(Most of) the Boxes Are Unpacked Now: At Home One Year Later

A few days ago, Stanton, the girls and I marked the one-year anniversary of moving into our “new” home here in New York. I’ve heard people say it can take up to a year to feel moved in somewhere, whether physically as in a house or emotionally as in a season of life. In my experience, this one-year guidepost rings true.

As I’ve shared before, it took us three tries, over the course of six months, to figure out the best setup for the living room furniture. It took almost this whole past year to unpack all our boxes. Most of them are unpacked now, friends. Although a couple of them will remain in the basement, purposefully, for years to come…possibly forever. (Yes, I’m talking about the ones that contain Stanton’s college fraternity and general life-before-wife memorabilia. 😉 )

I felt an odd mix of comfort and accomplishment when I lugged my favorite cookbooks up the basement stairs, from a box, and nestled them into a bookshelf in the kitchen. (You might notice that Anna also likes to store one of her sticker books on this bookshelf, under “Jack’s Wife Freda.” This is life with kids.)

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It takes time to get a feel for a space (and a place)—to move in and settle in—to feel at home.

Something Stanton and I thought about, when we closed on this house, was converting the three-season back porch into an actual part of the house—hiring some help to put in installation, do whatever was needed to turn the porch into a den.

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We still might do this down the road. As the girls get older, they might appreciate having their own hangout, with a comfy couch and TV to spend time with friends. For the moment, though, we love this back porch as it is, especially now that it’s spring again—a pleasant space for after-school snacks and not-in-a-hurry weekend cups of coffee.

I’m thankful we followed the advice of our smart and kind Realtor, which was to move in and live in our house first, see how everything worked for us, and then commit to which projects might make the most sense. We wouldn’t have been able to experience the back porch as we have, if we changed it up right away.

We did take care of two projects within months of moving in. 1) We love the original fireplace in the living room, and on the recommendation of our home inspector, we had a masonry and chimney company rebuild parts of it so that it meets current safety standards. This was an important, non-cosmetic priority.

We wouldn’t have been able to experience the back porch as we have, if we changed it up right away.

2) Sadly, we needed to hire a company to remove the beautiful 100+-year-old Northern maple tree in the front yard.

A couple of months after moving in, we noticed that a woodpecker—the same woodpecker, every few days, it seemed—liked to get comfortable in this tree and peck at the wood. The girls loved looking for him, and watching him when he came. But we soon learned that when a woodpecker likes a tree, it’s a sign the tree is diseased. In our case, the bark had gotten sick and soft, and the tree was in danger of falling.

A bittersweet goodbye, for sure.

I spend a lot of time in the kitchen (trying to do a hundred things simultaneously—you too, right?!). Another future project might be to replace the current countertops with natural stone. Right now, though, what we have functions well.

I created a mini workspace for myself at the end of this counter, with a lamp, stool, and spot for my writing books and laptop. This is also where I look through the girls’ school folders at the end of each weekday, and try to hide and drink my coffee every morning. (For better or worse, my family usually finds me. ;) )

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After figuring out furniture arrangements and tackling essentials, it’s fun to decorate. I am not an interior designer, not by a long shot. But I do love great finds, especially when they’re cool and when they’re local.

One of my favorite finds has been this painting of a scene in Paris, which I came across at our church’s annual yard sale. I paid a small donation for it, and now enjoy it every day when I see it in the little hallway outside the guest bedroom.

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We love when family and friends visit us. Some of our visitors thus far (I won’t give them away 😉 ) have dared to sleep past the girls’ 6:30 a.m. wake-up. On these mornings, Grace and Anna have slipped notes under the guest room door with a simple, pointed message: “When will you wake up??? We want to play!”

The girls spend most of their time in the breakfast nook/sunroom, and I think I finally found the right piece to complete this space: this “cottage window” mirror from Pier 1. What I love most about this piece is how it reflects the sunset from the facing window at the end of each day, bringing the outside in (to quote many an HGTV interior designer I’ve heard over the years!).

