The 90 percent problem


I have a persistent problem with completing things.

Maybe you experience it, too?

You start planning a project — how exciting! Inspiration is everywhere. You gather supplies and dig in. Submerged in a flurry of tasks — whether it’s painting, calculating, organizing, cooking, writing, building — you keep pushing until you can see the light at the end of the tunnel. You step back to take a breath and admire your nearly complete hard work.

And you don’t step back forward to finish it.

It’s probably because you noticed some critical detail you forgot, or because you left the hard parts for last. Whatever the reason, the project sits there, 90% finished. It taunts you. But you can’t regain your momentum.

When I started writing this post, I googled the phrase “the 90% problem” to see if others had written about it. Of course they have. There’s even a Wikipedia article on the ninety-ninety rule, which is an adage from software development that states:

The first 90 percent of the code accounts for the first 90 percent of the development time. The remaining 10 percent of the code accounts for the other 90 percent of the development time.

Sounds awfully familiar.

I’d like to get better at finishing the things I start before moving on to new ones. The next few weeks will be focused on Christmas prep and travel, but in January the first thing I’ll finish is my craft area you see above (did most of it in one weekend, and it’s been sitting at 90% since our housewarming party). Pinky swear.


Our west coast Thanksgiving

It was a bittersweet holiday weekend: For the first time in our lives, Dan and I spent Thanksgiving away from our immediate families. Instead we traveled to Northern California to visit Dan’s aunt and uncle J&J in Mendocino County — and it was wonderful!! J&J are in the hospitality industry and they pulled out all the stops to make our stay comfortable and delicious. Plus, of all our relatives, their outlook on life seems the most similar to ours, which makes for great conversation.

On Wednesday we headed to the airport before dawn. The buffer time wasn’t necessary though — despite all the hubbub about nightmarish Thanksgiving travel, there was no line at security and even a live trombone quartet!


When we landed at SFO it was a beautiful sunny day. The rental car ended up being a Mustang. Felt a bit ridiculous in it once we reached hippie country, but it was fun to drive on the curvy coastal roads.


First stop was the park right before the Golden Gate Bridge.


It was 10am and we didn’t have to be in Mendocino until dinner, so we took our time winding our way up Coastal Highway 1. Every vista is more impressive than the last. The northern coast is so much rougher and wilder than our smooth SoCal beaches. In the afternoon we stopped at Sea Ranch to walk along the cliff trails.


After sunset we arrived at the inn managed by Aunt J in time for the wine hour. Then they took us to their home, where we stayed in their shed-turned-awesome-guest-cottage. Here it is in the morning light.


On Thanksgiving morning, Uncle J treated us to the loveliest breakfast I’ve ever had at someone’s house: eggs benedict with fresh-caught dungeness crab, homemade hollandaise, and garnishes of fruit and chive flowers.


Then J&J shooed us out the door, insisting we should take a hike while they prepped Thanksgiving dinner. We explored MacKerricher State Park, which proudly offers beach, bluff, headland, dune, tidepool, forest, and wetland all in one place. It was incredible! Here’s part of the beach which runs alongside an old logging road.


In the afternoon we called my parents and Skyped with Dan’s family. And then we settled in for the feast. J&J kept it traditional, but made everything from scratch — turkey and stuffing, fresh green bean and bacon casserole, fresh cranberry sauce, homemade mashed potatoes, and finally an apple tart with fruit from their own trees.


Friday we went exploring with J&J. We browsed the Mendocino artists’ fair and checked out the Point Cabrillo Light Station.


We saw whales spouting as they swam past on their long trek from the Arctic to Baja.


And we hiked through more amazing scenery.


At 4:30 (p.s., dear winter, this is a ridiculous time for sunset) we took camp chairs out on a remote bluff, poured champagne, and watched the sun set over the ocean.


The evening was full of wine, conversation, and leftovers. And then the next morning, it was time to say goodbye.

Dan and I drove inland through the Anderson Valley, Sonoma Valley, and into Napa Valley. We’d intended to visit a few wineries, but the first was even more expensive than expected — $20 for a four-pour tasting, and the pours were not generous at all! So we wandered through the vineyards for a while instead.


