Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Mission Possible? OR, Mr. Gorbachev, Tear Down That Wall!

Note: Non "house-y" friends, please disregard this long post. Decorating friends, please dive in and give me advice! I drew floor plans but couldn't get the scanner to work.

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it, is to help me re-imagine my kitchen using the least amount of $ possible.

You see, our house is a 1960's split level. On this main level, there are only 3 rooms: kitchen, LR/DR combo, and foyer (dubbed an "Elegant Reception Room" in the 1960's advertisements!) This means our main level is a relatively small area, with 3 different floor coverings, lots of walls, and stairs going up and down. I feel trapped in this dark space.

The only room we use on this level is the kitchen, which is at the front of the house. I feel as if we spend an inordinate amount of time oriented toward the driveway, rather than the center or the back of the house. Ick.

The kitchen was completely renovated in 2000, 3 years before we bought the house, so the cabinets and appliances are in good shape. I would like to have the cabinets professionally painted a creamy white. I would keep the appliances, counter tops. and possibly flooring until we could afford to replace them.

I'd like to tear down a wall (load-bearing, darn!) between the kitchen and the living room, and turn the lower cabinet drawers (+ 2 new ones) into an island flanked by square columns. I would top the new island with butcher block stained dark. Here are some photos of the current kitchen.

Work Triangle:

Side door into the house is to the left of this photo, door into foyer on the right of fridge, so the area in front of the black stools between the work triangle and the breakfast nook is a major artery of the house. One person can work comfortably in the work triangle area...if you don't open the oven and the d.washer at the same time. The fridge wall is the wall I'd like to take down.

Breakfast Nook:
Looks right into the driveway, and the neighbor's house. To the left is the doorway to the rest of the house, to the right is the doorway to outside.

Pantry and Hutch:

Pantry is wider than it appears. Hutch stores cloth napkins, cookbooks,and art supplies. I would like to move the fridge into the pantry area (recessed) and replace the hutch with the upper cabinets from the "crap and fridge area" and add a new lower cabinet beneath them, only about 12 inches deep.

Crap and Fridge Area:

To left is doorway to dining room. To right is doorway to foyer. This is where I pile my mail and paperwork. I would like this area to open to the Living Room. I would have to purchase another set of those deep drawers to go where the fridge is now to form an island. Question: Where will all the crap go?

Wider view of fridge and crap area and doorways:

You can see the kitchen, foyer (tile floor) and Living room from this angle. Not sure if that small wall in the foyer is load bearing too. Probably is.

Mini Mudroom: AKA "My door opens right into the kitchen:"

More lovely driveway views.

I hope that this level will ultimately seem like one room rather than 3. I am hoping it will orient us more toward the center of the house and away from the driveway. Right now, the living room and dining room get no use whatsoever.

Here are various views of the offending wall/s.

From the living room:

From the foyer:

From the Dining Area:

Potential difficulties.

1. Budget. My husband is totally NOT on board. This would have to be a very much in the future project.

2. This plan would disrupt my tight but efficient work triangle. The fridge's new location would be across traffic. I wonder if it is worse to feel hemmed in with no connection room to room, or to have to cross extra steps and in front of a doorway to get to the fridge?

3. When you take down walls, where do you stop? The LR and DR both have little walls jutting out. What do you do about those? If you take one down, do you take them all down?

4. Does opening up an area make the house feel messier? No one uses our living room now, so it manages to stay neat. Would having a big jar of Mayo and dinner dishes in my sight lines make me enjoy the rooms less?

5. The expense of buying new lower cabinets to match existing ones. This brand is pricey.

6. Moving wiring, lighting and H20 (for fridge ice maker)

So that's all for now. Creamy cabinets and carrera marble are my dream. This kitchen is my reality. I'd love to hear your thoughts and advice!

Monday, September 27, 2010

She's Baaaack!

I'm back from the 3-day Girl Scout camping trip and I survived. Heck, I thrived!

