Tuesday, December 29, 2009

My Tankini Kicks Ass

As long as I can remember, I've never felt comfortable in a bikini. It isn't because of some demoralizing beach incident during my tender years, or because I harbor a secret modest streak. I just don't particularly enjoy the sensation of the sun beating down on my incandescently white belly. This also explains how it is possible that I can dislike bikinis but love the way that I look and feel in beautiful lingerie.

Two years ago, I took a trip to Brazil with one of my travel cronies. After casually disclosing my lifelong appreciation for one-piece swimwear, I was lectured about how I could not be seen on a Brazilian beach in anything but a bikini. I packed a couple of two-pieces and an ordinary suit with every intention of relying on the suit. Of course, anybody who knows anything about Brazilian beaches knows that my friend had it right. I'm not sure what would have garnered more attention: My snowy skin or the (apparently) MASSIVE quantities of fabric wrapped around me.

In Rio I was told that I should replace my bright red halter bikini with a string bikini...as it was STILL too old-fashioned and stuffy for the beach. Indeed, every woman and child roughly between the ages of 5 and 90 was wearing one of these bizarre creations. Yes, bizarre is the word I choose. I'm pretty sure--no, I know that I'd feel more comfortable stark naked than wearing a nipple's worth of fabric designed to detach and float away at any wave's caprice. Also, is it just me, or do string bikinis kinda flatten the girls out? They seem to drift east and west, as if in disagreement. I'm sure I could find an obliging pair of conch shells and a shoelace that would provide more support!

So that takes me to today, a week before a vacation to Costa Rica. Darn you, tropical vacations. Why do I have to want to take you???? *Queuing violins*

Sure, I could wear a bikini again. I'll certainly pack one. But a couple of weeks ago I decided to experiment with another option: The Tankini. That lovely compromise of a tank top with a bikini bottom...exposing just a tantalizing stripe of midsection, while providing maximal bosom support! Hooray!

Truth be told, I already own one, but even I will capitulate to it's ugliness. A high neck and boob-deflating level of spandex make it a great swimmer but a terrible bore at parties.

Here's what I discovered: Victoria's Secret swimsuits are awesome. They are very sensibly priced, and what a selection! They make lots of tankinis. Tankinis with animal prints (Raaaaaar!) halter necks (meow!) and best of all, the kind of hardware, ahem, that you'd come to expect from lingerie people. Although I kinda hate their crappy bras. Moving along....

I ordered two: A chocolate brown halter tankini and an aqua blue tankini with a sweet little bow. I diligently took my measurements and chose sizes accordingly.

The aqua is definitely a keeper. Fits like a glove and I would wear it fearlessly. Bravo!

Halter top is ill-fitting. The cups are too small and the waist is all loose and goofy-looking. So much for their handy measurement charts! Moral of the story: Order two sizes and send one back.

Here is the one that I'm keeping:

Why yes, this is my attempt to promote the potential sex factor of a tankini. Just try and stop me.

I will post a picture and detailed review upon my return. Pura vida awaits....

Friday, November 27, 2009


I love looking backwards at this time of year. The longer the view, the better...nothing is more amusing than revisiting music, movies, old journals and other tokens of my youth with these gradually aging eyes. I know that when I'm eventually hobbled by old age and potentially abandoned by loved ones due to my increasingly eccentric sense of humor, I will continue to derive satisfaction from this yearly exercise. Bless you Youtube, if for no other reason than allowing me to watch my favorite music videos from the age of 6/7...1984...a banner year.

I had a well-loved VHS with a random assortment of MTV videos that I watched repeatedly. Billy Idol (Flesh for Fantasy,) Twisted Sister (We're not gonna take it,) Art of Noise (Close to the Edit,) INXS (Send a Letter,) Elvis Costello (She's not the Only Flame in Town,) O'Bryan (Lovelite--I'm actually a little surprised that the censorship-loving conservative element on Youtube haven't flagged this video yet. In the meantime, the uncut version is here.

But my all-time favorite was definitely Laura Branigan's Self Control. Dare I say...they just don't make 'em like they used to? Yes, I'm aware that this comment automatically ages me by about twenty years.

But really, when was the last time you saw a music video that included an orgy simulated by people in leotards and masks on a floor lined with what appears to be tin foil? For a six year old this was some pretty heady stuff. I was equal parts terrified of Distorted Mask Guy (!) and giddy due to the overall naughtiness factor and accompanying feeling of getting away with something that watching this video gave me.

Viewing it now, I am surprised by how much more provocative the suggestions in this video are in comparison to the currently popular yet terminally boring grind-o-rama music videos.

Here it is, in all of its era-specific glory. Hope you have some time this winter to reflect on some of your favorite youthful memories.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Five Years

What a difference five years makes.

Five years ago....

Egads, I was married! I had just graduated from my counseling program. I had two jobs, and had just bought a house.

Five years. If fortune smiles on me, a mere 17th of my life span. And yet, I am miles away from that description, and miles closer to...something else. Oh, the possibilities. Mind boggling, really, to consider where I may be in five more years.

