Thursday, January 24, 2013

Project Casserole Design Development

Sorry for the massive delay in posting, guys. Since I last got a chance to update you, it's snowed quite a lot here in London and my family was here visiting. So I was a bit, shall we say, preoccupied! But now the snow is gone and so are the familials, so let's talk kitchen design. Specifically, IKEA kitchens and trying to figure out an aesthetic for our open-planned ground floor.

Photo courtesy of Design Crisis

I'm finding that the problem with an open plan kitchen / living room is that setting the "look" for our kitchen is actually about setting the look for the entire floor, as the kitchen will spill into the living room and vice versa. So it's made me slightly adverse to do something wild like this nautical blue and white kitchen, because how do you synch that with sofas?!

Photo courtesy of Apartment Therapy

And my aesthetic for kitchens tends towards industrial chic, which is all well and good in a warehouse conversion but not our little contemporary mews house. First of all we don't have any exposed brick, and secondly it just doesn't feel homey enough. Our house feels like a home. This kitchen felt like it was a step in the right direction but still too cold – all that steel! I hear it's a bitch to keep clean.

Our other option is to go for a modern or contemporary kitchen. We could definitely do it; it wouldn't feel like an anomaly in the house and our current furnishings could definitely work with a more modern aesthetic. But when you touch these kitchens, there is something off about them... a bit soulless or something. I don't know.

Photo courtesy of Apartment Therapy

Plus, it's not just me. I have strong aesthetic ideas and as a visual person, I see what I want in my head. Sometimes I have a hard time describing it, though, and The Irishman gets a bit frustrated by my lack of verbal clarity. So both of us have been Pinning our ideas for kitchen looks separately, and sharing big finds. Surprise surprise, we actually have pretty much the same thing in mind: traditional style cabinets, minimalist color, oh-so-trendy (but so cool!) railway tile, and industrial steel appliances. Our prayers were answered when The Kitchn posted this amazing and classic kitchen renovation a few weeks ago:

Photos courtesy of The Kitchn

Basically, this is what we want. We're going for a galley style, and want dark cabinets but a sense of lightness. There's a ceramic sink, stainless appliances, and that iconic tiling. And the homeowners even have big French doors like us! You can totally see a nice big sofa leading out from this view.

We'd already started designing our kitchen via the IKEA Kitchen Planner, but these photos really helped us solidify our layout and look. We are going for the Lidingo (or Lidi) style of cabinets, shown here all in grey but depending on the actual color of the white versions we might try the white on top to give the room a sense of lightness.

Sorry, this is a screenshot. But hey, IKEA, I'm giving you free advertising. So, you know.

Here are a few images of our initial room layout. We're not tiling EVERYTHING, but it's just easier to leave it all tiled that separate out the areas where we want tiles (though there will be some full walls with tiles above the sink and around the window.

Now that we're pretty confident on the layout and the style, we're just waiting on a few quotes from contractors so that we can decide how fast we can do the work. A lot of structural stuff has to happen first, as well as pricing the floor (so expensive!) but then we can go and actually buy the kitchen itself. So exciting! For the next installment of Project Casserole, let's talk fun design things: lighting! Taps! Appliances! It's home renovation galore!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Project Casserole

In addition to figuring out what makes me happy, calorie counting, and working 50 hour weeks, The Irishman and I are resuming our home renovations. Specifically, redoing the kitchen and making the ground floor open plan in what we're calling Project Casserole.

I know a lot of you have been clamoring for photos of the house, but as of right now it's sort of a mess. I mean, the house isn't mess-y but the ground floor is in a state of suspended DIY. All of this is sort of abstract, so let me take you on a little virtual history tour of our home.

When we bought our house, the layout of the ground floor was like this:

There was a built-in kitchen diner in the front, by the window, and a pass-through window (with venetian blinds, UGH!) from the kitchen into the lounge. Here's how it looked just after we moved in, at the very beginning of our refurb process. We'd ripped out the built-in table and chairs, and our farmhouse table is visible squished under the window.

You can't really tell, but all of that white around the kitchen is wall.

When we bought the house, we saw the potential of it to be open-plan on the ground floor. We both like to cook and entertain and it was a real priority for us during our house search that if one person was in the kitchen cooking, they wouldn't be sequestered in a separate room while everyone else was partying in another room. This conviction was held up when we met one of our neighbors who bought her house (identical to ours) and it was already open-planned. So we stopped by her places a few times to get ideas, and then went to town. 

First, The Irishman took all of the cabinets off the wall we want to remove and reinstalled them where the built in table was, creating one long worktop and all of the appliances in a row. The fridge also moved down to that end of the kitchen, and a spare Billy bookcase went in to hold our cookbooks and booze – the most important things in life. 

