When he was in middle school and very enthused about the Harry Potter series, Max went through a Wiccan phase. He told me this casually one day early in our relationship, and it’s a fact I’ve never quite been able to shake. He was young and discovering himself and trying to figure out what future-grown-up-Max might look like and what such a man might do with his time and energy, and apparently one of those options involved the practice of witchcraft. I, myself, began wearing blue jeans around the same time, after wearing khakis for five years straight as part of my self-imposed uniform, so I guess I kind of understand what it’s like to reinvent yourself in such a drastic and fundamental way during those critical formative years.

Though, to my knowledge, it’s been at least several years since Max has cast any incantations or earnestly mixed himself up a potion, I wonder about it sometimes. By way of avoiding admitting my own flaws/weaknesses/shortcomings, for instance, it’s usually more practical to just privately decide that Max is casting spells. This explains why his desires come to pass in a seemingly passive, convenient sort of way. For example, about 9 months ago I wrote about a little drama unfolding in our apartment surrounding houseplants. To recap: Max hates houseplants. I, however, like houseplants because they are pleasant to look at and give the impression of nature without having to actually go outside. You might call me a houseplant advocate.

I had some plants—an Aralia and a Philodendron, specifically—which I showed proudly on the blog. Oh, were they nice. And then guess what happened.

A fucking witch got to them, that’s what.

Not even this one was spared. Obviously, a spell was cast and slowly but surely, despite all my very best efforts, Max’s determined will was made manifest by the tricky and fatal maneuvers of magic. I’m literally up against impossible odds, and to be honest, it’s frightening.

To be fair, the Philodendron didn’t completely die, because I think that’s next to impossible, but it got so straggly looking that I dragged it out to the fire escape, where it’s become progressively less and less attractive over the course of the summer.

But no matter about those small fries—there were better things on the horizon. I had been hinting for months that what I really wanted anyway was a BIG plant. A Fiddle Leaf Fig, specifically. These plants have been popular for forever, but I think only in the last couple years have they become a full-out raging botanical trend, and I wanted desperately to get in on the Fiddle club.

The Fiddle Leaf is not a plant for the faint of heart. It is potentially huge, and therefore commanding. It bespeaks a kind of permanence that my smaller plants didn’t: it’s easy enough to move a couple little pots to a new apartment, but moving a fucking tree is a serious hassle. Seeing as Max would never go for a plant so ballsy and conspicuous, I always regarded the Fiddle more as a powerful threat than an actual possibility. Don’t fuck with me or I swear to god, I will put a fucking tree in that corner. 

I don’t remember exactly when the pendulum swung, but at some point either before or directly after the inevitable purchase (which was eventually made out of passion, not rage), Max warmed inexplicably to the idea. If memory serves, it was when we brought the thing home and propped it up in the corner. “Oh,” Max said, “it’s so…glamorous.” And just like that, Max became a fan of at least one indoor plant, and my ability to predict his likes and dislikes reached a new level of ineptitude.

Right now it’s chilling in the living room corner by the newly-painted radiator, but I might move it around at some point. I couldn’t really love it more, what with its sexy green leaves and enormous scale, it makes a huge impact and is apparently something that both Max and I can rally around. I basically want it to GROW GROW GROW and totally take over the room, or at least come close to the ceiling. How glorious would THAT be?

Of course, the flip-side of loving something so delicate so much is the emotional toll of always worrying that it’s going to die.  This corner gets tons of natural light, which I’ve read is very good for fiddles, and I’ve been trying to water it enough but not too much, rotate it every so often, and generally pamper it to make it feel loved, wanted, and fully accepted. I think it’s doing well. Then again, I don’t actually know because it’s a plant and plants are mysterious and notoriously quiet when it comes to complaining.

But it seems happy? Sometimes it sheds leaves but other times it grows new ones? Fuck, it’s totally going to die, and along with it, my dreams.

Because it’s pretty large and is set to only get bigger, I heeded the advice of the woman who sold it to me and transferred it to an 18″-20″ diameter planter. When she recommended that, I just nodded, thinking sure, whatever lady, IKEA’s practically around the corner, not realizing that 18-20 inches is BIG. Bigger than anything IKEA sells. Home Depot, Lowes, the usual modern home-goods suspects like CB2 and West Elm—nobody had anything. I figured an outdoor planter would be my best option, but have you seen outdoor planters lately? They are all fucking hideous, not to mention expensive, which isn’t really a problem when you couldn’t pay me to put one in my house anyway.

