The sandbox, and an affordable DIY sandbox cover

The one element of the swing set that hasn’t been complete since I posted about it was the sandbox. I know that there are a lot of strong feelings among parents about sand boxes and even sand at playgrounds. Lots of people seem to feel that they’re dirty and full of bacteria since they can easily become litter boxes for neighborhood cats, and some parents just don’t want the sand coming into their houses in every shoe and fold of clothing day after day (the struggle is real). I can understand both of those arguments, but for me the tradeoffs are worth it because our kids love sand play so much. I want to make our backyard a place where they have lots of options for entertaining themselves, and giving them a great sandbox as an option was important to me. Some good friends of ours in New York have a wonderful sandbox that was SUCH a hit with all of the kids, so that was my vision.

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Our friends’ sandbox in New York, and my reason for wanting a great one

When we chose our swing set plans, I chose it in large part for the size of the fort deck, which also turns out to be the size of the sandbox below. We went with 6’x6′ because I wanted to make sure that all three kids had plenty of space to play. Once my dad completed construction I figured that we could get sand in there within a couple of days, the easy part, right? We ordered a pallet full of “play sand” in bags from Home Depot, only to find a California 65 warning label that informed us that the sand contained known cancer-causing chemicals that were proven to cause organ damage. Naturally we were alarmed. As it turns out, silica (which is in all sand, more or less) is dangerous when inhaled, so the safety of play sand has a lot to do with the particle size. We talked to a number of people we trusted and decided to return the bagged sand to Home Depot (they were very gracious about picking it up and even refunded our delivery fee) and instead have washed sand delivered by a local landscaping company. Who knows, it could be exactly the same stuff, but psychologically it felt better. We also figured that if sand is dangerous, it’s the same stuff we played in as kids, so how awful could this really be?

We had one cubic yard delivered, dumped into our driveway, and borrowed a neighbor’s garden cart to transport it to the back. A cubic yard of sand is a lot of sand, y’all.

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Jonah was a big helper. He was totally into helping me shovel the sand into the cart and then into the sandbox.

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To try to avoid the neighborhood litter box problem I made a cover for it. I found a number of places that sell custom sandbox covers, but they cost roughly $80 and I just wasn’t willing to spend that on it. Instead, I bought a roll of affordable shade fabric that came with a lacing needle and cord, two six-foot pieces of PVC with end caps, and put it together in an evening after the kids went to bed. It cost around $30 total and it works great. Even better, I ended up using the same material to provide a barrier between the dirt and the sand (so that the kids wouldn’t mix the two if they dig all the way down). That saved me from having to buy a huge roll of landscaping material when I only needed six feet.

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Sewing two ends of the shade fabric onto the PVC was easy, and the needle and cord that it came with was perfect.

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The cover lays across the sandbox nicely, with the PVC weighing it down on two ends. It’s lightweight enough that it’s easy to roll up when the kids want to play, and it’s breathable, which means rain will go through rather than pooling on top and causing a mess when we want to remove it, and the sand can dry out beneath as needed. I’m really happy with the way it turned out, and especially the price.

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The kids are loving it and have spent a lot of time in it over the past two days, and we look forward to sharing it with friends.

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The long-awaited swing set!

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We have been talking to the kids about the possibility of a treehouse / fort / swing set for what feels like forever. Before we ever found a house, Papa Doc had promised Jonah that he would build him a treehouse in our future yard. Of course we didn’t know whether or not we’d end up with a yard that had a suitable tree for an actual tree house (we didn’t) but Kristin and I always had a good-sized yard for play on our wish list, so I was sure we’d have room for something fun. I’ve been dreaming about having a space for outdoor living for ages, so I’ve been pretty motivated to make it special. (Gardening is another thing altogether;  we’ve pretty much ignored the actual plants so far, but one of these days we’ll learn how to take that on too). My dad built us an incredible play house on stilts when my sister and I were kids, so I knew what he was capable of.

I probably looked at hundreds of different treehouse kits online, trying to figure out which features I wanted ours to have, how large it should be, how sturdy one brand was compared to another. It was honestly really tough to tell one from the next with only photos and a few specs listed. A friend of mine from work had purchased one that he was happy with and recommended a blog post with a feature and buying guide. While I’m sure they aren’t the ultimate authority on swing sets, it was actually really helpful to consider their advice. I knew that I wanted swings, a slide, a large deck or fort (not just enough room to get on a slide, but plenty of room to hang out and play), and preferably a rope ladder or climbing wall, it narrowed my search. It didn’t take me long to figure out that if we wanted something high-quality it was going to cost close to $2000 (and you can easily spend far more than that if you get carried away). We don’t have that kind of a budget since we have three kids in full-time preschool, so we needed an alternative.

Fortunately, we happened to drop by a friend’s house on a neighborhood walk one weekend and the kids ran into the backyard when we stopped in the driveway to chat with the dad. When we went back there to retrieve them we saw their swing set, and it was great! I asked about it and found out that they’d purchased the plans and the hardware, bought the wood separately (from a provided lumber list) and DIY’d it. They even had their plans around the house so they offered to share them with us. After giving it some thought, I decided that I wanted to go with a slightly different version of the same set (the Trailblazer) because it had a 6’x6′ deck and all of the other features I was looking for. I ran the idea past my dad (who would be doing all of the work, so he had to be on board). He gave it a thumbs-up, so we went for it.

