Smell ya later, October


October and all of its Halloween disgustingness is over! Hooray! Welcome, November and your refreshing, commercially ignored holiday. At least no one celebrates you by depicting fake, violent murder! Rejoice, and appreciate your annoyingly premature, yet innocuous and blood-free inflatable Santas.

November also means it’s National Novel Writing Month, aka NaNoWriMo. Such prestigious and world-wide recognition, November. Who needs a Target decked out in turkeys to legitimize your existence?

This is my fourth year participating in Nanowrimo, but my first year going into it with not only an outline, but a rough draft. I am excited to have an actual plan in hand. Barfing out 50K (terrible) words every year isn’t hard for me (duh, verbose blogger alert), but writing those words out with a plot that doesn’t meander all over the place has been more of a challenge in years past. I’m sure I’ll depart from my outline and draft in a million different ways, but it’s nice to feel prepared for a change.

Do you Nano? And can we still be friends even though I just typed the words, “Do you Nano?”


My work and life schedule is crazier than it has ever been, so this month will be interesting. I’m pretty determined though, so here’s to sleep deprivation. Cheers!

Yes, my kids are in public school this year. I have finally stopped crying about it.

(tl;dr version at the bottom) It was such an incredibly difficult decision for both me and my husband. We have so many strong convictions about homeschooling, it felt like we’d failed when we couldn’t figure out how to make it work this year. Especially since a huge part of the reason I walked away from one job opportunity into this one was so that I could continue working from home and thereby continue putting my kids first and homeschooling.


The original work plan

But life has a way of kicking you in the shorts. That is, it likes to take your best laid plans and poop all over them. The plan when I took this position with Sun Tail Mermaid was this: I’d help design a new line of mermaid tails, and I’d design and invent a new monofin swim flipper. We’d develop and launch these products and then my role with the company would move to a much more removed, super part time position, eventually backing out of the picture 100%.

SIDEBAR: There’s this misconception out there, even among family members, that I OWN Sun Tails. I don’t! I own a share of the company — that was just part of the hiring deal — but I’m not the head honcho. I do retain the rights to my monofin design and could even sell or license the rights if the right opportunity came along, but within the company, I am just a designer (graphic design and product design), and thank goodness. I have enough stress as it is without the entire success of the business resting on my shoulders.

Anyway, that timeline has NOT gone according to plan. It has taken ten times the amount of time we thought it would to test and perfect the products, and we’ve had all kinds of manufacturing hiccups and bumps along the way. I held out hope until just a few weeks before school was going to be starting that I’d be able to get everything done to that point where I could back out of the picture and return to homeschooling, but it just didn’t work out.

I cried a lot.

We found a charter school where all the kids could go to the same building. It’s smaller, and we hoped that would make for less culture shock. I had all kinds of worries — though I had tried very hard to make sure my kids were operating at and above grade levels, I’d have these nightmares where they’d go to school and get yelled at for being dumb homeschoolers who didn’t know how to raise their hands or ask before going to the bathroom.

My bad dreams were a waste, because they’re doing great. They love it, actually. All of them. It hurts my feelings a little bit :) But mostly I’m really thankful, because it’s just what we have to do this year (and maybe next?); I’m very glad they aren’t miserable.

The Myth of Free Time

A weird thing I keep hearing is, “Oooh, isn’t it nice to have all that free time?” And I’m like, “Huh? Where is this free time? Did I not fill out the right form? Did it get waylaid en route to my door?” Putting the kids in school didn’t help my schedule at all, in fact it made it a lot more difficult. I knew they’d be miserable (as they were last year) with me cramming in homeschooling around my demanding work schedule, so putting them in school was 110% for them. In no way has it resulted in some magical 8 hour workday I’d have if I worked in an office and they were in an after school care program or something (their school does not have one). They’re happy, but all the things I feared about a public school lifestyle are true.

For YEARS people have said, “Oh you’re so brave/awesome/patient for being a homeschooling mom! I could never! I don’t know how you do it!” And I’d roll my eyes so hard they’d stick to the back of my head. Because give me a break. Homeschooling is easy compared to this! Lazy! Relaxed! We wake up when we want to. We eat breakfast at a leisurely, non-frantic pace. There is no morning shouting over backpacks or misplaced lunch bags. There are no early morning freak outs about the level of the gas tank in the car or the fact that we ran out of bread or peanut butter and no one noticed the day before when I could have gone to the store without making everyone late.

