January 02, 2017

Lesson 234: 2016 Book List

In genereal, 2016 was a disappointing reading year. As I look back over the list, a few titles generate small excitement, but most were just time fillers. (Makes you want to keep reading, doesn't it?)

One theme that emerged in the fiction category is that authors wrote from unusual vantage points or attempted to connect strange threads, I felt, unsuccessfully. At the Water's Edge followed wealthy New Yorkers on a search for the Loch Ness Monster during WWII. It was intriguing in some ways, but mostly just left me feeling like, what was that? Same with Beautiful Ruins. A local sop meets a movie star on an island, and then we're years later with this loser movie writer in California. What? I felt like the story was trying too hard. In the Unlikely Event, Judy Blume. Beautiful language, but also a strange setting, time, storyline.

When I'm done with books like these, I throw them on the ground and groan, and Mark asks, "Why did you bother finishing it?" And I say, "I don't know," and then I go and scoop out a big bowl of ice cream. So, there's that.

The big titles of the year fell flat for me also, maybe because of expectations and hype. Orphan Train. The Nightengale. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Hillbilly Elegy. All fine, nothing to talk about. Actually, Elegy is probably worth your time. I didn't love it, but read it anyway.

A few highlights as I look over the list.

This is Awkward by Sammy Rhoads is the kind of book that should be read once, and then kept around for reference. Each chapter is more uncomfortable than the next as Sammy tells personal stories about divorce, weight issues, struggles with pornography, and so on, and then, directly applies Gospel truth and hope to the situation. But, it's not cheesy. It's painful and good. I think most people will connect deeply with at least one "topic" and come away with fresh thoughts personally, but, will also benefit from reading the other chapters. His writing style encourages growth in empathy towards friends and family who struggle in ways I don't. It's helpful.

The Art of Homemaking by Edith Schaffer is the most refreshing parenting book I've ever read. She begins with the simple question, What is art? A parenting book, asking about art?! It's the best. Then, in a very pre-internet way, she gives ideas for how a mother can express individual creativity in day to day tasks, through music, flower arranging, hospitality, decorating, food. It's not stressful though, I think partially because it is illustrated with drawings, not perfectly staged photos. Rather than showing exactly how things should be done, she gives suggestions that encourage personal reflection and drawing of conclusions. I loved it!

I'll Drink to That was fun. It's the memoirs of a woman living and working in the fashion industry during a very glamorous time in Chicago and New York. House Thinking interested me, as it explained the ways sociology and economy affected each room of the house. A Severe Mercy is always great, though this was a repeat read for me.

Y'all know it was a bad year when I'm mentioning repeats.

Here's to 2017, and hopefully better selections.


* In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume

* The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

* For the Love by Jen Hatmaker


* A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

* Styled by Emily Henderson

* The House on First Street: My New Orleans Story by Julia Reed

* The Stories We Tell by Patti Callahan Henry


* Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

* This is Awkward by Sammy Rhoads

* The Race to Paris: A Novel by Meg Waite Clayton

* At the Water's Edge by Sara Gruen


* I'll Drink To That by Betty Halbreich and Rebecca Paley

* Orphan Train: A Novel by Christina Baker Kline

* House Thinking: A Room - By - Room Look at How We Live by Winifred Gallagher


* 7 by Jen Hatmaker

* The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson

* The Art of Homemaking by Edith Schaffer

* Journey to Munich by Jacqueline Winspear


* A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken

* The Madwoman Upstairs: A Novel by Catherine Lowell


* The Nightengale by Kristin Hannah

* Harry Potter and the Sorcorer's Stone by J. K. Rowling


* Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J. K. Rowling


* The Gilded Hour by Sara Donati


* Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

* Before We Visit the Goddess by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

* The Summer Before the War: A Novel by Helen Simonson

December 21, 2016

Lesson 233: The Before & After of Our House (Kitchen * Dining * Sitting)

Without fail, the question asked by every person when first entering our house was, "Did you paint these cabinets yourself?"

My response. "No ... but I did buy a house with teal cabinets!"

And we liked them. We really did. They were quirky and fun. They gave us immediate street cred with our college students, and when Friends appeared on Netflix, I felt all warm and fuzzy with nostalgia.

(Monica's kitchen.)

So I want to be clear. Our kitchen renovation was not merely about replacing out some old, oddly colored cabinets. It was about so much more than that. To be quite honest, and perhaps a bit philosophical, it was about making a complete lifestyle change.

The underlying thought process involved a few things.

First, homes that feel the most welcoming include areas encouraging both refuge and opportunity. This is the reason some open concept houses intuitively work and why some feel stressful and overwhelming. People function best in spaces that provide both. In certain rooms, the goal is feel as if the opportunities are endless. These rooms are bright and big, and they give you the feeling that anything is possible. But in our homes, we do not want to be constantly inspired to think and dream and go. In fact, sometimes we need to actively rest. To retreat. To breath. To reflect.

