Dream A Little Dream

“It is never too late to be what you might have been.”  ~George Eliot

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My new toys

When I started on this journey to improve my self-esteem, I knew three things would be crucial to my success. I needed to make time for the things that feed my soul. People who know they are worthy take care of themselves without reservation or guilt. They know that what matters to them matters. Period. So, writing was going to have to become a priority in my life again because writers write. I also needed to find space in my head for positive thoughts. I needed to find self-acceptance and self-appreciation. For me that meant a long overdue return to my yoga mat because yoga teaches balance, patience, and flexibility of both body and spirit. Most of all, yoga teaches you to let go of shit that doesn’t serve you, and I have a lot of shit to send packing. Finally, I needed to go out of my comfort zone to foster a new sense of self, one filled with possibility in place of fear. I needed to let go of who I thought I should be and embrace who I actually am. It was time to become Emmet in The Lego Movie and unlock my true potential.

In third grade, like many children in the US, I was forced to play the recorder. (To this day, if I hear a recorder playing “Hot Cross Buns,” I break out into cold sweats and struggle to keep from dry heaving.) I suffered through the experience knowing it was a stepping stone. In fourth grade when it came time to choose a real instrument, I went to my parents resolute. I told them I wanted to play the drums. The answer to that request (a common answer to that question for many parents, I imagine) was a giant, unequivocal HELLS NO. Drums are expensive. Drums are unwieldy. Drums take up real estate. And, of course, drums are loud. They asked me if I had interest in other instruments. I thought about it, suggested the French Horn with a question in my voice, and was told that might be a bit much for a starter instrument. I then weakly suggested maybe the oboe, as it was infinitely more interesting than the commonly chosen flute but still small and portable. My dad suggested I take up the clarinet. He played clarinet, and I could use his. After all, clarinets and oboes are both in the woodwinds family, right? At this point, being my independent-minded, nine-year-old self and being tired of being told what was appropriate, I told my parents I didn’t want to play anything anymore. And, in a move more self-defeating than rebellious, I gave up on music, unaware I was giving up a piece of myself in the process.

Although I never learned to play them, I never put the drums away either. I hear the drum beat in everything. I drum on the steering wheel with the radio rather than singing along. I marvel at the mastery of Stewart Copeland, Neil Peart, and Dave Grohl. During concerts, I focus on the drummer and bang my hands on my hips rather than clapping with the other fans. I go into an altered mental state when I blast Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit in my house, air drumming and tossing my hair around like Animal from The Muppets during the raucous chorus. I drive my sons crazy making them listen to drum solos in songs. It’s a little weird, honestly.

At the beginning of the school year, my youngest son signed up for Drumline as one of his electives. I began to live my drummer’s dream vicariously through him. Every day I would ask him about it. I bought him drumsticks for practicing. I asked him to show me what he was learning so I could copy it and learn along side him. When the teacher assigned him to the bass drum, I tried to imagine my little guy holding that big old thing and banging on it. It made me giddy. Not long after that, I was reading the self-help book about badassery when it occurred to me I could do something I hadn’t done before. I could dream a little dream for me. What if I decided not to live my drum fantasy through Luke? What if I decided to be my own drummer and live to my own damn beat?

So last week Thursday, I took my nervous energy and my inability to sit still to my first music lesson. I sat behind a drum kit for the first time ever and I took a risk on myself. I allowed myself to believe that I was worth the expense and effort to learn something that I felt drawn to, regardless of the inconvenience it might present to others. I decided I deserved to try on this dream and see how it felt. Every day since that first lesson, I have practiced stick control, timing, and sticking patterns. I now have a metronome app on my phone, my own drumsticks, and a practice pad. Jeff, my incredibly cool, Buddhist monk (no lie) music instructor assures me I am not hopeless and that with legitimate and regular practice I really can be the drummer I might have been. And, although I am not doing this for them, in the back of my mind I think of my sons and the example I am setting for them as I try something scary and new at the ripe old age of 48. I hope they learn that it’s worth it to stand up for yourself and it’s never too late to follow your dreams and see where they might lead you.

 

The Evil Eye in My Living Room

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The Evil Eye

 

My husband, endlessly keen on electronic gadgetry, came home from Best Buy with a Nest Cam the other day. He had been talking about getting one for a couple months, and each time he brought it up I rolled my eyes and ignored him. His reason for purchasing the remote video camera was that he would use it to check on the dog while we were out. He explained that the Nest Cam has a speaker so you can talk to whoever or whatever you see on the camera once it is in place. He fantasized that he would be able to yell at the dog if he caught her napping on one of our new library chairs, a decidedly verboten location for four-legged, shedding fur babies. While I could see where he was going with his idea, I told him that he doesn’t understand that she is a border collie. Border collies are a bit smarter than your average dog (and, given our current political situation, they may actually be quite a bit smarter than many average US voters).

I’ll be honest. The main reason I didn’t want him to buy the camera had little to do with its price tag and everything to do with his being able to check in on me during the day. Between the hours of 8:15 a.m. and 2:45 p.m., my house is Vegas, baby. What goes on here stays here. If I walk around in my underwear all damn day, that is my private business. If I am unshowered and sans make up and dancing 80’s style to Depeche Mode while I vacuum furniture, that is not your concern either. And if, on some off chance, I am eating popcorn and binge watching episodes of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the last thing I want is my husband yelling at me through the speaker to get off the sofa like I am his dog. I have personal space issues. Those issues are that I need it. While the government may have photos of me that I hope will never come to light when I run for City Council, in my own world I like to imagine I am at least somewhat stealthy and secure in my personal space at home.

