Keep Two in the Safe

Dr. Blakey came to visit us 2 weeks ago and in typical fashion, Jon and I were up with the garbage men on Saturday. The doctor is a night owl and had informed us that his Thursday night ended with a bedtime of 5:00 AM, and much of Friday was spent in an airport and on a plane.

Needless to say, he sleeps in.

Jon takes his CFA book (Certified Financial Analyst - a torturous exam for the investment world) outside to study on the deck in the beautiful sunshine and I follow with a house magazine. Houston trolls the yard consuming chunks of grass with the continued hope that one day it will fill her belly. All is lovely.

A brief preface: Jon has a hilarious habit of taking off his wedding band (often while we are out to a "romantic" meal), slamming it on the table in front of me, and staring at me, waiting for my reaction. He finds this incredibly amusing and performs this trick, oh, 4-5 times weekly.

So. We are sitting peacefully with our cups of coffee in the warm morning sun when a bang! breaks my concentration. I look up to see Jon's horrified and guilty face as the wedding band bounces off the plastic folding table between us and onto the slatted wooden deck. Jon and I watch the ring roll in slow motion - no, no one moves - moving precariously close to the gap. And then . . . the ring swan dives directly into the pitch black hole between two boards.


Jon leaps down and starts shoving his finger between the boards, hoping to snare the ring. No luck. He peers from all angles to determine if he can even see the ring. Nope.

Jon: "I don't think I can get that ring. It's not close enough to the edge of the deck. Guess I'll need a replacement."

Moi: "ARE YOU INSANE?! That is the ring you were married in! Get the saw because the deck is going and the ring will be found."

I deliver this from my seat because I am unsure what will occur if I stand up. I may punch a hole through the deck with my bare fist to recover this ring.

Jon looks at me, terrified by his wife, the she-beast, and runs off the deck, around to the back of the yard, and lays down in the dirt to determine if vision is any better from the ground. Pitch black. No again.

Jon: "I really won't be able to get this. It's lost."

I get up, enter the house and return with a soup ladle which I very delicately pitch over the railing into the grass.

Moi: "I suggest you scoop it out."

Which he does, with the assistance of a highlighter (don't ask) and flashlight. LUCKY FOR HIM AND THE UNIVERSE. I look at the clock inside. 8:09 AM. Just super!

Upon relaying this story to The Doctor later that day he offers, "That's why you should always have three rings. Keep two in the safe and the wife never has to know."

Interesting strategy.


It appears I have an obsession with floors.

They are usually the first thing I notice in interior photos. That is, naked floors. It's pretty rare that I find a rug or carpet that catches my eye. I always, always prefer a bare floor. My dream house has herringbone-patterned wood floors, a la Paree. (That's Paris in my French accent.)

But check out these brick hallway floors from UK designer Polly Keller's house. An interesting solution that is completely usable in the average family's house and very cool for a mudroom in colder climates. Sort of looks like a tiny alley between two row houses, instead of the hallway connecting the back door to the rest of the house.

Photo by Polly Wreford via 
I love when details have the appearance of being older than they are.


Livin' on the Edge in Milwaukee

Gas Grill from Walmart: $30.00
Bubba's Burgers from Pick 'N Save: $8.96
Grill Accessories from Dollar Mart: $3.00
1/4" Rope to Attach Grill to Wood Deck Railing: $2.59 
Family grilling with the added thrill of a potential house fire? Priceless.

Introducing The Grill!

Under expensive protection against rain and future snow.

Grill closed and open with charred remains of previous meals.
It's Iron Chef 2 over here.

And now for a closeup of the knots. Yes, that is thin, flammable rope holding the metal grill to the wood deck. Please note the proximity of the right knot to the gas attachment.

We're extreme grillers.

A Nice Little Sunday

On Sunday we woke up at 6:30 AM (those 9:30 PM bedtimes are comin' in handy!) to drive 45 minutes to Elkhorn, Wisconsin to go to their last antique flea market of the year. And yes, it really is called Elkhorn. 

