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Multigenerational Mom Muses on Twin Toddlers & Twenty-Something Daughters

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Our Fine Dining Room

Just before we left on vacation, I got our dining room close to complete. It sits in the footprint of the former formal living room. But our family – well, we would use a formal living room like we would use tickets to an opera. Never.

It’s not that we are uncouth. (Well, some of us are. And the others, well, we’re a far cry from couth… but three of us are pretty cute.) It’s that we have seven-year-old twin boys. And they would ruin the experience for everyone. They jump on things. They stain things. They treat things like they treat each other — with wild abandon and multiple punches to the junk.

Formal living rooms can’t handle multiple punches to the junk. The junk in there is not as resilient as their junk. And it wouldn’t be as funny. 

So we made it into a formal dining room instead, which we will at least use on special occasions. When we can dress them up and threaten them with junk removal if they do anything too untoward while they’re in there. They enjoy food and they eat fast, so it’s less torturous than it seems.

And the things I put in our dining room, they make me feel sort-of-couth. (Hey, if you can’t be cute, you can try to be couth.) The two sets of china I have – one a gift from my mother and the other a gift from my dearest Aunt Ann — I placed inside a legal bookcase. You know me and bookcases. Well, if you don’t, just know I obsess over them the way our boys obsess over their junk.

Our dining table is big and stained dark with clean, almost-Asian-inspired lines (for Mike), and small, spool-turned details (a nod to my casual Appalachian heritage. “Casual” implying common and far from couth… but hey, a girl can try).

The seat cushions are cream (the way we bought them), but they’re going to have to change. Our boys and their stain-making ways have already left their mark.

Over the table, we hung an oversized chandelier, reminiscent of those giant iron ones with a gazillion candles found in the Tower of London. I had wanted something similar since I first laid eyes on them way back when.

Plus, it pairs nicely with the hand-colored Shakespeare prints gifted me via the AP Psych teacher and a designer friend of hers last year during quarantine. I had them matted and framed and they now flank the entrance to the library, my favorite room in the house.

On the opposite wall from the prints, is the entry hall and the entrance to the dining room, with the legal bookcase on one wall, balanced by an Asian-print screen in ebony, gold and jade on the other. In the background, you can even see my grandmother’s antique sideboard and the Shisa dogs Mike’s parents gave us. We truly are a marriage of Appalachia and Asia.

There is a massive bay window looking out onto Maple Drive on one side of the table and a whitewashed hutch that houses more china and my hand-painted collection of martini glasses. So I guess I do have junk after all. Junk tucked in and masquerading as fancy (wink, wink), topped by a massive mirror, gilded when we got it, now painted matte black.

So there it is. Our dining room. With that Henry VIII chandelier and prints of Shakespeare’s greatest characters, it gives me all the feels.

Feeling couth. Might go to the opera later, idk.

our out-of-this world kitchen

I had big dreams for this big kitchen — a kitchen vast and rare for a house built in the early 70s. And the outcome has far exceeded even my wildest dreams.

It is filled with light and glinting, gleaming surfaces, flooded in alabaster, and seemingly sprinkled with stardust. 

It started out as a big — but clumsy and cluttered — space, with too many walls, floral wallpaper, an awkward island, and narrow cabinetry.

So we took out a wall, stripped the wallpaper, repositioned the fridge, and added brand new custom cabinets and a massive island (since the room had the dimensions to house it).

The cabinets, by Tony Martin’s Allwood Cabinets here in Cartersville, soar floor to ceiling, and are painted to match the SW alabaster walls. For the backsplash, to add to the airy, lofty feel, we put in creamy, oversized subway tiles, pressed vertically and grounded in dark, wide grout to pull the hues of the matte black fixtures and deep, dark island.

Not the original sink choice, but the best one for the job

This fireclay apron sink turned out to be the only SNAFU in our kitchen remodel. We’d originally picked a 33” masterpiece with a gorgeous lip even Angelina Jolie would envy. But that one ended up too big for the allotted space. Turns out, it was a fortuitous measuring mishap because this beauty’s clean crisp lines are a perfect match to the shaker cabinets that flank her. The result is exquisite harmony with absolutely ZERO lip envy to disturb the peace.

