Monthly Archives: April 2012

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Anatomy of a Room: My Living Room

Like most people, my living room doesn’t fit the typical measurements. We live in a modified bungalow, which means that there is a central wall supporting the home. This room is long and very narrow, 12 feet wide and 30 feet long.  It was once a living room at the front of the house and a dining room near the kitchen, but as we don’t need a separate formal dining area, and its so small anyway, we’ve made it into two sitting areas. It is also the pathway through the house from the front entry to the kitchen. There are two huge picture windows, one at the front and one at the side, a (non-working) fireplace, and four doorways, one from the entry way, one into my office, one into the hallway that leads to the bedroom and bathrooms and one that leads to the kitchen. It is, in short, a hot mess to arrange and decorate. So many obstacles, it made my head spin for years.

The first thing I did was create zones.  Thinking of the long room this way helps break things down and create useable spaces. I needed to work around not only the pathway through the space, but also to create spaces for kids to play with legos and have dance parties as well as seating and tables for family movie and game nights. And for my sanity, I needed it to clean up quickly, as there has to be some space in the house where I don’t have to see something plastic and colorful for at least five minutes a day. Finally, the furniture had to fit the scale of the room and there needed to be enough seating that our family and friends could all find a perch. Our living room has gone through a lot of transformations as I figured out what works. And while I still rearrange the furniture pretty frequently, I think I’ve mostly figured out form and function now. So let’s take advantage of all that experimenting and look at the current structure and analyze what’s working well in this space. We’ll start with the floor plan today and next time we’ll look at layering in the other elements that create interest.

This is the view from our front door. I wanted to create conversation area for adults with a clear floor space for when its occupied by shorter folk. The chairs are all light enough to be easily pulled back if more space is needed and toy bins are hidden on the shelves and behind chairs. Everything is on legs so that the furniture visually takes up less space (and so legos and marbles are easier to retrieve).  The bookshelf balances the height of the fireplace, the rug is, as standard size rugs didn’t fit the space properly.

Next we have the TV area. Two couches, so we can all fit, a small round coffee table, a console and shelves.  It should feel crowded, but again, because everything is up just a bit off the floor, it doesn’t. The console actually stores the kids shoes and winter ephemera, as well as various remotes and the dvd player. The view from the couches shows off the wall of shelves between the two doorways, which somewhat camouflage the TV. I’m still looking for the perfect cord solution. Also shown, a small boy who would like Mom to stop taking pictures of the house and come play already.

These shelves are rarely so clear. In our home, any horizontal surface is generally covered in a variety of papers, kid projects, hair bands, etc. Anyone else have that problem?

In a small space, it often feels like everything should be pushed against the wall to maximize the floor area. And I confess, that was my first thought as well. Now, however, we have the couches dividing the space and I really like it.  It takes finding the right scale furniture, both of the floating couches are just 60 inches wide, to avoid having the room feel too crowded.

The final area of the living room is the desk area under the front picture window. I work from home frequently and during the summer I find it useful to move out of my office to this window to keep an eye on kids playing outside. It also serves as a homework area for the kids, a desk for all Finn’s hobbies and a great place to set up drinks and appetizers when we entertain. There are adjustable stools tucked under the desks.

So that’s my approach to our narrow living room. What space challenges have you worked with, I’d love to see your spaces too.  I’ve put together a Pinterest board if you’re interested in where everything was purchased. Some things are, of course, no longer available.  Next week we’ll look at color choices and accessories and how they can tie areas together.


Double Digits

I remember you playing with my earrings one day when you were three or four and asking when you could get your ears pierced. I thought for a minute and then answered, “When you are ten.” Ten felt older, capable of making decisions and, most importantly, it felt far, far away. Today you asked me what the date was then went to the calendar. “Seventeen more days till I can get my ears pierced.” you announced as you came back. Oh. right.

