How to Live Through a Remodel: Part I

The other night, Kevin was busy tapping away on his computer while I watched TV. Suddenly, he looked up.

“So … I’ve done some calculations and we’re going to have to live outside the house while it’s being remodeled for about five months,” he said.

“Which probably means more like seven months, right?”



“So,” he continued, “I think I have a solution.”

I braced myself.

“I’m thinking there’s plenty of space in the backyard for us to put some sort of structure, maybe a tent, that we can live in. And then we could still use our living room and sometimes the kitchen!”

A tent.

“You mean like Out of Africa?” I offered lamely. I couldn’t help it. Whenever I hear the word “tent” I immediately think of this scene from one of my all-time favorite movies.

Out of Africa

Ah … Robert Redford.

Ever the devil’s advocate, I poked holes in Kevin’s suggestion: lack of insulation, the rain, no floor, the complete lack of privacy.

He turned back to tapping on his computer. A few minutes later he came up his next brilliant solution.

“Ok, how about this?”

“Um, is that a carport?” I asked politely.

“I would put up some walls!”

“And some insulation … maybe a floor … a window …”

I couldn’t help but feel a little bad. Obviously, my husband was worried about the budget of our remodel. And he was trying to come up with some clever “out of the box” solutions. So I told him I would keep an open mind.

“I like the direction you’re heading, but let’s keep going,” I said encouragingly.

Both of us started typing on our respective computers. Soon, we were looking at pre-fab studios.

And then I got excited!

How cool are those things? And lots of them have insulation (in addition to windows, doors and floors). We would even use it as a cool kids hangout after the remodel was done. Everyone would think, “Wow! I can’t believe they lived through a remodel! And in such style!”

We lived off of that high for about two days before reality — sweet reality — set in.

First of all, in order to avoid permitting, our studio could only be 120 square feet. We would be so on top of each other it would be ridiculous. As it is, two of our three kids wake up bright and early at 6 am, and while Big Sister currently does a fabulous job entertaining Little Bro before the rest of us rise for the day, we would be forced to wake at dawn every. single. day.

Second of all, there’s a good chance we’d be without a working toilet, shower — or both — for some long stretches. At first, my husband, offered to solve this problem with installing an outdoor shower.

“I’ve always wanted one! This will be the perfect opportunity!”

But then I imagined what it would be like living without a toilet. Or even having to walk through the backyard and our house in the dark looking for a working bathroom in the idle of the night. Perhaps we could stash one of those emergency toilets in our shed for such an occasion.

In the end, it really only took a couple of hours of all five of us trying to watch the World Series (Yeah, Giants!!) in the same room to convince my husband (because I already knew this) that we would literally kill each other if we only had one room to run around in in addition to our little shed in the backyard.

As usual, my husband was bewildered by how loud three kids under 9 could be. And I just sat back and let that feeling soak in.

Whew! Close call.


Store Scouting: Home Goods

Home Goods has arrived in Marin County! Hallelujah, we’ve been saved.

Or have we?

I know I should be left on an island to wither and die for saying this but … I’m not all that impressed with Home Goods. (wince) I know, I know, what’s wrong with me?

Pretty much every blog I read sings the praises of Home Goods. Bloggers were constantly “partnering” with Home Goods (and, I’m assuming, getting paid) into some esteemed design challenge. It all looks great on paper. Especially at a distance … with some awesome lighting … and some cool photo-processing tricks.

As much as I like the idea, Home Goods is like that awesome guy you’re dating who thinks you’re the cat’s meow, loves his mother and bought you dinner on the first date. You know you should be dating him because he’s good for you. And yet — you can’t put your finger on it — but that chemistry just isn’t there. (Not that I know anything about dating anymore.)

I recently toured the new San Rafael store and it stirred up the same feelings I felt when I first walked into a Home Goods a couple of years ago.

We were at the tail end of our living room remodel. I had seen so many blog/magazine/TV shows that were crushing on the store that I was more than willing to drive an hour and a half to check it out. Mocha in hand, I was armed with an laundry list of things I wanted for our room: lamps, curtains, artwork, side chairs, side tables, an area rug, random knick knacks.

When I walked in, I thought I’d hit the jackpot. Unbelievable! It’s all here, I thought to myself. And then I started walking around, checking things out.

I quickly crossed art off my list. While inexpensive, the stuff was … cheap. Furniture? That was quickly crossed off as well. Almost everything I sat on felt extremely uncomfortable and unsubstantial. Tables were wobbly, you could tell the wood used was cheap and the finishes were a sloppy. But I’ll admit it looked great from afar! And the price was right!

