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For the past six months (and by “six months” I mean my entire life) I’ve carried this looming sense of having forgotten to do something really important, but being incapable of remembering what it is because I’m so overwhelmed by all of the things I either procrastinated doing or discovered I had to take care of at the last minute. It’s a terrible feeling, but it’s one that’s come to define how I (mal)function on a day-to-day basis. Everything is always about catching up. I never feel on top of things. I am always certain I’m disappointing at least one or two or a dozen people, including myself. Any time I feel like I might be getting close to making progress, something happens—usually I get sick (like yesterday, which was spent lying on the sofa curled up with a box of Kleenex and a couple of dogs), but sometimes my website gets hacked or the furnace breaks. You know, normal things that happen to people. When you’re already struggling to keep up with the rest of your life, though, those little roadblocks start to feel uncrossable.

That’s when the recurring dreams start. I have a few that keep coming back to haunt me, but the one that I associate the most with stress is what I call “Forgotten Animals.” In this dream, there is either a small room or a basement or some neglected space in my house that I enter after a long absence, only to discover that it’s filled with animals (usually mice or rats, but sometimes ferrets—all pets I’ve had in large numbers in the past) in cages that are dead, dying, or living in filth and suffering. They are pets I’ve forgotten about that had bred out of control but have no food or water source. I immediately struggle to get their cages clean and hydrate and feed them, but I can’t move quickly enough. It’s a terrible dream, and it’s one that I have at least two or three times a year. It’s not hard to figure out what it means, and I try to take it as a warning.

Well, THAT was a fun therapy session! Anyway, yeah, I need to heed the dream warning. I need to figure out how to get myself organized so I can deal with the simple stuff and not get overwhelmed by the big stuff. There’s no reason to be in a constant state of chaos. I’m not really into resolutions, but I guess I’m kind of making one.

I don’t want to end on a low note, so here are some nice things from this weekend…

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Top to bottom, left to right:

VIVA HATE banner on my living room mantel by Going Steady Shop.
Next up on my reading list, Gary Shteyngart’s Little Failure. Have you seen the trailer?
My new jade plant has passed the three week mark, which might be a record. I’m determined to not kill it.
I’ve been OBSESSED with Patrick Townsend’s Orbit Chandelier for years. This was a very, very nice thank you gift from Victoria, and it’s going up in my living room just as soon as I figure out how to deal with the old, non-standard electrical box in the ceiling medallion that thwarted my efforts this weekend. (Sigh.)
Daniel and Max came down for lunch this weekend. I made fancy grilled cheeze sammiches and we watched Flowers in the Attic. Perfect Sunday?
Nothing really, just admiring the tiles in the living room fireplace. So nice.
Fritz had his 6th birthday yesterday! Remember when he was brand new? (Warning: SO CUTE IT HURTS.)

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For as long as we’ve owned this house, I’ve been lamenting the weird, dead corner space to the left of the stove. My decision years ago to use pre-fab, freestanding IKEA kitchen units rather than fitted cabinets meant hoping for the best in terms of maximizing the usable space in the room. I got really lucky on the sink side of the stove, which just happens to be exactly 1/2″ wider than a single UDDEN unit, but the 42″ space on the left has just been a waste all this time. I did have a cart there for a long time, but the position was awkward and it really didn’t get much use.

Looking back on this post from January (THAT WAS EIGHT MONTHS AGO, UGH!) you can see that I planned to put a piece of butcherblock there to fill the whole space. Time passed, seasons changed and we never managed to figure out how to wrangle a giant slab of IKEA butcherblock into the car, so we just kept putting it off.

And then…

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HEYYYY. Who’s that fine young thing in the tank top sanding down what looks like a 42″ piece of wood countertop? Why, it’s Daniel! When Daniel told me he was planning to make his own countertops out of fir framing lumber, I hopped on that bandwagon real quick. I dropped a few subtle hints like, “gosh, I really wish someone loved me enough to make me a piece of countertop,” and the next thing I knew, there it was!