The Irishman then started poking around in the wall before trying to completely remove it, because as he suspected not only did it contain electrical fittings but also pipes that still ran water. Oops. Before we could take the wall down, we'd have to reroute the water and electricals. 

But that didn't stop us from a light demolition work; we decided that we were pretty set on going full open-plan and that we might as well at least open up the pass-through completely. So in late September/early October, The Irishman broke through the half-wall between the kitchen and the lounge. It's so nice living with a DIY-friendly-hunk.

So basically this is the kitchen we've been living with for the last three months or so.

But now it's time to go whole-hog and redo the entire ground floor.

We've been having plumbers and electricians and general contractors come in to quote on Project Casserole. The first things we need to have them do are:
  1. Move the boiler
  2. Reroute the water so that it goes directly upstairs to the bathroom from the boiler (and not circle around the kitchen - byproduct being a much warmer shower much faster!)
  3. Move the radiator
  4. Get a building control officer in to tell us whether we can leave the remaining wall (the one near the window) as-is or need to make it more compliant with the fire code (possibly extending it? possibly insulating it?)
  5. Ripping down the main kitchen wall as well as the parts of the wall near the ceiling where the doors used to be
  6. Quote for installing the new kitchen (but we may do that ourselves depending on the cost)
And while we're getting these quotes, we're having fun playing with IKEA's online kitchen planner application - designing the budget kitchen of our dreams! My next Project Casserole post will be about the look we're going for, and how we're learning to compromise on form versus function.

Monday, January 7, 2013

My happiness project

YOU GUYS, you seriously rock.

I have received so many nice comments, emails and links from you since I posted about my general state of being on Friday (including one from Mom-Mom, thank you, I promise I will call you this week!). It seems how I'm feeling resonates with so many of you, and I'm glad that by finding the courage to give voice to my issues I'm actually speaking for you, too.

So in the spirit of sharing collective learnings and sentiments, I'm going to set up a separate page on the blog called Finding Happy and collect posts, book reviews, musings, and other learnings about finding happiness and passion in life. Sort of my own self-directed happiness project. If you haven't heard about this book, the author did what I'm talking about: set out to find what really makes her happy in life over the course of one year. I'm adding it to the reading list.

Finally, I want to report that I had a great weekend. I didn't do much of anything, really, but had good healthy food, kept the wine to a minimum, went to Pilates, and most importantly spent a lot of time on Facetime with friends in farflung places (New York! Penang!). I feel really centered and rested and full of energy today. Optimism abounds. I hope you're all finding yourselves in similarly positive places as well.
Image courtesy of Mayhem & Muse

Friday, January 4, 2013

Where I've been and where I'm at

I love this photo. I took it on a sea wall in Lahinch in Ireland just before the clouds unleashed a torrent of hail on us. For a good comedic sketch-worthy 25 minutes, The Irishman, me, and his parents jumped in and out of the car in an attempt to go for a walk on the beach; every time we thought the rain had stopped and there was a break in the clouds, we would get about 10 feet before some sort of precipitation came clattering back down on our heads. We ended up soaked, annoyed, and ultimately gave up and drove to drier climes.

This anecdote pretty much perfectly encapsulates where my head has been for the last 4 months or so. I promised you yesterday that I would explain why I haven't been blogging as much and I want to prepare you for a really big dose of negativity and frustration and a few side dishes of jealousy, bitterness, and despair. It's not great reading, nor writing if I'm honest, but hey, where else can you be honest except on the internet?

I tried writing this post a few times before Christmas, and always ended up abandoning it because I just couldn't go all the way there yet. But a few good conversations with good friends, my mom, and a few others in the real world have helped me see that the only way through it all is to be honest with myself and the rest of the world and just do it. Like the photo, there are tons of dark clouds in my head at the moment but hopefully there is a break coming and brightness to follow. I was also inspired by Emily at From China Village who wrote a post that really spoke to me about not blogging about what's really eating at you, and how isolating it feels, and related so much that I felt like I could come clean too.

So what's up, sugarplum?

Well, sometimes it feels like WHAT ISN'T. And other times, it feels like WHAT IS? But I can't really sugarcoat it more simply than this:

I'm just not happy.

It's been a long time coming to be able to admit this in public. Sometimes, when you have a blog and you're an expat, you don't realize that you're unconsciously holding back, pretending your fabulous foreign life is full of excitement and glamour, hiding the lack of fulfilment, the frustration, the pain. Sometimes you even feel guilty that you feel those negative thoughts because you think, well, I mean, at least I am here in London and doing wonderful things like eating in Michelin-starred restaurants and traveling to cool cities so of course I must just be ridiculous because look how lucky I am! But lucky doesn't come with a side effect of being miserable.

