Friday, August 26, 2011

Summer Show-Off: Re-Booted Bookcase (and window seat)

We're bookish folks here, and there seems to be no design notion more beloved by bookish folks than displaying their books. And beloved books deserve a lovely display space. So, it only made sense that our first major DIY project of the summer was a reboot for our living room semi-built-in bookcase. Well, except for the fact that it wasn't on our list of top summer to-do's. But whatever. 

Here's the before, first with books, then once we removed everything: 

I say "semi-built-in" b/c while the bookcase (and the window seat with it) were not movable, they also weren't true-blue built-with-the-house built-ins. How do I know? I looked at them, that's how. Legit built-ins are nice, high quality things, usually topped off with molding of some sort (crown or otherwise), and they typically look like they are seamlessly integrated into the room. 

Anyway, the project, from start to finish, actually took months b/c it involved making a valence and my mother making a (fabulous) new cover for the window seat which didn't happen for some time; but the bulk of it took about 4 days, one of which included my mother's effort. Here's what we did and then, of course, the results. 

First we painted the back of the bookcase the same color as the walls (a Martha Stewart color called Burlap in Behr paint*). Then we painted everything else white. We used leftover Behr interior satin paint in Blizzard Fog (BF). This alone was a huge improvement for 2 reasons:

1. The "before" color was a nasty shade of glossy "dinge" (short for "dingy"); and
2. The doors our friend Jack made for us out of the goodness of his heart (read: for free; we didn't even pay for the materials) had never been painted and obviously clashed horribly. 

Third, we used the BF on 2 pieces of decorative molding from Lowe's and 4 decorative wooden squares with a flower design. 

Everything was going smoothly until we tried to remove the ugly bracket-holder thingies that were holding up the shelves: they simply would not move. They and the screws holding them in had been painted over so many times that they were seriously ATTACHED. I thought short of risking ruining the wood by prying them off (which I was NOT prepared to do), we were stuck with them, when Brad ingeniously thought of the heat-gun. Boy, was that a bright idea. Those babies came right off.

Once they were outtie, we sanded the area and painted in BF.

I've kind of lost count, but we'll go with fourth: we measured the length and width of the bookcase, subtracted the size of two of the decorative wood squares, and Brad cut the pieces of molding to fit. We then used wood glue to secure a square in each of the four corners and to secure the pieces of molding to them and the outside of the bookcase

We next used leftover beadboard wallpaper to paper the side of the bookcase and make it look more upscale. I measured all the individual doors and cut and applied squares to fit the centers. We then painted the doors and the centers.

Finally, we determined where we wanted to place the shelves, screwed in new brackets, and painted them BF.

At that point the bookcase proper was done - except for the necessary books and other accoutrements. Styling was the fun part. I went with a sort of color scheme. But only sort of. 

We also made a bunch of other changes: 

-a new valence in Ralph Lauren Eleanor fabric (made by yours truly); 
-a new window seat cover in the same fabric (made by my mother, who spent - gulp - at least 20 hrs. on it); 
-two new pillows I'm not nuts about but that work well enough for now; 
-we switched the old horrible blind for a less horrible one from the upstairs hallway until we find something we like; and 
-we painted the wall (indeed, the whole wall, which stretches from the living room to the hall to the dining room) Bone Folder, another Martha color in Behr paint. (Don't ask me about this atrocious name.) It's a creamy color without two much yellow, and although it's hard to tell when it's nighttime (which is when I took the pictures), in the daylight there's a nice subtle contrast with the color of the bookcase. 

One more shot, this time farther back, just for good measure. (Don't mind the weird paint-less spot to the top right of the valence; that's getting painted very soon, my friend, very soon.)

So, that was our first big task of the warmer months, and we now looooooooooooove the whole area. It's much more "together" and makes the room more "complete" feeling, and it's definitely more convincing as a built-in. I'd say it's finally worthy of all those wonderful books that we've spent years acquiring! Now, we've just got to read them . . .hmmmm, that sounds like a lot of work . . . maybe I'll just admire my bookcase from the across the room . . . 