As proof of this, I offer Exhibit A.

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I am great at not sharing.

Yesterday, my son’s phone was accidentally taken home by another student. Concerned son asked me to use the Find iPhone app to locate it. While I was checking on its whereabouts for him, I used the app to illustrate my privacy issues for my husband. All three of my Apple devices are always and famously not sharing location for the exact reason stated above. Rest assured that if I go missing in the Colorado wilderness and the bloodhounds can’t track me, you should just write me off as eaten by a mountain lion because you won’t be tracking me using a Find iPhone app that I voluntarily engaged. Not. Ever.

But, I digress. Yesterday hubby set up the Nest Cam while enduring my vigorous and wordy protests. He tried to reassure me that he had zero plans on spying on me. He told me he would set it up so that the only time it was activated was in my absence. He reminded me of the house security system and its camera, which he pointed out had never been abused to stalk me. I consequently reminded him this is mainly because I made him mount it in the garage because my home is Vegas, baby. He had me stand in the living room while he tested the audio capabilities. Then he asked me if I noticed what he had named it. He named it Hal after the sentient computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey. I told him he wasn’t funny. If you haven’t seen the movie, let me elucidate; Hal is a little smarter than you would want your computer to be. He’s nosey, sneaky, and he’s creepy as hell. Steve was doing little to further his case. I started imagining terrible things accidentally befalling Hal during a routine dusting task. A smack on the back of its little black head with a baseball bat, perhaps?

Later, an email message came in for Steve from Hal. He saw it, began laughing, and forwarded it to me. It reinforced my concerns.

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Damn you, Hal!

Hal had tracked me to my own living room at 8:17 p.m. There I am looking down at my iPhone, probably right after I got an alert that Hal spotted something in my living room, namely me. The level of creepiness just got upped. All I needed was Hal’s soft and calm voice saying something like, “I’m sorry, Justine. I’m afraid you can’t do that,” and I would lose my shit. I told hubby that I hate Hal. Secretly, though, I hoped Hal hadn’t heard me because I know what he is capable of.

I went to sleep last night not exactly sure where we would eventually land on this whole Hal development. I kind of hoped hubby would return the stupid thing, but he seemed pretty hell bent on using it on the dog as planned.

Today he got his opportunity. While I was out at an appointment, Ruby did indeed help herself to a comfy seat on her preferred library chair near the picture window. Upon receiving notification of movement in the living room, Steve panned Hal around to check the chair. And there she was. Vindication would soon be his. Steve pressed the microphone button on the Nest Cam app and proceeded to chide Ruby loudly to scare her from the furniture. She didn’t budge. He tried again while people in his quiet office silently wondered what the hell he was shouting from his cubby. Ruby lifted her head but remained steadfast. She had seen through Steve’s little charade and she was having none of it. She put her head back down and went right back to sleep. She’s border collie smart.

When I got home, I had to scold her for sleeping in the chair, but I apologized later. She may not be the best behaved dog ever, but she was on my side about Hal. We females have to stick together. The camera is going back. Our house is still Vegas, baby!

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High five from my furry soul sister

 

 

The Beginning of Badassery

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I am standing in the Best Sellers section of Barnes and Noble and, directly below my reason for the visit, a bright yellow book with large black text screams to me. You Are A Badass. I ignore it (of course) and pick up the book I came in for. I begin reading its back cover. Again the book below beckons, this time it tries with a whispered “Pssst. Hey…I’m talking to you.” You Are A Badass. I look behind me. Who? Me? I pretend I heard nothing. I go back to reading. A third time it speaks up. You Are A Badass. Okay. Okay. Enough already. This book is a relentless, attention-seeking menace. So I set down The Girl on the Train and pick up the yellow book. I read the author’s first line in the Introduction, which begins directly under an inspirational quote.

I used to think quotes like this were a bunch of crap.

I decide I like this book. Because I’ve made a commitment to work on my self-esteem, and because I am intrigued and humbled by the way the Universe works and therefore it’s not lost on me that the book I came in for was placed directly above this book on an open shelf in a book store among tens of thousands of books, I buy the damn book. I have no choice.

Truth. I’m a great purchaser of self-help books. Their potential for crushing my issues in a relatively quick 200 pages suckers me every time. Second truth. I am not a great reader of self-help books. I rarely finish them because either they’re too mired in psychology and I get bored or they’re too weighed down by cutesy platitudes and I lose respect. When I get home, though, and start diving into this book, I realize this might be The One. I begin underlining ideas like a being possessed. Nearly everything the author writes is a line I can identify with or is something I desperately need to hear. It’s like one giant hug of You’re-Awesome-And-You’ve-Got-This. And at this point I feel could underline the whole book. I don’t, though, because that would just be silly.

Yesterday, I am reading (and underlining) and I run across this:

It’s not that the things and opportunities that we want in life don’t exist yet. It’s that we’re not yet aware of their existence (or the fact that we can really have them).