I didn’t have much of a sense of how long this would take; I’d read that even the kits can take roughly 20-25 hours for two adults to assemble. My dad brought over sawhorses, a table saw, a drill (although he ended up borrowing an impact driver from a friend, and said it made a huge difference), and probably a few other tools I’m forgetting, and set up shop in our garage. He had a trailer full of lumber delivered by a handyman friend who he trusted to pick out good wood (we used pressure treated pine), and went to work last week Tuesday.

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I’m not at all surprised by his handiness, but I’m honestly amazed by how quickly he put this together given all of the other estimates I’d read for a variety of sets. It took him less than a week of some partial and some full days, he estimates around 20 hours or so. On the first day, he asked me if Jonah might like to help him for a bit (he’d been talking about helping Papa Doc on this project for a long time) so I went to pick him up from preschool an hour early. He immediately ran down to the basement to get his toolbox.

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My dad let him ratchet in a bolt or two, but he lost interest pretty quickly and decided to just watch. The next day, when the kids came home from school the platform was up. Every day they’d run back there first thing to see what new progress had been made, and immediately climb on whatever was there. I should mention that it was probably key to progress that he worked on it almost exclusively while they were away at school. The interference and insistence on toddlers “helping” would have slowed things considerably.

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The swing beam and swings went up next, which was very exciting, along with the tarp for the roof. The angle on the a-frame for the swing beam is really wide, which bothers my dad a little bit visually, but it makes it ridiculously sturdy. Had he cut the beams shorter they could have sat at a narrower angle, but honestly I love how sturdy it is. You can set a glass of wine on the cross beam while the kids are swinging and it doesn’t even wobble (yes, I’ve tested this). My dad pointed out that this thing is WAY overbuilt. Literally anyone could climb all over this thing and it wouldn’t move.

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Next came the slide, which wasn’t included with the hardware kit so we were able to choose it. I wanted one with a weight limit that could handle adults as well because I wanted it to be good and sturdy, and we found this one at our local Home Depot. You need a 10′ slide for a 5′ platform, and fortunately it fit in my parents’ Four Runner. My dad showed up with the slide on a weekend morning, so all of the kids were there to watch him install it.

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I have to say that it does get really hot in the sun, so we may be hosing it down a bit this summer. Fortunately we have a shady yard and the set is almost entirely in the shade for most of the day.

The last item on the list was the cargo net, and that went in yesterday (not quite a week from when he started). When the kids came home from school they all fought to climb on it first.

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Oh, and there’s also a hammock! You can see it behind the fort in the photo above. That was only a partial impulse buy at Target this past weekend. We’d talked about trying to attach a hammock to the set somehow but hadn’t quite figured it out. I looked at kid-sized hammocks on Etsy but they were surprisingly pricey for a tiny hammock, but then I happened upon these $19 nylon hammocks in the seasonal section and grabbed one, figuring we’d see if we could make it work. My dad put a hook into one of the posts and attached the other end to the fence and that was it (along with a couple of carabiners and some cute yellow chain for length). It just happened to be the perfect distance from the fence.

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The kids are so in love with all of this. Every morning when they wake up they ask go outside before anything else, and at the end of the evening it’s tough to pull them away to get them into bed.

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On this week leading up to Father’s Day I couldn’t be more thankful for my dad, our loving, handy Papa Doc who put so much sweat and love into making the yard special for the kids. The final step is to get sand into the sandbox under the fort. It’s arriving on Friday; thirty six 50-pound bags to be exact. I still have some grass to dig out, and we considered making it twice as deep, but once we realized how much sand we would need I decided to leave it as-is and see if it suffices.

Here’s how the total budget shook out:

  • Plans and hardware (including swings, cargo net, and tarp): $399
  • Lumber: $280 (which is WAY cheaper than the plans estimate, but maybe that’s a Michigan thing?)
  • Slide: $189
  • Sandbox sand (1 cubic yard): $75 including delivery
  • Labor: FREE (thanks, Papa!)
  • Total cost: $943

It really ended up being SO much less expensive than a comparable kit might have been.

Also this past weekend I put up string lights on the patio, running from the garage to the apple tree and back, and I love the way it makes the whole patio feel: festive, like we’re setting up for a party (except that I’m an introvert so I sat out there by myself till 11:00 the other night and loved it). And we have fireflies! I’ve been dying to see if we would get them. We sat out there with Vivienne when she wouldn’t go to sleep a few nights ago and spotted them with her.

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A week or so ago I heard the poem The Gate by Marie Howe, and the last five lines have really stayed with me.

This is what you have been waiting for, he used to say to me.
And I’d say, What?
And he’d say, This—holding up my cheese and mustard sandwich.
And I’d say, What?
And he’d say, This, sort of looking around.

I have a lot of “This” moments lately, and the majority of them seem to be happening outdoors.

We eventually put sand in the sandbox, and that post is here.

