That time we remodeled the kitchen and dining room

Over the weekend I had a photographer over to take some pictures of Cooper – a sneak peek of which you can see here – and we got to talking about the kitchen renovation and how Joel and I ended up choosing the color palette for the entire house. That was the second time I have had that  conversation recently, and when I was looking at the blog to find the “before” pictures of the kitchen, I realized I had not ever posted true “after” pictures. The closest I ever got were these, which only show a glimpse of what the space would become.

At one time I had a sort of legit reason for delaying the “after” shots. Fireclay Tile, the place where we got our beautiful backsplash tile, had asked for pro-level shots to use on their blog. Cinematography doesn’t quite count as photography, but Joel is pretty useful with a camera, and we told Fireclay we’d do it ourselves. And then we had to wait on a bit more tile installation. And then we waffled about a couple of details. And then we waited to hang art. And then it was the holidays. And then it was really dark all the time. And then. And then. And then.

Having the photographer in the house this weekend saying such nice things about our new kitchen/dining space – and then not having any good pictures of it for her to share with a friend about to go through a similar process – was just the kick in the pants we needed. The next day we cleared the countertops and got to work. Et voila! Pictures!

We are madly, deeply in love with how it all turned out. Earlier this week Joel proclaimed that the remodel was life-changing and I mocked him, but he’s actually right. It makes a huge difference that we can all be together in the evenings, instead of being separated by the wall that used to be between the kitchen and dining room. We spend so much family time in the kitchen now, cooking, doing homework, drinking coffee, playing games. At the time we started the project it felt like too much too soon (given that I had only moved from California a few months earlier), but I wouldn’t take it back for anything.

Fireclay posted a complete set of images in their gallery this morning, but I’m just going to share a couple here for now.

Kitchen renovationThis shot was taken from the now-defunct corner where the old dining room used to meet the kitchen. Just out of frame to the left are a built-in bookshelf and a built-in window seat. I love those details, but my favorite parts of the new kitchen are all in this picture. First, the double ovens. Ohmygod. The double ovens. I don’t know how I ever lived without them. Second, the farmhouse sink. I didn’t know I could love a sink, but even the dreaded task of doing dishes in this one makes me happy. And third, the center island with bar seating. I personally don’t love sitting on a bar stool, but Joel and Claire sit there all the time while I’m cooking, which makes the task far less lonely.

Dining room remodel

This picture was taken standing just in front of the dishwasher. These pendant lights and the glass globe that hangs over the sink are both from this Etsy seller, and they definitely make the space feel more considered, more fancy. The framed art on the left is from this Etsy artist who does amazing layered papercut art using topographical maps. The one in the foreground is the San Francisco Bay and the farthest one is a Minneapolis chain of lakes, and I bought them for Joel when I first moved here. We had earmarked those spots for them all along, but I’m so pleased it worked out how we had imagined.

You’re also looking at the only wallpaper we replaced after tearing miles and miles of it down this fall. (There’s still the French nudie wallpaper in the basement.) While we hadn’t originally planned an accent wall, at some point in the remodel it just became apparent that we needed one. It only took one trip to dig through wallpaper books to find this one, and though we were nervous about how it would all come together, it was perfect.

To the very right of this second image you can also see the fun butterscotch we painted the downstairs bath and hallways throughout the house. We have one more room to get painted at the end of this week, and then we’ll be ready to show you what the rest of the now-wallpaperless house looks like! We’re quite smitten.

 

 

 

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7 terrible things I did to my stepkid recently

I’ve mentioned before that Claire is eight going on 18, as evidenced by a recent onset of emotional ups and downs and crabbiness. Lately I have found myself making her mad in the oddest ways. And while I have not done it yet, I feel I am days away from saying things like, “because I’m the mother, that’s why” or “my house, my rules.” It’s already SO MUCH attitude. I fear the next decade.

She’s gotten so touchy that I started keeping a list of all the “mean” things I do to her on a regular basis, if only to remind myself that I’m not so mean afterall.

1. Forced her to wear a clean shirt. Claire has two modes when it comes to clothing: she will either wear something for five minutes and then put it in the dirty clothes hamper (her way of not having to fold it and put it away) or she will try to wear something for days in a row. Both are annoying in their own way, but the latter has caused some trouble between us lately. As long as they’re clean, I’m pretty okay with multiple wearings of pants, but Claire will go through a rut of wearing the same two shirts all the time, and to suggest a different shirt is to suggest punching a kitten in the face judging by the looks she gives me. Even if said shirt has a stain on it, or smells like sour, sweaty kid, or has been slept in for a week. Joel has started avoiding the argument on this one, but I am steadfast, and Claire thinks she’s being sneaky when she hides dirty shirts under a cardigan or something. One of the things I learned from my own mother is that parents always know! Turns out, it’s true. I demand a clean shirt for school days, and am apparently a total jerk for it.

2. Require that she take a shower. Oh, man. Why do kids not like to be clean? Why is getting clean such a downer? I truly do not understand, but know from my parent friends that all kids go through this. Claire recently spent a day at an indoor pool and then came home with her hair hanging in strings and her skin so dry you could scratch the word “dry” right on it. Even her eyelids were dry from the chlorine. We were sitting at dinner when I suggested a shower, and it was like the whole world crashed down around her shoulders. Every suggestion of a shower these days is met with Extreme Pouting And Defiance and/or lies about the last time she showered. If you believe Claire, she always takes a shower the day before she comes to our house, without fail. And once she’s in the shower, there is the never-ending reminder to actually wash her hair, not just get the ends wet, and to use soap.

