Bird and Belle's Adventures in Marriage



What’s harder on a marriage then finishing a Ph.D. while job hunting and struggling with infertility? Remodeling your kitchen WHILE dealing with all three!

We started this project almost exactly a year ago. Since then we have spent weekends gutting, repairing, rewiring, plumbing, fixing broken floors, tiling, sewing and more trying to take what used to be an out-dated nightmare of a kitchen into something of this decade where we actually enjoy preparing meals. I’m very pleased to report that we are still married after all of this, and have the kitchen of our dreams to boot. We learned a whole lot while doing this project. Let me share some of our major lessons and then we’ll get to the fun before & after shots.

Lesson 1: DON’T remodel your kitchen while you are finishing a Ph.D., job hunting and dealing with infertility!

Lesson 2: Take the time you originally estimated to complete the project and multiply it by 10.

Lesson 3: Factor “burnout” and “I no longer give-a-shit” periods into your time calculation. Multiply those by 3.

Lesson 4: Obsessive women who are overly hormonal thanks to science make for challenging renovation partners.

Lesson 5: Obsessive women CAN repair the heck out of some walls and are CHAMPS at building Ikea cabinets.

Lesson 6: A “quick” plumbing project is never quick.

Lesson 7: There is no such thing as “one trip” to the home repair store.

Lesson 8: Laying tile on a floor with squeak and bounce is not possible. Fixing the floor so it does not have squeak or bounce is a nightmare of epic proportions. Lay wood instead.

Lesson 9: Cats don’t make renovations any easier.

Lesson 10: Cheap ceiling paint is exactly what the name says: cheap. Spend the money on good paint.

I could go on, but I’m sure you get the point. We learned a lot from this project. We know that if the next house needs a new kitchen we will do the remodel before we move in. We also know our marriage is frighteningly strong – renovations are taxing enough. Toss in all our madness and you get a true test. I’m pleased we made it and that we are both still sleeping in the same room (well, except for the night’s I’m too crazy and want the window unit set at 65 degrees… but that is a blog post for another day!)


Old cabinets, gross counter, creepy red floor and crayon-yellow walls = one dated disaster.


The cabinets are all Ikea. We made multiple trips to Cincinnati to collect them in our little Ford Taurus. The sink and counter tops came from Lowe’s. The faucet was on clearance at Home Depot. I made the curtains with outdoor fabric from Hancock’s that was on clearance. That really big plant was a wedding gift from my sweet cousin. It must be the hardiest thing ever because it has survived me for more than two years. It has even produced a baby plant.  Tile flooring is clearance from Home Depot. The tile was so cheap that we built the entire kitchen around it.

The paint color is “Stone Brown” by Benjamin Moore.


The rickety butcher block was a HAIY (Half-Ass It Yourself) project by the previous owners. If you wiggled it while cutting on it the top would collapse. The creepy knife collection is what happens when two grownups marry and combine two cheaply stocked kitchens. The upper glass cabinets were the only redeeming quality in the kitchen. Despite our best efforts, though, they could not be salvaged.


New cabinets with Ikea lighting mounted for illumination. I both store and display our inexpensive Bed Bath & Beyond serving dishes on top. The teal bowl is a $1 find from the thrift store purchased to give the space a pop of color. Due to all the doors leading into the kitchen (3) we had to do a little creative engineering. By using a low profile cabinet here and having the granite cut special we were able to maximize our space and create a “coffee bar.” Small PP Make Muji boxes contain things like tea, bag clips, wine openers, etc. The switches and outlets here still need updated. The new dishwasher is a Bosch we paid $75 for at the thrift store. With a lot of cleaning and a little engineering it now serves us VERY well.


A small, non-energy efficient fridge covered in crap. This side of the kitchen did not have any cabinetry originally. Jay added this huge wire rack. Again you’ll see what happens when two people marry and combine two cheap kitchens – lots of cheap stuff! Last year I spent several months eBay’ing all of this and made enough money to purchase minimal high-quality pieces that should last us for many, many years.


