Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Handmade Holiday

I've been turning my crafty attention from house projects to Christmas presents. 'Tis the season after all! Awhile back, when we were busy converting our dining room into a play room, I posted about my intentions to turn an old coffee table into a train table for my son. That's still the plan, but of course, I now have grander ideas for the table.
I was inspired by this post of an amazing, home made playmat on this blog:
Seriously, it is about the cutest thing I've ever seen. She also says it took her 50 hours to complete, and I have absolutely no sewing skills myself, but I breezed over those facts.
My plan now is to paint the top of the table with chalkboard paint, adhere velcro strips to the edges, and create a removable play mat with trees, roads, rivers and buildings out of felt. It will be a multipurpose table that my son can play with cars or trains on the top, then take it off and use it for a drawing table. I am super excited about it. I've already bought the felt, my mother-in-law had some extra chalkboard paint that she gave us, so this will not only be a handmade, thoughtful present for Sebastian, but it will be cheap too! If it turns out well, the gift will have saved us about $70! (A train table would cost us around $80, an easel would be $25ish and so far all I've spent is $10 on felt!)
I will be using an Ikea Lack coffee table instead of the honey oak table with a drawer we also have in storage. One, Matt's not too keen on painting the nicer, more expensive table with chalkboard paint. And two, we put the table in the playroom, and it's much bigger and more square than I remember. The Ikea table has dimensions more similar to a commercial train table. Plus, if we ruin it, it was on a $25 table. It has a shelf underneath that will be good for storing trains and chalk.
I am really, really excited. Some of my favorite memories of gifts were of the more homemade persuasion. My dad made my brother a wrestling ring for his WWF toys when he was little, and I thought it was the coolest thing ever. They once gave me a room makeover including a homemade book shelf and curtains, and I still remember walking into my bedroom and seeing it transformed. I hope Sebastian will be as excited as I am!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Mission: Accomplished!

We did it! I finished up the closet-to-mudroom transformation, and I have to say I am totally loving it. I may have to take a better picture later, because this really doesn't do it justice. But, as other working parents I'm sure understand, I had to work on this after my son went to bed, so my excited photographing took place at 9 pm, when the lighting wasn't very good. So here's the breakdown on what we did, how long it took and how much it cost.
We started by purging out the closet, probably the longest part of the process. We had twice as many coats in the closet before, but several were ones we never wear. Same with the shoes. We donated a bunch, and pared it down to just a few. This took us a couple weeks, because cleaning the closet isn't the most fun chore. Cost: Free.
Then I shopped for storage. I wanted a basket for shoes, but nothing in the stores was catching my eye. Then I hit up a thrift store, and found a big wicker basket (at right) for $5.99. It was perfect! I also wanted three storage bins for the top shelf of the closet to store reusable shopping bags and seasonal items. After much hunting (storage bins are so expensive! Most I liked were $20 a piece!) I found these on clearance at Target for $6.98. They're dark brown and have a rim of green, which matches the green paint color. What a happy accident! The shopping took a couple weeks too. Cost: $26.93
The closet was obviously in need of paint, and originally I'd planned to color match the fabric we used to reupholster our arm chair. When I went into the store to do that, I found mistinted paint was free! I found a green that was close enough, and snapped it up. Once I put it on the walls, I really loved it. It's more sage than it looked on the swatch, but it really works and is nice and soothing. I also found a mistinted off white to use to paint the bench. It took me about two or three days to paint the closet. I also had to paint the baseboards and inside trim. Thankfully, I had leftover trim paint. Cost: $9.99 for brushes, rollers and supplies. The free paint really helped!
I wanted to include a small bench to sit and put on shoes. We had this end table sitting in our bedroom closet that used to serve as a night stand. It was oak and had a gass top. I removed the glass and painted it off-white. I took a piece of foam I had leftover from another project and used the glass as a template to make a seat cushion. I took some leftover black and white toile fabric from when I made our kitchen curtains, wrapped the foam and pinned it together. It took one evening to do the whole thing. I listened to election results as I painted, and then I spent about 10 minutes making the cushion. Cost: Completely free!
A mudroom obviously requires a place to hang coats. The closet originally had a bar for hanging stuff. I took that down, left the shelf up, and then installed a coat rack we bought at Ikea for $9.99. The closet had one hook installed on the top right side, and I added two more hooks ($4.99 at Ikea for a pack of two) - one at the same level as the hook on the right side, which I am using to hang my purse and diaper bag, and another I hung on a small part of the wall at kiddie hight, so my son can hang up his coat himself. This took one night. Cost: $14.98.
So there you have it. We have a really functional entry way now, and it only cost us a grand total of $52! I am so excited. It's clean, it looks nice, and my husband is actually hanging up his coat now. Hooray!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

