Easter and “nesting”

Dude, is it spring yet?  I guess I still have a couple more weeks, but I am getting the itch for constant warmth and sunshine.  And it’s been such a mild winter I don’t know what I am complaining about, I think I’ve just been teased one too many times into thinking that winter is over.

In the meantime, I’ve been gearing up for Easter in some weird nesting bug that’s taken hold of me due to pregnancy.  I don’t think I’ve announced it on the blog, but we anxiously await number two (Little Sister as we’ve been referring to her) in June.  AND we have just decided to move south in the summer.  A mere six weeks after Little Sister arrives.  What, me worry?

We’re excited about both of these changes, don’t get me wrong.  But anxiety?  Well, yes, it’s beginning to set in.  As my need to nest and prepare for a new baby grows, so does the uncertainty of where we will end up in August.  How does one search for a nice home to rent when you can’t actually visit the city until the last minute?  This used to be quite the task when it was just Dr. Jay and I (and Rudy!) and we were looking for a place to rent when we moved from Texas to Georgia.  Now throw not one but two small children into the mix and see if you don’t start to feel a little anxious.

I’m eager to start decorating a room for this next baby.  I’ve started a board on Pinterest, I’ve ordered a new chair, a new crib (which is being stored at our dear friend’s house as we certainly have no space to hold it!), and picked out a color scheme.  I’m driving Dr. Jay crazy with a bag of little girl clothing I’m hoarding.

And in the mean time, I’m stocking up on Easter treats for Mark’s Easter basket (the first one he can truly appreciate), and looking forward to spring which will surely bring answers to all my “What lies ahead?” questions.  And of course having a few Easter treats of my own.


Can you resist these?  I certainly cannot.


A boy and his kitchen

Well, though the Young House Love couple beat me to the punch, Mark also got a custom-made play kitchen for Christmas.  Dr. Jay’s family began work on the mini-kitchen when we visited Georgia for Thanksgiving. It all started when I suggested that Mark might need a play kitchen and sent some ideas for how it could be done to his grandparents via email. Here’s a link to a few of the other DIYed play kitchens I saved on Pinterest.  Grandma D and I headed out just before Thanksgiving and lucked upon a remnant of cabinetry alongside the road in north Georgia. It was solid cherry, missing a top, and cost $20. We eventually got it home (it did require two trips and mingling with some old gents, but we managed) and Grandpa and uncle G started working to cut it down and make it usable.  This is the best “before” shot I was able to get.  The cabinet is sitting on its side.  They didn’t let it stay in its “before” state too long before hooking up the power tools and hacking into it.


This involved cutting a few inches off the bottom (part of which was water-damaged anyway), cutting about 6 inches from the top to make it more of a toddler-height, replacing the side panel, and adding a top piece. Once this was done, I decided to make things more complicated by suggesting a back-piece with shelves. Somehow I took on the role of design-consultant and managed to stay away from the power tools.JMD_7532


Here’s Mark with it before the side piece was replaced and before the top and back were added.  It’s still a little tall for him, but the intention is for him and his cousins to be able to use it for a few years and grow into it.  And, as of Christmas Eve, Mark now has a brand new cousin to share the kitchen with!  Welcome to the family, Henry Joseph! 

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Grandma found the bowl to be used for a sink basin at the grocery store.  Shelf installation:


We came up short when looking for a faucet at the local Habitat ReStore, though we nearly left with some beautiful tiles for the backsplash, we decided that might be taking it a little too far. My sister-in-law (thrift queen) spotted the perfect faucet and handles at the Humane Society thrift store ($5) and there we gathered most of the other accessories like the pot and pan, wooden salt and pepper shakers, and pillow cases I used as fabric for the curtains.


We decided that the sink side of the bottom would be open to below with curtains. I had a feeling Mark would like this little spot to climb into. We also decided that the two existing drawers would become an oven door and regular drawer- nothing too complicated, just a place to bake stuff and store stuff. Making the oven door hinge was a little complicated, but nothing Grandpa couldn’t figure out.


My mother-in-law (Grandma) graciously painted the nearly-completed kitchen while we were away during the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. She used leftover wall-paint, a pale-blue from their guest room. We all got back into finalizing when we were together a few weeks ago. My sis-in-law painted on the stove burners and oven front.




Here’s how it looked as we left on Monday (we’re leaving it at Grandma and Grandpa’s for all the kids to enjoy and because we lack space here in Old Town).  In the end, almost everyone helped out with this little kitchen, and the only details remaining are knobs for the stove.  We found those over the weekend, and Grandpa is working on making them moveable because we know our little cook loves moveable parts.  He’s already put the measuring cup under the faucet and turned the handles.  He does not understand why water doesn’t come out of this faucet.

