Evolution of a House





I’ve been super terrible at posting here, but now the huge giant living room and dining room project is done, and I thought it would be best to just recap the whole thing.

So here’s where we started:


Then we pulled many, many layers of wallpaper off the half wall that was papered in the dining room, and were left with this for many months:

(We considered just labeling it random like a map. Or labeling places like Narnia and Gallifrey on it.)


So while we figured out what to do with the wall and saved up for dealing with everything else, we got it to sort of a workable for now phase.

Step 1: Taking down the ugliest curtains in the history of the world and cut off the weird frilly thing. It was liberating.

No, we did not make playclothes for seven children with the old curtains.


We put up long, white sheer curtains instead (Matilda curtains from IKEA) and it already made a huge difference. The rooms became about a hundred times more open and airy.


Finally in October we were ready to really dig in and start Phase 2!

First thing we did was start getting some of our windows replaced. They were original to the house (built in 1938), leaked, and would not open.




yeah, ew.

Here are the new ones. So much better! They open and everything! It feels magical.



The cats approve.

I pulled up the carpet while Matt started the long process of scraping the texture off the walls. We were hoping we’d be able to refinish the hardwoods underneath (we knew they were there, but we had no idea what kind of shape they were in).


Alas, it was not to be.

For the next four or five weeks we spent just about every available moment scraping the walls, wiping the dust off, and putting on several layers of skim coating to smooth things out again. By the time we were all done, we’d put on 4 or 5 coats of skim coating. All told, we figured, with scraping, cleaning, and skim coating, we figured we put in about 120 hours.

Also, despite our best efforts, every corner of our house got dusty.


This was probably the fifth or sixth time I swept up.

Anyway, after the long, exhausting process of scraping and skim coating, we finally painted! The color is Cafe Latte, by Glidden.



And finally — this was probably the most exciting part of the whole project — it was time to put in the floor. We decided on Pergo Highland Hickory laminate flooring. It’s nice and thick, it got great durability reviews, and we really loved the deep color.


Here it all is doing its acclimating thing!




We did the installation ourselves, which was great because it saved us a bunch of money. It really wasn’t hard, but it was very time consuming.

And here’s the (basically) finished result!

Ignore the fact that it’s not super clean. I forgot to pick everything up before taking the photos.





You’d never know what that wall used to look like, right?

It’s okay. Go ahead and be impressed with us. We’re pretty impressed with ourselves too.



And now, some gratuitous Christmas pictures:







What I’m Reading

A while ago, my lovely friend and colleague Rachel posted a book review of Cornelius Plantinga’s Reading for Preaching on Eerdword, the company blog, called “The Pastor and the English Major.”

Such lists are hard for me to resist. Now that I’m finally caught up with (a) reading the awesome Plantinga book and (b) whittling down my long, long list to a manageable size, here’s my contribution to the conversation.

1. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, by C. S. Lewis: I agree with Rachel that “No one can render complex theological concepts as plainly and winsomely as Lewis,” but as much as I love The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, VDT is my absolute favorite. Not only does it start with one of the greatest opening lines in all of literature (“There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.”), it also features one of my favorite characters (the abovementioned Eustace), and it’s all about the Christian life.

2. Much Ado about Nothing, by William Shakespeare: “But wait!” you say. “This is supposed to be recreational reading, not more work!”

Don’t be scared off by the fact that it’s Shakespeare; this play is a pretty easy read and my favorite Shakespearean comedy. No one can turn a wittier or lovelier phrase than the bard. Plus: Dogberry. He has lines like “Thou shalt be condemned to eternal redemption for this!”

(Bonus recommendation: Hamlet – the easiest read of the really great tragedies. Macbeth is shorter and easier but doesn’t quite have the depth of Hamlet – nor does it have the gorgeous, tortured existential soliloquies. My favorite tragedy is King Lear, but that’s a huge play to wrap your head around and may end up feeling more like work.)

(Yes, I’m an unapologetic Shakespeare nerd.)

3. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee: All the hairs on your arms will stand straight up when Atticus Finch walks into the courtroom. This story is sure to bring delight (. . . there are so many awesome bits that I want to tell you about, but I’m deeply afraid of spoilers) plus make you think deeply about the concept of justice.

4. A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeline L’Engle: a few misfit children, a dash of science fiction, a bit of magic, and a wonderful good vs. evil story.