I had to get something! I considered a fake book that you could display on your coffee table and appear considerably well-read. But wait! Look inside! That’s not knowledge — that’s where you can keep remote controls! Eventually I got two lamps and a few pieces of meh art. As soon as I got home, I was already plotting my trip to return most of it.

So, I wasn’t very hopeful when I went to the San Rafael store. This is one of the first things I saw.


Yes, for $499 you could get a real guitar that was not played by the Beatles but was professionally etched with the signatures they wrote anywhere else except said guitar. The whole thing was fake.

I’m not sure what I would do with something like this in my home. Pass it off as the real thing? “Yeah, John was really close with my family and gave it to us one Christmas during a gift exchange game.”

This whole thing made me laugh a little and just confirmed what I already felt about Home Goods. I delved further into the store.

I wasn’t a fan of the kitchenware; plates, bowls and such. A lot of it was thick, cheap ceramic that had this blah country kitsch to it that I just wasn’t into. Heath Ceramics it was not. But when I rounded the corner to the kitchen gear section, that’s when I saw the beauty of Home Goods.


Heck yeah! And look at this thing? I could cook a whole cow in it!


And then, of course, there are the baskets. Hard to argue with the potential here!


I was not, however, a fan of the table linens, bed linens or bath towels. I don’t know. I tend to get a little suspicious of cheap prices in this department. I’ve had plenty of inexpensive towels in the past that lost their shape or quality after one wash. I’d rather pay for Pottery Barn or Restoration Hardware towels, because that’s a simple luxury that isn’t too expensive (ok, it’s expensive, but I’m willing to stretch.)

The kids section was cute! But more for the baby generation. Although I did see this adorable step stool that Jack would’ve LOVED! Coooooonstruction, as he might say.


I was prepared to be unimpressed by the art section, but I was intrigued with this interesting clock. It measured about 2 feet by 3 feet. It was kinda cool how it had two doors and shelves inside. But … what would I put in it after I hung it high on the wall? Still it was pretty unique.


The next two items encapsulate exactly what I don’t like about Home Goods.





Moving on. I LOVED these lamps!! I should’ve bought two of these. (Maybe I’ll go back.)


Ok, so here’s what I liked about my tour of Home Goods. Found these holiday candle holders hard to resist.


These lanterns were HUGE … and super cheap.


Party supplies! Nuf said.


This was a lovely watercolor. I couldn’t believe I was saying that in a Home Goods!


I could see this in my kitchen!


Adorable for one of my girls’ rooms.


Ok, before I lose myself, here are some of the things that made me shudder at Home Goods.

So many things popped in my head when I saw these binoculars. “Well, we’re a family of binocular-makers, so.” Or “Have a good night. I’ll see you when you get home.” I could go on and on. I think the position of The Thinker says it all.


I would need to seriously consider what kind of cat to get whilst siting upon this mighty throne.


I’m at a loss of what to do with this $300 fake foliage divider.




In closing, sure, I guess there’s some benefit to Home Goods. But there’s a lot of cheesy ball crap as well. While I was pleasantly surprised by much of the San Rafael store’s stock, I couldn’t help wonder about it’s quality in a year or so when people have picked through the goods.

Either way, my curiosity will have me returning at some point …

Current Situation: Our Living Room


I’m pretty proud of how our living room looks today, but let me tell ya, it took a long time to get to this point. During our remodel, this will be the only room that remains as is, which is good, because I have a feeling we’re going to do a lot of living in this living room.

Our living room story begins after we moved to here. While we were thrilled to have a new home in Mill Valley, it wasn’t long before I was less than thrilled at living in our beige kingdom.

This strangely hazy photo gives a pretty good representation of what it looked like for about three years.

Beige Living Room

Do you notice how you can’t quite tell where the carpet ends and the wall begins? A sea of beige. And that carpet. Oh my. With two toddlers and a dog that loved to wipe his butt on the floor, it got nasty pretty quickly.

There were other problems with the room.

– We had a skylight (yes!) covered with a nice, brown-tinted, 1970s bubble (no!) We were practically bathing in a glass of Coca-Cola.

– Our ceiling was completely uninsulated. Not only did it make the room freezing cold, but it was so loud when it rained that it was hard to talk.

– We had a lot of bare walls, thanks to the room’s vaulted ceiling and my inability to decide on artwork.

– We didn’t have a lot of storage. Toys were spilling out all over the place or shored up under the piano. The kids were winning!