Again we had to use a little creativity with this space. The kitchen is narrow and would have been absolutely claustrophobic had we used full depth cabinets. Instead we opted for low-profile drawers and then open shelving above. This creates a small work-space and maximum storage. A small PP Make box holds our most frequently used items – olive oils, pepper and hot sauce. All the clear storage containers were gifts when we got married and now hold my baking supplies, grains and dried beans. The “spice file” saves space by keeping all our spices tidy and alphabetized. Still waiting on some electrical work over here, too. Oh, and my Vitamix. (LOVE)


The old fridge was old and cramped and sounded like it might launch from the house when it kicked on. It was also covered in crap.


The new fridge is a little larger, silent and energy efficient. A white box on-top holds appliance manuals and warranty information. A two-tiered basket holds produce.


I hated this stove. The oven burned everything. The stove burners were weak. All the utensils hanging on the wall were a mess and the zillion spice jars on the shelf collected a ton of grease.


New cabinets provide utensil storage. An old clear vase has new purpose holding my bamboo and silicone pieces. We purchased the Ikea microwave and mounted it above the stove to save space and double as a vent. I’m so pleased with this Ikea appliance. Next time we’ll skip the fancy Frigidaire brand and go for Ikea. (Buyer beware: We have already had repairs done to the stove and the fridge.) Cat potholders take up a prominent residence on the side of the stove. Two small prints of a rooster and an owl from a gallery in Cincinnati wait to be hung.

We sold the huge pile of cookware and used all the money made to replace it with 3 leCreuset pieces, one non-stick wok and one non-stick egg pan. I love this teal color and look forward to spending the rest of my life making nourishing meals in it.

This wall is right by the door to the basement. It was largely unused so we added an Ikea rail and now hang our lunch boxes in a prominent location, encouraging us to pack lunches! The “Beat It” print is from a seller on Etsy. She customized it so the colors would match our kitchen.



The Great Kitchen Caper (i.e. where on earth have Bird and Belle been)

I can’t believe summer has come and gone! First, a quick recap of our summer in bullet points:

  • We had company and company and company. I washed more sheets and towels this summer than ever before. It was epic.
  • I went to Murray, KY and San Diego, CA on business. The first was about as exciting as one might expect. The second was quite a thrill (zoos, three-state power outage, delicious beaches and fun times with colleagues).
  • We went to Birmingham, AL for a very dear friend’s baby shower. She was super cute and super pregnant.
  • We went to Birmingham again to help the same dear friend pick out paint for the baby’s room (and to visit, of course!)
  • Bird went to Pittsburgh for a math conference. He did a lot of math, bought beer through a hole in a garage door, and had fun times with other math people.
  • We went to PA to celebrate the 4th of July with my family. My awesome brother and dad also came. Sadly, my sweet mom could not join us this year. Hopefully next!
  • We helped the Hines’ build a huge deck in their back yard. It looks a lot like a stage. We might need to do some karaoke on it this fall…
  • I went to Chicago for a weekend with several super fun girlfriends. We had great food, listened to a rockin jug band and purchased mustache art.
  • Bird did a lot of math and made good progress on his dissertation. Go Bird Go!

Whew! It didn’t seem that crazy when we were living it, but WOW what a summer! While not doing the above, we were either: washing sheets and towels (see earlier comment on company), chasing our cats, cooking, selling junk on e-bay and remodeling our kitchen.

Wait, what? Yeah, between summer company and travels we decided it was a GOOD time to begin gutting the kitchen. The kitchen renovation is about 1/2 of the way complete and is making us so g0sh-darned proud of our abilities (Palin Speak). I think the best way to illustrate our progress thus far is through photographs. But first, I want to share some of lessons learned thus far (with bullet points to save time because OBVIOUSLY I’m a busy woman):

  •  Remodeling a kitchen is a lesson in patience.
  • Ikea cabinets are awesome. They are easy to build, super easy to install and look really good considering their price.
  • Spend the extra money on the automatic door and drawer closing mechanisms at Ikea. They are amazing and make for great dinner party conversation. (Ha! We are THOSE people!)
  • Wiring is never a “quick project.”
  • The Borescope we bought to locate the mystery “stink stink stink” is an amazing tool when trying to run new wiring. Buy one immediately if you are remodeling your kitchen.
  • The Borescope is also a hilariously fun thing to use to gross out your significant other (think up the nose…)
  • Don’t buy the paint/primer combo. It sucks. Spend the extra time and prime with Kilz and then paint with regular paint (Olympic is my favorite brand and believe me, I know after painting almost the entire house).
  • Invest in good paint brushes.
  • Prepare to have the contents of your kitchen strewn about the rest of your house for weeks.
  • It is perfectly acceptable to make coffee using water from the tub faucet when your kitchen sink is out-of-order. (All our house guests are now going, “Oh crap! Did they make coffee for me with tub water??? GAH!)
And now for some before photos. These were taken in January 2010 so some improvements had already been made, but not many.