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I had absolutely nothing to do with the making of the countertop at all, but Daniel has written up a great post explaining exactly how he did it using nothing more than a circular saw, a Kreg jig, screws and good looks. (His own kitchen is looking totally amazing, by the way, and uses much of the same materials, finishes and colors as my kitchen, but in different ways. I’m so impressed!) (Have I mentioned how great it is to have Daniel and Max and Mekko and Linus as neighbors not only in Brooklyn but now also in the Hudson Valley? So great.)

I had a hard time getting a good shot of the underside, but hopefully you can tell what’s going on there. Ideally the counter would be bracketed to the walls for support, but because I don’t want to drill into the tile (I want to have the option of changing this kitchen around in the future, which is why I tiled all the way down to the baseboard moldings), I opted to use four adjustable VIKA KAJ legs from IKEA. They extend to a maximum height of 34″ and have a 165lb weight limit per leg, so they’re perfect for this kind of use. Three of the legs are set at the corners of the countertop, and the fourth leg is positioned back about 20″ so that the front right corner (next to the stove) appears to float. The legs really aren’t visible unless you’re looking for them, but I might spray paint them black at some point just so they blend in even more.

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When it came to finishing the countertop, my first thought was to stain it black with India ink (!) and then apply a marine varnish for protection, but once it was in place I really liked having more wood tones in the room. My favorite kitchens are ones that look like they’ve come to where they are over a long period of time rather than being a brand-new matched set of parts, so the less uniformity of natural materials the better. Bring on the knots and wood grain!

If I’d had any mineral oil on hand I probably would have just used that, but I used it all up when I was refinishing the giant island. I’ve read good things about Watco Butcher Block Oil (basically tung oil and solvents) on woodworking forums, so decided to give it a shot. A pint-sized can was about $15, which seemed kind of steep, but because of the solvents it’s nowhere near as viscous as straight oil — it goes a long, long way. I’ve only gone through about 1/8 of the can. Also unlike mineral oil, this stuff is flammable, so you do have to be careful about disposing of your rags (I used cheesecloth). The other thing to be aware of with products like this is that they need to cure for a full 72 hours before the surface is considered food-safe. I don’t plan to use this countertop like a cutting board because fir is too soft, but it’s still something to be conscious of.

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So far, I’ve done three coats (waiting six hours and sanding lightly between coats) of Butcher Block Oil, and the finish looks great. There’s a slight sheen to it, but it’s definitely not SHINY. I don’t like shiny wood in kitchens. I poured a little water on to test its durability, and after 30 minutes it was still beaded up on the surface. Good sign! I’ll probably do a couple more coats just to be on the safe side, and then maintain the finish periodically with mineral oil going forward.

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I’m so happy about this combination of materials. Stainless steel gets a bad rap for being “clinical,” but I actually think it can look very warm — it’s all about how you use the material and what you combine it with. See how great it looks paired with natural wood and white tiles? The thing with stainless countertops is that you have to stop caring about scratches and other visible wear and just let it do what it’s going to do. The first few scratches we got on the counters looked terrible, but now that we’ve been using them for seven years and the steel has developed an overall patina, I don’t worry about damage at all. Stainless countertops are pretty indestructible.

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It’s no small thing to have counter space on BOTH sides of the stove now, let me tell you! Being able to use one side for chopping and another for keeping spices and oils handy while I’m cooking (plus the island behind me for organizing ingredients) makes a huge difference. It’s great. I can’t believe I went for so many years without anything on the left side of the stove! It looks so much more visually complete, too.

Speaking of things being complete, the kitchen still is not. We’ve had a very difficult time trying to get a plumber in to disconnect the radiators (that might sound like an easy job, but the steam pipes need to be cut, re-threaded, capped at basement-level and eventually extended and re-routed, which is beyond our level of DIY-ness), but we FINALLY have a plumber booked for next Wednesday. YAY!!! Once he takes out the radiators, I can resume tiling the remaining two walls and ripping up the floor. It’s going to be a VERY busy August! Evan and I have both taken vacation days, and we’re determined to get all of the work done before temperatures drop…otherwise we’re going to be without heat in the kitchen during the winter, which wouldn’t be good news for our feet or our pipes. Time to get moving!!

