Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Black, White and Delicious All Over: Dining Room Design

I'm making big plans for the new house. I hope it isn't premature; the inspection is on Wednesday morning, so things aren't final yet. But I can't contain my excitement! Right now everything in the new house is covered with a dingy layer of yellow nicotine, and I want to freshen it up with bright white paint. I'd like to create contrast with black chairs, and add color with a bright, monochromatic, but traditionally patterned rug. We will NOT be getting a Saarinen Tulip table, I'll keep dreaming about it anyway.

Dining Room Concept - Black, White, and Plum

My inspiration comes from these plates. Some of you might remember that I wrote about pillows from Zara Home's portrait collection last summer. I kept an eye on the collection for months, and finally, the price is right. They're on sale for just $4.90 apiece, and shipping is free. Mine just arrives yesterday, and I promise you, they're even prettier and more vivid in person. If you like them, snag them now. They won't last long!

Oh! I have one more thing to share: Last night while I was making dinner, my phone blew up. I was all, "What's happening?" OH! Australia's SheKnows magazine featured pictures of my living room, alongside three other fabulous bloggers! SheKnows even included a little shopping guide on how to get a similar look, which is completely surreal to me. I had a laugh when I saw that they spelled my new last name incorrectly, but honestly I was a little relieved to preserve a bit of anonymity online. Mostly, I feel honored to be included. Big high fives to the other ladies who were featured: Rachel at Hip Brown Home, Simone at Honey and Fizz, and Tessa at Down That Little Lane. Check each of them out, and be sure to visit SheKnows, too.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline is an Addictive Nostalgia Trip for Grown-Up Geeks.

Pop quiz! Do any of these statements apply to you?

a) You know the Konami Code by heart, and you fondly remember playing Pac-Man on a cocktail table machine and saying something like, "Move your drink! I need to get the cherry!"
b) Your favorite Newbury Award winner is The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin.
c) You have a more-than-passing familiarity with a MMORPG. Any MMORPG.
d) You like futuristic dystopian novels with a bit of romance on the side.

If any of these statements apply to you, you're going to love Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. I finished it in 36 hours because I could not stop reading it. Imagine this: The year is 2045. Oil ran out a while ago, the economy collapsed, and America is now a sad, ugly, violent place. How do people deal with this harsh reality? By living in OASIS, a MMORPG similar to Second Life. OASIS is so ubiquitous, kids even attend public school through OASIS now.

One day, an unusual announcement goes out over the feeds: James Halliday, the reclusive multi-billionaire creator of OASIS, had died. His fortune and controlling interest in his company will go to whoever can find the three easter eggs he hid in OASIS. The only clues to their location are a rhyming riddle and an encyclopedic almanac of 80s geek culture written by Halliday. Halliday was obsessed with the 80s, the decade when he was a teenager, and he wants the world to share his obsession. Let the games begin! A thriving culture of egg hunters pops up practically overnight.

Essentially, this book is a valentine to 80s geekiness. If you ever loved playing Atari and arcade games, watching John Hughes movies, creating D&D characters, or entering DOS prompts, this novel is going to be a warm, fuzzy nostalgia trip for you. And the storyline never becomes a disjointed geek-rant, because Cline ties the pop culture references together with an intricately imagined and completely addictive plot. 

OASIS' rival corporations develop entire departments devoted to finding the egg so they can control OASIS.  Meanwhile, the main character, a 17 year old orphan named Wade, hunts alone. Wade has spent most of his life in OASIS, and he obsessively studies the 80s to make sense of Halliday's riddle. As Wade's quest progresses, a powerful corporation turns against him. To stay alive, Wade must unexpectedly leave OASIS and embark upon a dangerous mission in the real world.

I don't want to tell you any more, but I will say that the story builds in small increments that make the quirky characters and fantastical action feel believable. It's easy to suspend disbelief when you know that much of the action takes place in a game. And the tension is intense! Every time I finished a section of the book, I felt like I leveled up, and I had to keep going. Like a really good video game, it's addictive.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

They Accepted Our Offer!!

YOU GUYS, GUESS WHAT!! The offer we made last weekend was accepted, and as long as the inspection doesn't uncover any nasty surprises, we'll close on our first house next month. I'm giddy! There is so much to do, but it's going to be fun. As far as we can tell, the house hasn't been updated since it was built in 1988, and that worked in our favor. We paid much less than the asking price because, well, it needs a lot of cosmetic TLC. Want to see it?

