Saturday, March 23, 2013

More Home Reno, Before and After

Last year was a big year for remodeling at our house. In the winter of 2011-12, we gutted our second floor and rebuilt it from the studs up, moving walls and creating a bathroom that didn't make guests recoil in horror.

Then, because we hadn't yet had enough, we took on two more projects last summer. I haven't posted the Before and After photos yet (something about a book release and five grants due in a few weeks or whatever), but I'm finally getting around to it.

As some of you know, our house was built in 1885, long before things like electrical and plumbing codes or symmetry and safety existed. Our primary entrance does not lead you to a foyer, because that would make too much sense. Instead, you open the front door and land right in the kitchen. Which has FIVE doors: to the back hall, upstairs, downstairs bathroom, the porch, and the living room. When we finally tackle our kitchen remodel, this will actually make our job easier, because there's only so much room to put new cabinets when you have five freaking doors and two windows in a small room shaped like a box.

But back to my story. So you arrive at my house. The first thing I used to say when I took your coat was, "Welcome to the hovel!" The second thing I still say is, "She only pees when she's really excited. Sorry about that."

When you turn to your right, you enter the living room, which until last summer looked like this (minus the furniture):

Teeny-tiny. And don't you just love the blue carpet? It was probably installed in the early seventies--a used remnant from some shagadelic van. When it got really humid and hot in summers, it would smell like moldy, rotting death.

This used to be my office. Without the desk, you can get more of a feel for the delightful, stained orange carpet, which was a nice contrast to the blue in the adjacent living room.  I don't know what that big black blob in the upper left-hand corner of the photo is--it's either my thumb, or the ceiling finally caving in. Last winter I was showing some friends a funny video on the computer in that room--the video of the mullet guy playing "Careless Whisper" on sax? Anyway, at one point one of them looked up and asked me, "Uh, is this safe?" I honestly had no answer to that. We're all lucky to be alive.
In May, the contractor who'd worked on our second story emailed again, offering a deal if we had a project for him. Did we ever! Let's start by tearing up the carpet (put your gas masks on) and blasting the wall out between the living room and office. Don't forget to fix the ceiling! We took everything down to the studs again--all new plaster. So purty.

Did I mention we don't have a basement, so our furnace was in a little closet in the old office? Oh well, no basement means no flooding! And no place for J to arrange his ugly beer can collection!

Things are progressing. Look, new window trim, paint on the walls, and a fun light fixture! Also, holy damn am I sick of painting!

At the same time, we hired a crew to dig up our backyard and install a patio. There's pretty much no lawn to mow now.

 I read Gone Girl in the chair in the upper right-hand corner.

 And here's the living room After. No more blue or orange carpeting!

 This couch is the best ever. J's already making impressive progress on his Indent.

 My old Hope Chest, which my Dad used to call my "Hopeless Chest." My Godfather made it for me out of pews from the church in which I was baptized. (Sidebar: Isn't "pew" a funny word?)

Still trying to figure out what to hang over the TV. Daisy is barking at her Nemesis in this shot.

Maybe next year we'll tackle our kitchen and downstairs bathroom--the only two rooms in the house that have yet to be touched. And boy howdy do they need help! The floor beneath the toilet is squishy, and it's so close to the oven you can watch garlic bread brown under the broiler if you pee with the door open. *Pukes*  Also, the linoleum has more peaks and valleys than Appalachia. Also, Daisy used to snack on it as a puppy. So stay tuned. This house, like life, is always a work in progress.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

I Shouldn't Have Had That V8

Was what I was thinking last night while I tossed and turned and watched the clock tick into the wee hours of the morning.

Well, the spicy V8 and all those pickles. I could feel all the sodium chugging through my veins, raising my blood pressure, desiccating my cells and turning my tongue into a dehydrated apple slice.

I guess I'm getting to that age, where sodium intake is a concern. *sigh*

Anyway, there are three things rattling around my head today:

(1) I met with several fantastic book clubs in the last few weeks and had so much fun. Two of them included members who were friends/acquaintances with two of my HUGE author crushes, Lauren Fox and Shannon Olson. Lauren will actually be attending the May meeting of one of the clubs, and I immediately started thinking of ways to pressure them to invite me as well, if only so I could sit behind Lauren and pet her hair. (Just kidding, Lauren! Maybe.)

It's like when you're in a decent-ish local band, shooting the shit with some fans, and one of them casually mentions that their next-door neighbor is Adele (or Geddy Lee from Rush, depending on your musical inclinations).

(2) Still in the major weeds at work. I have four Federal grant proposals due by mid-April, plus one outlier for a client in West Virginia (mountain mama, take me home....). It's the time of year I pay the piper for my summer off--but every year, I feel like I get through our crazy time by the skin of my teeth. These grants HAVE to be submitted, or I don't have a job. So you just pray there are no family emergencies, or funerals, or trips to the Emergency Room. (See you in May, loved ones!)

