Thursday, December 29, 2016

Christmas Letter 2016

16 December

Merry Christmas from our sleep-deprived home to yours! 2016 was a year of some notable events: we saw the Grand Canyon for the first time, became a family of four, and that guy I used to watch on the Apprentice became the President-Elect. Here are some other highlights from our past year.

-In March, Andrew and I traveled to Arizona where we spent some time hiking and riding 4-wheelers in Sedona before driving up to the Grand Canyon. At the Grand Canyon, which was both immensely impressive and the largest tourist spectacle I’ve ever seen, we hiked the South Kaibab trail and biked the South Rim. On our fourth day of the trip, I had some inkling I might be pregnant when, looking for food options in one of the lodges, the only thing I wanted was a tuna melt. Craving mashed tuna and mayonnaise seemed out of the ordinary for me (and most people, I assume), and sure enough, just a few weeks later, it was confirmed that little Rebecca would be joining us in November.

-We continued chipping away at our long list of house projects. Sanding and painting our kitchen cabinets (all 22 of them) proved to be the worst renovation project we’ve undertaken. It was like being a part of one of those home renovation shows where everything that can go wrong does, but instead of the issues being resolved within the show’s one-hour timeframe, the caption underneath reads “one year later…” because that’s how long it took us to complete. But complete it we did. Thanks to Andrew, they look great and now I no longer have to pretend that I’m really into “open shelving” all year long. We also finished our floors, painted all the downstairs walls (again with the help of Elizabeth and Jonathan), and as of last week, finished the kitchen island. But Chip and Joanna Gaines we are not…

-Benjamin proves to be more fun each and every year. His current interests include construction work and playing his ukulele. He lives to “fix things” with Andrew and my dad, and dutifully wears his construction hat from his Halloween costume anytime he has to work. This habit has proved particularly useful considering both a DVD player and stocking holder have fallen on his head just this last month. His other construction interest involves building a Lego tower in his window, nearly every day, as high as possible. He also has shown himself to be quite talented at writing songs while playing his ukulele. So far his main hits have been called “Fire Alarm Song” (he is traumatized by it going off so many times this summer while I cooked pizza at 500 degrees…though I appreciate him turning his difficulties into art) and “Ceiling Song,” which I can only assume is a follow-up to “Fire Alarm Song.” Of course, his most anticipated hit is one we haven’t heard the words to, only the title: “Hearts in the Rain.” Sounds like he is working through some emotional times.

-At 32 weeks pregnant, we took a “babymoon” to New England to experience the fall foliage in late September. We walked the Freedom Trail in Boston (somehow this turned into a 10-mile journey), ate cannolis, and generally tried not to engage with angry Bostonian drivers. We later drove through the Massachusetts countryside and into New Hampshire where we rode a train to Mount Washington, the highest peak in NE, which, should be noted, is about half the size of our nearby Mount Hood. But New England gets to claim things like the birthplace of the American Revolution and the Patriots, so I sort of doubt they are sad about their diminutive mountain sizes. Plus the New Hampshire license plate tag says “Live Free or Die,” which seems far superior to Oregon’s single evergreen tree and no tagline.* So all in all, they still have our respect. To end our trip, we drove east to visit the mother Portland (Maine) where we met up with Rachel and Adam to enjoy lobster rolls and the Atlantic ocean. The lighthouse tour by boat in Casco Bay was a highlight for me, because sightseeing by boat is definitely the preferred way for a pregnant person to travel. (again, 10 miles of walking in Boston!)

-On November 25, just one day after her due date, Rebecca Evangeline joined our family. We arrived at the birth center around 6:45 a.m. and she was born just 3 hours later. We were grateful to God for her speedy arrival and for a much easier labor than Benjamin’s. As of today, she is officially three weeks old and shares a likeness to her brother: they both have a similar disposition, many of the same facial features, and a high-maintenance need to be walked around when crying—no sitting allowed! But there are differences. Rebecca’s hair and skin look like they will be a bit darker, and unlike her super-metabolism brother, she has the potential to be a fat baby—something I’ve always wanted. My brother aptly called her a “little pot roast” when she was born and so far it still fits. Benjamin has thus far been welcoming of her, mostly because his life seems to be minimally disrupted if not enhanced: Thanks to Intel, Andrew has a 7-week paternity leave so he has been able to spend a lot of time with him, taking walks to the creek and working on the cars. We shall see if Benjamin’s warm spirit remains once Andrew returns to work, or more telling, once his sister becomes mobile and interested in destroying his Lego towers or eating his ukulele.