Major Lowlight:

The latrines. Dear Lord. I've traveled the world. I camp. Cold-War era train toilets in Romania? Check. Self-dug poo trench in the Yucatan? Sure. Nothing prepared me for the odor emanating from the latrines at Girl Scout camp.

I am normally one to say, "C'mon, it's really not that bad," in an effort to keep the whining at bay. This time, however, I was the biggest whiner of all. It smelled so bad I could taste it. My eyes burned and teared every time I crossed the dreaded threshold of all that is unholy.

All of my senses were assaulted and insulted by the experience. Some of the little girls tried to hold it all weekend. But a peri-menopausal 40-something mom? Not an option.

Major Highlight:

Getting to know 11 nine year old girls was fantastic! At the beginning they were like (insert skeptical, possibly disdainful facial expression here), "Who is Mrs. See and why is she chaperoning us?!" By the end, they were crushing on me big time, eagerly letting me fill in for the mommies who couldn't be there.

This was such a special opportunity for me. I realized that since I quit teaching, I haven't had the same chances to pour my heart into kids that I used to. I know that sounds weird coming from someone who stayed at home with her kids for 9 plus years. It is weird, but true.

In fact, I think perhaps having my own kids closed me off to an extent toward other kids. It was as if keeping my own alive, and then navigating their highs and lows was all I could manage, and sometimes not so well at that.

Instead of really being able to notice and appreciate most other kids, I've spent the past years assessing how kids are interacting with mine, and being easily annoyed with anyone who is not the fruit of my loins (do I have loins?). Combine that with an unhealthy dash of comparisons and competitiveness, and you can see how a certain brittleness about other people's kids has flourished. Flattering, I know.

This is far removed from my mom's attitude. She always seemed to "get" that giving part of herself to another kid never took one thing away from us. I think that is why she attracted so many "strays" over the years.

So, even though I dreaded going to camp and only did so out of guilt for having been a really bad Scout Mom, it gave me the chance to spend time with the girls and appreciate who they were, not who they were in relation to my kids.

They were charming, quirky, funny and needy. They were spunky, shy and lovable.

Molly's independence and self confidence helped free me to spend time with the other girls. Now before you think I ignored Molly the whole weekend, I will tell you she and I slept together inside one sleeping bag Friday night. Cozy.

And, not only did these cuties teach me more about myself, and how there is much more to give than I think, they taught me how to make my first key chain out of GIMP! Yes way.

By Far the Biggest Highlight:

Last night at bedtime Molly said, "You did GREAT, Mom! You didn't embarrass me or anything."

Friday, September 24, 2010

When Will I See You Again?

Off for 3 days of Girl Scout camping. With no showers. And my period. And an obsessive fear of contracting lice.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Winner! Mastermind Game

And the winner of the Mastermind game is...

Texan Mama!

Congrats, Texan Mama! Email me your address and the good folks at Pressman Toy will send you your game.

Guess what? Molly played 2 games of Mastermind and did not have tantrum! She loved it! Consider that our little autumn miracle.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Good Enough

I was trying to be a champion grocery shopper today, having scoured the ads and money-saving websites and organized my list and coupons accordingly. I found my way to the brand spankin' new grocery store nirvana in a neighboring town.

While I was getting out of the car, using my leg as an awkward buffer between my door and the car next to me, I gave myself a nasty paper cut across the nose with the damn grocery list! By the time I made it inside, my face was bloody. Apparently, saving money can be dangerous.

I managed to have a productive trip, and I'm proud of myself for being so organized, but there's no telling if I'll be up for it all again next week. And if not, I won't beat myself up over it.

My coupon clipping made me think about my mom, because, much to my annoyance, she flatly refused to "deal with coupons."

You have read about my mother on this blog before, so you know she was pretty special. She had a magnetism and good humor that people still talk about even though she's been gone more than 20 years.

