Character Design: Under the Sea

I posted recently about a new children's book Jonathan was working on with some plucky sea creatures. The good news is that he's finished the coloring (the illustrations I posted were in black and white). Now, it's with his agent and we could not be more thrilled. Someone, somewhere will fall in love with this new story. We just know it (the dolphins told us). We're Denver-based illustrator and character designer Jonathan Fenske and Jennifer Manske Fenske. Check out Fat and Appy, our online store for modern art for kids featuring Jonathan's illustrations. 

Character-designer-Jonathan-Fenske
Character-designer-Jonathan-Fenske

For Better, For Worse; In Art, In Writing

Jonathan is really, really supportive of my writing. He's given me time, space, encouragement and the occasional dry-your-eyes pep talk our entire marriage concerning my writing dreams. That's why my two novels are both dedicated to him. Without my husband, they would not exist. I mean that most sincerely.

We usually work on separate projects but over the past few years, we've melded our artistic brains together on occasion. Fat and Appy Modern Art for Children is probably the biggest effort. But we also joined forces for my middle grade manuscript, MAGICAL RAINTREE DAUGHTERS.

Our newest project is a picture book---my first one ever! I thought ideas for picture books only flowed to one Fenske in the house, but a story popped into my head this summer. I was kind of shocked. Then, I wrote it down. Pages and pages overflowing from my pen. I handed it to Jonathan, sure he would connect with the text and bow low before me. (Just kidding on that last part.)

Illustration by children's book illustrator Jonathan Fenske of a boy jumping on a couch.
Illustration by children's book illustrator Jonathan Fenske of a boy jumping on a couch.

He read it right away and then handed it back, saying kindly that I needed to get it down under 300 words. In other words, I needed to slash oodles and oodles of text. Words. Phrases. Helpful adjectives. You know, my stuff. 

Jonathan was completely correct. So I edited. Cut. Cut some more. Argued over word choice with Jonathan. Described some illustrations to him. Daydreamed about others that might come into shape once he started drawing.

It's still a work in progress, but Jonathan has given me a rough illustration style he's going for to match the sparse (now 199 words!!) text and the (I hope) evocative feeling of the story.

More details later. But I wanted to post this illustration because, to me, it represents love and dreams.

Girl Nursery + Guest Room Budget Makeover

I redid this room a few months ago, but I could never get really good pictures, so I put off writing about it. I still don't have great snaps (sorry!), so I'm just going to throw it out there. Ya'll are crazy understanding and super supportive, so I think it will be okay. Let's dive in! Here is what we were dealing with: a combination guest room with queen bed and nursery space + crib for our third daughter. (Third kids don't get fancy nurseries....life IS unfair, I know.) We had the green wall color for about six years and I was over it. I had replaced the duvet cover with a Target sale duvet cover but it really wasn't the right choice. It was high time for a redo...something that our little girl could grow into when the crib was removed and she would sleep in the big bed.

Nursery_Guest-Makeover
Nursery_Guest-Makeover

I usually start with a color "feeling" and in this case, I wanted strong, intense colors like aqua, raspberry and perhaps yellow. But in recent years, I have been dialing back the saturated wall colors in favor of more neutral tones. (I did this with our family room makeover last summer. Gray was the word of the day.). So, I decided in this room, I would go for a neutral wall and then turn up the volume on the bed covering and the accessories.

Here is the "After":

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DSC_0472

I went with "Pink Cadillac" by Benjamin Moore color-matched to Valspar Ultra No VOC on the walls. This delicate paint is almost cream with a hint of pink. I love it and it gives the room a warmth that was unexpected. Jonathan painted the butterflies on the wall. I have seen a lot of 3D paper butterflies tacked onto girls' walls on Pinterest, but I have to admit that my girls are rough. They would tear down paper thingies in seconds. Plus, I figured I would be forever sticking butterflies back on the wall once the adhesive wore off. So, I asked Jonathan to paint some butterflies and he agreed. Love my man!

The art is from Michael Mabry and it's actually cover art from Land of Nod catalogs. Michael designed LoN catalogue cover art for about ten years, Google tells me. We found these beautiful, professionally framed prints in a thrift store for $10 each.

The curtains are pretty polka-dot cotton panels that we had in the linen closet from our last house. I love reusing things and it saves money!

A closeup of the modern bed with pink pillows and artwork
A closeup of the modern bed with pink pillows and artwork

The quilt coverlet (Overstock.com) really set the tone for me to jazz up the room with fun pillows and art. The monogrammed pillows are from my friend Laura's Etsy store, which she has since closed. The gray pillow is from HomeGoods and the flower and butterfly pillows are MudPuppy from Target.com.