We will call this Wall 1 of the kitchen. On Wall 1 we have our sink, several cabinets, one super crappy dishwasher (that was replaced this year), a "home-made" glass cabinet and a terribly rickety butcher block that held the microwave. There were several times this collapsed on me and had to be carefully reassembled. You can also see the frightening collection of knives on the wall that makes us look like we have a problem. A scary, potentially bloody problem. I am pleased to report that most of these have found a new home (Goodwill) and the remaining few live in a drawer... like normal people.

Wall 2: Door out to the sun room, old tiny fridge with way too much clutter on it (minimalist Belle cringes) and a framed box front from Scott's Porridge Oats. Bad. Ass.

Now we get to the real horror: Wall 3, also known as "That Freakin' Wire Rack Wall!" It held all kinds of crap. I'm pleased to say that a large amount of this junk has been sold on e-bay.

Wall 4: My personal favorite - the huffing, puffing, stove of doom. I'm still amazed it did not blow us all up. It was also huge. And no longer white. And ugly. Also noteworthy is the shelf of crap, the over-powering fluorescent light, and all the utensils hanging from the wall. Too. Much. Clutter.

Now some during photos:

Wall 1: After a lot of yanking and swearing Bird finally got this cabinet out. Behind it we could see the array of colors the kitchen had been before it turned into Primary Color Central. Mmmmm, harvest gold and hunter green.

The F-ing Wire Rack has new purpose: to hold the ridiculous number of tools we needed for this project. Also, the new fridge is all happy and wrapped up in preparation for The Paint.

Behind the cabinets on Wall 4 we found some delicious (sarcasm) and super clean (sarcasm) old wallpaper. Also, meet my new stove!

I steamed off the old wallpaper which revealed the first cheerful thing about this kitchen (sarcasm) - mint green paint. I also spent a day patching the myriad of holes in the walls. My new stove had been wrapped up and I decided it needed a painters tape bow.

Our help. They were lazy and lounged the entire time.

And now this brings us up to present day. Please forgive the really low photo quality. Better photos will follow when more progress is made.

Here we are at wall No. 1 with the fabulous new upper cabinet. The rickety butcher block is gone and has been replaced by a temporary drawer unit. This unit will go away once the other bottom cabinets are replaced. Also, because I know you are dying to know but are too polite to ask: Yes, the tacky blue counter and red floor will be replaced! The sink is also sporting a snazzy new faucet. Ours died a slow and mysterious death (hence making coffee with tub water).

Sigh. This is my favorite view so far. The wire rack and small fridge are gone. Now we have a larger Fridge with a smooth front (I can't stand how dirty the textured finishes get), low-profile cabinets that add storage while not taking up a lot of space and beautiful white shelves to hold my collection of dry goods. Swoon. So white, so pretty. The walls are painted a rich brown with gray tones. The color is hard to appreciate in this photo. Also noteworthy: the new toaster that toasts in record time and a wind-up rhino which you might not be able to see.

Wall 4 features new cabinets and a wall-mounted microwave with vent. The new stove sits next to a tall cabinet that holds utensils and bake ware. On the stove are the glorious new pots we purchased with our eBay earnings. The trashcan will eventually be relocated and a corner shelf will be installed to hold the Le Creuset. NOTE: the color of the wall through the door is like WAY distorted by my crappy camera. We DO NOT have pink walls.

Another new cabinet. The basement door will be replaced with a neat and tidy bi-fold door. The current door does not open all the way and has a hole cut out of the bottom by the previous owners. The lower cabinets on Wall 1 will be replaced soon and then new counters will be added to all the surfaces.

And finally, a swatch of our new kitchen drapery fabric. I'm still debating what kind of window treatment I'll make. Any ideas? Oh, and you can see where I need to add a new piece of molding and finish painting the trim and wood paneling. Like I said, this is a work-in-progress!

