Friday, January 27, 2012

Blog Criticism

I'm sure you've noticed that little list there on the left of other blogs I read. One of the blogs on the list is Young House Love that I was referred to by a very good friend of mine a while back. I've been following it ever since I first read it. They're a family so much like my own (Sherry, the wife, and I are the same exact age, we got married the same year, our babies were born just a couple of weeks apart... you get it) and I feel like I can relate to them so well. Their blog is primarily about DIY projects that they do around their house. They're very thrifty and share stories about scoring great items for super cheap in random places. Then they of course give lots of tutorials about how they save cash by DIY-ing most of the stuff they do to their house. Intermixed is also some posting about their family, adventures and trips they take, crafty things, and the every day stuff.

Today they posted about blog criticism and said that a lot of their readers ask how they deal with it. They are always very positive in their writing and responses to comments, but admit that it can be difficult to hear some of the not-so-nice/downright nasty things people have to say from time to time. I decided to share this not only because I write a blog and get comments, or worry that readers are thinking things about me and my writing even if they don't comment, but because I have blogging friends who have struggled with blog criticism. I thought Sherry's advice was spot-on and exactly what I would say to someone who was feeling judged based on their blog. If you don't feel like hopping over to YHL to read the whole post, her four pieces of advice were:

1. It's your blog.
2. Be who you are. That's enough.
3. Try to give the good feedback as much weight as the bad.
4. Do everything with love.

Pretty simple ideas. Some might seem easier said than done. But I would encourage you to read the whole post because she does talk about each one in detail in a very genuine and heartfelt way. I do realize that an important difference between Sherry and my friends/myself is that her audience is primarily strangers and our audiences are primarily people we know. This does give the comments a different weight, especially the not-so-nice ones. I think the principles of what she says can still apply, though. It's not possible to take the sting out of all negative comments, but hopefully this advice can make dealing with them a little easier.

Happy Blogging :)

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Totally Typical

Things you would typically see or encounter if you live with our child...

Hydrocortisone cream in a shoe.

A sippy cup in an empty diaper box.

The Orioles' spring training schedule in the dog's crate.

Various stuffed animals being talked to/cared for like real people.

A cold, waiting cup of coffee.

More shoes. Maybe with a toddler in them this time.

Lots of original artwork.

My little copy-cat busy cleaning up SOMEthing....

...and promptly throwing away the trash.

A brand new way to play with a classic toy.

Dog food in the dog water bowl. 
(Why does this amuse toddlers so??)

A rockstar... in jeggings.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

How. Is. This. Possible?!?

I'm really here today, blogging on a Sunday, just an hour before an incredibly important Ravens game, because I need some confirmation that I'm not plain crazy (or blind, but that's actually debatable). Here's what happened...

Remember how I linked to Decor Chick's blog in my last post to show you that she too had paint-selection issues and I wasn't the only one? So I decided that I liked the color she chose (SW Balanced Beige) so much that I'd just go buy a sample can of it. I was pretty confident that I'd love either that one or the other one she was looking at seriously, SW Windsor Greige.

Here are her swatches to remind you what those colors look like:
Especially note in this photo how they look next to her white trim to give you a truer sense of their shades and values since her walls are a very warm color already.

You can see that they are nice, cool, neutral colors. They're that delicate mix of beige and gray that I'm trying to pinpoint. This is why I was so certain that one of those two colors would be "The ONE."

Furthermore, here is here finished living room and entry hallway that she painted Balanced Beige.

Lovely, right? Almost precisely the look I'd love to achieve. So finally, I've found these two colors that are actual serious contenders and I really really like them. I ran out to the Sherwin Williams store on Friday night and just grabbed sample cans of each because I was that confident. I wish I would have known that Sherwin Williams sample cans are much bigger than Lowe's or Home Depot, and cost about $3 more as well :/ Lesson learned.