She was an entertainer who used silver and fine crystal, but who also parked herself cross-legged on the kitchen counter to chat. She was a church-going charmer who threw around the S-word.

She was a fashion plate and decorating guru, whose kitchen counters were piled high with papers and assorted "crap." She saved her kids' artwork for posterity, but then found herself writing lists and doodles and phone numbers on it.

A nice thing about my mother was that she did not try to be perfect. In fact, in many ways she was, well, "good enough."

She could eat an entire bag of gumdrops for lunch and not beat herself up about it.

She could take us out to dinner 3 nights in a row because she couldn't bear the thought of how this dinner thing kept coming up...every day.

She was not the most consistent gift giver, with gifts ranging from Neiman Marcus goodies in pretty little boxes, to the pineapple she made me give my 4th grade teacher for Christmas.

I despaired of ever having a satisfactory birthday or Christmas, as she never seemed to get me what was on my list (no Snoopy Snow Cone machine?) Instead of giving in to my histrionics about the injustice of it all, she would shrug. "Well, I'm the only mother you've got."

In my childhood and adolescent wisdom, I would try to change my mother: her clothes (pj's and clogs in the carpool line?), her spending habits (why wouldn't she go to yard sales with me?), and how she kept house. Always a reader, I had articles to share. I had statistics. I was an expert on all things current and new. She would listen, give me a "hmmmmmm," and not change a thing.

Now, I use her as a model in my own varied attempts to throw away the damaging idea of perfection.

I do not sort laundry. Ever. Or hand wash. Or lay flat to dry. Apparently, I like an element of adventure at laundry time.

I do not iron anything, and am not above/below stapling or gluing on scouting patches. Another strategy I've used is to leave the patches in a baggie to see if the child will move on to the next level of scouting before I do anything with them.

I do not make homemade Halloween costumes, and when I do make costumes for school projects, my son tells me mine are the "cheap-iest looking."

I rarely offer side dishes. Taco Night means tacos, Chili Night, chili. You get the picture.

I go places, like church and work, with soaking wet hair. If people are inclined to think I'm a serious swimmer, rather than someone who is too lazy to dry her hair, so be it.

I choose (or steer) my children's activities based on my personal convenience and preferences.

I decorate with quick fixes rather than high quality, knowing that I'll tire of a trend before too long.

The list goes on and on.

So even though I only had my mom for 18 years, I feel her influence still. The short-cuts, attitudes and actions I pooh-poohed about her are the very things that help me get by without getting myself in a dither. The fact that she was so comfortable with herself helps me to accept myself the way I am.

Growing up, I never once thought a clean house or good grades or a fancy car or thin thighs were the most important things in life, and I know that was because of my mother. What a gift.

And if that's not perfection, I don't know what is.

"There is no way to be a perfect mother, and a million ways to be a good one." Jill Churchill

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Game Giveaway

Our next An Inch of Gray giveaway is one of my fave childhood games-- Mastermind! I spent many afternoons in Betsy Arnold's basement playing this game of code-making and code-breaking.

Yes, this is the same basement where we watched the Thriller video for the first time and reviewed key passages of our mothers' Danielle Steel novels. Fun times!

When the folks at Pressman Toy offered me a Mastermind game to review and give away, I jumped at the chance. I sometimes need a kick in the pants to remember to play board games with the kids. And the big game closet in our basement, while attractive, is about as effective as the crisper drawer in my fridge. Things go in, but rarely come out. I left Mastermind right on the kitchen table so we'd remember to play it.

In Mastermind, the Codemaker makes a hidden code out of colored pegs. The Codebreaker has to use problem solving skills to guess the correct colors and sequence in the fewest number of guesses. Players take turns being the Codemaker and the Codebreaker.

The verdict? I am still crazy about this game! It took me about 2.5 seconds to wrap my head around the new jewel-toned colors of the pegs, rather than the primary colors of my youth. But I quickly got into the strategizing. I find that being the Codemaker can be as interesting as the Codebreaker.