5. Anything by P. G. Wodehouse: I admit, the particular brand of offbeat humor in these stories is not something everyone enjoys, but I love them. My mother does not allow me or my dad to read these stories in public because we giggle too much. My favorite are the Jeeves and Wooster stories, but if you’re only going to make time for one, read “The Clicking of Cuthbert.” One of my very favorite lines:

“Anyone who was content to call you fairly good-looking would describe the Taj Mahal as a pretty nifty tomb.”

I mean, really. Who doesn’t need more of that in their life?

6. I echo Plantinga’s hearty recommendation of The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini. I also loved Hosseini’s latest, And the Mountains Echoed. Lovely, lovely books with complicated morality questions to wrestle with.

7. Quiet, by Susan Cain: Possibly you’re an introvert. Certainly at least some of the people you work with are introverts, and absolutely definitely some people in your congregation are introverts. As an introvert myself, I loved this book. It was affirming and made sense of a lot of how I operate.

8. East of Eden, by John Steinbeck: Again, this echoes Plantinga’s recommendation of the book. Fair warning: it’s pretty dark. Cathy is one of the most thoroughly evil characters I’ve ever encountered. But it’s a brilliant book.

If you want another great Steinbeck, I’m also a big fan of The Grapes of Wrath. Mildly less dark than East of Eden, but still a great picture of migrant life in the 1920’s and 30’s. As Plantinga says, “You feel the desolation and maybe your feeling has the texture of compassion.”

9. Speaking of the 1920’s and 30’s — A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith. Except this time it’s the lives of a poor Irish family in New York City. A gentle and lovely book.

10. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows: This is a brilliant epistolary novel, which is not usually a genre I enjoy.

Bonus recommendation: The Last Days of Summer, by Steve Kluger. Another brilliant epistolary novel.

Fair warning: both these books make me cry every time I read them. Even if you’re not a crier you’ll definitely feel lots of things.

That’s all I’ll say about that.

11. Bonus recommendation: (This isn’t a book, so it doesn’t count. At least, that’s what I’m telling myself.) This American Life, episodes 487 and 488 about Harper High School in Chicago, are very, very well worth listening to. I’ll let their description speak for itself:

“We spent five months at Harper High School in Chicago, where last year alone 29 current and recent students were shot. 29. We went to get a sense of what it means to live in the midst of all this gun violence, how teens and adults navigate a world of funerals and Homecoming dances. We found so many incredible and surprising stories, this show is a two-parter.”

There. Ten books for pastors or anyone else who cares about deriving wisdom from good reading, if you don’t count the bonus recommendations. Asking for a list of only ten books was just too darn hard.

Front door


We’re still plugging away at our living room and dining room, but we haven’t made any progress that’s worthy of pictures — you pretty much have to run your hand over the wall to really notice how different it is. We should be able to finish the skim coating that I mentioned in the last post this week and hopefully start painting.

In the meantime, I thought I’d share a picture of our front door that we updated recently. I’ve always wanted a red front door, but I was nervous about making such a bold choice.

But after a couple weeks staring at many, many, many paint chips taped to the door . . .

Ta da!


The color is red rose bouquet, by Glidden.  I love that it’s a really pure red — not too maroon and not too orange. We also updated the hardware so it’s an oil-rubbed bronze color instead of goldish. We also bought new hinges in the same color, but we haven’t managed to make the switch yet — and now that it’s gotten so cold we may wait until spring, when it’s a bit more tolerable to be without a front door for a few hours (we also have yet to paint the sides.)

The other thing we’re going to do in the spring is replace the shutters, which have chipping green paint and are falling apart. So for now we have sort of a Christmas House, with the red door and the green shutters. Oh well. It looks great from the inside.

We also painted the hallway recently. You can see the new color above. It used to be a terrible faded yellow. Now it’s a lovely grey (Nimbus Cloud, by Martha Stewart).


Hopefully by next week I’ll have some living and dining room progress to share!

Bye, Carpet!

We’ve been waiting and looking forward to starting the living and doing rooms. Here’s what we started with:


I know, right? Those curtains. The previous owners had a chair to match, too. Seriously. The same fabric. It was intense.


We took the curtains down after a few months — I couldn’t take it anymore — and cut off the weird frilly thing. It was liberating.


The first order of business was changing the horrifying light switches. I don’t even have a picture of the old ones, but if you look super closely you can see how intricate and awful it was lying on the floor next to Matt’s foot. This was the day we got possession of the house, so obviously we weren’t going to take on much, but it was very exciting to update something, even if it was just a light switch cover.

Second order of business: tearing down the awful wallpaper.

. . . to find a second layer of wallpaper.