Our light fixtures have all sorts of symbolic significance. I secured the sputnik chandelier for above the table before I bought another single purchase. It pays homage to my aerospace-engineer-and-physics- professor father, whom I lost in November.

A little Space oddity in my kitchen proved perfect

Once it arrived, though, I had more than a few misgivings. It’s so midcentury modern. So jutting and angular. So… different from everything else I’m drawn to. What if I couldn’t make it work? What if it threw my kitchen vision off orbit?

Well, I think I managed to coax and cajole everything back into my trajectory by keeping the other fixtures all matte black, with consistently visible Edison bulbs, and even an educator theme. Classic school house pendants hang above the island and sink to lend plenty of brightness for food prep, along with six additional can lights dotting the island perimeters. 

And let me tell you about the island! It’s colossal and sublime, painted SW Urbane Bronze. It houses approximately a gazillion cubbies for storage and is topped with a hazy nebula of granite snagged straight from heaven herself (with a good bit of help from Araceli at RS Solid Surfaces, also in Cartersville).

The floors, which run throughout all the common areas, are weathered nine-inch planks, chockfull of browns, blondes, and grays to pair and pull any and all wood-tones and paint hues into happy consensus. 

These floors just might be my favorite part.

So there she is. Our new kitchen. She’s out of this world. We couldn’t have done it without the help of Jeffrey and Jennifer Vann, of Native Construction.

But she’s not complete yet. There’s still a few projects and backorders to go. Just this week, I painted an old table my mother had gifted me with when I first struck out on my own after my divorce. It was scratched up and scarred, but still had her beautiful lines. I added a bit of chalk paint and wax, and VOILA! She shines with new life. 

New digs for a Grande Dame

Now if only our double ovens would arrive from their backorder – the blank space is currently safekeeping artwork from the shenanigans of seven-year-old boys until they can be hung (the art, not the boys, though I swear on some days…)

Making a Room of my Own: the Library

Tomorrow marks one full week since moving day – a day that arrived with hurricane force. Literally, in a manner of speaking.

Nine Cartersville Purple Hurricane football players helped get us here. They blessed us with their hearts and their strength. My daughter and son-in-law were here to help too. Without them all, we couldn’t have gotten it done. Words can’t express my love and appreciation.

Since then, we’ve unpacked boxes, set up the kitchen, arranged furniture, assembled beds, unpacked more boxes, unrolled rugs, learned to cook with a toaster ovens (backorder backstory), hung artwork, unpacked more boxes… well, you get the picture. And we’re not done yet. 

But one room is finished: the library. It needed to be. For my sanity and soul’s sake.

A room without books is like a body without a soul

Cicero

Thus spoke Cicero… and he and I, we’re in philosophical agreement.

And this room — it has soul. Lots of it. My daughter and I exhumed an entire library of souls, including Darcy, Dalloway, Celie & Shug, and granted them a new resting place. We even shelved a few who sold theirs — Dorian Gray, Young Goodman Brown, Nathan Price, the Vampire Lestat. And there’ll soon be a new girl named Addie LaRue!

I will feed on these souls like the Vampire Lestat. I will stoke the rich, yellow flame that rests in the seat of my own soul with the content of the greatest of creators. Austen, Walker, Kingsolver, Woolf, and so many, many more. Because, as my famous mentor said:

One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.

Virginia Woolf

So just this morning, I carved out a couple of minutes to settle in for a seance with the GOAT herself. No, really — Woolf was nicknamed Goat as a child by her family back before GOAT meant what GOAT means today (Nailed it!), and she famously said:

A woman must have money and a room of one’s own if she is to write fiction.

Well, I now have the room.

A beautiful room where the beauty of the world with its two exquisite edges — laughter and anguish — may ripple and ripen beneath my fingers. A room where my soul sings to me in concert with the souls singing all around me.

Virginia Woolf and I are also in philosophical agreement. A woman must have money and a room of one’s own if she is to write fiction.

Well, I’ve got one covered so far.

