Sunday, April 28, 2013

Millie's White Tree Mural

We wanted to paint a mural in the baby's room.  Actually, I wanted to paint a mural and Sean humored/enabled me. I was envisioning something simple and relatively monochromatic, and I thought white birch trees on a gray background wouldn't show baby vomit would look nice. The trick was, getting the design right, and choosing the right color gray.

This was one of those projects that we finished, and then we went "Oh Dammit! We should have taken pictures before we started."  Alas. We won't have any sweet "before and after" pictures, but I can still describe the room we started with. It was just a normal room.  The walls were white, and it was in ok shape, although scratched and banged up in a few places.  The floor was a disaster and still is, because we figured there is no reason to refinish any floor on which finger painting may occur in the next 5 years.

After extensively gathering, comparing, and obsessing about color swatches on my end, and extensively feigning interest while actually watching college football on Sean's end, we settled on a great color: Dolphin Fin, by BEHR.  I can't say enough good things about this color gray. First of all-- it has the word "dolphin" in the name, and I think we can all agree that dolphins are adorable. Secondly, it comes in a low VOC option, which was important to me, as I did not want our baby to grow any weird extra appendages. Thirdly, it's a nice true gray-- not too purple or too blue, but just right. 

The white color we used was matched from a color that the previous home-owners had used on the floor-boards and window trim (because we are lazy and didn't want to repaint those things. ) It is a great looking white---not exactly off-white, but definitely rich and creamy, and it provided the perfect amount of contrast with the gray--- enough to "pop," but not so much that the design overpowers the room. 

We masked, taped, and then painted the ceiling and walls. We used two coats of the dolphin fin on the walls (we chose the semi gloss option so it would be easier to clean and wipe when she inevitably draws on it with crayons--or worse!) Then, we waited and let everything dry.

Now comes the fun part--the mural. I had done a lot of google image searches for "white tree mural" as I was brainstorming this project.  If you are planning on painting a mural soon, I'd recommend doing some googling for inspiration. Although I didn't find any examples of the mural I had in mind, I found a few that were close.  I discovered that adding a few birds flying through the trees gives the design an ornate touch.  I also learned that, while my initial insticts were to go with a much darker color gray, I actually found those designs to be overpowering, especially for a baby's room.

When the walls were dry, I took a piece of chalk and started to sketch out my design. If you don't trust your artistic abilities, you could always use a projector and trace an image you like onto the wall. Not to brag or anything, but I've been drawing some pretty kick-ass trees since the 5th grade, so I felt confident in my ability to do it free-handed. Once I was happy with my sketch, I took a small paintbrush, and filled in my chalk outlines with white paint.   BLAMO!  End of Mural.  All told it took about 3 hours from start to finish to draw and paint the mural.

Now Millie has a bedroom full of white trees. She loves to stare at them, drooling and making high pitched baby noises which I interpret to mean, "Mommy, I love my mural, thank you!" but, which probably actually means, " Mommy, one day I will smear my own poop on these walls!"

Here is the mural "in progress," by which I mean that I haven't removed the masking tape from the trim yet.

white birch tree mural

Here is the mural being inspected by our resident art critic, Cricket. 
mural for baby's room

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Grandpa Jay's Window Seat

We have a new item on furniture in our house that I need to brag blog about. This beautiful custom window seat was made for Millie by her Grandpa Jay, who (as you can see) is a very fine woodworker.
window seat walnut top

Before the baby was born, Jay asked Sean and I what he could build for the baby.  We told him the baby really needed a custom bar top for her home-brew equipment.  He didn't go for it, so we had him build this window seat for the baby's room instead.

What I love about this seat is the built in storage underneath.  Babies come standard with between 200-400 brightly colored baby toys. Millie is too young for most of them, but one day, I can see how she will really enjoy shoving them into her mouth.   In the meantime, I need a way to hide them from the public, since her room is already generally a tornado zone of dirty diapers, puke covered onesies, and cardboard Dr. Suess books. The built in storage is really going to help with that.

Now take a look at the top of the seat. What does that look like to you? That's right, Assholes. It's a single slab of sustainably harvested walnut with live edging! It's what rich people make dining room tables out of, and we are so decadent we just sit around on ours! If a rich person came to our house and saw it they may say, "oh, what a beautiful piece of walnut, are you going to make a dining room table out of that?" And we'll say, "no, we're just going to sit around on our asses on it, but we may change a diaper on it later." BAM. BLAM. BLAMMO. Gosh it's fun living in high society.

