Monday, August 29, 2016

Book Review - Love the House You're In

"40 ways to improve your home and change your life."

A few weeks ago, when J was gone on a three-week field exercise, I wondered over to a temple of solace, also known as Barns and Noble.  I was feeling sad and restless, missing Jeff, and wanted a new book to keep me company at night.  As I wandered the aisles looking for something to catch my eye, I decided I wanted a book on home improvement.  I was planning spending my free time while J was gone painting, organizing, and rearranging (something that's got the double benefit of being engaging and time-consuming, while being easy to leave at any moment when things come up).  Eventually, I picked up Love the House You're In by Paige Rien.  The book particularly caught my eye because it proposed to change the way you think about your home, and looked to have good advice not just for homeowners, but also for renters.  Since we don't own our house, and since we have a max two years left here in Fairbanks, I had hoped it would have some good tips on what to do without needing an addition or to tear out a wall.

Well, I was not disappointed.
This book is divided into 5 sections, each looking at a different aspect of the home.  The first two sections are all about reflection.  The third is about 'style'.  It's in quotations marks because the author hates the word style and what it implies.  The last two contain practical advice about decorating a house.  Overall the book covers every type of room and every big decision that needs to be made.  There is advice on elements of entry, on lighting and paint colors, additions and throw pillow.  For such a short book, it really has everything.

Here are the parts of the book that were most helpful for me:

  • Part One:  So, Who are You?
    I know it's kind of cheating to have the entire first section be the number one helpful thing, but this section is exactly what makes this book unique.  It doesn't ask "do you like traditional furniture?" or "What is your budget?"   Instead, the chapter goes through different aspects of a person's history and identity, such as travel, hometown, faith, etc.  As such Paige asks us to think about who we are, so that when we get to  actually changing our home, we have a firm grasp of the things that make us happy, so that we may show them off in our home.  This chapter inspired me to take out a tile we received at our wedding from storage.  This tile says "happiness is being married to someone Polish"  and has a couple in traditional Krakow dress kissing on it.  I always liked it, but never displayed it because its traditional look never fit in with the modern style I knew I liked.  But I realized that it was one of the few things we have that marks my heritage, and that is important to me.  
  • What Do You Love about Your House?
    This chapter of section two asks you to list at least 5 things you love about your house.  It asks you to come up with this list fast.  If something pops into your head, it should probably be on the list.  Don't choose things that you think you should like, and don't list anything too broad.  Stick with specifics.  For me this was easy.  The things I currently love about my rental are
    1.  The view of the mountains from the balcony on a clear day
    2.  The bookcase in the living room where all the books are organized by the color of the spines
    3.  The painting J and I bought in Anchorage last Spring
    4.  The many house plants that line our windowsills
    5.  The print of J and I that was signed by guests at our wedding.
    The list was easy.  The first thing it made me realize is that I wanted to bring many more plants into our bedroom, which at the time only had three.  I detail the results of that search here.
    Military Mama Musings - Rainbow Bookcase
  • What's Your Real-Estate Story
    What I really gained from this part of section two, is how important it is to ask this simple question:  Will you be at this home for more than 5 years.  In our case, the answer is no.  I know we'll be moving in about two years.  This is not a "forever" home for us.  Paige here makes a statement that was a surprise for me, but that I loved.  If you're not in a forever home, don't wait.  You're not going to take up huge projects such as an addition if you're not there forever, but you can do a lot of small things now, and enjoy them for the few years you will stay in the house.  I loved the advice.  I repainted a spare bedroom I hated that was acting as storage outside of the one month a year where we have family visiting and changed in into a "me" room, complete with a sewing corner, a hammock for reading, and of course, lots of plants!
  • Welcome yourself Home: Entryways
    I never loved the way our home entry was set up.  The first flat surface I came to when entering the home was J's desk.  The second was our living room table and chairs.  As a result, both places were always covered with junk mail, purses, coats, and shopping bags.  J hated it since his desk is his sanctuary.  Paige gave a few pointers on how important it is to not only have a designated space for all that stuff, but also how nice it is to have something you love be the last thing you see when you leave the house, and the first thing you see when you enter.  I rearranged some of the living room furniture, and now we have a functioning entry way!
I highly recommend this book to anyone who is not quite satisfied with their home, and who feels lost in all the decisions that could possibly be made!