Things I’m not taking for granted this Mother’s Day

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As soon as I opened my eyes this morning, Jonah leaned over and said, “Happy Mother’s Day,” and gave me a hug. It was so unexpected and wonderful because no one reminded him to say it. He was the first one up and was just waiting for me to wake up. So often lately he’ll pause whatever he’s doing and say, “Mama D,” and when I look at him he’ll hold up the ASL sign for “I love you,” before going back to whatever he was up to.

I’ve spent a lot of time lately thinking about things that I don’t want to take for granted. The sentiment feels slightly different (to me) than saying “things that I’m grateful for,” because more than just blessings, these are things that could easily be overlooked. Jonah is such a noticer; we often marvel at his ability to overlook no detail, to forget virtually nothing. His appreciation of beauty is finely tuned. And watching him notice has made me long for those childlike senses that haven’t yet learned to tune so much out. 

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We spent the entire day at home today (well, Kristin ran to the hardware store to pick up our mower this morning, and then went to get hamburger buns, but the rest of us never left). We’d wanted to go for a family bike ride but our bikes are in the shop for a tune up and weren’t ready in time. We talked about going someplace to do something fun, but after spending the morning in the backyard, the kids had absolutely no interest in leaving. We spent the whole day in the yard and it was perfect. So in honor of Mother’s Day, a brief list of things that I’m not taking for granted today:

Having a house and yard that the kids love so much that they don’t want to go anywhere else. Where Jonah often says, out of the blue, “I love this place. Let’s live in this house for 120 years.”

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Having the perfect apple tree that shades the patio enough that we can spend the entire day out there without worrying about getting too much sun.

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Our kids being young enough in this stage of our lives that they are enrolled in zero clubs/sports/extra curricular activities (and don’t miss them at all) so that we are able to wake up every weekend and have an entirely blank canvas open to our design. We don’t yet need to divide and conquer events and practices, we can spend every moment as a family, and can start the weekend by asking the kids, “what should we do today?”

Being able to sit on the patio and flip through a magazine today, and looking over at this view (I put down the magazine and took the picture and then went back to the magazine without ever leaving my chair) knowing that this life is everything I’ve ever wanted.

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Having a partner who is an amazing mother, who keeps everything together when work takes me away from home, who is willing to do the hard work of trying to be the best parents we can be, who remembers to say “thank you” all the time, who makes up songs and dances better than I ever could, who has the patience of a saint when Vivienne wants to sing and chatter on for 30 minutes past bedtime and Kristin is captive in her bed, and who has Jonah convinced that she truly loves to sit down and play legos with him and appreciates being asked to wipe his bottom, “because you love to help me.”

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Having parents who showed me what it looks like to work hard, take care of a family and household, and do what needs to be done without complaint, but also the importance of joy and family time above a spotless home. Having my parents alive and well and nearby, not only willing but enthusiastic about helping us to make our house a home. They get back to town in a couple of days and we can’t wait to spend time in the yard with them, making it even better. More than that though, I can’t wait to be able to include them in our lives in an everyday, no-big-deal sort of way (but without taking it for granted).

Never having spent a Mother’s Day longing or grieving. I just realized today that we didn’t start trying to get pregnant until late May or early June of 2011, so although our journey to start a family felt long and challenging and included many months of disappointment (10, to be exact), by the next Mother’s Day I was pregnant and we celebrated with brunch and a trip to the baby store to wander through all of the gear that we’d eventually need.

I know that this day is a sad one for so many, either because they’ve lost their own mother, have a challenging relationship with their mother, have lost a child or a pregnancy, desperately want a child but have been unable to have one, have a challenging relationship with their child, or in so many other ways have complicated feelings about motherhood.

I do not take our life for granted for a second. So many people and steps and opportunities made our family possible, from our donor, to employers who gave us the time and space to drive to Connecticut for multiple medical appointments each month, to good health insurance that made those dozens and dozens of visits and procedures possible without us going bankrupt, to our amazing doctors and nurses, to my family who hoped and prayed with us for our dreams to come true (even buying a baby cradle before I was pregnant, because, my dad said, “to become, act as if”) and who showed up to help when those dreamed-of babies arrived, to the midwives who helped bring our babies into the world, and to every member of our “village” both here and in New York who have helped us make it to where we are today. Without an incredible amount of privilege combined with random luck, these three wonderful people wouldn’t be ours. I’m so very glad that we are theirs.

Happy Mother’s Day.

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A patio furniture makeover (or “why buy it when you could spend three weeks ruining your garage floor”)

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When it comes to home projects I wouldn’t say that I’m especially handy. When the people on home shows are searching for a fixer that they can “put their stamp on” I’m genuinely perplexed. Sure, I have a small and modestly equipped toolbox and a cordless drill, and according to Jonah that makes me a construction worker, but I cannot imagine why anyone would want to spend every weekend engaged in manual labor if they didn’t have to.

Now that I’m a homeowner, however, I’m beginning to see the appeal of learning how to care for and maybe even improve our space a little bit. And if I can do it myself while saving some money, that’s even better, right?

We were fortunate to get a number of money-saving hand-me-downs from my parents when we moved into the house, and one of those was a patio set that my parents have had since I was around Jonah’s age. I have lots of memories of it in the backyard where I grew up, and I love that it has so much history. It’s a nice sturdy wrought iron set, but two of the chairs were broken, and the whole set had some rust and a lot of wear.

