Styrofoam Meets Food Processor, A Cautionary Tale

I found a couple of large styrofoam inserts on the curb one day.  I thought I could chop them up and use them to restuff the kids’ wilted beanbag chairs so I did what any sane person would do: I put them in the food processor.

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My efforts yielded approximately half-a-cup of fill and two hours of clean-up.

Winter’s going to be over soon, right?


Parallelogram: Top Ten Things That Matter, Six Months Later |

Laura and I moved from Madison, Wisconsin last August – she to Puerto Rico and me to Montreal.  To celebrate our six-month milestone here’s this week’s PolarRico Parallelogram:

Parallelogram: Top Ten Things That Matter, Six Months Later |.



Out Like a Lion

She came out like a lion March 1st, two years ago.

She made everything bigger and louder and better and I am certain it takes the love of all three of us to equal the love from her.  There could be no other way.  She is perfect in this world, in this place, in this time.


She is the greatest gift we ever gave Arlo and that wasn’t even our intention; the two of them just fell into love.


She says things like “BOWSHARES!” (Downstairs!) and “MYOOKICK!” (Music!).  Her favorite shirt is the one with Thomas and James on it and she gets upset when it’s in the hamper. “OOOOoooooHHHHH! CHOO-CHOO SHURT!”  Everything we have, see and do is hers.  “ME CAR!”  “ME TURN!”  “ME SHOWZUR!” (Shower!).  She’s never finished a meal away from my lap.  She’s never finished a day without her milk.  She still sucks her thumb when she’s tired.  She finally sleeps through the night.


She makes me want to live better so that I can live longer so that I can spend more time with her.  She makes me want more of everything.


My Lion.  My Lamb.  My Love.

Happy 2nd Birthday, Farrah Star.

Birth Story

Farrah’s Birth Parts One and Two

Farrah’s First Birthday

Happy Weekend Dear Readers!  We’ll be eating cake and making wishes.

The Bus Waits for Snow, Man

Arlo’s school bus stop is in a courtyard up the block.  It is a great little runaround place with sculptures and a large fountain in the summer but in the winter it’s just a patch of snow with a footpath through the center.  Five families use this stop, seven kids total who ride the bus.  Arlo is the youngest.  Arlo is the newest.

Approaching the courtyard one morning, snowball fight in session, I asked Arlo, “Why don’t you go play with your friends?” and he replied matter-of-factly, “They’re not my friends.”


I tied on my cape and got to work.

I invited one of these families over for breakfast and the kids played and it was lovely getting to know them while sowing bus stop seeds.  The following weekend we went over to their house.  The following Monday it was bitter, bitter cold and on such mornings I drive to school instead of wait for the bus, limiting the kids’ exposure.  This Monday however, on the heels of that important playdate, I sacrificed all our well-being in the name of momentum.  We went through the rigamarole of getting ready and trudged through the frozen tundra all for the hope of camaraderie.  Frost forming on Farrah’s scarf I thought, this is what they mean – this is what they mean when they say parenthood is hard.  There is no way any of us should be out here – there is no need for any of us to be out here – but if this is what it takes for my child to forge friendships then this is what we do.

Taking final refuge in the corner market.

Taking final refuge in the corner market.

I’ve written about This Is What They Mean … before:

{And I keep climbing and the requests come like rapid fire and I can’t breathe and all I want to say is “Stop!  Holy hell.  Let me get up this hill!  Do you know how hard this is, it’s such hard work carrying you both up this hill!”  But I can’t say that because all they will hear is “YOU blah HARD blah WORK“.  So I reconsider and reframe my reply.  Heave, pant.  And this, when people say parenthood is hard, this is what they mean.  It’s not packing the snacks and water bottle, buttoning the vest and playing games in order to get helmets on.  It’s not the extra 70 lbs to pull, it’s not the lack of sleep or food you forgot to eat.  It’s doing and saying the right thing so you don’t fuck up this beautiful memory.} – from Biking Montreal: Evolution of a Risk-Adverse Mother

I’m continuously surprised at what makes parenthood so hard and pleasantly surprised that it never seems to matter.