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Vertical Garden - How to squeeze just a few more plants into the bedroom!

A few weeks ago I read a great book, Love the House You're In.  It really made me think about the aspects of the rental that I love, and on top of the list is ALL the plants that we have.  I have two balconies, and several south facing windows, all of which are covered by plants.  In fact, the only rooms of the house that don't have any houseplants are the walk in closet and the two bathrooms (none of which have any windows.)  

Anyway, I decided that I needed more plants in my bedroom.  All I had in there was a small snake plant* I placed on J's nightstand (it's my way of saying "I love you" since snake plants are known to clean the air at night), a large-ish  Bird of Paradise that was doing OK, but had never flowered, and a Norfolk Island Pine (I think) that Jeff got me around last Christmas.  Now the latter two are fairly large plants, but I wanted a massing somewhere in the bedroom instead of just single specimens.  

Military Mama Musings - Snake Plant/Mother in law's tongue

I did a little research on indoor vertical gardens, and there are some amazing ideas out there, both ready to buy products, and DIY tutorials.

The first one I found was a beautiful Smart Wall from G Sky.  It has the benefit of being an all in one product, comes fully assembled, and has drip irrigation installed.  All you do is add 96 4" plants and enjoy!  Unfortunately at $1499 it was a bit out of my price range.  Still, it's a beauty!
Military Mama Musings - Smart Wall by G Sky

There was also this smaller Vertical Succulent Frame from Succulent Wonderland at Etsy.  It had a great place to put in a larger plant, and the cost of $96 included the succulents in the top corner.  It was definitely worth the price, but it didn't quite fit into the look of our bedroom.
Military Mama Musings - Vertical Succulent Frame from Succulent Wonderland at Etsy

A DIY Succulent Frame from Balcony Garden Web looked like jus the thing.  I could make it in a style that fit the look I wanted and still have vertical plantings.  Until I realized that my bedroom, especially in the winter, simply does not get enough light to support succulents.  I didn't want to install a special light for them, and I was afraid that with the mold problems constantly present in Alaska, it would not end up well for me.  

Clearly, I needed something that would work for less light loving plants.  This DIY wood and leather trellis plant wall looked perfect.  I could make it, and it could be taken off the wall to come with me when we move in a few years.  I loved the look  and the fact that I could paint the pots and trellis to work with the colors of the bedroom.  I realized, however, that my bedroom just does not have this much wall space, at least not where there is any light.  Next house maybe...
Military Mama Musings - Trellis Plant Wall

These Macrame Hanging Planters just looked beautiful.  They all came from Chiron Creations on Etsy, and some amazing person hung a dozen or so of them, all in different shades of blue and green, in a row.  It looks spectacular.  However, you once again need some blank wall space, and I didn't want to spend so much money on my last minute project.  This is once again a project for the next house.

I finally found something that would work for me at M-Pression.  Instead of a complicated design, why not fill an entire shelf with cascading plants?  There are tons that are OK with low light conditions, some neglect (I'm not the best at regular watering, and it usually takes me months to get a plant to thrive), and I already have shelves in the bedroom!

I just loved this look.  I took some inventory of the plants that I had available that would propagate easily.  I had two kinds of photos in the house, which love low light, and are hanging.  Then I went on an online shopping spree at Hirts Gardens over at Etsy.  The choices were great (I decided to stick with one store so that I didn't have to pay too much extra shipping since shipping to Alaska can get quite expensive), and I ended up ordering four new plants:

  • Lemon-Lime Vining Philodendron: an easy hanging plant that's my favorite bright shade of green
  • Mona Lisa Lipstick Plant: this one was supposed to be easy and I couldn't resist the bright red flowers
  • Velvet Leaf Bronze Micans Vine: Interesting green/red foliage, also a philodendron, and it's a hanging plant too!
  • Red Prayer Plant:  this one is not a hanging plant, but I had hoped it would offset the other plantings nicely

Military Mama Musings - Houseplants

I bought a whole bunch of 5" clay pots, and spray painted them yellow and gray.  I did a horrible job, and the paint dripped all over itself.  Since in the back of my head we have a "less than two years at his place" mentality, I decided to just embrace the drips as part of the look, and in fact sprayed some more to get even more drips.  

