Thursday, April 17, 2014

Lessons from a Humble Cottage

This morning on Facebook, a young woman who is a grad school friend of my daughter posted a link to an article on Buzzfeed, 30 Things To Start Doing For Yourself.

I read through the list and started thinking about the ones that really struck a chord with me and how they related to where I am in my life right now. A lot of them also made me think about our little beach house and how it's changed our lives.

Start making your own happiness a priority, and start creating your own happiness.

I put these two things together because if you're going to make your own happiness a priority, you have to also take charge of it. 

When you have kids, your focus is on them and what they need--new soccer cleats, travel soccer fees, laptops, bicycles, prom dresses, lacrosse sticks, books, hockey pads, running shoes...the list goes on. 

Like most mothers, I never begrudged any of this -- I wanted them to have what they needed to succeed in school, on the playing field, and in the social arena.  I thought nothing of paying a couple thousand dollars for a band trip to England or a soccer trip to Hawaii.

But when it came to myself, I choked at spending large sums of money. My main indulgence was new running shoes three times a year.

But after my kids were grown and out of the house, I started to realize that it was OK for me to think about my own happiness (and of course they're a big part of that happiness now that they're adults and I have a great relationship with both of them). So I decided that it was all right for me to take money out of my retirement fund to buy this hot little mess at Kitts Hummock Beach almost two years ago:

Start noticing and living in the present.

It was hard to take $50,000 out of my retirement account, but it was so worth it.

I don't mean to sound irresponsible here--it's important to save for retirement, and I've been doing it for more than 30 years.  But it's also important to live for now and enjoy things in the present instead of always living for some distant day in the future.

The present is awesome, and we need to enjoy it:

Start giving your ideas and dreams a chance.

I grew up just 10 miles from the beaches in central New Jersey and have always LOVED the beach. For most of my life, I have dreamed about what it would be like to own a beach house.  But the prices made this an unrealistic dream ... or so I thought.  

Every once in awhile, I would visit the website of a beach-based realtor in Delaware and look longingly at two-bedroom cottages listed for $475,000.

But one day, I found a listing for $49,900, and my dream finally had a chance of coming true. 

With the price bargained down to $38,000, we were in business, although Doug still tells everyone how appalled he was when we went to see the inside of the modified 60-year-old trailer for the first time. He was pretty sure his fussy wife would NEVER want to buy a place that looked like this:

But he was wrong because I had a dream, and I was finally starting to believe in it. 

Start looking for the silver lining in tough situations. 

It's sometimes hard to see the silver lining when the only thing in front of you is a pile of junk in the yard and an order for a Dumpster to be delivered the next day.  

But even in that first week, we had some silver linings, like getting the Dumpster completely loaded and ready to be hauled away.

 Start noticing the beauty of small moments.

We have had an abundance of beautiful small moments since we bought our beach shack:

Start accepting things when they are less than perfect.

Well, this was essential with the cottage because everything there is less than perfect--but it's also perfect in its own funky way.

The floors are crooked, the bedroom is so tiny that I have to climb over the bed to get in it, and the kitchen ceiling is so low that our tall friends can barely stand up in it.  

But what's not to love about this adorable little place?

Start focusing on the possibility of positive outcomes. 

Nuff said.  We got our positive outcome even though there was a lot of sweat with some blood and tears thrown in for good measure.  Now, scenes like this are just steps from our front door.

Thanks, Alicia for pointing me to some great life lessons....

Monday, April 7, 2014

All Play and No Work

It was kind of hard to get used to the idea that we could just go to our beach cottage and do nothing.

Yeah, nothing, if that's what we felt like doing.

The work is done--at least for now.  We have water, and everything is fixed and painted and furnished.

When we got there at about 10:30 on Saturday morning, Paxton settled right in for a nap in his favorite chair so that he could be well rested for later--bouncing off the walls and the furniture all night.

We took Jodie out to the beach right away because once we're there, she can hardly contain herself.

Just as we got back to our yard after the beach walk, a car pulled up and stopped.  The woman in the passenger seat asked us if we were the people who blogged about the renovation of the cottage!  We told them we were, and they said they had googled Kitts Hummock and stumbled on my blog.  They kept telling us how much they loved everything we had done to the place. That little encounter really made our day.  Each time we go down now, we feel a little more like we belong in the community.

After the beach, Jodie was ready for a nap too.

I spent most of the afternoon reading on the futon, which is like a built-in window seat in our dining room.