But then, oh joyous day, I went to Target and this huge white vaguely-retro-looking planter was waiting for me! It looks convincingly like ceramic but is actually fiberglass, so it’s very lightweight, even when filled with 8,000 tiny bags of potting soil and a tree. It was also on sale, costing all of about $35 if I remember correctly. Which is good because the plant inside of it was not exactly a bargain. Stupid New York City garden center prices.

Please, please don’t die. I will be lost without you. Grow big and tall and strong, my beautiful Fiddle baby, and be not harmed by Max’s hocus-pocus shit.

Radiator: Painted!

Maybe it’s because I only stayed in my last apartment for a year and now I’ve been in this place almost 15 months (crazy, right??), but I just have this itch. By which I do not mean that I have an irritating skin condition, although while we’re being honest, I do sometimes develop a small rash under my watchband if worn for extended periods during the summer, an affliction that is somewhat devastating.

love my apartment. I have no interest in moving any time soon. But recently I’ve been going through this disconcerting phase where I basically want to change everything. If I don’t want to get rid of the furniture, than at least I want to rearrange it or re-stain it or reupholster it or dunk it in a vat of bleach and call it artsy. I keep regretting all these decisions that I made a year ago and wondering why I didn’t think of things earlier, like maybe before I drilled 4,000 holes in a plaster wall or painted entire rooms. I toggle between wishing everything was just finished already and knowing it will probably never be finished because by the time things could be considered finished, I will just want to change them all over again. I’m like that. Some people call it indecisive. Some people call it charming. Max calls me a torturous asshole.* But really, who’s to say?

*Max never actually says that, he’s much too fearful.

The thing is, I guess I really feel about my apartment the same way I feel about my face: aside from a few “problem areas,” if I’m being honest with myself, I actually think it’s kind of pretty and most reasonable people would be OK with living inside it.

So since it ain’t exactly broke, I’m trying to refrain from breaking it with the sole purpose of  trying to fix something I really can’t afford to break in the first place. Which is just an idiotic way of saying I don’t have money and I don’t have time and I need to stop fantasizing about a new sofa.

In order to distract myself, I’ve been trying to tackle some long-avoided but low-cost projects that aren’t too labor-intensive, at least while I try to save up and carefully plot my next move. Which is why I decided to paint the radiator in the living room.

Get a load of this horror show. We actually have two very old, very heavy, very cast-iron radiators in our apartment (the other one is in the bedroom), but for some reason I always found this one uniquely gross. Maybe it was how the feet were all yellowed and weird? Maybe it was that the silver paint chipped and flaked and collected on the floor like a light dusting of toxic lead paint confetti? Maybe it was that the monsters who previously painted this room bright red managed to spill some paint on the radiator, smudge it around a little, and let it dry, like hateful demons?

I don’t know why. Maybe just because it’s big and vaguely silver but mostly a mess but had significant untapped potential to be pretty? Like, what is the function of an old radiator other than to be charming? Except for heat and whatever, smart ass.

I guess the reason I didn’t do this earlier is because part of me has a very hard time accepting that I can’t fix everything exactly how I would ideally fix it in a perfect world. I knew I could paint it, but what I really wanted was to do this beautiful old radiator right, which would involve having it sandblasted and powder-coated, which would really reveal the gorgeous Victorian scroll-y patterns and make it gleam like some tortured 19th century factory worker just died in the process of making it. I looked into that stuff, but obviously it’s pricey as fuck and just definitely not an option. I thought of trying to strip it myself, but even that just seemed incredibly intense and potentially hazardous for a radiator I don’t own. But still…adding another layer of paint and 100% accepting that a thorough restoration is just never going to happen took some time.

Once I talked myself through that little year-long bout of crazy, I was ready to go and armed myself with some supplies.

1. The first step was to use a wire brush and a spackle knife to chip away at any loose and flaking bits of old paint. A word about this: yes, I’m sure it was lead paint. No, I don’t freak out about shit like that. I don’t have babies crawling around and I kept the dogs away and everyone survived it. People ask me all the time about lead paint, what precautions to take against lead paint, whether looking in the direction of a lead paint-covered object will kill you, and to be honest, I am not the authority, or even an authority on things like this. But from the advanced research I’ve done on the Google machine, it seems like lead paint is more or less harmless as long as you just leave it alone. If it’s flaking, flake off the pieces and seal all that shit in by painting right over it. Remain calm, don’t start eating the flakes like a freak, clean up when you’re done, and chances are you’ll live to blog about it. Or whatever it is you do.

(All this said, if you’re a worrywart, I encourage you to do your own independent research and make your own decisions about what you’re comfortable with. I’m not here to pressure anyone. I’m just here to dance.)

