Hello, my name is

Life is crazy right now. Two kids, teaching a class, midterms sitting on my nightstand, waiting to be graded… I have masses of admiration for my parents and in-laws, who raised three kids with both parents working full time. Babies become toddlers, and toddlers become little children with personality and new talents and it’s hard to escape all the clich√©s of parenting (it goes by so fast!). And so, I’ve been wanting to document this time in our lives ‚?? and blog more about it ‚?? but have needed someone to guide me a tad in the process. Nothing ever gets done without deadlines, as a wise professor told me once, as I embarked on writing my dissertation.

So I’m going to take a cue from one of my favorite photo publishing sites, Paper Coterie, and follow them for the month of April. Who knows if I’ll keep up on time, but I have every intention of posting something for each of the days’ themes (even if I post late). The overarching theme? Me. I usually shy away from such ego-centric stuff (ug, the bratty “it’s all about me” attitude we pass on to our children in this culture…). But I think of the approach as simply one of sharing, documenting, and remembering.

So voil√†. Today’s subject is My Home:

This is the gallery wall I’m slowly putting together in our stairway. I love it because I’ve had a lot of the frames and artwork since our city days. Most of the photos are newer ones of our wedding and kids, but I also still have a photo I took of my sisters in 1994 (?), an assignment in my photography class in high school. There is a lovely little photo of my granny and her two sisters that my sister Monica had copied and framed for all the girls one year for Christmas (it’s the top-right one in this picture). On the left is a photo of Jax and Ben that I had taken at a department photo studio. Matching 70s shirts for a 70s kind of activity. The charcoal drawing on the left was done by the father of one of my best friends growing up. He was an art teacher and gave this piece to my family as a thank-you for taking my friend on a vacation with us. When we got the house, my parents gave it to me and I’m so happy to have it.

The kids’ room was clean this one time

While we’re on the decorating kick, how about a couple of shots of the kids’ room? It was all organized for about five minutes, so I took photos.

This room started out purple, which wasn’t really a problem, except that some of the paint on the exterior walls was beginning to chip. When we had the whole house repainted in January, we decided to switch it to a fun aqua color, which I think goes better with all of the baby and kids’ stuff we have. It’s bright and cheerful for little ones, but I could also see this color growing with them to some sort of surfer theme or what-have-you. This is a lighter version of the color I painted the closet last summer.

The toy storage cubbies are from Target (now discontinued, sadly – a more pricey but great-looking alternative are Via Boxes.) We lugged the ottoman from Fez, Morocco way back in 2004 (you buy it unstuffed and stuff it with newspapers when you get home). Jax’s “pirate treasure box” holds little cars and toys he doesn’t want Ben to get into.

A lot of these things ‚?? like the balloon and Eiffel Tower watercolors I painted ‚?? we’ve had since our apartment days in the city.

The print above is from a schedule for the Nouveau Casino, a hip music club in the Oberkampf section of Paris. Our friend Corry (who we lived with in Paris for a year) used it to wrap a gift for Jax, and I knew it would look great as wall d√©cor. I cut it to size and put it in an album frame purchased at Michael’s.

That latch-hook rug dates from my childhood: my wonderful Granddad and Granny made it for me when I was 3 or 4.

For more details on creating the fort bed, check out this post. Since this will be the boys’ shared room, eventually Jax will be up top and Ben on the bottom. Since the bottom “bunk” is simply a mattress on the floor, we can transition him to this bed relatively early. Even the top bunk is pretty low to the ground, so Jax could technically sleep up there ‚?? although he prefers the bottom. Realistically, he would most prefer being in our bed (a bit crowded with Ben in there most of the night). We love that we can lay down next to him and read stories as he goes to sleep. He comes into our room every morning around 5 or 6 to sleep another hour or two. He is sweet.

Those front-facing “bookshelves” are the ubiquitous Ikea Bekvam spice racks (four bucks each), attached with screws to the armoire. Along with the clip-on reading light, they are the perfect solution to reading in bed on the top bunk.

This awesome piece of art was a shower gift for Ben created by my college roommate, Michelle. I love it.

A new dress-up area with a collection of French children’s books on the shelf. The hooks are also useful for hanging outfits the night before preschool and daycare, to make our mornings a tad less hectic.

And there you have it! This room definitely gets crazy messy, but because everything has a home, it’s pretty easy to put toys and books back where they belong. Now we just need to get a certain 3-year-old into the habit of doing so…

Kalanchoe Renewed (for 3 bucks)

I picked up this kalanchoe plant for a party we had at our house last May, to celebrate my graduation. I neglected it for months on various bookshelves and yet it somehow managed to stay alive. I noticed its cute little white flowers were starting to bud, and I so thought I should give it another chance and pay better attention to it.