This whole five years concept has gotten me thinking about all of things I'd like to do before I croak. Morbid topic, you say? Perhaps. But nothing mobilizes the chronically lazy like a bittersweet swig of mortality.

I'm currently working on a short list of will-do's.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Pointless Paper

If you want to hear me rave endlessly about something, bring up the topic of junk mail. Not the penis-pill-money-scam-other-random-bullshit variety in your inbox. The stuff that goes thump in your mailbox. It actually angers me how many times I've had to fill my recycling can with this pointless crud, and grieves me to think that trees are a-fallin' so that some scamtacular company can attempt to sell their wares to little ol' me, a totally uninterested audience. I know I'm not alone in this. There should really be a law. A well-written, airtight one.

When I lived at my prior address, I signed up for a service that helps stop junk mail. It kind of worked. But since moving to my new place the junk has located me again. For every piece of legitimate mail I receive, I get ten leaflets for some crummy pizza chain or fake psychology graduate school.

Take for example, yesterday, when I finally picked up the keys for the new mail box in our fully renovated lobby (details later) The neighbor handed me some of my overflow mail and this included a Glamour magazine with my address on it. I have never subscribed to Glamour in my life. How did they find out about me? Did I fill out a card for a discount at the grocery store five years ago that placed me squarely into some sad beauty magazine demographic? Have they been tracking me ever since? Did my old hotmail address start selling my inbox contents to some scabby online marketing pirate? If I'm going to read a fluffy beauty rag it'll be Lucky all the way, thankyouverymuch.

So, I spent the last 10 minutes on the web jungle of glamour.com trying to wade through made-up statistics about sex and chirpy articles about celebrities and their luscious hair until I finally figured out how to cancel a subscription I never signed up for in the first place.

I know it's rough out there trying to market sub-par products to a world full of brokeass people, but could you stop felling forests and please stick to spamming me with laughable emails and blingy Facebook adverts instead?


Update: Turns out my sister signed me up for Glamour as a gift. Foot, mouth, you are already pretty well-acquainted...

Updated Update: My sister did not sign me up for Glamour; she subscribed me to the glorious Domino, which unexpectedly folded---Glamour was the substitution that was offered. I think she would have preferred a refund.

Monday, October 5, 2009

The best laid plans should really go get laid.

There comes a week in every girl's month where she envisions herself as a more perfected specimen. This week is flanked by other weeks where remembering to run the dishwasher and actually disposing of the umpteenth "low-cost dental care" flyer lining the mailbox is sufficient. But during this particular week, it's all about ambition.

I love to talk a big talk to myself. Sometimes quite literally. I imagine myself being interviewed about how I finally kicked some of my bad habits or assembled the perfect work wardrobe entirely from secondhand clothes, or the perfect apartment decor from objects found on street corners. My fantasy responses would sound something like this:

"Well, yes, I just eventually forced myself to go to bed at 9 on the dot, so it became much easier to wake up at 6:00 AM. If I hadn't developed this habit, I would never have had the time to earn that black belt."

"I just stuck to my guns about eating lunch and dinner in every day until I saved up enough for my new vacation home in Belize."

"Oh, you like my dress? Thanks! I recently took up a sewing apprenticeship in my spare time."

"This arm definition is from my 2-hour long daily home yoga practice."

"Actually, I made this table myself out of reclaimed wine barrels."

And so on.

To kick off my monthly week of lofty goal-setting, I decided that I would get to bed early on Sunday (and for the rest of the week) and wake up extra early for a morning jog. Never mind that I haven't ever gotten up at 6AM for anything but a flight, even when I was a cross-country runner in high school. I was going to be one of those people who prance over dew-covered grass and smile beatifically as they pass still-darkened windows fueled by the glow of inner peace and unshakeable confidence.

So I settled into bed with a book at 10PM, about an hour before I'll usually even think about sleeping. I read until I was drowsy, then switched off the light.

La la la.

Around 10:30 I switched on the light and picked up my book.

11:30. I started getting nervous about that alarm that I'd set for 6AM. No way of achieving the coveted 8 hours at this point.

A few minutes past midnight. I tapped the little button on my alarm that dims the light so I couldn't see how badly I was failing at the very first step in my quest for perfection.

Who knows what time it is now. Dear god what was that noise??????

(Tried to decide whether or not to investigate the noise. On went the bedside lamp.)

4:30 AM, must've finally dozed off at some point, having officially wussed out on the whole potential burglar/serial killer/stalker noise investigation idea. Whoops, left the lamp on. Hence sudden disruption of (now) desperately needed sleep.

I did eventually wake up and do some yoga. And I did make a delicious breakfast that would've done the Lake Merritt Farmer's Market proud. But I had to laugh a little. I rarely have trouble sleeping these days. I'm lucky if I get five pages further along in my book. That whole idea of perfection was like the psychological equivalent of an ice cold bucket of water to the groin.

I kept thinking about the people I serve and how many of them have an all-or-nothing mentality about success and failure. One of my favorite questions is "So, how's that working for you?"

So how's that working for you?