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Here’s Mark using the drawer to stash all his kitchen tools.


And yes, he loves his little hiding spot.


And lest you think that for some reason this play kitchen is a little feminine for our rough and tumble boy, his Uncle G also constructed a real soccer goal for him this Christmas.  He is one lucky kid.

A whole lotta shakin’ going on

My friend sent me this and I said HA really loudly (in my head because Mark is napping).


We’re all fine here, thanks.  I was actually in the car with my son and dog and we definitely felt the shaking but I didn’t realize it was an earthquake at the time, probably because I had about a million thoughts running through my head as usual and I was paying attention to the traffic in Old Town.  It took the DJ on the radio saying something about “earthquake in Fredericksburg” and then seeing all the folks in Old Town outside their office buildings as if there were 50 simultaneous fire drills going on before I realized that it was an earthquake.  So my husband says I didn’t really feel it since I just thought the car was being rocked by our son in his car seat (irrational I know, but as a mother sometimes we are irrational, no?), but what does he know?  We’re all entitled to our own earthquake experience.

I’m glad it wasn’t more serious and that no one was hurt.  Definitely something for the baby book.  Speaking of babies, congrats to two great friends that had babies this week!  One new momma (in Virginia, on the very day of the quake!) and one second-time momma.  Congrats, ladies!  All that hard work during pregnancy has paid off.

I should be back tonight with another earth-shattering post featuring dear old Alexandria!

August Interview: Nicole Ostrander

I was fortunate to go to school with a lot of smart, talented, and wonderful people.  My ten year (gulp) college reunion is coming up next year, and I am really excited about it.  I can’t wait to see what everyone has been up to.  I can keep up with a few folks from my class through Facebook and old-fashioned gossip, but Nicole is a classmate I’m glad  I am able to see frequently now that we live in the same tri-state area.  She and another friend from school were what made the transition to D.C. a lot easier two years ago.  Same thing for motherhood.  Nicole and I are both new mothers to boys, and we’ve been able to swap war stories and play-dates over the past year.  It’s been immensely important for my sanity.

On the Deck at the Cabin

[Nicole with her son, Wyatt]

I’m glad you’ll get the chance to meet Nicole, too.  I doubt there’s anyone who has met her who hasn’t been impressed by the precision with which she operates.  It’s evident in the food she prepares, the materials she sews, the stationery she creates, oh and her architecture!  Nicole is a first-rate architect, but she does each of those other tasks with such perfection that it would be easy to pass her off as a chef, a seamstress, or a graphic designer.  And I loved this interview because as honest as Nicole is with each of her answers, she fails to mention some of the other impressive parts of her history that I think contribute to the person she is today.  She doesn’t talk about how she spent some of her childhood in Europe, or how she spent most of a summer in college studying in Africa.  She doesn’t talk about her career as a diver at UVA.  Most people in the architecture school at UVA aren’t involved in many other extra-curriculars because it’s such an all-consuming major.  Nicole was a college athlete.  She is not your average bear my friends, so don’t believe her modesty.

Read on.  Meet Nicole.  And if you need an architect, seamstress (I wish she had photos of some of her sewing projects), graphic designer or mom to commiserate with, you know who to call.


Tell us a little about yourself- where you’re from, where you went to school, what you are doing now, etc.

I grew up in Minnesota, and now have settled in Maryland (outside of DC). I left the Midwest the first time for the University of Virginia, where I got my undergraduate degree in Architecture. After school I worked for two years in Baltimore before heading back to the Midwest for graduate school, this time to Missouri. At Washington University in St. Louis I got a Master of Architecture and threw in an extra Master of Urban Design along the way. Once I was finished in St. Louis, I moved back to the east coast with my husband and got a job at a firm in Washington, DC. In October, I left my job at a firm in DC. I now have one “client,” my son, who is 9 months old.

How did you get interested in architecture?

I don’t really have a glamorous story about being destined for architecture like playing with Legos or being a talented artist. I was pretty sure I wanted to be an architect since the 8th grade. I was creative and liked art and I was good at math; architecture seemed to be the logical fit. I went to college thinking that if I didn’t like architecture I could always switch to something else, but once I got into it, I knew it was for me.
It wasn’t until further down the architecture path that I discovered that my interests were much more about the big scale: cities, blocks, concepts, rather than the small scale. Until faced with a second pedagogy at Wash U, I hadn’t realized that the UVa architecture education was so strongly tied to the site. Is it really possible to consider a project without first investigating and then reflecting on the place through the design? My second masters in Urban Design allowed me to focus my studies on larger scale investigations of site.