*We got the Martha color, as with all the Martha colors we use, color-matched in Behr paint b/c the quality of Martha paint ain't what you would expect from the home goddess herself. It goes on too thick, and I can never get rid of the tiny bubbles despite endless stirring. Plus, it's more expensive. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

From the couch to . . .

So I didn't make it to 5k, or 3 miles, this summer. Instead, I made it to 4.2 k or 2.5 miles. And, seriously, I couldn't be more proud of myself

No, I didn't reach my original goal. But I did keep at it while dealing (and still dealing) with runner's knee and aching hips (I had forgotten how much and how constantly my hips hurt when I workout hard). And not only did I keep at it, but I was also really, really reasonable about it. I listened to my body; when I hurt too bad, I hit the couch instead of the pavement. Same same when I was too tired - b/c when I'm tired, I'm a careless runner, and when I'm careless, I get hurt. 

This summer, I've been the most sane and rational about working out that, well, I've probably ever been while still staying committed to it. 

So instead of being down on myself for not hitting 5k, I'm reveling in my success. I haven't run consistently in 8 years (since I hurt my hip), and now I'm doing just that. To give my knees a break, today I did Zumba for the first time in 8 months, and it was wayyyyyyy easier than I remember it being at the start of the year. I feel strong. I feel faster. I feel confident

And that's something great to start off the semester with. 

When It's Okay to Complain

Everybody has ordered dinner from a grouchy server, dealt with a rude sales clerk, and talked to any number of snarly and unhelpful medical office personnel over the telephone. (Would someone please tell me why people - always women - who work in doctors' offices are so awful?) Unpleasant people in each and every form of customer service are, if not the norm, at least an ever-present reality in daily life. 

Terrible customer service: is it
the norm? 
When someone mistreats me, I inevitably go to the land of "This person is probably supporting a family, and while her behavior has been bad, I do not feel it merits putting her job in jeopardy." And I say nothing and go on my way, however unmerrily. 

But when is it just to complain about the poor service or treatment you have received at the hands of an employee? 

I believe that when this treatment surpasses inconvenience and unhelpfulness and moves into the realm of meanness, hurtfulness, or dishonesty, an individual is more than justified in complaining. 

An example: Yesterday, I participated in a mandatory Blackboard re-certification training on campus from 1:00-4:00 p.m. I arrived exactly 15 minutes late, quietly apologizing as I came in, explaining that I had gone to the wrong building. In front of 11 other participants, the "teacher" for this workshop (can I say "imbecile running the show"?) said, in all seriousness, "Glad you finally decided to show up." 


Listen, I wanted to say to him, I'm an adult, I'm apologetic, and I'm not all that late given the fact that this workshop is three hours long. I'm here now, so let's not have a fit and act like we're five years old. Of course, what I did instead was bow my head and shuffle to the open computer. 

Further, this teacher never gave me the materials he'd already handed out - not even during the break - and when my computer wasn't working b/c the internet was crashing left and right for everyone all afternoon, he did not even make a gesture to help me even though I was 4 feet from him. In short, the environment he created in his classroom was neither welcoming nor comfortable. 

(As a teacher, I can tell you that students are late, people go to the wrong building, they forget things, they don't do what you want them to do. Stuff happens. And if you can't deal with this sort of business on a pretty much daily basis, you shouldn't be teaching people.) 

This instructor's behavior is something that I cannot overlook. Why? B/c it goes beyond simple rudeness to belittling. B/c it seeks to embarrass and succeeds in doing so. B/c it is not an acceptable way to treat a colleague. In short, b/c it is neither how a teacher nor how a professional conducts himself. 

And this guy's just an awful representative of his department and my university.

Look, I waited tables for many summers - I know how annoying, demanding, and downright rude people can be. But I also know that when you're at work, you need to turn off the personal crap and do the job you're there to do - if not with a smile, then at least minus the smirk. I did this many, many times each summer (and still got a lot of lousy tips).

The point is, not every crappy waitress is having a bad day. But even if she is, she doesn't have the right to turn her bad day into your bad day. Which is precisely what this guy did yesterday - and why, when I fill out his evaluation, my comments will be honest, no matter how unflattering. 