"Well, let's see. Since I officially decided to stop translating my fantasies about ultimate perfection literally, I've found that I can pick up one or two small things at a time and practice getting really good at them instead. I vacuumed every week this month. I went out late on Friday and spent a little money, but I also made a delicious dinner from a new recipe last night. Oh, and I happen to sleep like a 10 year old kid on vacation in Hawaii."


Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Find a Penny, pick her up...

I adopted a pet from the Oakland Animal Shelter, and you can, too!

Her name is Penny, and I am ENTIRELY unbiased when I say that she's an incredibly sweet girl. After owning two gorgeous but naughty bengal kitties I never thought I'd head down the pet ownership road again. I was also torn because I had always really wanted a dog. I spent the better part of my childhood begging my parents for either A) Another kid B) One of those child-sized battery operated jeeps that were probably recalled a month later C) A puppy. The puppy seemed the most promising option, since it was the only one that didn't cause my parents to laugh hysterically in my face for an hour. I still managed to end up up dog-less. Now that I have a place of my own, revenge can finally be mine!

Except....in my little high rise it just doesn't seem right. Dogs need space. I've also come home late on one too many occasions to find a dog owner from my building plodding down to Grand Avenue so that Scruffers can find relief in some dark alcove around Lake Merritt. Hmmm.

Penny is quite content just listening to my washing machine and ambushing my book/keyboard when she wants attention. She does not persist when I close the door on her at night, and has excellent manners in general. The Oakland Animal Shelter has many such cutie pies of both the canine and the feline persuasion. Heck, they have some damn cute bunnies, too! The pets who weren't surrendered for behavioral reasons are generally well-socialized, since they're used to interacting with a variety of humans and other animals. Rescuing a pet feels great, and if you are so inclined (and reside in the Oakland area) I highly recommend that you pay them a visit.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Bon Ami!

Am I the only person in the world that finds housekeeping a completely unintuitive process? I don't want to think about how often I have filled a bucket up with water and cleanser, mopped the floor, then sat around wondering what to do with the filthy water. I usually flush it down the toilet, but then I worry that there are floor goobers in the water that will clog the drain. On occasion I end up dumping the water into the tub, only to realize that I have already cleaned the tub and have to do it all over again. Cleaning the tub twice in one day makes me want to cry a little bit.

Does anybody else feel like they're just pushing the dirt around when cleaning their floors?

Same with vacuuming. I'm convinced that the benefits of vacuuming are almost entirely psychological.

And what, pray tell, does somebody do with all those dirty rags? It seems a waste to devote a wash cycle to a couple of dirty rags, but I also don't want to stick them with a bunch of my semi-dirty t-shirts. Those t-shirts have never done anything to me! Those t-shirts deserve a better fate. I hide my rags under the sink after a cursory rinse, and try not to think about them.

It seems that I am in the minority. Most folks seem to be able to clean their entire house with water, vinegar, a bucket and mop. In an hour. It takes me all day and I treat myself to a vacation in Brazil afterwards.

I will say that Bon Ami is one of my favorite all-time products. My little French-speaking weapon of choice.

I like gritty cleansers 'cause they lift the stains off of tiles instantly, thereby making me feel like less of a domestic failure than I really am. And unlike Ajax, the detergent of choice in my childhood home, it doesn't give me an instant sinus headache.

Monday, August 3, 2009

A Love Letter to Jerome, Arizona

Dear Jerome,

Right now I am officially on the mend from a nasty bout of the summer flu. The virus left me with a sepulchral cough and a prescription for several medications that chemically lobotomize me for a few hazy hours (and little else.) However, it also afforded me time to reflect back on my day trip to meet you.

While I greatly enjoyed Sedona's unearthly beauty, you were the crown jewel of my first vacation to Arizona. It was love at first sight for me...I'm not sure you feel the same. That's okay, Jerome. It was both your breezy indifference and casual hospitality that drew me in, among other contradictions.

How does such a small town generate all of that spunk?

House of Joy, you brought me your promise in spades. I read somewhere that after your birth as a brothel you became a world famous restaurant. Now you tempt me with your stockpile of original early and mid-century posters, military ephemera and other mixed media eye candy. In every incarnation, it seems you have lived up to your name. I appreciate your owner, who radiated warmth, but did not hover. This is a quality that I particularly value when I am up to my elbows in sparkly things, prints, and refrigerator magnets emblazoned with naked figures and bawdy puns.

Then up those serpentine streets. Past wine bars, restaurants, galleries, restaurants, wine bars, galleries, hotels. And it occurred to me that given your modest population, there is no shortage of local attractions. Or proprietors who are warm and approachable but never overly solicitous. Your status as a tourist destination seems to be more of a coincidence then a strategic decision. I like to imagine that if you existed in a vacuum, the same amenities would also be there, just for the brazen heck of it. That your oblique avenues and tiered porches materialized one day out of Cleopatra Hill like a southwestern Shangri-La. And you extended an elbow and offered everybody a drink and a place to stay and didn't give a hang about what anybody thought of you.

