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15 Sep 2014

Furniture Dupes—Extendable Dining Table

Posted by emily. 1 Comment

There is a trend on Pinterest that features “dupes” for make-up—colors of lipstick, blush, eyeshadow, etc., at less expensive stores like Target that look nearly identical to the more expensive brands at department stores like Macy’s and Nordstrom. It’s an interesting exercise and argument for shopping around.

For the last few months I have been trying to figure out what to do about a small kitchen table. The newly remodeled kitchen looks great, so I want to make sure if I put something there it will look nice yet take up a small footprint. But I’d like something expandable that I could conceivably put alongside the dining table for possible larger dinner parties. My kitchen designer, on the other hand, would prefer that I not have any table there.

It’s right by a window, and my mom loved to sit there in the morning with her coffee. And, frankly, I do, too. I also often set up my laptop in there so I can work and have a view of the neighborhood. Also, whenever I do have people over it seems I never have enough counter space to stage things. So having a table there is often a lifesaver in terms of having a place to put trays, plates, etc.

I came across this lovely one at EQ3 for $499. Not bad. I love that, fully closed, it has a very narrow footprint, but when expanded on both sides can seat up to six. I also like the little drawer, which could be nice to keep rolled up placemats. It also comes in oak.

Hallie Folding Table, EQ3, $499

Norden Table, IKEA, $199

Norden Table, IKEA, $199


This weekend I came across the Norden table at IKEA, for 40% the cost, but nearly identical. And this one has three drawers. At IKEA it comes in white and solid birch. Despite how much other design blogs gush over IKEA, I am not wild about all the particleboard. So when I come across something that is solid wood, it’s a pleasant surprise. Nonetheless, the birch one may be too “country” and not quite contemporary enough.


Meanwhile, EQ3 also has this lovely 28″ square table that expands in a pretty ingenious way. Fully open it’s 55″ x 28″. I like the metal legs and it has a light feeling to it.

T&T Dinette, EQ3, $399

15 Sep 2014

So…so…so close

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The interior remodel of the cottage is nearly complete. Appliances are in. Lights are hung. The paper protecting the floors is gone. There are a few i’s to dot and t’s to cross, but we’re about done. It’s so very exciting!

Seeing as we’re so darn close, I’m going to hold off on the pictures until I get a chance to scrub the house from top to bottom and get it ready for the great “reveal.”

Simply, though, I am tickled. It looks amazing. It’s so much brighter and fresher. I can’t wait to spend some “down time” there.

Next year we’ll tackle the exterior. I’m thrilled to announce that *all* the citrus trees survived last year’s freeze. Even the little, itty bitty meyer lemon tree is sprouting new growth. What a relief!



15 Sep 2014


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I am sad to admit I don’t know much about the history of the Azores, even though I do have a couple books (in English) about them. I have been fascinated, in general, about the influence of the Moors in mainland Portugal. You can see it in the architecture, for sure, but also in the pronunciation of some words (that Arabic-sounding scraping “r”). And there are some phrases like “Ojala,” which means “hopefully” but which almost clearly comes from “Oh, Allah.”

For years I have been fascinated with Moroccan rugs, the cream ones with the criss-cross pattern. It wasn’t until more recently that I realized the pattern is identical to traditional Portuguese rice pudding (arroz doce). I would love to know more about whether there is a connection. Ah…for when I have more time.

Moroccan rug

Moroccan rug

Arroz doce

Arroz doce

1 Aug 2014

Sun Sails

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As I look toward the completion of the interior of the house, I am starting to think about how to handle the exterior—both the hardscaping and the landscaping. There are certain things I really need to do that fall into the “repair” category. These include repair of stucco around the house and re-painting, replacing a lot of the concrete around the house, replacing the falling apart low wall in the front. Those are big ticket items I’m hoping to tackle over the winter so I can focus on the landscape part next spring.