I get really stuck on the part in parentheses. Traditionally, I haven’t been brave enough to believe that I deserve my dreams. The voices in my head won’t allow it. What makes you so special that you deserve your dream? Don’t you appreciate how lucky you are already? Get over yourself, keep your head down, and realize that life is about living and not dreaming. Etc. Etc. Etc. Because of the voices, I’ve never allowed myself to have a dream.

So, I reflect for a few minutes about what the author is saying and try to imagine a world where I could really have a dream. What would that look like? And in my heart the answer raises its timid hand. My dream is one where I get to write every day and someone, somewhere, reads my words and finds a connection with them in their life and their experience, the way there is a connection for me with the writer of this book I am reading. As an added bonus, if I got paid for my work and never had to go back to a traditional workplace again, that would be perfection. Wait, though. Isn’t that what every writer wants? Who am I to….the negativity creeps back in, but I force it out. What if I could be a writer who made that happen? I imagine it. I let the thought in and then allow the possibility to wash over me. Mind. Blown.

A couple hours later, long after I’d stopped my reverie to let real life intervene, I stumble upon a friend’s link to a Washington Post article about a new book by Glennon Doyle Melton. Glennon (aren’t we on a first name basis?) is a blogger who has written several books, the latest of which was picked by The Oprah for her book club. My friend has written this long introduction to the article, talking about honesty and truth telling. And there, near the bottom of her post after she mentions Glennon and Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat, Pray, Love fame, I see this:

Oh, and Justine, my beautiful FB friend, your truth, your journey, fully resonates with me. Bless you for being willing to take so many risks – you are the real deal!

I read the post a second time. Then a third. Did she just mention me in the same post along with Glennon and Elizabeth? I let that sink in for a minute. Then I went into a full on cry. The good kind. The therapeutic kind where the emotion of the moment, filled with a mixed bag of joy, surprise, hope, gratitude, dreams and, yes, even self-love, swallows you whole. I let the thought occur to me. Maybe I could live my dream. For real. Kim generously reminded me that I am already on the path to doing what I previously didn’t dare dream I could do. I am writing and when my words strike the right set of eyes there is a ripple in the pond.

I went back to the Badass book to search for something I had underlined.

You don’t have to know exactly where it’s going to take you, you just need to start with one thing that feels right and keep following right-feeling things and see where they lead.

So that is my plan. I am simply going forward doing what I love to do, what feeds my soul. I am going to write with honesty and share my truth. I am going to stop second guessing things that feel right and I am going to stop thinking about who I might offend. I am going to see what kind of ripples I can create and revel in those small moments and learn from them and move on to the next one. Sooner or later, the collective ripples will become a wave, and I will sweep up my tribe and we will go be badass together.

 

 

The DD Day

The last time I felt comfortable in a cropped top

“We don’t see things as they are. We see things as we are.”  ~Anais Nin

Bra shopping. A task that in my world falls somewhere in relative popularity between cleaning the hair out of a clogged shower drain and hanging out at the DMV to renew my driver’s license. Perhaps that is why, upon realizing I was long overdue for some fresh elastic to keep the girls in place, I reluctantly visited the Victoria’s Secret web site and placed an online order for two bras. At least I could avoid the hassle of mall shopping if I had to suffer the abuse of spending a ridiculous amount of money on clothing designed to be worn under other clothing. 

When the package arrived the following week, neither bra in my usual size and style seemed to fit right. Stuff was everywhere and yet not anywhere it was supposed to be. Ugh. Guess I wasn’t avoiding the situation after all. Berating myself for not having braved the store in the first place and causing myself double the humiliation and effort, I traipsed to the mall, returns in hand, prepared to right the wrong and put the ugliness behind me at last. Upon entering the store, I was immediately approached by a sales clerk. I normally avoid help at all costs, preferring, I suppose, to bumble through this process in relative obscurity. But I just wanted to be done with it all already.

“Is there something I can help you with?” 

“I got these online but they don’t fit. I need to do an exchange,” I confessed.

“Can I see what you bought?” she inquired. I handed the white, plastic shipping bag over and she peered inside, checked the contents, and nodded knowingly. “These don’t fit because you aren’t a 34B.”

I stared blankly at her. This was news to me. I had been wearing 34B for as long as I could remember.

“I’ve always worn that size,” I told her. 

“Then you have always worn the wrong size,” she said, smiling. “Will you let me size you?” she asked.

I hesitantly acquiesced. My goal was to escape with something that fit. Maybe she could help me expedite that process. To my surprise, she didn’t grab the measuring tape. Instead, she gave me a quick once over then asked me to turn around. After a quick appraisal of my backside, she delivered this shocker.

“Sweetie, you are tiny. You aren’t a 34. You are a 32. I’d like to have you try on a 32DD and a  32D.”

At this point, I am pretty sure I audibly snorted. She looked to be in her early 50s, so it was quite possible she needed some vision correction. She went on trying to sell me on her size prediction.

“Do you want to stick with the these same styles? What colors?”

My head was spinning as I followed her around the store while she collected items for me to try. 32DD. Hahahahahaha. This woman is crazy. Did she even look at me? I’m not Kim Kardashian size. Anyone can see that! Before I had time to get my bearings, she had handed me off to the dressing room clerk with three bras and a final plea to trust her and give it a try.