During the years when I did not *have* to work, the actual homeschooling (school type work stuff, grammar, math, etc.) of four kids took up only a few hours of our day. We had the rest of the day to explore nature, hike, go to museums, watch movies that corresponded with our studies, read piles of wonderful books, spend time at the library, enroll in co-op classes, and do science projects. Oh the free time I had then! I had time for small side businesses and projects, time to read and relax on my own while kids played! I’d stretch out on a blanket at the park, or we’d enjoy the lake shore or swimming pools while everyone else was in school. Sigh. I miss those days. I miss that life.

I am in the car for an hour every day thanks to J being in early morning seminary this year and the distance from our house to seminary and their school. We’re in the car longer if we are waiting at the school for someone to get done with band or orchestra (not worth it to go home and come back). I realize that’s not true for everyone. If they were attending the public schools in our neighborhood things would be simpler. But again, their school felt like the best choice for them, and they agreed. We toured many and this one won hands down.

THE HOMEWORK. I can’t even. We have like, five minutes together (this is what it feels like) to eat and relax, spend time together… but it’s eaten up, stolen, by homework. Homework is the devil. I hate it so much. It is so difficult to keep every kid’s class requirements straight, and papers get lost from their lockers to home. I didn’t have this much homework as a kid. I get that teachers think it reinforces concepts, I get that they don’t have enough time to devote to everything in class even though they have my kid for the bulk of each day. I get that national standards force teachers to ‘teach for the test’ and are under a lot of pressure and some of that spills over into homework. I get it. I just hate it, that’s all. I’m allowed to hate it. Me hating it shouldn’t make any teachers out there feel attacked, they do their best, I know (and I love my kids’ teachers, they are super). It just is what it is: life sucking, time robbing, evening ruining, satanic devil homework from hell. #iampronetohyperbole

We are not even going to discuss the volunteer time at the school that is required and asked of me. I have no idea how I am supposed to fit this into my life. How do parents who work at offices fit this in? Do they take vacation time? A sick day? I don’t get it. I know why the school wants it, B loves it when he has reading buddies come to his class (upper classmen or volunteer parents) and I wish I could be there, but I just can’t. Plus there are fundraisers and parent meetings and Managebac training… it just feels like this whole LIFE. And while you might be all, “Holy cow, homeschooling moms are super amazing / intimidating / crazy / masochists.” I’m all, “You’re all insane, you have no idea. Homeschooling is CALM. This is full of crazy. I am dying. Send life preserver. Drowning. Halp.”

Disclaimer: I fully admit to being a whiny pants baby who hates certain types of change (namely the type that requires stuff from me). For many, public school is just a have-to, ain’t no way around it kind of decision. Because work. Because single parent. Because life. Because socioeconomic status. Because homeschooling is weird and out there and unknown and therefore scary; or impossible or eschewed because of any number of other valid reasons.

tl;dr: The back and forth and the homework really cuts into my work time, but this was a solution for the kids, not me. I just have to deal. I have to work with what I have, work more effectively and productively. It’s hard. I don’t have time for a lot of the things I’d like to do (like do more stuff with this house at a quicker pace, for example). But I am happy the kids are happy. And that’s no small thing.

Upstairs & K’s closet makeover

Though this entire house is in want of painting, I told the kids I’d start with their rooms first. Miss K was first in line since she cares the most about what her bedroom looks like. I warned them all that this would be a slow process as I was able to find time to work on their rooms. I did not lie; I can’t believe we’re only now nearing the finish line on K’s. I always think I can get waaaaay more done in any given weekend.

We got K’s painted a pale lavender (Behr “Secret Scent”) fairly quickly and I got her yellow baseboards painted in a high gloss white.


Everything was pretty! Except for her closet. Pretty dreary, right?


Her closet is weird.


Well, her whole room is a bit odd. Wait, scratch that, the entire upstairs is absolutely nuts. I’m pretty certain whoever built this house had the builders do a lot of finagling upstairs.


It’s not exact… I started out trying to take measurements and get it right, but as soon as it became clear it required math, I just tried to eyeball it the best I could. For example, the ‘triangle’ area in front of K & B’s rooms isn’t quite that sharp, but it’s close. Your house should not require the knowledge of whatever this is:


It looks to me like they were doing a lot of space stealing because they wanted a bigger master closet and bigger master bathroom.


I have absolutely no idea how K’s bedroom was supposed to look on the original builder’s plans, but I’m pretty sure this isn’t it.