I passed the Spirit Room a few times without visiting. Mostly it was because I was with my Mom, who isn't much for bars in general. I must admit, I still feel kind of awkward getting tipsy in my mother's presence. Maybe it's because I have never seen her in any state other than crisply sober. Either way, I got past that concern and we eventually walked in. I love your molded tin ceiling and other original details. And that painting above the stage that seemed like an homage to Olympia. Mostly, I appreciate the fact that your friendly and expeditious bartender sold me one of the best gin and tonics I've ever had for four dollars. I left a four dollar tip just for that. Bartender who served my Mom a Sprite alongside my beverage without a discernible hint of irony: I salute you!

Well Jerome, I really hope we meet again. I hardly feel I have the right to continue singing your praises when we're barely acquaintances. But you just have that way about you. Maybe next time I'll sample a "Haunted Hamburger" or stay in one of your guesthouses. If your ghostly denizens in any way resemble your corporeal ones, I'll still sleep like a sated baby.



Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Green Sludge Dreams

There is a new flu epidemic sweeping the Bay Area. Me and my co-worker caught the same bug and had nearly the same rapid progression of symptoms: Sore throat, fever, and then cough, cough, cough. This one is a stinker, folks. If you feel a sore throat coming on, I recommend that you sequester yourself. The doc told me this morning that this virus has brought in heaps of patients and that the tenacious little bugger can live for 1.5 hours outside of the body.

Anyhow, I tried to stay far, far away from the green, licorice-flavored goop, but after three nights spent coughing myself awake, I was beginning to drift off during my appointments at work. So, I caved.

I must say, Ny Quil tastes sort of good.

Nevertheless, I had a dream that night that a giant worm was eating everybody in the Bay Area. It was releasing a neurotoxin through its skin that was corrupting people into sacrificing themselves for the good of the worm....and I was the only one impervious to the toxin. After what seemed like hours of running away from pod people and the worm, I ended up in front of a field with signs indicating where people should line up if they would like to be cooked rare, medium, or well-done in their quest to become worm food.

I woke up and flushed the Ny Quil down the toilet.

I highly recommend an aromatherapy bath instead. About 5 drops of essential oil (I used Rosemary and Tea Tree oils) warm (not hot) water, you will rest easy without dreams of becoming worm bait.

Monday, July 6, 2009

It's All Coming Together...

A few weeks ago, I received some unsurprising news. The UC system will now be operating on a (thinner) shoestring, and in all likelihood our pay will drop substantially this year--probably within the next month or two.

While absorbing this new information as a homeowner earning a modest income, I found that I wasn't as devastated as I thought I'd be. In fact, I felt all right. Naturally, I'm concerned about about the level of morale among staff and faculty (this is an equal opportunity pay cut) and I worry about how this will particularly impact the many single parents who work for UC. But otherwise, I feel more at peace than I have in awhile.

Perhaps it is this little haven of mine?

Amazingly, right before The News, my space started to come together. I brought home a beautiful wall hanging from my office that I had bought at the Berkeley Himalayan Fair years ago. I found some new plants and pillows at an unbelievable price. I resurrected an old oak end table that had been languishing in storage for years. While I used to labor over every conceivable decision in my previous dwellings, I reverted back to my trusty old "screw it" approach and found that everything coalesced.

In the gesture of letting go, there is harmony. I know, shame on me for my lack of eloquence. But let's face it; most of us live in refuge from common sense MOST OF THE TIME. We think that excessive worry is the sticky stuff that binds our lives together, when it is often just the sticky stuff that keeps us firmly glued to a sinking ship.

Ahhhhh...sticky stuff.

Painting my office nook was particularly therapeutic. I was having brunch at Aunt Mary's Cafe in Temescal, and happened to notice the gorgeous color on their kitchen wall. It was midnight blue with a slight suggestion of green, and altogether gorgeous. The gracious and lovely waitress brought me a pint of the paint (a custom mix) so that I could record the number and buy some of my own.

I used to buy little samples of paint color and slap them on the walls, living with them for weeks until I made a decision which I always seemed to end up doubting later on.

This time I marched over to Kelly Moore, bought the paint, and painted the nook. And I don't mind saying that I think it looks hot. No samples or accompanying sticky stuff required.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

A Wrinkle in Chime

Dispatch from the Land O' Home Renovation....
All of us, homeowners and renters of every stripe, eventually fall prey to the seductive powers of the Feng Shui decorating book. Whether handed to us as a housewarming gift or peering at us alluringly from one of the center aisles at the book store, nobody is safe from their influence. Nobody.

I am still trying to unlock the secret to their special brand of consumer magic.

How often have you visited somebody's home for the first time and noticed that everything in their bedroom comes in PAIRS? There's a pair of ceramic doves or lions or some other animals engaged in a seductive vis-a-vis on their dresser, along with a darling twinset of coat hooks and a couple of prints on the wall depicting---I don't know...naked couples frolicking, or flocks of goslings cavorting by a lake. Something merry and group-oriented.

Then you say "Hey, are lions/doves your favorite animal?" And they laugh and reply "No, it's just good Feng Shui."

Behold the power.