I'm conscious that this post can really quickly devolve into navel gazing (and probably already has) so let's really quickly recap on the positives that I've got going for me:

1. I have a house
2. I have a secure job in an interesting industry
3. I have a fabulously supportive boyfriend
4. I have a fabulously supportive family
5. I have a great network of close friends near and far

So, you know, with regards to Maszlow and all of his needs, I should be fairly well-placed to be seek enlightenment. And maybe that's what I'm missing? Because despite all of the above, I'm finding that each day I struggle to wake up with any motivation for achieving anything. I don't have much excitement. I'm bored with my routine, but lack any desire to change it. I'm tired. I'm frustrated. That frustration is making me see the things I have as burdens, rather than joys. 

For example:

1. I have a house
With walls that have holes in them, waiting for plumbers to come remove pipes.
With windows that are constantly covered in condensation (Editor's note: I never ever thought in 1 million years that I would be worried about condensation but there you go!)
With a loft full of boxes, instead of the craft/design room of my dreams.
With a guest room where the freshly applied wallpaper is already peeling.
With cosmetic fixes that cost more than any pair of shoes.
With so many other things to fix in it that I feel like I'll never have a weekend to myself or spare cash to buy a handbag again.

2. I have a secure job in an interesting industry
That causes me untold anxiety.
That I constantly measure my success in against my peers.
That I am always worried I'm doing well enough at.
That I don't really know where I'm headed in.
That sometimes I'm not sure why I'm doing it.
That I can't see a future in 10 years down the road that appeals to me.

3. I have a fabulously supportive boyfriend
Well, he's pretty much great. I'm not airing my issues with him here, but suffice to say it's little things like "will he ever close all of the drawers and doors ALL OF THE WAY instead of leaving them open 1 inch".

4. I have a fabulously supportive family
Who I never see.
Who live in the US and it costs me £500 at least to go back and see them.
Who I constantly feel guilty about never seeing.

5. I have a great network of close friends near and far
See #4.
Add worry that their lives are fast-forwarding through marriages and babies and moves and etc, and I'm not there to share it... so where does that leave me?

Phew. All of that and more has been rattling around and stuffing up my brain for a while now. It feels good to get it out. And even better to read it because I know that it is LUDICROUS. Most of it, at least.

But it gets worse.

Because I've been torturing myself over the above, and more, I've really taken a negative turn for the worse in terms of my general attitude. I've given up exercise, and started comfort eating, and find myself back at the weight I hated 2 years ago. I'm not spending as much time out, socially, because I don't really feel like I have anything positive to say, and I don't have anything cute to wear (because it doesn't fit, and I don't have the spare cash to buy anything new). Social media terrifies me because every new announcement of a vacation, engagement, baby, etc, reinforces my lack of fulfilment. 

It's easy to say "I'm jealous" but it's more than jealousy over achievements or possessions; I'm jealous of people knowing what they want, knowing their dreams, and striving to them. My besties are on a career-break trip in Asia right now, something they scrimped and saved and fought to do, and are having the time of their lives – meanwhile, I'm sitting on the sofa staring at cobwebs and trying to find the energy to dust the house, let alone try to figure out what my dreams and life goals are. Before Christmas, it took me 4 days of saying "I'm going to clean the bathroom" until I finally did – after we got back from Ireland. This negativity is eating away at me, and starting to affect my relationship with The Irishman too. He is nothing but supportive but my life state is exhausting him too. 

Overall, it's a bad scene over here.

So what am I going to do about it? 

Well I've been doing a lot to fix it up to this confession. I've a lovely therapist named Wendy who I pay over the odds for; she can't make it all go away but she has taught me ways to recognize the pattern of thinking that leads me to a place where I feel paralyzed. So at least I can avoid getting to a point of no return. I'm taking a small break from her because she's helped me through the emotional aspect of all of this, and now I need to start the fixing part. I've also been working with two ladies I know, one of whom is a close friend, who are becoming life coaches. They've both agreed to take me on as a test case to help me suss out where I am, what I am, who I am, and how to sync up my values with my work and my goals. I'm terrified by this process because I hate change, but it's necessary. I've gone too far stop now.

Personally, though, I'm starting the following (call them resolutions if you like, but they're more like life shifts):

I'm reading a book called The Element that people have told me really helps you understand what is unique to you – and how to use it to make you happy. I've just started it, so, you know, I'll let you know what I think.  

I am recommitting to yoga and pilates. But in a different way than in the past; I used to go to the hardest class, really push myself, really force myself to get into the hardest poses and hold them the longest and generally be super competitive. This time, it's all about me just doing it. Getting up on the weekend mornings and going to class and celebrating that I'm doing it will be enough. I'm hoping the toning and leanness will follow from the centeredness.

I'm also recommitting to running. Short runs to start and hopefully a half marathon in the spring. A goal to work towards with the side benefit of clearing my head. 