The plants arrived in a few days and looked like this:

They were packaged very nicely, and in fact were much bigger than what I expected to get with 4" pots.  Very exciting!

I planted them all, including the two pothos plants in the 5" pots.  The result is quite nice, though lacking in the 'vertical' aspect.  But that's the thing about working with plants.  They look significantly better after you've given them some time to grow!

Military Mama Musings - Future Vertical Green Wall

*SIDE NOTE:  Snake plant, or Sansevieria trifasciata, is also called mother in law's tongue.  It is a name I prefer since it paints a nice picture:  the leaves have very sharp edges, and like the  proverbial mother in law, will cut you up if not careful.  However, since my mother in law is a lovely sweet person, I always feel guilty falling back on that name, so Snake plant it is.  

Friday, August 19, 2016

End of a Miscarriage

I've been writing this post for a week weeks now, and even so, I'm having a difficult time putting down my thoughts.  Maybe because this is such a significant moment.  Maybe because it's less significant than I want to make it out to be...  I'm not sure.  

Military Mama Musings - End of a Miscarriage

Last week my doctor called with the news.  After a month of spotting, bleeding, spotting, more bleeding, etc, My hCG levels are now "undetectable".  I can't believe it took a month for my body to get back to normal.  Except, that it really doesn't feel normal.  I feel sad.  And a little scared to try again.  I know this is supposed to be normal, but I'm so worried that it'll happen again and again.

My body does feel more normal.  I've had one more 'period', which of course wasn't a period at all.  But it does seem like my body has gone back to status quo.  I'm working hard on not checking any of my fertility apps since I don't think I could stop myself from trying again so soon if I knew.  Our doctor wants us to wait as month or two before we try again.

One of the positive things I got from this is the absolute realization of how you can plan for absolutely nothing when it comes to children.  You can't plan on when you'll have them, on their gender, on their personality, and on what they'll choose to become in the future.

Maybe this was just a valuable parenting lesson after all?

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Choosing Paint - a few tips

Military Mama Musings - Choosing Paint: a few tipsI assume most people have painted a room at some point in their lives.  Maybe you just 'helped' choose the color as a kid, or maybe you're that crazy person (and I include myself in the description) who decided to repaint their first apartment from top to bottom, and then had to paint it all back before moving out?  Either way, almost everyone knows that most of the time, choosing a paint color can be a daunting process, and it's certainly not one that should be rushed.

Now, I am not an expert on this by any means.  I am not a color theorist, not an interior designer, and I don't have tetrachromacy (though I really wish I did).  I do however love color, decorating, and am frequently asked by friends to help them choose a color for their house.  I also love to research colors, how the appear with different light types and temperatures, and most of the time I think the colors I've chosen have worked great in the space.  My friends sometimes agree and sometimes don't, but as I learned in a recent book I read, Love the Home you Have,  don't rely on friends to give you your own color preference, and don't worry if they don't like what you chose!

Now, everyone has their own way of going about picking colors.  I used to be the go to the store, pick a color, buy the paint, and have a painted room two days later.  I was lucky and hadn't picked out anything so obnoxious I couldn't live with it, but I've had my hits and misses.  The shade of green in our bedroom is still just a tad bit too cool to work well with the warm brown of our furniture.  I also spend five years in a bedroom whose lavender color went from cool blue to bright pink depending on the light, time of day, and season.  The blue wasn't a problem, but the pink drove me crazy when I was unlucky enough to be home during those few hours when the afternoon sun squeezed in between my house and the next door neighbor and shone a two-foot wide swatch through the narrow window.

I have since developed a few steps I try to follow when choosing paint.