Other notable happenings include:

-Rafting the Lower Rogue again with Elizabeth and Jonathan and my dad.

-Seeing nearly everyone from Andrew’s family this year.

-Andrew continuing his PhD work at Portland State (Benjamin and I are sometimes able to walk with him to and from the train).

-Building a raised bed in our backyard so we could have a summer garden—cherry tomatoes were a nightly staple.

-Chick-Fil-A opening in our town, complete with a playplace for Benjamin. If you know anything about Chick-Fil-A, this is worthy news.

-Andrew and I running a half-marathon and 10k. It’s not important who ran which race. It’s just important that some people think me actually capable of running 13 plus miles…

We are busy and we are tired in this new season, but our hearts are full. I told Andrew the other night that as overwhelming as this stage seems, I imagine we will look back and see this time as a period where our home was brimming with “life.” Maybe some of that life looks hard at the moment, like middle-of-the-night feedings or telling a toddler not to flick on and off the lights for the hundredth time (because as I say too often, “our house is not a rave”), but it is full nonetheless. We are grateful for all the ways the Lord has provided for us and blessed us this past year. We pray his peace and love over you this Christmas season: “Mild He lays His glory by / Born that man no more may die.”


The Browns

*I realize it’s a shame we don’t have a state motto for our license plates here in Oregon, so I’ve been considering some options: “Stay in California” is one. “Don’t Associate Me with Portland” is another.

**Update: my dad has since informed me that "Pacific Wonderland" was once the license plate motto of Oregon. I say it's still a good option and much more welcoming than my previous suggestions.

Rebecca Evangeline Brown
25 November 2016
9:50 a.m.
8 pounds 6 ounces 21 inches

We are blessed to announce the birth of our daughter this holiday season. We chose the name Rebecca Evangeline knowing that Rebecca means "to tie, to join, or to secure," and that Evangeline means "the gospel, good news." We pray that our daughter joins her life to the greatest cause of all--the good news that Jesus Christ has been born to reconcile the world to God. We wish you God's joy and peace this Christmas season.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Our Kitchen Remodel

We're a year into our kitchen remodel. One whole year. I grew and birthed a human being sooner than we completed this project. And technically, we're not even finished. But I'm ready to say we're done. I think there's an expiration date on how long you can be "remodeling" until you come to accept this is just what your house is going to like from now on.

This process has been a lot of work with many stages and we've thankfully had a lot of help. I just think I overestimated how quickly we could get this done working mostly on weekends and with a one-year-old (now two) around. I tried to document the process over the past year and apologize for what is mostly grainy iPhone photos. But here we go!

Original Kitchen:
The original kitchen was only 10 years old and in pretty decent shape. But it suffered from dark cabinets and mismatched countertops and the worst paint colors known to man (more on that later). It had a lot of potential -- I love open floor plans and the kitchen had a great layout and a large island. It seemed like the bones of the kitchen were in good shape and it just needed some updating and style changes to be a beautiful space.

Over the past few years, I've come to accept that I have pretty simple (read: boring) taste. I like a lot of neutrals and negative space and tend to favor simplicity over busyness. Many of my friends have eclectic, flea market styles where they can pull together a ton of different pieces and colors and make it work. I'm the kind of person who would rather hang one giant thing on the wall than 10 different tiny things. So my design choices reflect that sort of simplicity. I knew I wanted something monochromatic--some combination of gray or black or white--so either gray or black cabinets and white counters, or white cabinets with gray counters with a neutral backsplash. So nothing particularly interesting. I've come to accept that I genuinely don't like color when I decorate. Or just that black and white are my favorite colors. I don't know what this says about my view of the world, but probably that I am very reasonable.

The original countertops were composed mostly of white porcelain tile that extended into the backsplash, and the island was covered with blue granite tile. I'm not sure the point of the mismatch surfaces except maybe as a way to save money, but the lack of uniformity drove me nuts. Deciding on a new countertop surface was probably our most difficult decision, considering this was going to be our biggest expense.