Not that there's anything wrong with the idea of promoting romance via pairing. Pairing items can harmonize a space----or make it look suspiciously like a suite at the Best Western. Anyhow, I imagine that many people tend to locate "relationship" in the index of their Feng Shui decorating books when trouble is already a' brewin'. The point at which no manner of coupling animals or identical mug cozies have a sporting chance at turning things around.

That said, there's much to appreciate in Feng Shui books, mostly because the advice is just practical. For example, it makes sense not to have a mirror directly in front of you while you sleep, because you JUST MIGHT wake up at 3AM and momentarily think you're being attacked by a hideous bleary-eyed version of yourself. And I'll agree that colors certainly do have an impact on mood, even if only fleetingly. Trying to sleep soundly in a lemon yellow bedroom at a B&B convinced me of this truth long ago. If walls could sing, they would have been belting out "Dancing Queen," karaoke-style. After several adult beverages.

I also really like the idea of bringing pleasant ambient sounds into a home. For example, the murmur of a fountain or cheerful tinkle of chimes. Those wily Feng Shui experts may not agree on every point, but they all seem to reach consensus on this topic.

I purchased my first set of wind chimes from my local nursery. I came home, all excited that I was actively promoting a fresh flow of chi. I even re-purposed an old curtain rod to act as a staff from which I could dangle them. And what a beautiful chorus they were making...in the afternoon breeze my chimes were filling the air with lazy tones.

At 2AM on Monday, I found myself awake for no reason. Completely disoriented, I went through a mental checklist of possibilities: Fell asleep on book, no. Bladder, no. Left the burner on, no.

Then I heard them.

My chimes were clanging away like a diva chef in a kitchen full of dirty pots and pans. The breeze had given way to WIND. At first, as a good citizen of Feng Shui I merely turned my back to the window and told myself that wind chimes are soothing, dammit. But after 15 more minutes of painful denial, I found myself marching onto the balcony then smothering them into submission on my living room floor.

I hung them outside again the next day.

The cycle of pain continued for about a week, until I broke down and hung them inside and away from the door where they remain, reminding me of their presence only when the balcony door is open or an unusually tall guest arrives.

I suppose you could call that Feng Shui Lite?

Monday, May 4, 2009

Thank Goddess for short weeks and tall drinks...

Lest you feel the need to make lame jokes about the state of my liver, please understand: I only vaguely resemble the girl at the end of the bar drinking directly from the pitcher. The real me never succumbs to such juvenile forms of recreation.

That's because the real me is on vacation in Laos right now.

That girl, she hasn't had a vacation in a very looooong time. No sir. She does have a mortgage, and is quite fortunate to have a job in this soul-witheringly bleak economy. She even has a day off from work this Friday, and may have the chance to briefly retreat. But blame it on her lifelong wanderlust and those tempting deals in the back of Budget Travel...today she wants to sell all of her worldly possessions and be on a plane and over the ocean.

So if you see that girl, my doppelganger, why not offer her some steak-cut fries to go with her beverages? Or better yet, some of your frequent-flyer miles? Pretty please????

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Infusing Heart

My condo is boasting a new kitchen, useful new Expedits, some lovely (and varied) wall paint, and is no longer littered with boxes, tools and an accompanying mantle of dust. No, my condo is clean to the touch, and relatively inoffensive to the nose. But somehow it is lacking....errrr...je ne sais quoi. That difficult-to-define element which is what I think the folks at Apartment Therapy refer to as "heart." When the walls are blank, and some of the furniture is brand new, a space doesn't yet feel cozy or lived-in.

Art certainly breathes life into a space, and I only have a few pieces of art, which are still leaning against some wall or other. They haven't exactly jumped out at me and said "This is where I belong. On the wall to the right of your dresser." Perhaps my walls and I are just not yet well-acquainted enough for the hanging ceremony.

I also tend to accumulate art slowly, so while I am certain that art will bring some spirit to my place, I am suppressing the desire to indulge in fleeting Ebay and Etsy art fantasies.

I have learned, however, that a way to bring vitality into a space, is to invest in some beautiful air-cleansing plants.

Have you heard of the NASA clean air plants study? Clever NASA, always offering the latest in sensible home-renovation tips rooted in nuclear science.

It was NASA's clean air plants study that inspired me to buy some greenery for my office a few years ago, as it turns out that these multitaskers suck the formaldehyde and other cell-corrupting chemicals right out of the polluted indoor air. Ironically, sealing buildings up in an effort to make them more energy efficient has resulted in something called "sick building syndrome" where otherwise healthy folks are coming down with mysterious ailments as a result of being trapped inside with off-gassing carpet, walls, and furniture.

One or two plants in any space can drastically improve measures, AND these beauties do a great deal to enliven an otherwise uninspired room. I have a Peace Lily, a Spade Leaf Philendron, and some kind of Dracaena. I figure that my small army of air-cleansers will compensate for those years I spent *occasionally* compromising my lungs. Okay, I'm an optimist. But I hold firm that they will provide some modest protection against the factory stink of my new kitchen cabinets Expedits. And they certainly enhance the heart center of my home.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

IKEA: Friend or Foe?