And then the wall looked like this for six months. Matt poked away at it whenever he got sick of looking at it again, but we weren’t making a lot of progress.


So we put things together to a point where we could live with it for a while, while we saved up and thought about where we wanted to go with the two rooms. Since they’re so open to each other, I knew I wanted to do the same colors in both rooms so they’d feel really connected.

Again, I fail to understand why pictures I took on my iphone are full-size and the ones I took on my real camera are so tiny. Alas.

Anyway, here’s the dining room in its temporary state:

The table has been floating around my family for the last 60 years. The dresser also used to be my dad’s (family is awesome). I think the curtains are the only new thing in here so far; they’re Matilda curtains from Ikea (only $20 a pair!)
Here’s the living room:
Same curtains in here — again with making these two rooms flow together. The couch is shockingly old and ugly — it’s secretly green plaid under that cover and we found a cell phone at least ten years old buried in it. We have no idea who it belongs to.

The red blanket is from Ikea also. We’re hoping it’ll tie in nicely with the red front door, which is just over to the right of this picture.

The lovely bowl was a housewarming gift from Matt’s aunt. This picture doesn’t do justice to how gorgeous it is.
Poor houseplants. This is my third orchid. Its name is Oliver. I think it somehow knew my reputation. It started dying within a week.

This lumpy papasan chair is . . . well, lumpy and not that attractive. But it’s super comfortable. I can’t be persuaded to give it up yet. I’m not sure what our plan is for it, but I’m determined to find it a good home somewhere in our house.


There’s the open front door reflected in the mirror, to give you an idea of the layout of the house.





We knew there were hardwoods under the carpet, but we had no idea what kind of shape they would be in. We definitely knew that we didn’t care for the carpet that was there, though — it had a weird swirly pattern and it was a goldish color that felt like it should live in a nursing home — so we figured there wasn’t a lot to lose by pulling it up and finding out. Best case scenario, we thought, was that we could just clean them up a bit. Maybe we’d have to refinish them, but we thought that would for sure do the trick. 


So I spent a Sunday afternoon pulling them up and painstakingly pulling out all the staples.
Not so much with sticking with the hardwoods, as it turns out. They’re very badly stained.
Also, our house was built in 1938

= Depression Era. Which means that our hardwoods are much thinner than most, and if we sand them down too far there won’t be anything left.

Here’s the other issue. The walls in these two rooms are textured. We didn’t love it, but we figured it was too much to take on to be worth undoing. 

But . . . this wall. We realized as we took off the wallpaper and chipped away at the glue that this one random half wall in the dining room would not have texture and we weren’t sure how to redo it in a way that would match the rest of the rooms. So . . .

off it’s coming. (The texture, that is. The wallpaper is already long gone.)100_0952

Anyway. That’s where we are. We spent about a week scraping as much of the texture as we could off the walls. Now we’re on our second coat of skim coating. It seems to be going pretty well so far! It’s a little hard to tell how it’s going to turn out, so I’ll be back with an update soon.

As for the floors, we picked new flooring and a paint color last week. Once the walls are done we’ll be installing the flooring and then we’ll be almost done! It will be glorious.

Family Room: Finished!


The day we got possession — not so much with having furniture yet

So, I don’t really know what this sad little neglected blog is anymore. I never intended for it to be any sort of home improvement blog, but that’s kind of our life now; ever since we bought our house in April we’ve been doing a lot of painting and planning and updating.

Anyway, I’m really proud of how what we’ve done so far has turned out — I had a lot of vision for this house coming in, but I didn’t know how it would turn out since my decorating instincts were previously untested.

Our family room is where we spend the most time, so it’s the room we took on first. Like a lot of the house it was a weird yellow when we moved in. We got some new furniture and painted, and it looks so much better now!


Painting husband


Jake cutting in


super satisfying

Fortunately, we have good friends — Hope and Jake came over on a Friday night to help us. We ended up staying up until about midnight getting it done.

Worth it!

I’m not sure why the pictures change size here, so I apologize for my lack of formatting knowledge. But here’s the after!


The paint color is lemongrass, by Martha Stewart. 100_0914

The couches are from American Freight. As much as we love them (best napping couch ever), we’d never go back there again. We had a terrible experience. But that’s another story.image

image The pillows are from Kohls (found on sale — I only paid $10 each!)

The enormous cat is Puddleglum. He’s the best. Except possibly Pevensie, who was sleeping elsewhere at the time.

The blue blanket, I think, is from Crate and Barrel. It was a wedding present. It’s made from alpaca wool and it’s super lovely and soft.


