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!