We watched March Madness Final Four in the evening, but Jodie still got me up early the next morning to see this beautiful sunrise at the beach:

For a few minutes everything was pink--the sand, the water, and even the dog--I didn't mess with these photos at all:

Usually, I bring Jodie back after our early-morning trek to the beach and go for a run in our neighborhood, which consists of one road that parallels the bay. I have to go up and back in both directions twice (which means I see the same stuff four times) just to get in 3.5 miles.  But recently we noticed a parking lot with a trail on the road where we go to the store, and I decided to check it out.  I googled it and found out it was the Isaac Branch Trail of the St. Jones River Greenways.

So with that as my planned Sunday morning run, I got there at about 7:30 and parked my car.  It was freezing--35 degrees--and I really hadn't brought enough warm clothes, so I just layered on a tank top and two long-sleeve tees over my tights and running shoes.

It was worth the trip.  This is the view at the trailhead:

The trail weaves in and out of trees with occasional glimpses of the water.  I went out 2 miles and back for a 4-mile run, but I want to take my bike there soon so I can see how far it actually goes. The best part is that it starts near the Wawa, so I can reward myself with a big Diet Coke when I'm done running.

On Sunday afternoon, Doug decided that he wanted to be a trail blazer.  Our little cottage borders wetlands, and we know there are pools of water out in the middle, but all we can see are reeds, or grasses known as phragmites.  So he put on his boots, grabbed a heavy-duty rake and plunged in.  After about half an hour of slogging through thick reeds and sometimes-more-than-ankle-deep water, he reached real water.  But it was kind of disappointing because it was just one of the smaller pools, not the open water we can see from Bay Dr.

Doug's longer-term plan is to build a kind of lookout tower where he can set up his camera with the super-big lens and photograph the wildlife in the marshes. So I guess we'll have to wait until that project is done to get our water view.

We left to come home at about 4:00 on Sunday, relaxed and happy.

We're looking forward to many more weekends just like it--doing exactly as much, or as little, as we want. 

Isn't that what a beach cottage is for?

Monday, March 31, 2014

Bedroom Blues

When I asked Doug on Friday night how he would feel about me painting the bedroom on Saturday, I got "the look."

Doug is a DIY-er with the best of them, but he is never on board with change for its own sake.

I am....

When we bought out little house in Newark almost 8 years ago, the previous owner had just had all of the rooms painted.

For the most part, I liked her choices... except for the master bedroom (and I use that term loosely--in the 1930s they didn't build master bedrooms in houses like ours.  Yes, one of our two bedrooms is slightly larger than the other one, but it's still only about 10 x 11).

Anyway, that room was painted a kind of purply chocolate brown, which just made it seem cave-like.  We lived with it for two years, and then I couldn't stand it anymore.  I chose a blue kind of like faded denim jeans and repainted the room.

But after five years, I realized that the blue was just too blue to be neutral, and it really limited my ability to change the look of the room by changing the bedding (and I don't have a prayer of changing the look by moving the furniture--you don't rearrange the furniture in a 10x11 bedroom because there's only one way it fits...and barely at that).

So on Saturday morning, I went to Sherwin Williams in search of a nice grey.

Hmmm.  Do you know how many greys there are? Some are bluish, some greenish, some khaki-ish.  I finally chose one that looked grey next to the pale blues but is actually bluish after all--kind of like sea glass.

Here's the room on Saturday morning after I took down the pictures and before I painted. We had to just work around the furniture:

And here's that same corner with the new color on the walls and everything back in place:

With Sherwin Williams paint running $45 a gallon WITH my coupon, I was determined to get by with one gallon.  So we opted not to paint the heat registers (one is behind the bed anyway, and the one in this picture is my version of an accent wall):

There's a story behind the curtains too.

The painting took only a few hours because we were doing only the walls, not the ceiling or trim.

So at about 2:00, with the bed remade, the pictures rehung, and the mess cleaned up, kittens called to us.

Our favorite antique store, Brandywine View in Chadds Ford, Pa., had been posting pix on Facebook of a stray cat they had taken in.  Last week, they discovered that she had kittens in a box on their porch.

I can't resist kittens, so off we went. (No, I wasn't going to bring one home, but it was a good excuse to go there on a rainy Saturday afternoon.)

How cute are these two little dudes?

While we were there, I sorted through a pile of grain sacks and decided I could make curtains out of them for the bedroom.  It's hard to get good pix in this room because of the light and the size of the room, but I'm happy with how they turned out. We open our windows from the top down for air, so I use just short cafe curtains on the bottom half of both windows for privacy:

Now that it's all done, Doug admits that he likes the new color.

He just hates change.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Fair Vanity

Warning: This is a long post because yesterday was a long day.  But it has a happy ending.