2. After you’ve flaked all the loose paint off, it’s a good idea to give your radiator a good cleaning. Of course, it was my half-Swedish half-unicorn friend, Anna, who knew exactly how to clean an old cast-iron radiator and shared her secrets with me after I voiced my frustrations one day. That magic fuzzy wand you see above is a dryer vent brush. Fun, flexible, and stylish, this glorious thing perfectly gets into all the nooks and crannies of old, crusty radiators. If you have a radiator and have never known how to get to those tricky inside parts, and then you buy one of these brushes: BE NOT ALARMED. That first cleaning will be—how shall we say—enlightening. But so worth it. Wear gloves and consider protective eyewear and a mask.

After you’re done cleaning, sweep and vacuum any dust/dead insects/loose change/misplaced teeth up off the floor. Consider making a shadowbox, disregard the idea as vile.

3. I kind of skipped ahead with that first picture, but it’s a good idea to protect the area under your radiator, just in case of any paint drips. I’m only making note of this because it’s so very uncharacteristic of me to take the time to do something so precautionary, and I feel extra proud of myself for doing it.

4. You’re ready to paint! Now, I know a lot of people like to spray paint their radiators, which is great and all, but I did NOT feel like masking off everything in the general vicinity and dealing with fumes, or trying to detach the whole radiator and drag it up to the roof, so I opted to just use regular paint with a regular brush. I also know that some people use paints made specifically for high-heat applications, but I’d also read in several places that this really isn’t necessary, particularly depending upon how often the radiator is actually used. Given that our landlords turn our radiators on about three times every winter, I figured it would be safe to just go with what I had around.

I started off with a coat of oil-based primer (the can of Zinsser in the supply photo above). The primer helps seal in weirdness while also bonding really well to the old paint and giving your new paint a great surface to adhere strongly to, preventing future chips over time. When in doubt, prime.

5. After you’ve let the primer dry a few hours, it’s time to paint. For some reason I had a can of this stuff already, which was perfect. Oil-based enamel is kind of thin and smooth and really coated the radiator nicely without getting gloppy, and dried into a very hard, very shiny, very durable shell. It really is the next best thing to powder-coating, in my opinion.

I kind of freaked myself out during the painting that I couldn’t get my brush much past the outermost parts of the radiator and worried that it would end up looking crappy and unfinished, but that’s definitely not the case. If you stand really close and look between the sections, I guess you can kind-of-sort-of tell, but really—it looks good. Like really good.

Am I right or am I right?

I mean, yeah, it would be nicer if it were stripped down and restored all fancy-like. But for a few hours and a couple coats of paint? Big improvement. And since I already had all the supplies, it was free. I like free.

I moved everything out of the corner so you could get a full view. Take it all in.

And this is a picture of my dogs because deal with it.


No, Daniel, you cannot take home/care for/nurse/foster this helpless/neglected/lost/injured/abandoned/cute/ugly cat/bird/dog/rabbit/squirrel/raccoon. This is not a good idea.

This has become a personal mantra of mine, mostly because of the frequency with which, historically, I have done any number of these things and subsequently opened a can of worms I intended to leave sealed. These sorts of mottos tend to develop, say, when you find yourself waking up every 2 hours to feed a milky liquid diet from a small medicine dropper to a newly hatched starling, whose temporary habitat you’ve constructed under a heat lamp in an ice bucket you lined with tissues in your kitchen. Do this for an afternoon and you might think to yourself, “Look at me! I have compassion! I care for the weak! Animals are beautiful! Nature is a wonder!” Keep it up for a few days and you find yourself wondering why either you or that damn bird are still alive and breathing, and ruing the day you thought this was a decent or feasible idea.

Maybe it’s just a side-effect of living in New York, but it had been a good couple of years since I’d been presented with the opportunity to really save anything, unless you count a boyfriend who previously subsisted off a diet of fruit and Triscuits or a dog who didn’t need saving, at least in the classical sense of the word, so much as she needed cuddles and a better name (Mekko was previously known as “Cream.”)

This was until about two and a half months ago, when Max and I were walking Mekko down our street and were stopped by a frantic British woman, pushing a stroller in one hand and holding a length of yellow construction rope in the other, tied to which was the creature you see above. I don’t remember exactly how the exchange took place, but evidently she had witnessed the police making a big hullabaloo in downtown Brooklyn, sirens blaring as they cornered a small shaking mess of a dog, such that they could capture him, take him to be euthanized, and restore peace to the troubled region around which he had been terrorizing. Thinking she recognized the dog as a pet who lived on our street, she stepped in and volunteered to take him back to his owner, whose house she was now planted outside of since he didn’t appear to be home.