The best homes, and buildings in general, offer both refuge and opportunity, with one important detail kept in mind. When you are in the place of rest, you want to be able to glimpse the opportunity. It keeps you from feeling stuck in a hole with nowhere to go. It keeps you from feeling claustrophobic. Similarly, while you're joyfully experimenting in the realm of opportunity, you want to see the place of refuge, knowing that if things get overwhelming, a relaxing place is close at hand.

This idea helped guide the process of opening up the walls in our house. With all this Fixer Upper-ing frenzy, people often feel like they need to knock every wall down. But our goal was to open up part of home, enabling us to host a large amount of people, but also remembering that most of the time, it's just our family of five living here. We need a smaller, cozier room to relax in.

Pushing further into the function aspect, I wanted to have ways to use our house when it's just the five of us. And as I mentioned, to be able to host a crowd.

Finally, we wanted to simplify and brighten!

The previous owners (who did paint the cabinets) had completed a hack job renovation of the kitchen. They had installed the weirdest plastic flooring. It was awful. For a backsplash, they used fake bead board, so particle board that was slowly growing mold. They had also hung a bunch of things from the particle board, but then had taken the items before they moved, so the particle board had holes all through it.

There were other issues that were not their fault (though when our electrician went in, their DIY light installation ended up costing us a pretty penny to fix!)

The ceilings were all different sizes of popcorn. There was an uncomfortable beam that hung down, when someone first opened up the kitchen into the dining room.

Someone (probably even further back) had knocked a hole in the wall into our playroom, but the pass-through went right by the stove. So, people would congregate in my kitchen, and the stove would be hot, and it was terribly nerve-racking.

And the flow of the house was just kind of confusing. Friends would come in the back door and stand by my sink (subsequently crowding the stove as well), and they never really knew where to go from there. They were stuck, because it was such a commitment to go into the playroom or even the dining room. Everyone always ended up crowding the kitchen.

The "pretty room" was off limits, so essentially one of our largest rooms was unusable to anyone but me.

It also felt dark. We had removed a huge florescent light in the kitchen during a first renovation, and the light from the new bathroom window helped some, but my kitchen was generally dark.

So, I created a new layout, found a phenomenal contractor, and the last week of July, Mark and I took our hammers to the walls ... and floor ... and cabinets!

Here are some demo photos. Mark did a lot of the work, but he didn't wear a shirt, so I'm not going to post those photos. It also makes it seem like I did the majority of the work!

I did clean out all the cabinets.

It wasn't really demo day, so much as demo night for us. We started working at 9 pm every night after the kids were already in bed. Blue Moon and 80's rock music. It was kind of fun, but mostly just a lot of work!

Heading to the dump with our kitchen in the back of the truck. Three trips to get it all out!

We broke a hammer. Sad.

Then we left for ten days in PA. While we were gone, the guys got to work and we came home to all the framing done.

Here's a few shots of how we lived during the mess. In the middle of this crazy, we hosted my brother for a few nights, fed 50 college students lunch, enjoyed the Summer Olympics, and started another school year.

These pictures stress me out! The first week of school, we had to be out of the house so the floors could be refinished. I came home one day to find eight subcontractors in my attic, under my house, out back, and in every other room. Installing proper smoke detectors. Venting the hood out the roof. Securing the new window. Fitting out the garbage disposals.

I was very overwhelmed. I called my friend and gave in to a nice long rant.

And then all of the sudden it was quiet. And my contractor come in to check it all out, and he said, "Well, it all works. Feel free to move back in."

Just like that, we were living in our new space.

If you waited this long, thank you. Part of this documentation is for our family memory! And now. Finally. Before and after photos!

Ashbaugh Kitchen Reno: 2016

Entering from the Carport:

Old Pretty Room / Now Dining Room:

From Old Pretty Room Looking Into Old Dining Room / New Sitting Room:

The Other Side of the Old Pretty Room / New Dining Room:

Dining Nook / New Sitting Room:

View from New Sitting Room:

Back Wall of Cabinets / New Everything:

Window Wall / Sink: (Currently covered with Christmas cards)

Another Angle:

A Galley Shot of the Windows:

Towards The Laundry Room / Half Bath:

Sort of the Whole Thing:


That was a lot of work. To plan. To execute. And to upload on the blog.

But WE LOVE IT!!!!

Most days, I have to pinch myself as a reminder that it's real. It's so pretty.

And it just works so well.

See those three barstools. That's where the 3 Ashbaugh kids eat their breakfast and lunch. And Mark (or I) stands on the other side and has access to the fridge, the stove, the pantry, and a sink. When people enter from the side, there is a natural flow into the larger space or into the playroom. We've hosted 30 people easily, and 50 (including 20 kids) when the weather enabled us to include the backyard.

There is SO MUCH LIGHT! At all times of day. In the morning. In the afternoon. And when the night falls, there are cans. It's just so bright!

I don't know what else to say, other than we are so grateful. Our contractor did an incredible job. He handed us a schedule on the day we signed our contract, and he stuck to it. In fact, he finished sooner than expected. His subcontractors were kind and detailed. We had a great experience!

And now, we get to live in it. And use it.

Lesson Learned: I don't think I should make any generalizations about renovating, but for us, A++++!!!!

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