Creating a Mitzvah Planning Binder

I’m a big believer in binders to organize major projects.

And planning and organizing my older daughter’s Bat Mitzvah was certainly one of the bigger projects I’ve undertaken in my life.  In addition to being a major religious milestone requiring years of study, planning the party was a bit like planning our wedding ~ two different families to cater to, the Husband and I were hosting our own friends,  plus a thirteen year old with ideas of her own!


In planning Big Cutie’s Bat Mitzvah, I found the following divider tabs to be the most useful to keep everything organized:

BUDGET {I keep my running spreadsheet here}


CEREMONY {this is a good place to keep all the information from the synagogue, Torah portion, speeches, service attendance information}





INVITATIONS {guest lists}

TABLE DECOR {flowers, centerpieces, linen rentals}


MEMORIES {sign in books, keepsake boxes}

HOTEL {group booking information, hotel welcome bag letters}






I found it helpful to keep copies of my contracts filed where I could easily reference them when I wanted to check on an issue.  And certain things are just easier to work out on paper such as seating charts or having your child check off RSVPs or thank you notes.

With daughters just two years apart, it’s time to start planning Little Cutie’s Bat Mitzvah.

And so here we go again, ready or not!

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Our Kitchen Reveal

It’s been a long time coming, but the final cabinet tweak is finished and we are happily baking and cooking up a storm in our renovated kitchen and ready to share.

To remind you of where we started when we bought the New Old House:

Spacious kitchen opens to large family room


The best way to describe the kitchen was dark and dated.  There was damaged laminate, a fruit-themed tile back splash, cabinets that had only their fronts replaced a good two decades ago and were falling apart inside, flourescent lights, no pantry, and a floor almost two inches off from one end to the other!

The biggest thing we couldn’t change was the actual blueprint of the kitchen; it would need to remain a galley kitchen as there was no room for expansion or reassigning space from an adjacent room.  There was, however, a long list of things we wanted to change that we could achieve, ranging from removing the header between the family room and kitchen to new flooring in both rooms to pretty much gutting the rest of the kitchen for new cabinets, counters, back splash and appliances.

And so we took possession of the house and literally within hours it looked like this!


And after a bit of hard work {not by us!} it looked like this ~


And in what may have set a land-speed record for fastest renovation decisions made for a complete kitchen remodel, I chose everything in under a week and the subcontractors began to work their magic.

I must confess how mesmerizing I found it to watch the master craftsmen at work.  The attention to detail that goes into making a cabinet – joints, finish, pulls, even working with me to select the perfect hinge – was fascinating.  And the precision with which people like my tile guys worked was incredible.  If I didn’t desperately want to get into the house and actually cook in the kitchen, I would have tried to sweet talk my way into some lessons just for the sheer knowledge of how to install decorative back splash!

And so here we are.

It’s exactly what I envisioned.  Lighter, brighter and functional in all the ways we wanted.

We put in new hardwoods that were stained to match the original 91-year-old floors and remove almost the entire header.  We added a much-needed pantry space that also serves as additional storage. We were able to sneak in a small peninsula with room for The Cuties to eat breakfast or work on homework while I’m cooking.  We removed the small double ovens and added a dual-fuel dual range, perfect for both cooking and baking.  And because  I love to bake, as do The Cuties, we made a “Baking Center.”





After much consideration we went with a Quartzite countertop and I’m so happy with the choice.  There’s more play in the stone than usually found in a marble, but it still has the lightness I was looking for.  Additionally, I love the contrast against the charcoal gray granite sink we used {total props to The Husband for finding this option and convincing me to go with this as both an aesthetic choice and a solution to my loathing of the banging sounds in stainless steel sinks!}


These stainless steel shelves were the bane of both my contractor and cabinet maker’s existence, I’m sure.  They both repeatedly asked me if this was really what I wanted when we talked about them over and over again, and I drew sketches and they tried to explain what exactly would go into fabricating these from scratch.  It was truly the one spot of the kitchen I was inflexible on; I had a vision and I wasn’t to be swayed.  Even at installation, there was a gaggle of men in my house questioning my judgment.

And then they installed them and I ran and grabbed the box filled with my bowls, cake plates and glass jars and threw them up there and stood back pleased as punch with myself  as they all agreed it was fantastic {wasn’t I saying that at along!}


The cabinet has pull out drawers that hold all sorts of baking goodies, close at hand, nicely organized.  The counter is wide enough {almost four feet} that the cabinet can be open with the drawers out and I can still stand at the counter working and grab what I need.