I’ve often wondered, as I watched you grow and you asked the same question to get the same answer, if ten would feel the way I imagined the first time I choose it. Would you really be ready to make a decision that permanently affected your body? Would I still be comfortable with it? Today, seventeen days away, I think, yes. And wow. Ten. Double digits. How does time pass so slowly each day, especially some days, and yet we’ve flown to here?

Now. Now you are this amazing and truly unique person. Then I had all these images of who you might be. Today you are both all of them and none of them. You struggle. You struggle much more than I ever wanted for you. Things that are easy for other kids are many times more challenging for you. But the things that the other kids never even think of, those things come so, so easy for you. I wish I could get you to see that more. How unbelievably amazing and interesting it was last year when, for your birthday party, you rewrote the script for Labyrinth, cast all your friends, and shot the movie in our backyard and basement for your party. That at nine, you not only knit constantly, you knit teeny tiny shoes, shawls and boots for the fairies that are so much a part of your world, on toothpicks. That you’ve already written chapter books, have been writing since before you could read. Your creativity is astounding. I don’t know that I’ve ever met another child who, when presented with puff balls and glue, would use the puff balls to dye the glue then create a “milkshake” sculpture that was incredibly realistic. Your enthusiasm for these projects is so tremendous that you create a following. You’ve taught all the kids on the block to knit. The fourth grade girls at your school all make fairy houses. Your little brother is convinced that you can do anything.

But you, like many people, mostly see what you think is “wrong” with you these days. You are somehow both the most cheerful and the most anxiety ridden child all at once. You struggle with your interactions with the world in ways most of us never have to think about. Some of this is how you choose to deal with the world and some of it, with the sensory processing disorder, is out of your control. Even as I see such tremendous growth in your ability to make choices that make you more comfortable, see you recognize that you can control how your overly sensitive sensory system makes you feel, I also see you struggle with the recognition that not everyone has to make those choices. I see you struggle with the knowledge that running and climbing and biking take more thought and planning on your part. And because these are the things that kids prize, I see you devalue yourself. It kills me. We’re learning, slowly, your Dad and I, to find language that helps you move past these things. Some days it works better than others. Some days I think you recognize that everyone has things they are good at and things that are hard. Some days I think you can’t see anything you’re good at, everything creates so much stress. Most days I really wish you’d come with a guide-book.

This parenting thing, there’s so much they don’t tell you in the books. It was a little easier to make mistakes when you were little, knowing you might not remember. At almost ten though, you’re going to remember later. And you’re going to call me it on now. God do you call us on every little thing. And while it is part of the plan to raise a thoughtful, articulate child capable of defending her thoughts, sometimes I really, really wish you were a little less articulate. And defensive. Tween-dom, teen-dom – whatever it is you are going after it full force some days. And as always, its tricky to recognize what is sensory processing related and what is normal hormonal starts and fits. In between these intense bouts of whatever it is, though, you’re such an interesting person now. I don’t dream for you as much as I did when you were little, creating my image of who you might be. Rather I watch in wonder every day as you create yourself. I love watching you fall in love with books, discovering my favorites as well as all the new ones that were written since I was your age. Seeing you discover yourself as a creator of imaginative worlds and artistic projects. Noticing you nurture (and then completely disregard, depending on the day) your brother, teaching him so many things.  You are an intense and thoughtful person and parenting you makes me a better person. I’m excited to see what the next year brings for you.

Early Spring


We’ve had a very early spring this year in Chicago and my front garden, now in its fourth year, is really starting to fill in, with some plants blooming for the first time. This new lush look has prompted some reminiscing about how far this garden has come. Here’s a pic from the day we bought the house.We dubbed the look “mixed media”.  Too bad you can’t see our faces, which probably reflect an “oh my god why did we buy this ugly house” panic.


And here’s the same view today.


Much better. Even with a porch covered in scooters, soccer balls, snow shovels and those helicopters that are just everywhere right now.  This did take nine years and several stages to accomplish. And that’s just for our very small, urban garden. I need to remind myself of this when I get impatient with projects. Taking time and phasing big projects out makes everything more manageable. It is so hard to live with the ugly sometimes though.