So I rush home and can. not. wait. to put this paint on my walls and begin an agonizing debate over which PERFECT color I'm going to choose since both are just so close to what I want. And here's how they looked...
Balanced Beige (same color as Decor Chick's living room above) on top, Windsor Greige on bottom.

Is it me, or do they not look at all like her swatches? I mean, I know lighting and my God-forsaken blue walls do play a part, but I was stunned and instantly disappointed. So-called "Balanced Beige" looks exactly like a brown paper bag. How is it so light, and mid, and so much grayer/more soothing on her walls?

I really thought the samples she painted looked a lot like the samples I had been pouring over. But as a comparison, here are my samples with Balanced Beige and Windsor Greige at the bottom.
 You can see that those two colors are drastically darker than the ones I've been considering and seriously make me afraid that if my whole house was that color it would look like we were in a cardboard box/paper bag. If you haven't noticed, I'm really really trying to avoid that effect.

Here they are on a wall by themselves away from the other samples.

And one more time in a different spot near the other samples.

And for good measure, in the kitchen on an already neutral-colored wall.

So am I nuts? Or do they look dramatically different in my house than in her pictures? I really started to think maybe I was losing my mind. They do admittedly look a little better in the kitchen without the blue around them. These pictures were all taken in daylight though, and I'm really afraid that on a cloudy day, or in the evening, or in artificial light they're really going to look like cardboard. It's possible that they'll be nice and cozy but right now they just look dark and scary to me. I will try painting a bigger swatch, but I also don't want to have to prime over the swatches if we go with a lighter color.

This morning I went back to my paint chips and started reconsidering them now that I'm leaning more in the direction of a cooler neutral. 
I narrowed those down to about 10 that I think are honest contenders. I guess we'll see though. For now, it's game time. Good luck, boys!!

And Happy Birthday to the best (and most adorable) running back in the NFL, Ray Rice!

Friday, January 20, 2012

But I'm Not the Only One...

I don't really consider myself a dreamer, and neither should you. I'm actually not even a little teeny tiny bit a fan of the Beetles. But both of these facts are completely unrelated to my point (I'll get around to the reason for the title in a few paragraphs). As I'm nearing the end of my rope in the Paint Selection Nightmare of 2012, I did what anyone of our generation does... I Googled. Certainly someone else out there somewhere has had trouble choosing a neutral paint. Maybe they wrote about it. Maybe there's an online instruction manual that I don't know about. Maybe there's a tip that everyone else on the planet knows but me! At least it seemed that way since I'd been through 101 paint colors without finding ONE that I thought would suffice. So this Googling turned out to be a rather productive event and I walked away feeling surprisingly more confident about things (paint-related, at least ;).

I thought just in case any of you are having (or may have in the future) paint-choosing/decorating difficulties, I would share the good information I found. First of all, there are a multitude of pages offering tips on choosing paint colors like this one which specifically talks about choosing a "greige" color. Since I am looking for neutral paint, I did focus on advice for choosing neutrals. Mostly I was trying to figure out what it is that I'm seemingly so unaware of which is rendering me incapable of picking/finding the right color. In that search I also found this HGTV page that was a little less useful for my purpose, but I thought it was good advice anyway. It discusses the very important 60-30-10 rule that is extremely helpful when decorating, especially if you've never decorated a room/house before OR if you have and aren't happy with how it turned out.

The page that I found most helpful, that actually gave me the revelation of what-the-heck is wrong and why I can't pick a color, was this one. It's a blog post written by a professional decorator on choosing a neutral paint color. She actually uses her own living room as an example, but the one piece of advice that did it for me was to always lean toward a cool neutral vs. a warm neutral. Her explanation was that a warm neutral is warm because it has red, orange or yellow undertones and those colors can come out and clash with other colors in your room. On the contrary, a cooler neutral usually has gray undertones and not really anything clashes with gray. This was profound for me as it completely explains why I keep hating the colors that seem like they should be right. I tend to like cooler colors across the board anyway, whether it's clothes, accessories, makeup, flowers, furniture, or decor. It makes sense then that the warm colors are just not speaking to me. In theory they should be what I'm looking for. After all, my goal was to warm up the space, but my natural inclination is not at all toward those colors. Multiple times I have taken a group of colors and started pouring over them with a vision in mind of a light, warm beige. When I begin weeding them out though, I always end up with a handful of colors that I really love, but do not match the vision I started with at all. Furthermore, every time I would select a color because it looked like a nice warm color it would strike me as too orange, too pink, or too yellow (aaaaand there they are, the warm colors I don't really care for). Oye- so in short, the colors I like aren't warm, and the warm colors I don't like. It's kind of a pickle when you want to warm up a space! Add this on top of the lighting issues. Now you're starting to understand the crazy.