– Our sad, little brick fireplace was covered with  a weird, mottled red-and-white brick. Quite the opposite of rustic.

– A small rip that had appeared in our leather couch had been split wide open thanks to much jumping by the children. Secretly I was ecstatic. While I had once loved our oversized couch and Big Boy chair, I had since outgrown them. We tried to “fix” the rip by slapping a few strips of trusty Duct tape on it. That’ll hold her!

I had just gotten pregnant with #3 when I threw up my hands in frustration. “If I have to sit in this room breastfeeding our son for hours at a time I’m going to scream,” I told my husband.

Thankfully, he’s one of these guys who knows that a happy wife makes for a happy life. And so, we remodeled our living room. Let’s see it again from an ever so slightly different angle.


Ahhh! Where to begin?

Our biggest priority was insulating that ceiling … and paint it, for God’s sake! It was raw wood and tied in quite nicely to the rest of the beige going on. So we dropped the ceiling to allow for insulation, then repeated the same board and beams and painted it a nice crisp white.

We also installed a second skylight and replaced the Coke bottle version with one that was nice and clear. The clean light streaming through almost made me cry.

Like half the country, we jumped on the blue-gray bandwagon for our paint color. I believe we chose Benjamin Moore Timber Wolf, but I didn’t write it down.

This time, I tried a new approach to picking out paint colors. In our first house, I went to the paint store at least three times and paid for no fewer than 17 quarts of paint to test throughout the house. I liked almost none of them, cried in frustration and then picked the lesser of all the evils.

This time, I did my research! I haunted Houzz and Pinterest and read articles on picking paint and coordinating colors. I was especially inspired by all of the lovely paint tutorials on The Creativity Exchange, especially her Paint It Monday series. Probably common knowledge for most people, but consider my mind blown at such a novel concept.

Armed with this knowledge, I picked five colors, brought them home and fell in love with four of them. Four! I felt like a rock star.

Ok, next up, floors! I went to several flooring stores and brought home many, many samples. It wasn’t long before I fell in love with these beauties.

*Sigh* They were Navarre floors in the Sebastian finish, available through US Floors. And they cost about $13 a square foot. Of course they just had to be twice as much as we had in our limited budget.

And yet, I couldn’t stop dreaming of those floors. I knew I had to have them. It became an obsession, and it wasn’t long before I was Goggling the heck out of them. How to get them cheaper?

It took some doing, but I eventually found them for $8.29 a foot — and no sales tax — from somewhere in New Jersey. I’d list their website here, but it appears they have since gone out of business, (which worries me as I will need to buy more for the rest of the house!!)

It seemed a little shady, so I called US Floors to ask about the vendor. They didn’t seem to think they were a disreputable business, but that price did seem a little –.  Click. That was good enough for me. I quickly placed an order and haven’t regretted it since.


Gorgeous, no? They been quite durable as well, all things considered. I love that they have a very matte finish. And being that they are oiled, as opposed to polyurethaned, I’m told we can spot treat them with oil instead of having to sand them down every time the finish wears down.

Ok, next up was our chandelier. For awhile there, my husband and I debated whether we should just sheet rock and paint the ceiling or cover the insulation with boards and beams.

Well, I’m pleased to say that I won that debate! I just couldn’t imagine having a ceiling that lofty without any kind of architectural element to ground it. While adding this fabulous chandelier was a bit of a splurge, I felt it helped in drawing the eye upward and filling the space.


The room was starting to take shape and it felt great because for the first time, I felt confident in my vision. What a nice feeling!

Our curtains were a no-brainer. In fact, I’d say they were a jumping off point for me. I fell in love with horizontal-striped curtains the moment I saw these on Nesting Place.

For a split second I considered making them myself, just like The Nester did. But who was I kidding? If I did make them, I knew I would only be able to see all of the sleepless nights, tears and frustration that went into them.

Besides, I found EXACTLY what I wanted at Crate and Barrel! When does that ever happen? AND they were lined, which I’ve decided is a must-have in any curtain.

It was time to turn our attention to our seating situation.

By this point, I was starting to get little grumbles from my husband about costs. Not that I was going over budget, mind you, but I think he just didn’t want me “shopping” for much longer.

I had my eye on a number of sectionals, but they were all either way out of our budget or just too nice for a family of five … and a dog who never slept in his pre-approved dog bed. As I watched my kids beat our couch and slather it in mac-n-cheese sauce, I knew that we weren’t ready for a “grown-up” couch.