What projects are you currently working on?

I manage to keep a few projects going to engage my design brain while I’m at home with my son, however none of them are currently paying the bills! I’m designing a small addition to my family’s cabin on a lake in Northern Minnesota. The project has its fair share of challenges. Not to mention that I have been going to this place since I was 6 months old. As my family moved to other states and countries, this was the one place I could always return to. Needless to say, there is a lot of personal pressure to get this right! The existing structure’s proximity to the lake restricts the size and location of the addition. By small, I mean small, 450 SF. Try fitting in all of your family’s laundry list of needs, wants and desires into 450 SF (this is the exterior footprint, and we’re trying to fit in at least two levels with a loft if we can make it work).

I am also volunteering at a local independent school. My work there began with helping to design an outdoor classroom/pavilion to allow teachers to have a space to teach class outside. Now, I am serving on the school’s Board and serving on a committee which is completing a Master Plan for the school.

Aside from the one architectural project, I design various paper products under the moniker “NTO graphics.” I’ve been making various greeting cards, holiday cards, invitations for several years. My latest project was designing wedding invitations for a friend including the calligraphy on the envelopes.

What do you think is the biggest misconception about architects or architecture?

Hollywood always makes architecture seem like a glamorous job, it really isn’t. There’s a lot of boring stuff that goes into making buildings, cities, spaces that work. I actually think I like the boring stuff better than the sexy design stuff anyway. Architecture is really about problem solving. You can make anything look cool, however the design really has to work to be successful.

What’s your most memorable project?

Right before I left my most recent job, I finished up a project at Gallaudet University, the deaf university in DC. The project was to renovate a historic house that was being used as office space into an “honors dorm” for 10 students. Learning about the deaf community and interacting with the students to learn about their specific needs brought an entirely new level of specificity to the project. We ended up with a great mix of old and new, a beautiful historic home with modern elements inserted. It was incredibly rewarding to see the project from start to finish.

Gallaudet Exterior

[Nicole in front of Gallaudet]


[Gallaudet interior]

What was the worst project you worked on and why?

A parking garage. The problem wasn’t necessarily the building type, but that I started the project once the design was finalized and proceeded to draw details for 6 months! Nothing is flat in a garage, it’s always sloping, which alone is enough to drive a person crazy!

What architect or architects inspire you and why?

When I was visiting Dallas, I made a pilgrimage to the Kimbell Museum. After studying the building for the better part of a semester in graduate school, I was convinced that Louis Kahn had designed the perfect space for looking at art. Then I went to the Nasher. I hated to admit it, but Renzo Piano got it right. At the Nasher Sculpture Museum, in downtown Dallas, Piano took what Kahn had done, and made it even better. The Nasher subtly references the Kimbell, almost as if Piano was acknowledging Kahn’s masterpiece. But Piano took it a step further, using new building technologies to perfect the illumination of the space with natural light in the most simple and beautiful way.

What is your favorite public space?

My favorite outdoor urban space is Millenium Park in Chicago. It’s such a vibrant active park. As you walk through the park, each space within it is programmed for a different type of “use.” This thoughtful design results in a very active urban space in the center of the city.

My favorite indoor public space is the covered courtyard in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC. Norman Foster designed a roof for what was once an internal courtyard open to the elements. The design is extremely simple and results in a serene refuge from the bustle of the city. I have two requests of the museum: 1. Can you please get some decent food at the café? (I always smuggle in lunch from a nearby deli.) 2. If you would host a happy hour, the entire city would come. Think about it!

What work of architecture would you most like to visit?

I can’t say that there is a specific building I want to visit, but rather several cities: Barcelona may be number one right now.

What, if anything, would you change about architectural education?

In school, I loathed the badge of honor worn by those who worked late into the night. Your work isn’t any better for having stayed up all night working on it. Just get your work done and go home. The notion that working late is a good thing, seeps its way into the professional architecture offices. I have always appreciated working at a firm whose culture supports people leaving work when the work is done to have a life outside of the office. Your work will be better for it.

If you weren’t an architect, what other career path would you have taken?

I don’t think my career path has ended. I still don’t know really what I want to be when I grow up. I’m not sure if down the road I’ll end up being an architect in the traditional sense of the word. Who knows, perhaps I’ll be a graphic designer, or a seamstress, or a foodie/chef, or based on one of my latest projects, a calligrapher. But I guess I’ll always be an architect, in that I’ll always be designing something.


[view from cabin in Minnesota]