The flimsy, unsightly pot had to go, however, and it was clear that it was actually holding three individual plants that could be easily separated. I just grabbed three soup bowls I had picked up for a dollar each (in pre-kid days, breakable ones we weren’t using) and filled the bottoms with pebbles we had in the garage. This is essential for drainage.

I added some dirt, put one plant in each bowl, and then packed them in well before watering.

Looking better!

The Big Kitchen Re-do

When we bought our charming little circa-1930 house, we planned to renovate the kitchen as our one big house project. This house is rock-solid and has fun architectural details throughout, and the previous owners over the past decade or two made some great improvements to the house, which we found out is actually one built from a Sears kit! Ah, the old days of DIY. Although the total square footage is just under 1500, the two-story layout (with finished basement) is such that we can all spread out and feel like we have our own little nook to play or work.

It took two years to take the plunge and finally renovate. It was a long process, but overall, we’re happy with the results. But first, let’s take a look at the before (just after we bought our new range, which you can see in this picture):

Above was the view right from the front of the house: two doorways led to the glass door to our den/office/possible third bedroom. Originally that doorway next to the range was the way out of the house, but the den and a bathroom were added on a couple years after the house was built ‚?? still a while ago!

The hood above the range was too low for code, and all that corner space between the range and the dishwasher was unused. No corner cabinet, just a spot perfectly-sized for our pull-out garbage and recycling bins.

The windows were charming but not very functional, and those bottom cabinets weren’t looking so good.

We actually broke the hinge off of that corner cabinet door, and couldn’t easily fix it, since the cabinet and door were made of particle board and I couldn’t get a new hinge to screw in tightly.

Look at all of those cabinets! This wall was cute and functional, but we later learned that the paint on the back wall of the cabinets had been peeling off. We also were hoping to fit a slightly larger fridge into this space, which this configuration wouldn’t allow.

This is the view from the hallway next to the den. The doorway on the left led out of the kitchen and through an archway to the dining and living areas.

Floor plan (approximate) for the old arrangement:

Here were the problems to address:

~ The upper cabinets had settled and were sagging in some places (notably above the oven).
~ Uniformity of style between the bottom and top: the top looked like it was probably the original construction; the bottom, a renovation twenty or so years ago (I’m guessing).
~ Not one drawer! We were using our handy kitchen cart (from Ikea) for silverware, as there were no built-in drawers, probably because standard-sized cabinets couldn’t be configured in the allotted space when the bottom was renovated (I’m guessing it was a DIY job?).
~ The old double-hung windows were drafty and needed to be replaced. We have herb pots hanging just outside the window, but couldn’t really access them from inside.
~ Room for a taller fridge: The upper cabinets used to begin even lower, and previous owners had them shortened to make room for a 65″ fridge. A larger fridge – closer to 70″ – could not fit in the space, and we were eyeing counter-depth French door options.
~ Despite the kitchen’s small dimensions (9×10 feet!!), not all of the available space was being used: the corner to the left of the sink had nothing but a plywood support under the counter, and a space between the plywood and the oven that we were using for our garbage and recycling cans. There was also a gap between the right corner cabinet and the fridge, which we were junking up with paper recycling and plastic bag storage.

The solution to the layout issues lay in entirely moving the doorway: filling in the existing one, and cutting out a new one to lead to the dining area.

The new floor plan:

By moving the opening, we were able to get one 12″ and one 18″ cabinet ‚?? each with three drawers ‚?? to surround the range. From zero drawers to six! We were also able to have two usable corner cabinets, and the addition of the bottom cabinets also meant an increase in counter space. After a few months of use, we haven’t needed anything more. It’s luxury!

And now, the After:

The view from the front side of the house.

Sill life with sock.

Look! A larger but not overwhelming fridge: this one is 36″ wide and about 70″ tall, but counter-depth. The window is a slider, so we can easily slide it to one side or the other and reach out to get fresh herbs. This winter we only have rosemary, but come spring, this feature will be even more exciting.

The cookbooks were hanging out here while our living room bookshelves were being painting, but I’ve kind of gotten used to them, so they’re still around.

Our new doorway to the living/dining room. Come on in!

 

7 months

Ben turned seven months old on Valentine’s Day. I have seen so many montages of weekly or monthly baby photos in fun chairs and thought, I’m going to do that with this one! That way, you can really see the growth when comparing to the size of the chair. And I have a favorite chair that I thought would be awesome for the projects. Such plans are not¬†conducive¬†to over a month away in California, however, or to a house that is often messy, or to a mother that usually remembers to take the photos after the sun has set. But I’m sure my sweet Ben will not mind. Here is a more eclectic montage of the last 7 months:


2 Weeks

3 Weeks

1 Month

2 Months

3 Months

4 Months

5 Months

6 Months

7 Months

“Playing Bedtime”: Jax loves to take care of his little brother.