“Do you recognize this dog?” she asked.
“No, I’m sorry.” I replied.
“Wait,” Max jumped in, “I think that’s the dog who lives here, right? Daniel, isn’t that him?”
“I don’t know, I’ve never seen this dog before.”
“Well, I already have a dog at home so I can’t take him with me,” the woman sighed, “and I have to get my baby home and I can’t just stand here all day, so I think I’ll just leave him tied to the fence here, and hopefully the owner will walk by and see him?”

This, I realize now, was the moment when I had two choices. The first would have been: “Great, I’m sure that everything will work out. Good day to you, British mommy lady.” And then there’s what I actually said, which was something to the tune of, and I’m paraphrasing here, “oh, we can’t do that! Why don’t you just give him to me and I’ll see if I can’t get this whole situation worked out. Go on your merry way now, nice British mommy lady, you have done your generous duty to the world. Peace be with you.”

Shortly after she walked away, I realized the error of my ways and turned to Max. “We have two dogs now, don’t we,” I said. He shook his head no and smiled, and took Mekko on the rest of her walk while gremlin-dog and I stood on the sidewalk and plotted our next move.

We went to the vet to scan for a microchip but there was none, obviously. I mean, look at him. That is not a dog who has a microchip. They recommended that I call the shelter where we got Mekko, but they were at capacity and refused to take him.

Now, I know that picture above might read as cute and all, but trust—this dog was not cute. This dog was disgusting. This dog was in the worst condition I have ever seen an animal in in my entire life, in the flesh or otherwise. Wet little nose and pink tongue notwithstanding, it would have been difficult to even decipher this being as a dog at all—more like a pungent clump of matted fur with filthy street waste and poop clinging to its peripheries. When you have a weakness for dogs like I do, there’s something intensely heartbreaking about seeing stuff like this.

Too late in the day to take him to be groomed, I did the only thing I could think to do: I took him home, grabbed several pairs of scissors, plopped him down on my bathroom floor, and began a long excavation process that continued for the next seven straight hours.

It occurred to me part of the way through that this was, perhaps, a terrible idea. I knew nothing about this dog, who might not have taken kindly to what I’m sure was a painful and exhausting ordeal, as I had to gently but necessarily pull apart his armor and cut away at it slowly, trying to avoid his pink skin lurking somewhere in its depths. I suppose he could have turned around at any moment and bit me, or unleashed a herd of fleas onto my previously flea-less home, or flinched and caused my inexperienced grooming hands to impale him accidentally.

But none of these things happened. Instead, this little pile of matted fur was kind, and sweet, and seemed to know that something good was happening to him. He seemed to trust me. About halfway through, when his head and the front half of his body were mostly uncovered, he began to lick my face and hands manically, as if suddenly possessed. Little gremlin-dog was becoming unearthed, and he was being super cute about it.

This was during final exams at the end of the semester, shortly before we were leaving for our trip to France, and we were in no position to keep a second dog. He was a sweet dog and all, but—just no. THIS CANNOT HAPPEN. 

So I called virtually every no-kill shelter in the state, and nobody would take him. One place, about four hours north, agreed to take a look at him under the condition that I go get him a rabies shot and as long as he was friendly, without “a million health problems” and “not super old,” they would probably take him.

So we went to the vet, where he got his rabies shot and a once-over, where the vet noted his dire need for dental surgery and estimated his age to be between 9 and 11 years old.

As we were leaving the vet, and I was fearing that our single remaining option might be drying up since it turned out he was quite old and did have some significant health problems, I got a call from my amazing friend Anna, who said that her Mommy was willing to take the little dog under foster care for a month. It wasn’t a permanent solution, but it bought us some time to figure something out after Max and I got back from France and solved the very short-term pressures. So the next day Anna and I loaded Fritz, Bruno, and the little dog in the car and went up to Newburgh.

I cannot think of a better possible situation for this dog to have been in. Anna’s mommy (whose name is actually Kristina), is—and I do not exaggerate here—absolutely one of the kindest, most generous people I have ever met in my entire life. Added to this, she is also Swedish, incredibly patient and caring, and didn’t complain at all when confronted with a new little animal peeing all over the walls of her house and demanding to sleep on all the furniture. Since Kristina was, thus far, going to be the closest thing this dog had to a permanent owner, we decided she should be the one to name him. After some debate, she chose “Linus,” a name she’d basically been saving since the 60s when she almost used it for her eldest son.