Curb Creativity in a Trunk Reality

This is what the inside of my trunk looks like all winter:


  • 1 stroller
  • 1 sled
  • 1 bag of swimming gear for all four of us
  • 2 bags of ice skating gear for all four of us

We use all of this regularly because we have *such* an amazing attitude about getting out and enjoying wind chills of -33°!  Yay us!  We were out on such an evening when I spied these on the curb:


These are hard tubes covered in sheets of Quebec (French) newspaper.  There were three bundles of them, in three different lengths, waiting on the curb for the morning’s recycling.

Are you thinking what I thought?  Wall treatment? Ceiling fixture? Gate for the kids’ bedroom?  Had it not been -33° I would have had to sit down for all the spinning in my head.  Everyone already in the car, I motioned to Kris to give me a sec and grabbed the largest bundle and carried it to the trunk.

The trunk.


Goddamn trunk in the goddamn winter.  I cannot begin to express my disappointment.  Stymied and nearing hypothermia, I returned the rolls back to the curb and we went home.  It was bedtime – there was no way to pull off a retrieval mission until much later and then it would only be one of us.  The bundles would be headed for the dump by morning.

I wish I had asked Kris, who later that night was already in the garage helping our neighbor, to just go and get them for me but I foolishly thought he noticed my excitement and was going to do it himself and surprise me.  I should have just asked.

I think about those tubes, covered in French and most likely with that day’s date printed everywhere, living with us years from now – years from now when there will be no such thing as newspaper!  A living souvenir of our time in Montreal.  Living art.  Living with meaningful design.  And even if they didn’t work out, if they didn’t fit or look good, I’d just have to put them back on the curb.

On the heels of my decorating posts from last week, I say there is not only inspiration everywhere but also the materials.  You just need to let your head spin and make room.






Six Months in Our Living Rooms and My Ugliest Wall

We are six months in Montreal.  I’ll show you what I’ve changed since the first two weeks, what works, what STILL doesn’t work and how much it cost.

Dining Area





What Changed:

  • I can’t explain why, but something pushed me to corner the table between the shelving unit and wall.  I like how it cozies up to the art now, making the gallery stand out by being included.


It also allowed me to put up our French Laundry menu which I had not idea where to hang before.  It’s not a map but it sits under our San Francisco map and on our dining table.  It’s doesn’t get more appropriate than that.


What Works:

  • Since I’ve starting planning and cooking, dinner has become sacred, full stop.  From the runner to the placemats, the table is dressed in its Sunday Best every night.  Arlo takes dinner very seriously now.  He empties his school bag with the day’s artwork and notes and places them on the table with great excitement, knowing he’s going to share his efforts with the whole family paying close, loving attention.
  • Pushing the table against the wall also solved my sloped-floor-no-man’s-land of which most of this space is comprised.  Pushing back and moving the vertical bookshelf – which is filled with beautiful cookbooks that got NO attention in the corner before – allowed plenty of room for both our high-traffic computer stations:


Making this large, open, sloping space functional and beautiful was my biggest challenge and I am pleased with the outcome.  I might even keep it for another six months.

What Doesn’t Work:

  • Kris and Farrah Star sit on the table side against the shelving unit.  I know this will come as a shock, Dear Readers but this is deliberate.  They are the smallest most petite slender.  That’s where they go.  I am sensitive to Kris not having enough room though but then again, Farrah never stays seated so he can always shove over a bit.

Cost: $40 for two large bunches of twigs and an owl.  $40 for twigs.  You have no idea how embarrassed I am to admit that.  The paper placemats were gifted to me for Christmas but rest assured I will buy more when they run out.  They are a splurge at $37 for 50 but I love them so. (Hester & Cook Kitchen Papers)


_MG_7717_MG_7715 _MG_7712

Living Area

Living Room




What Changed:

  • Rug
  • Plants
  • Couch cushions
  • Art
  • Media Console and TV

What Works:

  • Bought this new, blue remnant off craigslist and it’s big enough to bring the tv and sitting areas together.
  • Big palms flanking the seating area.  Still alive.
  • Brought in cheap cushions for the sofa and will hang my precious cushions from Tanzania on the wall.  More on that in a later post titled “Kids vs. Things, Battle Sofa”
  • Mirror Image II and Spencer Tunick’s Nudes are now prominent:


  • The media console and tv went up.