When we bought our beach cottage almost 2 years ago, it would have been hard to pick the most disgusting thing about the place because it was ALL disgusting, but the bathroom ranked right up there with the kitchen for the top spot in the list.  The toilet was stained, the tub had been painted with latex paint, and the vanity--made of particle board and plastic--was falling apart.  And of course everything was filthy.

It turned out the toilet just needed a good cleaning, I'm still peeling paint out of the tub, and I was able to pull up the linoleum and paint the subfloor with porch paint.

As for the vanity, instead of a compartment with a door, it had two falling-out half drawers, which we removed.  I painted the front of it, strung a little curtain across the opening and called it finished.


A few months after we bought the place, we spotted a bathroom sink--a real one, not a cheap plastic one--on the side of the road.  We stopped and picked it up, and it's been calling to us ever since.

Since we were waiting for our kind neighbor to finish redoing our water system from the street to the house, our plan for this weekend was to build a new vanity here at home on Saturday and have it ready to take down to the beach place when the water was hooked up.

Then, on Friday night, our neighbor emailed us and said the water was done!

We decided to stick with our original plan to build the vanity here (where all of Doug's tools are) and then, if we had enough time left, take it down to Kitts Hummock.  We modified our original plan slightly -- I would paint it down at the beach house rather than here, so that we could get going as soon as the piece was together. Doug warned me that there might not be time to actually install it.

Doug hauled out his scrap wood, some new birch plywood, and an old solid-core door that he had rescued from an on-campus renovation several years ago.

He got to work.  I'm the assistant--kind of like the OR nurse who hands over implements when needed.

By 11:30, we had this, and we loaded Jodie and some tools into the car and headed for Kitts Hummock.

When we got there, I started painting. I knew I had to get it done quickly, or we wouldn't be able to move the finished piece into the bathroom.  It was windy, which was good news and bad news. Good, because it meant the paint would dry quickly, bad because it meant that paint was blowing all over the place, including on my poor dog.  I donned a pair of plastic bags--one each from Lowes and Home Depot--over my Uggs to keep them clean, and of course Doug had to take a picture:

That was the end of the laughs for several hours.  

While I was painting, Doug turned on the water to the house and discovered that a piece of PEX under the kitchen sink had burst, so we had yet another leak to fix. Luckily, we had extra PEX, and Doug had brought the PEX kit so he was able to fix the leak pretty quickly.

More cursing followed.

It turned out that the kitchen faucet, which we had just installed last year, was leaking.  The unbelievable cold we have experienced this winter was hard on the equipment, and Doug was pretty frustrated at this point.

He turned his attention back to the bathroom.  Out came the old vanity. Here it is in all its glory out in the yard. The only part that didn't look too bad was the part that I had painted when we first cleaned up the bathroom:

But the sink was a hideous yellowed plastic:

The particle board was falling apart:

And the bottom was lined with this lovely contact paper:

Fittingly enough, the whole thing broke apart when Doug put it in the car to take it home for the trash.

The new one went in great, although Doug had to make the 20-mile round trip to Lowes for an extender for the trap.

We also had a few scary moments when we got ready to carry the new one in (it was actually a few worried hours).

While the new vanity was still sitting in our garage at home, Doug had noticed that it looked kind of big, but he brushed off his concerns because he knew he had measured multiple times.

But then all of a sudden, I had an awful thought. We might not even be able to get it INTO the bathroom because the trailer hallway is so narrow. We sweated out those thoughts the whole way down.


We had to open the closet door to add some wiggle room in the hall, and we had to pull off the shoe molding in the bathroom to get it to wedge into the space between the wall and the tub.

23 1/2 inches.

24 and it wouldn't have made it.

But we got it in and hooked up, and it looks great. We bought a tension rod and used the same curtain that I had originally tied onto the old vanity using string and screws, and it fit perfectly.

Although the sink we found had a faucet with it, we ended up getting a new one at Home Depot because there were some issues with the drain on the one we found.  I like the one Doug picked out with the hot and cold handles:

Now, we actually have room for a hand soap dispenser:

And for this beautiful fish soap dish that my friend Jenn brought back for me after she and Martin spent January in Florida:

Total cost of the vanity project was about $55 ($15 for wood, $32 for the faucet, and $5 for half a can of primer).  I used a coupon to get a free sample pot of paint from Lowes (Belle Grove sorbet, which came pretty close to matching the Sherwin Williams sea salt on the walls).

While he was Lowe's, Doug bought another kitchen faucet, and he actually managed to get that installed as well.

When we left to come home at 5:30 yesterday, we were pretty sure we had actually solved all of our water problems. But we're almost afraid to give Martin back his PEX kit. That might just jinx everything.

Since this is a beach house post, I had to add a picture from the quick trip I made to the beach with Jodie:

We're hoping that the next trip down is more beach and less B.S.