And there you have it, folks! A summer recap and a photo journal of our kitchen renovation thus far! Bird and I have lots of exciting bloggy things to post in the coming weeks, assuming we don’t get more company!

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My Little Helper

Euclid would prefer that I leave the doors off all together so the cabinet can be her new cat condo. Sorry kitty!

I spent the weekend sanding, priming and painting a free cabinet. I’m super pleased with my first attempt at properly painting a piece of furniture. Definitly lots of work but 100% satisfying! The cabinet still needs a little touch-up and a final coat of poly so I’ll hold off on photos until it is completed. But here is a sneak peak at the color, which Bird picked. I could not be more pleased. It is going to make a bright, happy addition to our bright, happy sunroom! Euclid approves as the color compliments her eyes!




What started as a simple window treatment has turned into an all-out redecorating fiasco. While still a work-in-progress, I thought I would share some photos of the current state of our dining room.

I decided to tackle No. 2 on my 31 in 365 in early May. The previous homeowners had painted the walls an uninspiring dark beige. After great deliberation Bird and I selected a pale putty color called Dove Wing that, when in the right light, seems to almost glow. I also repaired and repainted the ceilings, and then painted the trim with a high gloss ultra white. I am really pleased with how much larger the space looks once painted.

Once the walls were painted and the snazzy new drapes hung, we turned our attention to the chandelier, or lack-there-of. Instead of a chandelier, our dining room was illuminated by the kind of cheap round light that you would expect to see over a toilet. My mother found the perfect drum pendant lamp at Tuesday Morning for a mere $80. Bird had to hack it a bit to make it work in our space, but the end result is just what we had in mind: subtle, trendy and within budget. And, for the first time ever, my dinner is well-lit!

My second big sewing project were new covers for our Ikea Harry chairs. The cats had done a number on the old red covers in just a year so I knew I did not want to spent a lot of money on new ones. I also found the limited colors and prints at Ikea to be uninspiring. Instead, I selected a heavy-duty outdoor fabric that coordinated nicely with the drapes. Using the old cover as a pattern, the awesome Loretta helped me create two fantastic covers that cost only $30 and two mornings of sewing time.

I used the old Ikea curtains and some cheap black cotton fabric to make a pile of simple place mats. These are far from perfection, but do a fine job catching rogue food and I won’t freak out if I see a cat sitting on one as they can go from table to washer and dryer without batting an eye.
The wall above the sideboard is still a work in progress. Ultimately the antique typewriter from our wedding will live here. I am in the process of making a chalkboard center for the rectangular frame, which I snagged at a Cincinnati thrift store for two bucks and painted white. The oval frames are antiques from E-bay that came with the original convex glass. We are ordering black and white prints of our family wedding photos to go in each. The woodblock print of a B is from our travels to Seattle.
And finally, on the wall opposite the sideboard is a grouping of photos from our travels in Costa Rica. Hanging these was a major labor of love and required a lot of cursing and pencil drawing on the wall. My friend Katy recently posted a brilliant way to hang art easily without the pencil markings and squabbling with your significant other. If only I had known that a while back!
And so that is the dining room thus far. Bird and I really enjoyed eating our dinner in such a pretty, well-lit space tonight and think you will too! (Hint!)


31 in 365: Hem The Drapes!

Hand made by Belle!

My childhood memories are punctuated by the rhythmic whomping of my mom’s sewing machine. Mom began sewing as a child. Over the years she has sewn clothes for herself and kids, custom draperies, costumes, toys and more. My mom is the genius behind the awesome hats at our wedding.

The perfect mustard colored fabric procured from a discount online store.

Sewing and Mama Magargee are synonymous. Sadly, I can’t say the same about myself. Despite spending hours watching mom sew, I could not mend a button. A previous boyfriend once asked me to repair a few shirts. Unwilling to admit my lack of domestic abilities I set to work. The buttons ended up being sewn on crooked and the torn seam puckered. To add insult to injury, I burned a large, iron-shaped print on the one shirt I tried to press.