Having this time to think it through, though, has also given me an opportunity to think about more cost effective ways I can create the outdoor space I want. The primary attraction of going up to Napa is to spend time outside without freezing. I’m particularly looking forward to dining and entertaining outside. In 15 years of living in San Francisco, I do not recall a single meal outside on the deck. By 3 PM the fog starts to roll in with its accompanying gale.

I’ve been trying to be creative (read: cheap). The metal awning is rusted and has always been an eyesore. So that will definitely go away. I’d dreamed of the modern steel trellis with bistro lights strung along, creating a lively and festive space.

mangan1mangan6awning with lights


But I just about choked on the cost estimate. A more traditional wood one was less expensive.

Now, however, I am rethinking having a structure altogether and have started to explore sun shades or sail shades.




The cheapest I’ve seen is one at IKEA for $24.99.

I’m thinking this gives me what I want—a shady spot for dining and relaxing—without all the expense and fuss of a full scale trellis. That can come later, if I choose.


1 Aug 2014

Napa Cottage Update

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For the last few weeks I’ve been in that uncomfortable limbo—the space between my mom’s home of 40+ years and my weekend getaway. For the last few weeks, the house has stood empty, mostly a construction zone. The garage is packed with everything I haven’t yet given away. In my mind’s eye I can see what it will look like when it’s done, hopefully by the end of August. But now, it’s just a “site,” as the contractor and kitchen design team referred to the home of my upbringing.

I am again blessed, so far, with an excellent contractor who is attentive to details and highly responsive.

This week they took the template for the kitchen counters. Next week the floors go in.

counters: Caesarstone "pebble"

counters: Caesarstone “pebble”


flooring: strand bamboo in “java”


kitchen in current state

kitchen in current state

kitchen before

kitchen before


What I find interesting is just how *cluttered* a space can look in an image. I am struck by images on Houzz and other sites and how pristine they look, as though no one actually lives in them. It will be an interesting experiment to see just how “Zen” I can make the space. It will take real discipline to edit things down to the essentials. When I’m ready to move back in from the garage, everything will be carefully scrutinized once again.  Each wave of purging gets a little harder. I have to discern between wanting to keep the house peaceful and clutter-free vs. keeping those items that acknowledge the home’s history and my mom.


30 Jun 2014

Progress…and emptiness

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We moved the last of the furniture and “stuff” out of the house over the weekend, and into the garage. Amazing how much mom could squeeze into a tiny cottage! I finally found a recipient of a majority of the furniture—Habitat for Humanity. I think my mom would be pleased that her furniture will find a new home with people who are trying to get themselves together.

I did keep a couple things and will try my hand at furniture painting to update them. If it doesn’t work out then I’ll likely donate them, too, as none of the furniture was really my style.

It was surreal, though, to take a moment in the completely empty house. The last few weeks I’ve felt the transition in a strange way. I’ve had “guilt dreams”—dreams of my mom coming back and not having a place to stay. I’ve felt history slowly slipping away in the items I’m donating and removing. I can’t imagine having to sell the house and just walking away! But in some ways the house has reached the tipping point of being mom’s house and just being “a” house. Hopefully soon it will feel more like “my” house. I’m also sure that moving personal items back into the space will breathe some history and life into it.

Kitchen cabinets arrived today. Hopefully the carpet will be pulled up this week so I can assess it–see if I can keep it or if I press forward with the bamboo flooring I’d picked out.

Pictures to come later.

12 Jun 2014

The Power of Things

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It’s very trendy now to go minimal. There are blogs and self-help books dedicated to the Church of Minimal Living–just the essentials. It’s aspirational…less clutter in your physical environment can lead to less clutter in your emotional and spiritual life. I admire photos of beautifully curated homes–clean lines, clear surfaces.



Then there is reality.

It’s been 16 months since mom died and I’m still clearing out her belongings. I gave her such grief about being a bit of a pack rat. Accumulating, accumulating, saving, saving. Just In Case. I myself have difficulty parting with things that cost me money. It feels like a waste. What I often tell myself when I’m setting aside items for charity is that there is likely someone who needs it more than I, who can give it a good home while I’ve been neglecting it.

