Handmade Tables and Updates from the City of Roses

PDX Before_18Remember this picture? One of my very first photos of the Blue Dream. This is our “dining room” — I use air quotes because there was little to suggest it was actually a dining room when we first moved in. We didn’t have much furniture at the time: a teeny yellow couch, a bed, a couple of dressers, a desk… that’s it.

One of my first  priorities was a dining room table. I don’t know about you, but in my life the kitchen or dining area has always been the center of the house. It’s where all the action is — where friends and family gather together and hang out during the day. Plus, let’s not be coy, I really like food. It’s such an important part of family and friendship: breaking bread, and drinking beers, and sitting in one place all together at the same time. Plus, we have some great old friends in Portland, and I wanted to be able to share our home with them. I find that when you invite a bunch of people over and only have a glorified loveseat and a swivel chair in the way of seating things tend to get awkward real quick. So…

Table_109Look at that table! We made that! Well mostly The Boy, but I helped! I did math for the dimensions! I sanded! I performed energizing dances on the back porch to motivate the team while The Boy operated the saw! I contributed. It was a bit of hard work, but way easier than you might think, and a lot cheaper than buying a comparable table from a store. Let’s take a look at the process…

Table_003Table_018Table_019Table_038Table_044Table_059Can we just stop for a moment to appreciate The Boy’s beard? Someone has really embraced Portland life.

Anyway, apparently I got bored with documenting things after all the hours of cutting, and sawing, and sanding, because I’m all out of process photos. But this is all you really want anyway…

Table_073Table_092 Table_095Meet Penelope P. Fern! What does the P stand for? We can’t seem to agree: I say Proserpina, The Boy says Prosythia… which I’m pretty sure is made up. Men.

This is where I got distracted playing around with the camera… Table_111Table_112Table_153Table_146Table_149Aren’t fresh flowers just the best? I’ve been so inspired by the incredible weather here. It’s that perfect in-between, before it gets too hot, when you’re just so grateful to be outside in the sun. The tulips are completely out of control here–the ones on my table are lovely, but they’re positively PUNY compared to what I’ve been seeing the streets. Blooms as big as both of my fists together!

Anyway, one more look…

Table_124The whole project cost us around 100 dollars in materials, and there’s a nearly identical table on sale at Restoration Hardware for about 2k. Not a bad deal. In case you’re thinking of replicating the project, we used these plans as a starting point, but adapted the project significantly from there. I’ll let you figure that one out on your own.

The build process was a lot of fun. It was so nice to work on something together, especially when the payoff is so tangible: we’ve already hosted one successful dinner party at this baby!

It got us thinking a lot about where we want to go from here, and we’ve been talking more and more about working and creating together, you know, for money. We were talking with a friend recently about strengths and weaknesses. Our friend mentioned something he’d heard, about how people try to focus on their weaknesses and strengthen them, but the best plan is to forget about your weaknesses altogether. You’re supposed to find someone else, he said, who is strong where you are weak and vice versa. The Boy and I looked at each other, and I knew he was thinking exactly what I was thinking. It’s the very basis of our entire relationship. Well, we’ll see… it’s so easy to dream big, but the first step can be so hard. I’ll let you know how it goes.

In other news, Portland is absolutely magical. We’re still in that early phase, the young love romance of a new city, but I really do think this could be it.

In other news, I finally bit the bullet and got Instagram. You can follow me here!

So that’s one thing I get to cross off our loooong list of projects. Up next: coffee tables and secret gardens.

Those Darling Buds of May

I have been known to under-appreciate the spring. It is so brief, and not quite truly warm, so I think I have always skimmed right over it in favor of its more sultry and playful sister, summer.

But we moved to Portland on the very cusp of spring: those first few days of warmth and sunshine when everyone comes out of hiding, where people talk to each other on the streets, and the teeniest little daffodil buds appear above ground. I had forgotten how powerful this moment can be. It’s so infectious… people were so hopeful, so friendly, so full of ideas about the coming months, when they could think about more than just staying warm. It really affected me. Everywhere I went in those first couple weeks, complete strangers would stop to chat with me, and invariably the talk would turn to the weather. “Can you believe this weather we’re having? Isn’t it fantastic? Are you doing anything today? Going outside?” I found myself nodding along with the same enthusiasm, which really I had no right to feel. It had been 80 degrees in LA for the whole week before the move. Coming to Portland was the coldest I’d been in months. But still, I felt myself swept up in their unbridled optimism for the future.