See? I told you he’s the best.


The end tables are from a teensy little furniture store that was going out of business. I don’t remember the name. The lamps are from World Market.

 This dresser lived in my dad’s bedroom when he was 15. It used to be wood (okay, so it’s still wood. It used to be wood colored.) and have ugly gold handles. I painted it with oil based primer and then Lamb by Martha Stewart.




The basket thing is from Ikea, and it holds all our blankets. We need many — they scatter all over our house during the winter since I’m always, always, always cold. I don’t really know if having the basket will help keep them more contained, but at least they have a home base now.100_0921And, finally, the bookcase is from Target. So are the baskets.

That’s it! At least until I have the patience to deal with my camera and computer again, neither of which lend themselves to easy posting of pictures.

Upon the Demise of Arthur Philip Dent

My husband’s New Year’s resolution was to be more disciplined about his writing (y’all should check out his new blog that’s part of that resolution, by the way. He’s pretty awesome, and he writes about alpacas. How much better could it get?)

Anyway, his writing inspired me to try to get the heck back to my writing. I spend a lot of my day writing for work, but I realize that writing for fun on occasion will keep me inspired and creative.

So I tried. And I ended up rambling about pickles, of all things.

Turns out that getting back to non-work writing may be something of a process.

I did, however, find this post that I wrote back in the summer of 2011, when I lived with Elaine and her writing discipline inspired me. I think school started before I posted this and then teaching ate my life for a year and I forgot it existed. Here it is now.

(It might not be good, but I assure you it was better than the ramblings about pickles.)

When I was not even quite sixteen, my mom bought a car for me.  A 1995 Ford Contour, champagne colored.  Technically, I suppose, it was a third family car, but I ended being basically the only person who used it.

His name was Arthur Dent.  Arthur Philip Dent.

(“You’re a jerk, Dent.” Name the speaker of that sentence and I will give you a prize. Anyone?)

The inspiration for this name, apart from wishing to salute The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, came from the large dent in the rear passenger door.  The former owner, a little old lady in the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s who had only used the car once a week to go to the grocery store and the beauty parlor, claimed she had just gently run into a curb.  An extremely tall and vicious curb, apparently, for the dent was prominent and nearly up to the window.

This was only the first of many things that would give this car character.

The first snow we had while I was driving that car came in November.  It was a heavy storm the day before Thanksgiving break.  I timidly inched my way home from school over the course of an hour –- normally a fifteen minute trip.  I went inside, a little shaky from the harrowing experience, and told my parents that I didn’t think Arthur did very well in the snow.  There were no anti-lock brakes, for one thing, and the tires didn’t seem like they were quite up to snuff.

“Oh, don’t worry,” they said casually.  “It was your first big snow.  You’ll get used to it.”  I had, after all, learned to drive in a Jeep Cherokee, complete with ABS and 4-wheel drive.  It was just different.  That was all.

I did get used to it.  By the end of the winter I was confidently handling anything Michigan threw in my path.

That March, my mom took Arthur in for me to get something checked out.  When the mechanic looked at my tires, he reportedly blinked at my mother in mild horror and asked her whether she had really, truly, permitted her 16-year-old daughter to drive on them, as they were nearly bare.

Those tires were replaced, though, and it was a mere one-winter incident.  The doors on the other hand . . .

The doors on Arthur froze shut.  All the time.  You would think that they wouldn’t be able to if the temperature hadn’t risen above freezing since I’d last opened them.  But these doors defied normal rules.  There were many mornings when I stood in the cold, alternately blowing warm air on the seal of the driver’s door until I was lightheaded and throwing my weight into pulling it open.  We eventually came up with a system where I would carefully shut a large bag in my door so that the seal wouldn’t actually come in contact with anything other than the bag, to which it had a much harder time freezing.  This almost always worked, but made my car look pretty stupid on a regular basis.  Not to mention that the pile of snow sitting on the bag would almost always attack me when I opened the door, giving me a cold, wet front and snowy socks when I had just started the day. Also a cold, wet butt, usually, once I sat down.

If I ever had passengers during the winter – a situation I tried to avoid, for obvious reasons – they often had to climb in through the driver’s door and maneuver their way into their seats, again leaving me with a cold, wet butt from their boots on the driver’s seat.

The worst was the occasional time when I arrived somewhere and had to call someone nearby. “Okay, this is a really weird request, but could you please boil some water and come pour it on my car door? It’s frozen shut and I’m stuck inside.”