What I gleaned is that I do really need to choose a cooler neutral because I will probably never feel settled with a warm one. Truth is, our walls are currently a very light blue (a color called "Chilly Morning" if I recall correctly), so even a cool neutral is going to be warmer than what we have... therefore warming up the space.

And to make myself feel even better (is that possible right now?) I discovered that even Decor Chick had the same exact issue - really, read her post. You'll think you're having deja vu. Look at her walls. They're covered in paint swatches. She has even more than I do! She was also looking for a neutral, and was considering not one but two of the same colors, Balanced Beige and Windsor Greige, that I am considering (she ended up with Balanced Beige in case you're wondering/don't feel like reading the rest of her blog to find out). Alas, I'm not the only one!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

If You're Kind of Ready to Slap Me

Let me explain what the big issue is with my inability to choose an off-white not-too-gray-but-not-too-tan shade of, well, beige paint.

The issueS are really multiple. The short version is that I once laughed at a blogger (who will remain nameless) who raved about how excited and proud she was to have found the PERFECT color to paint her apartment, and it was beige. I thought it was so goofy that she had made such a big deal about her color choice and it was JUST beige. Ugh, Karma.

The other reason is that while we get a good amount of natural light for being an interior townhouse, the light we get in the front and back of the house is very different. Since we're painting the whole main level that matters. I have to find a color I like in both lights.

How different can it be, you ask? I will show you. In our living room (northern exposure) the light is very shady and blue. While in the kitchen (southern exposure) the light is warm and bright because that's where the sign shines directly on the house. You can see the dramatic difference in the two photos below.
Living room light, right by a window. 
Believe me, it's not just the camera. This is a very accurate portrayal of the lighting.

Same samples in the kitchen, just a few seconds later.

So you can see how it's difficult to tell how the color will look in each space. When I find a color that looks great in the kitchen light it just looks white in the living room. If I choose a color that looks good in the living room, it's super dark in the kitchen and I'm afraid it will create a cardboard box effect. We are also painting the stairway and upstairs hallway which get no natural light. So I think the conclusion I've reached is that I'll need to make the decision primarily by our artificial lights (of course with consideration in natural light in the different spaces) since that is the only way to see the color in the same light in all the spaces.

In the mean time I've narrowed yesterday's pile of paint chips down to about 15 colors. At least it's progress!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Oh, the Pain(t)!

As they carry me into the nut house, I'll be mumbling incoherently about Feather Down and Manchester Tan while cursing Benjamin Moore.

Can you tell that there are three paint colors in this photo?? (If so, for the love of Pete, tell me which one looks best)

Happy Purple Friday!

We're looking forward to a great game on Sunday!

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Hold Up

I was enjoying a fun (and long overdue) visit with my friend Amy this morning and as our girls were playing and we were chatting she asked, "So, what's going on with the paint?" As I'm sure you recall, I'm supposedly all ready to start painting our main level and upstairs stairway/hallway. Well, there is one hold up....