Our Raw and Exposed Remodel

Walking into the remodel this week, it feels rather bleak. It’s been cloudy or raining, which doesn’t help any. The progress seems stalled. Everything smells sort organic, like sawdust and drywall mud. There are wires dangling and pipes poking out.

It’s all the underbelly stuff, raw and exposed, and just waiting for life to take root.

It kind of reminds me of another raw, exposed point in our lives when Mike and I were deep in the underbelly of the IVF process and, likewise, waiting for life to take root.

It was also that germinal stage, where the boys had been conceived (under the guidance and care of contracted experts). My uterus had been scraped and prepped and chemically insulated, and I was lying there in the stirrups, plumbing exposed, tubing and wires hanging out, waiting for the transfer. Waiting for the professionals to come swooping in to fill my interior with life. The life we’d planned and prayed for.

And that’s where I feel like we’re at with our house — in that germinal stage where all the ideas have been conceived, the prep work completed, the progress multiplying — although almost invisible to the untrained eye.

But the professionals tell me the progress is substantial.

And tomorrow — tomorrow! — the connective web of visible changes begins. Tomorrow, one after another, the replicating pattern of tile will take hold in the bathrooms, doubling and tripling and breaking ground for a whole host of physical changes developing over the next few weeks.

The basic structures are in place, but in the next week, the kitchen cabinets — like upper and lower chambers of the heart of our home — will be installed. The painting and flooring will happen soon, too, adding pigment and personality to our sweet girl. And then, finally, the fixtures, sprouting like appendages from ceilings and sinks.

We’re about two-to-three weeks out now — so close! (but it all still feels so far!) — until we can finally introduce our girl to the world.

our little patch of paradise is coming right along

School is winding down and our house remodel is picking up.

The demolition is nearly done. Floors are bare, surfaces are stripped, and a couple more walls have come tumbling down. Our vision is gaining new light and our faith is coming to fruition!

We walked in the other day while the kitchen wall was breathing its last. It gave me goosebumps to see it fall, like scales, from my eyes.

The space stretches out before us like a prairie, vast and ample. It’s both exhilarating and daunting to think we’re sowing the seeds of our future here.

But it’s not all fertile soil and wide open spaces.

Because there’s the matter of the cramped little cubby of a bathroom off Mike’s and my bedroom that we’re trying to cultivate into a little patch of paradise.

Picture a craggy cranny of jutting angles and narrow crevices.

By blasting the doorway and wall between the separate vanity room and the sort of larger shower-toilet-second sink room, we opened her up.  

Still, she isn’t quite where we need her to be. So we’ve annexed a former game closet off the Great Room and are twisting it into new life as a water closet. 

We’re sliding the toilet into the newly recessed area that backs up to the great room and coaxing space enough to accommodate something along the lines of a wet room, with a stand-alone soaking tub for me and an open shower for Mike.

Sometimes having a vision takes a whole lot of faith. I THINK I can see it???

So we’re maiming closets for a tub — a tub some folks would find it silly for us to even try carving out space for. I saw a question posed yesterday on social media about whether or not anybody truly needs one in a primary bath anyways.

And I say YES.

Yes I do.

It’s how I unwind.

Every. Single. Night.

People love showers. I get it. (Well, I really don’t.) Still, I don’t care if I’m the sole surviving tub soaker on the planet, I need my natural habitat. And Mike needs me to have it. Like I said, it’s how I unwind. And he really doesn’t need to try to live with me all tied up in my feelings. That would be way too harsh a climate.

So.

That’s where we stand after this past week. Several walls don’t… and paint is coming for those that remain. Our little patch of paradise is coming right along.

Homemade: Now We’re Cooking

Remodeling a home on a strict budget is wicked tricky. Pinching pennies and pleasing our family’s personal tastes is no piece of cake.

To say I’m overwhelmed is an understatement.

Thankfully, we’ve got a couple of builders serving as our master chefs, guiding us through the whole concoction. Cartersville’s own Jennifer and Jeffrey Vann of Native Construction (and their amazing sous chef Tae Henson), are keeping us straight when it comes to ingredients, quantities, and measurements. Without the guidance and support of the Vanns and their crew, this could easily become a recipe for disaster.