This is the front living room. When you walk in the front door and look to your left, this is what you see. The curtains will go away, and the nicotine stained walls will be painted.
Walk in the front door, turn around, and this is what you see. The wall of mirrors MUST come down. Eventually, I might like to change the brown tile that runs from the entrance to the kitchen. What do you think of it? For now I'll live with it, because this house needs other things that are higher priorities.
Just beyond the dining room and slightly to the right, you enter the dining room. Hubba hubba, look at those floors! The doors lead out to a small patio. To the left is a doorway that leads to the kitchen. This room just needs paint. And we want to replace that light fixture with the chandelier currently hanging over our kitchen table.
The doorway at the left goes into the dining room. Finally, a kitchen big enough that Keith and I can cook together! And OMG, cabinets and storage. I'll paint the cabinets and walls, because they're stained with nicotine, but the backsplash and counter tops are in good shape. I don't love the brown, but I can work with it.
The den is separated from the kitchen by the counter top you see at the bottom of the last photo. This is what you see when you're standing at the kitchen sink. I love the fireplace and the transom windows so, so much. I have a feeling this will be our most-used room. To the right is a door leading out to the small patio.
From the dining room, you turn right and go down a hallway to the reach the bedrooms. The first bedroom you come to is the master bedroom. Yes, it's very pink. Yes, we're going to change that. I like the architectural cutout and the beam on the ceiling. This might sound crazy, but I think if the beam is painted a dark color that brings it out, it will look cool.
The master bathroom is crazy! This is the one room that might eventually require a sledgehammer. I think paint, new tile, and a soaking tub oriented left-to-right under the window will work wonders, though. To the left of the shower are doors leading out to the small patio. 
I'm trying VERY hard not to be snarky here. This is the second bedroom, and an example of why many people couldn't see the home's potential. It was hard to see past the previous owner's decorating. Yes, I have pictures of the entire house decorated similarly to this. Let me know if you're interested in seeing them.
Now that the room is empty, it's a lot easier to see its potential. With new paint and curtains, and carpet that doesn't smell like cigarettes, it should be quite nice. I don't have pictures of the third bedroom at the end of the hall. But it's similar to this room, except it's painted blue, and it has a bigger window.
This bathroom is across the hall from the green bedroom. It's not especially cute right now, but it has a good, functional layout. If I strip the wallpaper, paint the walls a nice color, and paint the oak vanity, it should be perfectly nice. Eventually, I might try to get extra credit and replace the builder-grade mirror, hardware and faucet.
I kind of lied when I said the house is all on one level. This room is above the garage, and you reach it from a flight of stairs located off the kitchen. The left side of the room is a wall of closets. Woo-hoo, storage! This room is probably going to become our project and craft room. Keith will solder electronics. I'll set up my easel and make a place to organize knitting supplies. It will probably be a huge mess most of the time. And that will be fine, because it will be separate from the rest of the house. Win.
This is the small patio I keep mentioning. The back of the house is U-shaped and built around this patio. The doors on the left go into the master bathroom. The doors behind the table lead to the dining room. And the doors behind the black curtain lead to the den. This small area, and the glass doors that open to it, let so much natural light into the house. It's an unusual layout, and it's my #1 favorite thing about this house. I knew we wouldn't find another house like this. And if we didn't buy it, I'd always remember this house as "The one that got away."
Obviously, we have our work cut out for us. But the floor plan is great, so we don't need to do scary things like knock down walls. We do need to remove ugly wallpaper and repaint the walls. We need to replace all the carpet, because the current carpet reeks of cigarette smoke. We need to replace a few outdated light fixtures. We need to remove a tacky floor-to-ceiling mirror from a wall. We need to update the ancient appliances, one by one, as they die.* We can do that. And better yet, we can afford to do that, because we paid so little for the house.**

Despite its cosmetic quirks, there are so many things I love about the house: There are two beautiful fireplaces with real white marble. The gleaming hardwood floors in the living room and dining room are gorgeous. The bedrooms are generously sized, and they have nice closets. The house has high ceilings, so it feels spacious.*** Some of the windows have beautiful transoms. There are closets galore and lots of storage space, which was important to both of us. It has a real laundry room, which is located just outside the master bedroom instead of, like, in a dark basement or a damp garage. And it's (almost) all one level, which I strongly prefer.