I was, however, becoming more and more intrigued with Ikea’s Karlstad. I never considered an Ikea sectional, but after reading about Young House Love‘s experience with their “Karl,” (miss your blog!!) I kept an open mind and we went to check it out.

My husband thought it looked cheap, and it was! Just $899 (and it’s on sale for $764.15 until Oct. 28). But he also agreed that now wasn’t the time to invest in our dream sofa, and so we took this bad boy home. A majority of the pillows are Allegra Hicks for West Elm.


The final piece of the puzzle was a rug to tie it all together. I had my eye on soooo many. I was especially intrigued with this, this and this one.

I probably would’ve pulled the trigger on this “Jaded Pebbles” one I saw on Horchow but it was thoroughly out of  stock. Although now, I see it’s back in action again! Must remember for master bedroom.

After bringing home a few samples, I quickly decided against tufted wool, and I will probably never get another one again.

We had a gorgeous Crate and Barrel rug that I loved but had to throw away because our cat peed on it repeatedly. We even tried to have it cleaned several times and lived in a denial for awhile. “Do you smell it?” “Uh, no. I don’t.” “Yes, you do, you liar. The cat pee lives on!”

Despite how much I loved that rug, I hated the balls of fuzz that constantly fluffed off. We would go on vacation for a week and there would STILL be clumps of fuzz all over it. I would vacuum for no other reason than to clean up the mess.

Retail websites would mention it, but it would sound rather benign. “Shedding of fibers is normal and will diminish with regular vacuuming.” Except that it didn’t.

Plus, most of the rugs I sampled didn’t feel good under bare feet! Why?? I wanted it to be so comfortable that my kids would camp out on it during movie night.

I was running out of options when I went over to my friend’s house, took off my shoes and sank into her shag rug. Shaaaaagggggg. Of course!

It wasn’t long before we had this little beauty sitting underneath our Karlstad.

I almost got it in Stone, but am so glad I went with Steel. I mean, who am I kidding. A cream rug? Please.

It feels soooooo good, and why shouldn’t we expect that from a rug, right?

Sure, things get lost in it all the time. Usually Legos and pennies, but aside from vacuuming, all you need to do is grab a corner and shake it occasionally to reveal its secrets. The kids love it!

Ok, what’s left in this overly long post? I’ll try and wrap it up quickly.

– Art! Yes, I finally bit the bullet and bought a piece of art. Naturally, it’s abstract, because I just couldn’t commit on actual subject matter and instead settled for the colors.

But I still love it, especially when paired with my husband’s guitar. And on a chilly evening with the fire going, I appreciate it even more.

Cropped Art

– But I think my favorite piece was the last item I bought for the room. I almost didn’t think my husband would go for it, but he did! And I have loved him ever since. Oh, and my husband, too. I especially like to decorate him around the holidays.

Now, I’m not one to overuse the word “whimsy”, but I really do believe that this deer head from Z Gallerie brings that little touch of whimsy to the room. And just like the chandelier, to draws the eye upward and lends som interest in that lofty ceiling.

And there you have it! Our living room. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.

Garage Dreaming

I am in the midst of packing up our garage and shoving it into our PODS unit. While I’m trying to upbeat and optimistic, packing is never really all that fun.

The garage is filthy and I keep freaking out at spiders — dead and alive — along with their webs, ancient lint and mysterious muck. My body is sore and I moan and groan every time I pick up the slightest thing.


I’ve made great progress, to be sure, but I’m still several days out from being done. And then I have to turn my attention to the rest of the house! At least I won’t find any rat poop surprises there! (Please, please, please!)

Still, I’m surprised by how patient I’ve been. Definitely not like the last time I moved, which was incredibly stressful and rushed … and without any home to move to.

I’m grateful we get to do this remodel. I’m grateful that I have a chance to create an efficient home and that the kids will benefit from the extra space. I’m keeping my eyes on the prize and just getting ‘er done.

One of the ways I entertain myself as I do battle with the bugs, dirt and heavy boxes is to fantasize about how fabulous my garage will look when all is said and done.

As I’ve mentioned before, our garage simply does not work.


It so easily gets cluttered, and while I do reorganize and give it a good cleaning every three to four months, it doesn’t take long for it to fall into complete and utter chaos.

