September 22, 2011

Sand and Paint

Back in June, with my husband newly returned to me from his half-year long training, I demanded a new dining room set. Our old set was functional and already dented, as Josh loved to point out. But I had bought it primarily because it was incredibly cheap and we needed a table. It had been a co-worker’s grandmother’s set, and that’s exactly what it looked it. My style is not really faux-American Colonial with lots of scroll work. I also hated the trestle table because I bruised myself endlessly getting out of my chair. And I hated the groove that ran around the table top. All it did was trap crumbs. Crumbs have grown by exponential proportions in this household in the past two years or so and anything that stands between me and a clean table is not my friend.

After four years, I sold the whole set. I definitely got my money’s worth out of the table. It went to a lovely family who lives just down the street who were in desperate need of a table. We set out for Ikea.

I admit that originally I had wanted an Amish table. Delaware has a big Amish population. The chairs cost $250 apiece. That’s $1500 for chairs. For a little less than that we got a table, six chairs, and a buffet at Ikea. We are going to be doing a fair amount of moving. I’d hate to spend $5000 to get a dining set that’s going to get dented. Josh did not, however, like it so much when I told him he could get me the Amish set when we stopped moving. But that’s a post for the future.

We put the furniture together no problem. But we really needed another piece to finish out the room. The old set had a full china closet and after we received crystal and china for our wedding, we really needed a place to put it. The buffet is big, but not quite big enough for everything.

While Ikea did have some pieces we could have made work, which were really meant for entertainment centers in the living room, they were all made out of particle board. When you move as often as we do, you do not buy particle board. Otherwise you’ll be buying a lot of furniture. Those cabinets were also $350 and more, for particle board.

I suggested we look at used pieces and the next week I found this beauty at Spence’s Bazaar in town. It was a little old, a little rough, but it had good bones and it was only $160. I embarrassed Josh by dickering and got the guy to reduce the price because of a gouge in the front. Ended up that with delivery it was only $165. I was really quite proud of myself. There I was thinking, “A few days to sand, then we’ll spray paint and in a week or two, we’ll be all done.”

Fast forward to the middle of September. Three months later, we were finally done refinishing that cabinet. The sanding actually had gone fairly quickly. It was a lot of work, especially on the glass doors, which required almost all hand work on the detail around the panes. Then there was my bright idea to replace the crown molding. The piece originally had this massive crown molding around the top, which read very old fashioned. It was removable, and I stripped it and bought a much smaller, more architectural molding.

A small side note: When you are dealing with a corner cabinet, the angles are not 45 degrees, like they would be on a regular cabinet with four sides. Traditional miter boxes only cut 45 or 90 degree angles. A compound miter box, which can cut any angle, is enormously expensive. Somehow, never having cut molding before, Josh and I managed to get it on there and actually have it look good. I still don’t know exactly how we did it. Quite frankly, I don’t care how we did it. I just know that I don’t want to do it again soon.

That brought us to spray paint. “Spray paint will be sooooo fast,” I thought. Wrong! Toxic fumes, rain, and 90 plus degree weather meant that it took forever to get the painting done. Everything needed two coats of primer and two coats of paint to make sure that the deep burgundy red would show up true. The fumes were so horrendous that H couldn’t be outside while it was being painted. That meant it could only be done in the evenings when it cooled down and she was in bed. The label warned that occupational use could cause long term nerve damage and psychosis. Awesome! And you couldn’t paint if it was above 90 degrees. July and August is not a good time of year to avoid 90 plus degree weather.

We preserved. We had slight set back after the hurricane. Our careful stacking in the humid garage for a week ended in the doors having a thin film of cardboard stuck to them, which required a light sanding and another coat of paint.

Finally we brought everything in and got ready to put it all back together. I still have new pulls on back order from Anthropologie, but in the meantime I had kept all the screws and hardware. How hard could it be to just put it back on?