So thanks Grandpa Jay, for the beautiful new window seat.  We'll make sure Millie doesn't use it as a dining room table, because, after all, that's where people's asses have been.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Worst Permaculture Guild Ever

In permaculture, there is a term called a guild—a grouping of plants that interact together in a mutually beneficial way. The most classic example of a guild is the three sisters: corn, beans, and squash planted together.  The corn stalks provide a trellis for the beans to grow up, the beans help to fix nitrogen in the soil, and the squash plants spread out, covering the ground with lush vegetation and shielding the soil from evaporation. All three plants benefit from the neighbors around them.

When we bought our house, we didn’t initially notice that there was a thriving guild on the hillside immediately adjacent to our future garden spot.  However, once we set to work clearing it, we noticed that our hillside was dominated by 4 plants--- which seemed to be working in tandem to squash out all other life on the hillside, and to increase our misery by constantly trying to take over our yard.  These four plants formed an elegant guild:

Upper tree Layer: Black Walnut- The beautiful assassin of the plant world.  Black Walnuts look gorgeous, but they emit a toxin called juglone which, kills all other life including tomatoes, asparagus, puppies, and pretty much all worthwhile living things. Ruefully, poison ivy is immune to juglone.

Secondary tree Layer- Buckthorn-The Jar Jar Binks of the plant world. This small tree pops up everywhere.  It is obnoxious, and absolutely no one likes it. Buckthorns make approximately one ga-jillion berries per small tree, which fall into my lawn in such abundance that instead of grass, we just have tiny buckthorn trees coming up everywhere. I’m not sure which I would rather run over with a lawnmower—baby buckthorn trees, or Jar Jar Binks himself.

Shrub Layer- Multi-Flora Rose- The Sitcom Mother-in-law of the plant world.  You know the show Everybody Loves Raymond? Multi-flora Rose is kind of like the Mother-in-law from that show. Sure, she smells kind of good, in a floral old-lady sort of way.  In fact, you may even want to invite her over, but pretty soon she becomes invasive—not respecting your boundaries, and criticizing the way you load your dishwasher. It’s best to eradicate her immediately.

Vine Layer- Poison Ivy- The Poison Ivy of the plant world.  I gave it this title because I can’t think of anything worse than Poison Ivy.  Let’s be clear. Poison Ivy is the ABSOLUTE WORST.  I hate everything about Poison Ivy.  If I could obliterate poison ivy from the face of existence, I would do it without a second’s hesitation. When I was a little girl, I got poison ivy in my EYEBALLS.  One of my husband’s many charming qualities is that he doesn’t get poison ivy, and he can go before me into the fray, wiping out any poison ivy in our path and clearing the way for me to do yard work. He is a total hero. 

The way these four plants assisted each other was really quite impressive.  The Black Walnuts released juglone, which cleared the understory of any competitor plants.  The multifloral rose created a thicket of inviting bird habitat for the feathery invaders that gorged themselves on buckthorn berries and dropped the seeds across our lawn. The poison ivy provided a calf-high groundcover that thwarted any enterprising young home owners who foolishly dreamed of cleaning the area up.

That is, until Sean entered the picture. I'll never forget the sight of him--in his carhart overalls, charging across the landscape with his chainsaw and his work gloves, and his beard blowing in the wind.  He chopped, sawed, shredded, and dug-- looking exactly like Hercules-- and protected his sweet wife (and her eyeballs) from the perils of the monstrous poison ivy and it's botanical cohorts. Maybe the plants will move on this Spring--seeking out backyards with less rugged heroism and fewer eyeball vendettas-- but maybe they won't be so wise.  Maybe they will come back, and if they do, we'll be ready for them. Oh yes, we'll be ready...

Here is the hillside when we moved in. I know it looks lush and green, but literally everything living on it had to be destroyed.
hillside full of poison ivy, buckthorn, black walnuts, and multiflora rose

Here is the same hillside now pre-spring.  We've planted paw-paws, mulberries, redbuds, wildflowers and much more to replace the invasive buckthorns and roses.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

8 Ways to Cope With a Colicky Baby

Does your baby scream every evening from 7:00-10:00 pm?  I know ours does! If you are a member of the colicky baby club, here are some coping strategies you can try!