Parking as we arrived at 7:50 AM:

The flea market features 500 dealers and 5,000 (?) people. It is huge. Stalls are set up in barns and outside on the lawnspaces of the fairgrounds. Burgers are served at 8:00 AM. As are the famous pork sandwiches (grilled pork "breast" with barbecue sauce and pickles - excellent), brats, cream puffs - I will stop now. If this is the only way to keep warm in a -30 degree winter, I am so gonna be pissed when we move down to 'bikini time, tan-people-only' Florida. "Why are you in sweats again, Abbey?" Suck it, sister.

I digress. Parking when we left at 11:00 AM; entire field covered:


We get to the fairgrounds and I come down with house crack fever (see earlier post). All. the. furniture. I. must. own! Jon proceeds to get high on what I can only surmise is a combination of dust and manure in the FIRST STALL we visit and buys what we soon learn are completely worthless items: an old football magazine and an incomplete 1956 electric football board game. (Jon's father is a flea market and collectible connosseiur.) As Jon later explained it, "I had to get the first purchase out of me." Right. I decide I am on wallet lockdown and must trail husband to ensure no expensive purchases occur without two-person arbitration. Total loss? $11. Flea markets rock. 

Here are some of the gems we spied along the way:

Birthday present debate: lamp made out of Electrolux vacuum cleaner or 24-point antlers?

Very cool - old freight car as a coffee table (in a warehouse loft? Hamptons barn? Amazing.), 12" pine cone finials, glass towel bars for the bathroom (totally should have bought). . .

Chandelier sconces, modern lamp (loved, too expensive), oversized ceramic crock pots.  

The crock pots were everywhere and ran from $200 - $1400 based on size and condition. Apparently used to pickle sauerkraut? Hmm, I may have fallen for someone's trick.

Sickest wicker bassinet ever. Check out the "bed crown" hanging where a mobile typically would. If we were anywhere close to having babes, this would have come home with us. Done. Swift family, I considered this as a present but thought it too risky.

Originally a store counter? Open shelving on opposite side. Just imagine with a Carrera marble top in a kitchen with a Rohl farmhouse sink. Sigh.

Pretty glass display in one of the barn stalls:
And finally . . . my one purchase! (Well, minus food. We had an iffy, hangry/low-blood-sugar moment that resulted in soda, a cheeseburger and fake-cheese fries at 9:30 AM. And no, there was no sharing.) Love, love this. It's solid wood and at $45, totally worth the price. One day I will have all of the paint sanded off and leave it unfinished. So unique!

Currently acting as a side table in our living room, but not sure what the ultimate use will be. I love finding one of a kind stuff. And that is the main reason flea markets rule, on top of being very affordable (even for high-priced, easily-recognizable items). Jon and I love to go to flea markets together. It's also pretty much the only time he'll shop with me.

And I couldn't leave you without a taste of Wisconsin:

Ye ole foot trick . . .

And our dear friend, the glass towel bar seller . . .

All in all, a nice little Sunday.



We received some bad news at the end of last week. We had an offer from a buyer who we had met during the time when we had been 'for sale by owner.' No brokers involved, cash offer! Stroke of amazing luck in the this seriously abysmal real estate market.

All we needed were a few details and our lawyer could draw up the contract and Get The Place Sold! Huge sigh of relief.

. . . When the buyer wrote to say that the previous apartment she'd made an offer on (a one bedroom) was now available, and she was taking it.


Poor Rita

On Friday we went to the Comedy Cafe, one of Jon's favorite things to do here. It was a lovely evening (especially as each comedian got drunker as the night went on). At one point the host, who described himself as a "gay Brett Favre," made an announcement to the room that a "crappy, beige Camry with a tape deck and Wisconsin plate --- ---" was about to get towed.

Jon and I looked at each other, embarassed, 'cuz - yup, sounds like us. (No, we don't know our license plate by heart yet.)

And then the host cracks up and says, "Just kidding. That's my piece of crap car." And laughs hysterically.

Only when we left the cafe, what car was sitting directly in front of the door, in clear sight of anyone who may have been hanging out front during the show?


Yeah, that was OUR piece of crap car.