Kristina took amazing care of Linus while we were away, but when we got back we all decided that he really needed to have his dental surgery done (and get neutered at the same time) as soon as possible. And, of course, while we were away Max and I had some thoughts. Maybe we could be a two-dog household after all? It wasn’t so crazy, right? I mean, people do this sort of thing all the time, albeit perhaps not within 6 months of adopting their first dog. But we had grown inordinately attached to Linus in the few days we’d had him before, and it’s not like people were jumping up to take this 10 year old dog with a huge impending vet bill off our hands. And we did just win $5,000, and what better use of that money could there be than a dog fund, right?

So we pulled the trigger, very cautiously, which is why I haven’t posted about Linus until now. As much as we loved him, what if things didn’t work out? What if the dogs didn’t get along, or taking care of both was too intimidating, or Martha Stewart came along and wanted to adopt him?

When I brought Linus home from Kristina’s house the night before his big surgery, Mekko did some exploratory sniffing before looking at me with the deepest look of confusion and sympathy in her eyes. “Wait,” she seemed to say, “come again? You want this thing to actually live with us? And I’m expected to like it? Am I on Candid Camera?”

So Linus went off to surgery, got neutered and ended up having fifteen teeth pulled, and over the coming weeks as we dealt with potty training (again) and learning how to walk two very different dogs at the same time, and trying to get the pickiest little stray rescue dog on the planet to eat some kind of semi-nutritive food, we grew more and more attached and more and more convinced that maybe this whole fucked up plan was OK, after all.

At first, Mekko basically wanted nothing to do with him and decided to approach the change as though he wasn’t there.

But now, I know they’re buddies. They’re actually a great pairing, if a bit unorthodox—they don’t really play, but I think they do calm each other when we leave the apartment, which helps both of them since they’re each a bit separation-anxious. Mekko likes to turn around and wait for Linus to catch up while we’re out walking, and she always lets him steal little bits of food from her big bowl at mealtime.

And the sort-of-almost cuddling between them—it doesn’t get much cuter than that, am I right? I’m right.

And Linus is just the sweetest. He is my little shadow around the apartment and is so absurdly cuddly (Mekko is pretty cuddly, too, so I spend a lot of time cuddling now). Like a very tiny little old man in a lamb costume is how I like to think of him.

So now we have two dogs.


As-Is, You Win Again.

So two days before we left on our big exciting trip to Sweden and Finland, I took a little impromptu trip to IKEA. At the time I probably could have told you why, but now all I remember is picking up a few things from the market place before I turned my back on my cart for about 2 minutes in the plants section. When I came back, the cart was gone.

If you’ve ever been to IKEA, you know what a fucking travesty this is. Moment of silence, please.

So I circled around the plants and candles about 30 times before deciding that the cart was gone for good, went back to the beginning of the marketplace and sped my ass through the whole thing, having no recollection of what I had picked up the first time around except for a few replacement wine glasses and a tea towel. I knew I was forgetting a few things,* but at that point there was only so much more suffering a person could reasonably be expected to endure, so I headed for the check-out line.

*a vegetable peeler, a corkscrew, and a set of measuring cups.

And then it stopped me, like it always does. The As-Is Section. I cannot resist its seductive siren call of already-cheap items rendered even cheaper by little details like being completely fucking shattered to pieces. Though my personal history with the As-Is section is essentially one of dashed dreams, heartbreak, and disappointment—by which I mean that I once paid $10 for a tabletop that ended up being much too large and on the curb—I cannot skip it. I am drawn to it, like a moth to flame. Like sorority girls to blow. Like Max to his Taylor Swift “channel” or whatever on “rdio” or whatever. It’s like my body spontaneously begins to reject all its organs if I try to leave the building without going in.

Casually looking around for nothing in particular, I noticed a cabinet frame that was the exact size I was planning to put in my kitchen. Oh, and look! Another one! Two cabinet frames, 38% off, totaling $24 in savings.

Irresistible. I could get like 300 buckets of Swedish meatballs with my savings. I could pour them all in a bathtub and swim around in them.

So I swiftly picked up the two cabinet frames and bought them.

At this point I basically wanted to die because I had to load two enormous cabinets in a very small car on a hot day and then I had to go back into IKEA (round 3, for those keeping track) to buy all the hinges and doors and shelves and suspension rail that go with these stupid frames. If you’ve ever bought cabinets at IKEA, this means going to the kitchen section, waiting for an employee, listing all said parts to said employee who enters them on a computer and prints you a list, which then you have to take to checkout, wait in line, pay for, then bring the list to another counter where they give you a number and take your information and you wait and wait and wait for your number to pop up on a screen while you go buy a dozen cinnamon rolls and slowly eat each one, sobbing tears of anguish into the sticky box.