3. Made her put on lotion. Lotion is slightly less egregious than showering, but only just. No one’s skin is immune to the harsh, dry cold of the Minnesota winter, and sometimes Claire gets kind of lizardy. (After swimming that fateful day she looked like a snake about to shed its skin.) We’re not very harsh lotion police. I mean, it’s not like she needs to keep her skin looking young or anything. We just assume when it’s dry it’s itchy and that lotion would be nice. Lately whenever we suggest lotion she practically rolls her eyes and says, “I KNOW” in her most annoyed voice. To which I reply, “If you knew, you would have already done it,” which just makes her more mad. I’m sorry. Sometimes I also get to be a smartass, too.

4. Denied her a 5th donut. As it turns out, donut pans are totally worth the cabinet space they take up. Homemade baked donuts are DELICIOUS. So delicious that one time recently I came home from a barre class to find that Joel had let Claire have four of them for breakfast. It is worth noting that Joel himself had four the previous weekend and declared that he felt sick. But apparently it’s okay to eat that many if you’re eight? Joel almost allowed her to have a fifth, but I put my foot down. Because. Right? Claire went into the living room and buried her head in a couch pillow as if I had denied her Christmas. (We had a similar meltdown once at the movies when she wasn’t allowed to eat All The Sour Patch Kids AND All The Popcorn.)

5. Tried to get her to ice skate without holding my hand. We all got ice skates for Christmas, which is very exciting. I grew up roller skating, but have always wanted to be able to go outside in the winter in a cute skating outfit and skate on a pond. (Which we sort of did this weekend, and it was awesome.) Claire is a novice to both roller skating and ice skating, but she’s taken to the ice very quickly. If I even pretend to be holding on to her arm, she can skate like she’s been doing it forever. But if I even SUGGEST that she might want to try it herself, she pouts. And pouts. And asks to take a break. Or goes for one of those trainers the little kids push around the ice. The mere mention of her someday being able to skate alone ruins everything for at least 10 minutes. She refuses to even try, which is making me batty.

6. Told her that if she had room for dessert she had room for carrots. And it wasn’t even a lot of carrots. It was two baby carrots, the ones you get in nice restaurants, not the ones that are shaved down in a shredder and put in a plastic bag. She claimed to be too full after eating a kid-sized cheeseburger and only a handful of fries, thinking that I would have forgotten how I told her the carrots were non-negotiable. Mentioning the carrots again caused a full-on weepy poutfest because she “was eating the carrots and [I] got mad.” Wherein eating means holding the carrot in one hand and looking at it balefully. (We had a similar standoff after she refused to let us put roasted peppers on her plate at dinner one night, and after she mucked around and kept promising to do it herself for 20 minutes I added a few to her plate while she was in the bathroom.) My mother most assuredly used the same sort of line on me and I most assuredly got mad at her, too. Taste of my own medicine. Check.

7. Threw away a sock with a hole in it. To say Claire does not like changes in her wardrobe options is an understatement. Each season when we weed out the things that don’t fit her she will fight and fight to keep things. She will promise to only wear something as pajamas and then show up downstairs in the morning trying to wear a shirt that barely covers her navel or pants that would be perfect in a flood. So we’ve had to put our foot down about that sort of thing. Usually, when I find things with holes in them, I just throw them away and she never notices. This past week, though, Joel and I were folding laundry at the kitchen table while she sat at the kitchen island, so she was privvy to us throwing away a pair of socks, one of which had a giant hole in the toe. Not a little pinprick. Oh, no. Most certainly her entire big toe would have poked right through. The demise of those socks cause her to stomp up to her room and climb up into her bed and pout. And even after she came down she was mad at us for long uncomfortable minute while Joel tried to reason with her. Lesson: reasoning with an 8 year old is a fool’s errand, most of the time.

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REVIEW: Oodles of Birchbox!

Is it really possible that it’s January already? I’ve been working my way through FOUR Birchbox shipments – September, October, November, December – and it hardly feels like any time has passed at all! The end of last year was gone before I knew it.

As usual, the contents of all those Birchboxes is hit or miss. I’ve found a couple of products I’d buy, several things I’ll be passing along to friends, and a couple of things I wish, wish, wish I could ask to never receive again.

For a moment last week it looked like Joel was going to subscribe to the men’s box, which had me hopeful that we’d be able to do joint reviews! Alas, it was just a passing fancy for him, so for now you just get me.

Let’s start all the way back in September, shall we?

September Birchbox 2014First of all, how stinking cute is the print on that box? I swear, half the time my greatest joy of Birchbox is cutting through the shipping box to get to the adorable box within. I have a stockpile of Birchbox boxes in my bathroom cabinet just waiting for me to use them to box gifts. There are so many, I think I am officially hoarding.

In September 2014 I received:

  • Number 4 Hair Super Comb Prep & Protect. Birchbox has sent me things from No. 4 before and I have been pretty underwhelmed. This product is no exception. I replaced my normal leave-in spray (Deva Curl) with this one for about five washes, and my hair was both flat and a bit more frizzy. My hair stylist convinced me to try the No. 4 clarifying shampoo, and I hated it on the first wash! It made my hair feel like straw. If I could, I would ask Birchbox to stop sending me their things.
  • Mereadesso All-In-One Moisturizer. I tried this for a couple of days and it made me feel kind of greasy. Of course, that was in September, and now that it’s the Dry Minnesota Winter I’m using a much heavier product. Timing is everything with samples, because I passed it along to a friend long before I probably could have used it.
  • Ofra Universal Eyebrow Pencil. About a hundred years ago, my friend Kelly told me I should pay more attention to my brows and lashes to make them pop behind my glasses. Every time I put on mascara in the morning I think of Kelly. The brow thing never caught on, though. I tried this pencil once and it looked exactly like I had penciled my brows in. Ugh. I’m sure it’s an art, but not one I excel in.
  • Pixi Shea Butter Lip Balm in Ripe Raspberry. I have so many chapsticks and lip balms and stains these days, but I really like this one. The color is great, really subtle, and it feels good on. I probably wouldn’t buy it, but only because I usually impulse-buy lip products and it wouldn’t occur to me to get the same thing twice. I am for sure not one of those girls with a signature lip color!
  • RUFFIAN Nail Lacquer in RUFFIAN Naked. I used this polish once in between gel manicures, and it was a perfect nude. Thanks to Birchbox, I have about five perfect nude polishes! I get my nails done at the salon so much that I never need to buy my own polish again.