Love Handles

I checked out the "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives" website from the Food Network to see if any Milwaukee joints were featured. There are 3 - and we illegally hit two this weekend (so not part of the 2009 budget, but an understandable indulgence due to some bad news last week).

Last night we ate at Cempazuchi (Mexican - yes!), located at the end of our block (double yes!). This is pretty much amazing and here is why: when future blizzards occur and we are on the receiving end of 47 inches of snow and driving is not an option, margaritas will still be in walking distance!

Jon had a spicy pork burrito and I had chicken enchiladas with mole sauce, which were so delicious. First time I've had mole - there were so many flavors in it. This one had chocolate, coffee, and 17 other ingredients I forgot. Apparently, the chef makes a different kind of mole everyday. It was awesome, and Jon admitted my dinner was better. Yes, I cherish those small victories.

This morning we headed to Comet Cafe. All I can say is co-rrect. So freaking good. 1. Bloody Mary, which comes with a brussel sprout (even Jon loved), mushroom and green olive on a pirate sword toothpick, two slices of bacon in the glass, a splash of beer mixed in and . . . a "chaser" of beer to follow. The chaser turned out to be a mini bottle of the champagne of beers, Miller High Life.

Um, not really a "chaser" as it was more than half of a regular beer. (Have I mentioned people like beer here?) The bacon was delicious! Yeah, you can't see it in the picture since it was the first thing Jon and I ate.

2. Breakfast burrito for Jon. 3. Egg, cheese, corned beef and sriracha (spicy Asian sauce) burrito for me. 3. Plus one massive pancake on the side just because it was so ridiculously large, we had to order it. Oh man, was the corned beef burrito amazing. I may have had a bowl of cereal this morning before we left (what? I get hangry), and then proceeded to eat more of my burrito than Jon because it was so tasty I could not stop shoving it in my mouth. Jon stated that if there was any actually left over, he would be eating it for his lunch.

Have I written about the fact that all I do in Milwaukee is eat? Elastic waistbands are my newest frenemy.

This pancake was the size of a charger plate. The regular order has three. Love handles expanding as I write this.

At the end of the meal we asked our waitress what dishes had been featured on the Food Network. One was their homemade meatloaf (secret recipe). Another was a selection of their bacon dishes (bacon Bloody Mary, bacon pancakes, free bacon basket served with a pitcher of beer on Sundays, etc.). Another was the "Sweet Cobra" (sweet name) - mac and cheese pancakes stuffed with barbecued pork and topped with sausage. What? And the last one was the AKIMBO. This would be "the largest hamburger in the world" and no, it is not listed on the menu. It is as follows:

1/2 pound ground beef burger. Cheddar cheese. Stack of onion rings. Bacon. A fried egg. Jalapeno relish. And the buns? Grilled cheese sandwiches. Plural. My love handles just exploded over my jeans. Sick.

Obviously, we'll be trying this with our next visitor. Holy heart attack.


Big Lots - 1, Jon - 0

So we arrive in Milwaukee after our 15 hour, cross-country drive and realize the rental house is short a few things. We mapquest the nearest Walmart and lo and behold, across the street is one of Jon's favorite stores, Big Lots (purveyor of clearance home decor). Super!

We enter. Jon stares at a discount grill for 20 minutes straight. I purchase shades for the Moroccan lamps (yup, those) and plastic storage containers for the basement. We leave.

Lampshades are ginormous and look ridiculous and won't work. Snippet of ensuing conversation:

Jon: Hey, let's return them and I'll get that $70 grill.
Me: We already have a grill.
Jon: It was $30 from Walmart!
Me: And it works. Sorry, friend.
Jon (under his breath): We shall see.

We return a few days later to Big Lots. It is 9:01 on a Saturday morning; the store has just opened and we are the first customers. There is one employee stationed at the front of the store. I walk my Big Lots bag over to her and deposit the lampshades - with tags - on the counter. I would like to return these, I say. Do you have the receipt, she counters. No, but the tags are intact and store credit is fine, I reply.

"We cannot accept any return items without a receipt."


"Jon" (Satan?): This is ridiculous! What kind of customer service is this? Do you see the Big Lots tag on the lamps? See them? (Grabs them and shakes them furiously.) And the shades are wrapped in plastic - your plastic. They have never been used! I demand that you accept these!