Monogrammed by SimplySweet by Laura on Etsy
Monogrammed by SimplySweet by Laura on Etsy

I was able to add a pop of yellow color with the lampshade (Threshold from Target) which we simply affixed to an ancient Martha Stewart lamp base we have had forever. The art is from my middle daughter and is framed with a Target frame. Chair is vintage.

A picture of a nursery and guest room painted with Benjamin Moore Pink Cadillac paint color matched to Valspar No VOC
A picture of a nursery and guest room painted with Benjamin Moore Pink Cadillac paint color matched to Valspar No VOC
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DSC_0490

Jonathan painted the Fisher Price race car above the BabyMod crib. You can purchase a canvas print of the car on our Fat and Appy store. The rug is from Angela Adams--we have had two of them for a long time.

A picture of a Fisher Price race car by illustrator Jonathan Fenske
A picture of a Fisher Price race car by illustrator Jonathan Fenske

That's it! The room is bright, cheerful and has a young sophistication that will grow with our sweet babe. Plus, we can still host overnight guests (and the baby can bunk with us).

If you liked this post, you might enjoy the True Tale of the Millionaire's Chandelier, stuff you can decorate with for just $6 and our Family Room Makeover.

Middle Grade Novel Illustration

I've finished my middle grade novel, Magical Raintree Daughters. It's so good to be done! With Book 1, anyway. Now, I will be searching for a children's literary agent. Jonathan, meanwhile, has been looking for his own literary agent as well. Update: He has an agent! Carrie Hannigan of HSG Agency. Yippie! How do you spell fun? Q-u-e-r-y! As you may remember, Jonathan and I collaborated on the novel; he is doing the illustrations. Here's a sketch board of some of the characters. Wish us luck as we try to make this dream a real-live book (or three).

Illustrations by Denver illustrator Jonathan Fenske
Illustrations by Denver illustrator Jonathan Fenske

Crazy Like A Fox

We're in full swing here at Fenske & Fenske, working on our most recent projects. So, we hope you don't mind this second look at A Pig, A Fox and A Box. We hope to announce good news soon that this pranking duo have found a home. Soon, soon! The cover of the children's book A Pig A Fox and A Box by Jonathan Fenske

An illustration from a children's book by Jonathan Fenske

An illustration of Fox and Pig from Jonathan Fenske's children's book A Pig A Fox and A Box

Thanks for stopping by our blog, especially while we're working on new stuff. It's really encouraging and we think you are LOVELY. Keep up with Jonathan and Jennifer (that's me!) by subscribing to our blog at left. Or you can always check out what's happening on Fat and Appy, our online store for canvas prints of Jonathan's work. 

Suburban Slaughter

Does this dog look like a menace to society ? A picture of Jonathan Fenske's Aussie

We don't think so either! This is Phoenix Orion, our sweet new Australian Shepherd pup who has been with us almost two months. But I present the evidence for your perusal, kind reader. Here is what he has done:

A picture of stuffed animals with their eyes removed by a puppy

Take a close look: Phoenix has systematically removed an eye from each stuffed animal. Diabolical! Our eldest girl carefully patched up her friends and then brought them to me for a group portrait. The shame, the shame.

Phoenix has no comment.

Buzzy Buzzy Creative Hive

Things are a little quiet on the blog lately. That's because Jonathan and I have both entered a season of writing and illustration projects. We're cranking to meet completely self-imposed deadlines for our literary pursuits. I am back at work, six days per week, on Magical Raintree Daughters, a middle grade (ages 8-12) fantasy adventure novel. I'm about halfway through with it. I'll be finished at the end of the month. I posted the first two chapters on the blog a while back. They have been revised a good bit but you can see where I am going. Here's a little hook I am working on: Cassiopeia Raintree can cheat death with her hands and feet. The middle child of three magical sisters, Cassie is a climber. But she’s always had to hide that gift until the night a smoak kidnaps and drags her to the land of the evil Aramynes. That’s when Cassie finds out the Aramynes were turned to monsters years ago…and it’s all the magical children’s fault.

Chapter_One_Dragoblin-novel-by-Jennifer-Fenske
Chapter_One_Dragoblin-novel-by-Jennifer-Fenske

I love writing again in novel form. As much as I enjoyed writing my first two novels (and publishing them..that's really fun!), writing for a middle grade audience is completely a blast. Each day, when my eldest daughter comes home from school, she reads the latest bit and tells me her thoughts and offers suggestions.