Jake loves playing this game with me. Like Tom, he loves logic and can take just a few glances and know which colors have been eliminated. For me, there is much talking to myself, as I decide which guesses to make. "Okay, I've already tried green there..."

Molly? Dislike. She is not a fan of most games, especially ones that use the process of elimination. She is more relational, and would rather make up games to play with friends. When we tried to play Clue, for instance, she became a screaming lunatic when the 3 of us jotted notes down on our little forms.
"Why is everyone writing things down? It's not even your turn! This makes no sense! What's going on? Quit acting so smartical! How do you even know what to write? I hate this game! Waaaah!!!!" Dramatic board toss and sobbing stomp off to her room. Board game buzz kill, for sure.

Mastermind is for ages 8 and up, and there are several variations on the Pressman Toy site. I think it would be great to have on any classroom game shelf, and it's perfect for various ages to play together.

Playing Mastermind was like finding an old friend, and I plan to leave it in the kitchen for pick-up games.

This classic game is celebrating its 40th year as a favorite of teachers, kids and parents alike. And if you ask me, 40 is fabulous!

If you would like to enter the giveaway, just leave a comment on this post. Make sure I have your email if it's not linked to your user name.

If you are a follower of An Inch of Gray, leave a second comment for a second entry.

Giveaway closes Thursday, Sept 23.

Disclosure: I was given this game by Pressman Toy for free to review and I get to keep the game at the end of my review period.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Chasing the Blues Away

What to do when your decorating has stagnated and you have neither the time nor the $ for a big project?

Just find something on your wall, spray paint it, and stick it right back up.

Remember my laundry room turned office?

Well, there was a mirror on the opposite wall that needed a little fun.

5 minutes with Krylon Blue Ocean Breeze and we're both feeling perkier. In need of some Windex, but definitely perkier.

Dust and cobweb removal always optional.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Chatty Cathy, OR, In Need of an Exit Strategy

My husband is not much of a talker. He is introverted and loathes small talk. When we dated long distance for years, talking on the phone was not much fun. Lots of listening to each other breathe, and NOT in a good way.

So why have I dubbed him "Chatty Cathy?"

Because dude doesn't know how to end a conversation.

Am I the last one talking at church on Sunday? No. Am I the one who goes to the neighbor's house to call the kids home for dinner and stands in the yard talking for 20 minutes? At dinner time? Nope.

And don't even make me tell you about the Open House Horror of 2003. Oh, you insist?


We were looking for a new home, and house hunting was difficult due to the kids' ages (1.5, 4) and my husband's crazy work schedule. This was pre-Internet house hunting. Can you imagine?

One Sunday the stars aligned for us to go to 2 open houses in THE neighborhood in our town.

You know the one with the elementary school in walking distance, the pool right down the street where kids of a certain age can go unattended, and the book clubs and mimosas and probably even dark chocolate available for mom at any time? The one where houses come on the market rarely and never last long? That one. Call it Mayberry, or Stepford, or whatever you wish, but call it a nice place to live.

We headed to the open houses and Tom happened to see a family we had met a few times standing in their front yard. Chat. Chat. Chat. Tick tock. Tick tock. Tick tock. No amount of bitchy body language on my part was going to get him to quit chatting.

Before we (HE) knew it, the open houses were no longer open, and the houses were gone. Poof! Not that they actually disappeared, but my chance of having a ready made latte-sipping, power walking, carpool-less, bunco playing existence was up in smoke.

Not only did we never get a house in that neighborhood, we saw the chat-worthy couple exactly ONE more time in our lives.

I truly love my neighborhood and my neighbors, but sometimes I still pine for the amenities of the one that got away.

I'm different than Tom. I have zero qualms about saying a quick, "It's great to see you! Catch you later," when I'm trying to get somewhere. Part of this ability to disconnect quickly comes from NOT BEING CLUELESS, and another part from just being a mom.