Saleswoman: We cannot accept return items without a receipt. (Points to a very large sign above her head that clearly states the store policy.)

"Jon": I want to speak to the manager. Where is the manager? Yes, get the manager. (Hissing!) This is asinine!

Manager: I am sorry, but we cannot accept return items without the receipt. (Points to sign.)

"Jon": This is appalling customer service! How do you expect to keep customers? I am never shopping here again. Never! Mark my words - never!

He storms out of the automated doors and turns and stares at me with his arms crossed, tapping his foot like an insane person, which he clearly is, and waits for me to join him.

A dustbunny rolls by. The sound of a clock ticking. Wind.

Saleswoman and I look at each other in complete disbelief. My hands are in the air holding one of the lampshades while my mouth hangs open like I'm coming down from a root canal. No one moves.

That is, until Jon reenters the store.

AND proceeds to fiddle with the $70 grill as if nothing has happened. Ten feet from terrified employee and mortified spouse. I turn and walk as quickly as possible to the back of the store and decide to amnesia the entire episode, thereby making it possible for me to consider having future children with husband.

Clearly, we don't purchase anything. As we walk towards the exit doors - I'm in a speedwalk to avoid eye contact with employee or manager (who has remained by the counter to watch over Jon) - Jon stops to speak one more time with the saleswoman.

AND . . . he apologizes.
To which she replies, thank you. Asswipe. (Okay, I imagined that last part.)

And yes, we've been back.
No such thing as shame over here. Nope.

[This really happened! Minus the dustbunny part.]

Daily Reads and Blogsessed

Don't know if anyone's clicked on the sites to the right. But seriously, I need to discuss one in particular: Sea of Shoes.

This is the blog of a sixteen-year old Texas high school student with the shoe collection of an editor at French Vogue. (How?) AND who was not only featured in a recent issue of American Vogue, but has since received an invitation to the Crillon Ball in Paris and will be wearing a Chanel haute couture dress for free.

Of course, it helps that she's sweet and unfazed (you know, aside from the collection of Alaia boots) and could fit into my fourth grade, acid-washed jeans. Actually, she probably owns them. Girlfriend is an eclectic dresser. She also has a closet full of designer clothing whose names I can't pronounce and lists Karl Lagerfeld as "Dad" on her blog.*

I feel old and jealous.

At least I can have a glass of wine in my Forever 21 heels! Hah!
You know, it's the little things that matter.

(Though seriously, this kid is pretty impressive. *And that's amazing.)

Jazz on the Park

Summer series in Milwaukee - Jazz on the Park

Live jazz bands every Thursday, free and open to the public. Food, mixed drinks and beer sold out of tents, with tons of people bringing their own wine, cheese and snacks. In typical Milwaukee style, you don't just sit on the grass (such newbies, Jon and I). Oh no, chairs, cocktail tables, candles, wine glasses - much like tailgating at a Brewers game, the living room travels with you. Last night was the last one for 2009 and featured Chicago band, Bumpus. Sounded a bit like Jamiroquai.

Bumpus and the 'gaters.
We're awkwardly lounging in the dirt and grass behind these folks. At least we remembered the wine.

Tents: Massage (okay), kettle corn, Louise's restaurant and mojitos and margaritas.

The park sits in the center of downtown highrises, the Milwaukee School of Engineering campus and apartments. The park was once the site of the first courthouse and jail. Awesome.

"On this Site Stood the First Court House 1836 - 1870"
"First Jail 1836-1847"

Then the convicts got rowdy and had to be moved down by the river, those troublemakers.


Image from 

Apartment for sale in New York, mortgage, wedding and honeymoon to pay for, rent and expenses in Milwaukee too!, part 1 of the Certified Financial Analyst exam in December, one of us working, one of us searching. We will do it. 
And then we will take a really frickin' sweet vacation. Or at least an amazing dinner somewhere not cooked by me or Jon's grill.


Meet Rita

As in Camrita. 12 years young, awesomely gold with leather seats, a non-functioning sunroof, unattached CD player in the trunk and 160,000 miles. Drives like a dream, people.