Honestly, the trickiest issue we have with this house is its location. We're moving to the suburb where I spent my teenage years, and it's in a subdivision with an HOA. That's not our style. So why did we choose it? 

a) It's in a very safe area where we can reasonably expect to never have a problem with burglaries or car break-ins. And we can walk the dogs at night.
b) It's close to grocery stores, Target, the interstate, and all the little things that make life convenient. 
c) Most importantly, we wanted Keith's commute to be shorter, not longer. 
d) If we still made all our decisions based on what we thought was cool when we were teenagers, I'd be covered with tattoos referencing Violent Femmes lyrics, and Keith would still have a fishnet shirt. What we want and need has changed.

So we zeroed in on an area between his office and our favorite places to go in Nashville. And in that area, we could pay the same price for a small mid-century house with a tiny kitchen and no storage space... or we could get a nicer and bigger house in a cookie cutter subdivision. What to do?! Keith likes STUFF, and we need space to store his stuff. So the cookie cutter subdivision won. And we're happy ridiculously thrilled.


* I'm NOT a fan of getting rid of functioning appliances just because they aren't a trendy color. It seems so wasteful.

** I am so glad we didn't buy a house with a price tag that will prevent us from doing home improvement projects. The house doesn't look super cool right now, but we won't be house poor. And we see home improvement projects as investments. Our new home is surrounded by houses that are more valuable because they were well maintained. I hope to bring our home's value up so it matches the rest of the neighborhood.

*** My friend Stephanie just bought an incredibly charming house with high ceilings that make the house feel huge. Her home made me realize how much I love high ceilings. Hi, Stephanie! Yes, I'm talking about you! *grin*

Sunday, March 16, 2014

We Made an Offer on a House! (Round Two)

Um, you guys? We're trying again. Today we made an offer on a brick Tudor circa 1988 that we looked at last weekend. And get this: It's the "Barbie Dream House" from an earlier post. I can hardly believe it, either. We went from laughing at the listing pictures to falling in love with the house when we visited it last weekend.
When we first started looking for a house, Keith and I made our lists of what we wanted. His list said things like "3 bedrooms. A fenced or fence-able yard. Built on a level lot. Closer to work than our current place. Absolutely no high-tension power lines or creeks/flood risks running through the backyard." My list said things like "A diamond in the rough with an awesome floor plan but terrible, outdated decorating than no one else can see past. Something that I can redecorate and then sell for a profit." 

This house fits the bill. It's everything Keith wanted, but the decorating is aggressively bad, with icky carpets and terrible paint colors. The appliances are original to the house. And the house stinks because it's been smoked in, so a lot of buyers ran screaming before they even made it through the front room. Luckily, my family successfully got the smoke smell out of the house in which my grandma smoked for 50 years. And the technique involves new carpet and repainting practically every surface. I can do that.

But you guys, the floor plan is wonderful. It's all on one level, and it has beautiful high ceilings. The back of the house is U-shaped and built around a charming little patio that you can access from three different rooms. The laundry room is just outside the master bedroom. The closets are big, with lots of storage elsewhere, too. It has a lot of potential. Getting the smoke smell out and upgrading the appliances won't be cheap, and our offer reflects that. But we're keeping our fingers crossed that we can come to an agreement with the seller. This house deserves some love.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Book Review: Simple Knits for Cherished Babies by Erika Knight

It seems like everyone I know is either having a baby or getting married, and I'm thrilled. It makes me so happy to have good reasons to make beautiful things for the people I love! Especially since house hunting is bringing me down, and I need a distraction. It's hard to be grumpy  when you're making adorably tiny things. So lately I'm filling most of my free time with super-soft, ultra-tiny handmade woolens. Gah, this stuff is so cute! And knitting for babies is the best, because these projects knit up so fast.

The baby bootie pattern is from Simple Knits for Cherished Babies by Erika Knight. I picked it up at McKay's a few weeks ago, and the book's photography is absolutely gorgeous. The pictures feature elegantly classic baby clothes and accessories knitted in ultra-luxurious fibers like silk, cashmere, and organic cotton. The patterns are all very simple, with just knit and purl stitches, but the simplicity gives the pieces a timeless elegance. Best of all, there was a pattern for a beautiful knitted pillow with a block letter monogram (see it here). The moment I saw that pillow, I wanted to make it for myself in white or taupe. I had to own this book.