Part of this is due to the fact that I probably don’t have the best organizing system out there. But the other reason is that the garage just serves waaaay too many functions — except for housing an actual car. These include:

– Holiday storage

– Sports & camping gear

– Workout room

– Laundry room

– Workshop (complete with two drill benches and copious amounts of tools and gear)

– Wine cellar (and home to all of the paraphernalia that goes along with my husband’s wine making hobby)

– Overflow storage for entertaining ware & kitchen pantry

– Everything that we can’t find a home for in the house.

I’m sure it’s the same for many families out there. Everyone (I hope) has a junk drawer in the kitchen. It’s just that sometimes that drawer can easily turn into a two-car garage.

That’s probably the biggest reason I was so drawn to Cyndy’s pegboard garage wall featured on her most awesome website The Creativity Exchange.

The Creativity Exchange

The Creativity Exchange

Most impressive about this wall is that it is only 5.5 inches deep. Get … OUT!! Look at all of the things on it?

I know this is completely redundant given how popular it has become, but how awesome is pegboard? Sure, it’s one thing to create storage for all of the things you have, but what if you inherit 30 more cans of must-have spray paint? Or you get yet another drill? Where to put it when the entire wall space has already been carefully curated and spoken for?

Pegboard. That’s where. All it takes is a little switch-a-roo and you can quickly and easily reinvent your storage solution.

The really beauty, of course, is that you can easily see, grab and replace things on a pegboard wall. My current system involves a lot of plastic bins which you have to haul down, open and rummage around in. Then, hopefully, remember to put back in a timely fashion.

So in addition to tons of pegboard, here’s what I want in my new garage:

– Relocate the laundry room, workout stuff, drum set and winemaking production. Our home design will do just that. Thanks hubby!

– Have everything within reach. Ie. no loft storage that requires a ladder like we have now or bicycles hanging from the ceiling.

– Get at least one car in the garage, which should fit two.

– Store things — and this will be a challenge — behind closed doors when possible.

– Do it cheaply, which is why storing things behind closed doors will be difficult. So, maybe the goal should be to make it as attractive as possible. (attractive?)

One thing we have going for us in the cost-cutting department is that we can reuse our current Ikea kitchen cabinets, complete with countertops, in the garage. Sweet! So, if I can get at least one wall of closed-door storage I’ll be a happy girl.

In order to bring some pretty to other parts of the garage, I think I’m going to touch the rainbow. I’m going for color coordination, baby!


Target, God bless that store, has these durable and nicely sized storage bins available in myriad colors. At least they did in March, when half the country was supposedly doing their spring cleaning. I wasn’t getting bitten by that bug … at least not until I saw these bins.

Oh my gosh! I thought. I could color-coordinate all of my storage needs! Grass Green for landscaping, ice blue for ski gear, purple for …. well, I don’t know, Gay Pride Festival gear?

The Before Before the Before

Before I post an official “before” tour of our current house, I thought it would be helpful to show what it looked like when we first fell in love.

Front Yard 4

Beautiful, right? My brother said it looked like a space station on Tatooine, but what-ev.

I knew from the moment I saw it listed on the MLS that this was going to be our dream home. It was the crappiest house in the best location. What’s not to love? And it was selling in 2009, a rare time when the real estate market had crashed in the San Francisco Bay Area. For the first time in a long time it was a buyer’s paradise. No one seemed to want it! And so it sat.

Unfortunately, the bad market did not bode well in our efforts to sell our current home in San Francisco. It sat on the market for three months. Three months! Almost unheard of in an area where bidding wars are the norm. We had to drop our price … twice.

With two kids under the age of 3, I was getting really tired of keeping our perfectly staged house spotless for the twice-a-week open houses, plus additional private showings.

I especially recall this bowl sitting on our coffee table filled with rattan balls that the kids were constantly throwing around and picking apart. Every time we had to be out of the house, not only would I have to wipe down all the glass, mirrors and floors, but I had to collect those stupid things from the furthest reaches of everywhere and place them … just so.

Catalog Living

I think that’s what led to my abhorrence of little cute knick-knacks and decorations.

As we waited for someone — anyone — to nibble at our San Francisco house, all I could do was stare dreamily at the listing for the home in Mill Valley. My husband and I even snuck into it once or twice. The security on the place was nonexistent. All it took was a gentle, yet firm, shove in the right place and we walked through and marveled at what a glorious dump it was!

While most of the house was fairly meh, it was the living room that did it for us.

Living Room 3

This picture does not accurately represent how big the room is; it’s 24×19 feet. Who knew where the floor had gone, but that ceiling! I loved walking in and feeling the grandness of that room.

