Welcome to Babuskha Island: Your Oasis in a Sea of Not-Having-Counterspace

Won’t you join me in a trip to an exotic, blissful place… where counter space is ample, and storage is plentiful? A magic place where I don’t have to dice onions over the sink, or suffer the humiliation of a Tupperware™ avalanche every time I slide open the cabinet door?

I’ve been dreaming of a Babushka Kitchen Island for at least a couple of months, to replace our “Babushka Cafe” – an old patio table and two chairs that the old lady left behind. It was fine for the kids’ breakfast or a romantic cup of coffee with Scott, but added nothing in the way of workspace or storage. IMG_5792Last week, I finally revealed my Kitchen Island Idea to Scott, who I then had to shepherd through the Four stages of Project Acceptance:
Stage 1 – Balking: That’s a crazy idea and will never work and besides we don’t need it.
Stage 2 – Curiosity + Intrigue: Maybe that will work. Go ahead and try; just don’t ask me to help.
Stage 3 – Grudging Acceptance: You’ve already gotten this far, you may as well finish.
Stage 4 – Enthusiastic Acceptance: Sometimes accompanied by Project Penance (This  New Thing is life-changing and I’m sorry I ever doubted you) or even Project Idea Identity Theft (I’m so glad I thought of this and you finally got around to making it).

To move Scott from Stage 1 to 2, I set up this “prototype” with painters’ tape, milk crates and the lid of a cooler.  I topped the whole setup with fresh baked cookies to create a positive, even Pavlovian, association with the island concept. 20150503_130649Once Scott made it to Stage 2.5 , I just scanned Craigslist for the perfect kitchen island.  I learned the hard way that islands only come in two sizes: 1) tiny microwave cart, or 2) massive suburban-style beastie, a/k/a, the “aircraft carrier.” islandcollage2red xThis Goldilocks couldn’t find one that was just right. So, as usual [dramatic sigh], I had to just make it my own damn self — by combining an old dresser, a new butcher block, and a little bit of dazzle. Here’s how I did it…

STEP ONE – Get a Dresser:  Once I settled on the dimensions, I found the perfect dresser on Craigslist — a used IKEA Hemnes.  The transaction was smooth enough, except the part where I watched this guy pull his underwear out of the drawers.* Dude had a whole dresser just for underwear! And later that day I discovered – a lot of spiders. 20150503_122030I needed this thing to be white. So I gave it a light sanding, and then one coat of oil-based primer. 20150503_162936Before I painted it, I drilled extra holes in the drawers to accommodate the new chrome pulls I bought to match the sink and Hoosier cabinet. IMG_6002Next, everything got two coats of white latex paint, and then three coats of polycrylic. IMG_6008IMG_6023STEP TWO – Bedazzle your Backside:  Like a TV news anchor or post-modern architecture**, a clothes dresser was designed to only be seen from the front. This dresser’s backside was a pathetic, flimsy, MDF board afterthought. And since the backside was the new frontside, I had to make it both functional and delightful. I turned to the nearby Upcycled Recycling Center for inspiration: IMG_5669I bought a bunch of 1.5″ wide pine slats at the hardware store, and dipped into the same can of paint I used for the recycling center slats (and also the mail box and my hubcaps). IMG_6022I tipped the dresser on its side to arrange my slats in a pleasing manner over the crappy backside: IMG_6042 Next, I secured the slats to the solid wood frame using a pneumatic nail gun that we borrowed from our friend Tamra so long ago I’m embarrassed to even mention it (Hi Tamra! Happy Birthday!) IMG_6056The nail gun shrank my nailing time by about 90%. Best of all, the compressor motor looks like a poodle! nail gun or poodleSTEP THREE – Counter top:  I needed a counter top that was heavy enough for kitchen duty, and big enough to provide knee room for casual breakfast-eaters and kitchen loiterers (you know who you are). I dreamed of making my own counter by joining together several perfect hardwood boards. I borrowed a biscuit joiner and headed to the hardware store to buy the lumber. And then my heart stopped when I saw this: butcherblock arrowA perfectly-sized, unfinished butcher block that was significantly cheaper than the boards! I called Scott in a panic, “Would you think less of me if I just bought this butcher block instead of making my own?!” His response was approximately, “What the *$&# do I care? Come home and eat lunch.”

Next I had to decide whether to finish the butcher block or keep it “raw,” which would require monthly oiling. I’m not nearly responsible enough for “monthly oiling,” so I decided to keep the lovely light wood color and seal it with five coats of polycrylic. Remember to give it a good sanding and wipe-down before you coat, and then lightly sand with 220-grit sandpaper between coats.  And clear coat both sides so there’s no water absorption from spills. You know you’re finished when it looks like a bowling alley! 20150520_141803 I unscrewed and removed the existing dresser top, and arranged the new butcher block in place – flush with the drawer side and the wall side, with ample overhang on the other “public” sides. I carefully marked the screw holes by jabbing them with a pencil. 20150520_214304I drilled new screw holes on the underside of the butcher block, flipped it over and screwed back into place.  Slide the drawers back in, and…. IMG_6065Choose where to place your new Tupperware™ graveyard: IMG_6062… and drag a stool out of the alley to complete the look! IMG_6071IMG_6066Let’s just hope Babuskha Island gets along with its yellow-striped cousin Recycling Center: IMG_6073The first kid home from school today got to eat the inaugural snack (an over-ripe banana): it works Who then asked… “Mama, why is the kitchen so clean?”————————————————————————————
Free Craigslist Tip: Remove all your personal belongings from a storage item before the customer comes to see it. Especially if your belongings are tighty-whities with lots of cocoa stains.
**  I’m looking at you, Harold Washington Library in Chicago.