Military Mama Musings - Choosing Paint: a few tips

  • Spontaneous Painting will NOT get you a reliable result
    This one is really hard for me, because most of my projects start in a whirlwind of activity where I decide that I must, RIGHT NOW, start this awesome thing.  I usually have an idea, and I want to execute it while I have the drive and energy.  It works great for some things.  I've cleaned the garage in one day, made a baby blanket, and put together our yearbook this way.  But I've managed to tell myself that painting is a task I cannot get started on whenever the urge strikes me.  Instead, I tell myself to channel that first burst of energy into picking a color.  
  • Don't limit yourself when selecting swatches
    Paint looks different in the store than it will in your house. Therefore, you cannot really judge a paint color by the way it looks on a well-lit wall in Home Depot (or your paint store of choice).  There are some judgments that you can make.  First, if you hate a particular hue (I really am not a fan of pink), you can be fairly certain that you will not come to love if you surround yourself with the color.  Second, you probably know how intense of a color you will be happy with.  Some people love bright colors on their walls, others know they want a more subtle or neutral shade.  There is no need to look at the Sunshine Yellow if you know you are looking for something off-white.  Similarly, don't look at pastels if you know you want a dark maroon wall. Third, if there are restrictions of what color you can choose, like your landlord saying "neutrals only" or your child asking that her room be painted blue, there is no need to get colors that don't match that description.
    Outside of that, get all the samples that meet your color choices.   I usually know a general color I want to paint (a green bedroom, a gray craft room, white trim, etc.) so I only get colors that match that general idea.  I like to get both warm and cool shades of each color because I have been surprised before at what worked well with my current carpet and light at my house.  For my last painting project, a spare bedroom turned into a getaway for me, I had over 50 shade of gray (no pun intended) in my original choices.  
  • Eliminate obviously wrong shades in the space to be painted
    Lay out all of your paint choices in the room you'll be painting.  Put aside any that you immediately know do not work.  These are the colors that clash with your furniture, look like vomit in the light, or blend so much with the carpet you cannot tell where one started and the other began (unless of course this is a look you're going for.)  I find that the first elimination to be pretty easy.  Don't worry about throwing away a "perfect" shade by accident:  if there is something you dislike about it at first glance, it'll never grow on you.
  • Eliminate until you have 3 or 4 shades left
    Hopefully, your first elimination round got rid of a dozen or two.  Either way now is the time to eliminate.  Get rid of any color that's too dark (this one is usually pretty easy).  Get rid of any color that's too cool or too warm.  This one can be tough for people who do not do well with warm/cool colors.  Warm colors have undertones of red, yellow, or orange.  Cool colors have undertones of blue or green.  Purple undertones can be either cool or warm.  Some rooms, especially empty ones, can lend themselves to either warm or cool shades, but in most cases, you want to match coolness or warmness to your carpet or furniture.  This will usually eliminate half of the paint chips you have left.  After that it gets harder, but I usually just put away any paint that I don't like, no matter how trivial the reason (except the name of the paint, do not use the name of the paint for any reason, they don't mean anything).  Keep eliminating until you have 4 shades.  Then, unless you are really going for bold, eliminate the darkest one.  I will often keep the darkest shade if I'm painting the room more than one color, but for a single color, eliminate it.
  • Look at your chosen swatches in different lights, on different walls, and at different times of day
    I usually throw the swatches on white paper to eliminate the interference of the existing color (this is not always needed if the existing walls are a neutral white).   I use sticky tack to put them on the walls (not right next to each other), and every time I pass by the room, I look at them.  It takes me at least two days, and usually a week, but by then I have usually found a color I liked.
    If you have a hard time visualizing the color from a small paint swatch.  If that's the case, buy sample paint colors of your choice and paint a 2' x 2' (or bigger) swatch on your wall.  don't put the samples right next to each other and make sure you put them in a spot that has a lot of light changes.  Alternatively, paint boards, so that you can move the paint swatch around the room.  Remember to put something white in the back.  
  • Choose your paint
    Hopefully, a color or two has presented itself.  If i can't decide between two colors, and they work together, I will sometimes use both, especially on different walls.  If you really can't choose, flip a coin.  After all, paint is not a permanent decision you have to live with for the rest of your life.  

Thursday, August 11, 2016

A Morning Bus Mishap

J and I are currently operating with only one car, which has posed a few logistical issues when it comes to living life in Alaska.  I've been alternatively biking, carpooling, and riding the bus to work in the mornings.  This morning, I was reading a great article on the American Gymnastics Team and got so distracted I missed my bus stop.  Unfortunately, the next bus stop is about a mile away, so I got a nice walk in this morning.  On the walk back to work, I stopped by Lowes to buy a larger pot for one of my split leaf philodendrons at work and ended up purchasing a second, as of yet unidentified, plant with awesome red coloring. Anyone know what this is?
Military Mama Musings - Hypoestes phyllostachya - Polka Dot Plant
Update:  this is possibly a Hypoestes phyllostachya 'Splash Select' Red - Polka Dot Plant