Some people have asked if I am going to post more of the book. I plan to sell it (hopefully) so at this point, I'll probably bring it back inside the studio and not post more of it for now.

Jonathan is working on a new children's picture book. He's not ready to release the title yet, so I'll just include one illustration here. I love this book and can't wait to share more with you. That hyena illustration really cracks me up. He is also excited to finish the illustrations for Poor Peter Burke (the manuscript is complete).

An illustration by Denver illustrator Jonathan Fenske
An illustration by Denver illustrator Jonathan Fenske

When Life Punches Your Pumpkins

Someone out there needs to read this, right now: your creative dream is worth it. We believe in you, even though it seems no one else does.  A picture of some rotting pumpkins in Colorado

What you paint or draw or write matters. It's creation, it's beauty, it's art.

The world needs what you make. Otherwise, the cesspool that is currently passing for our entertainment culture will continue to devolve. You need to fight the good fight.

So, hear these words, friend: Lift up your head and keep going. Write another page. Sketch another character. Write another verse. All of us in the creative community, we're rooting for you.

Jonathan and I know creative disappointment. People ignore our emails; editors take months to respond to proposals; often the answer to our labors of love is "no." We get it. But we keep going, and you need to, too. Even when you are exhausted and discouraged.

Take a deep breath. We recommend a good walk (Jen) or a thrashing run (Jonathan) and then get back at it----the screenplay, the novel, the poem, the picture. Your dream is so valuable to this world.

Don't hide it; keep going, dear dreamer. We're with you, all the way.

Love,

Jennifer & Jonathan

We're Jennifer and Jonathan Fenske and we write children's books and novels, and once, we made an app for iPad. We also make baby girls, with some regularity. Visit our online store for modern art for kids, FatandAppy.com. 

Fat and Appy Modern Art for Kids on 5280.com

When I was in Racine, WI last week, I had the pleasure of talking to Daliah Singer of  5280 Magazine about Fat and Appy, our line of modern art canvas prints for kids. You can read her sweet article about our art in the 5280.com story.  She really "got"  what we are up to with our small business. I am so happy we chatted! Here's a sneak peek:

"As a mom to three daughters (ages seven, four, and 18 months), novelist Jennifer Manske Fenske knows something about decorating kids' rooms. But as the wife of an artist—and a creative woman herself—Fenske had trouble finding works to hang on the wall that felt appropriate and unique for her girls. "I believe that children really do deserve pretty art," she says. "I think that they are incredibly intelligent and that they respond to art that speaks to them.""     

Black-dog-by-Jonathan-Fenske                              

A Walk in the Breckenridge Woods

When I was in middle school, my best friend Elizabeth returned from a skiing vacation with a bubblegum-pink sweatshirt with white letters that spelled out Breckenridge. I grew up in South Carolina where most people spent their vacations at the beach (just three and a half hours away) or perhaps driving to some distant relatives' stomping grounds (my family was partial to Wisconsin). To ski in as foreign a place as Colorado was reserved for the most adventurous few. I remembered reading Elizabeth's sweatshirt letters and letting the word sink in: Breckenridge. It sounded to my twelve-year-old ears other-worldly and a little bit dangerous.

Now that we live in Colorado, Breckenridge is just about two and a half hours away from our suburban Denver home. We go up there at least twice a year and for the past four years, we have spent time in the summer with our wonderful friends, Gina and Kris and their family. (Gina is a blogger who writes the popular The Daily B.) They are the most gracious of hosts: they open their vacation rental and invite us to spend lazy hours on top of a mountain with kids and dogs and the glorious fresh, hot mini-donuts we pick up in town.

While we were in Breck, we noticed the kids' toys we brought and the books we toted up the mountain were tossed aside in favor of this:

Girls run up a trail in Breckenridge CO

The children played in the woods. The little ones adventured on the edge where watchful eyes could observe. The older ones danced off to build forts.

I know I work hard to build a comfortable home stocked with interesting toys, great books and comfy places to play. But maybe, just maybe, I've missed the mark. Children need to find themselves walking in the woods, searching for great adventure.

A girl looks at a homemade fort in Breckeneridge CO

They need to stumble on a forgotten tree house deep in the forest.

A wooden green chair in a treehouse

And just when they turn to go, their surprised eyes meet a mama bird watching carefully over this:

A bird nest in Breckenridge CO

When they exhale from this discovery, they tiptoe quickly away for more of nature's gifts, however tiny and precious.