Is there a Hoosier in Your Kitchen? Take This Free Online Quiz to Find Out

Today, everyone’s a winner, because all three of these answers are correct! I realize this is awfully confusing, so please, let me explain.

I grew in St. Louis, Missouri, a mid-sized mid-western city. Even though we weren’t cut off from the rest of civilization by, say… an unpassable mountain range, or 5,000 miles of ocean, St. Louisans have developed our own unique and often perplexing culture. Our steaks are made of pork; we deep fry our ravioli. St. Louis children must tell jokes on Halloween before candy is released. In school, we learned that the St.Louis World’s Fair of 1904 was the apex of innovation, because this is where the ice cream cone was invented. You’d all still be eating ice cream out of bowls right now – like savages – if it weren’t for St. Louis and our culture of advanced dessert engineering.

Like other lost civilizations, St. Louis developed our own secret dialect, which includes the word “Hoosier.” In St Louisian, Hoosier is an insult, but it has nothing to do with Indiana. In fact, most of us have never even heard of Indiana (it may as well be one of those other “I” states like Idaho or Ithaca). A Hoosier is related to a Redneck, but he’s not agricultural; he lives in town. He’s not from a particular ethnic group, because every family has at least one.*  The St. Louis band MU330 says it best in their hit song, “Hoosier Love:”

Peach fuzz mustache, butt cut, El Camino pick-up truck, Aerosmith, Loverboy, Motley Crue. Holding hands just me and you. We don’t need no high school! (No high school, we’re too cool!) We’ll have kids at seventeen, getting laid at Dairy Queen.

It wasn’t until I was 23 years old and newly living in Chicago that I learned the hard way that – to the rest of the world – a Hoosier is simply a person from Indiana. Oops. Sorry, Lisa. Your hair is great!

Fifteen years later I discovered the third definition of a Hoosier, as in the kitchen cabinet. I desperately needed some proper counter space to fill the gap between the fridge and the stove, occupied by an old Ikea desk:

IMG_5789After browsing Craigslist for weeks, I scored this vintage Hoosier cabinet for $70. Scott hopped in the cargo bike to pick it up, in the middle of a rainstorm:**

cabinet in cargo bikeIn order to amuse my St. Louis friends and family, from here on I will now refer to the cabinet simply as “the Hoosier.” Because there’s one in every family.  The Hoosier fit well into the gap-toothed smile of my kitchen, but it still needed work. Here’s what I did:


The upper left side drawer is what’s called a “bread drawer,” a typical feature of the Hoosier, from a time when homemade bread was important enough for its own all-metal executive suite. This particular drawer is also a great way to give your family tetanus via sandwiches.

IMG_5986I scrubbed out the rust with a wire brush, and painted the bottom with an oil-based protective enamel paint, specifically for metal, which I already owned.

IMG_5989My store-bought loaf is feeling a little inadequate in this cathedral to yeasty goodness. Maybe I’ll just store towels in there.


The Hoosier had three more big flaws: 1) it was not quite tall enough to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the stove, 2) it was blocking a wall vent near the floor, and 3) it was hard to move. Why would we need to move a Hoosier? Because within the first two days of owning the Hoosier, we dropped about 30 grapes, half a cheese sandwich and some child’s school pictures behind it.

The answer to our all Hoosier problems is (are?) CASTERS!  Present-Day-Me is so grateful that Me-From-A-Year-Ago yanked these casters off some junky furniture in the alley, just in case I might need them someday. Because that someday is today!***

IMG_5982I flipped the Hoosier over and drilled holes in the bottom of its legs (feet?), starting with a small drill bit and gradually getting bigger, as not to shock and crack the surrounding wood.

IMG_5983Since the top pins weren’t threaded, I wanted to make the casters extra secure. I filled the holes up with caulk and then pushed the casters in, wiping away the excess caulk that oozed out the sides.


IMG_6001I let the caulk set for an hour before flipping the Hoosier back over and rolling into place:

IMG_5994A perfect fit.  And look at all this extra storage! I no longer have to store my mismatched Tupperware and ratty old dish towels out in the open like a… well… a Hoosier.

IMG_5995To celebrate another milestone in the progress of the Babuska kitchen, I assembled this cheesy photo collage from the last six months:

kitchen memory collage

A microwave on a stack of stolen milk crates?!  Now, that’s HOOSIER!————————————————————————
* If you don’t know who the Hoosier is in your family, it’s probably you.
** Our marriage contract specifies that Scott must appear at least once in every blog post, either as the hero of the story, or in the act of doing something that would “make all the other husbands look bad in comparison.”
*** If I ever run for political office or become an inspirational speaker, my slogan will be “Someday is Today!”

Five Easy Steps to Make your House Look Slightly Less Abandoned

Every block in an older neighborhood has that one house. You know the one I’m talking about – the house that nobody ever comes out of or goes into. The grey, torpid structure with the sagging porch, the creeping vines; You can almost smell the mothballs from the street. The one that’s TOTALLY HAUNTED.

As a child, you threw rocks at this house, or rang the doorbell just to see who would answer it (and then promptly hid in the bushes).  Yup, that’s the house that we bought.