I mean, what mom hasn't been chatting with a sister or friend on the phone and yelled into the receiver, "Uh-Oh! Gotta Go!" Click. Perhaps someone fell off of a chair. Could have been a massive booger or poop incident. Who knows? No explanation needed. Maybe there will be a call back to let the friend know all is well, but that is certainly not necessary or expected.

And hasty exits from public places? Are my thing. I can't be the only mom who has had to shove kids in a car the second the blood sugar (hers or theirs) starts plummeting. The hasty exit has saved many a play date from turning ugly. It's the lingering that leads to disaster.

I like that my husband is likable. I am glad people want to talk to him. I just wish he'd figure out when it's time to cut and run.

K? Gotta Go! Bye!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Long and the Short of It

At Which Point I Stopped Weeping

Hi Peeps!

I want to let you know that my 3-week crying jag has ended and I'm feeling much better now. As for Molly's school situation, she is rocking the new school and has not even balked about the uniform. Adorable plaid skort? Check. Khaki shorts she would not have deigned to wear previously? Check.

She even sported a plain navy polo tucked into (!) khaki shorts today and panda bear earrings. Rather than writhe on the floor complaining about this drab outfit as any self-respecting 4th grade fashionista would do, she walked downstairs and said pleasantly, "Mom, do you think I look a little bit like a zookeeper today?"

I want to thank you for your prayers and your encouragement. I felt supported by you and still do. My husband and I are still having reservations about whether we made the right choice for her, so a flip-flop might be in order. Really. We're that psycho. But you know what? I'm pretty confident none of this will kill her. That is a vast improvement from the way I felt a week ago.

And a word of advice for those unable to sleep because you are worrying about your children:

Please do not try to solve your insomnia by watching the following on TV:
Dateline's hidden camera special about teens getting in cars with drunk friends.
World's Youngest Schizophrenic
The Kids with Incurable Diseases Special
Too Fat and 15

Trust me on this. Try a glass of wine instead.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Weepy, No Sleepy

Where to begin? I could tell you my computer is dying, which it is, and that is why I haven't been blogging or reading or commenting.

But that would be only part of the truth.

You see, while I would like to write about my piece of crap computer, tell you my feet are so rough they could cut glass, or maybe just slap up a picture of how stinkin' cute my kids looked on the first day of school, that would be a cop out.

Because that's not all that's been going on.

Here's the thing. I've been crying. A lot. Ugly, snot-squirting, heaving crying. In public it's more of a "Please don't ask me how I'm doing or I'll start crying," kind of sniffle accompanied by bloodshot eyes.

I have cried at home, in front of customers, in the seltzer aisle at Giant Foods, at my kids' school open house, in the car, and today, during a all-staff meeting at work. Yep.

Lest you think someone has passed away, I need to admit I've been crying over where to send my daughter to school this year. Yes, I'm sure it seems like we solved that issue a couple of weeks ago, right? Wrong.

Is today September EIGHTH? Oh yes it is. Has school already started? Oh yes it has.

I know this sounds a bit crazy, because, well, it is. I am a 40 year old woman who has experienced traumatic life events and as far as I can tell, this should NOT count as one of them.

So why have I been thrown so off-kilter? Why can't I sleep at night? I don't know. If you were acting the way I'm acting I'd want to give you a hug then a bitch-slap across the face, "Get a hold of yourself, Woman!" I know. I know.

I think my weeping, like a lot of things in my life, is rooted in fear:

Fear of making the wrong choice.
Fear of failing as a mother.
Fear of not challenging my daughter enough.
Fear of challenging my daughter too much.
Fear of too little structure.
Fear of legalism.
Fear of not having the faith to send my daughter to a Christian school.
Fear of not having the faith to send my daughter to a public school.
Fear of my daughter joining an oral sex ring in middle school because her mother chose public school.
Fear of my daughter joining an oral sex ring in middle school because her mother chose private school.
Fear that my daughter will find my blog and ask me what an oral sex ring is.
Fear of MY not belonging in either school community.
Fear of being a crazy flip-flopping mother who moves her kids around every year, or perhaps every day.
Fear of doing lasting damage.