We’ve all been there.

A couple hints: 1) you actually can pay for your kitchen stuff right on the spot when you order it from the original employee. That means they’ll start processing your order in the warehouse before you even get to checkout, meaning it’s usually ready by the time you get there or shortly thereafter. 2) if you’re waiting for a long time for your number to pop up, go get food. By the time you return, your stuff will be ready. (100% effectiveness rate over the course of 1 experience)

But my kitchen, it needed new cabinets. So I did all of these miserable things.

For a long, long time I really wanted to try to salvage the existing upper cabinets, but here were all the problems with that plan:

1. They were horrible cabinets. The shelves didn’t adjust, which made them really spatially inefficient. Added to that, the big cabinet on the right had a big facer (the vertical piece of wood between the two doors) that really limited the amount of stuff we could easily take in and out of that cabinet. A year of frustration and I wanted to send it through a wood chipper.

2. I hate that diagonal corner cabinet. Cabinets with diagonal walls just end up super disorganized and everything in them is annoyingly inaccessible and hard to see. HATE.

3. Keeping them would have meant painting the frames and doors, or doing something with the doors (like on my old vanity?), or just replacing the doors so they match all the other new cabinets, after which I’d still be left with frames I was far less than enthusiastic about. Doing any of this would have been super time and labor intensive for a product that would still essentially suck.

4. The new cabinets that I installed on the other side of the room are 39″ tall, while the existing ones on this side are only 30″. That means that even if I painted the frames or refaced the doors, the old cabinets would still be small and still wouldn’t take better advantage of the almost 9′ ceiling height in our apartment.

I know it seems a little crazy town to rip out cabinets in a rental unit, even for me, but at this point, having already added 6 new cabinets to the kitchen and re-facing another, I now feel like it’s way more important for everything to be consistent and match than it is to preserve any of the “original” kitchen that was installed (badly) circa 1994.

So with less than 48 hours left before we were getting on a series of international flights, I hauled all of this crap home and set to work bringing all of it up five flights of stairs and taking out all the contents of our cabinets.

Totally no pressure. Totally wouldn’t be terrible if something went wrong and I hit weird snags and I left town for three weeks without kitchen cabinets. That would have been fun to explain to the petsitter.

Taking down the first cabinet ended up being way, WAY more difficult than I imagined it could be. Even after removing like 25 screws from the top and the bottom of the frame and about 7 screwed into the cabinet next door, it still took a fair amount of persuasion just to get it away from the wall where it’s been stuck for 15-20 years.

As with most things in my apartment that I’ve uncovered for the first time, the space between the back of the cabinet and the wall had become a veritable cockroach mass grave. There’s really nothing very interesting to say about a bunch of dead cockroaches, I just thought it was notable. We do not have a roach problem anymore, but all the clues point to an insane infestation at some point.

With all the cabinets down, the kitchen already felt so, so much bigger and brighter and all of a sudden everything seemed possible. As you can tell by this chaotic picture.

The green tape line marks 8 feet from the floor and demarcates the height of the other cabinets across the room. Taking the time to tape something like that is so very unlike me, I’m not even sure why I did it.

Now, IKEA cabinets basically hang off of a metal rail, which has to be secured to the wall really well so that everything doesn’t come crashing down. Especially in buildings like mine, where a few renovations over the course of 120+ years have made stud placement fairly unreliable, I like to supplement with intense anchors, and these toggle anchors are my favorite. Each one is supposed to hold 90 pounds in drywall and I find them really easy to work with. There seems to be a lot of confusion about how these work so I figured I’d explain here.

1. This is what your anchor will look like when the two plastic pieces are lined up.

2. To start, move the plastic pieces out of alignment so that the metal piece at the end is vertical.

3. The anchors will say on the package what size hole you need to drill in the drywall, I think these were 1/2″. After drilling the hole insert the metal end of the anchor all the way through the drywall until you feel it come out the other side.

4. Pull the two plastic pieces back into alignment, pulling the metal piece against the back of the drywall. With the plastic pieces aligned, you should no longer be able to pull the metal piece out of the wall. Then push the plastic “T” piece down towards the drywall firmly. When that piece has reached the wall, make sure it is as tight as it goes without pulling too hard on the plastic ends or pushing too hard—the plastic can tear away from the metal, leaving you anchor-less and loveless.

5. Once the T piece is all tight, bend the two plastic legs back and forth a couple of times until they snap.

6. Look! A fancy hole you can put the bolt into, where it will screw into that metal piece waiting for it inside the wall.

