laurapants: Craft, Cooking, Creativity

Downstairs Office Makeover

I was ambitious when we first moved in, and started our first re-decorating project within two weeks.

Here is what this room looked like on the day we moved in:

A bed with bare mattress and bed skirt in a purple wall papered room.

On the wall to the right of the camera lens, picture a large, built-in oak desk and some old off-white pleated curtains with a pleated valance. Please note that the stripes on that wallpaper aren’t just stripes. They are floral stripes. Take in that sickly green carpet that must be at least 30 years old. The other rooms had their problems, but this one had incurred my special displeasure, and I couldn’t wait to strip the 80s away and make it new.

There is a crazy amount of wallpaper in this house, so I investigated methods for removal to try to identify the best one. But I found very little agreement in the world of DIY about how to remove wallpaper. Some people swore by steamers, others used liquid fabric softener. Some lucky schmucks were apparently able to just pull the wall paper off with little more than hot water and a rag. I decided to go hard-core chemical. I bought a giant bottle of DIF wallpaper remover, some rubber gloves, and some tools that proved indispensable.

We tried a few different scraper tools, and determined that this Zinsser scraper was the best option.

Long-handled zinsser wallpaper scraper with angled flat head

The blades can be replaced (and they will need to be replaced at least once if you have a lot of well-glued wallpaper going on. This tool was decidedly NOT the best option, and I would not recommend it.

Orange curved wallpaper scraper from wp chomp

The angle of the blade was all wrong, and because of the design of the handle, you can’t try to get it against the wall at a different angle. The handle was easier to hold, but alas, that made it almost useless.

We went through a few of these scoring tools, and I would highly recommend using these.

Round, red plastic wallpaper scoring tool with serrated wheels

The little serrated wheels score the wallpaper so whatever you’re using to loosen the glue can penetrate through the paper.

This took a lot longer than I anticipated.

A room with green carpet and maroon papered walls; part of the wallpaper is stripped and the floor is littered with scraps. There are tools scattered around and a garbage bag full of wallpaper.

See all those teeny, tiny scraps of wallpaper on the floor? That is how most of it came off the walls. I’m whimpering as I write this just thinking about how frustrating that was. And it stuck to EVERYTHING. Especially the bottom of my feet, so we ended up finding sticky scraps of wallpaper all over the house. I would recommend removing any wallpaper before you replace flooring. It’s a good thing I didn’t care one whit about that carpet.

My mom came up (with my two adorable nieces) for the last week of March to help finish this project. My mom is a tireless worker. She did SO MUCH when she was here, and nothing ever seems too daunting for her. I, on the other hand, am lazy, and get discouraged kind of easily, so by the time she got here, my motivation for this project was flagging. I don’t know if it would have gotten done without her so Mom, if you’re reading this, THANK YOU!

We had to remove that built-in desk to get to the wallpaper behind it, and that was its own challenge. It was bolted to the wall and we couldn’t quite figure out how to get it out without damaging it. We knew that it had been built by the former owner’s son, and we just happened to have his phone number. Lucky for us, he gave us a very detailed explanation of its assembly and we were able to pull it away from the wall, and even better, put it back together when we were done.

We also removed that atrocious green carpet, which was easier than I expected. I just started at a corner with a pry bar, and (while wearing gloves), pulled it up, cutting it into strips with a box knife as I went.

Rolls of green carpet and a small pile of dirty, white carpet pad piled up outside on a concrete pad, surrounded by other debris.

It’s still satisfying to look at this picture of discarded carpet. Ahhh.

What we discovered underneath wasn’t as satisfying. I believed, perhaps foolishly, that there would be hardwood flooring under that carpet. The owner said there was! But there wasn’t. Instead, we found some weird brown tile that was etched with the markings of the carpet pad that had lain on it for so many decades.

Closeup of dark brown tile marked with a faint chevron-like pattern.

We were a little baffled by this tile. What was it? It seemed almost like cork in appearance, but was way too hard to be cork. It wasn’t ceramic, and it didn’t look like vinyl or linoleum. We aren’t 100% sure, but we slowly came to realize that it could very well be asbestos tile.