A wildflower in Breckenridge CO

A wildflower in Breckenridge CO

Girls on a mountain in Breckenridge CO

Jonathan and I are remembering that we did this always as children: we allowed the woods to absorb us, shape us and then send us on our way. Long live the forest and our children playing within until they head with happy steps back home.

Girls walk in Breckenridge CO

DIY Book Shelves: Gray Goodness

Our DIY family room makeover continues. We have shelves! This is terribly exciting because we have three small children + a ton of books that have been stacked all over the place for the past week while we work on the room. The book issue became a bigger problem as the days wore on because the baby (age 1) would knock them over. The other two girls (ages 4 and 7) would swoop in and then crack open the books, sit on the books, build forts with the books and fling books at each other. This led us to coin a 500-year-old proverb: "Books belong on bookshelves." (You can read about what we did with the old bookshelf here.) Luckily, we were in the process of making open wood bookshelves. Here's what we did.

First, we headed to Lowes. We picked out the three least warped "white wood" boards for the shelves we could find and then had them cut to our desired length at the store. Since we went with the cheapest wood (about $37), we knew we would have to sand and carefully prepare the boards, even more than usual.

Baby in stroller at Lowes

Children love going to large home improvement stores. They seem really grateful and happy to accompany their parents on such errands.

Seriously, we just try to keep them alive at places like Lowes. If you turn your back for a second, our two older girls will be playing house underneath 20 tons of drywall.

Jennifer Fenske at Lowes with piece of plywood

Once we returned home and after I nursed an iced tea to erase memories of the shopping trip, I set up my woodshop outside the garage.

Ya'll about to get jealous....this is one sexy wood working area:

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That's right. Picnic blankets make the BEST woodworking tables. Tyler Morris would not approve.

I sanded the "white wood" (what? is that like "white fish"...you don't really know what kind of fish that is? Did I buy Frankenwood?) making sure to round the corners and the edges. I used a sander we've had forever. It made it really easy.

DIY shelf project

The next day, I wiped the boards down with a damp cloth to remove any sanding debris. Then, I used Valspar Bare Wood primer and painted both sides of the boards and the edges. Jonathan walked by and said, "Why don't you roll it?" when he saw me waxing on and off with a paint brush. I think I thought the paint strokes would look....I don't know, painterly, or something so I ignored his advice. Big mistake---more on that later.

Wooden shelves with DIY gray paint

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the gorgeous shelf brackets were ready, so Jonathan started using his stud finder to locate the studs in family room wall. Here's a picture with the first shelf bracket up and ready for business:

Jonathan Fenske hangs gray DIY shelves

And here is Jonathan doing the ubiquitous "Stud finder? I'm right here!" picture. We are too cheesy, I know:

Using a stud finder to hang wooden shelves

After a while, here is what it looked like when all nine brackets were up. Loveliness! Jonathan is uber careful and used a level, measuring stick and anchors (for the non-stud areas) as he worked. We took this photo the morning after he installed the brackets. You can see the now-dried shelves, at right.

And speaking of those shelves, I ended up using the roller on the tops and sides of the shelves after my attempts to go "authentic" failed. The paint applied with a brush looked clumpy and sloppy. But with a few gentle roller strokes, the boards looked beautiful. Should've listened to my man, I know. Next time!

Straight 10 Shelf brackets from Tyler Morris Woodworking Fort Collins, CO

Gray wood shelves with brackets from Tyler Morris Woodworking, Fort Collins

I should note that Tyler's brackets come with little wooden caps to cover the screws. We are thinking about leaving the screws uncapped, for a more "gritty" look. Or, I guess as "gritty" as a suburban Colorado house gets.

After all of this work, I flopped on the couch and read HGTV magazine. A nice bit of escapism...especially when your house is torn up and the children are mewing for food and you're not really sure if you can get to the refrigerator.

A picture of HGTV magazine

Jonathan then installed the shelves, cheating one just a tad to accommodate its unexplainable shrinking overnight. This part went really easily, so easily I wasn't even around to help and just woke up to new shelves one morning. That's service! Thank you, Mr. Fenske.

Finally, we moved our mid-century dresser we found on Craigslist into place, added books and a pared-down collection of favorite things and installed our art from different rooms around the house:

A DIY family room from Jonathan Fenske of Fat and Appy Modern Art

We're not done yet...and we'll show you the rest of the room soon as soon as we install the desk. We're in the process of building it now (while baby naps today, I will be sanding it out in the "wood shop," er, garage.) The desk will go to the right of the Sweet Pea in Blue. You can see the white edge of the desk chair where it will be installed.

