Decorating the nursery: A lesson in appreciating what I have

Note to self: Stop looking at pictures of nurseries online. It only upsets you. You can’t paint the walls, you don’t have gorgeous (and ridiculously expensive) furniture and the tiny room also doubles as a guest bedroom (with an already full-to-bursting closet). Stop coveting the giant, beautiful nurseries of folks who obviously have loads of dough. Focus on making this little space beautiful in your own way. And in the end, remember that your baby isn’t even going to notice any of it.

The above has become a bit of a mantra for me. I’m as much of a sucker for the beautiful magazine spreads of nurseries in Pottery Barn as the next pregnant woman (and we’re a little bit nuts, if you hadn’t noticed from your interactions with pregnant women). So even though this is completely a first-world problem (I mean, c’mon, my child will have his own room, which is heated in the winter, and all the modern amenities of life in the developed world), it’s still a buzz-kill to look at those lovely photos and then look at what I’ve got to work with. So mornings like this one, I need to hop off the self-pity train and focus on what really matters (which includes not going into debt!).

I’ve got an 8×10 bedroom. The walls are white (at least that means blank slate and they’re not some hideous maroon or something). There is a closet (but it’s full of storage). Nearly half the room is taken up by our guest bed. I’ve got a small three-drawer white dresser that was my father’s when he was a child. It’s sturdy, even if it could use a coat of paint (and it’s officially winter in Montana, so it’s unlikely to be getting that coat of paint until, oh, June, unless someone would like to let me borrow their garage and a belt sander). The window lets in loads of light.

I’ve got small pictures I’ve collected over the years that I’ve framed, such as a block print of a kingfisher from England, a picture of Highland cows from Scotland and a picture of a steam engine, also from Scotland. I have a framed painting by my grandmother of a barn in a mountain scene. I have a framed print of a yellow lab (little boys are made of puppy dog tails after all…). I have a small print of leafy seadragons (they’re pretty much the coolest animal ever — look ’em up) from the Monterey Bay Aquarium that gives my husband and I no end of delight. We have a couple extra frames from our wedding that we look forward to filling with baby pictures.

I’m making the mobile for above the crib myself. I found a darling pattern online and I’m nearly finished (though I’ve been nearly finished for a month now… time to truly finish it!). I sewed a bunch of little birds that have one fabric for their backs and heads, and another fabric for their stomachs. They will perch on some sticks we picked up near the headwaters of the Missouri. We’ll hang the entire contraption from the ceiling with fishing wire (rated to far stronger than it needs to be because I’m paranoid). I may also wrap ribbon around the fishing wire to spruce it up a bit. Undecided on that bit. It’s things like this when I need to ask myself: What would I look back on and say I enjoyed more? Hours spent scouring websites for the perfect above-crib mobile, or the hours I spent making one myself? As a friend of mine eloquently put it: Babies know love, not brand names and price tags.

We’ve hit a snag on the crib, however. We bought the crib and crib mattress at a garage sale this summer for $40. Unfortunately, the crib did not come with hardware and I stupidly did not get the woman’s phone number to contact her about whether or not she ever uncovered the parts (she was moving). So, we’re a bit bamboozled at how the crib goes together on closer inspection (we figured it would just take furniture screws… how naive). I’ve e-mailed the manufacturer to see if we can order parts, but the crib is probably 10 years old and who knows if the company still makes those parts. Frustrating, and possibly $40 down the drain (though I suppose we could sell what we have on Craigslist to someone who can figure out the assembly). If we can’t get hardware or create our own system with the help of a local hardware store (and it needs to be a good system… I’m not putting my baby in a jerry-rigged crib), it appears I can find another crib for pretty cheap at Target. I breezed through the local maternity store today (you know me and supporting all things local), and well, Target undercuts that store by $400 on cribs. And at this time in my life, that’s going to win out.

Otherwise, things are coming together. I have a great collection of picture books started (mostly from my childhood, and some I’ve recently picked up), and a couple of stuffed animals, too. I also have my baby blanket (well, the third incarnation or so), and a beautiful locally made bamboo blanket (it never loses its fuzzy texture even after lots of washing). I’m sure gifts from my baby shower will round things out. Fingers crossed the cloth diaper package works out! My mother-in-law has sent us a number of outfits (we are set on 0-3 months!). We have a hiking backpack that we plan to get a lot of use out of in the coming summers.

Instead of focusing on how much more beautiful the nursery could be, I’m going to focus on what still needs to be done, all of which is easily completed. Here’s my list (am I missing anything?):

  • Find hardware for and assemble crib, or purchase and assemble new one
  • Finish mobile, hang
  • Hang pictures
  • Launder bedding, blankets, towels, diapers
  • Set up rocking chair (second-hand from my step-mother, but in perfectly serviceable condition)
  • Assemble changing table, get changing supplies ready
  • Find curtains to block out light during daytime naps, hang
  • Acclimate kitties to baby things (no cats in cribs!)

I’ll be sure to post pictures as we get things checked off the list! Oh, and here’s something else to be grateful for: Both my husband and I have an entire month off (last two weeks of December, first two weeks of January) to prep the nursery and enjoy being together, just us.