Should I ever be hypnotized into refinishing another cabinet, I will take extensive, detailed, and annotated pictures of the before. I managed to separate the hinges into upper doors and lower doors, so I’m not a complete buffoon. I did not, however, note whether the hinges were put on with the thin part on the door or the cabinet side. Several permutations later, we had the doors on. The right bottom door, however, had developed a disconcerting tilt and would barely close. My dad worked a miracle by switching the top and bottom hinges a few weeks later. Now it works like a charm.

Despite all the extra effort and cost of ever so many cans of spray paint, I am very pleased with the result. We have a one-of-a-kind piece that fits our needs, and we now have plenty of room to store all those other serving dishes I have my eye on.

September 20, 2011


This novel skips between pre-World War I France, World War I France, and the late 1970s in England. Please bear with me as I try to keep it all straight.

Stephen Wraysford is a young Englishman in France learning about how the French manufacture cloth. He falls in love with Isabelle, the wife of the factory owner he is staying with, and they have an affair that culminates in the two of them running off together. Once on their own Isabelle discovers she’s pregnant and, for reasons that are completely inexplicable, leaves Stephen without telling him and without leaving a note.

We jump ahead to the war. Stephen has joined up on the English side and is an officer in the army. A lot of horribly depressing war scenes ensue. He almost dies several times. They participate in a battle that inflicts horrendous causalities on the English side (a real battle as it turns out). Stephen loses all faith in humanity. He returns to Amiens, where he met Isabelle, while on leave and runs into Isabelle’s sister Jeanne. Through Jeanne he discovers that Isabelle is living in Amiens again, and they meet briefly. Isabelle tells him that she has fallen in love with a German officer, but fails to mention the five-year-old daughter they have together.

Stephen lets Isabelle go, but begins to correspond with Jeanne. The war continues. Stephen goes into one of the underground tunnels that were dug under the no man’s land between the trenches. Once down there, the Germans set off two explosions that trap him underground. He and one other man are the only survivors. The other man, named Jack, is a tunneler who is badly wounded. After several days underground they manage to set off a forgotten New Zealand explosive, which blows into the German tunnels. A contingent of German officers goes to check it out and eventually find Stephen. Sadly, the other man dies before they are rescued. By the time they get back to the surface, the war has ended. The Germans let Stephen go and that’s that.

Interspersed with this narrative is that of Elizabeth, Stephen’s granddaughter. She’s a thirty-something, single woman who decides she needs to investigate her roots. She discovers some of Stephen’s old notebooks (written in code) and does some research about the war. During that process she discovers that she is pregnant by her married lover. Her mother reveals that while Stephen was her grandfather, the woman Elizabeth knew as her grandmother was actually Jeanne, Isabelle’s sister. Isabelle went to Germany with her daughter to be with the German officer, but she died in the flu epidemic after the war and her daughter was sent to live with Jeanne. After the war, Stephen and Jeanne married. Elizabeth decides to raise the baby on her own and names it John after the son of Jack, the man Stephen had been trapped underground with.

Other thoughts:
  • Under the title of the book, my copy states that this is “A novel of love and war.” It’s definitely a war novel, but while there are two different love narratives, I would not categorize it as a love story. The affair between Stephen and Isabelle seems somewhat sudden and then falls apart so quickly. Just as you think that they’ll stay together, she leaves. I just found it cruel that she would leave with no note whatsoever and not tell Stephen she was pregnant when he had been nothing but good to her. Elizabeth’s love story with the married guy is just classic, “I know he’ll leave his wife!”
  • I’m really glad that I missed WWI. Really there is no good war to be a part of, but the descriptions of the trench conditions are just so horrible. The smell, the dirt, the lice—all disgusting. Plus the tactics hadn’t caught up to the technology, which resulted in so many unnecessary deaths.
  • I had no idea that tunneling was part of the war strategy. Both sides would dig tunnels out under the no man’s land toward the enemy trenches to try and place explosives and blow up the enemy. It was extremely dangerous because of the possibility of cave-ins and counter explosions.
  • I could have completely done without the Elizabeth narrative. It was so sparse that I didn’t feel there was a real connection with her character. Other than the nice cyclical moment where she names her son for the dead man’s son, there wasn’t a real connection between the two narratives. Learning about her grandfather made her feel fulfilled maybe, but didn’t seem to really impact her life in a substantial way. I’d have preferred to have just the WWI part of the book.