When I was at Sarah Lawrence, one of the first heralds of spring was the blooming of the magnolia trees. They were all over the campus, particularly around the theatre building, where I spent most of my time. The blossoms were huge, and if you ever really look at a magnolia flower you’ll see that from the moment they come into bloom they go into this state of decay that’s quite nearly erotic–their petals hanging wide open and heavy, so that they fall in languid heaps around the base of the tree.

And the smell. It was, for lack of a better word, absolutely intoxicating. For some reason it always reminded me of that electrifying line from Pablo Neruda, “I want to do with you what spring does with the cherry trees.” For a few weeks in the spring, every time I entered the theatre building I had to walk through a haze of that heady perfume and, like the full moon, I’m sure it did strange and wonderful things to my mind as I climbed up on stage to perform in my next class.

There were a few smaller, younger magnolias scattered around the campus lawns, and I used to nap underneath them between classes on warm days, lying in a giant pile of decomposing petals, hoping to take some of their scent onto my skin. But when I arose, I only ever smelled of grass. In a few weeks, the blooms would disappear entirely, and with them their amazing perfume, replaced by ordinary greenery until another year, and another spring.

The power of spring is the power of momentum. We were stagnating in LA, not unhappy, but not fulfilled, and not moving towards anything better. In the coming weeks, we’re going to try to capitalize on the momentum of our move, and all the excitement and the earnest hope of springtime, to make some big changes. Hopefully something good will come of all this, but if not, at least we kept moving forward. I’ll keep you posted.

Something occurs to me, now. There were no magnolia trees in Los Angeles, but here… they bloom on every street corner.

Photo by Flickr user yocca.

Portland or Bust: A Tale of Freak Snowstorms and Dream Homes


The plan went like this:

1. Decide we’re moving to Portland.

2. Give up our LA apartment, with a move-out date for March 1st.

3. Fly up to Oregon two weeks later for a four-day trip with one mission: find a new home. Never mind that I’d never even seen the city before, that Portland has one of the most competitive rental markets in the country, or that if we went home empty-handed, we’d still have to move out of LA on March 1st.

4. Pack ourselves, the cat, and the tiny yellow couch in a U-haul and beat it on down the line, as they say.

So that was the plan. Who knew that Portland would get hit by a freak snowstorm on the very day we were due to arrive? Being east-coasters, we didn’t think much of it from afar. Four inches of snow? A Connecticut plow would have that snapped up before you could even dream about what you’d do with your snow day. Portland, however? Not so much.

So the days kept ticking by on our all-out house finding mission, and we kept not looking at houses. We did, however, eat many scrumptious meals, drink plenty of delicious beers, and visit a whole city of books.

And then we found her: nestled in a quiet and pristine neighborhood, our little blue bungalow. That’s how I thought of her right from the start: as ours. She had everything we wanted: a big backyard that could easily house a handful of hens, a bushel of tomato plants, or maybe even (one day) a dog. A tiny second bedroom that could serve as a sweet little nook for me to work in peace–The Boy, bless his heart, is seemingly impervious to my I’m writing, don’t bother me face… perhaps a locked door will do the trick. A basement where The Boy can indulge all of his cardboard box-hoarding compulsions, away from where I can see and trip over them. A big dining room where we can host all of our friends over for dinner. It’s walking distance to some spectacular ice cream and a wing joint named after a Grateful Dead song (basically my two very favorite things in the world).

And as I was walking away from the house the first time I saw it. Just a couple hundred feet away at the next intersection: a street sign bearing the name KLICKITAT ST. The home of one Ramona Quimby, age eight, beloved hero of my childhood. It seemed a most wonderful omen. All weekend long, as we sat by the phone and compulsively hit refresh in our email accounts, waiting to hear back about our dream home, I kept repeating that word again and again in my head: KlickitatKlickitatKlickitat. The same way you might turn a small object over and over in your hands when you’re nervous: KlickitatKlickitatKlickitat.