Going to nap now. Just kidding! I promised I would stop ignoring my children while I feverishly paint and try to find room for all of the books that do not fit on our new shelves (by design...we really wanted to start fresh with less stuff in the family room. Guess that means a book purge is in my future!)

Enough about us. What about you? What projects are you working on? Feel free to leave a link in the comments. 

Darling Gray: In Which I Ask Way Too Much From A Can of Paint

We painted our family room and kitchen (they are one continuous room) a seedling green in 2007. I was into gradients back then, so the color in the family room was lighter and the kitchen was a darker version of the green. I liked the color for years, but lately, I knew I wanted to go gray. At first, I was thinking a dark gray but Jonathan said that would be like living in a storm cloud in the most used room in our house. I knew he was right, so I went on the hunt for the perfect gray. Sadly for the gray color chips of the world, I was asking a lot. I needed the Perfect Gray to be smart, sophisticated, not purple, not blue-gray, unassuming, farm house honest, city loft cool, reassuring, a little brash, not too arrogant and neutrally neutral. That's not too much to ask out of a gallon of paint, right?

I have a bad habit of picking a paint off of a swatch, painting a room and later ending up hating it. So, this time around, I knew I needed to pony up a little money for paint samples. I headed to Lowes with three kids in tow. I poured over a lot of paint cards while piloting one of those ridiculous race car carts. The girls were their usual rambunctious selves, so I just threw fruit snacks at them from time to time. Luckily, Lowes is huge, so my children were able to blend in a little bit more.

Not so much at Benjamin Moore. It's a standalone store, and since I wanted to see their colors (I'd never used them, but had heard good things about their paint on Young House Love), we headed over there. I met the coolest mom who was also looking for her perfect gray, so we bonded over that while her girls played with mine. Sadly, my loud, boisterous and hungry children (it was near lunchtime) were a little much for the staff there, so we made a hasty retreat after I paid for two paint samples.

Now that I've gone the paint sample route, I have to say I will always do it this way. A sample is $2.98 and I ended up purchasing a total of four. The samples at Lowes are larger, but even Benjamin Moore's smaller samples give you enough to paint a huge section of wall if you want to.

Here's what we ended up with:

A selection of gray wall paint from Fat and Appy Modern Art for Children

The pattern thingie at right is our hanging panels over the sliding glass door.

At first, I was sure Gray Horse was my dream color. But then I remembered Jonathan's storm cloud warning. I think he was right---it would be too dark. So then I fell in love with Silver Spoon because I felt it gave the the punch I wanted. I painted Silver Spoon everywhere. And then I returned to it over and over, like a hopeful lover. We had to be together, right?

Alas, it was not to be. Silver Spoon was, well, kind of a Purple Spoon. And I knew if the wall looked purple, I would despise it with a white-hot fury.

So, I turned to Moonshine and you know what? It is a genius paint color. Absolutely perfect. Really. I first read about it on Young House Love and didn't think it would work because we have trim that's a warm putty, not white like  YHL 's John and Sherry. Their Moonshine pops with that white trim. But Moonshine being the lovely lover that it is...well, it did the trick. And I do feel more sophisticated. And about five pounds thinner. This is some paint, I have to tell you.

Here's the week's most unflattering picture. And this is the best painting pic we have. Egad.

Jennifer paints the walls gray with Benjamin Moore Moonshine

I love, love, love this gray! For the record, we color-matched Moonshine by Benjamin Moore to Olympic's Premium No VOC in satin. I have painted a lot over the years, and I have to tell you, this paint doesn't smell at all. There is zero odor or "new paint smell." As a mom of three small children, I blow kisses to Olympic. It's like we never painted. But oh, yes, we did.

Moonshine on kitchen walls

The kitchen picture looks a little shiny...I think I took the pic when the walls were still wet.

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So, I'm really happy with our new gray. I've also been busy grabbing a few things here and there, stretching my makeover budget. I bought pillows and baskets for throws at HomeGoods. Oh dear, I love me some HomeGoods.

A bag of items from Home Goods

We're getting there! Little by little. Can't wait to show you the shelves...I'm over the moon about them. Love how they turned out.

We're Jennifer (novelist, mom, blogger) and Jonathan (children's book author/illustrator, dad, runner and artist). We also have a line of affordable modern art canvases for children. Thanks for stopping by! 