So, our timeline for this, in case that’s helpful for anyone. The bushes were taken out in the second year. The siding came in the year after that (the rest of the house was covered in a lovely pepto pink stucco that was falling off, so it had to be replaced), along with a new front door to replace the rusting, dented one. Then the yard sat, with bush stumps sticking out and patchy grass for another couple of years while we had a second child. Then finally we had the stumps dug out (and the 10 inches of landscaping rock removed) and put in the tree and bushes, with some design help from our landscape architect friend. A very small tree and bushes. I tend to buy smaller plants because I can get more of them and wait for them to fill in over time. I also tend to move plants around almost as much as furniture. Anyway, the next year we gave up on the grass (weeds) altogether and put in the rest of the plants.

There are still plenty of bare patches for me to play with, but its looking much, much better. Finding a variety of plants that really thrive in this shady front yard is tricky.  And thanks to our early spring, I’ve even got roses and lilacs blooming together.


Creating Structure


There is a spot in our backyard, right next to the house, which has housed an elaborate weed patch for the past several years while I tried to figure out what to put there. It used to store the kiddie pool and sandbox when my children were small, but at almost 10 and 6 they’ve outgrown those now.  It calls out for something with height, but is too close to the house for a tree.  Both children are still ardent pretenders and I wanted to create something that nurtured that but would grow with them.  This winter I found an image of a living willow structure and decided it would be the perfect upgrade for the space, adding both height and shade as well as endless play possibilities.

Willow dome from

I ordered the willow whips from Dunbar Gardens. They arrived Friday and the structure went together very quickly. These structures are common in England and I found several British tutorials.

First we cleared and measured the space.


Then Finn began creating the structure, inserting whips 6″ into the ground at one foot intervals. Once most of those were placed, he began carefully bending over the whips to create arcs.

We used waxed twine to join each arc.

Once all the whips were joined it was time to create the diagonal supports. Again, each whip was inserted about 6″ into the ground, this time at a diagonal.

Once all the diagonals were placed, the finished structure was ready. Took about 90 minutes from the start and used 44 eight foot willow whips. The remaining six have been put to good use fighting goblin wars. Here’s the finished structure.

In a year or two the growth should cover it completely, creating a nice nook for reading and relaxing. I’ll be putting an outdoor rug inside to help with weeds and comfort as well. Even as just a skeleton, its still lovely to look up from inside.

Small Change

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Last weekend found me searching for an answer to the clutter that collects by our back door. Bags, papers, the general ephemera of family life. Its an awkward doorway. Narrow, coming straight into the dining room and kitchen with an odd assortment of angles and functions.

I wanted something with some storage options, but needed it to be really narrow. To the left of this view is our kitchen and I almost stood on our dining table to take this picture. I found the Hemnes shoe cabinet at Ikea (and in the sale area no less). Its dimensions fit, although its aesthetics were a bit lacking. Not really digging the boring hardware.  A quick search at Anthropologie for replacement knobs turned up these lovelies. The new hardware arrived today. A simple change that makes a big difference.


After. Shining light and all.

Ignore the bit that’s still backwards. I am.



Oh. This kid. This one. He’s given us quite the run around. Kindergarten started this year and its been quite the adventure. He was so excited. SO. EXCITED. He loves to learn. And now. Now there would be school. And at school we learn more stuff Mommy.  And then, three days in. I don’t want to go to school. I hate school. School is dumb. Please don’t make me go.