And currently clean due to recent rain storms. Take that, bird sanctuary!

AND, since being informed by our new auto insurance company that my license, in fact, expired in March of 2008 (and not 2012, as I made up in my head), I now also have a valid "probationary" license from Wisconsin. That just means that if I get a speeding ticket, etc., I get more points against my record than someone with a regular license. Whatever.

So Camry takes us to and from Jon's work every day at 6:00 AM and to and from Walmart about twice a week. (What? It's cheap.) I find all of this amusing.

House Crack

Jon and I traveled to Morocco for part of our honeymoon and it was amazing. Morocco was everything I'd imagined it to be and 1000 times more (I say more - and not better, per se - because Marrakesh can be entirely overwhelming at times; holy Djemaa el Fna).

I could not stop shopping. I will now call this house crack. I wanted to grab everything I could and run as fast as possible back to our suitcases. Jon would probably interject here that I did in fact do that, but believe me when I say that is hilarious! It was the tip of the iceberg that came back with us (and . . . it all weighed over 70 pounds). The pieces that still haunt my dreams and our bare walls can testify to my excellent willpower. Plus the fact that I made a mental promise to myself that I will return to decorate the next house. Hah!

I digress. The craftsmanship is stunningly beautiful - from the elaborate cut-out closet doors (closet! who is going to look at that besides the homeowner?), carved wood ceilings, to the tile-covered toe kicks on interior staircases. The details are everywhere and unbelievable.

Tiles from top to bottom. Carved Wood ceiling. Step tiles.

Concrete herringbone floor tiles in an alley

Because there is virtually no middle class in Morocco, jobs for the poor center around farming and trade work, skills passed down through families: leather, woodwork, fabrics, ceramics, metalwork. Walking through the souks, as the stalls are called, you are surrounded by thousands of 5' - 10' wide shops. In the front, their wares; in the back, the work space where you can find partially finished pieces. Yes, many stalls sell machine-made items, but in many more you will still find the men and boys creating their one-of-a-kind pieces as you barter for and purchase your own. At a ceramic lighting souk, we custom ordered a set of two handmade lamps (unavailable in the color that we wanted) that were brought to our riad - Moroccan version of a boutique hotel - the very next day. At one leather souk a Marrakshi custom-oiled our new suitcase as we stood and watched. We purchased a lantern still damp with the fresh paint that we'd hand selected. We also came home with a ridiculously gorgeous wooden marquetry chest two feet long and a foot and a half in height. That one's a story for another day.

Where is this going? Right. I bought the October issue of Traditional Home yesterday and it features interior designer (not the model) Kathryn Ireland's Moroccan outdoor terrace. And October's House Beautiful showcases a Moroccan-inspired guest bedroom by Alessandra Branca that is totally stunning, authentic and modern all at once. Olive lacquered walls (dying!) with a similarly-toned, upholstered scrolling headboard make a memorable first impression, while the traditional furniture gives the room a sense of relatability and comfort (I doubt most people would want to move into a completely duplicated riad). Moroccan decor may go in and out of style in the magazines, but once you've seen the workmanship firsthand, you can't possibly remain uninspired. I'm willing to bet I'll always have one of my Moroccan souvenirs in use.

*Couldn't find links or pictures for either issue.


The House

Did I mention we used to live in a 547 square foot studio? For over 4 years? And before that, we both had roommates? And we were happy with both and loved living in New York, where guest bedrooms are a luxury and even walls are an upgrade. So you can guess how pumped we were to move to Milwaukee where we knew we'd get a totally sick apartment.

Fast forward to a 24-hour, speed visit to Milwaukee in June to meet the new bosses and find a home. Out of the 15 apartments we viewed, all were smaller and more expensive than we had expected. The average monthly rent was around $1600, not including parking (go ahead and add another $150), which was necessary with little street space and an average annual snowfall of 47 inches. Okay, maybe we'd mentally exaggerated the cost of living difference between Manhattan and Wisconsin. But still, it was uninspiring. And having just paid for a wedding and honeymoon (and still shelling out for our mortgage), we'd been hoping to either save on rent OR live in some serious luxury.