I can't do anything by the book, though, and I ruined the fancy effect by knitting these in bright purple. *grin* My friend is having a baby girl whose middle name will be Violet, and I was given very specific instructions as to exactly what shade of violet they should be. My friend is well known for her passionate but very particular love of purple, and her particularity is one of the things I love about her. I was actually nervous when I bought the yarn, because I knew that if it wasn't the right shade of purple, she wouldn't like it. But she loved it. Phew!

Here's a clearer picture, so you can see the stitch pattern better. It has a rolled stockingette stitch cuff, a stockingette upper, and the side and sole of the bootie are in garter stitch. It's classic and simple, but just complicated enough that people gasp and admire it.
But let's talk about the book and its patterns. It kind of blows my mind that the baby booties are knitted all in one piece and then sewn together, with just one seam that goes down the center of the heel and sole. When I first looked at the pictures, I was like How does that possibly work?! Until now, I've only knitted scarves, tubular cowls, and baby blankets. I'd never done a project where I picked up stitches along the side of my knitting, and this book probably wasn't the best way to learn to pick up stitches. 

I carefully read and re-read the pattern, but I didn't understand how to do it until I actually did it. And that's because, honestly, it's hard to follow these instructions. "Rejoin yarn to the ten stitches" doesn't make as much sense when there are two sections of ten stitches. I love the beautiful photos of the finished products, but I wish there were a few more photos of the projects in progress.

But once I finished, I loved the booties because they were so cute. There was just one problem: The smallest size in the book, meant for babies from 0 - 3 months, knits up like something for a baby Sasquatch. They're huge! So when I knitted a second pair, I sized down by knitting just 5 rows of garter stitch (not seven) before I began shaping the foot. That helped a lot, and that's probably how I'll knit any future pairs I make.

I had more luck when I made a matching baby hat. The hat is all in stockingette stitch, with a rolled edge that perfectly matches the rolled edge of the bootie. It's made on straight needles and then sewn together with a seam up the back. I felt like I was cheating when I sew it up the back, but I'm still afraid of working with DPNs, so this pattern suits me just fine. Every part of that pattern made sense, and I was very pleased with the finished result.

I like that the book includes patterns for beginner knitters, like me, and more complicated patterns for advanced knitters. There are patterns for baby sweaters and cardigans, and even a pattern for a pair of footie leggings. I won't lie; I'm intimidated by some of these patterns, but that only makes me want to try them more. But first, I want to make those monogrammed pillows! I want to make a J and a K to put on our bed.

Overall, I recommend this book for knitters who have no trouble reading patterns and are comfortable modifying patterns as needed to get the correct size. Even though the stitches used here are simple, the patterns do require a bit of interpretation and modification. True beginners might want to steer clear. It's worth noting that my book is the 2001 edition, and it's possible that these issues were fixed in the 2009 edition. But I can't be sure, so I'm just telling you what I know.

What are you making right now?

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Disappointments in House Hunting

To make a long story short, this isn't going to be our house. Here's the deal: The asking a price is about $40,000 higher than the other houses on this street. Forty thousand! Take a minute to think about the stupid-crazy things you could do with forty thousand dollars:

Why are they asking so much? I have no idea. Some things inside this house are nicer than the other houses on the street, but there are location-related drawbacks specific to this house that bring its value back down to reality. Our offer was realistic, and I was surprised by the seller's response: She won't accept less than asking price, period. Um, has she looked at the comps for that street?! We're not willing to overpay, so it's back to the drawing board and the open houses. 

I'm actually surprised by how not disappointed I am. I loved the house itself, but I'm not sure I'm ready to move to the suburb where I grew up. Even though we hit a dead end, something good did come from this: I am so fired up now! Making an offer was exciting and empowering, and I feel ready to take on the real estate market in a way that I didn't before.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

February 2014 Ipsy Bag: I Love You More

For those of you just tuning in, Ipsy is a beauty subscription service. For $10 a month, Ipsy sends 4 - 5 surprise beauty products to your door in a cute cosmetics bag. They even mail it in a shiny hot pink envelope! Seeing that envelope in my mailbox always makes me dance around like a little kid. If you don't want to get in a beauty rut, Ipsy is for you.