IMG_5224I’d be lying if I said it didn’t bother me.  After we moved in, Scott and I spent many evenings on the front porch eating ice cream, just to show our new neighbors that the house was occupied by actual living people (who now live directly behind a Baskin-Robbins!). Would ghosts eat ice cream, outside, in December? No. Ghosts hate being cold.

Now that spring is here, I’m even more self-conscious about our neglected Babushka House. We’re slowly saving up for big renovations like windows and siding. In the meantime, I discovered few small, nearly free improvements that – like a shot of atropine into an unresponsive patient – could quickly bring signs of life to our front porch.

These improvements fall into two categories: 1) Out with the Old, and 2) In with the New.


 • TEAR DOWN ORNAMENTAL CLIMBING VINES:  A TV series called “Life After People” predicts how nature will reclaim our human structures after we all mysteriously disappear. I’ve never actually seen the show, but I’ll go ahead and spoil it for you: After the humans are gone, plants start growing on and in the buildings.  Oh look, here’s an example:

IMG_5962I don’t care if those vines are alive or dead (ours were dead). Tear it down. It’s tremendously satisfying.

 • DISMANTLE “OLD LADY” GRILLS:  These door and window grills recall a forgotten era – when fussy, ornate ironwork was all the rage, and when our neighborhood’s (and the nation’s) crime rate was a wee bit higher.

IMG_5953Fussy and ornate is clearly not my style. But even if it was, the metal was tarnished and crusty with age:

IMG_5954 Two minutes with a screwdriver was all it took. Which is why these make no sense as a security measure, either.


 • MAKEOVER THE MAILBOX:  Yes, the Babushka’s mailbox is perfectly good. It holds mail, and is squeaky enough to provide a audible clue that the person stomping around on my front porch is the mail carrier.  But the faded paint and rusty patina are the opposite of cheerful:

IMG_5867Unscrew the mailbox from your wall. Don’t be spooked by what appears to be the capital of a small but prosperous Spider City-State.

IMG_5872 Evict the spider village, scrape off the rust with a wire brush, wipe clean, and apply a coat of white primer:

IMG_5893Next, apply a coat of bright yellow oil-based paint. Loyal readers may remember this can of paint from my Upcycled Hubcap and Upcycled Recycling Center* projects; it’s like sunshine in a can:

IMG_5914IMG_5929  • BRIGHTLY-COLORED PATIO FURNITURE:  You need a throne on which to eat your ice cream, it may as well add a pop of color** to your depressingly drab front porch.  These modern orange chairs will do the trick. Especially since we already owned them:

orangechairsPRO-TIP!  Say it with me – NO STUFFED FURNITURE ON YOUR FRONT PORCH. Nothing soft: no couches, loveseats, easy chairs or beanbags. Your house will look even more abandoned, or worse – occupied by squatters (if you’re looking for ours, they’re behind the garage). You can now buy furniture specifically for the outdoors, in smooth, nonporous materials and bright, eye-catching colors. And no, milk crates do not qualify as outdoor furniture.

 • SAN SERIF HOUSE NUMBERS:  Your house numbers are your home’s smile. Do you want your smile to be yellowed, cracked and ancient-looking?

house numbersOr fresh, bright, modern, and centered rationally in the middle of your face?

IMG_5961I stumbled upon these numbers while shopping for drill bits at a certain orange-colored big box store.  The numbers were too big for the existing plate, so I had to saw down and paint a piece of scrap wood. Which was a bit of work, but now my address even smells new.

And yes, creeps of the world, now you know my home address. Not sure why I bothered obscuring it in all those other pictures, since, if you’re reading this, you’re either a friend of mine or you live in Australia.

Time for the big reveal***:

IMG_5969And for added affect, let a small child run around in the front yard unsupervised, or frantically pound on the storm door at passersby:


“Yup,” they’ll all say. “Somebody definitely lives here now.”

* I will pay good money to anyone who can give me a synonym for “upcycled.”
** “Pop of color” is required to appear at least once in every home design blog.
*** Also, every home design blog has to have at least one “big reveal” per post, even if it’s really just a bunch of little reveals.

15 Things NOT to Say to Someone who Just Bought a Fixer-Upper

My lovely friend Amanda just bought a house for her and her daughters in our neighborhood. We joked that the house must be the little sister of our Babushka house:  same narrow Chicago lot, same bay windows and faux brick asphalt siding, same recently deceased old lady owner; but slightly smaller and 7 years younger. And let’s face it, a hell of a lot cuter:

Babushka and doll houseI call it “The Dollhouse,” which describes the cuteness of both the house and its soon-to-be inhabitants.

And like our home, the Dollhouse “has potential.” That’s top-secret real estate code for “needs work.” But in my mind (here I commence rationalizing a major life decision), lovingly restoring an old city house is an expression of civic pride and a noble act of sustainability.  And most importantly for us, it was way cheaper than buying a newer house with, say, post-war electricity.*

Fixer-uppers certainly aren’t for everyone, and they may not be for you. But do us fixer-upper types a favor:  The next time you visit our house, try not to say any of these things:

  • You should tear down this wall.


  • I saw some human poop behind your garage.
  • I got a couple of buddies that could tear that garage/porch/dead tree down for you. Just give ‘em a case of beer and some chainsaws.
  • I’m sure the land is probably worth something.
  • Have you had your kids tested for lead poisoning yet?