And because we left no space unused, we even snuck in a toe kick drawer underneath the Baking Center for my most oft-used cookie sheets, including my commercial-sized one.


I have a lot of other muffin trays as well as some very large serving platters.  Because I don’t need access to these all the time, we made space for them above the refrigerator.


We don’t tend to use a microwave that much in our house other than popping popcorn for movie nights, but felt it would be foolish to complete a kitchen renovation and not make space for one {let’s be honest: we move too often not to consider resale at least a bit!}.  So we snuck a small microwave onto the end of the peninsula with a shelf for my most-frequently used cookbooks {the rest have space on a shelf in the pantry}.


The final small detail I love in our new kitchen are the dish drawers.  I knew it was a smart choice when Little Cutie was unloading the dishwasher shortly after we moved in and commented to me how convenient it was that the dishes ended up in the drawer next to the dishwasher.  I love that she thought it was happenstance!


I finished unpacking one of the last boxes a week or so ago and stumbled upon a large accordion folder filled with decorating magazine tear sheets.  At one point we were living in a house we planned to renovate and this was my idea book from about six or seven years ago.  I pulled out everything from the kitchen section and laughed.

It was page after page of all white kitchens, with stainless and gray accents, and I had circled ideas that helped with space-saving organizing.

I am nothing if not consistent!

So that’s it!  We’re about 95% done.  There’s a little more art to hang or find and I still need window treatments, but we’re clean, we’re done and we’re cooking!


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Staircase Gallery Wall

Another house, another gallery wall.

I can’t help it.  It’s one of those things that with our many moves tends to make a new house feel like “home” to us.

So after weeks of having piles and piles of pictures frames on my living room floor, ordering updated prints {am loving the quality from mpix, by the way!}, and sending some new items off to the framers, I was ready to tackle this project.

The most important part {in my humble opinion} to doing a gallery wall is making paper templates.  It’s also the most time-consuming and boring part.  And it was more tedious than I remembered from last doing it about five years ago.  But it’s worth it, I promise!

Once you’ve traced all your frames on paper {any sort will do – Kraft paper, newspaper, etc}, make sure you’ve written some sort of notation as to what that image is.  As I was placing my papers on the wall, this was especially helpful as I realized I suddenly had four photos of Little Cutie all in the same section.  While I think she’s adorable, I like to mix things up, so it was good to be able to see that before I had actually hung things on the wall.  It’s easy to get mired down in the art of mixing sizes, shapes, kinds of images, etc.


{as you can tell, I was finishing this part of the project into the wee hours of the night}

So I always like to share with you the Keystone Cops antics of my projects so that you can learn what not to do and in case you decide to tackle something similar yourself, you will not share in my misery.  I’ve never done this project before in the Dog Days of Summer.  Which is why I didn’t know that my painter’s tape wasn’t going to stick as well or as long with the heat and humidity in my non air-conditioned hundred year old house.  Or that the attic ceiling fan running all night would have me come downstairs to half the templates on the floor and another quarter hanging precariously.

There are not enough curse words out there to express what went through my head.

Fortunately, I had taken photos for the blog post, and at least could regroup from there.

After some chocolate for breakfast, of course.

Now back to business.

The beauty of the templates is twofold: not only do you get to preview your wall but you have a place to work when measuring where to hammer.  To get my spacing right, I just flip each frame over, measure how far down from the top the nail needs to go.  Then I find that spot on my template {I write all this down directly on the paper because I have the short-term memory of a gnat}.  And hammer!


Repeat about forty more times and voila!



Sometimes there is a spot on your wall that will be in your way.  My best advice is to just work it into your design; no need to fight it.


This time around I opted to include some things other than just photographs.  I framed our boarding passes moving to Japan and back to America, our Japanese residency cards, and a very humorous “report card” the children received from a Japanese nanny service we used on our “look-see” trip to Tokyo, detailing everything they did that day.  I also framed the card that accompanied my original print from Lilly Pulitzer that The Husband had done for my 40th birthday.  It makes me happy because it’s Lilly and it mentions what a great guy he is!