Gasp! Cue screams of terror. We both knew there was a decent chance: the house was built in 1961 and we found contradictory information about when the use of asbestos tile really ended. We were never able to definitively determine what the flooring was made of, but we did see that it wasn’t broken anywhere, which seemed to be the real source of any danger with asbestos. We read pretty extensively and learned that as long as the tile was in good condition, and was going to be completely covered with another kind of flooring, it would in fact be better to leave it in place than have it removed.

So the maybe-asbestos tile stayed.

After what felt like years of wallpaper and carpet removal work, spackle-ing, and dry wall repair, we were ready to paint. We tested a few different whites, and decided on Behr’s Spun Cotton, a kind of warm white. Describing white paint is hard. Here.

A nearly empty room with painters tape marking the ceiling, light plates and wall fixtures removed, painted white.

We decided against painting the ceiling, mainly because it seemed like a huge PITA and the ceiling was already white. There are a few spots where I accidentally painted the ceiling, and you can see that there is a big contrast between the two whites, but it’s not that noticeable except in that spot. White paint is so weird.

I did learn something about painting trim and doors: It sucks. Because the paint on trim and doors is usually a higher gloss paint, you can’t just paint over it with another high gloss paint. It will peel off. We learned that the hard way. You instead have to sand it, and you have to sand it by hand because a power sander will apparently melt the paint. Wah wah. We actually still have to re-finish the trim in this room, which is peeling and chipped. I haven’t gotten to that yet because it sounds like torture.

But after a month of wallpaper removal, carpet removal, and painting, here is the halfway finished project:

Mostly empty room with a wooden shelf on the wall, wicker and wood chair, sisal rug, and basket with a yoga mat in it.

It stayed like this for a few months until we could get to our next big project: installing new flooring. I’ll talk about that adventure next time…



Posted on February 5, 2018 by Leave a comment

How we ended up with an organ

Our house came with a lot of extras. When we were getting ready to close on the house, we did a walk through with the owner so we (he) could decide what he was going to leave behind when he moved out. We knew that it would be difficult for him to leave the home where he raised his family, difficult to get rid of 50+ years of stuff, both physically and emotionally, so Sean and I decided to just accept what he wanted to leave behind and deal with it later. While we did supposedly agree to what was going to be there and what was going to be gone, we found a lot more than we expected when we moved in.

Here is just a small sampling of what we found.

A bed with bare mattress and bed skirt in a purple wall papered room.

I have no idea how old this mattress is, other than too old. Please don’t overlook the green shag carpeting. The wallpaper is clearly impossible to overlook.

A wood paneled room with a blue couch, a quilted wall hanging, and some moving boxes and trash bags.

Sorry this one is blurry. The cross-stitched panels at the top of the built-in wall unit were hand sewn speaker covers. Notice the hanging dried flower arrangement: there were two of those. That blue couch was also not ours. Except I guess it was once we bought the house.

A shelf of books including a full set of The Ocean World of Jacques Cousteau and Popular Mechanics Encyclopedia

No home could be complete without a full set of The Ocean World of Jacques Cousteau. This is tiny, tiny sampling of the books that were left behind. As though I didn’t already have enough of my own.

A two-foot tall Little Bo Peep doll with sheep on a demi-lune table, under a mirror.

I don’t even know what to say about this one.

A pink wicker hamper with a masking tape label that says "Dad thought you might want this."

Dad was apparently right that we wanted it: Sean was stoked to find it, and yes, it is still in the upstairs bathroom.

And the pièce de résistance (or the coup de grâce, however you want to see it):

A living room with chairs, end tables, books, and a 1970s-era organ.

That organ was not supposed to be there. I really did not want to buy an organ. I was not happy about the organ.

Much to my surprise, Sean was very excited about the organ.

We still have the organ.

There was much more than this left behind. I don’t even think we’ve finished discovering all the things that were left behind. I haven’t even talked about the wood shop, fully equipped with a table saw, radial saw, band saw, joiner-planer, mitre saw, giant stash of scrap wood, old screws and nails, clamps, a big vacuum system, and about 70 different hands saws. The attic space above the wood shop that, we discovered, contained boxes and boxes of records from the former owner’s dental practice (and mountains of 20-year-old pigeon poop, which is a whole other story). The crawl space upstairs full of old issues of RV Living magazine. The end tables, small cupboards and cabinets, mirrors and wall hangings. The 40+ potted amaryllis in the sunroom.