This Is Where We Used to Live: Part 10

I've made it to the end of my look back at all the places I've lived. I left a couple out, from when I was a baby and really don't remember them aside from seeing photos. But as you can see, I have called a lot of places home. Some have been great, some not so much, but all remind me of a very specific time in my life.
The last apartment is no exception. And sadly, most of the memories I have of this apartment are bad ones. This was not a good place to live, and looking back, I don't know why we stayed here two years. I think part of it was because we were sick of moving and didn't want to move again until we were ready to buy. And partially because we were stubborn and didn't want to give up on the place we'd made so comfortable and very much ours. As you can see above, we finally had a digital camera and took photos of the apartment. It's fun to look back and see how our style has evolved, and what things we still have in place in our current home. But I look at these photos and feel kind of bittersweet. It looks like such a nice, tidy, happy home for a couple in their mid-twenties. And everything good that happened here seems tainted by how poorly it ended.
Here is the long, sordid story. Which begins happily enough.
We found this little apartment in St. Paul that was as big as our suburban place, but $150 cheaper. There wasn't an in suite laundry, and there was one less bathroom, but otherwise it was comparable. It was a little more dated, but at the time we found that charming. There were nice, mature trees on the lot, which was also appealing to us, since we'd spent two years in the tiny-treed, brand new suburbs. We imagined a leafy, city life up on the third floor. Soon after we moved in, two of our best friends signed a lease for an apartment downstairs. We got a second cat, a spunky orange kitten named Taco. We got married and had a beautiful wedding and honeymoon. Things were going well.
We had two neighbors, a single mom and her 10-year-old daughter. They were okay at first, albeit a tad intrusive. On the day we moved in the girl darted into our living room and started aggressively hugging Nutmeg. At first, things were pretty good. Every once in awhile we'd hear the little girl tantruming, and sometimes they would knock on our shared living room wall if we played music in the apartment... even if it wasn't very loud. We heard them fighting in the hallways, the mom suggesting the girl do something, her whining, "Nooo, I'm not gooiingg tooooo," followed by a shriek. But whatever. We loved having our friends in the same apartment building; we'd pad down there in our slippers to watch 24 and Lost and make dinner together. If we had a party, or they did, we wouldn't have to worry about driving. It was wonderful. I'd never lived in a dorm before and it made me think this is what it might kind of be like. So, we signed the next year's lease. And then about two weeks later, things started to get worse.
The noise had usually been during the day and early evening, but it started to get later and later, like 11 pm to 1 or 2 in the morning. The kid would shriek, howl, and there was always pounding on the walls, sometimes so hard it would shake our walls. We got fed up and called the landlords. The mother denied things were as bad as we described, saying that she had never had a problem in the eight years she'd lived in that apartment. She also would say things like, "I'm not the one making the noise, it's her!" about the kid. It kept getting worse and worse. So we kept calling. The landlords kept bringing the problem to the neighbors, and nothing happened. One day, Matt lost his job. I was home by myself, totally stressed out, and listening to some music. It was around 7 at night. They started pounding on our wall because of the music, and then the mom came to our door. I threw it open and yelled at her to stop pounding on my wall, and slammed the door in her face. Then called the landlord. At this point, they decided to have a neighbor "mediation" session, held in the teeny fitness room. It was super awkward. Basically, we told them that we would try and be understanding that children have tantrums, but that if there was pounding on the walls after 10 pm, we'd call the landlords. We had two quiet days before they started again.
It's a little fuzzy now, but I'm pretty sure the first time I called the landlords after the mediation session was like declaring neighbor war. Now everytime we made a peep in our apartment, such as watching a movie or playing music, they'd call to complain about us. Once two of our friends left our apartment at about 10 pm after a night of playing SCRABBLE and the little girl was outside waiting, and said, "you're not supposed to have parties. We're telling." OMG, it was so, so awful. It got to the point where I'd look out my peep hole before leaving, just to make sure they were there. Once I sat in the parking lot and pretended to have a conversation on my cell so I could avoid them as they came outside. The little girl would call me a bitch and ugly as I tried to enter the building, while the mother sat by doing absolutely nothing. They started harrassing our friends who lived in the building too. I felt like a prisoner in my own home.
While all this was going on, we were busy paying down debt, saving money and working toward buying a place. We had the set back of Matt losing his job, but he thankfully found one soon after, and the plan was back on. It couldn't come fast enough, because things started to get even worse.
One night, the noise was going on full force, lounder than it had ever been, and the child was yelling "help me!" which was startling. Before we had the chance to decide "landlords or cops?" the decision was made for us. The new people who had moved in right below our neighbors called the police. There were several more incidents after this, which we began tape recording and showing to the landlords. The people downstairs started calling the cops continually. It finally worked, and the neighbors were handed their eviction notice. As they moved out, we were barely even there, because we'd already closed on our condo and were over at the new place, painting.  
We were only ever able to enjoy two or three weeks Chris and Julia free. Once we moved our stuff over to the condo, painted in its rainbow of colors, light fixtures chosen by us, everything in place just as we wanted it, we let out a sigh of relief. It was blissfully quiet.