 I may have spotted a photo somewhere (I can't remember if it was Pinterest or a blog) of a lovely neutral colored room that someone had painted in their home. I took a closer look and in the caption discovered that it was a color I had previously considered for our project, Manchester Tan (and if you've never seen that blog, bookmark it!). This of course got me thinking. I glanced through the comments that some others had left and one was from a professional decorator who just raved about how Manchester Tan is the perfect neutral and it's one of her all time favorite colors and she recommends it to all of her clients. Well great. Now I'm having a major attack of commitment phobia! Did I make the right choice? Have I examined all of my options? Did I rule out Manchester Tan too quickly? Would I feel the same upon a second look?? You probably don't know this, but when we painted our living/dining rooms the first time I had carefully selected a color and then promptly started looking for a new color once it was on the walls. We literally started over with new paint a couple days later and repainted the entire living/dining room. So you'll understand my paranoia and desire to avoid that circumstance again this time around.

As a result of said photo/blog/Pinterest/whatever it was, I am sort of back at the drawing board. The trouble I'm having is that I like colors when they're on the chips from the store, but when I try to hold them up to the currently blue wall and/or paint swatches on the currently blue wall, they look completely different and I feel like I hate them.

For example, these two samples look barely off white next to our couch.

But on the wall, the top one reads pinkish and the bottom reads very yellow. And both are a lot darker than they seem on the chips. 

I really don't want "brown" paint. I don't want to feel like we're in a cardboard box or paper bag. I just don't know how to go any lighter when I'm picking paint chips in the store as the ones I'm choosing are all just a step away from plain old white. The names of the two above are "Creamy White" and "Maritime White."My plan is to paint some larger swatches to hopefully eliminate so much of the effect the blue is having. Being opposite of oranges/yellows on the color wheel, that is what it emphasizes in these paints. It's great to be able to see what the undertones are, but I want a more accurate idea of what it will look like by itself in the whole room.

By the way, the same swatches are barely visible against the neutral we have in our kitchen which is also getting painted. I'd use the same color we have in there now except I have no idea what it was. Fail. If I had been a blogger at that time, we wouldn't be having this problem, haha.

So we'll see if the bigger swatches help. Otherwise I'm not quite sure what I'm going to do. There are still options out there, and I can always go with Manchester Tan just because. Stay tuned. Hopefully a decision will be made this week :)

PS- These trivial little photos of paint swatches on my walls are all courtesy of my new iPhone 4S! So handy! 

Sunday, January 8, 2012


It has been a positively spectacular weekend weather-wise (and otherwise, too) in our neighborhood. After two three-day weekends with J, it's nice to have a really fabulous weekend since it's already a bummer that it will feel short. The weather has been unseasonably warm, which I just love. We had a few days last week when the daytime high was in the twenties, so for Friday and Saturday to be in the sixties was heavenly. I'm being completely honest when I say we saw people wearing shorts and tank tops. That's a little extreme even for me, but I did go out without a jacket and loved every minute :)

Somehow we ended up with almost zero plans for this weekend. I love that kind of weekend - wide open for whatever we feel like getting into! The only plans we had ahead of time were for me to take some engagement pictures for J's sister Jennie on Saturday afternoon. She is getting married in October. They're hiring a regular photographer for the wedding and will probably get engagement pictures as part of their package, but they wanted some now so they could put their save-the-date cards together. And hey, maybe if they're happy enough with them they can get a discount on their professional photog package by not needing the offered engagement session. I've got lots of editing to do (600+ shots) but I'll share some when they're done.

So Friday night we just vegged, quite literally. We put C to bed and then just sat on the couch. We watched some TV, J played some video games, and that. was. it. Last night was more of the same after Jennie and Michael left. They sweetly bought us dinner and hung out to watch a few episodes of Big Love on DVD (a tradition that started while Jennie was living here) after our photo shoot.

Today we planned to de-Christmas while C was napping, but somehow we started on it early and managed to be completely done by nap time. I always dislike taking down Christmas decorations because the house looks so bare and sad without them. But I must admit, this is the first year I was feeling really ready to get things back to normal. I'm also a sucker for how pristinely clean the house is right before and right after Christmas decorations. Places get vacuumed that never see the light of day. And this year since we're in purge-mode we ended up putting away fewer items than we got out at the beginning of the season - and that's after Christmas gifts. Ten points for us :)  In fact as we speak, J is on a run to Goodwill and the baby consignment store. Correction- he just stopped by our house mid-errands to drop off an iPhone for me. The end. Be back later!