I think what makes me smile so much about family gallery walls is that for us they’re a bit of history.  With all of our moves, we are always far from our families.  This wall now includes five generations from both sides of our families.  There are pictures from weddings, beach trips, births and now Bat Mitzvahs.  When I first did this project in one of our first homes, I struggled a bit to find enough pictures to fill the space.  Now, I have to edit my choices, because we’ve had so many years of memories with so many more people.

Good problems, y’all.  Good problems.


P.S.  Michaels is having a big sale this weekend on custom framing if you want to get started on a project like this!

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Put a Frame on It

We are continuing to open boxes on what we’ve dubbed The World’s Longest Move and Unpacking Adventure.

But this week’s project has been to hang art in the Living Room.  There’s a big expanse of a wall that likely isn’t going to have a piece of furniture on it {until I get a bee in my bonnet to start rearranging the whole place – I mean, who are we kidding here?}, so I wanted to hang many pieces.

I’ve been waiting on one last special item to return from the framer’s and it was finally ready for pick up yesterday.

A few summers ago in Kiawah, Big Cutie and Cute BFF’s son took an En Plein Air painting class out on the marshes.  They made the most lovely palette knife paintings of The Happy Place and I crossed my fingers that the oil paint had dried enough to safely pack the canvas up to take back to Japan with us.  I proudly displayed the painting, leaned on a bookshelf, but knew someday I wanted to do more with it.

And someday was here.

The plan for the living room wall was a lot of art with different frames in various widths of gold.  Because Big Cutie’s painting was one of the smaller pieces for the wall, I wanted to frame it in a way that would give it some real substance.

But framing it gave it more than just framing substance.

When Big Cutie realized what I was doing, she was SO excited.  In a way I stopped and had a Mom moment, because thirteen year olds don’t always show excitement to their parents for parenting things like this very often anymore.

I’ve framed lots of artwork The Cuties have done over the years, but I made the connection that this is the first piece I’ve had professionally framed instead of doing it myself with ready made mats and frames.  And I know exactly why it was so meaningful to her; because at 44 I can remember that the first piece of art I created that my parents had professionally framed was a pastel drawing I did of our ceramic frog cookie jar.


I was so happy when I picked it up last night after dinner, that I immediately started to arrange art on the floor of the living room in anticipation of hanging it all this morning.  This wouldn’t be such a big deal except we don’t have any lights yet in this room! So I was working almost entirely in the dark except for one small lamp plugged in to an inconveniently located outlet in the corner.  I believe we have discussed many times that I am nothing but impatient.

So this morning I woke up and started hammering in my pajamas.  Which Murphy’s Law means that the landscapers would arrive right about then because in addition to no lighting in the Living Room, we also have no window treatments {didn’t I mention this was a long and drawn out unpack for me?}.  Never mind, I have no shame.



There’s a mixture now of professional artists, my art, family art, and my daughter’s art.

This wall makes me very happy.

After the sales woman in the frame shop showed me the completed project she oohed and aahed and told me how much she loved modern paintings and asked if I knew the artist who did this one.

I sure do.  I kinda love her and her work.

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The Napping Sofa

Almost fifteen years ago the Husband and I inherited the best sofa from my grandparents.


My Grandfather was a wonderfully perfect blend of spontaneity and routine.

While on a trip with them in Amsterdam as a 13-year old, my Grandmother and I were in our room unpacking while my Grandfather went exploring in the hotel.  He returned with the tale of having met other Americans who worked on some television show he’d never heard of, but upon telling them he was touring with his granddaughter they had invited us to be extras throughout the city and he happily rearranged some early morning sightseeing when he saw my enthusiasm.  And that’s how I became a walk-on in my purple Pappagallo raincoat on The Love Boat Goes to Amsterdam & Copenhagen.

And every day of his retirement, he did the crossword puzzle, went for a walk, played golf if the weather permitted, ate ice cream and took a nap.  Is that a great way to spend your life or what?

My Grandmother chose this sofa for my Grandfather’s naps.  All eight feet of it to accommodate his more than six feet of height.  I remember him stretched out, catnapping on the sofa, shoes lined up next to it, and somehow always waking in almost precisely an hour, refreshed and ready for action {which often involved sneaking us out for the aforementioned ice cream before dinner}.

Near the end of my Grandfather’s life, the Husband was in graduate school nearby and so I would often stop by and visit my Grandfather on my way home from work.  I’d often find myself slipping off my shoes, and lying down on the sofa for an hour nap while my Grandfather slept nearby in his Hospice bed.  It made me feel close to him, literally and figuratively in those days when we were so clearly losing him.  I chatted with him during a rare moment he was lucid,  and then napped there just hours before I drove home and got the call he’d passed.