October Birchbox 2014I remember nothing almost nothing at all from October. I went to Denver for 24 hours on a business trip, but otherwise it’s all a blur. I definitely need to do a better job this year of paying attention.

In October 2014 I received:

  • Balance Me Wonder Eye Cream. I love this eye cream. It’s light and soft and makes my eyes bright. When I’ve taken a shower in the middle of the day and need to re-apply moisturizers, this is the one I reach for. What it doesn’t do that my StriVectin does is keep my eyes moisturized throughout the day, so I’ll keep using that one for daily use. I’m tempted to try the Balance Me in the summer, though, and see what happens.
  • Dr. Jart+ BB Black Label Detox. Ugh. More Dr. Jart, which I’ve never liked. This one has a slight tint that is all wrong for me, so it was a loser right out the gate.
  • dr. brandt pores no more vacuum cleaner. Hmm. There’s a lot of doctors in beauty products! I used this entire tube exactly as directed and didn’t really see much of a change in my skin. Maybe I don’t have enough blackheads to notice? #humblebrag
  • Harvey Prince Petaly Noir. I really enjoyed the Harvey Prince Hello, but this orchid-based scent is way too strong and tickles my nose. I only wear a fragrance about once a month, and I have plenty of the Hello left for special occasions.
  • Mally High Shine Liquid Lipstick in Petal to the Metal. If I ever needed to star in a remake of Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, this would be the lipstick I would wear. It is so, so shiny, and the color on me is practically neon pink. It was also way goopier than I can handle. I gave it to my best friend, and it was a lovely nude-y color, so at least it has a good home.

November Birchbox 2014November! When I resized this photo for the blog I was surprised to see the maple bacon Chuao bar, which I had completely forgotten about. Obviously, I ate it immediately, and I’m sure it was fine. Have I mentioned yet that I’m over things with bacon in them?

In November 2014 I received:

  • Mirenesse iCurl Secret Weapon 24hr Mascara. I would totally buy more of this mascara. The wand is perfect for my lashes! I get great coverage and it never clumps. I have a tube of Eyeko mascara, which I also bought because of Birchbox, and while I loved the sample, the wand that came with the full-size tube is slightly different and IMHO not as good. I’m not quite ready to throw it out, but I’m going after this Mirenesse when I do.
  • Jouer Matte Moisture Tint. I never get much of a tan, but in the fall I am particularly pale, and the Jouer showed up a bit orange. And since this one also has sunscreen in it, it felt heavy on my skin. (I’m assuming that’s the sunscreen, but I’m no expert.) I only used it once and then passed it on.
  • Dr. Jart + Ceramidin Starter Kit. This is what the Sephora website says about this product: “This lightweight cream with the power of microcapsule ceramides hydrates the skin barrier from within, preventing chronic water loss. Dry, rough skin instantly becomes plumped with all-day, time-release moisture. It enhances the skin’s natural strength and function for smoother, softer skin.” I’ve read it a few times, and I’m still not sure – is it a moisturizer? Do I wear it UNDER moisturizer or INSTEAD of moisturizer? Of all the Dr. Jart+ products this one felt the best on my skin, but I just have no idea what to do with it. I’m keeping it in the cabinet for now in case my skin gets extra dry, because whatever it is should work for that, right?
  • amika Perk Up Dry Shampoo. I used this a couple of times on no-wash days and it didn’t do much for me. My hair is just too frizzy for anything that doesn’t add moisture. Usually I just add a bit of leave-in conditioner.
  • Not Soap, Radio Awash in a field of four leaf clovers Body Wash. I’m going to be honest. I don’t really get the name “Not Soap, Radio.” I’m sure I could probably read some About page that would tell me how it came to be, but the marketer in me cringed every time I used it. That said, the fragrance was nice. I used it in my bath and it was a pleasant addition. I wouldn’t buy it, but I used the whole sample.

December Birchbox 2014Another adorable box for December! Maybe I’ll figure out how to use the boxes for storage in the house? They make me so happy.

In December 2014 I received:

  • Laura Geller Beauty Spackle Supercharged Fortified Under Make-Up Primer. Geez. There are a lot of words in there! But they had me at “spackle”. I don’t wear anything besides mascara very often, but I did use this the night of my holiday party and it created a nice, smooth surface.
  • Beauty Protector Protect & Oil. I’ve used this a couple of times on no-wash days, and it’s pretty good! I read a couple of reviews complaining about the format of the sample – it’s in that little bottle, no applicator, so it’s hard to get the right amount – but it’s not a huge deal once you’ve used it a time or two. It looks like the full-size version has a better applicator. This is the sort of thing I might consider buying if my current leave-in stops working.
  • Lord & Berry Paillettes Glitter Eye Pencil in Black. Even if I wore eyeliner, this wouldn’t be it. Just for fun I gave it a whirl and the pencil was super hard. I had to rub and rub to get it on my lid, even after priming it on my hand for a second, and the glitter sort of flaked around. Give me liquid eyeliner or give me death.
  • SeaRX Microdermabrasion Face and Body Scrub. I used the entire sample tube, and I have to say, this is the mildest microdermabrasion product I have ever used. I could barely feel any grit at all. Not sure that’s a good thing? I didn’t see any difference in my skin on days I used it and days I didn’t.
  • TOCCA Crema da Mano in Cleopatra. This is a really great hand cream, and the fragrance is lovely! When I first put it on I worried it would be too greasy, but it absorbed nicely and made my hands so soft. If I didn’t already have half-full tubes of a different hand cream at work and in my nightstand, I’d buy it for sure.