Friday, January 6, 2012

One down - three to go!

This is our microwave. What do you mean something's missing? OH, yes. It's looked that way for long enough that I can't remember when it was last in one piece. So embarrassing. One day the vent cover honestly just fell off. The plastic that held it on broke and that was it. No way to fix it. The microwave itself still worked fine, so we left it. We got so used to it that we never even thought twice when company would come over. People would give it a startled double-take and ask what happened. I can't believe we casually had company with this thing in our kitchen and offered no explanation. Looking back we could have at least ridden the "east coast earthquake" thing for a while. Well anyway, it's history. We got a new one from J's parents for Christmas and this one is GONE. Whew.

And so the Great Kitchen Overhaul of 2012 begins! It feels so great to have one thing crossed off the list already. Strangely, we both felt like that one new appliance made such a difference in our being able to visualize the rest of the transformation. What do you think?
Can you see a stainless stove below? A stainless refrigerator beside it? What about some clean white cabinets? All those things are on our list and we can't wait to cross them off! You might recall my reference to our kitchen as a "functional wreck" in my previous post. While we're at it, let me go ahead and elaborate on that.

We're hoping to do our remaining three appliances (stove, refrigerator, dishwasher) in the next couple of months, and possibly as a bundle. We'll have to see what sales/coupons come up. Here's why...

 is what's wrong with our stove. It's the original from when the house was built in 1999 (so last century). The burners are the old disgusting coil kind. Come on. Do you even know anyone who still has a coil stove? Now you do. The problems with our coil stove are several. Beyond it heating super unevenly, the coils have never been flat. They're all wonky to the point that, as illustrated above, the cookware does not sit flat on them. Gaps between the pan and coils on one side, direct contact on the other... all adds up to unevenly cooked food. And if you're making something like eggs or using cooking oil you can bet it will all be pooled in one side of the pan based on the slope. PITA.

Moving on to door appliance #2, THIS is what's wrong with our fridge.
It sticks out about five inches too far and prevents the pantry door from opening. Yes, this is as far as our pantry door opens. Ever. We've been reaching in to put away/pull out food like this for 4.5 years. I kind of wish I'd had J take the picture with me standing there so you could see just how annoyingly small that opening is. So while a new refrigerator will be beautiful and nice, the sad part is that we need a counter-depth model for the pantry door to be able to open. This is sad because, although smaller, counter-depth refrigerators are more expensive than the great big ones. Explain me that one.

Appliance number three is our dishwasher. I've never been a fan of it. I feel like the inside arrangement is not very intuitive. Otherwise there's not really anything wrong with it except that it's black while the stove, microwave and refrigerator are white, and it's old. So it too will be replaced with the others. I think we might try to Craigslist them or donate them since they all function just fine. Seems rather wasteful to send working appliances to sit in a dump. 

We also have a heap of tile that we bought a while ago. We knew we wanted to put ceramic in several places in our house including the kitchen, and it was neutral and cheap. It's not my very favorite tile I've ever seen and we didn't even shop around for it. We happened upon it in the store one day and it was suitable enough for this house since we don't plan to live here for that many more years. It's nice and neutral so we figured it would be an instant upgrade/value added to have ceramic kitchen floor vs. well, this which we currently have.....
Yep. That's good ole linoleum. Green fake marbled linoleum. Can you believe someone actually picked that out for their house? It gives me the shivers. 

That was a pretty good run-down of the Great Kitchen Overhaul of 2012. New appliances, tile on the floor, paint on the walls and cabinets. I'd love to add two new cabinets for extra storage (and to eliminate a hutch we have that I hate) creating a peninsula, but that would also mean new countertops and I'm not sure those badboys are in the budget. That could depend on what sort of deal we get on appliances and what sort of deal we can find on counters. Stay tuned though, because this is just the beginning. I'm excited to document the whole process and transformation, and mostly to have a practically new kitchen in the end. Woot!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year!