And the next thing we knew, she was ours. Our little blue dream, with plenty of space and the smell of rain always outside our door.

This new move won’t be easy, and there’s plenty of work ahead. But it helps to know that this one little thing fell into place, that this one little dream came true. Now it’s up to us to do the rest–I can’t wait.

So Long, California

BigSur_05_011.19.14_LA_14Over the last few months, two of my very best and most beautiful friends came to visit The Boy and I in LA. I wanted to show them all the magic and splendor of the golden coast, so I brought these ladies to Big Sur–“The Most Dramatic Meeting of Land and Sea”–and Leo Carillo Beach in Malibu. We scrambled over rocky bluffs, peered into crystalline tide pools to spy on lazy starfish and anemones in briney blues and violets, gazed up in awe at the tops of towering redwoods, and scaled peaks to look out across the whole wide earth all the way to the glittering sea.

BigSur_41_011.19.14_LA_341.19.14_LA_60BigSur_03_01BigSur_15_01These pictures are especially poignant to me now, because The Boy and I are packing up and hightailing it out of California. We debated this decision over weeks and months, but in truth it was while we were in Big Sur with Lorenza that my heart made its decision. I was sitting on top of a rock on a mountain overlook, looking down on a valley grove of redwoods that stretched all the way west until the land finally gave way to the Pacific. I felt nothing but happiness and the sun setting on my shoulders. Then something broke inside my head, and I had one of those perfectly clear thoughts: we need more space. We need more room to breathe. We need better air in our lungs. We need seasons, we need change. We need something more than the feverish grit and dizzying, disorienting, omnipresent sunshine of Los Angeles. But, sitting on top of that same mountain, I knew I was not ready to give up the wonders of the west, not yet. So Portland, Oregon, here we come.

BigSur_17_01BigSur_31_01BigSur_33_01I am beyond excited for our new life in a new city. We knew from the start that LA would not be our forever home, and eventually it seemed pointless to keep putting down roots if we weren’t ready to commit. Nevertheless, I’m sure I’ll be nostalgic for our Tiny Cottage one day.

BigSur_26_01BigSur_08_01BigSur_40_01In many ways, it was the perfect place to live as a newly married couple. 400 square feet offer no hiding places, no refuge, no room for cold shoulders or silent treatments. This house has been a wonderful crash course in marriage. The space forced us to be close, to speak plainly and honestly about our problems, to be gentle with each other even when one of us had had a bad day, and wasn’t feeling especially nice. We had spent so much time apart before we moved into the Tiny Cottage, and it was a little disorienting at first to swing so rapidly from 3,000 miles between us to just 3 feet.

BigSur_37_01BigSur_30_01To be perfectly honest, it wasn’t always easy. The Boy was slow to adjust to LA, and for months he was cranky, out of sorts, vulnerable, and lost. It fell to me to pick up the pieces a lot of the time, and quite frankly I did not always accept that role gracefully. We went through a little rough patch in those months, where it felt like we were arguing all the time and getting nowhere.

This was especially tricky during wedding planning, also known as hell on earth. I have one particularly fond memory of the early stages, which happened to coincide with The Boy’s poor mother staying with us for a weeklong visit, where a casual conversation about when we should start hanging lights in the yard erupted into an argument over nothing. I can see his mother so clearly, pretending to read on an airbed in our tiny living room, while we had a heated conversation in undertones just fifteen feet away in the kitchen. Ahh, wedding planning… that perfect melting pot where two different sets of values on family, religion, money, and tradition all come crashing together. Good times.

BigSur_19_01BigSur_21_01BigSur_11_01But little by little, the Tiny House showed us the way. I learned the value of small measures: making an extra cup of coffee in the morning, without being asked… picking up his favorite soda from the grocery store… washing the dishes, even though he told me he’d take care of it in the morning. These things count in a very real way, and they can make all the difference. Around October, without warning, the load got a little easier. We were sweeter with each other, and bickered less. We spent a little extra time in bed each morning, talking softly together about our plans for the day. And we both learned something important, something critical, something obvious but nevertheless difficult about our marriage: sometimes, some days, one of us will have to carry the heavier load, and that’s ok, but it’s especially important, when those days roll around, to not just remember that we love each other, but to say it, too, in gestures large and small, explicit and unspoken.