I knew that the spot just under the window on the left would be perfect for the baby grand piano that I’d had since I was six years old. In both of the places I’d lived with my husband, we managed to stuff it in somewhere, even though it looked horribly out of place.

Here’s a view from the living room looking out onto the front yard and rickety, old deck. The side door leads to the kitchen.

Living Room 1

It was very disheartening when my husband and I watched the house go into contract and escape our grasp. Our San Francisco home was going nowhere and I worried about our future.

We were heading into summer and our eldest daughter was due to enter preschool in the fall. We were getting rejection letter after rejection letter from all of the schools to which we had applied. I thought those only came at college! Where was she going to go?

Then the Mill Valley house fell out of contract! Then our San Francisco house sold! Were the stars aligning? We quickly got an offer drafted and sent it off.

And waited.

But the Mill Valley house slipped through our fingers … again! They had rejected our offer in favor for a developer.

Our San Francisco house FINALLY closed in June, and we had nowhere to live. So I took our two kids … and the dog … down to San Diego where my in-laws have a beach house.

My poor husband had to fly down to San Diego on the weekends and then couch surf during the week so he could work flipping houses to support us. He rarely complained, which was awfully nice of him. While it was sure nice to be at the beach every day, it certainly didn’t help in our efforts to find housing 400 miles away.


Plus, it was confusing in a way because I was SO sure the Mill Valley house was meant to be ours. This was all wrong! No other house held any appeal for me. It was really hard to let it go because … I just couldn’t.

And then … the Mill Valley house went BACK on the market! What was wrong with this place? my husband and I wondered. But no matter. We wrote up another offer, all-cash, and sent it in.

By now, we were the only interested party, so it happened really quickly after that. We tussled over a minor $5,000 price difference and almost lost it before thinking, “Swallow your pride, already” and closed in about 10 days. Bam!

Front Yard 2

Just look at this place! While most of the homes in our new neighborhood were tucked romantically away amongst trees, ours stuck out like a sore thumb. It really slapped you across the face as the road turned and you came upon it.

Before we bought the house from a group of developers who decided against flipping it, it had belonged to a woman who had to foreclose on the property after she was institutionalized. Yes, she was ca-razy.

So crazy that she had PG&E come and disconnect power to the house because she was convinced they were spying on her through the electrical system.

Our neighbors told of how she would threaten to shot anyone who tried to use her driveway for turn-around purposes. At one point, she even had a horse tied up in the front yard. It was eventually became so sick and malnourished that the neighbors had to call the Humane Society to come and take it away in the dead of night.

Naturally, she was a hoarder. Google Earth pictures at the time showed the house surrounded by heaps and mounds of garbage. In fact, she had so much crap in her house that “legend” has it she had this outdoor staircase built just so she could gain separate access to her bedroom.

Backyard 1

When she was trucked off to the mental hospital, the fire department had to come by and pry open the doors to her house, but it smelled so bad that they had to air it out three days before coming back.

Once they started pulling stuff out of the house, it was no wonder that they found a few dead animals inside. And God knows what else.

I’m not sure what caused the developers to sell this house so soon after scoring it as a foreclosure. Clearly, they had gone so far to consider paint colors! To this day, I still don’t understand why it fell out of contract twice. Five years later, this house hasn’t crumbled to the ground. In fact, it’s been quite good to us.

Backyard 2

For some explicable reason, the front door is actually at the back of the house, just beyond the outdoor staircase and tucked away so you can’t even see it. Which is not at all reassuring after hiking up our eerily cracked driveway.

Front Yard 1

This, naturally, has stymied many a pizza delivery man, as well as visiting friends, and I have endured their many tales of frustration and being lost. As if we arranged all of this on purpose!

Below, we are in the entry way, gorgeously lite by this circa-1972 stained glass window, which we still enjoy to this day.


Opposite the entry is a staircase. I can’t find a picture of it, but one of the stair treads was marked with the word “hate,” which was incredibly spooky at the time.


I kept on having visions of this crazy lady escaping the institution and hitching a ride to Mill Valley, a la Robert De Niro in Cape Fearand busting down the door screaming, “What are you doing in my house!!!!”

Here’s the original kitchen. Not at all sure what happened to the sink and lower cabinets on the lefthand side.

Kitchen 1


And here is her lovely stove, which I can only presume was used to cook meth! Naw, I’m sure it looks like that due to all of the delicious feasts she put together.

Kitchen 2

This way to the dining room, friends!

Kitchen 3

Here we have the downstairs bathroom. We still have those gorgeous green tiles on the wall because we love them so much!!