This Is Where We Used to Live: Part 9

I hope you're not getting bored indulging my trips down memory lane. I have to say that this exercise has been very good for me. Remembering the good things about the places I've called home, imperfect as many of them were, helps put into perspective how cherished my current home is to me. For one main reason: It's mine. It may not be much, and yes, we overpaid on it. But I couldn't go back to renting again, and I won't give up our little condo until we are able to make the leap into single-family-homeownership.
There are only two more places I lived before the condo. Both were with my husband, and both were rental apartments.
We decided to live together while riding the city bus to school together our senior year in college. I think I actually asked him. I'd been looking at apartments in the suburb that I was working in. I had gotten an internship at a publishing company my junior year, and then they asked me back for winter break my senior year and I never left. So I basically already knew where I would start my career after college long in advance of graduation (which was really, really nice). Anyway, the rents in that suburb and surrounding areas weren't terrible, but weren't exactly financially feasible for a single person. And there was no way I was getting roommates again. Things with the boyfriend were going very well. We'd stayed together happily all through college, and I was pretty sure that marriage wasn't far into the future. I asked him to be my roomie, and he accepted. We spent a couple months plotting where to live and visiting apartments together, which was fun.
We found the place we chose by putting in all our wish list requirements into a rental website and seeing what came up. We wanted a place that took cats, had two bedrooms, AC, a dishwasher, a deck or patio, a swimming pool, and a washer and dryer in the unit. It may have only been this apartment complex that matched all those criteria in our price range. It was a little far out, but only a 10 minute drive from my work. We signed a lease and moved in June of 2002.
We lived in this apartment for two years. It had a lot of things going for it: it was spacious, very neutral, and the master bedroom was huge. It had a walk in closet, on suite bathroom and a nice view of a little pond. There was a great big laundry room. And a dishwasher! Oh man, how I loved having a dishwasher. My boyfriend-now-husband proved to be a great roommate. Sure, there were squabbles as we tried to figure out the division of labor and the ups and downs of cohabitation, but living together really solidified our relationship. I don't think I'd ever been happier. We got a little kitten that we named Nutmeg, and she was a wild one. We had a ton of parties - a dinner party for new year's eve where I cooked lasagna for 20 people and sat them at two different tables with mismatched plates. A Halloween party where we actually had a neighbor come and talk to us about the noise and people danced (danced!) in our living room. And my 23rd birthday party where we announced our engagement. We planned most of our wedding living in this apartment, and decided for some reason to add moving to the already stressful time of wedding planning and moved out in the summer of '04.
While we actually liked the suburb we lived in - it was very walkable and we lived right by a restaurant, movie theater, book store and Target - we were soo far from everything else. If we wanted to go into the city to see a play, half an hour. To go to a concert, half an hour. Visit friends, half an hour. Add that to the fact that Matt had gotten a new job that was a horrendous commute, we decided to find an apartment in the city.
We'd also grown tired of some aspects of the apartment. The management company was super intrusive. We'd lived there two years and gone through about four of five "annual inspections." The inspections were meant to uncover maintenance issues before they started, but all that had ever happened was we got a written warning about having a wind chime on our deck. The kitchen was growing smaller as I learned how to cook better, and I hated our kitchen counters, which soaked up every stain and were impossible to keep clean. And I really wanted a second cat, which our apartment didn't allow. So we decided to move on.
But every once in awhile we make a special trip down to this suburb, and I always feel very at home there. It's where we started our life together, and where we became official, bill-paying, job-having adults.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Making Progress

I did a lot this weekend for the mudroom. In between trick or treating, brunching and dinner with friends we found time to paint the baseboards, paint the walls, hang the coat rack and basically set up the entire mudroom.
I'm going to take the door down tonight, and touch up the trim paint where the hinges were. Then all I have to do is paint the bench, decide on the floor issue, and we are DONE! And, because I like being done with projects, I might leave the floor as is for now and figure out what to do later. The carpet doesn't look that bad.
Pictures to come soon!