Friday, February 28, 2014

Five Things for Friday

1. The Olympics were pretty fun to watch, but they were kind of disappointing too. I'm so glad that a terrorist attack didn't happen and that things overall went well. It's too bad that the temperatures were mild, which made the snow so mushy for the skiers. I was jealous that Sochi was warmer than Iowa. They should have had the Olympics in America this time--it would have been the perfect winter wonderland for it! I liked watching the snowboarders (surprisingly), but the highlight of the Winter Olympics for me will always be the figure-skating. If I could go back in time I would have done figure-skating as a child. I think it's magical to be able to skate and spin and dance on the ice the way they do. 

I was glad that Adelina Sotnikova of Russia won the ladies' figure-skating competition. She skated beautifully and powerfully, and the controversy over her winning gold over Yuna Kim was silly (but I liked it, because I enjoy figure-skating drama). I was also happy that Carolina Kostner of Italy won the bronze. I've been watching her skate pretty much since I was a teenager and it was such an accomplishment that she overcame her past performance problems and finally skated well enough to win a medal.

2. Another thing I watched recently that I really enjoyed was the season finale of Downton Abbey. It was a lush treat, full of beautiful historic details and fun Jane Austen-esque twists. It wasn't as dramatic as the last two season finales, but that was okay with me, especially when you consider the horrible way the last season ended. It was a sumptuous feast! I liked Season 4 overall and I'm looking forward to Season 5.

I loved, loved, loved seeing how the high-society girls were presented before the King and Queen of England at Buckingham Palace. It was neat that the Prince of Wales was a real character in this episode who played a role in one of the central stories. I loved Rose's debutante ball at Grantham House and the classic waltzes that were played and danced to. It blows my mind that this was still being done less than 100 years ago, in the lifetime of people who are still alive.

Lady Rose bows to the Queen.

I liked how the season ended with a fun day off for the servants by the sea.

This guy almost makes me forget about Matthew. I'll be disappointed if Mary and Lord Gillingham don't marry each other in Season 5. Please, Julian Fellowes, let him be as near-perfect as he seems to be. Don't make him turn out to be a wolf in sheep's clothing. Please let them get together and be happy!

3. This month I've been working on cleaning out my cookbook collection. I have far too many that I never use. I've been going through each and every one, tearing out recipes that I want to keep from books that I don't want to keep and gluing them into recipe binders, and using page markers on the rest. It feels good to have my cookbooks and recipes under control better and I know I'll use them more often now that they're not so overwhelming. A few favorites have emerged from my now curated collection:

Six Sisters' Stuff has a bunch of fun, easy, tasty recipes.

Savoring the Seasons with Our Best Bites has some wonderful ideas. I like it better than their first cookbook.

Jessica Seinfeld's Can't Cook Book is the perfect cookbook for me! It's funny and full of really good, do-able recipes. I learned some new things about how to cook and prepare food from looking through it.
Cooking: Oh Yes I Can!

4. The bitterly cold, arctic weather unfortunately continues to afflict us in Iowa. We had a brief respite last week when it was in the 30s and 40s, but then the cold came back. School was delayed for two hours on Wednesday because the wind chill was way down in the negatives. There has literally not been one week since the beginning of January when school was fully in session every day because of the cold or snow. I saw on the news that as of this past Wednesday there have been 32 days this winter when it was 0 or colder, whereas over the last three winters there were 19 days when it was 0 or colder. Unbelievable! Please be kind and warm to us, March. I don't think we can take much more of this!

I finally figured out how to take screenshots with my phone!
This was from yesterday morning. -1 out, but check out the RealFeel: -28.
There was an exclamation point circled in red for good reason!

5. Peter and I are going to a string quartet concert tonight! I'm excited because we frequently did things like this in college and in our newlywed years, but we haven't been to a concert in years. Tomorrow we're going to dinner at a Japanese sushi and steakhouse (which he assures me that I'll like, even though I hate sushi, but I do like steak, so he's probably right). And last weekend we all went to Disney's Stars on Ice, which was so much fun. What a week of culture for us! We must do what we can to break up the monotony of winter! 

Stay warm and think spring!

Thursday, February 27, 2014

House Updates in 2013

Well, to continue the theme of houses and house redecorating that I seem to be having this week, I'm going to write about that again, but this time these are changes that we made in the last year to our real house here in Iowa. It was starting to feel a little left out with all this talk about a house on Cape Cod, so it's time to give it a bit of attention here on the blog. I feel especially motivated to write about this right now since we've been spending so much time at home during this never-ending arctic winter!

Almost all of the things we did to our house last year were in the living room and family room. 
It started with this accent chair that I bought at at the beginning of last year. That really did set off a chain reaction as I predicted it would (which I wrote about in this post).