From then on I adopted the “no sew” method of alterations – I used a stapler to hem drapes and pants, and safety pinned a shirt when the button came off. When I moved to Lexington Bird and I purchased $14 drapes from Ikea. Each pair came with this amazing tape that you ironed into the drapes to create a no-sew hem. GENIOUS! This tape became my new best friend. I actually took a square piece of fabric, ironed in a hem and used it as a tablecloth. AND HE STILL MARRIED ME! Bird is a good man.

While writing my 31 in 365 list Bird challenged me to learn how to sew a real hem into our drapes. I stared at him. Sew? Why on earth would I do that when I could just use the ironing tape? He kindly explained it would be nice to launder our drapes without the hems falling out each time. Good point.

“28. Sew an actual hem into my drapes (no more iron-on hems).”

I wanted our curtains to have a nice, finished look and be easy to open and close. Drapery pins and iron rings did just that.

While I enjoy teaching myself new skills like graphic design, I realize it can be a time-consuming process and the point of 31 in 365 is to complete the tasks in 365 days. Additionally, things like graphic design do not include a sharp needle whomping down hundreds of times per minute. Nope, teaching myself to sew had disaster and Band-Aids written all over it. Instead I consulted Google and after a few clicks found Loretta.

Like Mom, Loretta has been sewing forever. She can talk your ear off about fabric grain, nap and the importance of buying quality thread. With the patience of a saint, she can deal with a slew of questions and constant interruptions, “Um, Loretta, I think something is wrong… ” I say as I tug on the zipper that I accidentally sewed closed.

For the past two months I have met with Loretta every other Saturday to learn how to sew. Slowly she has taught the basics and given me the confidence to try new things. “It’s just fabric,” she assures me. “You can always rip a seam out.”  Sewing, she reminds me, is supposed to be fun.

The more I learned from Loretta, the more I thought I could do better than just sewing a hem in our $14 drapes. I started looking at drapes that I could not afford. “I think I can make these,” I said to Bird one night. “I’m sure you can!” His vote of confidence fueled the project. I ordered fabric. I bought lining. I hunted down pleat tape and drapery pins. I bought drapery hardware.

One Saturday, armed with supplies and a sandwich, I arrived at Loretta’s house ready for a full day of cutting, pressing and whomping machines. With her expert guidance we created four lined drapery panels from wonderful mustardy yellow fabric that would hang with pins and rings giving the drapes a polished and high-end look. This weekend I hung the drapes and Bird oohed and awed. They were just perfect, he said.  And hemmed properly!


how this Belle saved a couch cover

I have always loved white couches. Unfortunately these guys love white couches, too.

Every couches worst nightmare: four cats who love soft spots.

In our house getting rid of cats in order to have white furniture is not an option, nor is waiting for them to go to kitty heaven. Considering that our cats are all rather young we will likely (and hopefully!) be the owners of four clawing, fur ball producing, shedding monsters for many years to come.

Bird vetoed my initial suggestion for a white slip covered couch when I moved in and vetoed his current living room furnishings (Big Lots sofa and wire metal racks). It seems he had already pegged me for a neurotic, obsessive woman that would spend more time than anyone should obsessing over the whiteness of her sofa. And so a compromise was made and we selected a black and white sofa cover for my cute Ikea Ektorp sofa.

“I think the print will hide some mess,” I said and Bird agreed. Foolishly we purchased this cover and brought it home. The new cover brought instant life to our rather dull living room – a splash of print amongst a sea of bland taupe walls. We were delighted. And so were the cats.

In about 2 minutes all four cats were on the new couch, sniffing, kneading and nesting into its fresh black and white awesomeness. And there the cats have stayed. I would venture a bet that during one 24 hour cycle the couch only spends about 15 minutes without at least one cat on it. During the other 23 hours and 45 minutes there are small furry bodies snuggled in the cushions and it is really starting to show.

For being such fastidious groomers, cats really are quite disgusting. Despite our weekly furniture vacuuming regime with this bad boy (an absolute must for pet owners) the couch was starting to look really dirty, especially in the cats’ favorite spots (arm rests and the cushion under the window – also known as “The Cushion of Contention” as many-a cat fight have started over that primo spot).

The first item on last weekend’s house-keeping agenda was to address the disgusting couch cover. The black and white nature of the cover presented a bleaching challenge so I opted for OxiClean, which currently holds third place on the list of Belle’s Favorite Obsessive Cleaning Supplies (the first being vinegar and baking soda). Cleaning the cover was done in two phases: first the couch cover and then the cushion covers.