If you've never ventured into the world of countertops, it's surprisingly complicated. Then again, I just watched an episode of Real Housewives where someone had to choose which ice shapes they wanted their ice maker to create from a giant pyramid of fake ice cubes. So maybe I know nothing about complicated remodel decisions. Regardless, I decided early on durability was most important to me. I cook a lot and I like the freedom of cutting on my counter surfaces and the ability to put hot pots or pans on the counter without worrying about scorching anything. This eliminated some options such as wood, or solid-surface materials like Corian. I love slab granite, but I tend to be a bit messy when I cook, and I was sure I would spill a giant vat of oily spaghetti sauce all over the beautiful slab granite and it would absorb into the porous material in a bizarre irreversible pattern. Plus I don't like the idea of resealing or any kind of continued maintenance. Laminate has made some big strides in recent years but it's not my favorite and depending on the edge finish, can become surprisingly expensive. I didn't think concrete was the right look for our kitchen and I was too cheap for some of the finer surfaces like marble or soapstone. For all these reasons, the best fit for us seemed to be engineered slab quartz. And I must say, 6 months or so into having it, I absolutely love it. It's virtually indestructible, requires no upkeep, and it's beautiful. We went with a lighter gray Q-quartz option called Alpine.

Before you can have new countertops though, you have to destroy the old ones!

(From this point on, dust became a mainstay in my life)

Here we are doing some demo on the granite tile. The granite is quite heavy, so it's convenient we were replacing the floors because the large pieces of granite that fell did serious damage to the existing hardwood and were not conducive to trying to keep your child asleep.


This type of slab quartz had to be professionally fabricated and installed, so they took several measurements and installed the countertops with one very small seam at the kitchen sink, and voila!

(newly installed -- I get this seems unimpressive at this point.)

But here's the new countertops up close with a baby foot for artistic measure:


The next step was to repair the drywall damage caused by removing glued porcelain tile from the wall and then select a backsplash. Subway tile seemed like a sleek and timeless option, not to mention the cost was minimal. We went back and forth between gray or white grout, and ultimately decided on white. For a very brief period of time I entertained the idea of doing colored glass a seafoam green or something very interesting. Then I accepted I was not interesting and moved on with my boring white tile and white grout.

We found a mosaic tile we liked from Home Depot, and thanks to a manufacturing error, ended up with a million extra boxes. I think it went something like, I needed 3 boxes with 11 pieces each for a total of 33 pieces. And they sent me 33 boxes of 11 pieces each for a total of 363 pieces. But they were on the right track with the numbers 33 and 11, so...close. Home Depot was eager to get rid of what they could since it wasn't their error, so they gave me as many boxes as would fit in my car. So maybe there's a subway tile shower in our future.

We also ordered a new double bowl stainless steel sink and faucet to replace the older one. Andrew did most of the tile and grout installation, but let the record show I did in fact do some grout work. This makes me feel important and handy.

Firwood Crest Remodel

There were a couple big paint choices. We needed to paint our downstairs walls and we needed to paint our cabinets. This might seem simple enough, but bear in mind that our kitchen and living room had been painted some of the worst colors in existence.

Firwood Crest Remodel
I don't know in what world a pumpkin orange kitchen ever "works," but I'm going to go out on a limb and say no world ever. Even though the top of the kitchen was currently a dark blue, whoever painted the house previously had clearly changed paint colors quite often and wasn't eager to do the next job very well. So there were remnants of orange and green and red and blue throughout the kitchen and living space.

We decided on Sherwin Williams Light French Gray for the walls, which was no small feat. Did you know there are a billion gray colors? And that according to the paint specialist, they can "flash" purple or brown or any myriad of other non-gray colors? Turns out choosing a gray is about as complicated a color choice as they come. Not to mention we had to exercise some painting creativity with a two-foot monster around.


We decided to paint the kitchen cabinets white. And wouldn't you know, white isn't as simple as you would think either. There's Extra White and Pure White and Super White...and on and on. I decided to just ask for whatever white came in the can, as in the color that was completely untouched by a different type of dye to make it "white."

Little did I know, this was just the beginning of my kitchen cabinet nightmare.

Ahhh the kitchen cabinets. The absolute worst project I have ever done in my whole life. The only project I cried about. The only project I will never get over, much in the same way I will never get over that time Dobby the House Elf died.

People had warned us about painting cabinets. I had read it was one of the hardest painting projects and a massive undertaking. But I also read a lot of flighty Pinterest posts about how it was totally doable and cost effective and capable of greatly altering the aesthetic of your kitchen.

So I did a whole lot more reading and watched tutorials and decided I would take this project on by myself since Andrew had done so much other work.

The first step was to remove all the cabinets and label them with painter's tape and dismantle the hardware.

Firwood Crest Remodel

Firwood Crest Remodel

The second step was to do nothing for about a month because I had an 18-month-old and decided I could just pretend I actually had open shelving in my kitchen and I genuinely like open shelving.

Then I finally motivated myself to start working during Benjamin's naptime and resigned myself to being covered in dust for the next few weeks. I had to sand the cabinets and the frames and we decided to caulk to the inside panels of all the drawers, which was surprisingly time-consuming.