When the Husband and I were offered the Napping Sofa during the division of my grandparents’ things, we took it knowing someday we hoped to give it a little love.

For a few years it sat in our starter home’s otherwise empty living room, sad and faded maize yellow, with it’s soulmate orange club chairs, looking like the rejects from a Mad Men set.  And then one year there was enough saved to send them off for new stuffing, new fabric and some skirting to make the styling more along the lines of our tastes.

And the Napping Sofa was returned to her original glory.

It’s just plain delightful to stretch out, get comfy and immediately fall asleep.  I’ve napped there with babies, toddlers, and now teenagers.  The Husband and I can both fit, nestled together, and all of our dogs have pushed their way up on there with me, snuggled up tight on cold days.  And in an upright position, at eight feet long, it comfortably fits 4-5 adults seated at a party, which is a fabulous thing.


So it is my favorite thing to have unpacked and settled once again into a new house of ours.  Not much else in the living room remains the same, but the Napping Sofa rules the room.  We played with several layouts, and ultimately decided the allure of napping in front of the fireplace was most important and settled on that one.

It’s a beautiful thing to stretch out this much on a sofa for a little snooze.

{you can see naps are taking priority over hanging some art or taking rugs in for repair}


And if you come visit me and I really, really like you, I just might give up my afternoon spot for a little bit.

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Express Yourself

I am a Prepster.  My blood runs pink and green.  I think Lilly Pulitzer and Audrey Hepburn are true fashion icons.  I’d wear pearls to work out in if I actually worked out.

One of The Cuties more or less agrees, and one does not.

And I think it’s wonderful.

I am very comfortable in the fact that all the world does not share my fashion choices and I want The Cuties to have their own ideas and opinions not just about style, but about politics, food, literatures and well….everything.  I’m not raising them to be Mini Me’s {OK, Big Cutie does look ridiculously like me but that’s just outwardly so}, but to be individuals with their own likes and dislikes.

The Husband and I feel pretty strongly that it’s our job in life to mold them into people with good hearts who know the difference between right and wrong, who think for themselves, and who try hard.  And not to encourage them just to do or believe like us simply because we think we’re right about everything.

And so when Little Cutie came to us and asked to dye her hair blue and purple it just didn’t seem a big deal to say yes.

I made her an appointment for the week after school got out and she has spent months thinking and talking about how exactly she was going to do this, what colors she wanted, and where on her head she wanted color.  I mean, there was a LOT of talk in our house.  I’m pretty sure we debated colored hair dye more than we actually discussed her shaving her head two years ago!

A few people have voiced disagreement with this decision to Little Cutie and to us as parents for allowing her to do this.  We have staunchly supported her right to express what she thinks is both beautiful and “cool,” and assured them we thought it would look great.

And quite frankly, as parents, we think expressing yourself through hair is just about one of the healthiest way for kids to do so ~ it’s temporary, it grows, it can be covered up with dye if necessary, and ultimately cut off.  There are no long-term consequences like piercings or tattoos.  And so our philosophy as parents has been that if you are following the rules in our house and doing your best in school, your hair is fair game.  I only said no to bleach at their ages as I don’t want them to start down that path and start damaging their hair.  We are also very fortunate that the girls and I go to an environmentally friendly salon that uses ammonia-free dyes and has some really great options available.

So my usually incredibly impatient Little Cutie sat for 3 hours today during the processes of color, wash, cut and blow out.  She wanted me to take pictures and document every step of the way since most of the action was going on behind her!


Her enthusiasm was infectious and she had everyone in the salon checking her out ~


She has not stopped tossing her hair in the sun light to catch the ombre effect as it changes from purple to indigo to blue ~


I had a phenomenal day with Little Cutie and the single best part was eating lunch with her afterward when she turned to me and said, Mom, I just feel so great right now!


I mean, purple and blue hair isn’t MY fashion choice, but all I’d pick for my whole family ~ and even myself ~ is to wake up every day and be able to say “I just feel so great!”


Wouldn’t you?