So, since this is the month of Thanksgiving, it’s time for me to be thankful for what I have, not covetous of what I do not (and frankly do not need). Having less stuff means less stuff to store and less stuff to move. This little boy will be provided for and loved.  And that’s what really matters.


A savings act that doesn’t save anybody

Every now and then members of Congress do things that really get my blood boiling. Like propose to cut the National Endowment for the Arts. And the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. And Energy Star. Are you kidding me? So here’s my opinion on the matter (running as my column in this week’s newspaper).

In this time of tightening belts and slashing funds, there comes a point when Americans need to take a step back and ask, when is it too much?

Last week, the Republican Study Committee, chaired by Ohio representative Jim Jordan, revealed a plan to cut federal funding of the arts down to zero. The same committee wants to cut spending on a number of other important programs that leaves me scratching my head and asking, why?
Here are just a few of the programs the committee wants to eliminate.

• The National Endowment for the Arts. The committee says this will save America $167.5 million annually. First of all, isn’t that a drop in the proverbial bucket? Here’s some perspective: To build one fighter jet for the U.S. Air Force, it costs about $150 million.

Locally, the National Endowment for the Arts just contributed $20,000, split between the Glacier Symphony and Chorale and the Whitefish Theatre Company. The symphony will use the $10,000 grant to support its week-long classical music event Festival Amadeus, which is July 31-Aug. 6 at the O’Shaughnessy Center in Whitefish. Guest artists will teach clinics for the community. The Whitefish Theatre Company used its share for last weekend’s Dancing Earth performance. Outreach activities included school matinees and lectures targeted to rural youth.

Nationally, the Endowment supports the American Ballet and arts education programs around the country. It’s been said that part of the reason America is so great is because unlike other nations, American schools have extracurricular activities, like art and shop classes and sports. Other countries don’t have those programs to enrich the lives of their youth and keep those kids occupied after school. Soon, it looks like America won’t either.

Robert Lynch, president of Americans for the Arts told the LA Times that federal investment in the arts helps to sustain 5.7 million jobs nationwide. But what’s another 5.7 million jobs in an economy that sloughs off 100,000 jobs a month?

• National Endowment for the Humanities. The committee says this will save America another $167.5 million. This endowment supports history and culture workshops for teachers. It supports the National Digital Newspaper Program, which makes available online a digital resource of United States newspapers from the nineteenth century to the present. It supports research; National Endowment for the Humanities-supported books have earned 18 Pulitzer Prizes.

• Save America’s Treasures program. The committee says this will save $25 million annually. The Conrad Mansion in Kalispell is a partner of this organization, which is a public-private partnership that includes the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the National Park Service and the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities. The program seeks to preserve places important to American history and identity, places and objects like the Star Spangled Banner flag, the bus on which Rosa Parks refused to move to the back, the Emily Dickinson home and the Thomas Edison Invention Factory.

• Title X Family Planning. This cut will save $318 million. Yet Title X provides vital assistance to many youth and low-income families every year. Yes, some family planning clinics perform abortions. However, Title X has allowed millions of American women to receive necessary reproductive health care, plan their pregnancies and prevent abortions.

• Energy Star program. The committee says this will save $52 million annually. And yet in 2009, Energy Star appliances and rebates helped Americans save $17 billion on their utility bills. I’d say that’s a program that pays for itself. Energy Star products range from high-performance windows and efficient heating and cooling equipment to light bulbs, refrigerators, TVs and dishwashers. The program, bottom line, helps Americans save money.

Then there’s the suspect line: “end prohibitions on competitive sourcing of government services.” That means outsourcing, people. And outsourcing means someone in Bangladesh gets an American’s job.

The committee has proposed cuts that do make sense, such as reducing funding for congressional printing and binding. Using less paper benefits us all. So does cutting the federal travel budget (though you’ll be seeing less of your senators and representatives).

But the vast majority of the cuts (with a supposed savings of $2.5 trillion, though that’s unadjusted for inflation) this committee wants to make will only hurt Americans. For a complete list of proposed cuts, visit

If the government really wants to cut spending, the only budgets they need to zero in on are Defense and Homeland Security. But we wouldn’t want to jeopardize those likely unconstitutional full body scans, now would we?

Is there a table under there?

Shameful, isn’t it? This is my dining room table/office/dumping ground. I live in a very small apartment and I don’t have a desk. I want one badly, but I’d like to find a cheap one and fix it up all pretty. Scanning Craigslist daily has so far proved fruitless. But I’m sure something will turn up!

In the meantime, I need to get this mess wrangled in a big way. I’ve got sewing stuff, magazines, my reporter’s notebook, the city budget (oh, interminable city council meetings), my computer, English Creek by Ivan Doig, my purse, headphones, the most recent contents of the P.O. box and lots of random paperwork. I’m tired of cleaning the table every few days only to have it eventually resort back to this. I need to figure out a filing system for bills and letters. I’ve got a bin for magazines in the corner on the stairs, which I will clean out to make room for more. With a desk, I could do work on my computer and sewing upstairs, where there is more room and I don’t have to worry about lint in my supper.

Any organizational suggestions for small living spaces on a very tight budget?