Going through mom’s things have been another matter entirely. Some things were relatively easy. The threadbare towels, the collection of ratty cleaning rags, the items she’d shoved out of sight in the garage to be long-forgotten. But now we are going through the personal things.

Next week the contractors arrive to demolish the kitchen. I am going through her kitchen, and here is where I struggle. The thing that made us turn a corner in a difficult relationship was cooking together. It’s how we spent time together. It’s when she would tell me stories about growing up. It’s how I integrated her into my social circles. She was there from the first “Last Supper” through the last Tavolavila.

Do I honestly need four glass pie plates? No. But they were her pie plates. Oh how she struggled to make a bakery-perfect pastry crust! The peeler she refused to part with, even though it was rusted through and utterly of no function.

Is it bad to say these things bring me closer to her?? They are just things, after all. But they are powerful things, full of memories and personal jokes between us. Surely she would not expect me to maintain the house or her things like a museum. So I select the items that have the most meaning–the US Navy spoon that was one of the first possessions my father received in the US, a gift from the landlady; the little knife my mom used to chop everything; a sunny set of dishes with green edges and painted strawberries that my uncle gave my mother; hand-carved wooden stamps used to make Portuguese breads.

My mother had fond memories of her grandmother, who taught her to make these breads, or “bolos.” Her grandmother had very old wooden stamps and my mother longed to have them as a keepsake. But her mother refused to give them to her, and when she died left them to my mom’s sister. My mom shepherded her sister through breast cancer treatments, including six weeks at UCSF in the early days of bone marrow transplants, sleeping in a cot in her room (this was before I lived in SF). My mother went to all her medical appointments to translate for her. And as my aunt grew more and more sick, my mother asked about the wooden stamps. But her sister gave them to their other sister from whom my mother was estranged. From there they were lost to my mom forever and she was deeply hurt and disappointed. For all that my mother had done to help her mother and sister, both women stubbornly and purposely rejected my mother her one simple request.

But two things happened after that. One, my cousin (by marriage) gave my mother her own wooden stamps. She owed my mother nothing, but this gesture was gracious and lovely. Second, my mother had some of her own wooden stamps custom made in the Azores.

I’ve used those stamps, and for me they symbolize two things–that family is more than blood, and a reminder of my mother’s tenacity to  overcome her own “blood” family’s selfishness and lack of grace.

So things have power, as they can be important reminders of things more important than possessions. Those items will find a place of prominence in the newly remodeled cottage in Napa.


15 Apr 2014

Easter 2014

Posted by emily. 1 Comment

This is Holy Week, with Good Friday in a few days then Easter Sunday. I’m preparing to make traditional Portuguese Easter bread, just as I did with mom for so many years. Even though it seems everyone has sworn off carbs and the new evil, I will still distribute it.

Years ago I videotaped my mom’s technique for kneading the bread.

She would throw her whole tiny body into it, pushing down with her weight. None of that gentle smushing of the dough across a counter like the French. This was full body contact kneading. And the texture, much like a brioche, is light and feathery.

I’ve already described the challenges of the last two Easters. In 2012 when she was too ill to help me yet sat next to me, slowly pouring the melted butter into the bowl, then getting up at 5 a.m. to watch me make the loaves for the second rise. And in 2013, the first Easter without her, my grief still raw from just a few months of life without her.

I make (and eat!) this bread only once a year, both as a tradition and to honor my mom’s spirit.

To hell with the anti-carb movement.

4 Feb 2014

Looking back on a year without mom

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February 5 makes one year that mom died. Like those early weeks, when I could simultaneously and acutely feel both her presence and her absence, that day feels both so distant and so recent at the same time.

It’s been a year of trying to find my footing. I have often reflected on the advice of my grief counselor to “be gentle” with myself, something I don’t often do. I have tried not to expect too much from myself, although I did manage to achieve some small goals — my first 5k, for example, and a soft return to my book club.

Creating Order

I continue to have an urge to purge — to simplify, to de-clutter. I’ve never functioned well amid visual clutter—it’s a reflection of chaos, something I don’t tolerate well. I guess this urge is my attempt to create a sense of order in my life, after so much disorder.