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Something that took a much longer time than I ever thought it would was picking out window valances for the bedrooms. Possibly at some point we’ll get plantation shutters, my personal favorite window treatment, for the windows. We’re currently committed to valances, however (all the rods were installed when we moved in—we took the easy way out and just rolled with them). For example, Grace’s room…

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In another year or so, we need to repaint the living room/dining room—the current paint shows wear. We’ve decided to wait until Anna’s old enough to stop adorning the walls with her after-dinner handprints. 🙂

One last bit of home improvement, now that the boxes are mostly unpacked… This past weekend, Stanton and the girls planted flower and vegetable seeds in the back yard. We are all eagerly awaiting the first blooms and buds.

In true 3-year-old fashion, Anna asked, the very next day, “Why didn’t anything grow yet?”

It takes time, we told her. But just wait.

This is something I’ve learned, again and again, in my life, maybe beginning from the time I was little like my daughter. And it’s a worthwhile lesson, a good reminder for anyone in a not-quite-there-yet season of life: It takes time. But just wait.

Things will grow, will bloom, will fall into place.

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short fiction e-book, “What Happens Next.” A story that’s heartfelt, relevant and can’t-put-it-down good.

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3 Tries to Get the Furniture Right

I almost didn’t write this post. Would anyone (besides my sister) care about the evolution of the furniture arrangement in my family room?

Then I remembered my surprise at how many people read and shared a previous post, “My Life Is Not a Pottery Barn Catalog,” in which I divulged pictures of my messy house back in Texas. Lesson learned: We like to peek inside people’s lives.

We especially like to peek inside their junk drawers. (I’ll show you ours next time.) 😉

So, friends, here’s another peek, in case you might still be interested.

Stanton, the girls and I moved into our “new” home in April, about seven months ago. Our Cape Cod-style house was built in the 1930s, and we love its old-school craftsmanship. We especially love the walkable neighborhood that surrounds it. Like many older homes, though, ours has smaller, contained spaces. A challenge has been making some of these spaces work, particularly the family room.

Our favorite feature of the family room is the fireplace. When we first moved in, we put the couch adjacent to the fireplace. We thought this arrangement would allow us to enjoy the coziness of the fireplace, while separating the family room from the dining space in the back.

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The problem with this plan was that it limited seating. We had a settee under the bay window across from the couch, but nobody sat there much. Mostly, the girls used the settee as an operating table for their toys when they played “Hospital.” (This is real life with kids, right?)

Several months later, we moved the couch so that it faced the fireplace, with space behind the couch as a separate entrance/walkway. I scrolled through the thousands of photos on my phone, and the best depiction of this layout that I could come up with is this one:

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Yes, this picture also reveals Stanton partaking in a Sunday Night Football game while Grace watches with shared interest, and Anna (not interested) peruses an issue of High Five. Before I snapped this memory, I was hiding in the kitchen, eating my dinner in peace. Yes, friends, we know: We won’t be winning any parenting awards anytime soon. 🙂

This second furniture arrangement worked well, for a while. Then on Sunday, we put up our Christmas tree, near the fireplace. And suddenly, we had limited seating again (the tree replaced a chair we had nestled there).

On Wednesday evening, I told the girls I was going to try one last interior design idea for the family room. I began moving the couch. Anna started crying.

“I love the couch!” she yelled. “Put it back!”

“I’m just putting it over here,” I tried to explain. As Anna watched with suspicion, I rearranged the coffee table and two end tables too.

Grace crossed her arms at my vision. “This doesn’t feel like home,” she announced.

Anna crossed her arms too. Her assessment: “I don’t like it, Mom.”

Lord. Help. Me.

“Girls, come on now.”

Grace tried to reason with me. “Mom, what happens when Dad comes home? He’s not going to have any idea what’s going on.”

I had to smile, friends. Because it wouldn’t be the first time…

“Dad be lost,” Anna worried.

I gestured around the family room. “Girls, I think this is good. I think this is it. Why don’t we give it a try?”

My daughters looked at each other. Sighed. “OK, we’ll try,” Grace said.