Next up is The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. I’ve seen the movie in the last few months, so I’m looking forward to this one. It’ll probably make me cry.

Only 63 more!

September 6, 2011

First Day of School

I have been telling H for several days that she was going to start school today. Her response, standard for all “Doesn’t that sound fun?” questions, was, “No.”

“Tomorrow we’re going to get up, and you’re going to school. Won’t that be fun?” I ask.

“No,” H tells me.


 As I mentioned, this is a standard response to every assertion I make of this kind, so I didn’t take it to heart. Every time we had visited her school she loved it. For a cuddly, kind of clingy kid, she really has zero problem with babysitters, so I wasn’t too worried about a crying scene when I dropped her off. What worried me were the panties.

I filled her bumble bee back pack with two extra pairs of panties, a complete extra outfit, an emergency set of shorts in case of more than one accident, and an extra pair of shoes. If she was going to be the kid who peed herself, at least Mom would be prepared for it.

Her school is great about potty training. They were totally willing to do cloth diapers, and when we decided to potty train, they were totally ok with panties and cleaning up accidents. Her teacher has a reputation as the potty training queen.

Thankfully it was raining buckets this morning. ‘Cause that makes transporting a toddler so much easier. Our car was parked outside because of our ongoing furniture project (to be blogged about if we ever finish), and the umbrella was inside the car. We arrived damp, but in one piece. True to form, I dropped her off with only a concerned look.

When I came back to pick her up, she was thrilled to see me, but no crying. And there were a couple of criers in the class. What surprised me was that she was in her original outfit. She was dry, and she hadn’t gone yet. The moms joined in for snack time and afterward I took her into the school potty, where she was quite intrigued that the toilet came with a little seat for her. Everything went smoothly, and we left with smiles and waves to her teachers.

The potty aspect of the day was certainly a major concern after the past few days. But what surprised me was that my mom is going to get an “I told you so” out of H’s first day. I’ve left her with babysitters plenty of times. While Josh was gone at the beginning of the year she had a regular babysitter every week. Today was only one hour instead of three to help the kiddos get used to the setting. Despite all that, when I walked out of that room I had such Mommy-pangs. I couldn’t believe that I was leaving her at school. It may be pre-pre-school. She may be spending most of the day playing and coloring, but it’s still school. How could my sweet baby be so big already?

September 5, 2011

Boot Camp

Day 1
It was quite the bittersweet, anxious moment today when I put away all our cloth diapers for “the new baby.” (I’m not announcing anything. That was just our explanation to H.) They are all gone. All the wet bags, the diapers, the wipes, the liners, the diaper pail, and the changing pad. We have big girl panties.

In fact, at this moment, at the end of Day 1 of three-day potty training boot camp, there are many pairs of panties spinning in the dryer. We got a decent portion of pee at least mostly in the potty. This is pretty much what I expected. We have been working on the other for a long, long time, but pee is a new thing. It’s understandable that it might take some time to click.

We’re following the three day, get rid of your diapers, panties only method (kindly sent to me by a friend). I’ve heard several people attest that it does work. I’m waiting another two days until I pass judgment. The level of focus it requires is rather exhausting, but I just keep hoping that it will pay off. I’m going to be really bummed if I have to break those diapers back out.

Day 2
At the close of day 2 I am ready to throw in the towel. We caught one more pee than yesterday, but that’s still only 7 out of 13. She still hasn’t told us one time that she needs to go. I’ve just gotten a little better at spotting the signs.

This is supposed to be a three day system! If we’re two-thirds of the way through, shouldn’t she be picking it up by now? I called the friend who sent me the method and while she was very reassuring, her little one “clicked” basically on day 1. I am still determined, but so nervous. H is a child who does things at her own pace. She cannot be rushed. This doesn’t mean that she doesn’t show every single sign of readiness (except maybe night time dryness). Why is potty training not a logic problem? IF child shows signs of readiness, THEN child will train.