So. Much. Stuff.

We’ve made progress getting rid of some of it. Sean has made countless trips to the dump. We sometimes argue over the value and aesthetic quality of the remaining pieces. That organ will probably be with me for the rest of my life at this point.

I can’t imagine what it feels like to dismantle a life you’ve spent over 50 years building. I can’t imagine looking at all of the things you have accumulated over your lifetime and trying to decide whether you still need them, or what to do with what you don’t. I can’t imagine standing in front of that house before you drive away for the last time, saying goodbye to the memories, to the home you spent nearly your entire adult lifetime in. I think accepting these left-behind objects was the least we could do if it eased that experience even a little bit.

And I wonder if any of these things will still be in this house when it’s time for us to leave it behind, ourselves.

Posted on January 29, 2018 by Leave a comment

Our first visit to the house

When we decided to buy a house in December, 2015, we didn’t have any hard and fast ideas about what part of Sonoma County we wanted to live in. But there was one neighborhood I had a soft spot for in Santa Rosa. We’d been coming to this neighborhood to pick up our farm box for awhile, and I was drawn to the winding streets, the trees, and the older-but-not-too-old houses. It wasn’t a tract neighborhood where all of the houses looked alike, and it seemed peaceful and friendly. It seemed like a good place to have a family, with good schools and parks, and the commute to work for me was easy and very lovely, through vineyards and over hills with spectacular views. It was close to the parks where Sean does trail work and hikes, and there was a Whole Foods and a few good shopping centers nearby. It was more suburban than I ever imagined a place where I would live would be, but I’d more or less accepted my suburban lifestyle once we moved to Sonoma County.

There was a house in the neighborhood that had been on the market for awhile. It was at the very top of our price range, and the pictures on Zillow showed a very dated interior, but we decided to check it out; it was actually the first house we looked at. Here is what we saw.

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I’ve always had a good imagination, and I could see the potential of this house right away. Yes, it was cluttered with stuff, and the carpets were surprising, and the wood paneling was extensive, and there would be a lot of work to do. But I could see what it could be.

We looked at a few other houses, but none of them seemed right. So finally, we came back to this one. On our second visit, the owner was there. He was an older gentleman who reminded me of my late grandfather, and he showed us even more of the house we hadn’t seen the first time around, like the giant wood shop and pantry, the paths down to the creek and the retaining wall he’d built with his sons, the way the upstairs bathroom could be turned into a dark room, and every detail of the home that he’d lovingly built with his family over the 51 years they had lived in the home.

After our second visit, we were in. We wanted this house. So we made an offer, and it was accepted, and all of the thrilling details of financing were negotiated and my parents came to visit and looked at us like we were crazy for buying this house, and finally, it was ours.

Then the real adventure started.

Posted on January 28, 2018 by Leave a comment

The House

I mentioned that we bought a house.

White house with steep shake roof and wide green lawn

We bought this monstrosity beauty two years ago this month. It all happened kind of quickly: In December, 2016, Sean determined that it was very likely interest rates were going to go up and that we should buy a house before that happened. We started looking, and ended up making an offer on the first house we saw. In late January, we signed our lives away, and by the end of February we were moving in.

It did turn out to be smart timing because, while we did spend probably more than we should have, housing prices have since skyrocketed in Sonoma County. Coastal California is a rough place for real estate. Everything is staggeringly overpriced, and after the fires we experienced here this past October, it has gotten even worse.

You may not be able to tell from the front, but this house is really big. It has four bedrooms, an office, a living room AND family room, a sunroom, and an enormous workshop. It’s on a third of an acre backing up to a creek, and there is a lot of stuff growing on that land. Like, A LOT of stuff.

Birds-eye view of an overgrown backyard with large raised beds and lots of trees

The family who owned the house previously lived here for 51 years. And hadn’t done any re-decorating for the last 30. The house is in good shape, but it needs attention in a few key areas: We need a new roof, and probably a new furnace in the next few years. Not to mention removal of the excessive wall paper, wood paneling, shag carpeting, 80s-era brown kitchen tile and appliances, silly putty-colored paint, horrendous curtains, terrible chandeliers, and, oh, did I mention wall paper. Oh, and we need to put some serious energy into maintaining and re-doing the landscaping in both the front and backyards.