Its the transition, of course. That’s what everyone thinks at first. Its just getting used to the whole day and the new group and new teachers. After all, we sent him to the Alfie Kohn progressive education school which focused on project based learning. Which would be perfect for him, right? And we observed him in class and we talked to his teachers. And. From the start though, we could see it wasn’t working. But we couldn’t tell them why really. We had some vague ideas, things that we do at home, but we could see they wouldn’t work in the classroom really. And then we had his first conference. And that’s when it really started to fall apart. He won’t join the group. He doesn’t tell us what’s going on. He has really great ideas, but they’re disruptive. We don’t know what to do with him. Does he play with other children well at home (why yes, he does. Lots). We need him to conform. Excuse me, madame progressive ed, you need him to what? OK, let’s deal with things.  We told them from our observations he didn’t seem engaged. Maybe he needed to move more. Could they incorporate some of his ideas in the classroom? They asked if we’d had him tested. For what? No one would really say. They recommended that he repeat kindergarten. None of this fit with the child we knew, but we couldn’t seem to find an effective way to communicate this with them. Everyone was very frustrated.

Here I should back track. The small one was early. Really early. Born at 29 weeks via c-section because of placental abruption. Spent 6 weeks in the NICU with brain bleeds and Brady’s and all those things that preemies have. But. Still. He was fine. Despite all the warnings (the NICU is famous for not promising parents anything and letting you know all the things that could go wrong) he was fine. Hit all his milestones, passed all the early intervention tests, seemed OK. But still. Part of me has always been waiting for the shoe to drop. For it all to catch up with us. So when this hit, even though lots of things didn’t add up, part of me thought, well OK. Here we go. Now we find out what the damage was from that early start.

So we took him to some specialists. Talked with a child psychologist friend about what we saw vs. what the teachers were saying. Did a full sensory evaluation. Both said he’s fine. You know he’s fine. This is not the problem. However, have you considered having him tested for gifted? (No, actually we hadn’t. I mean I love him and all and sure he’s exceptionally good at science and music, but he’s not been off inventing a cure for cancer in the basement or anything. I mean he’s not even really reading yet). So we had him tested. Yes. Gifted.  Sorry, the test took longer than expected because he kept doing so well.  Do not, under any circumstances hold this child back a year, he should never have any problems in school. Wait, what?

So now we figure out what this means. How do we advocate for the learning of our little electronics obsessed, marble run loving, show me how it works, crazy drummer, perfectly normal little boy? How do we find the right school for him? Because right now he thinks he’s doing something wrong. That’s what kindergarten has done for him. He doesn’t want to get in trouble. He can’t make them understand what he’s trying to tell them. He’s five. He’s fine. He’s better than fine. He’s ahead of the curve. That’s what his early arrival was letting us know. Hey Mom and Dad, guess what? I’m always going to surprise you and you’re going to race to catch up for the next eighteen years. There are worse things to worry about. And whew. Gifted. That’s what’s “wrong” with him.Maybe now I can stop waiting for the big thing we’ve missed.


We have a teeny, tiny bathroom. So tiny that I can’t get in there to show you pictures of its tinyness. Six feet by six feet. It is our only bathroom. There are four of us. One of us will soon be a teenage girl. Don’t worry, I’m sure we’ll all be fine. Right? Anyway, on to today’s update.

So, the bathroom, it is teensy, yes, we’ve established this. And with a small bathroom comes many obstacles (oh, so many obstacles), but also. Opportunity. Or so I tell myself. In this case, opportunity to take risks. Go bold. Copy what everyone else is doing. Wait, what? Yes. Those of you that follow design blogs obsessively as I do may have noticed this trend. The take an old brass chandelier, spray paint the crap out of it and call it fabulous trend. I submit Pinterest for evidence, although I have to admit it was Mandi‘s amazing purple octopus that convinced me to go for it. I’m all for trends that work and oh yes, this one totally works for me. So, on to the pictures. I have no before pictures. Sorry, still new at this documenting everything. However, imagine a standard ugly brass chandelier. $10 at a thrift store. Perfect for transformation. We had a lovely spring week last week so I dragged it outside with a can of Lagoon spray paint and did this to it.

Yes, yes, I see the horrible ceiling where the boob light once was. I have a plan for that too. That’s right, it is another trend. I am nothing if not trendy.  Stay tuned for the ceiling transformation. And one of the most horrendous before pictures you’ve ever seen.

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