I am so frustrated that I totally understand why someone would just want to throw in the towel at this point. For some reason as parents we expect potty training to magically happen right when we want it to (probably because it’s so messy). What else do you teach your child that takes only a few days? It took her days to learn to fist bump. It took her 15 months to learn to walk. It took her most of a year to build up a vocabulary. Why would she learn to pee in the toilet in mere minutes? It’s crazy for me to expect her to get it so quickly. But I hate cleaning up pee ever so much.

This is how I know it’s time to cut everyone some slack.

Day 3
Things have vastly improved today. By no stretch would I claim that my child is now potty trained. My good friend, Ashley, a partner in potty training boot camp, sent me a great link today to the Mommypotamus blog. She talks about her adventures in the three-day method. Turns out it took close to two months for her daughter to be fully daytime trained. And as of the posting, was still not 100% at night. I have to say, reading this made me feel so much better. Especially when I read the comments and saw other moms writing in and saying that it took them more than three days as well.

This isn’t a race. If it was a race, it would be a marathon, not a sprint. And learning to pee on the pot when you’re awake and learning to let your bladder wake you are two very different skills. It’s a nice thought that you can do it all at once, but I’m not sure it’s going to work for us.

H still hasn’t really said she needed to potty. Once today she did run into the potty to go (without announcing her intentions), and we had some success with her acknowledging that she was going pee in the potty while she was up there. She was happy to pee in the pot, and she let me take her in when my spidey-sense started going off. It was a 9 out of 12 day, a big improvement for sure.

Naptime, however, was an utter disaster. My amazing husband took naptime and let me get some sleep undisturbed. He had to change the sheets twice, and H never actually got any sleep. Who can sleep in wet sheets? Her endless companion, Puppy, got not one but two baths today.

I am willing to give it the rest of the week for naptime and bedtime to see if we can get some improvement. She has woken from naptime dry on more than one occasion in the past, so I know it’s possible. H rarely goes straight to sleep at naptime, however, which gives her ample opportunity to pee before falling asleep. Same at bedtime. It’s a mystery, wrapped in pee soaked sheets.

Worst case scenario we break out diapers for naptime and bedtime. Not the perfect ideal I envisioned, but then, what part of raising a child turns out exactly as you thought? As always, I favor the solution that keeps everyone happy and well rested. Nobody (or almost nobody) goes to college still wetting the bed, so H will certainly figure it out. It’s more my issue of relaxing and letting her do it then it is her ability to learn.

Day 4
I have been reminded once again that I am not the brains of this operation. Those honors go to H. Today we had an even better day. She woke up dry from her nap and had very few accidents.

At 2:40am we were woken up with crying. H woke up because she had started to pee in her bed. At least this time she woke up. Before this she’d sleep right through it. Daddy rushed her to the potty, and she was able to finish in there. A change of sheets and she was dry when she woke up. Of course, we had checked her at 11:30pm and taken her in to try to pee. She was so out of it that she just wanted to get back in bed.

While we were thrilled that she was dry this morning, the idea of waking up in the middle of the night again is not so appealing. At naptime I tried to put a diaper on her and she said, “No.” She wanted to keep her panties on. Of course, she followed that up with a big girl performance of staying dry, so I couldn’t be more pleased.

Tonight at bedtime I asked her if she wanted to wear panties or a diaper. She said, “Panties!” You can’t argue with that. So much for me agonizing over whether we’d try nighttime diapers. H made the decision for us. In truth, we’ll have to see how she does over the next few nights. If we don’t get some improvement, we might have to go to diapers despite her protests. I don’t relish changing sheets every night at 3am.

While the past few days have had their difficult moments, I am glad that we decided to go this route. H may not be telling us she needs to go, but it’s becoming more and more obvious to us when she does need to go, and she’s getting used to the rhythm and routine of going to the potty (most of the time). It will probably be weeks or even a few months before I feel confident saying that she is potty trained, but I feel we’ve given her a good foundation.

PS: As I finished typing this, I heard Daddy rush upstairs and the sweet sound of pee tinkling in the potty. H yelled out for Mommy and was still dry when Daddy came to the rescue! Fingers crossed, people. Fingers crossed.

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