Phew! That’s a lot of Birchbox, folks. I already got the January box but have only given it a cursory glance. Hopefully I’ll have a chance to photograph it and start using the products this week. I may even get a review out in January! (Oh, who am I kidding. It’ll be March.)

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Things to do in 2015

Last year I was like, “I’m really not into resolutions” and then I went and wrote a whole blog post full of resolutions. Still, out of habit, I almost started this post by trying to be all cool about how I don’t like to reset at the beginning of each year because it’s such a non-starter, but I have to be honest. It’s nice to have goals, and you gotta commit to them sometime.

Right?

Last’s years goals were pretty specific, and I managed to work toward all but one of them. (My work-related goal ended up falling through, which isn’t a story to tell here.)

I wanted to be less woe-is-me about how hard it is to start a new life in a new city, and I mostly succeeded, even if sometimes I do wonder if I’ll ever be in the middle of a huge group of friends like the days of yore in California. I vowed to stop worrying so much about Claire liking my cooking, and I…didn’t really do that, but I did alternate between being annoyed and pretending not to care when she picked at the food I cooked. I wanted to stop being weird about being a stepmom and not a mom-mom, which is sometimes way better and sometimes way worse, but I think it just goes with the territory. I wanted to train better for my half marathon in LA, and we all know how that turned out (followed by a foot injury that has sidelined running for six months).

I made a vague mention of wanting to whip the house into shape, and I am happy to say it is 80% complete! We had the rest of the interior – except the guest room – painted before Thanksgiving, and now we just have some minor tweaks to make in a few rooms. We’ve finally hung art all over the house and it feels like ours, which is a huge, huge relief. One of these days we’ll get around to taking pictures of the finished result.

My final not-resolution from last year was about learning how to not sweat the small stuff, how to not completely lose it whenever something doesn’t go my way. There were times when I totally rocked that, but I’m woman enough to admit I’m still pretty tightly wound. My guess is that I’ll spend a lifetime trying to figure that out.

Things To Do In 2015

Joel took this picture of me about the time my holly-jolly-holiday sinus infection was clearing up. I hated it at the time, but it’s sort of growing on me, and is actually a pretty good encapsulation of two of my hopes for 2015.

I’m wearing pigtails, which are ridiculous on a woman my age, and also a J. Crew sweater with llamas and rhinestones, the latter of which once shined so bright in the sunlight coming through an airplane window that the flight attendant asked me to lower my shade lest she be blinded by the light. I’m going to turn 40 this year, but I don’t feel a day over 30 (most of the time), and I’d like to keep it that way. If wearing pigtails and silly novelty sweaters/bright colors and listening to Taylor Swift helps keep me young, I’m going to keep it up.

In this picture my holiday gel manicure is on it’s last legs, and since it was taken I’ve peeled off a couple more nails worth. (I know, you’re not supposed to peel the gels off, but they always get loose and start flaking, and I just can’t help myself.) In 2015 I want to spend a little more time on self-care. I’m pretty good about mani-pedis, but that’s about it. In two hours I’m going to meet a friend for a massage, and I need to do that way, way more often. I haven’t had a massage since I moved here! I’ve never been one for facials, but I vow to do it at least once this year when winter ends to slough off the old skin.

I also took a bit of my year-end bonus check and signed up for laser hair removal on my chin, which is something I promised myself I would do as soon as I started getting whiskery, which is happening right about now. The ladies in my family can achieve some pretty impressive hair growth, but I’m not going to stand for it. I know some people will think it’s silly to spend money on something so vain, but I’m sorry. I can afford it and it will make me feel better about myself, and that’s all there is to it.

There is always room for improvement on food and exercise. (In that picture up there I’m eating a wrap that would be way healthier if I put some veggies in it.) I’ve been regularly attending a Sunday morning barre class, but I pay for an unlimited monthly membership and I need to add at least one more class a week to make it worthwhile. We all got ice skates for Christmas, and I intend to make sure we put them to good use. Santa brought Joel a book of hiking trails in the Twin Cities so we can get out more. And this is the year I’ll learn to cross-country ski, even if it kills me! Hopefully we can get Claire out there, too, and being outside will be the thing we do as a family instead of going to movies or going out to eat – both good things to do, but not our only option.

Joel has gradually been adding gluten back with minimal trouble, but we’re going to try to make more of our own breads with whole wheats and grain blends, which make everyone feel better than the processed stuff. (Also, I spent $$$ on a bread machine that is currently sitting in the basement, and if I don’t use it I need to get rid of it.) I’ve added at least one fruit a day into my diet for months, most days, but I need to add a lot more. Less meat, more fruits and veggies, la, la, la I’m just like everyone else in America.

When my best friend was here, she taught me to knit, which was super satisfying. I have needles and yarn and need to find an easy pattern to really get started. We often sit down in the evening as a family to watch a little TV, and I’d like to use that time for some kitting, too. I have my grandma’s sewing machine in the basement waiting for attention, so I need to find a class for that. I think I said this last year at some point, but at the very least I need to be able to mend my vintage.

And, finally, I’m starting to network a bit in Minneapolis and have the opportunity to work on fun things outside of my day job, like this community website. It’s not easy to balance work-work and family and health and side projects, but I need it badly. My job is quite excellent, but as with anything, it can get repetitive and I get bored after a while. Having other things that allow me to learn new skills or use my brain in new ways will keep me from getting antsy.