Military Mama Musings - Hypoestes phyllostachya - Polka Dot Plant

Carrying both the pot and the plant I walked through a drive-thru since my adventure seemed to deserve a coffee and scone reward, which was slightly awkward and reminded me of being in college again.  But when you are trying to get breakfast along a limited route at 7:30 am there are not a lot of chances to be picky.  The things that we find acceptable before we become an adult are hilarious looking back, and without a car, I'm starting to feel like my Adult card is being revoked.  The scone, cheese and ham, was incredibly delicious, and has inspired me to bake tonight!  Anyway, it was a good start to the day, and my Fitbit applauded me for doing so much walking!

Monday, August 8, 2016

Three reasons I am not an Army Wife

Military Mama Musings - Why I'm not an Army WifeA Military Wife
Now that's a phrase that can mean a lot of different things to different people.  For some, it conjures up images of a prim and proper housewife in pearls, making sure that dinner is on the table when her soldier comes back from work, no matter how late that is.  For others, it is a modern woman, wearing an army t-shirt with her kids in tow, doing the shopping while her husband has been away at training for weeks.  Or maybe you picture a grieving widow, a woman who loves a man that made the ultimate sacrifice for his country.  Whatever image you have, and there are many more to choose from, the term Military Wife tends to evoke strong feelings in many Americans.

An Army Wife
Those feelings seem to be even stronger when it comes to the term Army Wife.  I don't know if that negative image was sparked by the show "Army Wives" or if it is the show that exploited an often undeserved stereotype.  For the record, I've only ever seen the first episode.  I watched the pilot alone while J was deployed, spend the whole night crying, and vowed never to do that again.

I do want to state that I do not have any notion of an Army Wife as being lazy, greedy, gossiping, cheating, living off of her husband's career, etc.  I'm actually not entirely sure what all the stereotypes are since most of the women I've met married to soldiers have been wonderful, kind, welcoming, and generally the kind of people anyone would love to be surrounded by.  My objection to being called an Army Wife has nothing to do with stereotypes, with the possible exception of that fact that it makes me mistakenly think of a stay at home mom, a title I never want to have, though I respect that choice of the women that do.  I say mistakenly, because most of the women I've met in the army work, and many of those that don't wish they could find a job in their career.  No, my objection has to do with my absolute rejection of being defined by my husband's career.

A Landscape Architecture Husband
Reading the above "a Landscape Architecture Husband" probably made you wince.  For one, it's an awkward term.  For another, how weird is it to define someone by their spouse's job?  I understand that Landscape Architecture and a Military career are very different.  In the military, soldiers risk their lives, they are often gone for weeks, months, or years, the job has an unpredictable schedule, and in some ways legally requires the soldier to put his career in front of any other concerns.  Although those are all true, there are other careers that have similar traits (with the possible exception of the legal requirement).  I have a good friend whose husband is a Smoke Jumper.  When there is a wildfire, he gets called in, packs a backpack, jumps out of a helicopter, battles a wildfire, then hikes back out to civilization.  As far as I know he's never been gone for months, but several weeks is not uncommon.  His job is dangerous, it is unpredictable, and no one has ever called my friend "A Smoke Jumper's Wife."

I know that no job is quite like the military.  I know that in many ways it is a unique profession that requires sacrifices on the job of the soldier and the spouse.  I also understand that there are many women married to members of the military that don't mind, or even like, the title of "Army Wife."  To women who love it, I say keep it.  If it makes you happy, if it works for you, then that's what you should go with.

Three reasons why I'm not an Army Wife
It, however, does not work for me.