1. That Thing That Worked Yesterday- The first thing you should try when your colicky baby is screaming is That Thing That Worked Yesterday. You know, that thing you did, which made your baby instantly calm down, and made you think, "Oh, I wish I had done this from the beginning! Next time I'll know exactly what to do! " New parents--this is important--That Thing That Worked Yesterday will never work again, ever. But, you should still try it out, because it's essential that any hope you still have is extinguished as soon as possible.  This is your life now.

2. Pacifiers- Just kidding. The pacifier will only make your baby scream more. The truth is, pacifiers don't even soothe non-colicky babies. They are given out at baby showers as practical jokes to unsuspecting new parents.  If you received more than 5 pacifiers at your baby shower, then your friends are assholes.

3. Xylophone Music-  When you were pregnant, you probably had all sorts of visions about cultivating your young charge's musical tastes by exposing her to your favorite indie bands and shielding her fragile young mind from the corrupting influence of clear-channel radio. It seemed to be working too.  As a newborn she appeared to tolerate the alt-country mix you made for her, and she drooled in an encouraging way when her Daddy busted out "Whiskey 'Fore Breakfast" on his mandolin. But then, one of your evil relatives gave her an album of simple baby songs performed by an all xylophone ensemble, and it could not be plainer that she vastly prefers this to Steve Earle's "Telephone Road." Sure, you try to expose her to the good stuff too, but the instant she starts screaming, you know you'll cave, and listen to all-xylophone "Michael Row Your Boat Ashore" from 7 to 10 pm.

4. Drinking- The sooner you embrace drinking as a tool for coping with your colicky infant, the better. Now some of you mothers out there may say in an aghast tone "But I am breastfeeding! I can't feed that to my baby!!" To you I say, where are your priorities? For me, it's a choice between having a glass of wine in the evening, or listing my baby in the craigslist classifieds, and I for one am committed to shielding my baby from an uncertain future with her new craigslist family, as I can in no way guarantee that they own any CDs of xylophone music.

5. Babysitters- When you have a young infant, people may often say to you "cherish these moments, you'll miss them when they're gone. "  If your young infant has colic, you may want to punch these people in the face.  Instead, smile in an affirming way, and invite them to your house to share in your fleeting golden moments with your infant. Tell them "Anytime between 7 and 10 pm is best for our schedule." Then, when they arrive, ask them to hold the baby while you go to the bathroom, and disappear for the next 2 and 1/2 hours.

6. Giving Up Dairy- Is your colicky baby breastfeeding? If so, she could have a dairy allergy. Many parents swear that eliminating dairy from the Mother's diet helps their baby's digestive system, and therefore reduces crying. There is significant scientific research that shows that these parents hate you and want to take away your happiness.  Isn't your crying baby hard enough?  No.  They want to take away your chocolate ice cream too.

7. Off-roading- Our colicky baby hates her stroller--that is, unless we are driving it on a road so bumpy they could host BMX races on it.  I don't know why, but the bumpier the road, the sleepier the baby. If they made baby attachments for ATV's I would definitely buy one.  I would drive my baby ATV on the shittiest, most washed out gravel road I could find, blaring Xylophone "Hickory Dickory Dock" until 10 o'clock every single night, or at least until I was too drunk to safely operate an ATV.

8. Despairing-  Parents, if you haven't tried despairing yet, you really should give it a shot.  You can still read lots of baby-care books and articles, but this time, do it in a snarky way.  "Oh sure, just set the baby down once she stops screaming" you can read aloud to your partner, (the two of you laugh grimly), "I'd like to see her try that on our baby." Despairing won't make your baby stop crying, but at least you and your partner will share a mutually horrific experience, and this trauma may bring you closer together.  If this doest work, you can also try Turning on Each Other.

I hope these coping strategies work for you and your colicky infant. None of them have worked for us, but, to be fair, we are unusually reckless and irresponsible parents.

Sunday, April 14, 2013


I don’t know if this happened to anyone else, but early in my pregnancy, I developed an unhealthy interest in throw pillows.  Seriously.  I thought about throw pillows all the time. And slip-covers. Good Lord.  What the fuck was wrong with me? I looked at slip-covers on Amazon AS A LEISURE ACTIVITY.  If had some free time in the day, I would think to myself “oh goody, I can put in some hours on Amazon researching slip covers.” Thankfully, Sean recognized this as a nesting activity and didn’t divorce me, but we did have some hard conversations where I tried to make him care about the throw pillows.  Sean’s studied indifference to these important decisions made me realize that, if the baby was going to have a proper home (one with decent upholstery an accent decor) it would be up to me to make it happen.

