we really liked the color of the slate in the entryway and thought it would be a nice contrast to the light colored cabinets while also tying in the dark counters. We decided that our best option was to find a tile that matched the color of the slate in the entryway as closely as possible. I think I visited every tile shop in and around Boston and just when I thought all hope was lost, I stumbled across this awesome 12" x 24" porcelain tile at a store in Burlington. It has a matte finish and was the closest color match to the front hall that we could find. As a bonus, it was one of the biggest budget wins in our renovation project, coming in at less than $300 for the entire kitchen.

Trying to "match" the slate.
Sexy and cheap. We have a winner.
Doug recommended that we tile as far under the cabinets as the supports would allow so that once the plinth was installed you wouldn't see cut tile edges. The tile would also extend all the way under the refrigerator and to the awkward box covering the basement stair head space. We decided to lay the tile with the long edge parallel to the dining room door to make the kitchen seem wider and not like a hallway.

Kitchen tile.
Floor tile progress, seen from dining room.

IMG_6664
From the front hall - just needs grout!

The tile took under a day to lay down and only part of another day to grout. We decided to use dark grout and in the end my only regret is that we didn't go darker. It looks great but I wish we had been able to almost match the tile. Once the floor was in the rest of the cabinets went up quickly and pretty soon we had this:

Pantry and fridge.
Pantry cabinet, fridge box, pull-out trash bin and dead corner space.

and this:

Plumbing in.
Mount for my sink (!!) and cooktop.

and this:

Wall oven unit.
Wall oven/microwave unit, base cabinet storage and glass front top cabinets.

We talked with Doug and our IKR at length about how best to handle the unusable corner, since it still needed a base that could support the counter top. In the end, we decided to get a base cabinet to cover the weird box and have Doug hack it to fit. In a feat worthy of a super contractor, Doug also managed to get side by side drawers under the cooktop which I had thought impossible. The usable space in the drawers is pretty shallow, but they are perfect for spices and cutting boards. They were some of the last things that were installed so pictures will come later. You can also see that we chose to use different doors for the upper cabinets next to the wall oven. We planned to store dishes and bar ware in those cabinets and decided that the √ĄDEL glass doors (which I don't think you can get in the birch finish any more but thankfully, we got an extra in case of eventual wear or breakage) would be a nice way to break up the acres of plain birch.

That wraps flooring and cabinets. Chapter 4: appliances, counter tops and my beloved sink.

Be well,

Me

Friday, February 1, 2013

Kitchen progress - Chapter 2.

Yesterday I ended with our final kitchen layout in all its IKEA glory. In order to realize our vision for the new kitchen, the old kitchen had to be all but gutted. The asbestos tile on the floor was removed (along with the tile that covered the entire lower floor of the house - I think all told we had about 800 square feet of asbestos tile removed) and the material under the tile, which left just the original floor boards. The walls were all sanded and patched, including two large holes that had been hidden behind the upper cabinets. Because they are in the main wet wall between the kitchen and the hall bath we are assuming that they were cut out (or gnawed out by some sort of animal - seriously, who would leave the holes not just open but ragged like that?) in order to perform repairs on the plumbing for the bathtub.

Holes
It looks like ROUSs were living in our walls.
Kitchen in progress.
Much better. The strange wooden box in the corner is the head space above the steps exiting the basement.

Once the kitchen was completely stripped, there were a few things that needed to be added or altered to accommodate the new design. We have baseboard heating that would be obscured by the new cabinets on the magenta wall, so the electricians and our contractor (let's call him Doug because that is his name) installed  a toe-kick heater to keep the kitchen warm. The electricians also updated all the existing outlets to comply with new electrical code and added/moved some outlets, ran new wiring for the wall oven/microwave combo unit and new under-cabinet lighting, moved the single, sad pendant light to a spot over the sink, and added 6 new pot lights in the ceiling. Doug laid new supports for the flooring, moved the kitchen plumbing just a smidge and ran a water line for the ice maker in the freezer.

Toe-kick heater.
Toe-kick heater.
IMG_6375
New wiring for wall oven and microwave.
Kitchen
Original pendant light. This was the only light in the room.
New pot lights.
New lights. The pot light on the left near the door was positioned slightly off so that it would be closer to the doorway. You can see the plate over the original fixture location and the hole where the new pendant would hang.
Finally, our painter painted the entire room (walls and ceiling) with the color that would eventually be on every wall and ceiling in the entire house - Benjamin Moore's Distant Gray. Thankfully M and I were of one mind on paint colors and we both wanted white walls everywhere. We may paint accent walls in the future but for now, the single color makes the house feel cohesive and clean. We started with about 10 different whites and slowly narrowed our choices. It helped to look at color swatches in several rooms, at all times of the day and on days with different weather, so we could tell which colors tended to look bluish, or yellowed, or pink. We wanted a true, neutral white and Distant Gray came out the winner. We also decided to use Benjamin Moore's Natura paint, which is no-VOC and essentially odorless - you could barely even smell it while they were painting. Seeing the empty room with the white walls was a great moment because you could finally start to picture the end result.

Widened doorway.
Beautiful, quiet white.

Next time: cabinets, flooring and IKEA!

Be well,

Me