Dammit all if she wasn’t dead on. The first bra, a lightly lined 32DD fit like nothing ever had before. There was no seepage out the side, no back fat oozing out under the band, and the ladies looked supported and happy. I had never seen them look so good. Where there had been gapping in the cups, there was none. The cups were full but did not runneth over. Apparently I am a 32DD, at least in Victoria’s secret mind. Who knew? While I still doubt anyone would peg me for a DD if they passed me on the street, the fitting room attendant checked the sizing for me, verifying the other gal’s appraisal. I had entered the store feeling like a big woman with negligible cleavage and was leaving the store feeling like a tiny girl with an enviable bounty. Not sure how it happened, but I’d had an instant boob job!

I am retelling this story here today (after sitting on it self-consciously for months) because it only recently struck me how my own overly critical self perception, fueled by a few negative comments from others that I took too much to heart, affected my reality for so long. It took an objective opinion from an outside party to convince me to test my notions about myself. I have been grateful to that store clerk every day since that visit to Park Meadows Mall in April, not only because I finally have bras that fit but because I am at last willing to question my self perceptions long enough to notice positives I have previously discounted or dismissed. Turns out there is a lot more to me than meets my eye.

Un*#@% Yourself

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Me back in the days before I had self-awareness

Un*#@% yourself. Be who you were before all that stuff happened that dimmed your *#@%ing shine.

If you’re lucky, there comes a time in your life when you wake up. I mean really wake up. And it’s the kind of wake up that comes at the end of a nightmare where you are falling into an endless abyss or your children are drowning before your eyes while you stand powerlessly nearby or you are being crushed under a collapsing building and your lungs begin to burn with suffocation. It’s the kind of wake up that leaves you shaking and stunned and mind blown and sick to your stomach. It might happen from one singular event (“I’m sorry, but you have cancer”) or, as in my case, it might happen over time as the weight of a lifetime filled with little injuries finally snaps something inside of you. Some people never wake up. But, if you’re lucky, it happens, and you can start living consciously.

I went back to therapy yesterday for the first time in nearly a year. I went with the idea that, at forty-eight, it is finally time to get over my obnoxious lack of self-esteem. So, I told her that I need to get my head on straight about myself. I do not see myself as others see me. I self-sabotage my own potential for success. My stinking thinking has got to go. I need tools, I told her. To gain some insight into where we should start, she conducted some basic reconnaissance work.

Her:  What if you won an award? What would that feel like for you? What would you think?

Me:  *head tilt with impressive pensive expression as I tried to imagine facing success*

Her:  I’m guessing you would feel it was undeserved? 

Me:  Ummm….yeah. But that is not the worst of it. I would assume there had been a mistake.

Her: *consciously trying to keep a neutral countenance* 

Me:  I would be thinking that they must have run out of other people to give the award to.

Her: *noticeable eyebrow raise* 

Me:  I would assume I was their last choice.

Her:  Wow. Okay. We have some work to do. 

Being me, my next thought was that she was making a mental note to determine if my insurance would cover enough therapy sessions to help me out because that, my friends, is how deep my internal negativity goes. I am appallingly cynical. It would make for great sitcom dialogue.

After a little more chatting, we came up with some strategies. I need to write a letter saying goodbye to the person I am now and all the baggage she carries that is unhealthy. I need to define who I think I really am underneath all the old junk and what the new me looks like inside. I need to make a list of things the old me would not have attempted because of fear and negativity and then start doing those things to reinforce positive behaviors. I need to decide on a mantra I can use to replace the old thoughts when they creep in and start messing with me. I need to surround myself with positivity and people who support my goal. And I need to be willing to talk about this journey without judging it or myself, which is why I am writing here today.

All this makes my head hurt. A lot. But, it turns out that the copious amounts of wine I have been imbibing and augmenting with generous servings of Ben & Jerry’s are not helping me feel better either. Trust me. I have tried that therapy for a year. It’s possible that only because that therapy didn’t work I had to go to real therapy. (Well….that and an increasingly obvious waistband issue.) I now have no choice but to do the hard work. My desire to change has finally exceeded the ease of staying stuck in the miserable same. It’s a weird place to be.

Putting yourself out there is rough. It’s hard under the best circumstances, but it’s harder still when what you’re putting out there is a shameful something you’ve spent your lifetime ignoring. If it weren’t for the waking up, though, I wouldn’t be sure it was worth it. If it weren’t for the annoying headache brought on by mental overload, I wouldn’t know for sure I am more awake today than I was yesterday. Admitting you have a problem is the first step, right? Well…I’ve done that. Now it’s time to get to work. I am cautiously optimistic that I will like the new me. I think she’s a good kid with crazy potential.

Wouldn’t Take Nothing

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Experiencing the Great Salt Lake

Back to school has changed me. When my sons were younger and full of ill-advised helpings of sugary treats with food coloring, I could not wait for the school year to start. Sure it would mean I’d have to wake up early, cart them across town in my SUV school bus, and go through the dreaded rigamarole of homework, but the house would be quiet all day. I would have time to myself again. I’d be getting my life back, jumpstarting my summer-neglected workouts and my writing, and revisiting my peaceful hours in SuperTarget wandering the aisles of things I didn’t really need but felt helplessly attracted to all the same. Lately, though, my mood about back to school has gone from Yippee to Oh crap.

I was perusing my news feed this morning and found myself buried in a wave of photos of moms jumping for joy (quite literally in some cases) at the prospect of divesting themselves from their offspring for six hours each day. I was that mom once, gleefully depositing my children at school before heading for the hills for the first transcendent hike of fall, feeling liberated at the prospect of rediscovering the me I had left behind when school let out in spring. So while I scrolled through the endless display of children in first-day-of-school photos this morning, I remembered all too well that joy of potential freedom. I just didn’t identify in quite the same way.