Good morning, it's 2012! I guess it's a sign of my age that that number seems a little startling to me. But before we get to talking about what 2012 means for us, let's take a quick look back at the highlights from 2011 to say a proper farewell.

We started the year with an 8 month old baby.

Just a couple of days in, we started babysitting my nephew Austin and that pretty much took up our days until we decided it was time to move on ten months later in mid October. We also had some fun family events in those months though. We celebrated C's first birthday in April with a beautiful day in the park just down the street from our house.

In July we also took an amazing vacation to Corolla, NC with my whole family. It was a much needed break and turned out to be so much fun for every one. We started planning our return trip before we even left.

Soon after we got back from vacation we found out that J got his new job. This was huge news for us for a few reasons. The biggest being that the new job would carry his government clearance (which he would have lost if he stayed at the job he had at the time), and the benefits were leaps and bounds above what he already had. In September we took C to the zoo for the very first time. I think we loved it as much as she did. In October we took our annual trip to New York City, but went big this time and stayed for four days! In the past it was always a day trip, so this was a huge deal for us to spend so much time in the city. We loved every minute.

After returning from New York, we were no longer babysitting so C and I were on our own to do whatever we wanted during the day again. We had lots of play dates and I started running regularly again. I was even able to work on and complete some fun craft projects. We spent Thanksgiving in the usual fashion, dinner at both of our parents' houses. It's a little hectic but we like being able to share the holiday with everyone. My step-dad had surgery on December 22nd for esophageal cancer. It was very successful and he has been getting better every day since. It did change up our Christmas celebration just a little, but it was still fantastic. And finally, last night we rang in the new year by having dinner with my sister and my mom and my sister's kids. The cousins were adorable. They ran and played and had a dance party in the middle of the floor.

Somehow this kind of new year's celebration seems so much more appealing to me these days than going out into a crowd of drunks and trying to get home without one of them killing me on the road. You just see things differently when you've got a baby to get home to.

Anyway, that brings us to today. Happy 2012! We had lots of fun in 2011, and are just as excited for the fun things we have planned in 2012. Of course, we know things don't always go as planned, and then there are always the unplanned events to keep us on our toes. It's all good. But as for the things we have planned, here's the current list...

1) A major kitchen upgrade. Tile, appliances, paint, and possibly the addition of a peninsula. Our kitchen is basically a functional wreck (more on that later) so I can't wait. Stay tuned.

2) Lots of paint. You probably recall my post on choosing a paint color a while back. That project is about to be under way.

3) Adding some stairs to our deck. Doesn't sound exciting, but let me tell you why it is. We currently have to drop everything, take C from whatever she's doing, haul down to the basement, and stand at the back door while the dog goes out to do his business. Sometimes he's out there for 5 seconds, and sometimes he's out there for 5+ minutes. It doesn't sound like a big deal, but trust me it's a huge pain especially if he needs to go three times in an hour. Adding stairs to the deck means we just walk to the kitchen and open the door.

4) The Big 3-0 <-- I'll be turning that in June! :-O

5) Weddings, weddings, and more weddings. Three this spring, and J's sister Jennie in the fall. Whew!

6) We're probably foregoing an official summer vacation this year in exchange for some much needed home improvements, but we're still looking forward to a nice relaxing summer of doing whatever we want. Compared to being house-bound last summer, that in itself will be a vacation.

I'll be honest, I'm pumped already. It's so nice to look at the year from January 1st and see nothing but fun and excitement ahead. I mean, sure it would be a little naive not to anticipate any hiccups or roadblocks along the way, but it's still fun to think of a whole year ahead, fresh and clean, with only the events you're looking forward to on the calendar. Here's to praying your calendar and mine remain that way. All the best for a healthy, happy and prosperous new year to everyone :)