What is this, two posts in one day? I couldn't help myself because Spring has sprung! Look what done popped up on our new Trident Maple out front of the house? All that recommended watering (five gallons a week) has paid off. And along with a blue sky like this, I can't help but be in a good mood.

These little leaves, with their three points and red to green hues are just the thing our street needs. And we're not the only ones, baby trees are blossoming up and down the block. Go Oakland!

As you can see, we doctored up the planting strip with some compost and mulch. I plan to eventually fill this with ornamental grasses or something else modern and walkable. But that's down the road. And oh my, is that our front lawn all overgrown in the background? Embarrassing! Apparently, I need to sneak in a weed-wacking session sometime soon... and wouldn't it be swell if the city came and straightened that No Parking sign? A girl can dream...

Happy Holiday Weekend!


This past weekend was Thora's second birthday and in light of such a milestone, I started going through old photos. I pulled up pics from her first birthday party, all graciously shot by our dear friend and amazing photographer Aubrie Pick, and am blown away. These kids really really grow so fast. Last year she barely had hair! She had just started crawling. I remember feeling like it took forever for her to become mobile. I worried whether I should worry. The constant teething made her such a drooler. Her blue eyes dominated her face, still do actually. And her world was (is) full of wonder, which made (makes) my world full of it too.

Life was hectic, our new norm. And at the time we barely came up for air. But we needed to celebrate. Even if that meant pulling a rabbit out of a hat, which we did, and hopefully we made it look easy. I decided on Your Are My Sunshine as the theme because that was the song I sang every night... when I used to rock her to sleep. See, that has changed too! I still sometimes sing it in her ear on the way to bed. I love it so.

Going along with the theme, and considering none of our attending friends had little kids, we decided to do a brunch. Nothing terribly sophisticated, just enough to entertain adults and impress a one-year old. Mike illustrated the invite based on some quick iphone shots for reference and I designed it. We had it printed locally at PS Print, they have amazing deals on postcards, and paired it with a yellow envelope.

I remember sweating over her outfit, running around looking for the perfect, adorable yet equally affordable, something. I was surprised that I chose a dress, considering I am very casual by nature, but this little blue number called out to me from across the mall. (Shh, it was from The Children's Place. But doesn't it look like Janie & Jack?) This was also the debut of her first pair of Salt-Water sandals, size 4 and too big for her at the time.

All decor was relegated to the dining room, a manageable space. Literally the day before Thora, myself and both grandmas ran around town, gobbling up anything yellow we could find. We ordered polka dot balloons, bought streamers, placemats, tablecloths, flatware... if it was yellow it was ours. In my usual frantic pace, determined to have something hand-made for her party, I whipped up the Happy Birthday bunting in record time: design letters on the computer, print, cut out circles, layer onto craft paper times two, string together with ribbon, done and done.

The cake... the cake! The cake was made by our friend Siobhan, a pastry chef. I really wanted the ombre look so we decided on yellow to white. Inside was a vanilla cake with two different fillings: one was chocolate and carmel, the other vanilla and mango. To die! The frosting is all buttercream.

I had lofty ideas for the food but instead settled on Costco muffins and quiche. Ha! Mike is the cook in our house (I'm generally useless in the kitchen) so he made the roasted potatoes and biscuits. My mom made her tried and true deviled eggs and my girlfriend Melissa, who always seems to save my ass when I'm in a pickle, sent us the Edible Arrangement.

Thora, not so great at opening presents. Confused is a word I might use? So Mommy did all the heavy lifting and Little T did her best to feign interest. Sigh...

She'd rather be swung by Daddy.

After presents we gathered around the little lady, all strapped in her chair and thoroughly perplexed. We sang her Happy Birthday, even Grandpa who was on Skype, then presented her with a little cake all her own.

Alas, you can lead a babe to water, but you cannot make them eat birthday cake.

They say that once your child hits one, she is no longer a baby. I remember that thought ringing in my ears throughout the day. We relished those final moments with our baby and did our best to welcome her to toddlerhood. That face there at the end, we call that Squares! Happy to say Squares! has not changed, not one little bit and she still does it all the time.

I'm in the middle of editing her second birthday party pics, a rainbow party and can't wait to share them here. She still has not grasped the greatness that is opening presents, but she did eat two bites of cake!



I have a vanity, well first my mom had a vanity, then it was mine, and actually it isn't mine anymore. Thora has a vanity. This vanity is well-loved and has seen many facelifts in its lifetime. It was built by the Rockford Standard Furniture Co.. What? Never heard of it? Great company in my hometown, been around forever. Anyway, I think my mom said she may have painted it black during her teen angst years, then it had this awesome green 70's faux finish during my childhood until we painted it a nice cream. I moved the piece with me while I was in college, but not before my mom stripped and stained it. It's something of a pecan color, a bit orange but I like it.