The Magical Wood Shop: Tyler Morris Woodworking

For our family room makeover, I knew I wanted gorgeous new bookshelves to replace the battle-scarred, petulant unit that we placed on Craigslist last week. (Update: it's sold!  Score one for Team Honest. We told it like it was and still, a really sweet lady bought it. I think of her every day. Did she get home and as various parts fell off of it, did she slap her forehead and say, "Oh, now I get it!" I hope not. Maybe the old bookshelves got their act together after I publicly shamed them. Maybe? Probably not.) Anyway, back to the bookshelves. We didn't have the stomach (or budget) to purchase another set of bookshelves, so I decided to make them. I read a ton of blogs and settled on open wooden shelves with wooden shelf brackets. After checking out the shelf brackets at Lowes, I felt there was something else out there. I didn't know what, exactly, was out there, but I figured Mr. Google would tell me.

My searching led me to Tyler Morris Woodworking in Fort Collins, less than an hour's drive from our home. Tyler makes gorgeous shelf brackets and so I called him (probably babbling) about how I loved his brackets and I couldn't wait for the mail and could I drive up there today, like in four hours, and oh yeah, I'm bringing three children under age eight to your workshop filled with dangerous tools?

Tyler graciously agreed to allow us to crash his woodworking shop. The first thing I noticed: it's really clean and organized. I thought to myself: Jonathan would loooove this place. My man is so organized and the chaos of four women drives him crazy. True story: he just bought a plastic tub for all of our shoes we kick off in the garage. Our scattered shoe piles were pushing him over the edge. So now we have a shiny new tub that is brimming with eighteen colors of Crocs.

But anyway, back to the wood shop:

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Tyler and his team make shelf brackets, corbels (a fancier bracket for countertops), recipe boxes, serving trays, cutting boards and a branch tray that is out-of-this-world pretty. This is the cabinet where he grabbed our order. Look at that neatness!

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While we were in the wood shop, my two older girls made up a gruesome game why the baby wasn't allowed out of her stroller. Basically, the game was all of the ways Baby Fenske could be injured if she were to climb out of her stroller and toddle around. (Of course, everything in the shop was safety protected, turned off and otherwise harmless to well-behaved children. My girls were, thankfully and unexplainably, good for our visit.)

Tyler Morris Woodworking

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Tyler Morris Woodworking Fort Collins CO

We chose the "Straight 10 Wood Shelf Bracket" which is gorgeous. There are four woods to choose from: Oak, Maple, Cherry and Paint Grade (which is American Poplar). Since we planned to paint our brackets, our choice was easy: Paint Grade. They are $18 a piece and feel like a mini-woodworking miracle. I had to restrain myself from petting the bracket and calling it "My Precious."

Saturday, I lined up the shelf brackets for painting. They come pre-sanded, so it was a pretty easy job to cover the kitchen table with newspaper, grab the primer, brush and go.

Tyler Morris Straight 10 shelf brackets

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I applied one coat of Valspar Bare Wood Primer to each bracket. It was a little tricky getting under each part of the bracket. You also have to hold the bracket, so that part doesn't get painted at first. I ended up laying each bracket down and painting over the part that my hand covered. I'm sure there's some more proper woodworking way of doing this, but I just went with it.

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I let the brackets dry and then lightly sanded them. I took a damp cloth and wiped off any sanding debris. Now it was time to paint!

I chose a deep gray because I wanted contrast with the new wall color which will be a light gray. (I'll do another blog post on the gray wall color.)

Straight 10 shelf brackets from Tyler Morris Woodworking

This gray is "Storm Cloud Gray" by Benjamin Moore, color matched to Olympic's no-VOC Premium in semi-gloss. I love the way they turned out. As I went, I would sometimes miss a spot and the white primer would blaze on through. I got better as I painted all nine brackets, but it was dicey at the beginning. If you look carefully at left (above), you can see one of our gray paints we sampled on the wall.

Straight 10 shelf bracket by Tyler Morris Woodworking

I adore these shelf brackets and can't wait to see them on the wall of the family room. Thanks so much to Tyler for his good-natured patience with our visit (and my pesky questions). We'll post more pictures soon!

Next up: Can a gray wall color battle insecurities, make me feel designer-ish and generally produce a peaceful feeling of well being? I certainly hope so! 