There’s nothing too crazy in here, nothing that’s unique to me. That’s why resolutions feel so lame. We all do them. Some of us to pretend not to. Basically, we all want to do more good things more often. We want to be better versions of ourselves. Nothing wrong with that, I guess, but maybe we should put some sort of check-in or vow renewal date on the calendar now. Say, July 1, to make sure we’re still on track instead of waiting for another year.

 

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A short update following a long absence

So.

Clearly I am not one of those bloggers that documents every teensy detail of the holidays. Because I haven’t even logged into my blog since before Thanksgiving, which is about the time work started to get batshit crazy and Claire started getting all moody-teenager on us and it seemed like a lot of work just to make it to the next day.

As of now, though, I have been off work for 13 days and I’m feeling pretty damn good. Looking back, ya’ll didn’t miss much.

We hosted Joel’s parents for Thanksgiving, and even though it wasn’t the big family event I was hoping for (one of his brothers outright declined and the other up and moved to Florida on us), it was lovely. I made entirely too much food. Like, so much that it was maybe more sad than funny, looking at it all spread out with almost no one to eat it. Joel took a picture for me to Instagram, and then we both promptly forgot it until about an hour ago.

Thanksgiving dinner 2014

I had my first pick-the-kid-up-from-school sick day. Poor Claire was running a 103 fever and my schedule had a freak opening in it, so I’m the one who ended up in the nurse’s office and picking up the ginger ale and making the soup and grilled cheese. It’s one of those milestones you would never even think about until it happens, and when it does, it brings up all sorts of childhood memories and kicks those maternal instincts into overdrive. Turns out, Claire isn’t that interested in soup – though she does like the IDEA of it, or maybe feels like she’s supposed to want it when she’s sick – and I kept getting hoodwinked into making it only to have her take a few sips every time before setting the bowl aside. I made at least three KILLER grilled cheese sammies, though.

Grilled cheese and tomato soup

Joel and I went to my work holiday party, which was way less awkward than last year, when I had only been working there for about seven days and felt like I was an interloper. I was all set to wear the exact same vintage dress Christina Hendricks wore in an issue of InStyle in 2009, but the zipper crapped out at the very last minute. (The curse of vintage.) Instead I got to wear one of my favorite vintage gowns, which I have never had the occasion to wear before. You can get just a hint of it in this selfie Joel and I took, before we found the room where they were doing bourbon tastings. Any photos after that were simply out of the question.

Zeus Jones holiday party 2014

My best friend came to visit and it was entirely too short but just in the knick of time before my batteries completely ran out. I got a heinous sinus infection while she was here and blew my nose the most ever, but it didn’t even matter. We did what we do which is: The X-Files, pajama pants, a puzzle, bourbon drinks, and entirely too much rich food. It was perfect. I mean, I feel that way. I hope she wasn’t too disappointed that my disgusting sinuses kept us from getting out more.

I also learned something about myself and Christmas. I like to pretend it doesn’t matter and I don’t care about being around family but it’s a big, fat lie. Claire was with her mom in Tahoe for a week, including Christmas day, so Joel and I hemmed and hawed about putting up a tree. We ultimately decided not to, but a few days before Christmas my BFF and I were in a Michael’s picking up something from the frame department and I ended up snapping and buying two light-up, glittery, animatronic reindeer for the yard. I have never, ever owned lawn ornaments, but there you go. I also bought a small olive-green glittery Christmas tree, and then covered all the flat surfaces of our living room with lights and ornaments and nutcrackers and stockings. Mister Toberson was incredibly pleased with Christmastime.

Christmas 2014

We decided not to join part of Joel’s family in Chicago for Christmas thinking it would be nice to relax at home, but when Christmas Eve came around and we didn’t have plans – not even something fancy to make for dinner – I ended up crying on the couch about everything under the sun (such as my ex’s grandma dying, Cooper have fatty tissue tumors on his sides, both dogs getting old, not seeing my mom at the holidays & etc). On Christmas day we did stockings in the morning, made a great meal, had presents in the evening, and talked to family on the phone. It was an awesome day, but still sort of lonely in our big house all by ourselves.

Next year, we’ll figure out how to be with family (or friend-family, which is just as good) and I will not make the mistake of lying to myself about it not being important. I’m going to put lights on the outside of the house to go with my glittery reindeer, dammit. And I am going to make a spreadsheet’s worth of food to make every meal feel special.

And that brings us to today, New Year’s Day. I know it’s cliché to say it, but I cannot freaking believe 2014 is already behind us, my first full year in Minneapolis! A whole year in a new job. A whole year in our new house! I can no longer say, “I moved here last year from California.” I’m no longer the newcomer. Weird.

 

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REVIEW: September + October BarkBox

Hey! It’s November! Why I am just getting around to talking about these old BarkBoxes?

To be honest, I wasn’t sure I would ever write about them again. At some point this summer, I ran out of treats and realized that I hadn’t gotten a BarkBox in a while. I logged into my account and saw it had expired, which annoyed me. Where were all the emails warning me of the upcoming expiration? Why did they not offer me some sort of discount to buy another year? In this day and age, how can something ever expire without you having the chance to renew? I’m a lazy 21st century girl who wants everything to just happen like it’s supposed to. Is that so wrong?

But Huck and Cooper are adorable and deserve treats regularly delivered to their door, so I signed up again. I got these two boxes, and now I’m waiting for another one. In the olden days, I would get an email – an email! – telling me when a box had shipped. I somehow don’t get those anymore. So who knows when the next one will show up.