Downstairs Bathroom 1

I don’t have a picture of the girls’ room, which is downstairs, but here’s Jack little narrow room … with our work permit on the window! Yay!

Jack's Room 1

And finally, here is the master bedroom looking out onto our own private deck/escape route in case we, too, become professional hoarders.

Master Bedroom 2

The master bathroom looks almost the same as it does today … but much cleaner, of course (well, usually.) While the tub was in good condition, I still take what’s supposed to be a relaxing bath and stare at that pukey green-and-yellow-swirl tile, wondering what psycho thought that was a good idea.

Master Bathroom 1

The throne.

Master Bathroom 2

And there you have it! The before before the before.

My husband spent weeks trying to whip this place into shape with the help of the cheapest contractor he could find. He stayed in this little motel and I almost cried when I came to visit.

Daddy motel

His room was painted what I referred to as “suicide-prevention yellow.” It was just so bright, you could tell the owners were trying to compensate for the overall sadness of the place.

The kids and I were still in San Diego, so I had little input on the colors and carpet he chose. So, it was no surprise (but still a bit of a shock) when I discovered the entire interior was “builder beige.”


BUT … it really didn’t matter. He had done such a good job in such a short amount of time. He was exhausted juggling this with his day job. And he was more than a little burnt out on eating take out food and basically living like a lonely bachelor in a cheap motel.

And, more importantly, we finally had a home that we loved. Before I let anyone actually live in it, I smudged the house. Yes, I felt like an idiot. No, I’m not sure it actually did anything. But the house was just sooooo creepy, that I felt like I had to do something to clear out the bad vibes!

Lisa Charleyboy/Spirituality & Health

Lisa Charleyboy/Spirituality & Health

In the end, what was probably more effective was the sounds of our girls laughing, cackling and pitter-pattering through each room. In my heart I felt that the house heaved a grateful sigh at finally having a happy — and mentally stable — family living within it.

When Did Halloween Get So Decadent?

I’ve always wanted to host a fabulous Halloween party.

I fantasize about having some freaky butler doll greeting people at the door and spewing puns like “We’ve been … DYING to have you for dinner.”

And then, inside, the table would be covered with tempting ghoulish delights like, oh, I don’t know, a MEATLOAF HAND!!! Complete with questionable ingredients that actually look like marrow and fingernails sticking out of it. (Is that raw bacon?)



Children might think twice to use the bathroom if they had to contend with THIS FREAKY COMMODE waiting for them.

A time or two I’ve even thought about sewing costumes for all three of my children. Hell, I’d even make something the whole family if I thought I could actually save money by doing so! (I claim Lumiere!) I’ve done the math; it costs less to shop around online or in thrift stores.

Halloween Family Photo

Sigh. Ah, Halloween. Where to take you!

And yet, I’ve never hosted a Halloween party. In fact, I’ve never “invested” in good Halloween decorations, much to the chagrin of my kids. It’s just seemed so decadent … and time-consuming.

A lot of it has to do with the fact that I live on a hill — a scary hill — that’s unlikely to convince any trick-or-treater to get closer to the Candy Mountain at the top of our driveway.

Halloween Driveway


BUT … all that effort for just a week or so of action? Not happening. No sooner would I put something up for Halloween than I would be taking it down again. (Or, just leaving it up all yearlong until Halloween returns 364 days later.) The holidays are so compressed as it is.

I mean, the moment Halloween is over, there’s that pressure to downshift to your standard fall decor of autumnal leaves and harvest themes. And then you have to quickly change gears mere moments after Thanksgiving in order to scramble to the top of your roof and install that damn inflatable Santa helicopter.

So, I’m always bemused by the level of effort retailers put forth in getting you to buy Halloween decor. It really has become the next big thing, and I’m continually shocked by how they pull out all of the stops for such a brief holiday.

When I toured West Elm the other day, I came across the most bewitching Halloween table.

West Elm

West Elm

I think I was most impressed with this place card holder.

West Elm

West Elm

“Wow … $69? Really?” I asked the sales associate who was trying to convince me that it could also double as a casual knick knack or candle holder (“or a broach … or a pterodactyl!” I felt compelled to add.)

Don’t get me wrong. I almost walked away with this handsome collection of plates (on sale for $27.99, but originally $40.)

West Elm X-Ray Plate Set

West Elm X-Ray Plate Set

Of course, why would you just stop at a set of four? They certainly are fun plates, but there really is no other time of year that you would use them. Maybe at Easter? Maybe perch a few Deviled eggs along that massively constrictive muscle?