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When my parents gave it to us, my dad suggested that we could paint it if we wanted to, and both K and I thought that sounded like a fun way to brighten up the backyard. I’ve never spray painted anything in my life, so I had few appropriate expectations going into this project. I did a little bit of Pinterest exploration to gather tips, chose a color that we were excited about (Rustoleum Lagoon), and went shopping for supplies.

I was thinking of painting it on the patio, and I’m so glad that I called my dad beforehand to say, “How on earth do I do this? Isn’t it all going to end up covered in leaves and flower petals?” He told me that the garage was a far better choice (no kidding) so I spread out a number of plastic tarps across the center of the garage, moved the furniture inside, and got to work. After washing it and letting it dry, I started with a coat of Rusty Metal Primer, which turned it all a solid rust color.

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This phase of the project gave me a pretty solid understanding of how unpleasant this whole experience was going to be. I learned a number of valuable lessons, which I will now pass along to you, dear reader.

  1. Have appropriate protective clothing, gloves, and footwear. I failed to buy/have appropriate painting clothes (I tossed a lot of old stuff in the move) so I started in an old t-shirt and leggings, with plastic grocery bags tied over my shoes. It didn’t take long to realize that when you step in paint on a thin plastic tarp while wearing grocery bags as shoes, your feet will stick to the tarp and tear it to shreds. Also, if you have a lot of exposed skin, you’ll end up scrubbing paint off of your face, arms, and ankles with industrial hand cleaner like I did. It was only after the first day that it occurred to me that I should probably also have a mask on, since the fumes are absolutely awful, and that eye protection wasn’t a bad idea. Those also prevented a lot of the face paint issues.
  2. Buy way more paint than you think you’ll need. The first challenge was that no one seemed to carry the color that we wanted in gloss, which is what we were interested in. We initially bought the six cans that our local Walmart had in stock, thinking that surely it would be sufficient (which is so completely laughable at this point, since this project required so much paint), and ultimately ended up also buying the last four on Amazon as well as an additional four at a Walmart two hours away. I also used a clear gloss coat because the paint guy recommended it and…I mean, it can’t hurt, right? I had no idea what I was doing, but I can tell you first-hand that running out of paint when you’re all suited up and just want to finish this beast is not a lot of fun.
  3. Tarp everything. I’m so glad that we didn’t do this on the patio because our house would probably be teal right now. While I put tarps down on a pretty wide area, a huge portion of the garage floor (a perimeter of at least a couple of feet on all sides) is teal now, as is a portion of our driveway, the threshold of the door to the mudroom, and a plastic car of Jonah’s is covered in a fine layer of rusty metal primer. I had no idea how far spray paint spray would fly, and I’m sure that being outdoors only exacerbated the problem. Fortunately K has been very understanding about this.
  4. Budget lots of time. I waffled about including this one, because if you’re a skilled spray painter and you’re highly efficient, you can probably do this far more quickly than I did. Here’s the thing though: spray paint is weird. You either have to finish the job within an hour (or so) or you have to wait something like 48 hours to put on your next coat. Because we kept running out of paint I wasn’t able to finish very much of it in one block of time, so I’d get a layer on and then know that I had to wait at least two days before I could come back to it. The whole thing took me two or three weeks of very spread out painting sessions.

When I was in New York, a friend asked me what project I was working on that I was really excited about. I asked her if it was possible to be excited about a project but also hate everything about the process. After finishing the table and knowing that I had four chairs ahead of me, I declared that we should have just bought new, colorful patio furniture. I’m not sure that we saved all that much money ($60 in welding to repair the broken chairs, roughly 25-30 cans of paint, plastic tarps, rubber gloves, disposable masks, safety goggles), and the process wasn’t the slightest bit enjoyable, but I do really like the end result. It makes the patio a lot more fun, and the kids seem to love it. They wanted to eat dinner at the table the first night that it was back out on the patio (even though it was something like 55 degrees out).

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While the furniture was in progress in the garage, they would come home from school and tell me how pretty the chairs looked, which was surprisingly gratifying.

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I’ve been looking forward to making our yard more playful, and I feel like this is a big step in that direction. My parents return from Charleston in a week’s time and the next big project on the agenda is a swing set (despite Jonah’s faith in my construction worker abilities, that’s way out of my league – we need to call in Papa Doc for that one). I’ve been debating between a kit and a total DIY approach and you would think that this experience would have made that choice clear, but since I expect a swing set to be a ton of work no matter how we slice it I’m still undecided. More to come on that one when it happens.

Mama K’s sneaky Mother’s Day surprise project

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I just got back from another work trip to NYC this afternoon. Since it was the second trip, we all went into it with a tad more confidence that we could get through it, but that didn’t make leaving easy. I was eager to get back to my family, and I knew coming home that today was going to be a little bit hectic because I’d be taking Jonah to a bouncy-house birthday party almost as soon as we left the airport. He fell asleep in the car on the way to pick me up, and I let him stay there and sleep while I ran into the house to quickly put on a clean shirt and throw my hair into a ponytail. At some point I stepped towards the great room and Kristin told me that I wasn’t allowed to go near the backyard because there was a surprise, but Jonah wanted to show me.