What Doesn’t Work:

  • The media console and tv.  This is the ugliest wall in the house:


Oh, it’s not that bad.  Or is it?

The giant black cable hanging from the tv again the giant white wall.  Sure I’ve hidden it behind Smoking Cuban Man but that only works if you’re looking directly at it. Unsightly!

The best I've come up with to hide the cable.  That is not a euphemism.

The empty shelves.  Useless!

The Basket of Nothing that sometimes the cats sleep in.  Nonsense Filler!


The multiple media units and all their cables that just.sit.there.  Maddening!


For six months I have been staring at, dusting and protecting disconnected media components.  Six months!  And I’ve only said something about them three times and always with an offer to help.  And I still didn’t get a Valentine.

Here are two things I like about this wall:

_MG_7804 _MG_7806

The End

Cost:  $300 for the carpet remnant $24 two plants $20 cushion = $344

That’s a wrap on my Montreal home!  I can post no more because it’s time to change everything again.

Thanks for reading and have a great weekend!

Six Months in Our Playroom

We are now six months in Montreal.  I’ll show you what I’ve changed since the first two weeks, what works, what STILL doesn’t work and how much it cost.

Play Area

Play Area




What Changed:

  • Two more sets of Hot Wheels Wall Tracks were generously gifted to Arlo and with them, the need to move the play structure.  Upon rearranging, I realized I couldn’t keep it and the train table in the same space; there just wasn’t enough room.

 Then I researched splitting the towers and adding monkey bars which led to more shifting.

 Then I disassembled the ramp.

 Then the rope-and-pulley system.  Then put them back on.

 Then there’s the issue of the freezing exterior wall so the bean-bags and books couldn’t be there.

 And the intense floor slope which doesn’t allow for any furniture and on and on and on until …

What Works:

  • Placing part of the play structure into the open area/doorway gave me the sense of privacy I had been craving and frankly, it just shows better.  It’s a handsome investment piece and it deserves to be showcased in addition to being fully utilized.


  • Though the ramp (under the giant “5” below) doesn’t fit the way it was intended, I still made it work.  Bungee cords are my new pool noodle which was my new blue painter’s tape.


  • Incorporating this old shelf into the play structure (and off a wall) finally gave me the space I needed.  Removing the ugly back panel off the top section keeps things bright and visible (the slide is over there).  It’s slim enough to blend into the structure and the toy accessibility is top-notch.


I paid $40 for this shelf more than 10 years ago and like my hanging shells in the bedroom, it has been used 40 different ways.  Here is it in our Madison make-shift mudroom:

Screen Shot 2015-02-16 at 1.59.07 PM

  • The wall of rainbow lights was a sudden inspiration.  These are the lights from the kids’ Christmas tree and I struggled for a moment hanging them here fearing all their “magic” would be lost come next Christmas.  I needed something very long and very light and very free though so I went for it.  I must say they make everyone smile, just like magic.


  • The beanbag nooks and books on the lowest shelf keep the kids reading despite all the other “noise” in this space.


What Doesn’t Work:

  • The beanbags are as limp as cooked spaghetti.  I’ve got to find a filler and plump those suckers up.  For free.
  • Like our bedroom, I have discs hanging in here, some in the window and some with the rainbow lights.  I thought would be reflective but they just hang there, as limp as cooked spaghetti.  Expect them to find a more prominent home pronto.  Speaking of …

Cost:  $40 yellow hanging discs $40

It feels nuts to be writing about such small changes in such great detail but this is what I do all day every day; think about and act on the function and beauty of my home.  Plus you know, WINTER.  Thank you for being here. I suspect you’re nuts like me and I like that about you.  I’ll be taking it to the limit one more time in the Dining and Living Rooms.  You haven’t seen minutiae until you’ve read tomorrow’s post, guarantee.

Stay here and if you’re new, Follow Salvation below or to the right.  You’ve found your people.

Six Months in Their Room and The Best Parenting Decision I Ever Made

We are now six months in Montreal.  I’ll show you what I’ve changed since the first two weeks, what works, what STILL doesn’t work and how much it cost. (I have spent a lot of time indoors.)