Next, we got our dream bookshelves.

Ha ha. Just kidding! 
I wish we could have a whole wall of floor-to-ceiling bookshelves like this. (I took this picture at the local Marriott hotel. It has a great library room!).
This is the real bookshelf we got.  

It's a beautiful shelf and we love it. 
Eventually we'd like to get the coordinating set of shelves for the wall across from it. 

Next up was new window treatments for the living room. I'd never gotten real window treatments before. I'd always bought simple valance curtains and vinyl blinds at places like Target and Wal-Mart. Our house came with maroon drapes when we bought it. They were okay, but they were dark and starting to show their age. I didn't think they went well with the airy feeling of the room. I hired a professional window treatment company and they did a great job, but DUDE (as John would say). It cost WAY MORE than what the nicest window treatments at Target, Wal-Mart, and Bed Bath & Beyond combined would cost. Peter was not happy with that, but we are happy with how much they they lighten and brighten the room up. Because of their cost, these window treatments are here to stay pretty much forever, now. Fine by me!

Old window treatments: dark and dated.

New window treatments: so much lighter, brighter, and more elegant!

We finally replaced our trusty eight-year-old coffee table from Target with a new one from Pier 1. You can see it in the pictures above. It's nice, but I have to say that the Target table is the most scratch-proof, durable coffee table I've ever owned (which may not be saying much, since I've owned about three coffee tables in my life, but still. Target makes some good-quality furniture!)

I also got a new fake tree for the corner, which is in the pictures above, and as I mentioned in another post recently, I got a matching toss pillow for the couch that matches the accent chair (from Etsy, not Target!). 

 Almost everything in the living room is now new except for the wall of three Ikea bookshelves, the first one of which we got as newlyweds, and the side table next to the couch was also a newlywed purchase from a friend's garage sale. It once sat in the office of a Manhattan millionaire and is a really nice table, especially for the cheap price at which we got it. The couch and loveseat set are eight years old but they're holding up well. The painting of Venice that's above the couch is the same picture we've had above our living room couch in New Jersey, Connecticut, and now Iowa. I bought it for $99 at Bed Bath & Beyond ten years ago. I like it and see no reason to change it until I'm tired of it. (I keep saying "I" because nobody else in the house really cares about this stuff!)

The other big change to our house last year was that we got a new family room couch. This was done out of necessity, unfortunately. The one that we had was only three years old(!!) but our two cats went crazy one day and destroyed it and we couldn't ignore the smell of that destruction any longer.

The old, stinky couch, still in pretty decent condition.

The family room is much bigger without a couch in it!

We decided to get a leather couch. I've never been a big fan of leather furniture but it can be very practical when you have pets and kids. Spills of all types are easy to wipe right up and they don't get down into the cushioning because leather is impervious to liquids. It's more comfortable than I thought it would be and it's supposed to get softer the longer you have it...which better be a long time! 

 So those are the big changes we made to our house last year. I'm glad we made them because I think investing in one's house and home in both big and small ways is so worth it. There will not be many house changes happening this year, however. After the expenses of 2013 (Cape Cod house, cruise, WINDOW TREATMENTS!!), 2014 is going to be a lean year for us. But it sure was fun to do some redecorating last year. The house is happier because of it! (And so am I!)

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Our Cape Cod House

Peter and I looked at many houses last July on Cape Cod. Some were really nice, some were not really nice, and many were somewhere in between with things we liked and things we didn't. When we walked into this house that we ended up buying, I felt good there. It felt like the right fit, and this was especially notable because we really liked another house we'd already seen that was larger, newer, and in a neighborhood that we knew and loved. But for many reasons, this cute cozy house really felt like the right one for us. I'm so glad that we were able to get it. I think of it as our cottage on the Cape, and I'm sure that it will bring us, our families, and our friends many happy experiences and memories in the years to come. 

The house is in walking distance to the beach, mini golf, and ice cream. It's close to Hyannisport, with ferries over to the islands of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket. It's close to some of the Cape's most well-traveled roads, but the neighborhood is peaceful and quiet. The house itself is not too big and not too small: it has four bedrooms, two full bathrooms, a living room, an eat-in kitchen, and an unfinished basement which we're finishing out to make into a family room and game room. I think it's the perfect size for us summer folks! 

The owners were selling the house with most of the furniture, dishes, bedding, and decorations included, many of which were very good quality, which was huge for us. The house is in good condition and doesn't need very much updating or repair work other than the basement, which doesn't even need to have anything done with it, we just want to. And it happens to be in the same area that we stayed in during the first few years that we started vacationing at the Cape, which to me was another sign that "this was the place."