  • You could always put an addition on the back.
  • Hmmm, it’s so very …. European!


  • I’m sure that smell will go away in the spring time… once you figure out how to open the windows.
  • At least you guys are handy [Bonus points for: “I’m sure your husband is handy”]
  • People were certainly a lot smaller when they built this house.


  • You have good health insurance, right?
  • I wonder how many people died in this house?


  • At least you don’t have to worry about thieves wanting to break into your house.
  • You know, asbestos is only dangerous if you actually breathe it in.
  • It’s so much more charming than a plain old rehab.


  • I’m sure the rats will scare away the homeless people. Or vice-versa.
  • It’s definitely not THE MOST ugly house on the block.
  • It’s so interesting to see how they did things before indoor plumbing was invented.


  • Your kids are probably old enough that the lead won’t do THAT much brain damage.
  • I saw this one TV show about house flippers where they …[insert anything here].
  • You’re gonna tear this whole place down, right?



 * I’ll let you decide which war I’m talking about. Because technically, the Korean War still hasn’t ended.

Surprise your Husband by Painting the Appliances

Welcome to another edition of the Projectophile series, “Yes, You Can Paint That!” where we find new and unusual things to paint.

This past weekend, Scott went on a trip by himself to a city multiple time zones away. It was the longest he’d been away from the family, and I marked the occasion by feeding the kids a lot of (fully cooked) frozen pizza, and sleeping sideways across our bed, sometimes with my shoes and the lights still on. I would make a terrible bachelor.

I wanted to surprise Scott when he got home. Not a “Surprise, I got my teeth fixed!” sort of way. More like, “That’ll teach you to leave me alone for 4 days with a fresh supply of white spray paint” sort of way. But in a good way.

Lately I had noticed something askew in our kitchen, color-wise. We’d managed to match the new fridge and shelving to the existing 1950s white sink, stove and cabinets. But then there was the microwave. The microwave already felt out of place in our (mostly) period kitchen, like a satellite dish in a Norman Rockwell painting.

IMG_5896_redcircleAnd worst of all, it was black, sucking all the gleaming whiteness out of the room.  Suddenly, while heating up another frozen pizza, a spray-paint shaped light bulb metaphorically appeared over my head. SPRAY PAINT!

IMG_5909Can you spray paint a microwave? Nobody really knows for sure – the Internet was silent on the issue* – so it was up to me to find out.

STEP ONE – PREPARE: Slide all the crap off the top of your microwave. For our family, the top of the fridge/microwave is the best spot to hide things from the kids, or hide things from ourselves, or from each other. You’d be amazed at what ends up in that sweet spot between adult arm-reach and adult eye-level: candy, permanent markers, past-due utility bills, but mostly candy.

Now give your microwave a sponge bath with dish soap and hot water. It has probably grown a thick coat of FurGrease™, my trademarked name for the grey layer of dust and debris that clings to the airborne grease on your exposed kitchen appliances.

IMG_5903Don’t forget to pull out the glass turntable, since it will inevitably fall out and shatter while you carry the microwave to your scary back porch. Try explaining that to your jet-setting husband.

Next, cover up any sensitive parts. I found it easiest just to tape off the front door and control panel, which attach to the body of the microwave in one continuous line. While that leaves some black showing, there’s also enough chrome to pay homage to the vintage stove.

IMG_5906Just before you grab the paint can, slip on your painting pants, or what Sam (age 3) now calls my “embarrassing pants,” because I refuse to pop out and say hi to the neighbors in the morning if I’m wearing them.


Complete the look with black wool socks under rubber sandals.

No – of course they’re not sweatpants from the bargain bin at Walgreen’s. I’d like to think of them as thick cotton “harem pants;”in this case the harem is full of antsy housewives and an ample supply of spray paint.

STEP TWO – PAINT:  Hold the can about a foot from the microwave and spray in a continuous, fluid motion. Don’t hover over a certain spot, keep it moving!

IMG_5910If possible, keep the paint flowing the entire time as you swoop over your appliance. You may start to feel an ache in your wrist—ignore it. Some of the best things in life cause sore wrists.

IMG_5911While you’re waiting for the paint to dry, go ahead and reheat that cup … uh, never mind. Enjoy a cup of room-temperature coffee!  After about an hour you can peel off the protection to see how you did:

IMG_5913Not bad! After a few more hours you can safely return the microwave to its perch on top of the fridge.

IMG_5916Time to admire your work from a few different angles, how it blends seamlessly in with the rest of the Babushka kitchen, as if the refrigerator were merely wearing a festive top-hat.

IMG_5926IMG_5924STEP THREE – WAIT FOR YOUR HUSBAND TO NOTICE:  This step can take anywhere from 12 hours to 6 months, based on the quality of your spouse.  For extra excitement, casually shake your head “no” when he finally asks, “Honey, was this microwave always white?”


*  Silence = acquiescence, but in a good way.

Awaken your Obsessive-Compulsive Tendencies with Open Shelves in the Kitchen

Growing up, my family was not poor, but we sure shopped like it. We bought groceries either at Aldi or in the generic section of the “normal” grocery store.


A man who is not my father shopping the generic aisle

While other moms filled their carts with Micro-Magic™ Microwave Milkshakes or Smurf-Berry Crunch Cereal®, we enjoyed the minimalist delights of what was called “Plain Label” food:

SONY DSCThe food inside wasn’t necessarily bad; my brothers and I hit most of our developmental milestones. The cheapness was in the conspicuous lack of marketing: no advertising, no splashy labels, no celebrity spokesmodels or cartoon character endorsements.