I took him to the birthday party and when we got back I mentioned that there was some sort of surprise. He remembered, and took me to the windows to show me two pretty blue planters (a hand-me-down we’d claimed from my parents old house when they sold it) full of flowers. Kristin knows how excited I’ve been to get our backyard and patio ready for a season of outdoor living, one of the most significant reasons that we moved back to Michigan in the first place, so she took it upon herself to do a planting project with the kids this morning as an early Mother’s Day gift for me. I got teary when she told me that they all participated and that she even made sure to take photos of the process because she knew how meaningful that would be for me. She was right. There’s nothing better.

I can’t narrate this project for you because I wasn’t here, but I’ll let the photos do the talking.

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See that table? It’s going to get its own post sometime soon. It’s my contribution to the patio-beautification effort and while I’m hating nearly every second of the actual process, I’m hopeful about the results. More to come when I finally finish.

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Naturally there were construction vehicles involved in the transferring of soil.

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There aren’t as many photos of Jude because, as K tells it, this project went the way most projects go: everyone started strong, and Vivienne was by far the most dedicated (although I feel like the photos show a pretty strong effort from Jonah as well). Jude was on his scooter for much of the planting, it seems.

Kristin even told me that now she feels energized to do lots more of this and really dig into gardening (see what I did there?). I hated yard work as a kid but I too have been feeling somewhat inspired and interested in figuring out what’s out in our yard and trying to make it beautiful. We’re total amateurs and right now the garden portion of the yard is about 80% weeds (we think – we honestly have no idea) but this Mother’s Day project is so inspiring and full of love, I can’t wait to do more with the kids. K knows me so well, and the photos put the love right over the top.

Living in the great room

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A few evenings ago, when I was driving home and saw five or six deer cross the road and turn down our street, I went inside and quickly scooped up the kids to show them the spectacle. Two of them were still standing in the neighbor’s driveway and the others were further back behind the house. I love the deer in Kalamazoo, maybe just because it’s something I never saw in New York and I see them all the time here. While we were standing out in the street we noticed some family friends who live a few houses down standing in their driveway also watching. We chatted briefly and she told us that on Sundays when their daughter and her family come over for dinner they often talk about stopping by to say hello, but it always looks as if no one is home. That’s partly because I never turn the porch light on. (Is that unneighborly? I have no idea, it just seems like a waste of energy if we aren’t expecting anyone, but maybe I’m totally unaccustomed to neighborhood customs). But it’s also partly because we kind of live in the back of the house.

When we bought this house we were especially impressed by the way the great room extended the kitchen and added a whole new living space to what would otherwise be a pretty small 1950s ranch. The couple we bought it from added that room almost as soon as they bought it, a big 14 x 24 room that connects to the kitchen, with six skylights, six windows looking out into the backyard, and sliding glass doors on two sides. What’s interesting is that when we first set foot in the house, I actually thought that the great room felt much smaller than I’d expected it to feel, given the photos we’d seen and the dimensions. I now think that was because of the colors and the odd furniture placement.

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We hated the floors, and the salmon pink was not our style, but we knew that this room really made the house. Everyone who comes in, starting with all of the folks who did work before we moved in, comments on how unexpected it is (the front elevation is nothing to write home about) and how it’s by far the best room in the house. We were so excited to put wood floors in here and to paint and decorate it the way we wanted it. It feels huge now, and in the evenings we’re pretty much always here and/or in the kitchen, so the house always looks dark from the street.

We went a couple of months without a sofa in here because we ordered something from a custom shop (Joybird, which we’ve been really happy with). We love it now that it’s here and the room feels so much more complete. The kids love it too, clearly; we do a lot of reading here.

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Originally I really wanted a sectional because I wanted to be able to spread out, but after way too much deliberation we decided that it might not fit the room properly and wouldn’t give us any flexibility to rearrange. We ultimately went with a sofa and ottoman, and I’m really glad that we did.

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Before we moved in, Kristin couldn’t stand that green countertop / bar that extends out from the kitchen. It matches the one under the far bank of cabinets that you can see in the photo above. Both were added during the addition (the rest of the countertops in the kitchen are cream colored). She was dying to rip out all of the countertops and replace them so that they matched, but that wasn’t in the budget. Once we got this room painted and put together my mom pointed out that with all of the blues and greens, the green counter isn’t quite as ugly as it once seemed. It sort of blends in, which is a happy accident.

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The teak furniture came from my parents’ house (we love having a space big enough to leave the leaf in all the time), the rug came from West Elm, and the bar stools came from Wayfair (we love that they’re wipeable, because kids).

We cannot wait for summer when we know that we’ll be doing a lot of indoor/outdoor living from this room. We have some inherited patio furniture that needs welding and probably a coat of paint (my parents had it as far back as I can remember), and we have a swing set promise to fulfill. Until it’s warm enough for all of that we’ll just enjoy the days growing a tiny bit longer each evening, and the way this room brings the winter sunlight indoors.

Vivienne’s Room in Pictures

I’ve had high hopes of taking and sharing a whole lot more “after” photos of the house, but every time I set out to do it (in a photos-of-the-room sort of way, not photos of kids who happen to be in a room) I realize that something still feels incomplete and decide that I ought to wait. But you know what? We will always be making changes and there will always be time for more pictures, so I’m just going to start sharing rooms as they are even if they could be improved upon.