Then we drove into the city of Napa to explore. The big deal of the day was a Christmas parade. My favorites were the decorated horses and the marching bands, of course.


We had planned ahead to try one fancy restaurant before flying home. At the recommendation of Dan’s foodie friend, we made reservations at Bottega in Yountville. The polenta under glass (mmm crispy bits!) and zeppole dessert (mmm hazelnut cream!) were amazing.


There was just enough time for a leisurely dinner before driving into San Francisco, dropping off the car, and catching a late flight home to San Diego.

We both really missed having traditional Thanksgivings with our families. But this was a fantastic vacation — probably the most relaxing and refreshing trip we’ve ever taken. Normally we tend to crowd our travel with fast-paced urban sightseeing. This time the holiday and the rural destination helped us keep our schedule in check so we could truly enjoy our time together in one of the most beautiful places in the country.

Craigslist treasure: midcentury sewing table

In our last home, my sewing machine sat in the bedroom on an Ikea Expedit desk like this:


It was great to have so much storage right at hand. Unfortunately the new house has no good place for such a large piece, so I decided to search Craigslist for a desk that would fit the spare wall in our new bedroom.

My sewing machine is my grandma’s 1958 Singer Slant-O-Matic 401A. Grandma used it on a card table with a custom-sized hole where the machine’s base nested, making a seamless work surface where it met the table. See how the bottom is kind of unfinished, as though it’s meant to be concealed?


Grandma’s sewing table is across the country in my parents’ basement, though, so at first I assumed I’d just get a regular desk. But one of the first Craigslist results was an “awesome mid century sewing table that has been converted to a desk.” I emailed the seller to ask if the sewing machine hole was still operable. She said yes! I traced the base of my machine onto paper and brought the template with me to the seller’s house. (Bringing the whole thing would’ve been a hassle — it’s made of at least 25 lbs of solid metal.)

It was perfect. I brought it straight home. The drawers were full of old straight pins and lint, and the finish was a bit murky… but after some determined scrubbing with diluted apple cider vinegar, it’s clean and fresh.


Turns out this table was originally made for a 1950s Singer, and the hole fits my machine exactly.


There are two hinges on the back of the hole. They’re intended to fasten to the base of the machine, so that you can pivot it toward you into the table to conceal it with an extra piece of wood when you’re not sewing (so cool!!).


[Incidentally, this photo was taken before the rest, and before I’d scrubbed it with vinegar. See the dull finish on top and the white marring on the right leg and drawer front? All better now!]

The hinge pegs fit into the holes on my machine, but I haven’t yet figured out how to secure them so they don’t slip out when you tilt the machine. Here’s a photo I found of how it’s supposed to work.


If anyone reading this happens to know how to make the hinges work, please leave a comment! I will probably have to buy hardware like one of these, which seem to be easily available on ebay.


But in the meantime, I’m more than happy to leave the machine on display.

Next quest: a chair that complements the desk, preferably without arms so it can tuck under the desk.

Housewarming party menu

Yesterday we hosted our first party in the new house! About 20 friends and coworkers dropped by through the afternoon, and our good friends stayed until late. We borrowed a nice cornhole set and introduced the game to anyone who hadn’t heard of it.


We made a ton of food and it all turned out great so I wanted to share the recipes we used.


  • Tortilla chips with fresh guacamole and (storebought) salsa
  • Hummus (storebought) and veggies (carrots, celery, bell peppers, radishes)
  • Fruit, nut, and cheese tray (red grapes, roasted salted almonds, extra-sharp cheddar)
  • Ham and swiss sliders with butter-mustard glaze
  • Farfalle pesto salad with cherry tomatoes and feta (I used this pesto recipe)
  • Curried chicken and apple salad (researched many recipes and made my own, below)
    • a rotisserie chicken, diced
    • 2 Granny Smith apples, diced
    • 1 cup dried cranberries, chopped
    • 1 cup roasted salted almonds, chopped
    • 4 stalks celery, diced
    • 3 scallions, thinly sliced
    • enough mayonnaise to coat (about 1 cup)
    • 2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
    • 1 Tbsp curry powder
    • a pinch of salt, to taste
    • a pinch of sugar, to taste
    • baguette slices to serve
  • Pumpkin pie bites (with crescent roll crusts!)
  • S’mores over the firepit

We stocked up on beer and wine, and people brought even more as gifts. They even brought flowers and pastries! The leftover pastries were perfect with this morning’s breakfast…


And we’re looking forward to enjoying the rest of the leftovers for the next few days.