And once I broke the mirror and had to replace it. This tragedy I try not to think about.

Today it sits in my daughter's room. And she already uses it the way I envisioned. If she stands on tiptoe, she can just see herself and it makes her smile! We put bows in our hair here, and she crawls underneath to read or be sneaky. It's an outdated piece of furniture that offers little by way of storage, but lots and lots for imagination.

So when my husband gave me a gift card to Anthropologie for my birthday, did I think of pretty dresses for Spring? Nope. I thought of that amazing knob carousel. The one I've casually spun, more than once, wondering when and for what would I ever get to use these? The time had come.

The vanity uses 6 knobs. Currently they are all the same, cute little chunky round swirly wooden knobs. Not a thing wrong with them really so I tucked them away in a ziplock for the future. Then know what happened? I went to TWO different Anthropologies AND I shopped online to get the six knobs of my dreams. I even bought, then exchanged, one that wasn't quite working, scoring the final sacred coral knob on clearance. Then I bought myself some earrings. It was MY gift card for pete's sake.

Side note: Have you ever taken a toddler to Anthropologie? Unless you are wearing running shoes, I do not recommend.

Here's another pic because hello. gorgeous.

Thora helped me put these on, saying Beep! Beep! Beep! all the while. She loves a knob too, or a button, whatever you want to call it.

I love that these knobs are playful, but not too playful and girly without being trite. I think she will love them for years to come, possibly even through her teen angst. Would they look good against a black vanity? Sure. Why not.

So there you go beloved family heirloom, yet another little girl for you to charm.



Everyone aboard the time machine! 

Buried in the land of pre-baby draft posts, I found this little gem of dust and debris and necessary roughness. There was no text, only these before and during photos. No after photos either, so I'll have to run and take those. But it's all coming back to me, like the foggy nightmare that it was...

The attic access panel used to be located in the kitchen, specifically in the odd little laundry/office nook. We knew once we removed that wall, the panel would have to go somewhere else. It's not exactly ideal to have a huge hole in your brand new kitchen ceiling. And might I add, once we removed the plaster and lathe from the ceiling, because it sagged just so, we discovered the original panel was done all wrong. Certainly not to code size-wise and I highly doubt the City of Oakland is okay with cut rafters. So we had the rafters replaced and determined a new locale. The hallway made the most sense to me.

Before we drywalled the kitchen ceiling, we took quick advantage of the easy access. Mike crawled around up there and I yelled from below and together we figured the perfect spot. The furnace sits up here too (my dad can NOT figure out why our furnace is in the attic and all our returns in the ceilings. I tend to agree. It must be a California thing?) and we needed to work around it.

I did some research about code and what size the final opening needs to be. Happily we discovered our opening fit perfectly between two beams and because the ceiling is supported by two walls on either side, we would not have to compromise it in any way. Hooray!

Draw it out and git to cuttin.' I think that says "Boats & Hoes"? Step Brothers must've been on.

This part was all Mike. I was hugely pregnant so I just tried to stay out of the way of the falling dust and cussing husband. It was not easy, for anyone. But the general idea, cut a hole, frame it with 2x4s, trim it out and add a door.

That piece of wood in the front is part of the board that the furnace sits on. It cuts into the space a person needs to fit through the hole, but there is really no way around it. I figure if and when we need to replace the furnace, we can scoot it over a bit.

Like I said, messy.

But looking good! 

Now here is where I might lose you because I have no images of the framing. But trust, we wrapped it in 2x4s and Mike called it a day. 

I was happy to trim it out and make the door. See? Happy. (I debated whether I should post this horribly flattering photo, the belly hanging out under my shirt is a nice touch, then thought, heck with it. Pregnant Renovation Ladies Unite!) And yeah, Trams Am tee.

The trim is set in an 1/8" if I remember right to support the door. I added a knob because I can not stand dirty handprints. No excuses contractors of the future! I also added a strip of window insulation along the seam to keep drafts out. Seems to work just fine. It's painted the same as all of our trim, Benjamin Moore's Aura Satin in Simply White.

And there you have it. Our new attic access tucked discreetly in the hallway and in no way threatening the stability of our home. Pat on the back to us! Boats and Hoes!