1. Put four large scoops of OxiClean in the bathtub and fill it with warm to hot water (depending on what your cover will tolerate).
2. Soak the nasty cover for an hour, stopping by to stir it around every now and then.
3. After an hour rub the extra funky parts together, drain the tub, carry the cover to the washing machine and wash it on the most heavy-duty setting with an extra rinse.
4. Hang the cover up to dry and then repeat with the cushion covers.

I’m pleased to say that about 90% of the funk was removed from the cover using this method. 5% of the remaining funk are a few tiny dinner stains and the other 5% can be deemed “character.” I am certain that had I been a better Domestic Goddess during the last year and washed the cover on a regular basis using OxiClean it would probably still look new. Alas, we live and we learn!


Do you hear what I hear?

“Hey Bird, do you hear that?” I ask.

“No. Isn’t it great?” he replies.

“Yes. Let’s bask in the nothingness….” I say.

And we sit for a moment, eyes closed, embracing the silence as our new dishwasher soundlessly strips away remnants of the evening meal, leaving nothing but sparkling glasses and polished silverware behind.

Until last week Bird and I could not run the dishwasher while working in the kitchen, eating dinner in the dining room or watching TV in the living room.

WHOOSH, churn churn churn, GRunT, gargle, GROAN, chug-a-lug-chug-chug, WHOOSH, churn churn churn….

The dishwasher, which was not that old, was the loudest creature in the house. It could drown out the meows of four famished cats. With all the noise and production you would expect this modern convenience would at least do a fantastic job washing the dishes but, no, it failed every time. Our dishes would come out speckled, streaked and often looking dirtier than when they went in. “Why do I even try,” I would grumble. “Animals do a better job licking plates clean.”

Every Saturday Bird and I ignore the pile of dishes from the night before and have lunch at Good Foods Co-Op. After lunch we wander next door to the Habitat for Humanity’s “Re-store” Thrift Store. I have been in quite a few Re-store stores and none are as good as the one in Lexington where I have seen Ethan Allen furniture, stunning antiques, awesome bathroom sinks, vintage light fixtures and complete sets of solid wood kitchen cabinetry. One never knows what treasure they will turn up at Re-store so every Saturday we check. Two months ago we found the holy grail of thrift store finds – a BEAUTIFUL Bosch dishwasher.

It’s smooth white front did not have a single ding. The buttons were clean and all clicked in and out properly. The door was gloriously heavy and the racks slid out gracefully. However, the inside was unbelievably filthy. Crusted in years of calcification, the dishwasher was in need of major Elbow Grease. Filth aside this diamond in the rough was in the bright white that would match the convection oven I had picked out. It was the right size to fit the space. It was everything we needed.

BUT, and this is the big but, it was $175.

“I just don’t know,” Bird said as he scratched his beard. “175 is a lot and it needs cleaned.”

“There is a 30 day warranty,” I reminded him.

“Yeah, but…. ”

“Yeah, $175 is a lot. Let’s wait and see if it gets marked down,” I suggested.

And so we left the glorious, yet filthy, Bosch behind.

The Bosch remained in the corner of Restore for several weeks until one Saturday we found a discounted tag that read, “SALE $75” stuck to the side. And what did Cheap-Skate Bird and Belle do? We left and “thought about it” some more. I know, ridiculous.

The next Wednesday I took a half day at work and spent 30 minutes lunching at Good Foods. I munched my organic salad, sipped coffee, read my Kindle and wandered to Restore to see what was new. I ended up at the Bosch.


I thought about the mess of dirty dishes in my sink. I thought about how I would swear when I opened the dishwasher and found “clean” dishes that were still streaked. I thought about the noise. I thought about how $75 probably would not pay a cleaning lady for a week. And then I thought it was time I took action.

I bought the Bosch.

Several weeks later after a pound of various cleaners, a good bit of swearing, brow rubbing and maybe some yelling, the dishwasher was installed. Bird and I stood back and looked at its flush profile against the white vintage cabinets and pressed the ON button. The dishwasher silently sprung to life. “IT LIVES!” we cried! And then, we sat down to watch televisions while the silent Bosch did its job. Life really is good.