Funky little details

Our old house has lots of cool or quirky details that you rarely see in new construction…

Push-button light switches! Most throughout the house are modern, but a few of these original ones control outdoor lights.


Skylights in the bathroom give flattering natural light.


Charming crystal knobs on all the doors and built-ins.


Thick molding over doors and windows, and crown molding in a few rooms.


Rope-and-pulley single-pane windows. Some work while others are stuck shut…


Wacky salt and pepper shakers built into the top of the stove (pardon the grime… let’s just say it’s historical too).


What’s your favorite? Does your place have funky little details?

Painting the office (repeatedly)

For the first time since 2009, my new lease allows painting the walls! Most of the rooms don’t really need it. For example, check out how the bedroom’s soft blue walls perfectly match our quilt and lamps.


But neither of us liked the yellow walls in what the previous tenants used as a kids’ bedroom. The color seemed playful or juvenile to me, when we’re aiming for sophisticated. Also, the kids’ room kind of smelled like pee (see the stained mattress they left us? we were shocked to get money for it on craigslist) and the yellow walls sure weren’t helping that association.


Remember the row of bookshelves from our last place?


Well, they didn’t make sense in the living room this time because of all the beautiful built-ins. They wound up in the second bedroom/office. Recent experience taught us that it’s a total headache to move them once they’re loaded, bolted together, and anchored to the wall. So I declared that we must paint the room before loading the shelves. Dan wasn’t super excited but he agreed with the logic. We set a goal to get it done that weekend so we could straighten up the house’s biggest mess!


Here’s where I took a risky shortcut. To save time I decided to skip testing paint swatches in the room. Instead we’d go with a color I’d seen on a wall at work: Sherwin Williams Mindful Gray. It’s a medium gray that I thought would pop against the wood floors and white trim while serving as a neutral backdrop for future decorating choices.


We had Home Depot color-match it in the more affordable Behr brand paint and started rolling it on the walls. (Daylight is much more flattering to skin tones than nighttime, eh?)


It looked kinda blue.

Paint often looks weird wet so I resolved not to think much of it. We finished two coats on the first, biggest wall, and went to sleep. But in the morning, it looked even more blue-green. I worried about it all day and even made a mockup of what it looked like (top) versus what it was supposed to look like (bottom):


I was so annoyed at myself for not testing swatches. It served me right to end up with a color that didn’t work as planned. We discussed what to do. Since we didn’t want to waste more money or time, we reluctantly decided just to keep going. That night we moved the bookshelves into place and tackled the remaining walls. Strangely, though, the fresh paint did NOT look blue. Trust me — the difference was pronounced in real life.


After a few days of scratching our heads, we came up with a theory. I didn’t stir the paint can the first day — it had just been in the mixing machine at the store! But I stirred it on subsequent days. Maybe excess blue pigment had been floating at the top of the can? There was only one way to test.

I painted over a small strip of the blue-green.

It dried gray.

After smacking my forehead against the wall, I suggested to Dan that we paint around the shelves so we didn’t have to move them. But he took the high road and said we should do it right. We unloaded all the shelves again, moved them out of the way again, and painted the wall again. We finished with only a few ounces of paint to spare.

As your reward for sticking around through all the neurotic details — you deserve some “after” pictures!



The room is still a long way from decorated, but we’re super proud of our first big step toward making this house our own.

An ode to Craigslist

There once was a website called Craigslist
That made classified listings more painless
Many think it’s just furnishings
But it’s also for bigger things
Found my new job and house, and sold all of this!


ps – That’s just the stuff we’ve sold since September when we decided to move! The items on white carpet were ours, and the items on wood floors were left by the previous house tenants for us to dispose of however we wished. Doesn’t even include the countless things we gave to friends and Goodwill.

pps – Wait till you see the cool thing I bought via Craigslist last weekend…