I'm doing a mini January detox. I'm cutting out refined carbohydrates and sugar, and restricting alcohol and red meat (only on the weekends, in moderation). I'm tracking my calories on My Fitness Pal and hoping to hit my goal weight in May.

With a lot of help and encouragement from The Irishman, I'm working on getting up earlier. Ideally to run before work, but this is baby step territory. I am not naturally a morning person, but I do know that when I get up earlier and don't have to rush around, I am more at peace and feel more accomplished – it's just that I really like to sleep. A lot. So the goal is to get to a place where I can get up at 7 every morning easily and hopefully add in a 30 minute run. Let's see.

Also with The Irishman, we're doing a lot of budgeting and financial tracking. Since buying the house, our finances are ever more intertwined and it's helpful to understand what we can afford to do in terms of renovations. But also, I constantly feel like I'm broke. I need to stop dreading the credit card bill and ransacking the sofa for £1 in the days leading up to payday (they're probably The Irishman's anyway).

Finally, I've given myself a deadline of June to work out what I want and need in life. It's not going to be a full life plan, but some things like location might be things that fall out of it; realistically, it's going to be an honest assessment of the things that I need in place to feel at peace and, dare I say, happy again. It's going to be a hard road, and very intense, so I probably won't actively blog about it. But from time to time, I'll update you on how I'm doing. I'm sure you'll sense when changes are amiss, anyways.

If you've stuck with me through this post, thank you. Hopefully you won't abandon the blog but it's okay if you do. If you're going through something similar, feel free to reach out – I've been reading a lot of books, some might be of use to you so message me privately. And if you've a friend like me, well, just go give her a hug and a cup of tea because really that's all she (and I) really need. 

Wherever you are in life, with your resolutions this new year, I wish you nothing but success and satisfaction, happiness and love.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

An Irish Christmas

A very belated but still Merry Christmas and Happy New Year everyone! It's day 2 back in the office and I must say, I'm not really feeling it. Even though I had 9 days off, I'm still rusty and not back in the groove. My first yoga class of the year is tonight so hopefully I can ease my way back in smoothly.

I know I haven't really been blogging much lately, and we're going to touch on that in another post tomorrow. But before we get into reality, let me fill you in on my Christmas. I spent it with The Irishman and his family in Dublin, as we alternate every year – last year was the US with my family, and this year we went to his home. We had a few lovely evenings in Dublin, joining in the festive cheer, and spent the rest of the time having meals with family and friends. On St. Stephen's Day (Boxing Day) we went for a walk on the South Pier out by the iconic stacks.

The day after St Stephen's Day, we all piled into the car and drove out to County Clare in the west of Ireland near Galway. The Irishman's uncle lives out there and, get this, has a castle on his property. In actual fact it is more like a keep, but he has restored it to a liveable space and we had dinner there one night and a tour of the fuller property. It's pretty cool – but very cold. We stayed in less historic accommodation, in this little thatched roof cottage.

The landscape of Clare is pretty dramatic, owing to its glacial geography and The Burren. It's hard to describe, so I won't really try, except to say it is barren, bleak, and utterly beautiful. I'd suggest going in the summer, though, because the wind and rain make it particularly raw so you tend to not spend too much time outside seeing the sights.

And sights there are! Clare also hosts evidence of some of the earliest settlers to Ireland, who left these epic burial tombs called dolmens across the region. There are also several other castles, military fortifications, medieval crosses and crumbling churches littered across the fields – not to mention the geographical wonders like the Cliffs of Moher. We went on a cold and rainy day and I was very dumb not to take a hat. Learn from my mistakes, people – always take a wooly hat to Ireland. Even in July.

From this area, if you wanted to go out to the Aran Islands, you could easily take a ferry there but they weren't running over Christmas and I don't actually think they run during the winter. But there were other places to see too, tiny towns like Ennistymon and Doolin and lovely little hamlets with one pub and one church. Lots of Irish to be had – this cafe we went to in Ennistymon is literally named "food house." Apt, I think!

After a week with The Irishman's family, I was ready to come home. Don't get me wrong – they're a lovely bunch and we had an amazing and warm and lovely family Christmas. But we, and when I say that I really mean me, wanted a break for just us, too. We had 3 days in London together but it simply wasn't enough for us to unwind together. So as 2013 unfolds, I'm really looking forward to some quality time with this chap that doesn't include family, friends, DIY, or modern (in)conveniences.

Despite my crankiness about that, we still managed to have a fabulous New Years Eve at The Ledbury restaurant in Notting Hill and then caught the fireworks down by Parliament.

I hope you all had just as wonderful a Christmas and New Year, blogfriends. Tell me how you spent it! Next post will be about why you haven't heard from me in a while, and what I'm planning to do about it in 2013. Until then, I hope you're finding the transition to 2013 smooth, joyous, and relaxing.