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Friday 4: Tip-top Naps

Since I've been snoozing on the Friday 4s, a post on - what else? - snoozing seems like a good re-inauguration effort. And, since I loves me a good nap (just took #1 today) . . . . 

4. the Surrounded-by-kitties Nap 

Best enjoyed solo (except for the kitties), this nap is delightful on a comfy queen bed during the early afternoon. Stretch out across both sides of the bed in whatever odd position you fancy and be sure your furry companions have plenty of free pillows and blankets to curl up on. When you stir from slumber, flex a foot to find a warm kitty belly rising and falling beneath your toes. This is the ideal nap for the 75% sleep, that place of sweet sweet sleepiness where you have just enough consciousness to recognize that you're enjoying yourself. 

3. the Buddy Nap 

This nap can be a tricky one as you must be quite tired so that the tossings and turnings and getting-comfortable-ings of your buddy don't disturb your relaxation, but when you do settle into super calm mode, it is extremely peaceful and pleasant to have your loved one at your side. Drape an leg over his/her leg or let his/her hand rest on your stomach. Should you be roused prematurely from your rest, let the gentle breathing of your buddy lure you back to sleep. Buddy naps should extend from 1-3 hours for maximum enjoyment.

2. the Muted-TV-turned-to-bowling-golf-or-tennis Nap 

Ideal for couches or over-sized chairs, the Muted Boring Sports Nap (alias) works great on Saturdays in the late afternoon or early evening. Stretch out on the cushions in that position that you couldn't replicate if you tried and ignore that sensation telling you that you really ought to get up to do X, Y, or Z. The flickering of the television screen provides a sort of mood lighting appropriate for our 21st century world. The slightly subdued sounds of your co-habitors may from time to time pull you from your sleep, but don't worry, as such minor intrusions will allow you to linger in glorious 75% land. 

1. the Thunderstorm Nap 

The platinum of naps, the Thunderstorm Nap is the rarest creature due to its dependence on Mother Nature's mood and schedule. When the sky begins to green and the air gets eerily silent, you know the time is right for nap preparations. Make sure the windows are open and that you have a light blanket nearby because you are sure to enjoy a breeze. Don't despair if you don't fall into slumber during the (literal) calm before the storm: the repetitive sound of the rain will soothe you into sleep. When at all possible, take advantage of the weather and engage in this type of nap as you may only have several such opportunities per annum. 

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Me + Bradley + today = 7 years!

In honor of my 7th wedding anniversary (today!), I've skipped the whole writing-a-post thing to watch Black Hawk Down (a fave.) and eat Trader Joe's French fries with my beloved Bradley - so instead I've put together a little picture time-line (or something like that) of our first decade or so together . . . 

Thankfully, I couldn't find any handy pics of us during my freshmen year, when young love caused me to gain 10 lbs. . . . so starting with sophomore year will have to do: 

Fall 2001, in our Russian ballet pose in 
the hall of my apt. (don't ask) 

Summer 2002, lookin' fancy-pants in my parents' kitchen 
before some random outing 

Fall 2003, the night Brad proposed with the most 
awesome scavenger hunt ever (!) 

Spring 2004, my college graduation 
(note: I'm wearing the same dress I wore
to my high school graduation . . . not 
too shabby, huh?) 

Summer 2004, at the Spaghetti Warehouse for dinner 
after we got married on a dock behind PNC Park . . . 

Fall 2004, Niagara Falls for a slightly belated 

Christmas morning 2006, us being not-morning 
people at my parents' house 

Summer 2007, not so long after I first chopped off 
all of my hair 

Summer 2008, in France on the Mediterranean (and,
yes,  I really am wearing that visor) 

Spring 2009, hair's long again, but not for long 

Spring 2010, Brad looks like he's wearin' short 
shorts . . . (he's not) 

Summer 2010, Brad and me and a big ol' golden lion 
in our nation's capital 

Winter 2010, rare shot of me sans glasses; Brad's 
got a man-beard! 

Spring 2011, Brad givin' the 'Burgh some love 
on my b-day 

 Don't you just love all the romance?! 