September BarkBox Review

Here’s the September box:

  • It has the obligatory Etta Says! duck chew, which Cooper eats first every time. It’s his we’re-sorry-Huck-gets-to-go-to-the-dog-park-and-you-don’t treat. He likes treats, but would rather go to the park.
  • The PetProjekt Skrubal football is still in our toy drawer. We’re all full up on fetch toys in the backyard, but the winter cold is tough on rubber, so I’m sure we’ll be pulling it out soon.
  • Huck destroyed the Safe Made Barkeley pennant in less than a minute. Their mission is to create safe, durable toys for pets, but I’d say they failed on this one.
  • We haven’t gotten to the Barkworthies sweet potato steak fries yet, but the boys will be super disappointed there isn’t actually any steak in them. They like sweet potatoes, though.
  • We likewise haven’t gotten to the PetSafe Indigo Smokehouse Bacon strips. Honestly? I haven’t opened them because the packaging is ugly. I know! It’s so superficial. I’m sure the dogs would like them. But the box is unattractive so I keep passing it by.

http://www.petsafe.net/pet-care/treats

Here’s the October box:

  • The only thing we’ve gotten into is the Max & Ruffy’s pumpkin patch cookies. Hey, it was Halloween.
  • Oh, wait. Cooper also ate the Hare of The Dog rabbit jerky stick.
  • And he also ate the Heartland Premium weasand strip. What can I say? Huck gets to go to the dog park a lot! (For the record, Cooper would probably be fine, it’s the other dogs you can’t trust. If someone came up to him and was too interested, Coops wouldn’t handle it very well, so it’s safer for all involved if we keep him away from those places. Huck does great, though, and really needs a good tussle now and then.)
  • I don’t even remember putting this Snicky Snaks cinnamon crunch bar in the snack drawer. I should probably dig that out soon. I bet it will go stale.
  • I love this Dublin Dog Snoggz RIP Van Fetcher. There’s another picture of it below, because he’s so damn cute. I haven’t had the heart to give him to one of the dogs yet.
  • The time is nigh for this American Dog Toys Flash & Glow ball – it’s dark every night when we get home from work, and Huck isn’t doing a very good job finding his ball in the dark these days. Of course, he’s never been very keen to switch away from his beloved giant orange ball, so Cooper will probably end up adding it to his collection of toys.

Snoggz RIP Van Fetcher

Seriously. I love this guy. He’s adorable!

If a November box shows up, I’m predicting it will include turkey products. Maybe even a stuffed turkey! I’ll be sure to report back.

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REVIEW: October Stitchfix

Today we drove by a lake and it was frozen. It was about 16 degrees at the time. It is November 15. That feels a little soon, you know? We were supposed to have flurries with about one inch of accumulation, and I’m no meteorologist, but I think what it’s actually doing is snowing-snowing, not flurrying. At least it’s pretty outside the window, unlike when it snowed earlier this week and immediately got plowed into a slushy, gray-brown paste.

It is a pleasure, then, to look back on these Stitchfix pictures, which were taken at a time when it was nice enough to go outside without a jacket. Or snow boots.

I have to give props to my Stitchfix stylist this month. She/he took the time to read through my blog to better understand fit and style, and this fix had several good things in it – and none of the brands I have continually complained about. Thanks, Reese!

While I only kept one piece, the others were really, really close.

Daniel Rainn blouse and Mavi Gold jeans

Sigh. It’s so fall-like in these pictures! It was a perfect season.

The one piece I kept was this Daniel Rainn Anika silk blouse. I have a few clients now where my wacky vintage wardrobe isn’t appropriate, and I need to be a leeeeetle more professional. We’re not talking suits or anything. But a silk blouse with skinny jeans is a good solution. I’ve already worn it twice.

I went back and forth on the Mavi Gold Nigel skinny jeans.  They fit great in the waist/hips, and the length was perfect, but at the end of the day I felt my thighs looked a little…plump. For what it’s worth, I have felt this way (the thigh thing) about every single plair of “fashion color” skinny jeans I have ever tried on. I have a pair of tights in this color that I wear all the time, though, so waffled about whether a thicker option would be worthwhile. Weeks later, I’m still on the fence, but they are long gone.

Leota shift dress

This Leota Kerri shift dress was a real heartbreaker, and thinking back on it now, I should have kept it and worn it with leggings all winter long. It fit great up top and the fabric had a dreamy drape, but it was just so short! If only I had thought of it as a tunic and not gotten hung up on it not working as a dress.

Peppercorn ombre cardiganLet’s start with these Frye boots I got for a great price at a shoe store that is going out of business. Joel and I went in there on a lark on the way to check out a new Arc’teryx store, and it was early enough in the sale that they still had my size. A miracle, since every other woman in the universe seems to be a size 8.5 in situations like these. I was already on the lookout for a flat black boot with a bit of an edge, and didn’t want a classic knee boot. These are pretty much exactly what I was looking for. I can even wear them under bootcut jeans. Huzzah!

The Peppercorn Jackson ombre cardigan was not really my jam. It fit fine and was cozy enough, but when I looked at myself in the mirror I felt extremely top-heavy. Which I am. But I prefer to minimize it whenever possible. (Which does not at all explain my new obsession with giant men’s vintage cardigans, which are way less flattering than this one. But I’m allowed to be fickle.)

31 Bits necklace

31 Bits is a company with a mission to help women in Uganda rise out of poverty. This is something I can absolutely get behind, and I wish this necklace were more my style. I just could not justify keeping it, since I knew I would never wear it, and couldn’t for the life of me figure out who I might gift it to if I had kept it. They have some beautiful pieces on their website, so I’m going to keep an eye on them for sure.

How cute is that bear-wearing-a-sweater ring? It was the only thing I bought for myself when Joel and I went to Budapest last year. He’s a bit chunky and can sometimes get in the way, but I’ve been wearing him every chance I get. Perhaps he’ll be my winter spirit animal!

 

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A rant in favor of Taylor Swift

I love Taylor Swift

 

You know what would be awesome? If adults would quit apologizing for liking Taylor Swift.