Here’s the family room, currently. (Like all aspiring lifestyle bloggers, I swept up the Cocoa Krispies crumbs and shoved the girls’ toys out of sight before grabbing my camera!)

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In this case, I feel as though the third time was the charm. After the holidays, I’d like to get an arm chair to go where the Christmas tree is. It would be a cozy spot, I think, for one of us to read (or watch Sunday Night Football), and for guests to get comfortable at the end of the day. And one day, I’d like to get a big piece of local artwork to hang above the couch. For the moment, though, everything feels good.

Your thoughts, friends?

Through the years, in the various homes I’ve lived in, I’ve found it takes a little time to find “the right spot” for everything. Everything doesn’t fall into place at once.

It can be hard to be patient. And it can be discouraging to fumble through imperfect furniture arrangements, specifically, and wrong turns, generally. Missteps, and mistakes.

But eventually, you find your way. You see the light at the end of the tunnel—you get there. You arrive. You figure it out, and you feel peace.

I love this quote from the writer Neil Gaiman, and it’s fitting for this time of the year: “I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re doing something.”

Do something—an energizing New Year’s resolution, perhaps.

Thanks so much for checking in with me today, friends. Have a great day.

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short fiction e-book, “What Happens Next.” A story that’s heartfelt, relevant and can’t-put-it-down good.

At Home in New York: One Year Later

Stanton, the girls and I have called New York home for about a year now. I feel as though I spent the beginning of our time here—summer through spring—in a slightly frazzled state. Moving, getting to know another city, enrolling the girls in school and activities, trying to write as much as possible, finding our house—there were a lot of, um, moving parts. 🙂

But summer is upon us once again, and things feel as though they’re in a good place. We love the sweet town we’re in. We especially appreciate its walkability. It’s so nice to simply go outside and enjoy the nearby nature trail, or walk (Stanton and me), bike (Grace) and stroller over (Anna) to local shops and restaurants. One morning recently, the girls and I had such a good time just walking over to this local park, and hanging out.

Of course, that was right after we stopped by Dunkin’ Donuts for coffee (me) and donuts (all of us)… #healthylivingfail

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The girls have been asking Stanton and me for a pet—specifically, a puppy. Their pleas haven’t yet persuaded us, but our next-door neighbors offered up a great middle-ground solution: babysitting their puppy from time to time. We’ll see how that goes, friends.

We closed on our house a couple of months ago. My friendly yoga instructor recommended her friend, a wonderful Realtor, to us—it is a small world. We’re so thankful to have found our home.

Here are a few pictures.

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We love our front porch. My mom and dad kindly passed along their not-needed-anymore wrought-iron furniture to us, and it’s allowed us to really enjoy this outdoor living space. Many a morning, I find myself reading “Madeline” or “The Very Busy Spider” to the girls.

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We still need to find (and/or unpack from the many boxes still in the basement) some additional art and décor for the family room. So far, though, we very much appreciate its cozy vibe. Speaking of passed-along furniture, the dining-space set once belonged to Stanton’s grandparents. We are grateful to be stewards of this beautiful family legacy, which traveled amazingly well from Texas to New York.

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Possibly our favorite part of our home is the sunroom/breakfast nook, nestled behind the kitchen. When family and friends visit, everyone instinctively gathers here. I happened upon the table and benches in a local furniture store, and they’ve become the perfect spot for the girls to eat, color and ask me over and over if we can please get a puppy today.

Lately, the girls have been having so much fun in the backyard. Yesterday after a Fancy Nancy-themed tea party, Anna worked on her T-ball swing. Toddlers: The busiest among us.

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While Stanton was traveling for work soon after we moved in, I enlisted my dad to help with some around-the-house projects. Ever the comedian, he called, “Hey, Melis, look at this!” as he pretended to struggle with hanging curtains. Thanks again, Dad. 🙂

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One of the things I most appreciate about this part of the country, the Capital Region of New York, is the beautiful nature all around us. On our little street alone, there are towering trees; evergreens abound and provide lush color all year. I’ve said to family and friends that being here is a literal breath of fresh air.