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With all the attention I’ve been giving the new apartment, I feel like my house (remember my house?) is taking a back seat! Admittedly I’ve been putting a lot of house projects on the back burner while we get the apartment side of living in order, but this past weekend I dove head first back into the ongoing kitchen renovation and made some major progress. Witness…SHELVING:

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YUP. No more dishes stacked up on the floor in the corner of the kitchen, cuz I’ve got SHELVES. I planned out and ordered custom Shenandoah shelving from Blake Avenue back in January, and I’ve been desperately trying to find time to hang them ever since. Daniel was kind enough to come to Newburgh and lend a hand on Saturday, and we had them up in no time. I’m so glad I took a chance and asked Joe at Blake Avenue to quote me a price, because they were much more affordable than I assumed they’d be—even with shipping factored in. I initially considered just ordering the brackets and sourcing reclaimed lumber locally, but in the end convenience won out.

Here are a couple of redundant photos of my shelves, because I love them so much.

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Detail shot! The industrial iron brackets are really nicely made and SUPER strong. They attach to the wall individually, which is great if you (like me) have an old house with uneven walls that would otherwise require lots of shimming in order to hang a shelving unit this long. The wood is reclaimed Douglas fir. I coated it with mineral oil before hanging. Even though I really liked the way the unfinished light wood looked, in a kitchen I think you want a little more protection from heat and humidity.

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I’m also in love with the swing-arm Otis lamp from onefortythree. The photos on the website seriously do not do Logan’s work justice. This a beautifully-made lamp, with all of the right attention to detail—from the square switch to the perfectly bent steel arm to the cloth-covered, twisted cord. I’m really impressed.

Of course, since I’m a jerk and decided to open the box pre-coffee, I immediately broke the tubular Edison bulb that was included. I put a chrome-tipped globe in for now, but I’ll replace the tubular bulb as soon as I can get to a bulb store. The globe just looks too bulky to me.

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I know, I know, too many photos! I can’t help it. I’m still obsessed with this corner. I can’t wait until spring so we can take the radiators out and finish tiling the last wall and a half. In the mean time, I’ll just keep petting this corner and feeling proud of myself for making those trim pieces work.

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Even though I’ve written about these mugs before, I’m including them again here because my coffeestagrams always seem to draw inquiries about their origins. They’re Bono mugs, designed by Catharina Kippel for Design House Stockholm—also available without a handle, if you prefer. They are lovely to hold, and are still chip-free after five years, which is how long the date on this post tells me it’s been since I bought them.

Also they look really nice on the new shelves. That’s the other reason I’m including a picture of them. OK?

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Soooo…I did it again. As if my bathroom trash can wasn’t “controversial” (or whatever) enough, I went ahead and bought another Vipp. This time, though, I got it for a super bargain! My scavenger guardian angel, Daniel, found a floor model for sale at the DWR Annex and picked it up for me. Yayyyyyy. (Remember when Daniel found me a Random Light at a thrift store? I’m still not over it.) I love my bathroom Vipp, and I’m sure I’ll love my kitchen Vipp just as much. It feels really good to know that I’ll probably never have to buy another trash can, I’ll tell you that much. And yes, these things matter to me.

Let’s end this with some Instagrams of scarves, friends, puppies and shattered dreams…

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A little more than a week after at least 50 million of us were affected by Hurricane Sandy, Americans are about to go to the polls tomorrow to vote in a very important presidential election at a pivotal point in our history as a nation. We are working against widespread voter suppression—yes, in 2012—grounded in racism and classism, and so much is at stake. This election isn’t just about President Obama’s policies over the next four years, it’s about the fact that there are currently four seated Supreme Court justices in their 70s. Whoever wins this election will likely nominate a new justice, and therein lies the future of our civil rights.