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Good ol' music and the good ol' days

I am, hopelessly, a devotee of the bands I fell in love with circa a decade ago and, more specifically, the songs and albums they put out back then. The big names that made it - Train, Vertical Horizon, Third Eye Blind, 3 Doors Down, Tonic - and the little and/or local ones you don't hear much (or anything) from these days - Athenaeum, Caroline's Spine, Black Lab, the Clarks, Dexter Freebish, Neve, Collapsis. They had my heart then and still have it - as their songs play randomly from my iPod. 

(And don't even try to tell me my music ain't sophisticated b/c I couldn't give a hairy backside.)

According to Chris Rock, you'll always love whatever music you were listening to when you started getting . . . well, you know. (Yes, for the record, I am referencing Chris Rock, and I'm proud of it. I can't think of anyone more hilarious and on-point at the same time with the exception of Seinfeld. So there.) Since I remained a virtuous lass until I wedded my dearest, I'm going to have to tweak his statement and say that whatever music you listened to while coming of age (which sounds a lot less cool than "getting laid," admittedly) will be music you love forever. I mean, isn't there just something that gets you about the tunes you loved way back when? 

And let's broaden that out to the whole music experience. I'm totally having a nostalgic moment for the Pittsburgh music scene of my high school and college days (and I know Brad joins me in this nostalgia, although he hates - hates! - my music). 

Back in t he day, Pittsburgh used to actually be a place to see up-and-comers, and man, was it fun. My senior year of high school, I went to a bunch of shows at different clubs around town. There was Graffiti, where I saw Stroke 9 while wearing a ridiculous back-less shirt and - eeks! - no bra. There was Club Laga in Oakland, and while I can't remember who I saw there, I do remember it was about 1000 degrees. And, of course, there was my favorite, Metropol, in the Strip District.

Oh Metropol, oh the memories. Amanda and I and a bunch of our friends saw Vertical Horizon there - I can still remember the bass player's maroon, skin-tight leather pants (we spazzed out - it basically screamed sex). I'm actually pretty sure that we saw them there twice. We also saw Splender - and after the show I kissed the super hot bass player, but did not accept his invitation to join him back at his hotel room . . . . 

An 18-yr. old me looking oh-so-very-excited with Matt Scannell,
lead singer of VH 

And the number one show of all time (for me, at least): we stood in the front row, smashed against the stage, sweating and screaming and singing and otherwise freaking out as Train performed its debut album (titled, of course, Train). This was before Train was "Train" and, sadly, before Metropol (and the bustling nightlife of the Strip) was no more. 

I remember talking to the band members in front of the club after the show (yes, Patrick Monahan is really that sexy) and one of them said to me, shocked and flattered, "You knew all the words to all our songs." 

I was like, "Of course! I love you guys!" At that point, they'd released only "Free" and "Meet Virginia," glorious things that they are, and most of their fans knew only those words. But we dear high school girls had, of course, virtually memorized their cd. And it was soooooooo cool that they noticed. I've still got the $10 bill that their drummer signed and gave to me. (I was into collecting things from my various hot-guy-related quests, haha.) 

So, as I sit here listening to a song Brad and I listened to courtesy of Napster on the evening of our first date in 2001 ("Send It Up" by Vertical Horizon), I want to give a shout-out: to the bands from back in the day (and all their amazing music that was felt like the soundtrack for my life) and all the old Pittsburgh clubs that didn't make it but kicked *ss while we were lucky enough to have 'em, you oldies-but-goodies are the very, very best-est. Rock on, rock on, rock on. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Still trying . . .

The road toward conception continues on its bumpy way - though with no baby bump yet. 

We're 10 months into ttc, and I had an appointment with a new (and great) gynie last week who came with a glowing recommendation from my next door neighbor. Given the un-empathetic nature and downright attitude of my last gynie, Dr. P. is a welcome change.

Today, I had an HSG, or hysterosalpingogram (try saying that 5 times fast. Heck, try saying it once slowly), at Magee-Womens Hospital in Oakland to see if blocked, twisted, or otherwise problematic fallopian tubes are keeping me from getting pregnant. Basically, they do the whole speculum thing, then put contrast dye into your cervix through a tube; they watch on a machine as the dye fills your uterus, and, if all's as it should be, it goes through each of your tubes before spilling out into your stomach or wherever.