I’d like to think that the modest packaging also nourished my budding minimalist aesthetics. Unlike most others who were disaffected teenagers in the 1990s, I have no tattoos; I don’t wear jewelry or graphic t-shirts. North Face® jackets give me the creeps.

Which brings me to my new kitchen, and the open shelves we just added for extra storage:

IMG_5833Oh wait, don’t pay attention to this shelf on the back wall; it’s a discreet hang out for breakfast cereal and hard liquor — the bookends of any good day.  Let’s instead focus on the shelf above the stove, where we’ve been storing spices and dry goods:

IMG_5834Generally, I adore the airy, exhibitionist look of open shelves. But the visual cacophony*  of labels and gharish packaging gives my Inner Minimalist a migraine. See how these aggressively incongruous spices mock me!

So how did I reconcile my Inner Minimalist with my Inner Exhibitionist? By channeling my Latent Inner Obsessive Compulsive!  And what’s more OCD than cramming things in little jars and labeling them?

Using the Projectophile technique, you won’t have to spend thousands of dollars on fancy  glass containers at a certain store that I won’t name that only sells Containers. The only thing to buy is this little gadget, for about $18:

IMG_5824A personal label-maker! (not for use in industrial, government or military settings).

STEP ONE – SPICES:  Hopefully, you have a wonderful friend like Karen, who remembers you complaining about your Spice Crisis. After a recent Sunday morning run, Karen alerted me to a pile of fancy glass spice jars spilling out of a nearby trash can. “This looks like a hasty break up to me,” Karen reported. I scrubbed them out and lined them up for their Spice Class Photo:

IMG_5849Simply add your spices to the appropriate jars. Doesn’t the thyme on the left look so much better?

THYME BEFORE AND AFTERTake this opportunity to expel expired spices. Seriously, I don’t even remember buying this mace. Was it for soup or for self-defense?  Or self-defense soup?

IMG_5857For bulkier spices that don’t fit into your new jars, simply strip off the original label and replace with your own (shhh —  nobody will know it’s plastic!):

IMG_5855The label-stripping method even works for big cardboard cylinders:

IMG_5854STEP TWO – DRY GOODS:  If you’re like me, you store your beans, rice, oatmeal and other bulk grains in slouchy plastic bags that fall on your head every time you open a cabinet. In a moment of frustration, perhaps you tossed all those little bags into a bigger bin, and then promptly forgot about them.

For example, did you know that we owned quinoa?** Neither did I.

quinoa sad sack collage_arrowJust look at this sad sack! What’s sadder than a sagging, forgotten bag of South American super food? No wonder we never eat this stuff (and have been diagnosed with a chronic superness deficiency).

To achieve this look, simply start hoarding all your used glass jars — jelly, pickles, olives, spaghetti sauce. After a good scrub, dump your dry goods into the jars and slap on the appropriate label.

IMG_5844BEFORE AFTERYou may be shocked to discover how much of your total diet is made up of pickles and jelly (mine is about 37%).

PRO-TIP:  Tell your mother that you happen to like green olives. Then every time you visit, she will send you home with several half-gallon jars, plus a big bar of dark chocolate for your husband. Never ask her why he gets chocolate while you get olives, because the jar is so perfect for storing oatmeal.  Then eat the chocolate while he’s at work.

IMG_5882Once you’ve completed your transformation, step back and enjoy the view. Your kitchen shelves are now almost as nice as a Generic Food aisle from 1979!


* This word was specifically chosen to annoy my husband.
**  Yes, I had to look up how to spell quinoa. Unfortunately, there is no spell check on the Dymo® LetraTag® Personal Label Maker.

“Love is…” For Married People

This weekend Scott and I will celebrate our anniversary: 7 years married and 11 years in each others’ lives. Yes, we were smart enough to get married on the 4th anniversary of the day we met, so there’s only one day to remember. You see, we’re practical in that way.

wedding photo We’re also strong believers in the practice of Married Love. Not the moody, slippery, transparent love of Jennifer Aniston movies, or jewelry store commercials.  Married Love is doing a few little things every day to make your fellow Married Person happy; to make his day a little easier, to make her glad she married YOU.

Sometimes my mother-in-law will clip a comic called “Love Is…” out of the paper and mail it to us. “Love Is…” follows the trials and tribulations of two naked 6-year-olds in love. Occasionally one of them dies, or goes off to war, but their love remains strong.

To celebrate our decade of Married Love, I broke some copyright laws to imagine if Scott and I were those two naked 6-year-olds. These are just a fraction of the little things he does for me every day, or at least the ones I can tell you about on the Internet:

in bedrestaurantcomputerbikesassnotbigenoughcoffee

paintinggrandpatvthriftinghair combingdreamsbathtimeHappy Anniversary, my Love!

Too Weird to Scan? A Revolutionary New Approach to Choosing Paint Color

Yesterday I described our little Babushka kitchen makeover – new lights, shelving and a coat of paint.  I’m particularly proud of the paint color – bold enough to push me out of my comfort zone. But most of all, I’m excited about the new process I’ve discovered for choosing paint colors.