We’re lucky that so many loved ones have already come to visit with us. One of my favorite moments from our first year here was this September day, when Stanton’s mom and dad came to be with us. We loved apple picking at Indian Ladder Farms, catching up and simply taking in the splendor of the Helderberg Escarpment.

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The first time I laid eyes on this breathtaking slope—driving upon it from the Hudson Valley—I told Grace, “This is amazing.” Amazing, Grace.

Stanton and I do a fairly good job, I think, of keeping in touch with our families and hometown pals. We do owe our good college friends, though, some quality time. Folks in Virginia—we’re hoping to be your way later this year, or early next. ❤

The longer I’ve lived in the Albany area, the more I’ve learned how easy it is to get to other cool parts of New England and the Northeast from here. For example, Boston, Montreal and New York City are all about a three-hour drive away.

My favorite weekend getaway thus far has been to Manchester, Vermont. I’m not sure if you’ve ever been, friends, but this place is gorgeous. Stanton and I spent some time there for our nine-year anniversary and loved the glorious green mountains, quaint Northshire Bookstore and delicious local restaurants we tried (Thai Basil, Cilantro Taco and The Reluctant Panther).

We can’t wait to go back with the girls.

During this season in our life, it can be difficult to organize formal play dates. What have been so encouraging, though, are all the kind friends we’ve come to know through informal fellowship at our church, Grace’s preschool and the Y. We still miss our church, school and community friends from San Antonio, but love keeping in touch with these special people through Facebook, phone calls and texts.

In the winter, Grace took ice skating lessons at our Y. Then one weekend, she taught me how to ice skate at Empire State Plaza downtown. My 5-year-old daughter was so caring toward me, and patient—it was, friends, one of the best moments of my life.

After living in the South for 11 years, I wasn’t sure I’d enjoy winter again. But it was fun, overall. Rediscovering all four seasons with the girls has been fun.

Many years ago in Virginia, one of the first things Stanton and I bonded over was our love of country music. Sometimes when we’re driving, we hear Tim McGraw’s contemporary classic “Humble and Kind” on the radio. I feel the song’s closing lyrics: “Don’t take for granted the love this life gives you…always stay humble and kind.”

We don’t know what the future holds. In this moment, though, things feel good. I’m very grateful.

I hope to pay that positive energy forward as we continue to get to know our community and surroundings.

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short fiction e-book, “This Is Just a Story.” Fun, timely and thought-provoking.

My Life Is Not a Pottery Barn Catalog

Every evening after dinner, Stanton usually takes a walk with the girls to our neighborhood mailboxes, just down the street and around the corner. It takes the three of them about fifteen minutes to walk back and forth—check the mail, chat with some neighbors, “find the moon” (Grace loves pointing it out to Anna).

These fifteen minutes give me enough time to run the vacuum cleaner through the kitchen and adjoining family room, the part of our house that is concentrated with crumbs, dirt and random disposable clutter by 7 p.m. I often try to sort a load of laundry into the washing machine too. And I always take a minute to enjoy a square of my favorite dark chocolate bar—guilty pleasures, guilty pleasures.

A few evenings ago, Stanton and the girls returned from their routine walk. “We got the mail, Mom!” Grace announced, depositing it on the freshly vacuumed family room floor. Anna squealed and ran through the pile, ripping some junk-mail flyers and leaving a trail of shredded paper in her wake.

“Thank you, guys,” I said. Then I noticed one of the pieces of mail on the floor: the newest Pottery Barn catalog.

Ah, the Pottery Barn catalog.

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Like many suburban moms, I enjoy flipping through the Pottery Barn catalog. Every page, every artfully staged person-less scene offers an escape into a serene space (free of crumbs, dirt and clutter). Simultaneously, all of these picture-perfect settings remind me that I’m far from achieving the aspirational Pottery Barn life.