LISTEN UP: Whatever you believe about the U.S. economy and what can and should be done to fix it, we simply cannot legislate away our rights in the mean time. This is not a joke. This is not feeding clichéed lines about choosing the “lesser of two evils.” This is about doing our duty as American citizens to protect each other and ensure that future generations will live in a country with all of the freedoms they deserve. This is about saying NO to hatred, bigotry and discrimination.

I’ve been thinking a lot today about what I wanted to write in this post, but it occurred to me that so much of what I’m feeling is so closely aligned with what my (sensitive, insightful, passionate, well-spoken) friend Daniel wrote on his blog a few days ago…so I’ll let him say it for me. Here’s an excerpt:

I know people who are voting for Republicans. Some of these people I even count as friends. When I talk to them about it, the general response seems to be that they don’t “personally” support discrimination, even if discrimination is central to Republican social policy. Let me be clear: there is nothing more personal than a vote. By voting for Mitt Romney, you are casting a vote for discrimination. You are casting a vote against me, against my family, against equality, against fairness, against love, against freedom, against the promise of liberty and justice for all. A vote for this Republican party, as it stands in 2012, is a vote for discrimination. You are complicit in it, you are supporting it, you are perpetuating it. There is no other way to look at it, and it’s truly heartbreaking to see people I otherwise respect blind to this fact.

The choice in this election couldn’t be clearer, and not just on this issue. It’s the difference between a president who cares about the future of our education system, our public sector workers, and the social programs that attempt to keep those in need afloat, versus a party who doesn’t. It’s the difference between a president who has regained much of our respect in the world and has a proven record of successful foreign policy experience, versus a candidate with no experience, Bush’s foreign policy advisors, and reckless and wildly inconsistent ideas about the rest of the world. It’s the difference between a president who supports rights for women to receive equal pay for equal work, to have access to contraception, and to seek a safe and legal abortion if necessary, versus a party who would deny all of these rights. It’s a choice between a President who has dug this economy out of the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression versus a party who wants to return to the policies that caused the collapse in the first place. It’s the choice between a president who regards global warming as a real and tangible threat versus a party who thinks the climate change is a hoax, a joke, or both. It’s the difference between a president who doesn’t think you should go broke or die because of medical costs, versus a party that sees only the bottom line for the insurance industry. It’s the choice between a president who believes in equality versus a party who believes so profoundly in discrimination that they would amend our Constitution to reflect their extreme ideology. And that’s just off the top of my head.

Go over to Manhattan Nest to read all of Daniel’s post if you haven’t already. He expresses perfectly why this is such an important election, and why Barack Obama is the right choice to lead this country for the next four years. I hear a lot of talk about being a “values voter,” and that is exactly what I am: I support Obama because I support the civil rights of all Americans. I care about a compassionate future for my country. Those are my values, and my vote supports them.

In Novemeber 2008, we did this. Now let’s go out there and do it again. GO VOTE, AMERICA!

Banner image by Lisa Congdon for the #GoVote project!

Oh, just some weekend Instagram snaps I’ve been meaning to share here! Top to bottom, left to right…

✖ How cool is this black West Elm skull candle? I pretty much only buy stuff at West Elm when it’s on clearance, and I got this nearly-life-sized guy for $7 (!) at the DUMBO location. They only had one left, or else I would’ve bought a bunch. The best thing about Halloween being around the corner is SKULLS EVERYWHERE.

✖ I couldn’t resist this SHOPLIFTERS tote bag that was for sale at the merch counter at the Morrissey shows. I guess I’ll have to turn it around if I’m shopping in a store with employees who might not get the reference (or who might not have a sense of humor), but otherwise I shall carry it with pride.

✖ Evan and Bruno enjoying their morning coffee. Aren’t they handsome? This photo reminds me that I really need to take more photos of the new apartment before it stops being “new.”