I used to be a carefree single girl who lived a raucous Chicago lifestyle yet visited antique malls and thrifts with her mother on the weekends. (We also took line dancing lessons together, but that's a story for a different day). On one such outing in Rockford, IL, we came upon the unassuming garage sale of a schoolteacher. Where I found treasure.

See what it says there on the right? $5.00. Want to know what's inside? Literally an entire box of mint condition grade school story strips! If you hit up the Alameda Flea circa 2008, you would have seen the booth of the guy that sold similar strips and flash cards for $1 a piece, or MORE. Goldmine.

But why on earth would I buy these? It's my mother's fault really. What can I say? She is an artist and she molded me in her image. This box oozed potential. I imagined if I were lucky, that someday I'd have a baby, or someone I know would have a baby, and I would paper an entire wall in its room with this patchwork of '70s color and fragmented sentences. It would be genius, ambitious, impressive even.

So the box traveled with me to a few apartments, spent some time in my folks' attic (hence my name on there which is code for DON'T THROW OUT OR TONYA WILL KILL YOU). Then it made the cross-country journey to California where it waited and waited and waited...

And then I had my chica.

Because we were drowning in kitchen renovation my entire pregnancy, projects like this had to sit in my head, stewing and torturing me—symbols of my failure. Then Thora showed up 5 weeks early and we were in a mad scramble. Her room wasn't ready at all, no crib, no mattress, let alone artwork. Oh, it was hilarious.

But then a few months went by and she became a good sleeper and I started to catch my breath. And I remembered the box.

And the colors! And the Helvetica!

And the illustrations! Did I mention the illustrations? Charm explosion.

Screw the patchwork wall. I wanted to make something for my kid and I wanted it now. A quick trip to Ikea for the largest frame they sell, followed by a quick sort and organize of my favorite colors, sayings and drawings, followed by a session with spray adhesive and some good ol'eyeballing it and I had this:

And I love it. Best of all, Thora loves it too. She loves to touch each letter and point to the dragon and the girl and ok, I kind of regret this, the peacock. The piece brought instant color to her room, color that I can pull from and use elsewhere. That coral is to die, it may very well serve as the inspiration behind her big girl room. It's also the perfect anchor for her other art. And this kid has it in spades, clockwise from top: Tim Biskup, Jen Corace, Kostas Seremetis (that piece is signed TO Thora!) and Lark Pien. She is a lucky girl.

If you ask me, totally worth lugging from all those apartments.

Disclaimer: In case you are worried for Thora's safety, I mean we do live in earthquake country, please note: All art is hung with proper picture frame hangers and attached at the bottoms with Command velcro strips. Best invention ever. Also, the Ikea frame uses plexi, not glass.



There is a corner of our kitchen that I envisioned the ideal locale for a wrap-around built-in storage bench. The idea seemed logical and simple and kind of a no-brainer. It's also another way to bring the Ikea cabinets up a notch, a prerequisite for all kitchen decisions.

Of course I hit up the internet for ideas and was overwhelmed by all the beautiful ways the kitchen bench has been done. I love, LOVE it when a homeowner is able to work with a true craftsman—custom molding, maybe a curved edge... yum. And out of my league. This project was going to be me on an island.

I sat on it for two years because of work and life and smaller reno projects, and every day I'd pass by that corner and sigh. Thora was actually the driver in inspiring me to get this going. Poor kid was the only one eating here! We had a little table, a little stool and her highchair. She ate perched there with Mommy or Daddy staring at her from the lowly stool. Of course she is such a picky eater! No pressure, you enjoy that pasta while I stare at you and cheer your every bite. Crazybusiness.

And so after eating and drinking and dreaming my bench design for a couple days, I opted not to build a corner bench but instead do a simple straight one, cabinet to wall. I hope someday to widen the opening from the kitchen to the addition and don't want to have to rip out my hard work. Plus I have two vintage Windsor chairs that look perfect against the modern tulip table that will go here. They'll bring the warmth of wood to our stark kitchen and this way I could use them both.

With the motivation to eat family dinners all together, I put pencil to paper. Then I put paper to InDesign and whipped up a cutlist:

The final size of the bench would be 57" wide x 18" tall x 18" deep (standard height and depth for a seat), with a 48" hinged lid centered on top. The bottom sheet shows all the pieces I need to construct the bench, color-coded for different parts. (Blue is the lid, light blue are perimeter supports, yellow are wall supports, hot pink is the bottom and light pink are the front and sides.) The top shows how they all fit inside of a single 4'x8' sheet of 3/4" MDF. If I were more skilled, I would have opted for 3/4" birch plywood. But I am terribly intimated by real wood, like I don't want to embarrass it or something. MDF is in my comfort-zone. I mainly followed this video on DIY Network, with a side order of winging it.