First, a confession: While I’m absolutely confident in making major life decisions, I completely freeze up when it comes to deciding stuff that basically doesn’t matter – like paint color. My color-picking routine is taping 20 swatches to a wall and staring at them and agonizing for weeks on end. Even then, I only get it right about 50% of the time.

IMG_5256Then, a few weeks ago, I was reheating a cup of coffee, which is how I spend most of a typical day. I watched my favorte mid-Century Fiestaware mug slowly twirl on its carosel in the yellow spotlight of the microwave, and then it hit me:
I need my kitchen to be the color of this coffee mug.

IMG_2272The problem was, none of the paint colors taped to my kitchen door even came close to that Fiestaware mug. Then a friend of mine let me in on a little secret: The local paint store can scan that mug and match the color! My pal Holly – professional purveyor of vintage clothing — told me she even got them to scan a manequin arm so she could touch up its paint color.  My ignorance was blissfully shattered.

Sure enough, the boys at my local chain paint store were able to scan the mug and formulate my custom paint color. They even dropped a sample blob on the bottom of the cup to test for matchiness:

IMG_5802I was thrilled! My kitchen’s combination of dark walnut floors and seafoam green walls makes me feel like I’m living inside of a 1950s coffee mug. Which isn’t nearly as terrifying as it sounds.

IMG_5794But Holly’s manequin arm story got me thinking — are there any limits to what you can get them to scan at the paint store?

To find out, I called up about 30 paint stores, mostly in Chicago (plus a couple in the suburbs, in St. Louis and in New York City).

First, I confirmed that each store possessed a machine that could scan items to match their color. An overwhelmingly enthusiastic employee at a paint store on the south side of Chicago (87th and Pulaski), explained it to me this way:

It’s like an x-ray machine, but it looks like a shoe! We shoot an x-ray on [your object] and the computer will tell me how to make the formula, for REAL! The machine is like, really really on. Like, it’s just ON.

I’ve lived with enough superhero fans to know that when x-ray technology falls into the wrong hands [at the paint store], the result can only be a [paint-related] super hero, or even super villain. And if we don’t give this Paint Villain a jazillion dollars, he’ll threaten to “cover the earth” with a thick, blood-like paint, just like the logo of this unnamed paint store!

cover the earth

The villain has also pushed the earth off of its normal north-south axis, which will inevitably cause tsunamis, widespread crop failure and toilets to flush the wrong way. The southern tip of Africa will dip into the Antarctic Circle. And that’s BEFORE the paint smothers us all in the end.

Anyway, then I asked the staff at each paint store:
Here’s what they described:

  • A toenail. (“She just swung her bare foot right up on the counter and told us to scan it”)
  • A closet door
  • A chair
  • An entire car door
  • A baby’s shirt while the baby was still wearing it
  • A garden gnome
  • Very large piece of a wall
  • Plastic Hot Wheels cars
  • Photograph of a “loved one”
  • A very dirty comforter
  • Live flowers
  • A pizza
  • Women’s panties (several stores claimed this)
  • Shoestrings on a child’s shoe (child still wearing them)
  • “Something that I can’t say over the phone. If you come to the store and ask me in person I will tell you.”
  • A brick
  • A shower curtain
  • The bumper of a truck. “Guy popped the back door of his truck and carried it in like it was nuthin.”
  • The cord from a cell phone
  • Old towels
  • Curtain rods
  • A jar of spices
  • A bed frame
  • A Banana peel

And finally, the award for “Most Unnecessarily Diplomatic Answer” goes to this fellow from the south side of St. Louis:

People bring me all sorts of things. I don’t judge, ma’am. It’s not up to me to decide what’s weird and what’s not weird. I’m a paint professional and I respect people’s choices.

Swooon – I think I’ve finally found my paint-themed super hero!

A Bucket of Paint + a Trip to IKEA: Babushka Kitchen Gets a $200 Makeover

For those of you just tuning in, Babushka is the code name we’ve affectionately given the old Polish lady who lived in our house for the last 60 years. We don’t know much about her, but the evidence suggests that Babushka loved carpets and curtains and sickly shades of jaundiced pink. Like us, Babushka had three kids, and since they are adults now (Scott met them and says they seem healthy), presumably she fed them, but without the benefit of counter space or proper kitchen storage. The kitchen when we first toured the house, in August. And yes, this is the photo that the realtor used: kitchenThe kitchen right after we bought it: IMG_5215


You’d never guess that window on the left faces a brick wall.

Our first dinner in the new house, before we moved — Chinese takeout eaten on the oven door. Babushka left the pink chairs, which we still use: IMG_5192We started with the one job we HAD to do before we moved in — pull up that tile and refinish the gorgeous maple floors beneath. IMG_5193Since our floor crew didn’t finish until the day before we moved, we just bought a fridge and made the best of our little kitchen.   Then, about a month in, I couldn’t take it any more: The bad lighting, the lack of storage space, the greasy-pink color scheme, the hole in the ceiling. We’re in no position for a full renovation, so I headed to the paint store with my favorite coffee mug, and sent the two oldest males to IKEA to buy about $100 worth of shelves, hooks and task lighting.