So fast. So easy. The suspension rail hangs a bit below the top of the cabinets (which was supposed to be the bottom of the green tape line), but unfortunately I had to drop it another inch or so because at EXACTLY 8′ up the wall, there was a thick metal beam that was not on the other side of the room. Instead of trying to drill into that, I just lowered the cabinets an inch (you can’t tell that there’s a discrepancy between cabinet heights on opposite side of the room) so that I could drill into wood studs and drywall.

And here they are, in all their glory! As you can see, I am a stupid idiot and didn’t buy enough hinges for the last door.

I love the new cabinets from a function perspective—they really do hold almost everything that fit in the older, much bulkier cabinets (save for that big wok on top and a couple things we brought to Salvation Army), but are obviously much easier on the eyes. Also, the old cabinets were hung with about 22″ of backsplash height, so by replacing the cabinets I was able to bring them down to the standard 18″, which helps make grabbing stuff on the first three shelves easier for a vertically-challenged person such as myself.

I know this result is not the best looking thing ever, but just wait! It will be. I have several more large important things to do that will make everything look awesome and not just like I threw up a couple IKEA cabinets and left things looking unfinished and horrible.

I promise.

I think.

One of those big important things is that I’d like to extend the backsplash along the rest of the wall, since I think it’s fucking weird that it ends just *before* the stove (which is where you’d actually want a backsplash, right?). I thought getting 4.25″ x 4.25″ white tile would be the easiest, cheapest thing in the entire world, but after a trip to both Home Depot and Lowes, it’s proving to be super challenging to find a tile that even passably matches the originals. They’re way creamier and just a totally different white—like, cannot-exist-on-the-same-wall-different.

I need a hero. Where do I go? What do I do? I suppose I need to go to a real tile shop or something, but I’m worried that MY WHOLE PLAN will be derailed, meaning my WHOLE LIFE will be derailed, meaning I am WORTHLESS.



The End of the Trip

When I read our itinerary and saw a ferry ride listed as our transportation between Stockholm and Helsinki, I think I just pictured a boat. Nothing extraordinary—it would be long and flat and the interior would be spare and utilitarian. Our passage into Finnish waters would be quiet and uneventful. More likely than not, we would spend it sleeping in a twin cot with a single wool blanket, rocking gently as our trusty ship slid silently over the icy waters of the Baltic. In the morning we would wake refreshed and step out onto the deck, filling our lungs with crisp Nordic air as we looked out toward the rocky shore of our destination, a landscape dominated by evergreens and wispy pillars of smoke rising into the heavens from chimneys concealed by the lush foliage. This would be the boost we needed to prepare us for the second leg of our trip—fortified by some 20 hours of rest and relaxation at sea, we would emerge better students. Better thinkers. Better humans.

A few hours and several drinks into the ferry ride, we grabbed a table close to the stage at the ship’s casino and settled in for the live entertainment, an act entitled “The Freak Show” and recommended by one of the bartenders on the upper deck who described it only as “really crazy dancing.” Seeing as the New York Club and Lounge on the 12th floor wouldn’t be open for another few hours and  dinner had already ended, there really weren’t many other options for how to kill the time. As beautiful as the Swedish archipelago is, it all becomes a little monotonous to stare at for hours on end, particularly when the alternative is some cultural immersion in what basically amounts to a Scandinavian booze cruise.

Of course I’m generalizing here, but the magical thing about Finns is that they’re a very serious, generally reserved breed of human, who simultaneously hold very few reservations about what constitutes appropriate content for their children. Pair this with “The Freak Show,” and you basically have 100 blonde Scandinavian families watching with the straightest of expressions as scantily clad men and women, faces obscured by exaggerated stage makeup, interpretive danced among dramatic lighting, stage-smoke, and a 6-foot-2 drag queen who lip-synced Lady Gaga and Britney Spears songs and alternated her act with a 90-pound woman who actually sang the covers but might as well have just been another drag queen. Now add a drunk gay couple and a few friends from New York sitting in the front row cheering and clapping and dancing in their chairs and you have 100 very confused blonde Scandinavian families and one incredibly relieved drag queen.


Suffice to say we took full advantage of what the ferry had to offer before disembarking the next morning in Helsinki, hungover dumpy messes as we were, before swiftly being whisked off to our first stop. Nothing like a little amazing design to get you back into the groove, am I right?

I am right when Alvar Aalto is involved.

I mean, come on. Come ON. I’m not the type of person to throw around the word “inspiration” lightly, but this place…wow. Those bright white bricks, the terra cotta floors, the Moroccan rugs, the blonde furniture, the climbing plants—it was perfect.  