We really didn’t buy much of anything for Vivi’s room with the exception of paint, bedding, and art. We inherited a bed from the previous owners and decided that we would paint the headboard to make it more fun (which was a nice early project when we weren’t doing much work on the house ourselves – it felt like we were actually making something beautiful with our own hands). Her dresser went with Jonah’s crib (which has since been given to a Syrian refugee family in town). Someday I’m sure we’ll have fun picking out furniture for a new version of her room (given her personality I suspect she’ll care about this sooner than most) but for now we’re actually really happy with it.

This was her room before we made any changes at all. It had laminate floors that didn’t match any other rooms in the house (they were using it as an office) and sort of a moss-green wall color (which honestly wasn’t objectionable, but in such a small room we wanted to go a bit lighter).

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And here’s where we ended up:

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The pictures on her walls are Elly MacKay, whose work is lovely on the surface but even more interesting when you read about it. She basically creates scenes out of layers of paper in a tiny theatre and photographs them.

Her walls are Benjamin Moore Peach Cooler, and we put the same carpeting in all of the bedrooms, so that wasn’t chosen specifically for her. Her quilt is from Land of Nod, and I love it. And we painted her headboard (which was wood before with some dark green accents…I can’t find the before picture right now) Benjamin Moore Pinot Grigio Grape.

The baby cradle at the end of her bed was a gift from my parents before I was even pregnant with Jonah. We’d been struggling to get pregnant and my dad bought it from this wonderful antique store that had a sad ending here in Kzoo. Despite there being no baby yet, he declared “to become, act as if” and that was that; we had a cradle well before we had a baby. Ultimately Jonah never spent a night in it since we ended up co-sleeping, but it’s become a wonderful place for dolls.

I feel like her room could use a few more personal touches, but we’re pleased with how it’s come together so far.

Home Sweet Home

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We are finally, after so much waiting and hoping that it would all feel worth it, living in our new home. We moved in a week ago Monday, one day before America made one of the worst decisions in recent history and we were suffocated by rage and despair as we watched the election returns in our very own living room. It’s been a pretty heavy time for Kristin and I even though we’re so happy to be in this home, so we’ve been juggling a complicated bunch of incongruent emotions.

Surprisingly, I was actually feeling sort of anxious and sad as we prepared to leave my parents’ house. It had been SO hard moving in with them and trying to figure out how we all fit in that space, but by the end I was actually pretty content. I’d loved having my mom around to do crafts with me, the kids were happy in the space, I loved the view of the night sky from their yard and the view of downtown Kalamazoo from their balcony. My mom even said that she was going to miss us, which was a lovely surprise. The kids loved having Gigi and Papa Doc right there, and I knew that they would miss them each morning. Something about leaving felt like the end of an era that may have been somewhat unwelcome at the start, but which was an important and meaningful part of our journey back home.

Part of my fear had to do with the new sleeping arrangements. For a year now, Jonah has slept with me, or I’ve slept with him I suppose. I can’t even explain how that began exactly, because he’d been sleeping independently before that. Regardless of how we got there, that’s where things were, and Kristin was sleeping with the twins. We’d been preparing Jonah for a major change once we moved into the house, but we weren’t at all sure that it would go well. He knew that he and Jude would share a room and that Vivi would have her own room. The first night it was a challenge, but surprisingly it wasn’t a total horror show. Now that we’re a week and a half into the transition I’m pleased to say that things feel fairly good. Jude has actually struggled the most, and as of last night he’s sleeping in Vivi’s bed with her instead of in his own bed in Jonah’s room. That seems to calm him a bit more, and results in more sleep for all of us. Jonah and Vivi have been champs with the whole thing, and I couldn’t be more proud of them.

The kids really love our house – they especially love the basement because it’s 100% their space, as evidenced by the fact that it looks like this most of the time.

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I’m actually surprised by how quickly we’ve all begun to feel at home here. It really feels like our home; there’s been virtually no period of getting used to the space (well, I suppose you could say that we had roughly three and a half months of getting used to it, but it’s all a matter of perspective). That said, it does feel like we may be unpacking boxes for the next thousand years or so. Kristin keeps reminding me that it’s only been a week and a half, and that we haven’t even had a true weekend yet because we spent last weekend on the east side of the state for K’s parents’ 40th anniversary. Sometimes though, it feels like I can spend a couple of hours sorting through crap and feel as if I’ve made no rewarding progress whatsoever. There was something lovely about having access to so little of our junk for three months. Now that we have it all back, we kind of wish it were gone again (see basement photo above).

Very little in the house is “after photo ready” so to speak, but my desire to post some photos is keeping me from giving up on the unpacking. So I don’t have a whole lot to show you right now. The half bath, however, is pretty much done and we’re really pleased with it. If you remember, it looked like this when we started:

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My dad pulled out the sink and toilet and replaced the hardware, we had new mosaic tile put down, I painted the walls with paint that we’d originally selected for the kitchen but never used, I painted the oak mirror with a white enamel, and we chose not to put the medicine cabinet back up. We chose new sconces and my dad put them up, and he put the toilet and sink back in for us. We took down the blinds and I applied a privacy film to the glass so that we could still have some natural light from the great room while providing a bit more privacy. Eventually we’d like to hang some sort of art in here, but for now there’s nothing on the walls. It’s so much more us and such a pleasant surprise project that we hadn’t intended on tackling.