We definitely bought off more than we could chew. To be honest, this house has kind of been dragging me down lately. It feels like we never have the time or money to make the improvements that we need and want to make, we argue about what those improvements should be, and we’re a little bit muddling through the basic house maintenance stuff that neither of us has much experience with, like cleaning gutters and replacing air filters and cleaning chimneys and and and and and.

Part of my reason for jump starting this little blog is to rediscover my motivation to work on the house. When we first moved in we made some good progress right away, and then fell into the doldrums and haven’t done much else since, other than attempt to keep entropy at bay.

I don’t want to overwhelm y’all and try to cover our whole house story between then and now, so I’m going to break this up a bit. But if you want to see the transformation (oh god, I hope) of a 1960s ranch with a 1980s interior into the cool, modern house of our dreams, stay tuned.

Posted on January 27, 2018 by Leave a comment

Hello, World

Whoa. Hi. It’s been awhile. Three and a half years awhile. I missed you.
So much has happened since we last talked! I looked back at some of those last posts, written in mid-2014. That feels like a million years ago. Sean and I had just gotten married. We had just moved to Sonoma County. I was still in the honeymoon phase of my new job at Sonoma State University.
Now, here it is, the beginning of 2018. We are still married. We still live in Sonoma County. In fact, we bought a house! Part of my drive to rev this little blog back up again is, in fact, to document our adventures with said house.
I’m still working at Sonoma State, but WOW have things changed there. I won’t talk too much about my job here, because I do that somewhere else, but I do feel a little bit of cognitive dissonance thinking about what it was like in the library in mid-2014.
I stopped writing so much because I never felt like I had the time. Life has felt so busy, sometimes exhausting, and I stopped prioritizing writing. And I have not felt good about it. I finally realized in the last few months that not writing isn’t good for me. I don’t know if anyone ever reads what’s here, and I also realized that that doesn’t really matter. I need to write.
So yes, January is resolution time, and resolutions are notorious for being broken. But I’m resolving nonetheless. I want writing to be part of my life again. So, I’m back. And I hope you’ll be seeing a lot more of me in the future.

Posted on January 21, 2018 by Leave a comment

Will the Clarisonic be my skin care miracle?

Ever since we moved to Sonoma County in March, my skin has been kind of a nightmare. The water here is much harder than the water in Alameda County (who would have thought that our city water would be so much better than the country water? Sad but true), and my skin has been reacting badly. And I’ve been trying everything I can think of to bring things back into balance: I tried using rubbing alcohol rather than soap and water to wash my face, on the recommendation of a friend. I tried using a witch hazel toner after washing my face with soap and water, to get rid the remnants of soap scum that hard water supposedly leaves behind. I’ve tried various potions and serums and treatments. But I’m still getting nasty pimples that take FOREVER to go away.

So after doing seriously extensive research, I decided to splurge and by a Clarisonic Mia2. I’ve heard great things from friends and other bloggers about how clean and clear it leaves their skin. And I need some clean and clear these days.

So far I’ve only had it for a few days, and my initial impression is positive: I do notice that my skin feels a lot smoother after washing. But will it be the miracle I’ve been looking for? Will it make the difference for me that it claims to make? Is it worth the kind of ridiculous price tag? I’ll let you know…

Posted on May 27, 2014 by 3 Comments

Wardrobe Architect: Developing a Core Style

What does it mean to have a core style? Isn’t style by its very nature changeable? Certainly I’m not going to wear the exact same clothes decade after decade. Any throw-back Thursday picture on Facebook will give you a good reason to keep your fashion tastes current.

And yet, for most people there is a thread that remains the same as trends come and go. Identifying your core style is about recognizing that thread. When we are aware of what we like and feel comfortable in, we’re much less likely to buy those weird, trendy things that sit in our closets untouched because they just aren’t us. That’s the idea anyway.

For this activity, Sarai encouraged her readers to look at the answers they gave previously about their lives and histories, and to begin to attach those to some kind of aesthetic. The worksheet asks questions about how you feel when you’re wearing your favorite clothes, who your style icons are, and what words describe your life and your tastes.

I put together a Wardrobe Architect board on Pinterest, which has been an indispensable tool during this whole project. Based on this exercise, I started gathering images that reflected the words and phrases and style icons I identified.