By the time we finished with numero 15, I was totally bummed. Jon had 1 house left for us to look at and it was the last stop before we literally had to drive to the airport and fly back to New York. We drove to the East Side of Milwaukee and here is what we found:

Two story, single-family house with two car (!) parking - driveway to the right. Awnings are adorable.

Back of the house, backyard and the pup: Houston. Check out the deck! That blue contraption is the tarp-covered grill, which we have used almost every night and is another post in itself.
(Houston is named after the Knick's forward, Allan Houston. She's a girl. Jon's a New York sports maniac.)

View from the back door. The deck is about 20' x 15'. The yard curls around to the right of the deck and behind, which Houston has taken over for her . . . latrine.

Inside, the first floor is made up of a living room, kitchen and bathroom with shower. Second floor features two bedrooms, and an 'en suite' bathroom (no shower). We also have a basement with washer/dryer and storage. Basically, we scored with both space and a backyard. Complete luck.

Oh yeah, and the icing on the cake? The House was less expensive than any apartment we'd looked at - parking included.


Looks like a sailboat.
Suspension Side Chair on sale from Anthropologie - $449.95

Just A Regular Trip to the Supermarket

It's cool, Mom. I'm fine.
Seen at the corner of Van Buren and Juneau streets.


Champagne Taste, Karkov Budget

I'm going to be honest. I am a dumpster diver. It is one of my favorite things to do - search the sidewalks for discarded furniture and take it home. Living in New York where space was a premium, I frequently found pieces in like-new condition that had gone out with the garbage simply because they didn't match a new shade of paint. And when the weather was poor and the pickings were slim, I turned to flea markets, vintage stores, garage sales, auctions, the Salvation Army, eBay and Craigslist for inexpensive steals. (Also excellent sources for colored glass, another personal obsession.)

I've found more free chairs than we will ever use, bar tables, side tables, foyer tables, a bureau, an ottoman and my biggest score of all, a Provencal-style console table in excellent condition. Jon, The Husband, did not always appreciate the "before" furniture chilling in our 547 square foot studio, waiting for its new coat of paint.

But now we have a house! Rooms to fill! Try and stop me!

Enter the rattan-backed, solid wood chair and couch. These were purchased at an auction for $75 total. Since the center back piece of the couch has worn through, I had to create a covered section for support. I used a natural-colored linen muslin for both seats and trimmed the edges in jet black grosgrain ribbon, all achieved with staple and glue guns, a hammer, spray adhesive and a little elbow grease. Obviously this is not a long term solution, but I plan to get them professionally upholstered and the seats revamped down the road (dang, is that expensive).

They remind me of something Gatsby would have had on the porch of his North Shore home. I love the graceful swoop of the arms, the beveled wood details on the legs and 'shoulders,' and heavy basketweave.

The wood could use another coat of paint, but I'm not sure what color I ultimately want (plus, I kind of like a little wear - it reminds me they're likely older than I am). I'm thinking when we're finally in Florida, I'll go crazy with the color. Hermes orange for a guest sitting room? Happening!

Next for Show and Tell Tuesday (hmm, that one might stick) are my newest garage sale purchases. We needed dining room chairs and I found a set of 6 on Milwaukee's Craigslist. In the process of removing the seats covers, I discovered this:

"Nachman Patented 3-28-1922"
Husband quickly searched the internet for any information on Nachman furniture and found the same set of chairs on eBay for $1800! Our cost? $20 bucks a chair. Sco-re. I had already removed the upholstery (if you can call it that, let's be honest) and discovered another layer of fabric, which I left underneath in case it is original (though I highly doubt it). I covered 4 of the chairs in my new fabric (both Ikat variations, LOVE) and cleaned the wood. Here's a photo of the final product (hideous former fabric on the left):

Check out the carved details on the backs and legs. Seen as a group, each of the chairs have slight variations - marks of handmade work. If the labels on the seat bottoms are correct, these chairs are almost 100 years old!

These are traditional pieces, but I love modern, too. In fact, the black basketweave chair sits next to a Louis Ghost chair in my living room. Enough for today - wine is calling.