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We didn’t paint the trim or the ceiling, so those are still cream, but that can wait. The bulbs in the sconces are a bit much (LEDs are no joke), so we may need to downgrade the wattage a bit so that no one is blinded when they flip on the lights. We’re so thankful for my dad’s handywork, in fact he’s put in a crazy number of hours here since we moved in. I know that we can’t call him every time we need something done, however, so I’ve been trying to follow along and learn.

We had a couple of good friends over last Friday night, which was sorely needed companionship at the end of a rough week, but also an important milestone in our journey. We have a space where we can host now! And our kitchen and great room feel so well suited to it. I’m hoping to become much better at hosting friends than I’ve ever been before. I look forward to taking more photos as things get unpacked and every corner isn’t full of boxes and paper and chaos, so I promise to do that. For now here’s a photo of the great room sans furniture, but with our lovely new floor finally complete.

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Flooring – Nearly There

Things are getting very close, and I’m more than ready for the construction zone to transform back into a home. The carpet went in yesterday and the wood floors are finished in both the living room and kitchen. The great room floor is in progress and we hope that it will wrap up by the middle of next week.

We planned to move in most of our stuff from the garage (where it’s all been living since early August) into the house this weekend even though things are still under construction. That’s proving to be more challenging than we’d anticipated, however, because the two rooms that would be most convenient to house boxes while we sort through them are essentially off-limits due to tools and what not being strewn about. I was also surprised to find myself feeling completely overwhelmed by having all of our stuff back. Despite the challenges of living out of suitcases in someone else’s home for three months, there was something freeing about having so little stuff to worry about. Suddenly we’re opening boxes and trying to decide where to put things and it all just feels like way too much. I’m terrified of throwing things together in a haphazard way and never achieving a higher level of organization than we were capable of in a two bedroom apartment. I’m trying to just breathe through the anxiety and trust that it will all work out, just as it has so far.

Here are a few photos from today. Even though the kitchen floor is also finished, I didn’t take a photo because there were tools and all kinds of renovation nonsense all over every surface of the room. I love this wood flooring so much and I can’t wait to see it in the great room.

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We have the same greige(ish) carpeting in all three bedrooms, and a different style of carpet (a bit better for high traffic) in the basement, but in a very similar shade.

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I think that the cafe shutters in the boys’ room are probably coming down. We debated, but they just make it so dark and they don’t add a lot. Plus I think the beds will be too high for them to function.

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I’m really loving the color in our room, especially with the carpet. I can’t believe that I was so unsure about this one.

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I’m obsessed with the new half bath floor. Obviously this isn’t anywhere close to finished, but the floor gets me excited to complete the project.

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The basement looks so different without the pink shag (the carpet is greige, but the weird lights and pine walls give it an odd cast). Jonah was playing down here after unpacking some toys today and it made me so happy that the kids have a playroom.

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More to come when the rest is complete!

Home Projects Underway

We’re one week into the renovations and we could not be more excited about this house. I truly feel like everything is falling into place in ways I couldn’t even have imagined. Going into this I kept telling people that the house needed so much cosmetic work; that we would have to live with bad countertops and outdated bathrooms for who knows how long. But even my feelings on all of that (and some of the circumstances) have changed.

Paint is SO transformative. Once the salmon pink started disappearing it started to feel like an entirely different house. Even the main bathroom, when painted white (eliminating roughly five different wall colors in one room) looks pretty nice! The retro tile hardly bothers me anymore. I even ordered a new pink toilet seat today so that we can work with the bathroom rather than against it. The red oak flooring looks amazing (the living room is almost finished, the kitchen and great room happen next week hopefully), and the carpet goes into the bedrooms and the basement next Friday.

While he was pulling up the tile in the kitchen and great room, our flooring guy asked if we wanted him to take it up in the half bath as well, since we have a dumpster anyway. We waffled because we didn’t intend to do anything with the half bath yet, but pulling up the tile in the adjoining room led us to believe that there might have been a leak at some point and we wanted to investigate. Not only that, but we didn’t love that tile to begin with and there was a chance that there was something more interesting underneath. When my dad looked at it he told us that he could put tile down for us in a day or two, and that the tile and grout wouldn’t be terribly expensive, so we decided to ditch the old tiles. There wasn’t anything but subfloor underneath, but we did find the toilet leak (which we had repaired) and now somehow we’ve  found ourselves in a whole half-bath renovation that we had no intention of beginning.

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We decided that we wanted to go with a mosaic tile of some sort, so my dad brought these home and we chose the honeycomb on the bottom right. Initially we thought that we would just redo the floors and leave the rest until a later date, but Kristin decided that she was willing to pull down the wallpaper. My dad pulled out the toilet and pedestal sink and took down the mirror and medicine cabinet, and also got all of the wallpaper removal supplies earlier today and asked our painter how to get started taking it down. Before he could talk him through it, however, a handyman showed up and needed my dad to show him some projects around the property so he told the painter that it would have to wait until tomorrow. When my dad returned 20-30 minutes later the wallpaper was gone! The painter told him that it was our housewarming gift. We can hardly believe it. We still need to scrub the paste off of the walls, but the tough part is over.