BigSur_42_01Our new house will have a lot more space, but we’ll carry these lessons there with us anyway. And one day, when we’ve been married a lot longer than we have now, I’m sure I’ll tell someone about the tiny cottage we lived in when we were so young, and so in love, and so full of plans for the future.

All pictures by Xander Keeping.


A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Echo Park_28X Echo Park_01Echo Park_81Echo Park_03Echo Park_75Echo Park_13Echo Park_65Echo Park_87X Echo Park_52X Echo Park_18Echo Park_82Echo Park_101The weather in LA has been lovely lately, so refreshing after being home in the snow for a week! The Boy and I have been trying to take advantage, so we’ve spent a lot of time over the past few days walking around our neighborhood and taking pictures.

We live in my very favorite part of LA, Echo Park, right in the middle of one of LA’s biggest parks, Elysian Park, which is also home to Dodger Stadium. The Elysian Fields were the Greek mythological paradise in the afterlife, and as a total mythology nerd I get a little thrill out of that. The Elysian Fields were supposed to be a pastoral haven free from snow and bitter winds, where the earth bore sweet fruit and the sun was always shining. Our Elysian is still very much a city park, though very large and not especially manicured, but compared to the smog and ceaseless traffic of LA, it feels like our own little paradise. We love our neighborhood because it’s very quiet, much greener than the rest of the city, and there’s this great feeling of an older artists’ community, where both the people and the houses are a little more eccentric.

There’s also an abundance of exciting nooks and crannies to explore, thanks in large part to the many “secret staircases” in the area, some of which you can see above. The staircases in Elysian Valley traverse the incredibly steep hills that line Echo Park Avenue (our home!) on both sides. Back in the 1920s, when Echo Park was being developed, the staircases served as direct routes for pedestrians in an age where there were far fewer cars. I was so excited when, during one of our first weeks here, I walked up one of those staircases and found myself in a little secret garden complete with a public swing, pomegranate trees, a babbling stream with a footbridge, and a whole flock of hummingbirds.

LA can be a bit intense sometimes, and neither The Boy nor I think of it as a forever home, but some days, when the sun is shining, and the jasmine flowers perfume the air, and I’m standing on top of a very tall hill looking out all the way to the Hollywood sign, I think, “Well this is nice.”


Liquid Happiness

Today The Boy and I ventured out of the cottage to Galco’s Old World Market, and it was pure delight. I could have spent hours wandering around looking at all the different sodas. Eventually we had to stop ourselves from picking out anymore, because we had so many in the cart already. Still, we walked away with a pretty good selection, including coffee soda, chocolate soda, and two different kinds of cream soda. The best part was the owner, featured in the video above, who walked around offering friendly suggestions. When I asked him if he had a favorite cream soda, he said “No!” the same way parents do when asked if they have a favorite kid. He then proceeded to walk me up and down the aisles explaining the differences between all the different creams the same way a sommelier might talk about fine wines. It was totally perfect, and thus far our selections have been superb.

Video courtesy of CHOW.com

Furthur and Father

One night, while I was home for Christmas, my dad and I trooped down into the basement to watch a 2005 Bruce Springsteen show in Spain, which my dad had on DVD. It was kind of a cool moment, not just because the show was excellent (it was), but also because it was just neat to sit in the basement with my dad and share something that he thought was really cool. So we struck a deal: if I brought him to a Furthur show, he’d bring me to see Springsteen. Well, two weeks ago I upheld my half of the bargain. The Boy and I flew home to take dad to his very first Furthur show (by the way, this will mark the fourth time that I have actually gotten on a plane to see these bozos play, and the sixth time I have traveled more than a hundred miles).

Would this be my number one favorite Furthur show of all time? Musically speaking, no. As I’ve said before, that’s kind of the delightful and frustrating thing about this music: you never know when lightning will strike. But I will never forget how cool it was to have my dad with me at a show. Of all the people we have introduced to this music, and there have been several, no one was as openminded or sincerely invested as my father. He showed up genuinely excited to participate in this thing The Boy and I are always running off to do. I think this speaks to one of my favorite things about my dad: he has always taken my thoughts, my opinions, and my values seriously. This music is something I really care about, so he wanted to see what it was all about, and I love him for that.