But it begs the question: when did Halloween become such a holiday contender? Who’s responsible for this?

I vote for Martha. She is the goddess of all things holiday, after all. (I love you, Martha!!) And she’s probably spending literally thousands on just makeup alone on her spooky (and, sometimes, Marilyn Manson-esque) Halloween special publications.

Martha Stewart

Martha Stewart

You go girl.

According to the National Retail Federation, Halloween is expected to be a $7.4 billion industry this year. In 2009, it was about $4.3 billion, (which was down from a previous high of $5.7 billion.)

More people — kids, adults and pets — are expected to buy costumes this year, the most in the survey’s 11-year history. This year, the average person is expected to spend more than $77 on Halloween on candy, costumes, decorations and parties. Last year, it was about $75 per person. (That still doesn’t seem to be close to what I would expect to spend. Did you see that little skull? So cute!!)

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Halloween falls on a Friday this year. And next year, whoa, it’ll be on a Saturday. Can you imagine what retail sales are going to look like? It’s as if the Castro District  and Martha Stewart are getting ready to have a baby.

And yet … it’s interesting to note that Halloween spending spiked in 2012 when it reached over $8 billion. Eight billion dollars!! And that year it occurred on a Wednesday! What’s happened since then?

So … mysterious. And I’m sure retailers were pulling their hair out. What do we do now?

Who knows. Yes, I’m sure I could go into minute detail on the subject and really research the hell out of this subject. (And, I haven’t even brought Ballard Designs and Firefly into the conversation.)

So if I’m still writing this blog next year I will. It’ll be an annual thing. But now it’s Thursday at 11:45pm. And I still have to work up the courage to play Tooth Fairy tonight.

In the meantime, I had to hold in my giggles when I walked through Pottery Barn today. Because, they really know how to take a theme and run it 6-feet under the ground.

Pottery Barn, $118

Pottery Barn

Yes, the Walking Dead Serve Bowl Stand is still holding out at $118 … on October 9. Shouldn’t something that’s only brought out once, maaaaaaybe twice a year, settle down around $30 right about now?

But, like the West Elm four-pack, I almost fell for the these beautifies. Well, maybe just one. Each … each glass … costs $24.50. Bat wings. Awesome! Can’t use it for any other moment in time except … that exceptional holiday … Halloween!!!

Pottery Barn

Pottery Barn


Formerly Off-Limits

I was wandering around West Elm the other day when I came upon this fine little fellow peering at me.

West Elm, Franklin the Fox Doorstop, $49

West Elm, Franklin the Fox Doorstop, $49


Well hello there, little friend!

Normally, I would just move on to the next piece of eye candy. But I had to stop and savor the moment.

I’m almost to the point where I could get that little fox. And actually set him down somewhere in my house!

Um, yeah, sure. Anyone can.

But you don’t understand. I’ve been in baby-proof mode for the last seven years. That’s seven years of having to push aside a plastic latch every time I need to open a drawer or door. Seven years of having solid, concussion-proof furniture that certainly doesn’t involve glass, mirror or any kind of hard edge.

West Elm

West Elm

And that’s seven years of clear surfaces. No cute porcelain statues coming to pay me a visit while I watch TV.

Yesterday, Jack turned 3. On the way to school we listed all the ways in which he is a Big Boy. He’s in a Big Boy bed, he uses a Big Boy potty, he wears Big Boy underwear, he sits in a Big Boy chair for dinner.

And, I silently added, you don’t have to mess with everything within hand’s reach.

It means I can almost have this cute little tray waiting for a guest.

West Elm

West Elm

Or have this dainty little star, just casually hanging out somewhere, and rest assured that it will be there when I return hours later, not smashed to smithereens in the bathroom.

West Elm

West Elm

I might even have this cute little trio of birds and not have them be rocked to death and rammed into each other.

West Elm

West Elm

Ok, well that may be asking too much. I mean, even I couldn’t resist wobbling these things back and forth.

One of the things I love about home decorating blogs is the whole notion of “shopping your home.” How fabulous to just look around at what you have and just recombine it in some chic season-friendly way.

The trouble is, I don’t have any of that stuff to begin with. (Or worse, I do but I just can’t see the potential.)

By the time this remodel is finished and we can move back into our house, Jack will almost be four — or he will definitely be four. In the meantime, I plan to collect some of these fun little knick knacks I’ve always had my eye on but never dreamed I was ready to possess.

Happy Birthday, Jack!