✖ I had nothing to do with this—Fritz tucks himself in all the time. I’m told that the smarter dog breeds like Chihuahuas all do this. Bruno is only half Chihuahua (the other half is Bichon Frisé, a breed high in sweetness but not known for intelligence), which explains why he can’t really even figure out how to crawl under a blanket most of the time while Fritz is off basically building forts and growing opposable thumbs.

✖ I’ve been wearing my fake glasses (they’re the “Thatcher” style in Revolver Black from Warby Parker) every now and then, and I’ve gotta be honest—they make me feel great. Wearing glasses gives me enough confidence to wear my hair back in a ponytail, something I NEVER do unless I’m at home. I am wayyyyy to self-conscious to leave the house with my face completely exposed, so it either has to be hair or glasses that I hide behind, and it’s fun to have this option. I feel like a different person when I wear them. It’s like a disguise. And hey, I figure my vision is probably going to tank within the next few years anyway, so at least I’ll be comfortable wearing glasses when the time comes!

✖ This VOTE LEFT mug was another cheapie West Elm clearance item. Unfortunately they’re sold out online, but stores probably still have them. And yeah, I know it’s not really possible to truly vote left in this country, but I can dream. For now, I’ll vote as far left as I possibly can.

Brooklyn Heights Cinema is on my old street (Henry Street pride!!), and I miss going there to see movies—it’s a great little theater. It’s actually not too far of a walk from DUMBO, though, so I should make the effort to walk up now and then. It’s near a great little natural-food restaurant called Siggy’s Good Food that does an amazing vegan brunch. Highly recommended!

✖ This is the original herringbone tile in the lobby of Daniel’s building. Tile like this is the reason I like hands-off landlords who don’t want to pay to renovate. Isn’t it pretty?

I don’t have a corresponding photo, but prior to taking that picture of the tile, Daniel and Max and I went to go see The Perks of Being a Wallflower at BAM. It was so, so, so great. Really. It’s based on what I consider to be one of the best books of the past 20 years, and certainly one of the greatest books ever written for young adults. The movie was directed and the screenplay was written by the author of the book, Stephen Chbosky, and he did a perfect job with the conversion. The trailer is pretty terrible, but don’t worry—it’s not a good representation of the actual movie (funny how that happens sometimes). I was pretty much either in tears or holding back tears for the duration, just like when I read the book the first time. The actors are all wonderful, the soundtrack is exactly as it should be, and it felt great to watch a movie that actually feels like teenage—and human—reality. Read the book. See the movie. Hold onto your Kleenex.

So here’s the thing: As I’ve mentioned before, I am the Manhattan Nest super-PAC. As such, I would be remiss in my obligations if I did not inform you that a certain someone I like to call Daniel (because that’s his name) has made it to the final round in Apartment Therapy’s 8th Annual Small Cool Home Contest!! Apartment Therapy runs this contest every year, and the goal is to highlight the best in small-scale living. Daniel’s apartment clocks in at 614 square feet of awesome, and it’s by far the coolest apartment in the running. For real. And I’m not just saying that.

Need a refresher of how much work Daniel has put into his little rental apartment this part year? Here you go. YEAH. So let’s go help this kid win FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS.

Go here to vote for ‘Daniel’s Amazing Bones’ to win Small Cool 2012!

Remember, even if you marked Daniel as a favorite in the semi-finals, you still need to cast a vote for the WINNER in the finals. If you don’t already have an account, make one. It’s easy. Goodnight, and thank you.

All photos by Maxwell Tielman.

Left to right, top to bottom:

I spent a lot of time cleaning, unpacking, and arranging. I’m pretty impressed by how much I managed to cross off the to-do list! By midday Sunday I was able to sit down and enjoy an iced coffee and feel a bit more at home. (The book under my coffee is Lena Corwin’s beautifully illustrated book of city maps. I can’t stop looking at it!)

On Sunday afternoon Shilo and Jenna came over for hot coffee on the roof. It was a bit chilly out, but still so nice to enjoy the view! I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of it. Shilo brought some vegan blueberry crumb bars that were super-delicious. Perfect.