The procedure hurt,* as I was told it would, and it was certainly uncomfortable, but my tubes are both open, which is great news. 

Basically, every test Brad and I have gotten done has come back with good results. He got his man-biz checked out months ago, and everything's a-okay in that department. I had my progesterone level tested during my last cycle to make sure I am, indeed, ovulating, and I am, indeed, ovulating. A 10 means you've ovulated, and I was at 11.2, which was good news, although Dr. P. said the higher the better - something like 16 or 17 would be ideal. 

The next step is Clomid. Clomid is a super-ovulatory drug which basically makes you ovulate - even though I'm already ovulating, it will, hopefully, make me ovulate more and possibly better eggs. It does this by increasing your progesterone level. You can take Clomid for a maximum of 6 months at a time, then you need to give your body a rest of a year or so. But, generally, if you're gonna conceive on Clomid, it's gonna happen within 6 months anyway. 

A couple is not considered "infertile" until they've been trying to conceive regularly for a year without success, but my new gynie favors a more aggressive approach than the popular, "We can't do anything until it's been a year," and I'm happy that we've been narrowing the list of possible infertility culprits. Since I'm ovulating and my tubes are open, and since Brad's all good, if we do reach the year marker without getting pregnant, it will be a case of "unexplained infertility." Which basically means, "There's nothing anatomically wrong here - you can definitely make a baby. Keep gettin' busy." 

Thus far I've managed to keep a pretty positive attitude, except for the occasional hormonal bout of emotions when I'm convinced I'll never have a baby and that everyone else in the world but me has one. That usually happens on cycle days 25-29 (it's also commonly known as p.m.s). Brad's as convinced as ever that I'll get pregnant any day now. As for next month's cycle, if there's no tiny bump in my belly, we'll start the Clomid. And in the meanwhile, I guess we'll keep gettin' busy. 

*While I was on the table today, I thought to myself, "How in the world is a baby gonna come out of there if this hurts as bad as it does?" All you mamas out there, you are truly amazing.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Again with the birds

So, Brad calls me to the window to see a hawk that has killed something - a rabbit or a squirrel, almost definitely - in our neighbors' backyard. I track down his awful binoculars, and then we take turns (squinting, getting a headache) watching this ugly guy sort of dance on his prey as he tries to get the thing in his talons and fly off to wherever it is that hawks fly off to. 

As we continue to watch, and the bird continues to fail, Brad initiates the following conversation: 

(Imagine a high-pitched taunt.) 
Brad: "We got agriculture, mutha f*cka! We don't have to do that!" 

Pause. No reply from hawk. 

Brad: "We got Giant Eagle, mutha f*cka! I just buy bags of meat!" 

Still no reply. The hawk then proceeds to fly, sans rabbit/squirrel, to the top of our neighbors' shed, where he promptly raises his butt and goes #2. And I get to see it all through crappy binoculars (pun oh-so-very intended). 

Brad's final words on the experience? "I feel like a scientist, sitting around watching animals all day." 

And here I thought scientists were looking at petri dishes all day. 

Happy House-a-versary!

Yesterday marked 2 years to the date that Brad and I closed on our house and moved (with help, of course) all of our belongings into our pretty little patch o' earth (and brick and siding). It's really something to think about: I'm a homeowner!? That's probably not such a big deal for a lot people, but for me it's kind of far out (dude) to think, This space belongs to me (and mine) and I can have it be how I want it to be

The downside to that, of course, is that I'm also responsible for it. Which means I'm responsible for the 3-ft. stump (still) gracing our front yard where a beautiful and perfectly shaped ornamental pear tree once stood - until the wind in a nasty storm decided it hated our sweet tree and made a mess out of it. And I'm also responsible for the shutter that the wind blew off during yet another storm; the slowly crumbling retaining wall out back; the yard that has swiftly progressed this summer to a 65:35 weed-to-grass ratio . . . . 

Can Brad be responsible for those things and I'll just take the inside of the house? 