I managed to distill what I think is my “core style” into five words: classic, comfortable, tasteful, understated, and quirky.

It might seem that quirky doesn’t really fit in with the rest of these words, but it makes complete sense to me. I love to add one offbeat element to whatever outfit I’ve pulled together, whether it’s wearing Chucks with my dress pants or a leather cuff with a vintage dress. To be honest, to most people the little touches I add probably aren’t all that offbeat at all, but to me, they add a little something different to my otherwise super business-casual wardrobe.

And my style icons? Who else?

The always pulled-together and elegantly casual Audrey Hepburn:

Tastefully sexy Marilyn Monroe:

Classy and confident Katherine Hepburn:

And the fun-loving, silly, and still totally classic Zooey Deschanel:

Who are your style icons, and what five words would you use to describe your core style?

Posted on April 11, 2014 by Leave a comment

The Wardrobe Architect: Style in My Life

The first week’s Wardrobe Architect assignment involves figuring how different elements of your life affect your personal style choices. I love pondering my own navel, so this was probably more fun than it should have been for me.

A girl with bright red hair and a red t-shirt posing in front of a silver and black curtain in a college dorm room

Me as a wild and reckless youth

I was a youngun’ in the 1990s, the age of “alternative” fashion, Manic Panic hair dye, and oversized flannel shirts. The evolution of my personal style really began when I was in college. I started to gravitate toward a kind-of-vintage kind-of-punk thing, but at that point, I really didn’t know what my style was all about, so it was mostly kind-of-nondescript.

Two girls in a bar, wearing black, laughing

Me as a carefree n’er do well

But the beginnings of a fashion sense were there.

A girl in a flowery dress, with a young boy looking over her shoulder

Me and my little bro, back in 2000

I was raised to value neatness, and looking presentable. I rebelled against that pretty strongly as a teenager, but I know that those values are part of how I dress now. I don’t believe sweatpants should be worn in public, nor do I believe that leggings are pants. I think it’s important to look nice when you go out into the world. Thanks, Mom!

That being said, I live in California, and life out here is pretty casual. My colleagues wear jeans and t-shirts. My social life doesn’t involve clubbing or movie premieres or wild parties, so flashy fancy clothes have no real place in my life. And while I believe in looking presentable, I also believe in being comfortable.

Girl wearing a loose top, cardigan, and jeans

Me now, in a pretty typical work outfit

That picture above really looks like I’m crying, but I swear I wasn’t. It was just an early morning.

The (unfortunately) big thing that has always influenced my fashion choices is body image. Wah wah, what a girl I am. But pretty much since I was 14 I have shied away from anything revealing. No shorts or short skirts, no sleeveless shirts, nothing too revealing. I’m a prude, apparently. I used to dream about those bathing suits from the 1900s. I’m learning to appreciate my figure, but I still am not a huge fan of revealing clothing. You won’t see me in a midriff-baring anything any time soon.

So what sticks out in this analysis, for me? I like comfortable clothing that has an element of classic, vintage style and an element of quirky, punk-ness.

Two young girls in the 1980s, playing dress up.

And apparently, I was a real fashion plate at 10. Yup, that’s me, on the left, with the fabulous bangs.

Next, we dive into defining a core style, one that remains constant through the ever-changing dictates of fashion’s fickle ways.

If you want to ponder your own life and your relationship to fashion, download Sarai’s awesome PDF worksheet. Who doesn’t love a worksheet? You can find more details about this week’s assignment on her blog.

What are the core things that stand out for you about your life, and how it might impact your clothing choices?

Posted on April 10, 2014 by 2 Comments

The Wardrobe Architect, Laura-style

Last January, one of my favorite pattern makers and sewing bloggers, Sarai of Colette Patterns, introduce an awesome series/project called The Wardrobe Architect. The idea behind the project is to begin to thoughtfully plan a wardrobe, rather than to make and buy clothing willy nilly and eventually find that you have a closet full of things you don’t really like.

Now, I am a total sucker for anything that involves planning, especially if there are regular assignments to tackle. I love assignments, and yes, I was a complete school nerd. I love projects! And I have been feeling like I want to start building some coherence into my wardrobe, some sense that the clothing that I’m putting on my body, and especially the clothing I’m spending so much time making, suits me, works well together, and makes me feel confident. This project could not have come along at a better time.