No, seriously. For the last two weeks, since the release of Swift’s new album 1989, I have found myself surrounded by perfectly normal adults expressing massive amounts of guilt for buying it/listening to it/enjoying it. And it’s making me crazy. Nay, it’s annoying the crap out of me.

Listen, adults. You’re adults. You can like whatever in the hell you want. You are allowed to enjoy things that are catchy, popular, and enjoyed by people younger than you. You are allowed to put an album on repeat in the car and learn all the words. You are allowed to relate to the lyrics. You should be able to say, “Yeah, I like it,” and not feel bad about it.

SO STOP IT.

Stop blaming your kids for having to buy Taylor Swift albums, when in reality you’re the one who’s really into her. Stop blaming pop radio for getting her songs stuck in your head, when you’re the one surfing the dial to find the station playing “Shake It Off.” Stop pretending like you don’t read Taylor Swift interviews and think, “hey, that girl has a pretty good head on her shoulders.” Stop pretending you didn’t secretly like that onesie she wore to the VMAs.

STOP IT.

You are allowed to like Taylor Swift and also Nirvana, the Avett Brothers, The Pharcyde, Love and Rockets, or whatever kind of music you listen to that makes you feel cool and welcome among your peers. Despite what you believe, liking Taylor Swift does not negate your fine taste in music. Your super-fab vinyl collection is not going to lose value because you download a Taylor Swift album.

You can like Taylor Swift and nothing terrible will happen to you. A rock-n-roll angel will not lose its wings.

So STOP PRETENDING you don’t like it and STOP APOLOGIZING for it.

Here my own brief history of music fandom:

I tell you all these things, because about the time I started burning out on The Next Big Thing In Indie/Punk Bands, I became an *NSYNC fan.

Oh, yeah. If you thought liking Taylor Swift was bad, try being a 26-year-old *NSYNC fan. Especially when, in the olden days, people admired you for your taste in music and envied your access.

Why did I become an *NSYNC fan? Because that ish is freaking catchy, ya’ll. *NSYNC songs are perfect for car-dancing, and sometimes ridiculous, and sometimes beautiful. Those boys said dumb things in interviews while flopping around on each other like puppies and wore some of the worst outfits ever. It was FUN to be an *NSYNC fan. So much fun that I’ve seen them in concert nine times.

Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

I like Taylor Swift for the same reason I liked *NSYNC, because her music makes me happy. I own all her albums. Three of them have been in the CD changer in my car for years. Years. I think she’s a great songwriter – even when she gets hung up on kissing in the rain or dancing in the living room or it being December. Some of her music gives me The Feels, and some of it makes me bop my head or shimmy my shoulders when I’m driving to work. Sometimes she hits a sour note or writes a line that is too cheesy and I feel empathy toward her. She is still a work in progress, but Taylor Swift is the Real Deal.

When my kid is singing a Taylor Swift song from the backseat I don’t have to worry about changing the station, unlike, say, Ed Sheeran, who teaches her that drinking gin and having one-night stands is totally cool. I don’t have to worry about her catching on to the fact that the Tove Lo song “Habits” says “I’ve gotta stay high” instead of “I’ve gotta say hi,” which is how Claire sings it.

But I digress.

If Taylor Swift makes you happy, if Taylor Swift makes your commute better, if Taylor Swift songs sometimes remind you of the poetry you wrote in high school in a good way, please, by all means, listen to Taylor Swift. You’re an adult. It’s your goddamn right to like Taylor Swift. If other people think it’s important to ridicule you for it, they’re not very nice people, and you should get new friends.

I’m 39 and I love Taylor Swift. My formerly cool-kid-validated taste in music is not negated by this fact. (Sorry, but it’s totally not.) I’ll stop listening to Taylor Swift when you pry her albums out of my cold, dead hands. I’m not going to apologize for it, and you shouldn’t, either.

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Year 1 done

Well, Internets, I made it. As of today I have been a Minnesota resident for an entire year, and I lived to tell the tale.

In the last 12 months, I have survived:

I did all these things, and never once truly thought I made a mistake in coming here. Sure, there were times when I wondered how in the hell it was going to work, like all those times Huck barked menacingly at Claire and Joel hated him and I wondered how I could ever give up my dog (my family) in exchange for this new relationship. There were times in the dead of winter when I thought I would go completely bonkers from being cooped up, when Joel would go on business trips and I’d curl up on the couch and try not to cry. Sometimes I miss my best friend, who is back in San Francisco, so much that I do get weepy and feel the most alone ever. And, I’ll admit, I have definitely yelled/sobbed at Joel “I can’t believe I moved here!” when times got really hard, but I regretted it as soon as I said it.

For the most part, all these things happened so quickly – I mean, geezus, can it possibly be ONE YEAR ALREADY – that I didn’t have time to dwell on the fact that I moved across the country from the San Francisco Bay to the Land O’ Lakes.

Counting Crows in Minneapolis June 2014

I know it sounds silly, but it honestly didn’t feel real to me until Joel and I were standing in a sea of hot, sweaty, drunken bodies at a Counting Crows concert. I could go on for a long time about how August & Everything After is one of my desert island albums, but let’s just say I’ve been a fan since “Mister Jones” (which I kind of hate), even though I know it’s deeply uncool to admit it. I have seen Counting Crows in concert easily more than a dozen times, many of those in San Francisco, which is a very different experience than seeing them anywhere else because it’s a “local” show for them. The crowd is full of family and childhood friends. The band is looser and goofier and it feels like every song is an in-joke.