But seriously, it's a nifty (and kind of weird) thing to look around at all of our neighbors, most of whom have 15+ years on us, and think, We belong here. We're just like you guys. Only with a shabbier lawn. :) 

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Up with the Birds

Well, I guess 7:45 a.m. is not really bird-time, but it's really early for summer (for us), and when that alarm went off this morning, our groans could likely be heard by the birds three houses down. 

I bet these awesome birds sleep till 7:45 in the morning. 

Today is officially Brad's last day of summer 2011 - big frown here: :( - which means tomorrow his alarm will go off at 6 a.m. and he'll start making that way-too-long trek to and from work once again. Then I'm back to the grind on Thursday, though I will, thankfully, have no such crazy alarm. 

This summer has flown by. Floooooooooown. (I guess I've got a bird thing going on in this post . . . . ) 

We've had so much fun, and I hate that it's winding down faster than fast, but in contrast to the typical end of summer, I'm not dreading the start of the semester. Don't get me wrong: I don't want summer to end, and I'm not particularly looking forward to teaching composition yet again (esp. b/c the head of my dept. once again offered me a creative writing class - but it was MWF and there's no way I can drive in 5 days a week and keep my sanity), but I have a kind of acceptance of the fact that it's back to business.

I think it's largely a result of the fact that this is the last semester in which I have to take classes; in the spring I'll finish up my credits with a directed reading in an area of my choosing and start making my lists for comps. I can't tell you how good that feels; I'm so tired of coursework, I can hardly explain it. I have, after all, been in school for the last twenty-four years of my life.

For Brad's part, although he's desperately lamenting summer's close, he's grateful to have a job in this economy, and equally grateful to have a job that he likes, that he's good at, one with co-workers who like him and whom he likes back. 

L&O, seasons 4 and 5: back when the best-ever
show had its best-ever cast 
And so it's back to the computer (and the attendent neck ache), but not without fond memories of all the summer fun. And, indeed, Brad and I had a ton of fun this summer. We watched a lot of great tv (old Law and Order seasons, Luther, True Blood); relaxed on the patio with our new fire pit; hung out with my mom a lot; spent an obscene amount of time in Lowe's and an even more obscene amount of time in JoAnn Fabrics; wrote and read at Starbucks; went to the movies; frequented Goodwill and the Habitat for Humanity ReStore (I'm *in love* with that place and Brad really likes it, too); sword fought in the front yard; got hooked on Words with Friends (thanks a lot, Shannon); took neighborhood walks; chased each other with sparklers (which I always somehow call "sprinklers") on the Fourth of July; and just generally had a good time. 

I spent time with Amanda, Shannon slept over a couple of times, I revised a paper. And I never once had to put on a bathing suit. (Which, to my mind, is a major score because I hate bathing suits. Nevertheless, I do want to go to the beach in the near future.) Pair that with the fact that I'm running 2 miles in under 18 minutes despite runner's knee (if not for that, I'd be running more!) and that I haven't bought a piece of clothing in exactly three months, and I'm feeling pretty good. 

Plus, Brad and I (and often my mom) have done a ton of work on the house. Ton, ton, ton. I feel like we've been eating, sleeping, and dreaming DIY home improvement for the past three months. I've got a bunch of fun projects to show off! The difference in my house b/t now and the beginning of summer is hard for me to believe - especially on the small, small budget we've got. 

All this DIY is largely responsible for me going AWOL from blog-land. Three phone conversations should serve as exculpatory evidence: 

A month ago: 
Me: "Well, we re-painted the dining room walls and I dyed the drapes and sanded and spray painted the faucet and fixed the paint on the light fixture this week." 
Amanda: "You've done more on your house in a week than we've done here in 4 years." 

About a week ago: 
Me: "All right, I've gotta go - I have to get to painting." 
Amanda: "What are you people doing now?!?!" 

A few days later: 
Shannon: "Hi. What's going on." 
Me: "I have to call you back; I'm sanding a vanity door." 
Shannon (probably shaking her head): "That sounds like the kind of thing you would do." 

See? It's not like I've been twiddling my thumbs over here.