Our first order of business was to strip the cupboard bare. Carpets have been pulled up and walls are coming down. By the end of the weekend, the house will have been reduced and rendered and ready to be reconstituted.

Next comes the meat and potatoes of the project: flooring, paint, and tile.

For flooring, we went with LVP – or luxury vinyl planks, for anyone not in the know (I wasn’t either until a month ago). LVP is cheaper and hardier than hardwood (both great qualities for our school-teacher salaries and twin boys’ shenanigans). We selected planks on the lighter side and dredged in warm and cool grains.

The paint for the kitchen walls, cabinets, and great room is Sherwin-Williams’ Alabaster, which is warm as a glass of milk at bedtime. We then found a creamy subway tile for the kitchen backsplash, which we’ll seal in a dark grout for texture and contrast (and to pull that admired-and-anguished-over black matte sputnik fixture into harmony).

So far, easy peasy.

But then came the granite, and I suddenly felt like I was biting off way more than I could chew. The choosing gave me so much indigestion and I really can’t say why.

Maybe it’s because the cleanest stones – the ones that look like massive slabs of vanilla ice cream drizzled lightly with caramel and walnut sprinkles – are well beyond our price range. So many of the others look like the crust of an everything bagel to me — hand tossed in peppery seeds and spices.

And while when it comes to flavor, for me it’s usually the more the merrier — in this instance, I needed coaxed and controlled, subtlety and nuance. And with the help of Araceli at RS Solid Surfaces (our hometown stone supplier), I think we found what we were looking for.

With the texture and depth of a creamy oyster risotto, it’s high caloric content without the high caloric cost. RS Solid Surfaces knew just what we needed to complete our kitchen, and I can’t recommend or thank them enough.

Whew!

Now that most of the major prep work has been completed and the house is cored and ready to be filled with creamy goodness, I’m getting hungry for the finished product… but that’s still a long way off.

Until then, I’ll drink deep from the heady bouquet in our garden, just bursting with big, dense, opulent flavor. I get a buzz just looking at it. My heart is as full as my glass is.

Cheers!

Here Come the Showings!

This morning, as the mist blankets the ground and the rooster off in the distance sings good morning, I realize there are only so many more weekends where I’ll wake and write on this porch to the magic of Dawn stretching blankets of spun-sugar clouds between her fingers 

Our home goes live today on FMLS — the real estate platform. The random disappearance of our family so the showings can occur will begin – two silly twin boys snagging at our sanity as we try to entertain them without breaking the bank for hours on end. 

This house of ours has been such a wonderful home for us. We came to her when the boys were sixteen months, needing space to roam and room to grow. She has provided that, and so much more. 

I pray she shows well. It hasn’t been easy getting her ready for the world to see. A life well lived isn’t easy to clean up. We’re a cluttered and scattered crew. Full-time jobs and taekwondo and dance classes keep our wheels spinning and our home in perpetual disarray. Then, between homework and showers and Harry Potter read-aloud sessions at night, there’s not a lot of tidy-up time. 

Our lives are what some would call – especially the real estate world — a hot mess. The real estate world has no room for Hot Mess. They need cool, sleek surfaces and calm blank spaces. A house with twin boys has no room for sleek surfaces and blank spaces. This is a paradox that must somehow be overcome.

So Mike and I have spent every stolen second for the better part of a month sweeping legos into baggies, LOL dolls into containers, and stuffing books – SO MANY BOOKS – into boxes. 

And today, for one hot second, our blank spaces and sleek surfaces are shining – and I pray she sells quickly. For so many reasons.

But mostly I pray she meets the family that is perfect for her — a perfectly imperfect family — a comfortably cluttered one, full of growing children ready to build beautiful, messy memories in the shelter of her walls. Because she’s really good at doling out blessings to busy, well-lived lives. 

Let us be a shining, hot mess of an example for you.

The Haunting Remodel of Hill House: Try, Cry, Why, Try?

Consider this: I’ve never remodeled a house before. I find it daunting. Terrifying. All-consuming. Every whisper. Every waking hour. I’m choosing my possessions. Trying to keep up with it all. 

feel possessed. Paint colors haunt my newsfeeds. Floor choices haunt my thoughts. So many hazards, so many missteps, so much room for error. 