Arlo’s Room …



Farrah’s Room



Now Arlo and Farrah’s Room!



What Changed:

  • In the first two weeks I set up Arlo’s room so he could have space to hang out by himself but Arlo never did that.  I set up his room for what I thought a five- and six-year-old would want, but I should have set it up for what Arlo wants and what Arlo wants is company.  All that space, unused, for months.

Arlo Arlo

  • Kris was always keen on our kids sharing a room if they were close in age but at  3 1/4 years apart, we thought we missed it. Plus Farrah wasn’t sleeping through the night and we didn’t want to disturb Arlo’s slumber.  We sought out and rented a three-bedroom apartment, putting Farrah in the back sunroom, but I should have set Farrah up for what Farrah wants and what Farrah wants is company.
  • I always felt uneasy about this configuration too; Farrah Star all alone in the furthest room from me, surrounded by windows and doors


so one day I heeded my maternal instincts and put them in the same room.  I bought a twin mattress off craigslist and thought if didn’t work – if no one slept or if Arlo really protested – I’d only be out one mattress from craigslist.

What Works:

  • Everything.  The kids are happy.  They play.  They sleep.  Arlo puts clips in Farrah’s hair when it hangs in her eyes.  Farrah wakes him up every morning to read to her and he happily does it.  This is the best parenting decision I ever made.


The decorating pales in comparison to the love up there, but here are some pics anyway:

IMG_3093 IMG_3095 IMG_3102 IMG_3106 IMG_3107 IMG_3108

Some details:


Farrah likes for Dolly and Monkey to hang over her head like this, holding hands.


The third home for these wall decals.


Arlo’s suitcase holds Farrah’s diapers and wipes until we travel again.


The backpack I bought for Arlo without realizing it is as big as he is becomes art for a couple of years. If I was very short on storage, it would store hand-me-downs that he’s waiting to wear as well.

_MG_7400 _MG_7401 _MG_7407 _MG_7418 _MG_7421 _MG_7431

The same rules apply as before: no noise, no toys, but there is a bit more punch and color to engage them when they do spend time up there, which they do, a lot more than ever before.  They sit and read together or they throw their dolls and stuffed animals against the ceiling.  It’s all good.

What Doesn’t Work:

We rent a three-bedroom, two-and-a-half bath but live in a two-bedroom, one-bath.  Convenient when visitors come, but for the other 50 weeks a year it is pure waste and if I’m honest, I feel sick about it.  I need a plan.  I think we should turn it into a room to foster animals but I’m sure that’s against our lease.  We looked at a stunning two-bedroom just down the street and vetoed it outright because we were certain the kids would need separate bedrooms.  Shame on us.  Alors, Kris and I will have do some cost analysis and make a very serious decision when our lease is up in 18 months.


$100 mattress, $6 plants, $5 sheet = $111

Thanks for looking.  I consider home-making my profession – it is certainly my passion – and I really appreciate your feedback.  I would also like to know about your experience with kids sharing a bedroom.  Was it an easy decision?  Did it work out?  At what age and how did they separate?  Share in the Comments!

Six Months in Our Bedroom

We are now six months in Montreal.  I’ll show you what I’ve changed since the first two weeks, what works, what STILL doesn’t work and how much it cost. (I have spent a lot of time indoors.)

Master Bedroom





What Changed:

  • Hamper out
  • File cabinet out/Vanity created
  • Art in
  • Plant in
  • Curtains out/privacy film in
  • Ottoman in

What Works:

  • Hamper.  While I have room for the hamper, I can no longer abide by strangers seeing my dirty laundry.  Two new lidded hampers purchased and now in the hallway.
  • Vanity.
    • This is our master bath where I would normally get ready.   It only has overhead lighting and the ceiling is very, very tall.  The bridge of my nose always looks perfect, but only the bridge of my nose.


This is the lighting in the master bedroom and lighting like this will not be ignored, Dan.


I took a shelf, bought a mirror, moved an ottoman and made a vanity:





This has done wonders for my exacting nature.  I can see every eyelash and every degree in the arch of my brow.  It’s not sexy but it gets the job done.