This month's bag was excellent. Honestly, my only complaint is that Ipsy ships via DHL, which is so slow that I'm not able to review each month's bag in a timely manner. But it's hard to complain about free shipping, right? Here's a detailed breakdown of the value in this month's bag:

Pop Beauty Plump Pout in Peony Petal, 4 g sample: $7.50
City Color Be Matte Blush in Fresh Melon, .314 oz.: $2.99
Zoya nail polish in Odette, full size, $9.00
Tini Beauty Eyeshadow + Base in Spiced Rum, full size, $16.00
NuMe Intense Renewal Mask, 20 mL sample, $3.30

Ipsy cost: $10.00

The Pop Beauty Plump Pout gloss has a thinner formula than I often see in a gloss, and I like that a lot. No, your hair won't stick to it. But the best part? As it wears off, it leaves a gorgeous pink stain that lasts for hours and hours. The only drawback? The smell. The gloss itself is unscented and unflavored, but the applicator smells like burnt marshmallow. I like it, since I love s'mores, but a lot of Ipsy members think it smells like burnt plastic--and they hate it.

The City Color Be Matte Blush looks bright in the compact, but it's the most gorgeous, warm, wearable, flattering color. Seriously. Everything I've tried from City Color looks and feels very high quality, and I'm surprised that it's sold at such a low price point. TRY THIS BRAND.

As much as I like the first two items, the Zoya nail polish might be m favorite item this month. The color is GORGEOUS. It looks very dark against my skin, and unlike anything I see in stores. Best of all, I wore it for four days before it chipped. For me, that might be a record.

The Tini Beauty Eyeshadow + Base is okay. I like the texture, and the color builds nicely. It works great as a colorful base for other powder eyeshadow, too. But this color looks VERY dark on me. It's so dramatic that I'm only comfortable wearing it when I go out at night. For that reason, I've only worn it once so far.

The NuMe Intense Renewal Mask is the only product I haven't tried yet. I've never bought or used a $29 hair conditioner before, and I'm excited to try it but saving it for a special occasion. This is why I love Ipsy--it allows me to try products I'd never, ever buy otherwise.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Adventures in House Hunting

Long time, no see. Hey, guess what? WE MADE AN OFFER ON A HOUSE!

The lovely house that inspired us to possibly take on a mortgage, as seen through Waterlogue.
I'm not sure we'll actually end up closing on the house, but it's exciting nonetheless. And getting to this point was an adventure. In January, we started randomly dropping by open houses, and that's how we found our realtor, Eric Workman. Eric is patient, not pushy, and he has a great sense of humor. Like, we dropped by to visit an unoccupied house at night, and the power was turned off. Did we leave? NO! We were all, "Let's break out some flashlights, prowl around like burglars, and hope the neighbors don't call the police!" Yeah, we've had a lot of fun looking at houses.

At first, the bad houses were really funny. We visited a house that actually vibrated during rush hour, because the back wall of the house was 25 feet from interstate 440. We saw a weird renovation that made us ask, with all sincerity, "Is this another living room? Or is this... the garage?" We saw a master bedroom with a ceiling so low, I could touch it without standing on my toes. And I'm 5'4. We visited a house with a frightening gas leak, and after 90 seconds we left with pounding headaches. We visited a house that had what looked like a panic room hidden behind a closet... and what looked like bloodstains next to a creepy metal rack in the garage. I AM NOT MAKING THAT UP, Y'ALL. And those were just the houses that looked pretty in the listings, so they seemed worth visiting. Here are some houses we didn't see in person.

It's a Barbie Dream House!
The Barbie Dream House bedroom leads to this bathroom!! WOW. I do like the bathroom's layout,
with his and hers closets on either side of the entrance to the bathroom.  That seems very functional.
What have we learned from this picture? Basement stripper poles are classier with faux marble bases.
Maybe this would make sense if you use a wheelchair? I'm not sure.
But it would be awkward to say, "Honey, don't walk in the bedroom. I'm peeing!"
After a few weeks, the bad houses weren't funny anymore, and we were discouraged. And a lot of the cute, reasonably priced houses built before 1950 are being sold to developers who plan to knock them down and build three ugly, skinny houses on a single lot. If you live in Nashville, you've seen those houses. I hate them. HATE THEM.

The neighborhoods where we were looking weren't turning up anything good, so I asked Eric to show us a house a bit further south than where we thought we wanted to live. To make a long story short, the clouds parted, and everything was bathed in golden light. Angels played flourishing little riffs on trumpets, and we made an offer on the house. Now we're batting offers back and forth, and I'm not sure what's going to happen next. It's a nice house, and it has a clawfoot tub that practically had me in tears when I first saw it. But  it's not worth the asking price. So if we don't get it, I won't be heartbroken. Stay tuned.