My sons start 7th and 9th grade next week. And, as enticing as the notions of getting our house and my life back on track are, I feel like the mom dreading dropping her child off at full-day kindergarten for the first time and acknowledging the impending loneliness. My buddies are leaving me. It’s an end-of-days feeling. I spent my summer staring wide eyed at my sons, floored by their minute-by-minute growth both in height and in maturity. They are the same kids who once left me for kindergarten, but they are so much more now. They are their own people. They are no longer mine. And it sucks. Well, it’s great and amazing and incredible and awesome and it still somehow sucks. Life is weird that way.

When I decided fifteen years ago to quit working my paying job and focus my plethora of natural energy on my infant son, I didn’t give much thought to where it would lead me. I only knew that I had a newborn who seemed hell bent on never sleeping or napping or giving up colic who would probably drive me to an early grave if I attempted to maintain a career and figure out his sleep schedule if he even had one. He didn’t. I had no idea where this journey would take me. Today, though, as I sit here contemplating back to school with a middle schooler and a high schooler, my chosen path makes sense. All the sleepless nights, endless testing, and struggles to figure out how to help them, all the missteps, flubs, and pitfalls of parenting, all the little milestones, the small steps forward, and the minuscule personal triumphs, they were all worth whatever sacrifice I made in savings, earnings potential, and career advancement. I’ve got the tears of gratitude to prove it.

How lucky am I to have had this experience, to have been able to stay with them, suffer alongside them, search for solutions with them, and monitor their progress? To have been able to catch them in the first few minutes after their school day and see their disappointments and triumphs before they faded? And how fortunate am I that I have had them for 13 and 15 years and been able to witness their transition into actual human people when some parents are tragically robbed of that opportunity? I have no idea what path I will take if I get to see Joe graduate from high school in four years. No clue what career I might find or how I might re-enter the workforce after a 20-year hiatus. No sense of who I might yet become. All I know today is that I wouldn’t take nothing for my journey now. I don’t just love my children. I actually like them, even when they are acting like little creeps with skills I am positive they honed while watching me not have my best moments. I’m going to miss them in the coming weeks when I am once again wandering aimlessly through SuperTarget in a dress rehearsal for my life without them. Still, I wouldn’t take nothing.

Missed It By That Much

Our goal of having our new home ready before our move in day went the way most goals involving home renovation go. It didn’t happen. You know what they say about the road to hell and all that. We’ve been full-time in our new residence since the end of April. There are myriad items left to do. In terms of renovation, the boys’ bathroom still requires a complete overhaul and we have the added work of baseboards and door casings to look forward to on the main level. We hope to be mostly settled, free of moving boxes, and relaxing feet up by the time the weather is cooling down and football season is heating up.

While I’ve been on my writing hiatus, here is what we have been up to (along with selling a home, moving across town, and finishing out the end of the school year).

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The previous owner’s living room with its brass-adorned fireplace reminded me too much of my childhood home. We had a vision for this room as soon as we saw it.

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Living room…welcome to 2016. This room needs window treatments (the paper blinds, while somewhat helpful, need to go) but otherwise it is mostly complete and totally comfortable. I won’t tell you how much time we spend in here watching television, but I can tell you that I know the weeknight line up on HGTV.

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The old dining room, complete with wall-to-wall carpeting, Bonanza-reminiscent light fixture, and pointless half wall was an easy fix.

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Our new dining room is a bit more contemporary. We love our walnut dining table and had fun choosing a light fixture to accompany it. The combination of metal and linen on the fixture makes it a standout without being too much for the room. And, with the useful peninsula addition, we added an extra seating option for a quick meal.

The old kitchen had been updated since the 1964 original with high-quality maple cabinetry, but the linoleum floor and formica countertops were not worth saving.

We updated the kitchen by replacing the linoleum with grey floor tile and the formica with quartz countertops. We traded the white appliances for stainless ones and over one weekend installed a contemporary, arabesque-style backsplash to pull the space together.

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The home’s “master” bath, which is really more of a closet-sized toilet/shower hold, needed work too. That shell-shaped sink was a joy to rip out. After 13 years cleaning the much larger, doorless, 5-piece en suite master bath in our old home, I decided to appreciate the charm of the tiny bath. It’s a cozy space where I can lock the door and not have to share in another person’s dental hygiene routine. Can I get an Amen?

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Our modern take on that cramped space is one of my favorite renovations. To save our budget, we kept the vanilla shower and focused on the floors and fixtures. We created a feature wall using this super fun bubble tile I fell in love with and purchased a modern floating vanity to complement it. We replaced the ugly linoleum floor with neutral tile and added a water-conscious, one-piece toilet. In addition, we are ordering a new showerhead and clear doors to update the existing shower and complete the reno for the time being.

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The park-like backyard was what sold us on this house, and it needed next to zero help to be fabulous. It is the perfect venue to showcase the patio table Steve made. The colorful metal dining chairs add some whimsy, and the strings of patio lights brighten up the place after dark so we can play cards with the kids or enjoy drinks and conversation with friends. Coffee on the patio in the morning? Check. Dinner on the patio in the evening. Check. So different from the expanse of our old backyard and its open space view, but such a welcome change. This fall it will become my home office as I once again commit myself to writing regularly.