  • Art.  I had to haul the ladder from the garage to hang the two pieces above the closet but it was worth it.  Kris bought the painted fabric from India many years ago.  When I met Kris I picked these beauties up off the floor, ironed them and taped them into cheap poster frames.  I like that they have a life now but at a distance.


 I also added discs (shells?) behind the bed.


They add texture to a dull wall without competing against the cushions and bedspread.  I’ve had these for 10 years and they have worked 100 different ways.  If I ever see more at a thrift store I’m buying them.  You should too but not from the store where I shop.

Our portraits have been shifted to one wall- a wall already busy with furniture so the party over here contrasts nicely against the business over there (bed).


  • Plant.  You knew this was going to happen.  I don’t like having indoor plants; I have enough living things to care for and it is a constant battle to keep the cats from eating plants and then vomiting plants.  It’s like the Game of Thrones’ Green Wedding up in here.  I didn’t have them in Bermuda or Madison because we were surrounded by plants and trees but they do soften our Montreal home.  They also add dimension which is the real reason why I endure them – there are only so many flat, square things you can put on a wall.  TIP:  Buy the same type of plant for your whole house.  Learn about keeping only one thing alive.
  • Curtains.  The owner left dark velvet curtains which are nice but a pain in the ass; I don’t need to open and close curtains every day and every night of my life (remember how I got out of the Army?).  Plus the washing of twice a year.  Window films do it all.  TIP: Only cover what is necessary.  Leave borders.  It looks more expensive and allows more light.

_MG_7567  Well maybe not in this picture but trust me, borders give off a professional, etched vibe.

  • Ottoman.  I bought this pink Moroccan pouf for the living room but its height and squishiness didn’t work for Kris.  I moved the previous leather ottoman to my vanity and put Pink Lady in here.  Functions nicely and looks great with the Jericho chair (what doesn’t?) but it’s a little bubble-gum for all my jewel tones.



What Doesn’t Work:

Speaking of jewels, all my stuff is hanging in my closet and is just inconvenient enough to make me not bother at all.  I’m on the hunt for a small jewelry armoire to place on a nightstand next to my vanity.


$4 window film, $14 plant, $22 mirror, $40 two hampers and $160 on the pouf, my biggest home purchase in the last six months. $240.

Outside of the jewelry I think I’m done in here … or least until summer when I move it all around again.

IMG_3620 IMG_3621

See you Wednesday for the next installment.  I’ll meet you upstairs.

Indian Carpet Maker

When Arlo switched schools late in September he and I went in blind; we missed both the opportunity to meet his teacher and tour his classroom.  Desperate to ease my tender child’s transition, I concocted several scenarios in which I might sneak in with him on his first day but somehow when the bell rang and the door opened, I instead asked the teacher if there was an older child who might act in my stead.


Enter Deidre, a sixth-grader with a friendly smile, an incredible sense of style and a giant key chain collection.  Arlo took her hand that morning and every morning since.  Deidre changed my child’s life.  She took a moment to care for a smaller, vulnerable stranger and never stopped.  I adore her.

I told her as much with a small gift and thank you note one day.  Since she’s twelve I thought I’d better write her parents too.  Her mother, who lives in another city and maybe having never received the note, happened to be at pick-up one day so I introduced myself and shared with her my feelings.  “Gushed” is more appropriate.

Just then Deidre came bounding down the stairs.  I told her I just sang her praises to her mom.

Her mom laughed and said to Deidre, “‘Yes!  She’s going to adopt you and sell you to an Indian carpet maker!”

With a knife in my heart I touched this mother’s shoulder to make sure I had her attention.

“You know my husband is Indian, right?”  As is the baby in my arms.  My son whom your daughter cares for so genuinely.

I must have said it still smiling because she just smiled in return.  It didn’t register.

Did I not get it?  Was I overreacting?  Was this a thing?

I went home and googled “sell you to an Indian carpet maker”.

It didn’t register.

Deirdre is not her real name.  I won’t jeopardize our relationship with her or my child’s affection for her over one fleeting infraction by a visiting family member, but race is catching up with me and I’m trying to beat it before it nips at my children’s heels.


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