But first, a wee bit of destruction (my favorite!) — removing the mysterious wooden rail that ran along the entire perimeter of the kitchen, about 5 feet up.  The rail put up a good fight against my chisel and crowbar; I’m not sure it was a fair fight, since the rail had 4 coats of paint to defend itself, plus scary 3-inch nails holding it in place. IMG_5644 The euphoria of victory wore off when I realized I’d need to apply 5 coats of joint compound to hide the wall canal I left behind.  Nothing I can’t survive with a comfy pair of sweatpants and 12 continuous hours of podcasts. IMG_5651Meanwhile, Scott drilled a square of drywall over a mysterious hole in the kitchen ceiling, probably caused by the formerly leaking upstairs toilet. The toilet leaking into the kitchen. Think about that for a moment. IMG_5648While Scott was up there, I handed him bucket of TSP solution so he could wash 50 years of kitchen grease off the ceiling and upper walls: IMG_5451PRO-TIP: When buying a fixer-upper house (especially with high ceilings), make sure you are significantly shorter than your DIY Partner. The taller person always gets stuck hanging drywall into the ceiling, and washing the ceiling, and painting the ceiling, and …. well, you get the idea.

Here’s a closeup of the kitchen wall after what appears to be 50 years of drinking, smoking, hitchhiking, and bar fights* (before and after a TSP scrub): TSP_beforeandafterAfter the big scrub-down, we gave everything a nice coat of white primer.  The next day, we painted the ceiling a crisp white, and the walls the color of my favorite Mid-Century Fiestaware® coffee mug: IMG_5652 IMG_5672When the paint was barely dry, I hung these three IKEA Grundtal wall shelves in the formerly useless corner between the windows (Babushka put her fridge there, blocking the back window). These shelves ain’t pretty, but stainless steel fits effortlessly into any kitchen. More importantly, they’re cheap, lightweight, easy to install, and hold nearly 40 pounds of stuff: IMG_5668Next we hung this lovely white IKEA Varde shelf. In contrast to its Grundtal cousins, the Varde is heavy, awkward and useless, weighing more than it can hold.  But it sure is pretty above our gleaming white 1957 stove: IMG_5673Finally, we mounted a couple of LED light strips under the original cabinets to brighten the sink area. And I dare say that now, we’ve got a mostly functioning kitchen.  Let’s take a tour! Here’s that shelf above the stove, now charmingly cluttered: IMG_5790Until we can figure out something better, we just wedged an old IKEA Micke desk between the stove and the fridge.  The stool we found in the alley behind our last apartment. IMG_5804Note that I was in the middle of making dinner when I snapped these pics, hence all the food preparation that seems to be going on.  The light just seemed right.  IMG_5810If we swing around to the other wall, you’ll see that my beloved Upcycled Recycling Center has finally found a home in the Babuska kitchen! Traveling along the west wall, you’ll see that there’s enough free space for a “breakfast nook” — our patio table, plus the two pink chairs that Babushka left behind. Note that since the coffee cups match the wall, they virtually disappear in your hand. For whatever that’s worth: IMG_5792And the old Kelvinator Kabients couldn’t be more thrilled to be surrounded by green, picking up the undertones of their glass doors. And that under-cabinet lighting makes dishwashing almost tolerable! IMG_5806IMG_5798(artwork courtesy of Matt Avery/ PSA) IMG_5803We’re pretty happy with our little makeover, which (not counting the floors), cost about $200 total.  The paint color- while period-appropriate– pushed me out of my comfort zone, and I couldn’t be more thrilled.

If you’re wondering how we got to that color, and how you can magically turn your favorite object into a bucket of paint, tune in tomorrow….!

* Unfortunately, I’ve engaged in all of these activities at least once, and I hope I don’t end up looking like that kitchen wall when I’m 50.

Everyone’s a Winner at the Super Bowl of Snacks

Welcome to Projectophile’s annual installment of the Super Bowl of Snacks! Loyal readers may recall the concept from last year –a party for your friends who love snacks and beer, but not football. For the second year in a row, we’ve turned the art of snacking into a friendly competition, with awards for Best Snack in Five Categories. And since this is a DIY blog, I’ll show you how to make prizes out of regular household items. Or, skip the tutorial for a rundown of this year’s winners.


My 20-Layer Dip — the Burj Khalifa of snacks.

12 feet of Bright Orange Ribbon
Packing Tape (“poor man’s laminating machine”)
Paper Clips
Plastic Heart
Box of Mac-n-cheese
Aluminum Foil
Old Chisel
Orange Spray Paint
“Cheese” Balls and Doritos (or equivalent)
Polycrylic spray or shellac
Hot Glue Gun

MOST ORANGE: I really struggled with how to materialize the concept of orange. What’s the most orange thing you can think of? An orange? Too healthy. John Boehner? An Oompla Loompa? Both too creepy for a light-hearted snack party.

Then, the idea hit me as I was rolling down the pasta aisle at Aldi. The packet of “cheese” powder that comes in a box of Mac-n-Cheese. As far as I can tell, it’s just orange food coloring, salt and sawdust. Mixed with a stick of melted butter and some noodles, it’s a meal, according to the USDA.

IMG_5687To make the award, remove the packet of cheese powder from the box and stick a paper clip through the top, careful not to puncture the pouch itself. If you expect things to get a little rowdy, reinforce the hole with clear packing tape.

IMG_5713MOST UNHEALTHY:  It was a toss-up between an empty pill bottle and a comically giant syringe. Sam and I headed to Walgreens drug store for inspiration, where I stumbled upon the seasonal “Valentine’s Crap” aisle. True to the spirit of the award, I bought a plastic red heart filled with mini-Snickers bars, which Sam and I ate for after lunch.