It’s been a crazy nine months full of immense change, expected stress, steep learning curves, and hard work, but we’re home. We love that we can now walk to fetch coffee or groceries, hit the nearby athletic club we joined for a swim or a workout, or head out on the Highline Canal Trail for a bike ride. And with the extra cash we made on the sale of our last home, we are treating ourselves to a hard-earned Hawaiian vacation. Here today. Gone to Maui soon. Stay tuned.

Wax On, Wax Off

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The would-be scene of a grisly murder

Parenting is sticky business. There are days when I am acutely aware that I may not be cut out for this gig. Those are the days when I blow my parental gasket and slam doors and caterwaul with unbridled enthusiasm at my children over socks left on the floor right next to the laundry bin or half-empty cartons of yogurt stuffed behind a couch cushion. Those are the days when I am the very definition of insanity, once again doing the same thing that has failed before to achieve the desired result. Then there are the days when, through the grace of some unforeseen divine intervention, I pull it together long enough to do something that is nearly the right thing in the right situation. Like, for example, on the day when my fourteen-year-old son came to me fresh off watching a PG-13 comedy video on You Tube where he learned a new word, a word describing a sexual act that makes many grown adults shudder (or tilt their heads not unlike a cocker spaniel after hearing a word unfamiliar to their floppy ears). On that day I managed to swallow my shock long enough to offer a generic explanation of said act hoping to delay for him what would be an eye-opening if not wholly disturbing Google search on the NC-17 subject matter. On the days like that one, when I manage to keep my wits about me, I celebrate the alignment of the stars and enjoy it because I know moments of parenting clarity have, in the past, been few and far between, and my next ill-conceived, epic, parental meltdown could be right around the corner if I get too cocky.

A couple of days ago, my youngest son presented me with an opportunity to rise to the occasion again. After doing some more unboxing and cleaning in the basement family room the boys have designated The Teen Zone, I turned on one of those flameless, scented candle warmers to try to defunkify the place in their absence. (Teenage boys are smelly.) Not long after they had returned from a friend’s house, a panicked cry emanated from their space. Through a pained whimper I managed to make out phrases like “this is bad” and “oh no.” You know those moments when you think your child might be bleeding profusely and there is a fear of what you might find when you come face-to-face with them? That’s where my brain was. My son was about to present me with a mostly severed appendage or a head wound so deep I would be viewing his bony skull. When he made it to me, though, I could see no visible signs of trauma. Simultaneously relieved that he was okay and terrified at what that meant with regard to his cries, I asked him what was going on. The words came through breathless cries…spill, wax, accident, sorry, mistake, carpet, bad.

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Not blood splatter, but it could have been.

Now, this house is new to us and we have been working to make it our comfortable home for months. And, to that end, we had the worn basement carpet torn out in mid-January and replaced with fresh, super plush carpeting that is a bit like walking on heaven when your stocking feet touch it. As Luke and I hit the threshold of the family room, I could see why he was panic-stricken. Directly in front of the bookshelf where the candle warmer sat, still glowing innocently and without any sign of guilt or remorse, there was a sizable splattering of eggplant-colored, cinnamon-and-vanilla-scented wax. A flurry of words escaped my mouth, most of which were interrogatives and none of which (surprisingly enough) were screamed, but I never listened for the answers because I knew none of them would help. I knew I needed a minute to get my mind in order before I said or did something I would regret. I turned and walked up the stairs, Luke trailing on my heels. He kept talking and explaining while my mind reeled and I muttered my disappointment quietly. I got to the door of my room.

“You stay out here. I need to be alone for a minute,” I told him as I began to close the bedroom door behind me. “Don’t touch the wax. It will only make it worse,” I added as an afterthought as the door clicked solidly shut.

I paced for a minute trying to get my bearings. I whipped off a quick text to a good friend to get my feelings off my chest silently. Luke just spilled purple candle wax on a big spot of our basement carpet. Huge stain. Heartbroken. I took a deep breath. The one thing I knew for sure was that the mess would set with time, and I didn’t have the luxury of a full-scale devolution into parental disgust. Through the door, I could hear Luke talking to himself under his breath. I knew it was an accident. I knew he was simultaneously horrified, frightened, and wondering if the $100 he had earned at the craft fair would get him very far in his soon-to-be life as a hobo. I stood for a moment registering his feelings. Suddenly, I wasn’t an angry parent freaking out about a stain on recently installed carpeting. I was in Luke’s soul, scared and sad and feeling worthless. How many times had I been in his shoes, wondering what punishment would be meted out after my colossal error in judgment? My heart ached for him. I opened the door.

“Come on, Luke. Let’s see what we can do.” 

A text came through from Heather. Try ironing it out? Put a rag or old t-shirt down and then iron over that. Medium heat. Then try rubbing alcohol to get the color out.

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Slightly less horrific

It sounded like a plausible solution. A quick Google search yielded the same advice. Luke, desperate to make amends, asked how he could help. I had him fetch items for me while I labored to free the new carpet of its unwelcome waxy coating. As I worked, I talked to Luke and reminded him that we all do things like this. Accidents happen. Most of them matter very little. I could see him begin to relax, his hobo life fading into the background for the time being. Little by little, after some icing, scraping, ironing, and blotting, the wax seemed to be coming out. I began to exhale too. This might be fixable after all. After about thirty minutes of triage, the carpet looked only slightly stained. I was hoping that some form of chemical solution could ameliorate that condition. Sure enough. An hour after the tragic incident, the carpet looked nearly uniform or at least good enough that someone might not even notice if they weren’t directed to search for a stain in that area. The carpet, Luke, and I had all survived, only slightly worse for the wear.