I continued nesting hard-core throughout my pregnancy with activities that included painting a mural in the baby’s room, knitting probably 20 different baby hats, and scrubbing every stain in our carpet with a toothbrush and a peroxide solution. But, at around 8 months, my nesting hormones made it absolutely clear that the thing I needed to do right then, THAT VERY MINUTE, before any more time was lost, was landscaping.

We live in Ohio near lake Erie, or, as it’s also known, Practically Canada. So, as you may imagine, January is not the time of year when most people focus on yard work.  However, Sean had spent a lot of time this last Fall clearing the impenetrable thicket of poison ivy, buckthorns, and multi-flora rose off of our hillside, and I was anxious to get the area cleared of sticks before this year’s batch of tender young poison ivy popped up.

I devised a method of building beds LIKE A GENIUS that allowed me to dump all of our assorted sticks, bark, and general wood debris into one place and build some natural looking curved beds. (A friend of our hilariously pointed out to us later that they look like actual nests.) I waddled up and down that hillside hour after hour, dragging sticks, and hammering in wooden stakes to hold the beds in place until the nesting hormones were satisfied.  Afterwards, we reinforced each bed with 2.5 ft. sections of rebar. The next step will be to fill the beds with dirt, leaves, and compost and plant them with daylilies, chives, and strawberries.

Now that the baby is here, my nesting hormones are extremely satisfied with my January landscaping efforts.  I stare out the window at them all the time as my baby sleeps screams contentedly in my arms. To Sean’s enormous relief, I am back to my normal state of not giving a shit about throw pillows, although I still can’t stop knitting baby hats. I’ll keep you posted on the hillside “nests” as we plant them and post more pictures soon!

  • We ended up buying the Surefit stretch slipcover in a minty green.  It looks pretty good because the seat cushions are in their own case, so it acts more like a normal couch.  It does show dog hair, but this may not be a problem for those of you who have well behaved dogs that can be trusted to stay off the couch.
  • The throw pillows have down feathers that poke through their cases and stab us (and the baby) whenever we’re on the couch.  We hate them.
surefit slipcover

Here are some photos of the "nests" at the top of the hill...

Monday, April 8, 2013

New House, New Baby, New Sean & Katie

Sean and I used to talk about the future in the following order: job, house, baby.  By some miracle, we actually ended up sticking to that plan, but just barely.  We didn't know what to expect when we left our home in the NC mountains for a job opportunity in the flattest part of Ohio-- but we landed on our feet in a great community.  Then, things started changing FAST! We put in an offer on our house and less than week later, we found out that I was pregnant.  Now we are officially adults. We have mortgage, a lawnmower, and a tiny person that screams all the time.  We even have built-in-bookshelves and a food processor, but we don't let it go to our heads.

Our first night in the new house was exciting, in the same way that watching a 70 pound terrier chasing mice around a living room is exciting. Surprise! Congratulations Home-Owners! All this belongs to you!---And to the ten-thousand mice that live in your floorboards! Oh, and also the dishwasher is broken!  

Luckily, I am married to Sean.  For those of you who've never met my husband, he's just like MacGuyver, only dreamier and with a better beard. The point is, Sean can fix things, and I'm not just talking about your standard change-the oil and kill-the-spiders type of fixes. I'm talking about the type of fixes that involve taking a soldering gun to the bowels of your high-def  TV, and making your own fuel out of repurposed vegetable oil. 

Sean's ability to fix things is rivaled only by my craftiness. I am the craftiest lady you ever met.  I can take a pile of discarded and worthless junk, and--using only my creativity and vision--transform it into a pile a discarded and worthless junk WITH GLITTER. If Martha Stewart married your middle school Shop teacher, and then they had a baby, and then that baby was allowed to run feral in the woods of Appalachia and taught all the major cuss words, then that baby would be a lot like me. 

So, as you can imagine, Sean and I are pretty much the best team imaginable to tackle the perils of home-ownership, and create a safe, beautiful environment for our little one to destroy every bit of grow up in.  In this blog, I will attempt to document our adventures in parenting, DIY projects, and adulthood in general.