Do you get the picture?

Mental health has always been my strong suit. I am practical. I am great in a crisis. I am steady.

So now picture me, snuffling in the bathroom, summoning the courage to tell my daughter I've changed my mind yet again and she's going back to public school this very morning when a little hand knocks at the door. There she is, in her stinkin' cute prepped-out uniform ready to go to private school, lunch bag in hand. What could I do? I put on my sunglasses, snapped some pics, and took her to school.

I think the root issue here is responsibility.

Throughout my temporary (I hope!) insanity, my deepest despair, and my deepest cry has been, "This is just too much for me!"

The responsibility of being a mother just seems like too, too much sometimes.

As a Christian, I am supposed to realize I am not in control. When I "get" this, I am free. But I so seldom get it. And lately I've been too tired and too weepy to even believe it.

I have so much that I want. I want a husband who will make the decision, so I don't feel like it's all on my head-- but only if it's a decision I agree with. I want a mom who will hold me close and tell me I'm doing a good job. I want a God to whisper in my ear that what is too much for me is not too much for Him.

Is this too much to ask?

And a good night's sleep, too.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Rock Me Like A Hurricane

Not sure about that title, because I think it's "Rock You Like a Hurricane," and for all I know it could be something totally different, like "Sock it to the Weather vane." I have zero luck with song lyrics, having always thought "Love in an Elevator" was "Lovin' it in Latifah"-- whatever that might mean. My kids are fortunate I'll have not a clue whether lyrics are trashy or not. Have heard a tad about what "Poker Face" means, but that's fodder for yet another post...

Anyway, our beach vacation ended abruptly because of the impending hurricane. We had 3 1/2 days before we were evacuated. Thought I'd share vacation tidbits:

Found several reasons to reconsider an end of August beach rental. While hurricane season is one, the grunge factor of a beach house that's been rented all summer long weighed in as well. Not that there's anything wrong with flicking crusty boogs off of the pillows, and wondering what had happened on and under and around the covers all summer long... but it gave me the heebie jeebies-- big time.

Got a great picture of the kids frolicking directly on the bare mattress of a rental bed. Nice. Haven't seen any signs of lice or bedbugs yet. It took me about 3.25 days to get desensitized to the ick factor and just start enjoying, at which time a knock at the door informed us to start packing and hit the road.

I realize beach vacations are not the time to diet, but it makes it hard not to think about it when one's beach clothes don't fit. I dug up my "Mother's Journal" in which I was trying to journal once a year(!) about my kids, hoping I'd catch up while on vacation. First bummer: the most recent entry was 2006. Second bummer: I found a chart inside that showed the last time I was at my current weight, I was 19 weeks pregnant. Yay! Pass the mojitos and chips.

I have some cute beach pics of the kids to share but they'll have to wait until the camera battery charges. At around 10 pm (hour 6 of our drive home) the kids started making crazy home movies in the back seat. This was preferable to the fighting of the first 2 hours, so I let them drain the battery.

In all, the trip was excellent, albeit much too short. Beautiful weather (not a cloud in the sky!), great friends, late night card games, and plentiful hush puppies made for a terrific time.

Each trip must have a catch-phrase or defining image, and I'll leave you with ours, which surprisingly, is NOT Hurricane Earl related.

During a rousing game of Apples to Apples, in which Molly got both the words "smudge" and "hairy," she started parading around the house singing, "My smudge is hairy, my smudge is hairy!" No clue what that means, but it was hi-larious and rather catchy. Seriously. By the next day, we were all singing it.

Maybe it was time to come home.