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We shall live to see another day.

In the past, I’ve been too quick to anger in situations that warranted no anger at all. I’ve cried over spilled milk. I’ve fussed over holes in new jeans. And I’ve had full-fledged tantrums over doors left open while the heat was on inside. But as time with my sons living under our roof dwindles, I’ve become more aware of how big my “little” meltdowns can feel to my sons and how little even the “big” things in life are in the grand scheme. If our carpet had been permanently stained, would that have sucked? Absolutely. But I’ve been thinking about how much worse things would be in my life if I had created a situation in which my son no longer felt comfortable coming to me when things went wrong. I know I was that kid…the one who was afraid to be honest about accidents and mistakes. The one who would rather hide things and lie to escape censure. The one who spent far too long avoiding challenges, afraid to make a move lest it make me appear foolish or, heaven forbid, human. As an adult, I continue to work to overcome these fears and embrace my humanity. I’m not sure what grace intervened Sunday when Luke came to me, but all week long I have been hearing the phrase “wax on, wax off” from The Karate Kid in my head. Mr. Miyagi has been speaking to me, reminding me that patience, presence of mind, and repetition are the keys to success. My ability to go more slowly, tread more lightly, and think more carefully in difficult situations with our sons is improving. I have hope that these skills will someday transfer to other situations in my life as well. I’m not quite skillful or patient enough to catch a fly with chopsticks yet, but I’m feeling a bit more Miyagish with each small parental success.

 

 

Ripping the Band Aid Off Slowly

Sunset over our big backyard

We spent most of our weekend cleaning out the home we lived, loved, laughed, and lazed in for thirteen years as we witnessed the growth of our young boys. The home lists for sale this week. I like to think of myself as a thinker more than a feeler, a pragmatic philosopher and not an emotional romantic. I am, after all, the self-proclaimed Queen of Rationalization. But everywhere I looked in that house this weekend I saw the breadth and depth of a time in my life that I sped through, head down, focused on the step in front of me like a marathon runner on Mile 20, telling myself I could get through if I just kept moving forward. All the moments, all the memories crept back in as I tried to harden my heart and make conscious decisions about what to pack and what to deposit in the gargantuan roll-off in the driveway. In a word, it was, well, suck. There was an overwhelming, unwelcome deluge of emotion. And it kind of pissed me off because, Christ, dislodging over thirteen years of your life isn’t difficult enough without tears weakening the brown paper boxes you need to move? As I worked, my head tried to distract my heart. It’s good to clear through all this junk. We’re lucky to be doing this consciously and over time. We were long overdue for a cleanse. And this slow, intentional adjustment has been good for the boys. They are so happy in and committed to their new habitat. Still, the goddam tears welled and I cursed while I imagined Luke lying on the kitchen counter under a tanning bed of bilirubin lights, Joe sculpting his own sandbox Pangea in the backyard for his plastic dinosaurs, Steve sprawled on the basement carpet causing “stormy seas” for the young sons who were passengers in his imaginary boat, and me sitting on the back patio on a spring day with a coffee and a constant soundtrack of meadowlark songs. This is suck.

 

Buddy and the boys on his last camping trip

Towards the end of the day yesterday, Steve brought me a box. This particular box had been sitting on a shelf in his office for six years. The box contained the ashes of our sweet Lab/Springer mix, Buddy. I’d like to say we’d held onto the box and his ashes out of a soft-hearted inability to let him go, but the truth is we’d always planned to release him back onto the open space where he occasionally stole an afternoon frolic by jumping our fence, an act that left me in a pickle with toddlers in the house and a dog too far away to capture with a shout. Time got away from us. We never seemed to find the perfect moment. It was too cold, too muddy, or the concern over rattlesnakes was too great. Or we were just too damn busy. And so Buddy languished in a plain, wooden box for years, buried only in good intentions. Yesterday, as the acknowledgment of limited time in this space surrounded us, we decided it was time to say goodbye and set him free at last.

 

Small memorial service

So, on a cloudy, cool, dry day (devoid of snake business), with the exhaustion of moving and daylight savings time mellowing us out, the four of us hiked out onto the open space a ways behind our house, found a lone yucca plant that looked like a spot where Buddy may have once relieved himself, and said our final goodbyes. I watched as the lighter ashes swirled and drifted in wind, the heavier remnants of his bones spilling onto the soil. It brought me a beautiful peace in the midst of all my sadness, a sense of closure not just to our time with Buddy but also to our time in this house that holds so many of our memories. While I intellectually appreciate the idea of ripping the band aid off wounds quickly, I guess I have always been more of a slow, painful band aid puller, someone whose penchant for overthinking causes long-lived and painful goodbyes that I suffer without a peep, wearing a poker face and telling anyone who inquires that I am fine.