A note about these pictures. I took most of them after our offer was accepted when the owners still lived there, and some were taken after we closed and the house was ours. I don't have great pictures of every room yet, and there's a lot I still want to do to make the house our own, so periodically I'll post picture updates. 
Without further ado, here's the house!

The living room.

The flowered couch is being replaced by the couch below. 

The chair is also being replaced, and the boxy TV has been given away and there is now a flat-screen TV mounted above the mantel (see here for a picture). The next things I'd like to do are to get rid of the black TV table and replace it with a corner bookshelf unit and get new window treatments.

I like this little window shelf in the wall between the living room and kitchen. It opens the two rooms up to each other a bit and gives a more open feel.

The eat-in kitchen.

Bedroom #1 on the ground floor.
This is the master bedroom, even though it's not the largest bedroom in the house. This is how it looked when we bought the house, and it still pretty much looks like this, but I've replaced the bedding set and the curtains (see here for a picture).

Bedroom #2 on the ground floor. 
Isn't it cute?

The ground-floor bathroom. 
It was remodeled by the previous owners and has an amazing shower with jets in the walls! 

Upstairs Bedroom #1.
This adorable room was shared by two sisters. The owls in the room were further proof to me that this house was the one! The bunk bed was one of the few pieces of furniture that the owners were taking with them. Since buying the house, we've taken down the wallpaper and painted the room pale yellow (and by "we" I mean my mom), and we've moved two twin beds into the room.

Sam made himself right at home in this room!

The upstairs bedrooms are spacious. Each one has a full closet with an additional storage room beyond it. More on that in a minute...

The room now looks like this. I took these pictures when it was dark out so they're not nearly as flattering as the pictures above. As anyone who's ever bought or sold a house knows, take pictures of your house in the flattering light of day!

The little hobbit door at the back of the closet opens to "the secret hideout room," as we call it. It's a great use of the space under the slanted front roof of the house. The girls who lived here before decked the space out with rugs and wall coverings and they left them there. It's such a fun place for the kids to play!

Upstairs Bedroom #2.
This room started out like this with two twin beds, but those beds are now in the other upstairs bedroom and this room now has a queen-sized bed. (Did that make sense?) 

I love the slanted wall eaves in these upstairs bedrooms.

The upstairs bathroom.
It's nice but a little too flowery and feminine for my taste, so this is the next room in which wallpaper removal, new paint, and some redecorating will happen. I want to give this bathroom a beachy or nautical theme.

The basement. 
This is one half of it...the other side is pretty much the same and the washer and dryer are also down here. Wait until you see what this gets transformed into! The work starts on it next week. 

The backyard.
 It's fenced-in and private, with trees and shade and a good-sized yard for the kids to play in.

 There's an outdoor shower stall, which is nice to have after a day at the beach or if you ever happen to want to take a shower under the stars or out in the fresh air. We also have our own hydrangea bushes!

The brick patio is right off the kitchen. I envision many meals being eaten alfresco here in the summer!

We got rid of the little raised garden plots because we won't really be able to grow anything in the limited time we'll have here each year. The backyard has lots of shade, so I'd like to get some good lawn chairs to put out under the trees. 

The front porch.
This is one of my favorite features of the house. I like porches a lot, even simple ones like this. I really liked these rocking chairs, but the owners took them, so we'll have to get a set of our own this summer. 

One of the things Peter wanted in a Cape house was a water view of either the ocean or a lake. Well, when you look across the street from the front porch and through the slats in the neighbor's outdoor stairs, you can see the inlet's water. I think this is way funnier than Peter probably does. Our house does have a water view, you just have to look for it!

The beach.
It's only about a 10-minute walk to the beach, maybe 15 minutes at the most with kids and beach gear. It's not a huge beach and doesn't have sand dunes or a wide-open view of the sea because it's a bay beach, so you can see out to sea, but the view is framed by trees and land on both sides. It's really pretty. The beach doesn't have a parking lot, which means that it probably doesn't get too crowded in the summer. It's between a summer resort's private beach on one side and private residential beaches on the other. It's not huge but it's a good stretch of public beach. We'll still go to the big popular beaches that we like that are around the Cape, but this one will be nice to have close by. 


Can you see the swimmer?

And that's our Cape house! I'll post more about it in the future, probably after I travel out this spring once the basement is finished. I'll put together a before-and-after post for the basement, and I'll take good pictures of some of the bedrooms and other rooms and show the changes we've made. I'm thinking about starting a website or a blog just for the house. If you happen to be reading this and ever want to stay there, please let me know. We are very open to renting the house out for vacations at a very good rate to our friends and relatives and to people they know and trust! 

Home Sweet Summer Home!