What if all these favorites come flailing around and now I’ve done… too much? 

What if they look garish together? Hideous. What if they clash like a room full of drunk uncles? Like I was drunk myself when I picked them all out? I’m haunted by the possibilities.

Case in point, I found this modern sputnik light fixture with jutting black appendages and amber Edison bulbs. It spoke to me of my inventor father and his love of physics and Russia. It’s destined to orbit over the kitchen table. Still… how will vintage space race get along with an apron sink and schoolhouse pendants above an island not four feet away? 

Can I smash centuries together without causing chaos — a wrinkle in time that destroys the peace of the entire project? 

I hate chaos. I like calm. I like soothing and lyrical. Creamy neutrals. Warm whites, muted golds, flat black. 

But along with that daring sci-fi find, I’ve also discovered a saturated paint color, dark and brooding. And I do like me some dark. 

I guess I like my house like I like my literature — soothing and lyrical, but with an undercurrent of secrets, of storied histories. 

But southern gothic meets science fiction?!? 

Is that even a thing? Should that even be a thing? Because Lord knows, I don’t want farce, and parody is not the look I’m going for. I want original and authentic, full of harmony, but with an undercurrent of designed tension. 

I really want this whole design process to be like writing — chasing the best possible word to build the best possible story. And it sort of is, honestly. It’s full of fun and promise and a whole lot of hard work. And a whole lot of fear, too… Will it be all that I’ve dreamed of? Will it be a success?

But then, it’s not like writing either. Because in writing, at least, you can keep editing — rework your mistakes until you strike the right chord, find that ringing, tonal clarity with the perfect, eclectic mix of characters. The one in the corner. The one in the spotlight. The brooding introvert, the flashy aunt, the absent-minded professor, the plump grandmother handing out gingersnaps and hugs. And then you add that one character. That mysterious outsider who brings tension and electricity. The one who’s losing her religion.

In writing, you’re the boss. If somebody does something out of character, or outside your plotline – they’ve said too much, or haven’t said enough — you strike. Their action or even their entire person. You’re god. 

Or… you’re not. The errant character with the giant misstep takes control. Because her mistake, you discover, is pure poetry. So you let her run with it. You go backwards. Return to chapter two and change the trajectory of the entire piece. Sometimes not being the boss in your writing is okay too.

But this is real life. And life is bigger. And I don’t have that luxury. I don’t have that kind of money — to erase my purchases to accommodate the slip of the century. I wish I did. 

I feel like a hurt, lost and blinded fool, and I don’t know if I can do this. 

for I know the plans I have for you

Here I sit, another day up and at ‘em inside the dark tunnel of Dawn’s nether-regions. I wanted to sleep in. I really did. But apparently the universe has other plans in mind, so I’m up. And I’m writing. And honestly, writing is where I want to be. What I want to do. And so I follow my calling and I swallow my coffee and I stretch my fingers to the task. 

I’m thinking as I toil away at this memoir and toil away at ideas for our new house (she’s all ours now!) that perhaps I’ll weave the two together. A sort of rebirth of a home and a life. A new chapter, born from the ashes of the old. A phoenix rising.

And I say that, but the past wasn’t a complete, combustible disaster, razed to the ground and smoldering. For either one of us. Both histories have provided rich ground for a remodel. A new life born of the dust of the old, ready to germinate and grow.

Both me and this house, we have good genetics and good bones.

Some bad choices were made along the way, of course. The makeover is long overdo. Both our edges are weathered and worn. We’ve got harried histories and some significant split ends.

But we’ve got pasts that deserve to be preserved. Because the pasts from which we’ve entered the present are storied ones. Compelling ones. 

I’ve heard from so many who know our new house. Their childhoods were spent inside her walls, playing with friends, sharing in sleepovers, babysitting or breaking bread in her generous kitchen. 

She’s always been among friends and family. And so have I. Even in the hardest times, there’ve always been those to rely on, to sustain us. 

And now the remodel is underway and the transformation can begin.

The cabinetmaker has been called. He’s sketching out the plans even now, as I type, singing along as He works,

For I know the plans I have for you

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