I may go blind if I have to decode another cryptic IKEA installation drawing. An attempt to screw in a simple overhead light fixture nearly brought me to my knees. I have taken 9 trips to IKEA in the past two weeks. The blue and yellow army has taken my patoot, asked me if I would like to carry it off in a $1.00 reusable bag that I will undoubtedly forget before my next trip to IKEA, and handed it to me one too many times. Along with the wrong cabinet faces, and leaving out the faucet (just to keep the variety of mishaps interesting) by the time I could actually line my kitchen drawers, I was ready to hire a fleet of strapping lads to put my oils and wax paper away. Such is the typical trajectory of the home renovation; just when the end is in sight, you find that your sanity has been whittled down to a nub.

Thanks to the invaluable efforts of my mom, aunt, and assorted friends, I now have a kitchen-like space; all I need is a plumber.

Now, to be fair, IKEA cabinets are *relatively* easy to set up and install. The assembly becomes intuitive after the first two or three clunky attempts, and they look sort of slick on the wall--especially given the fact that they are made out of factory air, compressed wood, and cheap hardware.

I must admit that the cabinet joints are cleverly engineered! They come with these rubber stoppers that make it virtually impossible for you to slam your doors and drawers shut, potentially shattering the composite wood.

My advice to others who are considering an IKEA kitchen renovation: Beware of splinters. My nail beds are full of 'em. And embrace the fact that you will make from one to eight return trips to IKEA to resolve botched orders. Other than that, I now have a kitchen with ample counter space that feels very functional. IKEA: Adore you or despise you, apparently I can't do without you. I surrender.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Elisabeth the Wunderkind

My mom is ridiculously talented. The woman gutted her old kitchen and built it back in a month...without help. She owns (among many tools) a fancy tile-cutter and a miter saw.

She's not a general contractor or a carpenter. My mom is a (retired) math teacher; a force to be reckoned with when wielding measuring tape and level.

And a sewing machine. See those velvet Renaissance gowns? She made those in a single afternoon to enhance our trick-or-treating pleasure.

While building cabinets alongside my mother, I began to wonder what it is that other people DO when they need help with a home project and lack the awesome force of nature that is Elisabeth Klein. Really, I could contract her out, shave a bit of commission off the top, and retire early. Or just continue to be really, really grateful.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Thursday, March 19, 2009


Home projects naturally beget other home projects. For example, when you remove old cabinets with the singular intention of replacing them and them alone, sometimes ancient, sticky vinyl floor is revealed. And while my credit card is beginning to hemorrhage from my recent kitchen pilgrimage to IKEA, it doesn't make sense to install the kitchen cabinets without laying new floor. Fortunately, there isn't much square footage to cover.

I have tried to make green choices with every home purchase large and small over the past few years. I chose sustainably grown bamboo blinds, zero VOC paint, and an organic mattress and bedding...

I know: Green for Dummies. But hey, you've got to start somewhere!

Where flooring is concerned, the choices have become less intuitive.

I love hardwood floors, and intend to eventually replace my living room carpet with wood (neighbors permitting.) Not all hardwood is sustainable though...and despite it's recent popularity, I don't get the whole "hardwood in the kitchen" thing. I don't know about you, but I am a messy, messy chef and therefore hard on my floors. Not to mention that all it takes is one leaky dishwasher to ruin thousands of dollars of hardwood. Don't even get me started on what happens to laminate flooring in a flood.

So what to do? Tile? Love it, but can't do it. One mishap with a heavy kitchen utensil and I've got a huge ding on my hands. Plus, according to the Great Book of House Rules, I have to get my downstairs neighbors' permission to change to a "new flooring style." I'd rather bide my time and present them with the big hardwood living room floor proposal after I've plied them with wine and free babysitting.

So go with vinyl? Meh.

Some good eco-conscious options are bamboo, cork, and rubber. But they cost a bloody fortune. Next!

I happened upon "Marmoleum" which is a composite material made of linseed oil, jute, limestone and other natural ingredients. I also happen to think it's kinda pretty in a mid-century way, and it's a heck of a lot cheaper than the other eco-conscious alternatives.

I'm taking the plunge tomorrow. Pics to follow.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

It's the small things that amuse me...

I have to make a really, really stupid funny about something. It's this little device called a Stud Finder. Stud Finders help you locate wood studs in your wall so that you may hang a 150 pound mirror without later being crushed beneath it during an ominously overdue earthquake.

Stud Finder: Not *just* the world's premiere manly playmate network anymore.

Okay. Got it out of my system.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Benjamin Moore Pigeon Gray

I have a complicated relationship with color. I'm ashamed to admit that it isn't unheard of for me to paint a room 2-3 times before I'm satisfied.

I've finally reached a point, however, where I'm pretty much over the whole taping, tarping, and painting thing. I just want the room to be perfect on the first pass...is that too much to ask? ;)

One lesson I have learned is that I like walls to be relatively neutral so that they can handle bold patterns and accent colors in my furniture and art.