Materials needed:
1 4'x8' 3/4" sheet of MDF
1 48" continuous hinge
3" wood screws
1 1/2" wood screws
1 1/2" finish nails
wood glue (Titebond)
wood filler and caulk

nail gun/compressor (mine sucked! Get a nice one)
table saw

After picking up my materials, a trip to the Tool Lending Library was in store where I borrowed the table saw. Then I set up shop in the backyard.

All cutting was done during Thora's nap. Her room is towards the front of the house which means I can get pretty loud back here. I will add, the table saw was a beast so Mike and I worked together until I got that huge 4x8 sheet down to a manageable size.

As I ripped and cut, I took care to label each piece for quick assembly later. Apologies, I forgot to take pics of construction—casualty of being in a rush. But it was incredibly simple.

I started by attaching the two sides and front to the bottom panel, with glue and 1 1/2" wood screws, making sure to predrill holes so as not to split the board. Across the back, I ran a 4" wide strip which will ultimately attach to the wall.

I lugged my basic box into the kitchen for a dry fit, it looked so good! In my excitement, I placed the perimeter support boards just to see if it truly was coming together, so those aren't attached yet. Using shims and a level, I made sure it was nice and straight, both vertically and horizontally. I lucked out that this is the most level part of our kitchen floor. Very little shimming was needed and it will all be covered by molding in the end.

Once everything was level, I attached the box to studs in the wall using 3" wood screws. No worries about cutting around this outlet and it's still accessible if for some odd reason I need it.

Then the perimeter support strips were attached using a glue/nail gun combo. The front and sides are 2" but I made the support that runs along the wall and sits under the hinge deeper than recommended, 3 1/2". This way it fills just past the hinge, which is 3" and sits on top. In my mind, that's extra support for the weakest point of the lid. Probably not necessary but it helps me sleep at night.

And lastly the top. I attached the pieces that surround the lid, making sure everything fit just so, lined up nicely and would allow the lid to go up and down. Imagine that. Then I primed and painted the lid and back piece so that I wouldn't have to work around the hinge later. I attached the hinge to the back piece first. Then slid the lid underneath, set it in place and finished the hinge. Easy!

Of course, nothing can help our wonky walls, except a little wood filler and caulk.

I added two strips on either side to fill the gap between the wall and the bench. Baseboard molding will eventually sandwich between. After filling and sanding and caulking I was left with this. Not bad! Kind of really proud of myself at this point.

And here it is with a nice coat of primer. I'll go ahead and paint it but it will probably sit like this awhile, awaiting another break in my day job and a couple more bucks in my pocket for molding. At least at this point I'm happy to say all three of us can eat together! It's made a huge difference in our general state of well-being to have family meals.

I still need to trim out the bottom of course, the baseboard will wrap around from the wall then connect to the toekick under the cabinets with 1/4 round. I'm dying to finish this up. I have plans to add a cushion, already have my fabric picked out which means I'll need to repaint the walls. I'm over citrus and am all about beeswax...

Here I am pretending everything is complete and cozy and I have a girlfriend over for a nice chat and some coffee.

Although this is our reality for now, Thora is starting to grow out of her highchair. That highchair breaks down to a booster that attaches to a chair, then I can pull her up to the table. All in all, serious progress!

Now what to do about that awful window to nowhere.



Perhaps this is more of a New Year's resolution type of post. Whatever, life is now.

Awhile back a friend of mine posted a pic illustrating a simple concept to save money. I was intrigued. We are planning to fly home (Chicago) for the holidays this year and well, travel comes at a premium. Being freelancers, our income is sporadic and it's hard to come up with big dollars on a whim. In other words, it is best to plan. If I am to follow this chart we will have just enough for airfare and a rental car come December and it won't be a huge stress at a time we are supposed to be enjoying family.

Of course, I had to redesign it to look appropriate hanging by my desk. Archer is a go-to font in a rush and about 10 minutes later I had this:

It's hung on the bulletin board that leans behind my monitor. The little satchel I bought many moons ago (back when I purchased frivolity because I had 1. spending money and 2. time to go to craft fairs). As you can see, so far I'm on track! It's been a breeze to plop my single digit dollars into the pouch every Monday. We'll see how it goes in September and onward, but I'm earnest about making it work.

If anyone would like to try this at home because, do, try this at home, I've included a downloadable PDF of my version of this chart here. I'm sorry I have no source to credit this idea to. It's genius in its simplicity, no?