During the set break, my dad turned to me and asked, “So which one of you was a deadhead first?” And I had to say, “Both of us.” The Boy and I fell in love listening to Furthur and the Grateful Dead; you could almost call it the third wheel of our relationship. The very first time we heard Furthur play, we were sitting in camp chairs at a music festival, both completely immobilized by awe and wonder. He told me he loved me for the first time that night. The band played at the same festival again the following year, and that was the night The Boy proposed. I’ve never gone to a show without him, and even though I love this music with all my heart on my own, I’m not sure that I could go to a show without him. So more than anything else, that was the coolest part about sharing this with my dad. With the wedding less than three months away, I got to invite him into my relationship a little, and show him this magical thing that The Boy and I care about together.

UPDATE:  My heart goes out to Bob Weir, that magnificent weirdo, in his recovery. Please stay with us, I’m not ready to let go of this music just yet.

The image at top is the sweet poster from Furthur’s Capitol Theatre show on April 20th, which is now rolled up in my closet. Photo courtesy of Furthur.

Brooklyn Cabin

Well isn’t this just delightful. A Brooklyn couple built a tiny, one-room cabin inside their apartment, and now they rent the place out on Airbnb. They call it a “one room bed and breakfast”. There’s also a lofted “treehouse” space, where the couple sleeps, which is also available for rent. How nice would it be to have your own little cabin to go home to after a long day exploring the city? The cabin comes highly-reviewed on Airbnb, by the way, and it’s a helluva lot cheaper than even a mediocre hotel.

In other news, wedding planning has swallowed me whole. Hey guys, turns out it’s pretty crazy to try to get married in under five months… who knew??

Pictures courtesy of Airbnb, first seen here.

Our Many Homes: The Brownstone

Brownstone 3 Another home, another city. I must be honest (and I know I’m going to catch a lot of flack for this): I hate New York. I know, I know, greatest city in the world, blah blah blah. But I’m skeptical. This Onion article kind of speaks to my heart. I mean, I know that New York is home to all kinds of amazing food, and hidden gems, and bizarre secrets. But somehow, whenever I visit, I get so distracted by the sheer number of people all in such close proximity to me. New York is not an ideal destination for someone with severe crowd anxiety, such as myself.

But maybe if I had my own home, my own respite from the strange smells and the hard pavement and the throngs of people, maybe New York and I could finally start the love affair I’ve always known we deserve. I’m thinking a spacious brownstone in Brooklyn, or perhaps this delightful neighborhood. It place would be all eclectic glamour, but nothing stuffy: a gorgeous but cozy place with a loft for reading and a giant kitchen where everyone could hang out and drink wine and laugh. Because the most alluring part of New York, for me anyway, is the fact that most of my friends live there. Living on the other side of the country, I miss them all terribly, and my imaginary Brownstone would be the perfect place setting for wild dinner parties and games of apples to apples and oh, the cheeseplates we would have.

More homes to come next week, but in the mean time be sure to check out my Pinterest for more dream pads.

Sources: 1, 2, 3

Our Many Homes: The Vermont Retreat


Part two! Today I’m all about the woodland retreat. Some converted barn up in Vermont with an open floor plan, 200 year old wood beams, and wide windows to look out across all our rolling acres of farm and forest. There will be a little writer’s shed in the back (like Roald Dahl!), where I can get away from The Boy for a couple of minutes. For whatever reason he seems to think that the two best times to start a conversation with me are 1) when I am reading or, 2) when I am writing.

We’ll come visit in fall, when the whole landscape is soaked with the blood of trees and the apples are ripe for picking. We’ll tap for maple syrup and eat pancakes until we burst. We’ll come visit in winter, and The Boy can go skiing while I curl up with my sheepskin blanket, my book, and my boozy hot cider. But my favorite season of all is summer. Summer in New England is magic. Sure, it’s oppressively hot and the humidity clings to your skin in a wet film. But the blackberries grow wild in the yard, the tomatoes hang heavy on the vine, and the fireflies flicker against the stars.

PS: How freaking rad is that pantry?

More homes tomorrow, but if you can’t wait until then you can always take a peek at my Pinterest.

Image sources, clockwise from left: 1, 2, 3