I’ve actually been completing the assignments all along, but it didn’t even occur to me to share my work here until now. I haven’t been a very good blogger lately. So let’s make up for lost time!

Over the next few weeks, I’ll share the work that I have done on my Wardrobe Architect project, and hopefully inspire you to dig in and start planning your spring and summer wardrobe, too. It’s been a really enjoyable project so far. If you’re interested, and don’t want to wait for me and my behind-the-times ass, check out all of Sarai’s fantastic Wardrobe Architect posts. And check back soon if you want to hear about my own explorations, and perhaps get some inspiration (I hope).

Posted on April 7, 2014 by Leave a comment

How I Quit Smoking

I started smoking when I was 15. I was always one of those kids who wanted to grow up fast, and smoking made me feel grown up. I hung around with my trouble-making, pot-smoking friends, sitting in front of the Taco Bell after school smoking and being total idiots. Back then, cigarettes were still relatively inexpensive. I remember buying a pack of generics for $2, and for an extra twenty-five cents we could get Marlboros. They hadn’t yet put high taxes in place and a lot of gas stations and liquor stores would still sell cigarettes to underage kids, so it wasn’t that hard to get them.

My mother HATED that I smoked, which, frankly, was probably reason enough for me to keep doing it at that point. I was such a little asshole.

I smoked all through high school, and I remember getting to college and being so stoked that I could finally buy cartons of cigarettes. I started smoking a lot my first year in college. Like, up-to-two-packs-a-day a lot. That eventually evened out, but from the time I was 18 until I was about 27 or 28, I was smoking at least half a pack a day, and more if I went out drinking or partying. Which, let’s be honest, I did a lot. I loved smoking. It felt glamorous, it felt cool, it made me feel a little edgy.

I know there were times in that period when I thought about quitting, but I never really wanted to. I knew I should. I knew it was a gross habit. My mom still hated it. But it was just too daunting to try to quit all at once.

It probably took me about five or six years to quit smoking. I did it bit by bit, breaking connections and habits one by one. First, I stopped smoking a cigarette with my morning coffee. It was a fairly simple thing, just cutting that one cigarette out a day. Then I stopped smoking at work. I don’t really remember why I stopped smoking at work, and yes, I would very occasionally still go out on the street and have a cigarette if I was having a stressful day, but for the most part, by the time I was 27 I didn’t usually smoke my first cigarette of the day until 5 in the evening at the earliest.

Eventually, by the time I turned 30, I really only smoked when I went out drinking. Which, ok, honestly was still kind of often. At least a few times a week. And then I tended to smoke A LOT. But when I turned 30 I moved across the country by myself to a small town where I didn’t really know anyone, and I stopped going out so much.

By the time I was 32, I was only smoking once every two weeks or so. I had, over time, broken all the daily habits of being a regular smoker. It took me another year to finally decide to quit altogether, and by the time that happened, it wasn’t that hard at all. It was just about breaking that one, final connection, between drinking and smoking, which was actually a connection between socializing and smoking. And when I did quit, it happened really organically. I didn’t set a date or have a plan. I just decided I was done.

I don’t think my Phase-Out approach is a very typical way to quit, but it worked for me, and I think it’s a pretty good technique. Because instead of trying to break a really big habit, one that might have lots of connections in your life, you can focus on breaking one smaller habit at a time, until eventually, all the emotional and physical connections to smoking are gone. If you’ve tried to quit smoking without success in the past, maybe a more gradual approach would work for you. Try to identify the times that you smoke, and connections you have: Do you love to have a cigarette with your coffee, or after dinner? Do you smoke when you talk to your sister on the phone? Do you have to have one on your drive home from work? If you can identify some specific times or places or situations that are connected to smoking for you, you can start to break those connections one by one. That way, it doesn’t have to feel like a big, drastic life change. It feels smaller and more manageable.

Since I “officially” quit smoking, I have smoked probably about 3 or 4 times, it’s true. In almost all of those instances, I was, ahem, perhaps a bit tipsy. But none of those instances made me feel like I was in danger of starting again, because it just wasn’t a part of my life anymore. I feel like a non-smoker. And it feels pretty good. My mom is pretty happy about it, too.

Posted on April 7, 2014 by 6 Comments

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