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.