I’ve always had custom aluminum legs on my KARLSTAD sofa instead of the wood block ones they come with, but I’ve hung onto the wood ones since I’ve had a project like this in mind for a while now. I didn’t wind up with neon pink work table legs, but I did decide to give my sofa legs a set of neon pink socks! I’ll take better photos of the sofa and its new gams soon, but for now here’s a little sneak peek. I love how this turned out.

On Sunday evening, Daniel and Max came over to have beers with the dogs! Bruno and Fritz looooooove their Uncle Daniel. It’s so cute to see them jumping up and down with excitement whenever he’s around. Bruno immediately claimed his lap space and greatly enjoyed the extra attention—especially the belly-rubs.

Oh! And I decided to start wearing bracelets again. I used to wear stuff on my wrists all the time, but then I started getting annoyed by how they felt when I was using the computer. I like the feeling of security they give, though, so I’m giving them another shot. Aren’t those hot pink bangles great? They were a present from Jen. She, Tamera, Jenna, Shilo and I all have the same ones. I feel happy looking at them. I have nice friends.

p.s. Speaking of spray paint projects and friends, did you see Tamera’s amazing stool?! It’s so pretty.

OK, so it’s time to get political. You know the annual Homies Awards are going on over at Apartment Therapy, right? Yep, it’s true, the nomination round is over, and now the FINALS are nearly complete with less than a day of voting left.

UPDATE: Voting is now closed. Manhattan Nest took 2nd place. Yay, Daniel!

Here’s what you need to do:

✚ Go to the Homies 2012 Home Design Blog Finals page at Apartment Therapy.
✚ If you’re not already logged in, log in.
✚ Don’t have an account? That’s easily remedied.
✚ OK wait, go back to the Homies 2012 Home Design Blog Finals page.
✚ Here’s the easy, fun part: Vote for Manhattan Nest!!!

Just in case it’s not enough for me to just tell you what to do, here’s my campaign pitch:

All-original content. Daniel blogs about one thing: His own home. Yes, sometimes his cute boyfriend and his even cuter dog (sorry Max, dogs always win the cutestakes) come up, but it’s all in the context of him building a home for his little family. The photos you see on Manhattan Nest were taken by Daniel. The content was written by Daniel. Everything you see on his blog is him. And nobody is paying him or sponsoring him, either—he’s sharing this stuff because he enjoys it.

This kid is going places. I know it’s easy to forget when you’re reading his blog, but Daniel is only 22 years old. TWENTY-TWO. When I was 22, I was…well, OK, when I was 22 I had just started working at the same job I’m still at 14 years later, but that’s not the point. Daniel is young, and he is smart and kind and funny beyond his years. I don’t know what he’ll be doing in 5 or 10 years (I don’t think he does, either), but I do know he’ll be doing whatever it is really, really well.

Daniel inspires me. He inspires me not by sharing a bunch of things that inspire him, but by sharing what he’s done to make his home feel more like an extension of himself. He’s living in a rented pre-war apartment in New York City that’s gotten pretty run-down through neglect over the years, and he’s fixing it up on a student budget. He’s not doing this to make the apartment worth more, he’s doing it to feel happier every day—and he’s sharing that process with all of us. Every time I take on a project in my own elderly home, I think of Manhattan Nest and have a little WWDD moment. He makes me want to go the extra mile, and to think of solutions to problems that might not be immediately obvious. Daniel makes me not want to be a slacker. Isn’t this exactly the kind of inspiration you want to take away from a home design blog?

He’s my friend. I’m actually feeling kind of verklempt just writing those simple words. Daniel is my friend. He’s not just some guy I know on the internet, he’s my weekly coffee buddy, my personal mover, my confidant, my conspirator, my friend. I met Daniel because we both have blogs, and we’ve always supported and helped each other in whatever capacity we’re able. He’s a good person, and I’m very, very lucky to know him.

Ok, pitch done.