2011 in 50 pictures

{Click on any photo to see the full image}

Benjamin Lee is here!

Allons enfants de la patrie… a new r√©volutionnaire has arrived! Benjamin Lee was born on Bastille Day, July 14, weighing in at 8 pounds even. He is named after my grandfather, Lealon, who married my grandmother on Bastille Day in 1950.



Rice Curry Salad

Greetings from summer!

The season of picnics and barbecues is upon us. I thought I’d share my mom’s recipe for a delicious rice curry salad, which is a perfect addition to the summer side salad rotation. It’s vegetarian and gluten-free and the perfect accompaniment to summer grilling or as itself for a picnic.

What you need:
2 boxes of a rice side (we use Near East’s Long Grain and Wild Rice, Original) You can also just use 2 cups of wild rice and adjust seasonings to your taste.
15 oz. bottled artichoke hearts
1.5 cups mayonaise
2 tablespoons + curry powder
5 scallions
1 small green pepper
1/2-3/4 cup raisins
1 cup green olives with pimentos

What to do:

Prepare the rice and let cool, covered (make the rice in the morning and the rest in the afternoon, for example).

Chop the artichoke hearts, scallions, and green pepper and combine in a large bowl. In a small bowl, combine mayonaise, curry powder, and about 1/2 the juice from the jar of artichokes.

Add the cooled rice to the large bowl and pour the mayonaise mixture over the top. Mix.

Next, mix in raisins first and then carefully fold in the olives.

That’s it! Remember to keep refrigerated. How about a close-up?

Happy summer!

Kids’ Closet Re-do: in progress

One of the busiest semesters ever is over, and now I’m in this interim period when Jax is still in preschool (have I mentioned how much he loves school by the way?) and I am awaiting the arrival of our second baby boy (due July 21). I believe they call this phase nesting?

We’re going to have the baby in a porta crib in our room for at least the first 6 months to 1 year, but all kid things are going to be combined into what is now Jax’s room. Eventually they’ll share the bunk beds, but in the immediate future, the boys’ stuff will be sharing a closet. By today’s standards it’s not an enormous closet, but it can be a walk-in if organized properly.

Before:

I should have taken a true before picture, complete with 1950s wallpaper, carpet, and the huge mess of storage I had in there. It is embarrassing, really. We could only use about half of the clothes bar because the back of the closet was jam-packed with no less than a full-size crib and mattress, a porta crib and mattress, a jumperoo, a bouncy seat, endless stroller parts (bassinet, travel bag, etc.) and boxes and boxes of clothes Jax has grown out of (and some that are anticipating his next growth spurt).

After clearing everything out this is what we were dealing with:

What a mess! But the awesome thing about decades-old wallpaper is that it comes right off. It was the easiest part of the job, and then revealed this old flakey pink paint and some cracks that required serious spackling. The light fixture in there had also developed a problem with the switch, so what you see above is actually the new fixture awaiting final installation by Seth, the engineer turned blogger who still gets recruited for all things wired in the house.

First I used spackle to fill in the major cracks and let that dry. A professional with a sander would sand this down, but since this is really a $50 fix-up project and will be out of sight, I was probably more sloppy than recommended.

I also took a scraper to the pink paint and tried to get off as many flakes as possible.

The first part I painted was the trim: you can see the difference one coat is already making on the right. Once two coats of the trim and the ceiling were dry (I waited a day), I taped it off and tackled the walls.

Starting to look much better!

While waiting for the paint to dry (each coat took a day of drying, and I didn’t want to be doing this while Jax was home, adding to the wait time) I organized all of the old clothes into air-tight boxes with size labels and moved a lot of them downstairs to our newly organized laundry room. We picked up a dresser on craigslist that I plan to refinish to match and then put along the back wall. For now, this is the progress, so I’ll post more in a few days with the final (or finished-enough) result!

Sunday at the Botanical Gardens’ Orchid Show

We’ve been up to a lot of traveling and work, and looking forward to more free time this summer! I’ll eventually post updates about trips to California and Florida, as well as life in general, but for now, how about some photos from Jax’s first trip to the Botanical Gardens in the Bronx?

A chance to splash around in water is always the highlight.

Jax stared at this spout for the longest time ‚?? and stuck his hand under the water, too. He thought it was an impressive attraction.

A chandelier of orchids.

This orchid walk was inspired by the New Amsterdam Theater in Manhattan. You can see Jax getting a closer look on top of Seth’s shoulders.

The stars of the show.

A cool scene from the second level of the rain forest.