  • Being called an Army Wife denies the fact that I am a person separate from my husband's career.  I was my own person before we married, and still am now that we are married.  We share a lot, including a bed, pets, and a bank account.  We share our aspirations and dreams.  We do not share our identity.  To me, the term "Army Wife" denies everything I have accomplished on my own, and ties me not to my husband, but to his career.
  • I am not married to the military.  I married a wonderful man whose career is in the Army.  I am proud of him.  I am proud of what he accomplished so far in life, and I will be there to support him and whatever the future holds.  My love, marriage, and commitment are to my husband, not to the military.
  • It conjures up images of a time in the Military (or at least the Army) when a wife was graded for her involvement in the unit, and her husband's career could benefit or suffer from the degree of that involvement.  The Army has since seen sense.  Wives are not longer dismissed from their jobs at the moment of saying "I do" and they can choose whether to work or stay at home, whether to have children or not, and how much involvement they want in their husband's units.  This choice is good.  And I choose not to be an Army Wife.
Now please do not misunderstand me.  I love my husband.  I support him in his career.  I love being involved in the FRG and the coffee groups.  And I'm happy to go to the balls, the meetings, the promotions and the other functions.  All those things are a part of our happy marriage.  The give and take, the involvement what is important to us.  To me, being called an Army Wife implies that I have to do these things.  But I don't.  I choose to do them.  And to me, that makes all the difference.  

Monday, August 1, 2016

Working, No-Kids, Military Wife

I find life in the military to be interesting, though a lot has changed in my perception of what military life is in the 5 years we've been together.  

When J and I first started dating, I loved the idea of marrying into the military life.  It seemed wonderful to have a life with a support network built-in.  A whole world of women whose experiences were similar to yours;  who would help you out when needed, show you the ropes of every new place and be there when your husband had to be away for training or deployed.  I remember sitting in a Mexican Restaurant with my classmates (I was attending graduate school at the time) and talking about it.  They all thought I was crazy to want the military life, but to me, an introvert who takes months or even years to get to know people before I call them a friend, it seemed perfect.
Angel Eyes Photography
I have found, however, that the reality of the experience is a bit different.  It's not that that support network doesn't exist, or that the women I've met are not wonderful.  It does, and they are.  I've met many great ladies, some of whom I've grown very close to, others who have been there in unexpected ways.  But the community and support network seem to revolve around three factors, a) living on Post, b) having children, and c) not working full-time outside of the home.  Since none of those apply to me,  I've had to find my support network outside of Post.

I see these wonderful women once a month or so, usually at a Coffee night or an FRG meeting.  I host one when it's my turn, but few people come since we're off Post and it's a bit of a drive to my house. I always have a great time with the ones that do come, though.  But rarely do we become best friends. Partially, I think it's because
  •  I don't live on post, so I'm not there to meet up for lunch unexpectedly, or to see in the middle of the day, or to call on in an emergency.  Well, I'd be there for the last one, but people tend to call those they've gotten to know already who are close.
  • We don't have children.  I know, I know, the name of the blog is Military MAMA musings, but at this moment, and unless you count my cat and dog which I sometimes do, the mama thing is a wish and a hope and not a reality.  Many of the ladies I meet have kids, many of them are young, and they become a great, common topic of conversation.  After all, kids are a huge part of your life, whether you're a SAHM or a Working Mom, so it's natural for them to big a huge topic.  I love kids, but at the end of the day, I don't have a lot of stories to contribute.  And many moms don't like it when you respond to one of kid stories with "yeah!  my dog used to do that too, but then we neutered him." The similarities may be there, but we don't like them pointed out.
  • I work outside the home.  Really, the reasons for this one is similar to the other two:  you have to be available when the other house is at work to hang out, and become friends.  I work during that time.  It also means that what's on my mind at the end of the day, like my coworkers, a conversation with my boss, or a recent assignment, may not always be relatable to someone who spend her day or week in very different pursuits.  We end up having to work a lot harder to find the things we have in common.  Sometimes it's worth it, sometimes it's not.  

Now, just because military life is not exactly like the ideal I had when J and I first started dating, doesn't mean it doesn't come with some amazing experiences.  After all, we're in Alaska!  This is a place people pay a fortune to visit, and we get to try out' living here for a few years before we permanently settle down.  The military does have a community, though it's much different from what I pictured.  I often strike up conversations with strangers about being a military wife (a term I'm not terribly fond of, but more on that next time), and getting to talk with people about their previous duty stations is a great conversation starter, and usually quite interesting.  You really do get to meet a lot of wonderful people, and with modern technology, you can keep up with their adventures even after the army move one, or both, of you.

You also make your own community.  It may not mean you know every spouse in your husbands (or wife's) unit, but you know the ones you'd call if something is wrong.  Sure, you may see each other more than civilian spouses usually see their spouses' coworkers' spouses, but at least you always have a ready topic of conversation.  That's definitely worth something.