So, that leaves me with whites, grays, and more beige tones than you can shake a stick at. I'm generally not a fan of beige as a dominant neutral. Although it can provide warmth to a sterile room, from the moment I throw it up on my wall it just looks too much like face foundation. Kinda dirty-like. Fecal-like in some cases. Also (and please forgive me for sounding a little snotty) it just seems a teensy bit pedestrian. While I have seen it work in the right context, I'm not nearly the decorating genius I would need to be to sex it up.

Warm whites are lovely on walls, (especially Benjamin Moore "Mayonnaise." Curious choice of name...AWESOME color.) However, I just bought two Expedits from IKEA which are bright white. I really really want to avoid a sea o' white in my living space...and to me, two shades of white that look only slightly dissimilar read as a mistake.

My favorite new neutral is gray. Depending on the light and the particular tone you choose, gray can be both warm and soothing. As a neutral, I consider gray to be a cut above in terms of sophistication, and pairs beautifully with my fugly beige carpet.

I went with Benjamin Moore "Pigeon Gray." This is a medium gray with a slightly bluish undertone. Because my living room receives abundant light, the walls can handle a more saturated color. I still only painted two of my living room walls, because the condo has an open floor plan and all of the rooms have to "agree."

Speaking of agreement, I love the way gray looks with yellow! I used "Sparkling Sunshine" in my kitchen. Sorry about the poor-quality photos c/o my cell phone...

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Blues, homeowner style...

Yes, I'm happy.
Yes, I'm excited.
Yes, being a homeowner is a dream come true, etc etc..

That is, of course, when it isn't sucking. These days, the suck factor is substantially higher. This is not the fault of my sweet little condo. It's my fault; I don't have enough time to commit to renovations, so I'm not yet actually...um
...living there.

Have you tried living with your parents in adulthood? Even temporarily? Although I am eternally grateful to them for sheltering me during this transition, I have been eyeballing those Emeryville corporate apartments on 580 with envy. There comes a time when being privy to your parents' squabbles and senseless routines is difficult to bear.

Actual conversation:

Mom: (knocking on my door as I chat with my friend on the phone.) Your sister is here. She needs you to try on your bridesmaid's dress.

Me: I'll be out in 5 minutes.


Me: MO-OM!!! Dammit! I'll be out in a second!

Mom: No need to shout.

Sound familiar? Lifetime Movie Network called. They want their after school special back.

Just call me 1994.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Random assorted moving day thoughts....

After all of that hoo-ha, I'm still not living in my new space. That's okay, because I'm learning to cultivate patience. Yes, patience.

Despite my occasional biting cynicism, I'm fundamentally an optimist. Proof? I always think that my home renovation projects are going to take about half of the time that they truly require. Call it a strange brain hiccup: Show me a room that needs paint, baseboard, and window treatments, and I'll think "Half day. One day, tops." Maybe it's because of all those home design shows I used to watch back when I had cable. Somebody's funky love shack of a wood-paneled den would be transformed into a tasteful zen retreat in a single day.

Of course, those rooms were aided by a team of five, including a swarthy, tousle-haired carpenter. And they benefit from that kind of sped-up camera work that makes disassembling furniture and taping trim look like a piece of cake.

Truth is that I really enjoy picking up a paint roller and spreading a little sunshine yellow over my kitchen walls, even if it is time-consuming. I don't mind that it takes me a week instead of 3 days to complete a single room.

Which is great, because my popcorn ceiling came down, revealing some ripped and pitted sheetrock beneath. I had somebody resurface the ceiling and throw on new texture. That whole process took about 4 days, which meant that moving my furniture in was impossible until this weekend. My place was still draped in heavy plastic and smelling like a factory until yesterday.

My new neighbors have been extremely kind so far...several people offered to help as me and my little moving day posse tried in vain to fit my gigantic couch into the elevator. They all had the knowing looks on their faces of people who had brought their heavier furniture up to their units via the stairs, but were still rooting for me to succeed.

My couch didn't even make the stair cut, sadly.

Moving is quite an emotional process...because the physical exhaustion eclipses whatever mental machinations that you're going through to adjust to a new environment. Then one day you wake up in your bedroom and before you open your eyes, you forget that you're living in Apartment X and City Y and are...startled.

Spaces have personalities, even nooks within spaces have specific personalities...and I always feel like I have to tread lightly to acquaint myself with a new home. Can't wait to break it in with a little ceremony.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

We're ch-ained...

It's official: I took my first few steps inside unit 403 as a homeowner on Friday.

Hands down, my favorite thing about this condo is the view. I looked directly past the popcorn ceiling and the bizarre wagon wheel stain on the carpet, and saw the twinkling lights of the Tribune building.

Flash back to to an evening when I was seven years old, begging my aunt and uncle to take me home with them to SF so that I could see all of the city lights on the trip across the Bay Bridge. Amazingly, my mom caved and let me climb into the car with them (wearing my nightgown,) and nose to the window, I drank in all of the glitter. I always loved stories about people's lives, and to me those lights were a visual representation of stories unfolding.

Breathtaking, electric life.

Then I looked up.