(3) I like to totally stress myself out, so I am also doing some behind-the-scenes work on Mandatory Release and prepping for three speaking gigs in the next two months. I'll be getting a new author photo soon, so I should probably stop eating all this salt or I'll look like Juanita the Ice Maiden.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Presenting Sam Wilde: I'll Take What She Has

I'm so excited to have Samantha Wilde on the blog today to discuss her new novel, I'll Take What She Has. Sam is such a sweetheart, and isn't that the most adorable baby on the cover?? I'd buy it based on the cover alone (but the story inside is wonderful, too!)

Tell us about your new novel. What inspired you to write it? 

Here’s a brief synopsis: Best friends since kindergarten, Nora, a reserved English teacher, and Annie, an out-spoken stay-at-home mother, wrestle with the green-eyed monster when the new history department hire at the suburban Boston prep school where they teacher, Cynthia Cypress, arrives on campus. A missing grandmother, a depressed sex therapist, and a financial crisis add to the comedy in a novel about imperfect friendships, mixed up families, the messiness of motherhood, and the quest for the greenest grass.

My running joke about this book is that I wrote a novel about envy and had to do extensive research! I really didn’t need to look much farther than my own grassy yard to come up with the felt experience of the novel. I started with three women, Annie, Nora and Cynthia. The novel, which underwent years of extensive revisions under three separate editors, has morphed almost completely since I first plotted the story. The heart of it, the meat of it, concerns friendship and motherhood and how envy changes both of these things—and changes the women, too. The book explores the idea that envy can eventually change someone into something better.

Book readings, signings, and events: tell us one wonderful memory and one awkward one.

When my first novel, This Little Mommy Stayed Home, released, I had a book launch at the amazing independent store, Odyssey Books. Because I’ve lived in this area for so long and have taught yoga to so many people, serving as a minister to others, a large crowd gathered. At the end of the night, the owner had to turn a friend away without a book. She had sold out all the copies of my novel and told me that in all her years that had never happened before! (I didn’t sell out, by the way, for my book launch of I’ll Take What She Has on Wednesday night and I tried not to be disappointed!)

Around the same time, I went with my mother, novelist Nancy Thayer, to do a book signing in Connecticut. When we arrived, the most amazing, enormous arrangement of flowers greeted us. My wonderful Aunt had sent them and they were clearly meant for two important, famous, awesome novelists. Then, we had about three people attend the talk! It was a beautiful, sunny July day after three weeks of rain…still, it can be hard. We had a lovely time with our three audience members and our flowers. I wanted to have an event equal to the flowers. Only in hindsight could I see what really mattered: spending that time with my mother.

How do you unwind after a horribly stressful day?

A good book. A good book can fix everything. I find reading so relaxing and healing and restorative. On a really bad day, after the children go to sleep, I might put on my pajamas early and dive into my bed. I really love my bed. My husband makes fun of me, but I get a lot of pleasure from hanging out in bed (reading, people, that’s all I meant!). Talking to friends also, the kind of long, meandering conversations I can’t have when children are awake. I often end my day on my bedroom floor with some gentle yoga poses, sometimes listening to an uplifting podcast.  Also: curling up beside my husband, knowing I have chocolate in my cupboards, watching my children sleep.

What advice do you have for your fifteen-year-old self?

I love that question. I’ve been thinking about it lately because a friend who started babysitting for us at twelve has just turned eighteen! I thought about what I would like to tell her if I could speak candidly. I would say the same to her as to my younger self: You are precious. You may not feel it, but you are. Live with a sense of your own value. Know, regardless of how others may treat you, that you are deeply loved. At fifteen, I struggled so much with wanting beauty and thin thighs and the adoration of boys. I wish I could pull that girl into my arms and give her a piece of the satisfaction I have now—much of which came through motherhood—from simply being myself.

What’s next from you?

The laundry. Then sweeping up underneath the kitchen table. I have to unpack the duffle bag from our trip last week and try to locate the playroom floor underneath the toys. But that’s probably not what you had in mind! Right now, I’ve got my whole focus on getting I’ll Take What She Has into the world. I call it the “little book that could” because of all the editorial changes it survived. I’ve put my third novel on the back burner; it’s there though, patiently waiting. I have two memoir books I’d love to finish. I wouldn’t mind another child either…. Probably what I should do is finish my cup of tea, floss my teeth, and go to sleep. Sometimes, what’s next is so ordinary! 

Thanks, Sam! For more on Sam and her books, visit her Facebook page, her website, and check out the terrific book trailer for I'll Take What She Has