And then the house:

Just stop it right there, Aalto. It’s WAY TOO GOOD.

Helsinki is really, really gorgeous, by the way. I was pretty upset to be leaving Stockholm (I LOVE SWEDEN), but Helsinki was a pretty amazing substitute. Sweden and Finland are surprisingly very different countries culturally, but both Stockholm and Helsinki have a really nice sensibility about them.

Aside from a few museum visits and lectures in our first couple of days in Helsinki, which I don’t have photos of, we also got a tour of the Marimekko headquarters and factory from the head of PR at the company. We weren’t allowed to take photos in the *top secret* areas of the production facilities, but seeing how they produce the fabrics and learn more about the company was so cool. Imagine very big machines and a lot of employees in Marimekko clothes. After the tour, we spent a couple hours wandering through the attached outlet store, which is a dangerous place. So much cute. So discounted. Let’s not talk about it.

On our last day, we all boarded a bus and drove out to the Paimio Sanatorium, a hospital designed by Alvar Aalto in the 30s to treat tuberculosis patients. Situated in a gorgeous evergreen forest, the hospital itself is, unsurprisingly, stunning. I would totally pay to have tuberculosis there.

Probably saving the best for last, from Paimio we went to Villa Mairea, one of Aalto’s most famous homes. Again, no interior pictures allowed, but do yourself a favor and run a google image search. OMG.

Like, OMG. *dead*

It’s basically everything that is perfect in the world ever. That is my academic thesis on the topic. Take it or leave it.

Then this impromptu matching-Marimekko-shirts-in-a-field-of-fucking-daisies photo shoot happened, because we’re ridiculous whores.

Workin’ that booty tooch.

With the course officially over and two days left in Helsinki, four of us decided to spend our Saturday taking the ferry to Tallinn, Estonia. We walked around a ton and ate a dope lunch and got caught in a rainstorm and had our ferry home cancelled and then almost got killed in a stampede of crazies clamoring to get on the next ferry as if everybody’s entire life hinged on getting a window seat. What started out as a pretty nice day in a beautiful new city turned into an almost funny series of disasters wherein we wondered if we’d ever get out of Estonia or if we’d be stranded forever at the creepily desolate harbor that looked like a landscape from some kind of post-apocalyptic video game.

We did, however, found the hottest new heavy metal group and shot the album cover, so I guess it was a pretty productive day after all:

Buy it at that indie record shop you’re probably not cool enough to know about on 12/21/12. (Photography and graphic design by Maxwell Tielman)

For our last day, two intense weeks of travel kind of caught up with us and we needed to lay low a little bit, which was convenient because basically the entire city of Helsinki is closed on Sundays anyway. We walked around (including a stroll through the beautiful botanic garden) and made our way to a flea market. Of course. What do you expect?

I’m guessing nobody reading this blog is going to be super judgy about my thrifty/flea habit, even when I’m abroad and arguably could be doing other more refined cultural things with my time, but I actually think flea markets are a really fun and informative way to see a city. Especially on a trip like this where we studied the design of this region for two weeks, it’s always interesting to see what kinds of things people choose to sell, what they choose to value above other things, what locals are interested in buying, etc. etc. It’s an easy and accessible way to partake in a standard, rather unexceptional piece of local culture, which you just don’t get traipsing through museums or on the top of a double-decker bus all day. Sure, you might see more, but you’re not talking or interacting or getting a very good sense of the local community.

So I like fleas for more reasons than just being a greedy bastard. (Plus, we went to a lot of museums on this trip and I was a bit museum-d out.)

Obviously I bought some things because I completely lack self-restraint, including that wall-hanging weaving tapestry thingy on the bottom left, which is about 5.5 feet long and will look great once I figure out where to hang it. I like the patterns and the colors and I think it’s an amount of fiber that my apartment can pull off without being an amount of fiber that my apartment could never pull off. It’s probably from the 60s or so and probably handmade by some hobbyist. I love having homespun pieces like this in my home, even if I didn’t make them and have no idea who did.

Also, more Ultima Thule! Glasses this time! I don’t care that they’re weird sizes, they were 3 euros each and are so beautiful. Eleven pieces of this stuff all for super-cheap is not such a bad haul for one trip, if I do say so.

And then we got home and I got to wake up in the morning to this view. After all the pretty stuff we’ve seen, I think this is still the prettiest.

* * * * *

ADDENDUM: In case you were wondering about me and the drag queen (see above), have just received evidence from unnamed third-party source. (My face got all distorted in the commotion, I don’t really look like the monster from Alien. Or do I?)

I am the wind beneath her wings.

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