Here’s a photo of the bathroom before everything was torn out, just for reference.

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Next week my dad is going to put up beadboard, we’ll change out the faucet and toilet seat, and put the toilet and sink back in. At some point soon Kristin or I will paint with some paint we didn’t end up using in the kitchen. We may even change out the sconces over the sink. Then today we discussed the possibility of removing the old window over the toilet. That wall used to be an exterior wall before the great room addition went on, and they left the window for some reason. I love having natural light there, but the window with the sash does make the whole project look a little bit unfinished and weird. You can see right into the bathroom from the great room, so there are cheap blinds on the window which don’t add anything at all (well, besides privacy). Today my dad suggested that we could remove the window, drywall part of the bottom, and add a transom at the top to bring in light but take the window above eye level. We love that idea so we’re going to explore it this weekend. Expect some “after” pictures in a few weeks.

On to the things that are even further along. The bedrooms look amazing with new paint. The green in the boys’ room is pretty bright (Benjamin Moore Cedar Green) but I think that it’s going to look fun and playful with their Hanna Andersson bedding. Kristin chose the blue for our bedroom (Benjamin Moore Mozart Blue) after we went back and forth for a long time. I worried that it was just too dark, but finally conceded because she’s never chosen her bedroom paint color before and I have. Honestly, I think it’s going to be beautiful. And Vivi’s room is such a pale peach (Benjamin Moore Peach Cooler) that you barely notice the color, but I think that it’s great in a tiny bedroom.

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The great room is completely transformed by paint. We went with a super popular neutral for all of our connected common spaces (Benjamin Moore Revere Pewter) and we love it. When it was recommended to us I initially worried because I’m not a big fan of greige. I prefer a true grey over a beige any day, but to my surprise it looks pretty grey in our space, and I really like it. I’m realizing now that I don’t have a good picture of it besides the wall next to the blue, so I’ll share more another time, but just know that three of the four walls in this room are grey. The big wall that separates the great room from the kitchen is a very dramatic dark blue (Benjamin Moore Hidden Sapphire) and we both love it.

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Oh, and initially we’d planned to paint the kitchen this sort of medium teal called Azure Water. I’d been unsure about it all along, even when I bought it, but Kristin felt great about it so I went with it hoping that I’d be pleasantly surprised. When we were over earlier in the week, I was talking my mom through some of the colors and she told me that she thought that, from the great room, seeing three different paint colors (grey, dark blue, and the kitchen teal) would really chop up the space in a negative way. We made a snap decision to stick with Revere Pewter in the kitchen and we’re both so glad that we did.

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Now that the salmon pink is gone, I hardly even mind the outdated, mismatched countertops. It all just looks much better. Now we may use Azure Water (since we already bought it) in the half bath above the white beadboard. I think that it will make a lot more sense in there.

And then there’s the living room. That room is also Revere Pewter, and we decided to paint the limestone fireplace (because it just didn’t have much pop) Amherst Grey from Benjamin Moore’s classics line. We really like it. I’d like to paint or change out those fireplace doors at some point, but that’s for the future.

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The floors in this room are almost finished, and we love them so much. They’re prefinished red oak in a natural/satin finish from Infinity Wood Floors.

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That used to be carpet! I love this SO MUCH MORE.

We cannot wait to move in, but to be honest I’m kind of loving the experience of watching it evolve day by day. We couldn’t be happier with our crew, and my dad has put in so many hours of free labor on top of what everyone else has done. Oh, he also took apart one of the kitchen cabinets to prepare for our dishwasher, which is crucial.

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Did I mention that they found parkay flooring under the tile in the kitchen? That led to a big debate about the elevation of rooms (they aren’t all the same) but we sorted it out. The afternoon that Brett (our flooring guy) called to ask if I could come over to the house to look at a few things, and walked me through a few oddities that I needed to make big decisions on, there was a distinct moment in which I almost started to laugh because I was sure that this was an episode of House Hunters Renovation. Don’t they all have that “uh, we didn’t expect this so now what do you want us to do?” moment? Fortunately this one didn’t cost us thousands and wasn’t too agonizing, it just slowed the work down for a bit.

We had to decide whether to pull out the parkay that the tile had been laid on top of, or just to go over it again. The matter was complicated by the fact that the toe kick in the kitchen is weirdly low, and would be even lower if we put flooring down on top. No matter what we chose there would be an elevation change from one room to another, it was just a matter of where we wanted it to be. Initially Kristin and I thought that they ought to take it all down to the subfloor, but then they did a core sample in the former eat-in-kitchen. They found old linoleum under the plywood, which my dad suspects could be asbestos based. If we pulled it out and that proved to be true we’d be in an abatement situation, which obviously no one wants. We ultimately decided to leave the floor undisturbed and just go over top again. There’s probably a good reason that they did that fifteen years ago.

The paint should wrap up on Monday and we hope that the flooring will be finished by next Friday (fingers crossed). We have our sights set on the weekend of the 29th to move in, but we’re keeping an open mind just in case things take longer than expected.

Looking for the “before” pictures? They’re here.