We all grieve in our own way. We spent years mentally preparing our sons for this change. They have at times over the past few months expressed their sadness about leaving. We’ve made sure to let them know that sadness is to be expected. We’ve talked as a family about the last memories we would like to make in our old home. All the while, we’ve been pointing our noses in the direction of our new home, creating a space we love and can fill with new hopes, dreams, and memories. There have been times when I wondered if all this dragging on was a wise choice, but after our memorial service yesterday I no longer doubt our decision. We’ve had the perfect amount of time to make our peace with change and to allow our hearts to grieve and to grow. We are ready to say goodbye. And while there certainly will be tears shed in our last few hours in our old house, it is now our old house. Let’s hope it sells for a lot of money. I could really use a trip to Maui!

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Everything Old Is New Again

 

New carpet for the dog to puke on!

I am taking a break today. I am sitting in one of the newly purchased library chairs we got for a steal at West Elm, relaxing near the fireplace while two men install carpeting in the basement. It’s the first real bit of respite I have had in about a month. Steve and I have been going at breakneck speed since December, renovating one house and cleaning out another while somehow managing to squeeze in the holidays, the boys’ ski lessons, and the actual and inescapable burdens of life as grown ass adults (like paying bills and buying groceries). Some days I pause briefly to remind myself to breathe and I wonder how I ever got old enough to be here. Seems like just yesterday I was worrying if my student loan check would arrive in time to pay my undergrad tuition without incurring a late fee. Life was so much simpler when my worldly possessions fit into a four-door sedan. I’m not saying I’d like to be living back in my minuscule dorm room with a midterm paper due in American Lit, but it might be fun to visit there for a few hours. Mental vacations are the only trips I can afford this year.

Anyhoo, since I last posted a renovation update here 53 days ago, a lot has changed in this old house. Many friends have been clamoring for updates, and today seems like as good a day as any to share. Where shall I start? Let’s start in the kitchen.

 

Making the best of what’s around

I know many people choose their house based on the kitchen. It’s safe to say we bought this house in spite of the kitchen. It is an odd duck. Because of an ill-placed window and a superfluous door, the kitchen lacks in counter space and cupboards and has a less than ideal layout. That said, any attempt to redo the layout into something more ideally functional would have resulted in changes to the exterior brick. We had no desire to mess with the structure of the house and, moreover, doing so would have blown our renovation budget. So we decided to keep the original layout, but update the flooring (goodbye, linoleum), countertops, and appliances. We tore out a small wall to add some peninsula cabinets and additional counterspace. The New Carrara Quartz is being cut and should be installed sometime in the next few weeks. The tile floor is in and is a huge improvement. We have wood floors in the kitchen of our current home and decided fairly early on that tile would be a better choice for us here. Between two boys, a dog, and constant traffic into the house from the garage and through the kitchen, tile will look better for much longer. And it cost a bunch less. Score!

 

Can I fix you a Manhattan?

In late December and early January we pulled out all the carpet, baseboards, and old doors on the main floor to have the original hardwoods stripped, patched, sanded, and coated with a water-based finish. The result is way better than we had hoped. The red oak has a lighter, fresher appearance without the heavy, oil-based  finishing product. The fireplace insert arrived a few weeks ago to finish off the showpiece in our living room. The fireplace wall is exactly what we wanted. It makes the room seem taller, brighter, and more modern. We started adding a furniture this month too, purchasing a couple upholstered chairs, an accent table, and a bar cart, and ordering a loveseat and upholstered ottoman to complement the modern velvet sofa we will move over from our current house. It’s the first living room furniture we’ve bought since 1996. We were due for an update. And it’s no coincidence that the first furniture purchase is a bar cart and the first items we moved over were bar glasses and a significant share of spirits. It’s always 5 o’clock in a mid-century brick ranch!

 

Slightly outdated

In between the bigger renovations, I have painted nearly the entire main floor, including ceilings. I figure that by the time we move in, I will have painted approximately 3,000 square feet. I am SO done with painting. On the plus side, my painting skills are currently Level Expert. So I am ready to move on and tile again, which is perfect because our small, dated master bath is our next major undertaking. I am ecstatic to report that the main floor bath is nearly complete. You may remember our hideous main bath. All terra cotta-colored, square tile and sixties panache. Fairly certain the only thing that had been updated in that room in fifty years was the sink faucet and maybe the sink itself. I imagine it was once also orange hued like the walls. Well…it’s all gone.

Goodbye, 1964. Hello, 2016!

We still need to put in the baseboards and hook up the shower plumbing, but we ended up with a much cleaner, updated room that we did ourselves. We’re feeling pretty impressed with our do-it-yourself skills. On a personal note, we determined that undertaking subway tile on several full walls as our first tiling project might have been a bit overzealous. It took us forever and a day, and the workmanship is far from world class, but it is a huge improvement over the previous look.

And now we’re approaching the final stretch of renovations. We are waiting on our solid, prehung doors, need to redo the aforementioned master closet (er, I mean bath), and will soon be putting in simple, five-inch baseboards. It’s all coming together nicely timing-wise because we will be listing our current home earlier than expected, sometime in the next month if the real estate market continues to pick up. I hope to be living here while the other place is listed because I don’t want to deal with the hassle of continual clean up for showings. I’ll have a longer commute, but less house to clean and that is always a plus. We have been quite fortunate with how this whole process has gone for us so far. My fingers are crossed that we will remain on budget and on time. I have grand plans to spend all summer sitting on our back patio doing absolutely nothing. I believe I will have earned it. Moscow Mule, anyone?