Firwood Crest Remodel

Answer to Andrew's question about why it was taking me so long to finish this project:
Firwood Crest Remodel
Because a baby in a groutfit [all grey outfit] is pretty much always around.

Then, as I still try to convince Andrew, I did A LOT of research on the best method for painting cabinets. I still reject any of these posts I read about just painting over the top of cabinets or somehow painting them while they're still on their hinges. I knew we wanted a pretty flawless look, and people seemed to suggest this was achievable by using high-quality paint and primer and by being careful to sand after each coat. So I set about doing just that.

And basically none of that proved true for me.
Firwood Crest Remodel
(here I am thinking it's a good idea to let paper dry to the back of painted cabinets)

Firwood Crest Remodel
(new strategy--put them up against cardboard)

Long story long, after two weeks of painting, rolling, buying the most expensive brushes known to man, sanding and then resanding with the finest grit sandpaper forged in the Arabian desert, we decided the cabinets just weren't good enough. We have quite a few cabinets in our kitchen with large faces and we really wanted the doors to appear completely smooth and flawless. And no matter how we tried, brush strokes were still slightly visible. So we did the only reasonable thing at that time. WE STARTED OVER. As in we resanded layers and layers of paint and weeks of work back down to the grain. I still can't quite accept that we did this. Mostly because I had put in all the preliminary work and felt like I total failure. But it seemed like the only way we could achieve the look we wanted was to spray the cabinets...or to have never tried to do this project in the first place and just agreed to pay someone a million dollars to take care of it. Because I can't stress this enough...this project was the WORST.

If anyone is thinking about painting their kitchen cabinets, my advice is usually to just stop thinking that.

Add to that the fact that once we had finally finished sanding and priming and painting the doors, we coated them with several layers of polyurethane and didn't read that they needed 7 days to fully cure and then we stacked all the cabinets on top of each other because we needed space in the garage and then they were all stuck together and the only way to remove them meant the paint would be stripped where they were stuck together and basically I have no good feelings towards any part of this process.

The day those cabinets were finally reinstalled was the day music and happiness returned to my world.

After we finished the countertops, the backsplash, and the cabinets, we needed to replace all the downstairs flooring. We have an open floor plan and the existing flooring was a random combination of light-colored hardwood floors and carpet. But the different flooring really took away from the flow of the open floor plan. Uniform flooring would allow us to stage the downstairs however we wanted and unite the feeling of the living spaces.

Here's Andrew removing the baseboards and an example of the variety of flooring in the front entryway that repeated throughout the rest of the house:

Firwood Crest Remodel

Thankfully for us, my brother and sister-in-law are bad mamma jammas and were willing to spend several of their weekends helping us demo our floors and install new ones (*cue slow clap*).

I will reward you guys by including you in some of these low-quality photos:
Firwood Crest Remodel
(preparing the living room floor)

Laminate became our flooring material of choice after witnessing Benjamin slam as many random objects as possible into the floor as a form of play. We obviously liked the idea of hardwood but were worried about how well it would hold up in the long run under the feet of (possibly) multiple children. Engineered hardwood was a good option for us, but was a bit beyond our budget. In the end, we decided on a higher grade dark Pergo laminate flooring with an AC-4 rating, and we've been very pleased with it.

Installation was relatively easy, but then again, I didn't do any of the installation work. So from the standpoint of someone occasionally watching, it seemed simple enough.

Benjamin was also very into this process of the remodel. He liked that there was a lot of hammering and banging and earmuff wearing.

Firwood Crest Remodel

Firwood Crest Remodel

We completed the downstairs flooring in three stages, and I use the term "we" loosely, of course.

Here's the new flooring underfoot the newly installed oven, representing when life started to feel more normal again.

And obviously we needed someone to clean the new flooring.
"If a man does not work, he should not eat."

Other Things:
We replaced the hardware on the doors with pulls instead of knobs because I don't even know at this point.

And we replaced several of the appliances, including the dishwasher and oven, which were looking a bit worse for the wear.

We also decided to wainscot the island and painted those pieces Sherwin Williams Gauntlet Gray, being sure to spray them the first time around because we can in fact learn from our grave mistakes.

Firwood Crest Remodel

Firwood Crest Remodel

So all that is to say, one year later, we're mostly finished.


We're missing some finishing pieces on the island and some other work that's not helpful to point out, but I'm so glad to be on the other side of this project. We created a space that's functional and pretty, even if it is a bit boring.

And overall, we're very pleased with it.

May all your remodel projects be swifter than ours and may you never have to paint your own kitchen cabinets!