The preponderance of hideous overhead light fixtures in apartment buildings must have something to do with the popularity of Home Depot. About 5 years ago, Home Depot's administration had a summit and decided that the only overhead lights fixtures worth carrying resembled a woman's breasts.

Boob lamps, I call them. And like their namesakes, they come in an endless variety of styles. Some are small and pert, some have clearly gone bra-less, and others are downright ornate. For example, mine looks like it was lopped off the chest of an extra from the set of Pirates of the Carribean. After giving it a few friendly titty twisters, I decided that it was going to have to be the first thing to go.

Not that I have anything against anatomically-inspired decorating elements. I am a devoted fan of pillar candles and pinwheel cushions. Maybe it's me---I just can't handle the competition of an FF cup dangling over my head at breakfast.

So, off it goes, and along with it...the popcorn ceiling.

Who was the creative genius that dreamed up popcorn ceilings? I would really like to thank him/her for blowing my world-weary mind. I thought I had caught the major highlights, but popcorn ceiling inventor, you have humbled me. I don't think that my feeble imagination could have generated a stranger ceiling texture solution...it is almost ugly enough to warrant praise.

Without dangerous eyesores like PC, the booming asbestos removal industry would have meager opportunity to put on their sexy NASA gear and rescue damsels from the dark fate of bad design and respiratory failure. But I digress.

Lumpy, boob-like or stained, I absolutely love my new home. I love it and I told it so many, many times today.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

My immune system seems to be calibrated to go kaput whenever:

A. I am getting ready to move.
B. I am starting a new job.
C. I arrive somewhere abroad for vacation.

Otherwise, I never really get sick. I can be steeped in toddler birthday party germs, shaking hands with a student who showed up for their appointment with the flu, drinking from the wrong plastic cup at a party...doesn't matter. My clever little immune system knows the difference between Typhoid Mary's cocktail glass and the sound of my signature on a change of address form.

What's interesting is how robust these new viruses seem to be. This plucky strain has been beating up my sinuses for a week, forcing me to miss work, miss classes, and watch crappy movies.

Fine, I would have been watching the crappy movies sans cold.

Germs aside, I am getting the keys to my new home on the 19th! Surreal...and... unbelievably, indisputably amazing.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Home......is where I want to be

Home has been a swiftly moving target for the past decade. I have lived in eight different apartments and one house in five cities and four states. I've usually avoided the added cost of movers, and spent days, or (let's face it) weeks packing and unpacking towers of boxes, often with assistance, though occasionally without. I have assembled and disassembled. I have classified the destination of each item with Sharpies and labels; bubble-wrapped, towel-wrapped, paper-towel-wrapped and t-shirt-wrapped my fragile items. I have repeatedly inhaled the revolting industrial fragrance of the new bathroom caddy, window treatment, or PVC-coated carpets of which landlords are so fond. Dammit, I have toiled, people!

All the more reason to revel in this fact: I am a homeowner.

Yes, it's true.

This is my second home ownership experience. The distinguishing factor is that I bought this place solo--an experience that is equal parts liberating and terrifying. There is something comforting about buying a place WITH somebody. As you sit in your broker's office gingerly signing away all of your worldly assets and arguably the bulk of your youthful freedom, there is somebody sitting right alongside you, doing the same.

The home we bought was an actual HOUSE, complete with plentiful square footage and a large, albeit uninspiring, backyard. There were neighbors who invited us to barbecues and house parties; the neighbors from whom I could borrow sugar, light bulbs, and potting soil. Sometimes neighbors *borrowed* items without permission, permanently. I like to consider said items a minor sacrificial offering to the City of Oakland, which has earned my dogged loyalty for so many reasons.

My new home is a condo, which comes with built-in neighbors. Seven hundred square feet of quality 70's style apartment-conversion living. I have spent the past six months touring Downtown/Jack London/Lake Merritt high rises with lavish David Baker lobbies. Unfortunately, I came to understand that these condos also come with frightening five-hundred-plus HOA dues. Oh, and I realized that I did not want to live smack in the middle of Downtown Oakland or Jack London.

And so I stumbled upon a top-floor Lake Merritt unit with cheerful south/west light, and a lovely open floor plan with room to stretch my legs. Seven hundred square feet may seem dinky to most, but to me it's damn near palatial. Try living in a 450 square foot apartment with a single closet the size of a thimble! I once rose to that challenge, but humbly admit that I am ready to surrender.

I am literally frothing at the mouth over this abundant space. I can barely remember what it was like to have storage. This place has three closets. Three!

On the downside, this condo is bland. In the fashion of the 70's era it is one giant box, and a beige-carpeted box at that. It has my least favorite kind of bathroom tile: Enormous, white, sterile squares. The galley kitchen, complete with original cabinets of decomposing wood is begging to be ripped apart.

But patience is a virtue, and after all, my tagline is about resolving these nest-building dilemmas "twig by twig." I appreciate the challenge of transforming a vanilla space into something energetically and visually interesting, within tight budget constraints. I am also committed to minding the environment as I make design and renovation decisions.

My first project? Getting the popcorn ceiling scraped by a couple of guys in moon suits. I have two words for you: Asbestos abatement.