The Pottery Barn brand is classic, gracious and organized—very organized. If you live a Pottery Barn life, for example, then you come home to this fashionable yet functional storage system:

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This scene looks so bright and inviting, I’d love to jump right into it. Unfortunately, the mud room entrance to my house looks more like this, especially after the girls and I get back from the pool. Yes, not quite as Instagram-worthy:

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Please don’t judge me too harshly, friends. 🙂

After an afternoon of swimming, what better way to chill than to hang out in the family room, right? Who wouldn’t want to kick back in this Pottery Barn family room—clean, cozy and wonderfully coordinated:

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Now let me introduce you to a typical afternoon around here:

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Cue “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.”

Finally, a tale of two dining rooms. First, the Pottery Barn prototype:

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Versus…hello, home sweet home:

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For the moment, my beautiful dining room table serves as a landing spot for several loads of laundry. Hopefully these clothes (and other odds and ends) will get put away by the weekend. And hopefully we’ll break out our own candlesticks and wine glasses for a well-appointed family dinner sometime soon.

When you fill the scenes of your life with people, you also open the door to everything that those relationships bring about: beach towels on summer days, picture frames and greeting cards in the family room, and life happening everywhere.

My life is not a Pottery Barn catalog. I am so grateful for the people who make that possible. What about you?

Photo credits: Pottery Barn

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short fiction e-book, “This Is Just a Story.” Fun, timely and thought-provoking.

Decluttering: Good for the Soul

Do you ever open your closest door…or peek into the kitchen “junk drawer” (every kitchen has one, right?)…or try to park your car in the garage, only to discover it doesn’t comfortably fit because of all the bikes and strollers and golf clubs and inflatable pool toys—do you ever do these things and feel burdened by the stuff of your life?

I do.

And I don’t even have that much stuff, relatively. But like a lot of Americans, I have more than enough. My family and I have plenty.

This time of the year, the Thanksgiving season, makes me especially conscious of our many material comforts. It prompts me to pass along the things we don’t use anymore, or all that much, to those who have an immediate need for them. It also encourages me to declutter before the end of the year, so that I can start the New Year feeling refreshed.

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Decluttering. Psychologists have written about how it reduces stress. Health benefits abound, both mental and physical. Decluttering does a soul good.

Do you feel like decluttering a bit? Here are some tips to get you started, friends.

1. Start small. Focus. Planning to declutter your entire home in a Saturday afternoon can cause even more stress than your overflowing garage does.

But giving yourself 20 minutes to sort through your pantry and toss out everything that’s expired—that’s a focused, doable goal. You’ll feel successful when you accomplish it. Not to mention energized to tackle the next focused project.

2. Organize. Put everything in its “home”—for example, jackets hanging in closets instead of on the backs of the dining room chairs (ahem, my house!) and random puzzle pieces collected together rather than scattered across the coffee table (my house, too). You can find organizing solutions everywhere from Pier 1 (baskets, bookcases, trunks) to The Container Store.

3. Donate or discard anything you haven’t worn or used or played with in the past year or so. (This also presents the perfect opportunity to gift the nearest Goodwill donation station with the clothes you’d rather not see your husband wear anymore! 🙂 )

One possible exception: Baby clothes or gear for future family members. But even then, you probably don’t need to hang on to everything. For example, clothes can fade and lose their shape after an extended time in storage. Consider sharing some of your surplus with someone who may have an immediate need for it.

4. Make physical memories digital. I have a cardboard box that’s stuffed with magazines I’ve written for, dating back to about 2005. My goal for the upcoming New Year is to scan each article that features my byline, create a PDF portfolio of all the articles, and then recycle the 10 years’ worth of paper I’ve been holding on to.

You can do something similar with old newspaper clippings, sentimental photos, and your kids’ preschool arts and crafts. Check out this blog post, “Digitizing Your Kid’s Art.”

5. Be mindful when you bring new things into your decluttered space. ‘Tis the season for catalogs galore, all touting don’t-pass-them-up holiday sales. More often than not, I toss these in the recycling bin before they can make it into our newly organized home.

One more resource: Scroll through this “Amazingly Awesome Pre-Holidays Declutter Guide.” Happy decluttering, friends! And happy holidays, too.

Photo credit: Gratisography

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s e-books, available on Amazon.com. Writing at its most heartfelt.