There is a line in “Long December” that goes If you think you might come to California/I think you should and when they play this song in California the entire audience yells I THINK YOU SHOULD with one voice. I stood there in the sweaty mass in some strange venue in an outer-ring suburb of Minnesota and waited for that moment. I opened my mouth to yell, and then looked around. No one else was gearing up to sing along. Several people were texting, lots were drinking. No one yelled I THINK YOU SHOULD and it was the first time I realized I did not live in California. When I went home, it was not going to be to my house in Berkeley. All the hairs stood up on the back of my neck, and I thought I would cry.

I had lived in Minnesota for seven months. And it took the Counting Freaking Crows for it to sink in.

What’s on tap for year two? Winter, which is bearing down on me like a freight train. A wedding, for which we have done absolutely zero planning. A lot more work on the house – painting, new vanities in the bathrooms, new carpet in the basement, maybe a new garage door, a new front door, perhaps some new storage in the basement and garage, a more concerted effort at gardening. Figuring out my ovaries and whether more kids should be in our future.

You know. Easy stuff that is not at all time consuming. Wish me monsters!

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Freestyle Friday: Homecoming, the Renaissance Festival, backyard s’mores, SYTYCD on tour, and a restaurant for bears

Like every family ever, we’ve had a lot going on, even when you take our crazy work schedules out of the equation. There have been all sorts of vet appointments (of course everyone needed vaccines in the same month) and doctor’s appointments (stupid lady parts), a clothing swap with ladies from work, a new screen door for the front (to replace the one Huck destroyed almost exactly a year ago), carpet cleanings, a new couch for the basement, chimney cleanings, a major garage clean-up, a fence staining (we couldn’t find time so ended up paying a guy), a major purge of the office, and soon – soon! – we’re having the rest of the wallpaper eradicated from our home and painting the rest of the rooms. As far as I can tell, this is what people in Minnesota do right before the winter. We’re all getting our houses in order so we can hunker down and survive, like squirrels burying nuts.

As summer turned to fall, we have managed to squeeze in some good stuff.

  1. First, there was the Renaissance Festival weekend. Claire managed to go on both Saturday and Sunday, once with me and Joel and then with her best friend’s family. I’m telling you, this kid seriously loves anything “old times.” Given her predilection for dressing up like Little House On The Prairie and sweeping the front steps with a straw broom, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that she started asking if we could buy her a costume on the car ride there. Remember how, at the State Fair old-timey photo experience, Claire didn’t want to wear one of the girl costumes and we both ended up being cowboys? At the Ren Fest, she started out wanting to be a Gypsy until she saw the jangling coin belts and gauzy tops. Then she wanted to be a pirate, except at the Ren Fest? Not so many pirates. She decided it would be okay to settle on a peasant girl, which is a cute look for her. Minnesota Renaissance FestivalClaire and a friend at Minnesota Renaissance Festival
  2. At some point, as the temperatures and leaves started to drop, we thought it would be a great idea to buy a fire pit for the backyard. I had one in Berkeley…that I left in Berkeley because we only used it a few times and then it sat around collecting water. We had a great time the night we sat the new one up. The dogs were THRILLED to be outside so long at night with their people. We ate s’mores, and I learned Joel doesn’t really like them, and Claire mostly just wants the chocolate. It was a perfect night to be outside, and I wish I could say we were doing it all the time. Except now, of course, the fire pit is sitting in the backyard with three inches of water in it. D’oh!Enjoying the backyard fire pit
  3. Claire has been really into helping me make dinner lately. Or, shall I say, Claire has been really into playing “fancy restaurant chefs” while I make dinner and she serves pretend soufflé and stir fry and wine to two stuffed bears and a pig. I have to give the kid credit – I only participate in the most rudimentary ways as I cook our actual dinner, and Claire keeps up the ruse with gusto. I love that she’s not sitting in the living room face-down in an iPad! And, it has to be said, she’s way better at cleaning up after a stuffed bear’s dinner than she is about our family dinners. Chef/Hostess/Server/Acrobat Sommelier never has to be told twice to take her milk glass into the kitchen. Hosting two bears and a pig
  4. Our house is about a block away from the local high school, and for the most part, we don’t hear a peep out of them. Growing up, my family lived the equivalent of about two cities blocks away from my rural high school, and we for sure heard way more noise in that house than we do here. A couple of Saturdays ago, we were setting up a video shoot with our dog walker in the backyard (more on that one day) when a drumline started rehearsing nearby. I love a good drumline! However, a drumline is very bad when you’re trying to record audio. When it became clear they weren’t going away, we shut down the shoot for the day and started investigating. Turns out, the high school homecoming parade was happening in our neighborhood. The Color Guard kicked off the whole thing in the street next to our house. We haven’t done anything community-oriented since we got here, so it was pretty cool to be able to watch the whole parade from our front yard. Claire stood next to the street with a bowl and collected a month’s worth of candy, Joel stood in the lawn with Huck, and I got way more excited than was probably necessary about the hometown event happening right in front of our eyes.Richfield High homecoming parade
  5. Last week, Claire and I went to see the So You Think You Can Dance tour. (Look at that schedule. These dancers are going to be completely, totally wiped out by the end of the tour. I’m glad we saw them early!) It’s been a long time since I’ve felt the deep emotional stirrings of fangirling, but I have to admit, I got super excited to see the dancers in person. Goose-bumpy, even. Dancers I barely paid attention to on the show – *cough* Teddy *cough* – were so much better live. I paid an ungodly sum to get floor seats at a reasonable distance from the stage, and it was worth it. Claire still had to sit on my lap to see, but we were near enough that she was totally engaged for the three hours we were in the theater, even toward the end when she was fighting to keep her eyes open. She fed off the energy of the crowd, and learned quickly how to “woo!” and clap and gasp along with everyone else. I would love, love, love to be able to get her close up at a Taylor Swift concert. It would blow her mind. (Just putting this out to the universe, because you never know who knows who.)
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