We've Got the "Spark"

You've heard me talk about my awesome library---Anythink---before. I kind of won't shut up about it. Anyhoo, we are totally thrilled to be featured in the "Faces of Anythink" section of their June Spark newsletter. Photo of Jennifer and Jonathan Fenske

Here's a taste:

"As entrepreneurs that manage much of their business online, John and Jennifer have flexibility in terms of choosing where to live. But for the Fenskes, making the move to Thornton, Colo., was a nobrainer. After living in Atlanta, they made this community their home in 2006. “We fell in love with the landscape, outdoor opportunities and that general Colorado ‘vibe,’ which is laid back and driven, all at the same time,” says Jennifer."

Read the entire story in the Spark newsletter.

Thanks, Anythink! This made our day. We love you, too.

Family Room Makeover: It's On Like Donkey Kong

Bad things happen when husbands travel. Things like reading one too many posts on Young House Love. Adding images to my Ideabooks on Houzz. Trolling Craigslist for mid-modern furniture.

So, while Jonathan traveled for work for eight days, I diligently tended the homefront, the Fat and Appy front and the three girls under age seven front (including two ballet classes, three gymnastics classes, one drama camp performance, untold grilled cheese sandwiches, three playdates plus a bottle of wine shared with my neighbor, Felicia. But who's counting?)

And while the little angels slept, I plotted big-time about what to do with our child-friendly family room that makes me want to surrender my Dwell subscription. We have good furniture (minus the bookshelves); we have great art. The room is light-filled. It's just never, ever come together. So this week, I Googled, trolled, schemed and dreamed.

You can probably see where this is going: It's time for a Family Room Makeover!

This morning, I purchased a mid-mod dresser on Craigslist that will anchor the new family room back wall. It's gorgeous, wonderful, amazing. We'll (and by that I mean, Jonathan) build shelves. He's even going to make me a corner desk since I don't have a proper desk but kind of drift all over the house with my iPad. A wall color change is also in need. Our seedling green was pretty in 2007 but I am over it, yo.

Here's what we're working with:

Image

Tons of toy overkill...would love your suggestions about what to do with that. We'll need to replace the floor lamp bowl at the back right that was broken twelve hours after an all-family IKEA trip. Also, we'll probably rearrange art because we like to do that. The rocker at right will stay---my parents redid it as a gift and I love it. The antique hutch at far left was my grandmother's and I adore it, staying. Have to figure out what to do with the television. We're not big tv watchers, but we like to have a set for Netflix DVD's. I can't imagine spending money on a flat-screenie-thingie. But that honkin' tube-style set is kind of ridiculous.

The bookshelves are already on Craigslist. You can read how I tried to warn potential buyers what they are in for with these pretty, lying shelves. They've been ridden hard and put up wet. We tried to love you, O Bookshelf, but you would have none of it. Farewell, farewell.

So, it's on! We'll share the journey with you as we go. And this will probably be the last time Jonathan travels for quite some time, don't you think?

Hello! We're Jennifer and Jonathan and we're tickled you stopped by. Sign up for our Fat and Appy emails at left or follow us in the normal places. Welcome! 

How to Be Happy

My twenties went something like this: graduate college; try to write a novel in a cabin for a year, fail; go to graduate school in N.Y.; return to S.C. and fall crazy, crazy in love. Get married. Move a few times. Start real jobs, making real money. A man hikes to Mills River, RMNP

My thirties were a beautiful mix of career building, novel writing, national parks camping and then parenthood, something that I thought was waaaay too mundane for Jonathan and I. Turns out, it's awesome. And so we had two girls, and as I was inching into dried-up-egg territory, having just turned 40, we gorgeously, blessedly welcomed a third daughter. She eased into the world in a simple tub of water at Mountain Midwifery Center. She was almost ten pounds, and floated up in the water like a chunky, swollen little monkey, one eye cracked to meet me, and the world.

A woman walks through Bishop Castle CO

I think of the years I have been an adult, and by far the best is my 40's. I am just a year or so in, but a lot of things are coming together. I think, mostly, because I know how to be happy even when life isn't perfect.

Simply, I have learned how to be grateful.

A pot of succulents in Colorado

Grateful for what I have, and even for what I do not have, because it teaches me patience, peace and contentedness. For an amazing book on the subject, check out Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts. The subtitle of the book is "A dare to live fully right where you are." I met Ann a few years ago when I was newly pregnant with that fat, gorgeous baby mentioned above and roiling with ante-partum depression, working a job that provided for us but was not my true calling, and desperate to see my husband's talents finally recognized. Yep, it was the right book for me and I took it and ran with it. To say that her dare to live fully even when life is grinding on your back resonated with me would be an understatement. I panted for the message she brought on paper.