I’m not one to bag on older, out of date houses, and I always feel bad when someone bashes the former owner’s wallpaper or choice in carpet or whatever. This house is a little different since it’s had a long string of tenants who liked to spray paint things, and leave dried painters tape on all the surfaces (seriously, ALL the surfaces), but we’re looking at the house’s roots here, and I’ll tell you, I am DYING to go next door and ask for a tour so I can see what their upstairs looks like. If E were the builder it would have looked something more like this:


I mean right? K’s room could even still have a pretty sweet walk in closet behind the chimney bump out. Or, now that I look at it, a smart architect could probably flip the hall bathroom around to utilize that space in the corner better and extend the hall or something. Because madness. Is there a REASON we have to have seventy million angles everywhere? Is it fancier? Is there something I just don’t know about crazy angles? Does it make a house feel more expensive or something? It just seems like it could have been laid out better than a failed geometry experiment.

It’s not even well PLANNED. Like, our master bathroom shower door? Hits the vanity. And the sharp corners in B’s closet & the hall closet… they aren’t usable.

Right, so. K’s room.

After putting it off for weeks, I finally tackled it this past weekend. There is some kind of closet system in there, but whoever spray painted this ENTIRE house yellow didn’t bother taping off much of anything, so the laminate closet system had been sprayed yellow, too. And pretty badly. The two drawers weren’t functional, and I basically wanted to set the whole thing on fire and build something custom.

Screen Shot 2015-08-24 at 2.39.48 PM

But even though a lot of y’all think I’m a bit crazy for trying to make a rental homey, I didn’t want to put in the time, effort, and money to build a custom closet in here unless we ended up buying the house. I decided to work with what we had. After I fixed the drawers, lined the shelves with cute contact paper, and got the whole (dang) thing painted, it was looking much better.


Yay! Makes me want to tackle our closet next, but the pantry & N’s room are next on the list.

There’s no door on her closet, so I’m trying to figure out a curtain situation that we can live with. Again, we could totally frame out and add a door here, and the owner wouldn’t mind, but there has to be a limit to what I do to this place even though I WANT so badly to give it all the love it deserves.

It’s a good thing her dresser fits in the closet as the awkward layout of the room doesn’t leave much room for one.


Here’s a shot from the doorway, though forgive the lighting, my Photoshop is misbehaving (anyone else with CS6 on Yosemite having issues?)


Things we still want to do in here:

  • Build (or more likely, hack an Ikea bench) a window seat for the window niche. I can sew a cushion and some pillows for the top.
  • Swap that light (or figure out a way to disguise it) for a twinkly chandelier of some kind.
  • Make and hang the curtain in the closet doorway. The ceilings are high, and there is no header to the closet doorway, so we’ll custom make something to cover the whole doorway.
  • K would like a desk for all of her art supplies and drawing, I think we can fit one in the corner with a bulletin board over top.
  • She’d like a white bed like she had in our Idaho house before I had to convert her room into an office, along with a nightstand to match.
  • She needs some artwork. I’m pretty bad at this part. And maybe some kind of bunting or pom-pom treatment in the window niche.

Well, that list makes it sound like I have a long way to go, but this will do for now. I’m off to get the paint out from under my fingernails.

Office space with the Ikea Alex system and Linnmon table tops

Our master bedroom has this 10′ long niche that we thought would be perfect for some dedicated office space for me. I made do at first with my old desk but it wasn’t (and hasn’t ever been) super functional; I often ended up with stuff strewn all over the bedroom.


If you follow me on Instagram, you saw a quick snap of the after. Here are some better pictures after I finished putting together fifty thousand tiny Ikea parts and binge-watching a string of movies: Dirty Dancing (had to watch after seeing this hilariousness on Jimmy Fallon), Drive Me Crazy (filmed in Utah!), and Beastly (hadn’t seen, not as bad as I feared; kinda cute).

FYI: I got one unit put together per movie. Half watching the movie slowed me down, but also putting together Ikea stuff is pretty much awful tediousness every time.


I went back and forth on what to do here quite a bit. I entertained doing something with actual cabinetry for a while but it was pretty expensive, and my husband’s work schedule didn’t really allow time for building something custom. I wandered around Ikea a couple of times and finally decided on the Alex system. Honestly, this once-grand house deserves better than Ikea, but the price was right, and I’m not too proud for put-together furniture, especially if it’s functional. (Though I am half entertaining the idea of doing something like you see on the infamous Rast dresser hacks to the drawer and cabinet fronts. I think we could either swap out the fronts or add trim and handles to make them look more like custom furniture. But we’ll see if I have the time/energy.)

I got one printer cabinet and two drawer units. The drawer units they show online don’t have the drawer that holds hanging files, but they had them in the store.