All that joy AND I’m pretty sure I was the only preppy Mom around town today in pearls and Lilly Pulitzer excitedly awaiting the results of blue and purple hair dye. I’m so glad life is never boring.  :-)

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Closet Parties

Our master bedroom at the #newoldhouse had a very small closet.  I mean a really, really small closet.  And as if that wasn’t criminal enough, the doors were mirrored.  And the closet was slightly shallower than a full-sized hanger.

It made me so sad I didn’t take a picture.

But we had a master plan {Get it?  Master bedroom ~ master plan?  I’m not sleeping well lately, so I’m amusing myself with tween-appropriate puns.  I know it’s not really funny.  Work with me here, people!}  There was a stupidly small fifth bedroom next to the master bedroom ~ really nursery sized only {and we all know THAT wasn’t going to be put to use in any way! MIL, I’m specifically talking to YOU!}.  So we were going to put some rolling racks in there and even an extra dresser or two and make it the “Closet Annex.”  Since the little bedroom and our room were the only rooms on that side of the staircase, we figured it was “our space,” and no big deal to live a little like we were on the road.

And then Mr Finance, AKA the Husband, crunched some numbers and said there were funds for one last project while we were under construction and already had the demo and sheet rock guys traipsing through our house and what should we do?

Without hesitation {and because I was WAY too overwhelmed to tackle the awkwardness that is the master bath!}, we began what was dubbed “The Amazing Closet” project.

Lots of Pinteresting {SO not a verb}, lots of sketches {I actually got real paper and a Sharpie this time, unlike the Pantry project}, and lots of negotiating about shoes and explaining just how many I really had….{it involves a long story about orthopedic inserts and two separate bunionectomies before I could legally drink ~ I have always told you all I have issues}.

First, we knocked down the wall between our room and the little bedroom.  In doing so, I got one of those phone calls from my General Contractor asking me to come over and see something right away ~ never the best sign.


Except we loved the idea of leaving the exposed brick and the chimney right there in our bedroom.  And so we opened it up all the way, cleaned it up and coated it in polyurethane to protect it. The alcove you see to the right is the original master closet, and the rough doorway was the original door to the closet in the little bedroom that we broke through to make a doorway to the new Amazing Closet.  We walled up the original doorway to the little bedroom and in the process of doing all of this, gained about three feet to the master bedroom that was hallway/wasted space.

And then the actual closet was installed.  There was a brief 12 hour period where I hated whats I designed, but thankfully we rearranged something and all was fixed.  If I have learned nothing from doing major remodeling, it’s not really a big project if at some point you don’t want to throw up, thinking you’ve spent huge money doing something you really dislike and have to get creative and see things differently.

Moving along.  Let’s get to the good stuff.

‘Cuz it’s really good.  Like I want to have cocktail parties in here good.  And hang out in here good.  And I find The Cuties, dancing around in here good.  And I’m pretty sure it’s what will resell this house someday good. ;-)

From the doorway to the bedroom ~


From the corner of the shoe racks looking back ~


The large “drawer” is a laundry hamper ~


{never doubt my dedication to my blog readers ~ I just showed you my dirty laundry! and yes, I have Lilly pajamas ~ don’t judge}

The vertical drawer pulls on the hanging rod wall is a secret compartment!  There are two sets of hooks on each side for ties and belts.


Next to the secret compartment is a pull-out rod to use when packing or for hanging dry cleaning to be put away {there is a second one next to the longer hanging section so each of us has one when needed}.


To the right of the “armoire” section with all of the folded clothing is a set of shelves I have commandeered for purses and hats.


And did you spy the shelf mostly dedicated to my love of Cheeky Leopard clutches?


I think I have to admit that I’m officially at the point that in order to buy new shoes I will have to give up a pair.  I knew this day was near {although there are a few drawers we haven’t filled with anything yet, that clearly could hold more ballet flats!}.


My favorite part of the closet I owe to my husband ~ he encouraged me to think bigger and better.  And so under the window we put not only drawers but the top two very skinny drawers that went all the way across.


And out came my sketch pad and Sharpie again…..



The nicest thing about these drawers is that the wood dividers are all one large grid and come out so I can clean the velvet lined drawer with a lint brush from time to time {one of my pet peeves with my nice jewelry box was how dust got in the little corners I could never get clean without taking something like q-tips to every nook and cranny}.

So there it is.  A major project, completely finished, unpacked and put together.

If you’re looking for me, you’ll know where to find me.  Just look for me in my closet.

Now if only I’d thought to put a mini-fridge in there…..

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