The locks and the gas cap froze shut on a regular basis, too. It got to the point where I left my car unlocked all winter (fortunately it looked every bit as cheap as it was; no one would have had any business bothering to steal it) and got over feeling self-conscious about whacking Arthur with vigor when I got to the gas station so I could refuel.

Among the more embarrassing moments of my life (though there are many) was the time I gave Arthur a big kick in an effort to get the dang gas cap off, slipped on some ice, fell hard on my butt, and still couldn’t get it open.

The rear view mirror fell off once at random. I understand this is fairly normal, as weird car things go. But when it was reattached, they placed it too high, so that you could no longer push down the sun visor thingys without making the mirror go all wonky.

The windshield wipers were, at one point, held together by duct tape.

The brake lights went out on a shockingly regular basis – every two months or so. At one point I had neither working brake lights nor blinkers. Not the safest way to drive, particularly when you want to turn sometime other than at a stoplight.

Still. I loved that car.

Goodbye, Sir Arthur Philip Dent. You served me mostly faithfully and moderately well

Hello, internet…

Hello, internet.  And blog.  Look, I still exist.  And I have things to write burbling around in me, but I’m still recovering from school (that will be a post soonish, once I have enough distance to process the year) and, oh yeah.  I’m getting married on Saturday.  


Married like my parents are married.  27 years of married, for them.  It’s strange and huge and thrilling and intimidating.

Spending my life with Matt isn’t strange or intimidating, by the way.  Days with him are normal and comfortable and happy.  But the whole thing where I’m committing the rest of my whole wide life to someone else is starting to make my stomach squish around a little with happy nerves.  The idea that 27 years from now we’ll be somewhere something like where my parents are now, presumably.  That someday we could have a kid who’s part Matthew and part me.  

The little things are making me oddly nervous this week.  I write this lying in our new (queen-sized) bed that is comfortable and all mine for a couple of days.  I’m sleeping better than I have in a long time in the lovely new squishiness, but it doesn’t quite feel like mine yet.  The whole thing – my whole life after Saturday – none of it quite feels like mine yet.  My new name (that’s a post in itself, too) feels strange under my pen.  My honeymoon next week feels like a far-away dream.  It’s not real that I get to go on vacation with my new husband.  It can’t possibly be.  Oh, and speaking of that – I’m going to have a husband.  

Strange and wonderful, that time does actually move on.  That the boy in my sister’s high school play who I was secretly swooning over almost five years ago turned out to be my Matthew.  That it feels like yesterday that Tony and Andrew and the rest of my cleaning crew were telling me that I should just go out with the guy already, since we were so obviously perfect for each other, but that at the same time I can hardly remember what life felt like before I loved him.  Strange and wonderful that a year and a half felt like forever when we got engaged in January of 2011 – and more often than not still felt like forever until about a month ago – and now is gone.

Strange and wonderful that I’m sure a year from now I could look back on this post and struggle to remember this feeling of happy anxiety, that I’ll try to remember what life felt like before I was his wife, and it will feel strange, I’m sure, to remember that I haven’t always been, just as it feels strange now to remember that he hasn’t always been in my life.

In the end, if it were just me and him, I’m not sure I could do it.  It would be too scary to take my confused, broken human life and tie it to someone else for our next who-knows-how-many years.  All of them.  Till death do us part, whenever that is.  It’s too big for two humans to take on.  But our marriage is one that has three parts all working together: me, Matthew, and Christ.  Jesus holds it all together and makes it work.  He taught us how to love and in loving each other well and loving Christ well, we can show just a smidgety glimpse of God’s grace and love to each other.

I’ve been reading this passage a lot this week:

“He was supreme in the beginning and – leading the resurrection parade – he is supreme in the end.  From beginning to end he’s there, towering far above everything, everyone.  So spacious is he, so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding.  Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe – people and things, animals and atoms – get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the cross.”  (Colossians 1:18-20, The Message)

It all fits together – it all works – because God is so big, because God loves us, and because God can hold it all.  Because God can take my brokenness and Matt’s brokenness and fix it.  And then he can take us and make us fit into this giant and unspeakably beautiful piece of music that the universe sings.

Our marriage is part of that harmony.  It is part of God’s plan and he’s going to use us for good.  That’s why, despite all the anxiety squishing around, despite the stress and busyness of preparing for the day, despite the rain in the forecast, Saturday is going to be the best day.

( by the way, if you read all that, you’re a champ.  It’s 1:30 and I can’t sleep, which is why all those thoughts came gushing out all at once and not very organizedly.)