A picture of a blooming chive

And so, in my 40's, I am thankful for so much. My gratitude for this imperfect life is messy and frequently uneven. I have been known to have temper tantrums with God. But happiness? It's the joy in the smallest of the small.

How To Sort Baby Clothes Without Crying

Herewith is one of my most secret confessions: I so dislike sorting clothing from season to season for my children that I simply try to avoid doing it for as long as possible. This means the 7-year-old is bound to have a 5T tee shirt in the bottom of her drawer. I just cram the clothes in until the drawers finally threaten to go on strike. I don't want to remove too short shorts and the stained skirts because that would mean a trip to the basement corner where we store the girls' clothes in plastic tubs. And that basement corner, friends, is the Place of Memories.

If I open a tub and  gently fold in a stack of dresses and tees, that means I have to pull out a larger size for the same child. The too-small clothes, now being saved for another girl, remind me that the first child won't pass this way again.

This clothes sorting crushes me. I get emotional, folding polka-dotted Hanna Anderssons and faded Circo skirts. I think to myself, like every parent who ever lived, "Where did the time go?"

Suburban backyard Mother's Day

I know parenting by this point: its exhaustion, its ecstatic rewards. But putting away the soft, velvet dress your four-year-old wore at the Christmas Eve service where your family, along with your brother and his family, took up an entire pew? The night that was perfect and ended with the traditional singing of "Silent Night" and your four-year-old trembled as she held her first, "real fire" candle? How do you ever fold and store such a dress?

It's hard, this sorting.

Stack of baby clothes folded

So it was with some trepidation that I gathered our baby clothes, sizes 12 months and under, this week. We are done (unless God has other plans!) with having sweet babes. So, with a steely determination, I set up to sort and stack and fold the baby clothes. They would be off to another home, a young woman who is having her first baby and isn't starting out with much.

As I filled the box with tiny, precious threads, the memories poured over me, sweet and gentle; lovely and humbling. I have been blessed to have held these babies, small and tiny. And as I worked, the emotions threatened to derail the offering I was trying to assemble. I blinked back tears and thought of new life.

A new girl is to be born, perhaps her mother labors strong to bring her as I write this. And she, too, will outgrow these pretty clothes one day. 

And that's how I boxed up, cleaned up, and then restocked my youngest girl's wardrobe with her newest season of hand-me-down dresses, shorts and tees: by thinking past my babies to the baby that is to come. May she have a wonderful life, full of  wonder, joy and love.

A wardrobe stocked with baby clothes

Oh Windy Day!

Today is a windy day. I did not know wind until I moved out West. The wind here can blow and blow and somehow, you are supposed to function like normal. And our neighbor Wyoming to the north has it way worse. I took the middle girl to the new amazing Margaret Carpenter Park and Open Space today. I put on a brave face, but the wind was fierce and cold. My daughter asked if we could go after 45 minutes.

photo-11

Back in the house, I found Jonathan sketching a fun cartoon fox for the upcoming Westgate Community School 5K. He did the design for the inaugural run last year, too. I personally love foxes. I had an encounter with one years ago during an early morning hike in Yellowstone. The image of the silent, running fox has stayed with me.

RUN_WILD

Jonathan was also working on Fat and Appy, our online shop for modern children's art. We've been adding the canvases in 3D, so you can see how the art will look. He just uploaded this cute Fisher Price car print.

Fisher Price Car Painting by Jonathan Fenske

As always, thanks for stopping by! Come back tomorrow for the true tale of the Millionaire's Silver Chandelier. Intrigued? I hope so!

We're Jennifer and Jonathan, and we make modern art for kids, in addition to some other projects. Subscribe to our blog at left, or sign up for our emails and receive 15% off of your next Fat and Appy purchase.

Summer Arrives, Parents Hyperventilate

School is winding down, summer gymnastics and dance are upon us, there are some camping days ahead. Parents (that's us) are terrified. What to do with three girls home all day, all summer? We'll figure it out, I guess. So far, we're making water balloons.

Bucket of water balloons

Girl playing with water balloon

We're gardening, from seed. This is a dicey undertaking. At this early juncture, some of the seedling have given up the ghost. But we're hopeful. Our seeds came from Broomfield, CO-based Botanical Interests. Come on, babies, you can make it!

Broccoli plants from Botanical Interests

Wherever we go, whatever we do, we'll keep on adventuring and exploring. And we'll wear lots of sunscreen. May your summer-to-be be awesome.

Baby in polka dot dress walking