We had to make some modifications to all of the units. The drawers, in particular are designed for hard flooring. There is a little wheel that attaches to the base of the filing drawer and they just wouldn’t open nicely on our carpeting. I didn’t think about getting a photo, but we attached strips of MDF to the bottom of each unit, rather like so:


This little hack raised the units about an inch off the ground so the bottom drawers open nicely now.

As I’ve mentioned before, this house is in need of a lot of TLC. I quickly painted the baseboards behind the unit white (all the baseboards in the house are covered with the same sloppy yellow flat paint — you can see where I stopped on the right below) and have a million paint chips strewn about trying to decide on a color for the walls.


The blinds are okay, I suppose, kind of an off-white color, though they are missing the top trim pieces (see the black velcro in the first picture?), and I’d love to get some cuter office chairs (or paint these ones) at some point. But this is a HUGE improvement and I’m super thrilled.


The desktop is made of two Linnmon table tops in the 59″ x 29.5″ size. It gives me about an inch on either side of the desk to run cords to the outlets. I first brought home three of the smaller table tops and a third drawer unit. I liked the depth of the smaller table top as it fit perfectly inside the niche without jutting out, but the wider 29.5″ depth is much more functional. I have loads of room to sketch and sew prototypes, and the fourth support unit would have made things too squishy.

This is probably the nicest, most functional desk situation I’ve had in my entire 14 years working from home. Hooray!

Door: ill advised, but mostly done

I am happy this is nearing the finish line, and I’m pleased with how much better it looks, but this is marred by the deep and abiding knowledge that I have basically tortured and abused myself for no good reason. I say again, it would have been better to just buy a new door.


Of course, I don’t know what is involved in swapping out a sidelight, probably the whole flipping door / trim, EVERYTHING would have to come out and E and I would have ended up wailing and gnashing our teeth in the fetal position on the floor in the process.

Yes, let’s tell ourselves that. This way, though painful, was better.

I went back to la Home Depot and purchased super strength paint stripper and kicked myself for not getting the good stuff from the beginning. I can’t find it on the Home Depot website, but it is the stuff that will work in 15 minutes and will basically take your face off if you get any on your skin. I got a drop on my ankle before I realized I needed to fully suit up (duh) and I have a little blister there.


That stuff ate the rest of the paint off like it was nothing – the door was especially cooperative; it was super easy to sand the original primer smooth. The sidelight put up a fight. More on that in a bit. After scraping the door I just had to wash it with mineral spirits, then banged in the protruding holes with a hammer so I could patch them (someone had installed a knocker at some point, under the big window… weird placement, but whatever, they must have really, really wanted a knocker), and did my first Bondo application, which was fairly straightforward.


The sidelight was harder to scrape due to its size and the window trim, but in the easy-to-reach areas, the burn-your-face-off stripper worked really well (ahem, please insert crass joke of your choice), and I discovered the sidelight had once been painted a mustard color. (Blurry after-dark photo:)


I was losing daylight Saturday night, so I don’t have any good photos of the sidelight nightmare, but what happened was the stripper basically melted the window trim. As I was scraping the layers of paint, I could tell something was wrong, but the plastic was so soft I thought it must be caulk I was scraping up… there is so much caulk in this house it made sense. Working by the light of a glaring work light as the sun went down did not help things.

It was nearing 10pm and my body felt like I’d been run over a few dozen times, so I just sanded the melted stuff the best I could and went ahead and painted. At least it’ll look okay-ish until I can find another secondhand window kit to swap it out (the new ones are so expensive).


Allll the bad words, guys. I don’t know WHY I didn’t remove the window kit while I was stripping the paint… it would have made it so much easier to get into the nooks and crannies and I wouldn’t have melted the plastic trim; I just didn’t think about it.


You can see the paint stripper made a mess of the trim, but I do think I’m just going to keep the trim white, so I can touch that up next weekend.

The paint we ended up using is Ottertail by Behr. It’s a brownish gray, sort of a dark taupe, I guess? I just couldn’t get behind the reddish browns as I’m not a fan of earth tones as it is, and this felt more neutral to me. Here’s how it looks with the stone:


Ugh. Ignore the horrible, sad porch paint. The color is so wrong. It ruins everything.

And here’s a wider shot including more of the house. I think the house really wants a nice solid wood door with a solid no-window sidelight (since the rain gutter gets in the way anyway).


But mostly it wants that horrible porch paint gone. I mean, right? It’s so terrible and reads soooooo blue as the sun starts to go down behind the house (probably what’s going on in that top photo). At some point I’ll either strip it to the concrete below, or I’ll try a pressure washer. It’s pretty flaky so maybe a pressure washer would get most of it up.