Going through mom’s belongings and clearing out the house over the last year has been bittersweet. I took all her clothes to charity in the early, foggy, dazed days. I gave my mom’s knitting and crocheting supplies to my aunt. I tried to clear out stuff from the garage, but was easily and quickly overwhelmed.

I was glad to get rid of all the medical stuff—medications, walkers, canes, medical bills, etc.

One thing I had kept was the infamous “binder” I created when she was first diagnosed. It was a place to keep all our notes—her schedule of chemotherapy infusions, the dates she received blood transfusions or had procedures done. It included the names and phone numbers of all the medical team members, all the medications she was on with dosages and schedules. I had instructed my uncle and aunt that if my mom were taken to the emergency department and I was not there, the binder should go with her. It was as thorough a medical chart as any ED doctor could have until I could arrive to provide a full report, stay vigilant, ask questions, advocate.

That binder tells a story. It tells a story of someone who was willing to put up with a lot in order to live a while longer. While I consider it a roadmap of our journey, ultimately it was her journey. I had decided to hold on to that binder, perhaps as a way to hold on to her. But she was so much more than that, or any, diagnosis. So on the anniversary of her death, I purge the binder, too, as a symbol of her ultimate break with all the suffering of her last year.

It’s been interesting hearing from people who are on the outer margins of my life—people I see only occasionally. Some have been surprised that I haven’t completed a total renovation of my mom’s cottage in the last 12 months. Aside from the expense, I think they are pretty clueless about the process of removing evidence of a loved one—the clothes, the personal belongings. I’ve chosen to take my time. I do hope that this year I will start the process of making it my retreat, while still honoring the fact that it was her house for so long and a standing symbol of her independence and tenacity.

Being Present

As part of my own physical recovery, I took up some running—mostly at the behest of JJ. In my training for my first 5k, I would strain against the clock, making the periods of running a little longer each time. And throughout it I would be cursing that the end of the loop around Lake Merced seemed so far off. Where was the END?? As I was finally getting up to being able to run the entire 5 kilometers, it occurred to me to focus simply on where I WAS, at each moment, not on the end. It made a huge difference. And it was an epiphany for my life—a perfect lesson in presence.

As hackneyed as it sounds, I’ve had to plant my feet in place, and focus only on the immediate next step, rather than the entire journey. It can be overwhelming to look out at my life, the yawning gap that is the absence of my mom. So I just focus on where I am, at this moment, in this place. And as St. Theresa of Avila said, “May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be.”

31 Dec 2013

The End.

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2013 will always be The Year Mom Died. It has been a difficult year, of course, even if it was not as grueling as 2012 when I watched my mom disintegrate before my eyes. I planned this year to be one of recovery and self-care. To a certain degree, that happened. I sleep straight through most nights now. The physical manifestations of the intense stress has subsided. I no longer have occasional chest pains, or mysterious nerve pain in my arms, or the odd itchy feet.

In general, though, it was mostly a year of just getting through. It was the year I did not want to celebrate—not birthdays, not the holidays. I just wanted to get over it…march straight through those “first-fill-in-the-blank-without-mom” events, head down against the pain. I took the grief counselor’s advice, “be gentle with yourself.” For me that meant not pushing myself forward, and allowing myself to grieve whenever the mood struck. I did not try to be strong for anyone, or to spare anyone else discomfort.

Not a day goes by that she is not on my mind. Mundane things and places bring me back to her—a trip to the farmer’s market, a Costco run, the beach, the kitchen. Our home is filled with gifts from her over my lifetime. But the most important gifts I carry with me.

I learned so much over the last two years—who I could count on, how to live with uncertainty, the importance of tenacity, that it’s never too late in life for a personal renaissance.

What does 2014 hold? It’s hard to say. I know what she would be telling me…time to move forward. I have my whole life ahead of me. Travel. Enjoy life.These are all true, and I will hold her life as an example of moving forward from loss and grief and fear.

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