After you’ve emptied the plastic heart, drill a tiny hole at the top and string a paper clip through it.

IMG_5681Put it back together and stick a couple of bandages across the front in a haphazard, dramatic fashion.

unhealthy 2MOST OFFENSIVE:  No, I’m not sure what this is supposed to mean, either. But I was looking for a fresh new category, and my friends John and Julie proposed it to me at a party a week before. “It could mean anything you want it to mean!” they exclaimed.

First, make a simple silver medal by cutting a circle out of cardboard, in this case an empty box of Old Style.

IMG_5682Wrap the cardboard circle in aluminum foil, and seal it with clear packing tape. And (you guessed it), poke a hole in the top and pull a paper clip through it.

Do a Google image search for “Censored” and print out one of the first five results. Do not look beyond the first five results.  Coat your “censored” printout with packing tape, and use glue or tape to stick it to your silver medal.


Poke a paper clip through the top and reinforce the whole thing with more packing tape:

IMG_5714MOST LIFELIKE/SCULPTURAL:  At our last party, we had a couple of snacks that “looked” like something else – a cake that looked like a football field for gummy bears, and a salmon pate shaped like a fish:

IMG_3257We created this category to encourage snack developers to channel their inner Jeff Koons.

jeff koons lobster2

My Inner Jeff Koons always wears white, even after Labor Day.

To create this award, I dug around in my tool box for a plastic chisel. I spray painted the bottom bright orange, creating the effect that it had been used to carefully sculpt a giant mound of Velveeta into a work of unspeakable beauty.

IMG_5692IMG_5693Now that you’ve made each of the “medals,” unroll your orange ribbon and cut it into four even strips – mine were each 3 feet long, since I had 12 feet of ribbon.

IMG_5680Use Stitch Witch to fasten the ends, then clip the medals on using the paper clips (or in the case of the chisel, through the hole at the top).

IMG_5717BEST OVERALL SNACK: Our hope was to swear in a new King or Queen of Snacks, a benevolent ruler of Greater Snackdom, the Fourth Earl of Cheese Balls. This honor was bigger than a medal – it deserved a crown. A crown of Cheesy Snacks.

IMG_5656Pour a small pile of cheese balls into a box. With one hand, jiggle the box so that the balls roll around, and use the other hand to apply a continuous spray of polycryclic. After drying for a couple of minutes, jiggle the box a little more so that the balls don’t stick to the cardboard. Repeat two or three more times until the balls feel sufficiently stiff and plasticky.

IMG_5661While the can of polycrylic is still shook up, arrange about 5 or 6 doritos on another box and spray the front of the chips. When they’re mostly dry to the touch, flip them over and spray the other side. Again, don’t let them get stuck to the box – give a little shake after a few minutes of dry time.

IMG_5659SAFETY TIP!  Keep the drying balls and chips away from your curious family. Remember that small children tend to be illiterate, and probably don’t know what “DO NOT EAT” means.* That would have been a fun call to the Poison Control Hotline: Well, you see, I was trying to make a crown out of cheese balls and Doritos and I forgot that my 3-year-old can’t read, and….”**

When the balls and chips have dried, grab a plain headband and fire up your glue gun.

IMG_5694Dab a dollop of hot glue on a cheese ball and press it against the headband until the glue dries. Alternate with Doritos to create a jewel-encrusted effect.

In a Super Bowl of Snacks, everyone’s a winner. But some are more winnier than others.

  Dang, I didn’t even get a picture of this snack, Vegan No-Cheese Dip with Spicy Vegan Soy-sage. Here’s the winner, avoiding paparazzi:
IMG_5729MOST UNHEALTHY:  Loyal readers may remember Megan, recipient of the “Snappy Birthday” plaque and perennial bringer of the best food to parties. She did it again with this simple but brilliant concoction: Caramel Cheetos.  Think about it.
IMG_5724MOST SCULPTURAL/LIFELIKE:  If you are an American born in the 1970s, there’s a good chance your name is Jen or Matt. They are actually a lovely couple in our neighborhood who surprised us all by showing up with a bag of mushrooms.  I knew Jen and Matt were fans of healthy eating, but COME ON!

Turns out, those mushrooms are made of CANDY! No, really. Meringue Mushrooms are 100% sugar, disguised as fungus.

MOST OFFENSIVE: This being Chicago, we shouldn’t be surprised that the couple who created this award category also won the prize. Their snack was so offensive that I had to censor the photo of it. Let’s just say that we all had some pretty frank conversations with our children about human reproduction. Congrats, John and Julie!
IMG_5722_CENSOREDBEST OVERALL SNACK: This snack could have won in several categories, which is why it had to claim the crown: A cheese-and-toothpick replica of the Montreal Biosphère, designed by Buckminster Fuller for the 1967 World’s Fair. Note the use of carrots and parsley for the additional details.

biosphereHowever, since winner Chris ran off to another party before the prizes were announced, the actual crown went to the second-runner-up, DONUT PIE – dreamed up by my 3-year-old and executed my me:

IMG_5719IMG_5744Which makes me, I guess, the Queen of Snacks. Congrats to all the winners!

** A couple of my more know-it-all friends have suggested that Shellac would be a safer alternative to polycrylic, since shellac is resin secreted by the female lac bug, on trees in the forests of India and Thailand, then dissolved in ethanol to create a liquid finish.

* We’re still wondering what happened to the entire pack of Trident gum he ate last year.