It Took Four Double Big Gulps to Get This Done

Remember when I said that this was the year that we were going to desuckify our backyard?  The process has begun.

Because we can’t really afford to desuckify all at one time, and because I had looooong lists of all the different projects I wanted to get working on in the backyard, and because somehow no matter how much furniture we pour into the outdoors we always need more, I was feeling a little bit overwhelmed and confused about where to start.  But I decided that no matter how much lounge furniture I bought, I wasn’t going to be able to relax, to lounge per se, if all the furniture was sitting in a dirty messy yard that had all this WORK to be done on it.  So I decided work first, furniture second.

We spent all weekend hauling rocks and taking out the dreaded black mulch of doom from the backyard and driveway, and things are already looking better.

We do still have lots to do and lots to buy, but we made a ton of progress this weekend.  (Although please don’t mention drainage to me for the next 6-8 weeks unless you want me to kick you in the shin, right before I burst into tears.  I have some angry letters to write. Anyway.)

Now it’s furniture buying time!

So I’m going to buy some brown lounge furniture, the cushions are sort of an orangey red. Observe:


The loungey stuff will go on the patio under the pergola, towards the retaining wall.


Then I am going to get two adirondack chairs for that circle where the little table is sitting right now way in the upper corner of the picture.  After some slight obsessing over what color I could paint them (based on paint I already own that’s in my garage) I thought I’d stain them brown as well.  Boy, am I sure living on the edge over here. Then I think I’d put two yellow outdoor pillows on them.  I don’t know, I’m just really feeling the brown yellow thing.  Either one of these pillows, actually, give me the special feelings, but the yellow ones are the ones I kept thinking about while I was loading rocks into wheelbarrows.



Anyway.  The chairs I am going to buy for the dining table are from IKEA. They come in white, yellow, or gray.  The dining table in question is the one sitting there lonely on the patio with no chairs.

At first I thought gray chairs.  Then I thought for SURE yellow, because the other stuff is all so boring and brown and the yellow is fun and pretty and I love yellow and yellow cushions on the adirondacks, etc.  But then I looked at the backyard again and I went back to thinking maybe gray.  I think the orange cushions on the lounge stuff are throwing me off.

So now I am confused and I am asking you. Opinions please! Unless that opinion is that you hate the river rock that I spent all bloody weekend hauling into my backyard from the street.  In that case maybe keep that opinion to yourself. However if the opinion is that I need to go to Home Goods and spend a bunch of money on useless decorative lanterns to set on my table and forget to light, feel free to express that one early and often.

Last Friday Night

I grew up in Portland, Oregon, but not the cool part.  I grew up in the lame subdivision part, and I can still remember sitting on my bed next to my open window, watching the street on our culdesac, and it felt like I could sit there for hours, sitting in that window, staring at that street, and in all of those hours, I’d never see signs of human life.  Everyone had huge backyards and big houses and they stayed sealed in those big houses and those backyards.  We never ever ever talked to our neighbors.  I lived on that street for 16 years and I couldn’t tell you the first or last name of anyone else who lived on that street that entire time.

I always knew that somehow, someway, when I had a house and family and a street of my own, that I needed it to not be that way. Something about that silence was profoundly upsetting to my psyche, and though I am a quiet person, I like to be surrounded by life.  It’s not something I can explain easily, but sometimes when you feel as though you contain within you a deep silence, you need a lot of noise on the periphery, to combat the silence.

Mr. E grew up on a street in the middle of nowhere where all the kids knew each other, where everyone wove in and out of each other’s houses and went to school together and carpooled and I know this idea of a big street where everybody knows your name was always something he hoped for too. I’m not sure we ever sat down and said “I wish I had that” to each other, but I could tell in the way that he inappropriately noticed people in their front yards or introduced himself to people at the dog park that he was looking for it too.

We lived in a series of rented houses and apartments both before and after we got married while Mr. E spent 100 years in grad school and got first jobs, and we never had much choice about where we ended up, we went where the jobs were and we picked out what we could afford with hardwood floors and if it had a dishwasher, we considered ourselves lucky.  We never found the kind of neighborhood we were after, although I think we received several very timely lessons regarding what we didn’t want, things like “neighborhood children who regale you with stories of flushing their mothers cocaine down the toilet while picking plums from the tree in your backyard” and “people who scream at their ex wives about calling CPS from the window of their Chevy Camaro”.

When we bought our house, we first found a realtor who told us that we couldn’t afford anything in our price range and then a realtor who showed a huge gorgeous house directly next to an expressway, and then we finally got a personal recommendation and made a quick phone call and wandered wearily and wrung out into an icy air conditioned office, full of quiet and thick pale green carpet, and while Eli rolled around on the floor, the realtor photocopied our map and then, quickly, with a red marker, drew giant X’s all over it, and said “No. Not here. Not here. No. And No.” and then handed it back.  And then she asked all sorts of questions and she drove us to a few prospects, and after asking more questions and then more questions, she said “I have an idea”.  And we ended up here.

When she drove us to our house she said “The people on this street will be just like you.  They will be starting out like you and doing the same sorts of jobs you have, they will have young children and be scientists and work in state government and they’ll take care of their houses and your house will not be large, but I think you’ll be happy here.”

I am pretty sure that what she did is at least vaguely illegal, and I am hoping that she did not mean “everyone here is white, don’t worry”, but the truth is that I did not want to live next door to a pit bull breeding operation, which was pretty much our other option, so I took her advice and we bought this house, and we met  our neighbors and planted tulips and endured the incredulity of everyone who doesn’t live in California when they heard that we had just spend a small fortune on a 960 square foot house.

We knew a few people up and down the street, we always smiled and tried to say hi when people walked their dogs, and we tried to make friends with the two gay guys that set up a table on their front lawn for Neighbor Night Out.  And you didn’t have to watch out our front window for very long to see signs of life, but we weren’t exactly hosting progressive dinners every month or anything.  It took a long time to start to make friends.

But slowly, slowly, we met people, and then we did Turf Wars and we met more people, and people moved in, people moved out, and it started to feel like home.

Sometime last summer or maybe early spring, one of my neighbors came over with a wine glass in her hand and a bottle of wine, and we sat on the front step talking for a few minutes, and then my other neighbor noticed us and wandered out of her house and we poured her a glass, and then Erik came home and I think he made some snacks, and Friday Night Neighborhood Happy Hour was born.  Pretty soon a few neighbors down the street joined in, and then we got each other’s email addresses, and we started inviting anyone and everyone up and down the street and now almost every Friday night all summer long, we sit out in our driveway and we drink wine and the folding table staggers under the weight of all the food that people bring by and there are coolers of beer and kids and babies and sprinklers and magic happens, right there, in my front yard, and I sit there and although it is probably partially due to the two glasses of wine I always have, I think “I cannot believe I got this lucky. No one has this. No one I know has this. This is once in a lifetime.  Thank you thank you thank you”, and I see the years unfolding in this tiny house, I see all of us showing up to birthdays and driving kids to swimming pools and Easter egg hunts and barbecues and my 16 year old daughter sharing secrets with the 16 year old girl who lives two houses down and I feel as though really and truly, me with my tiny house and my patch of a lawn and my two bedrooms and one bathroom? I am the luckiest.

So I’m Basically A Fashion Blogger Now

So I am working hard on dressing less like a giant slob and I think it’s going well. Does anyone want pointers?  Probably not, but too bad, I am going to give them to you anyway. 

1. I got rid of stuff.  I am still working on this, and probably will be for awhile, but the first thing I did was to get rid of all the stuff that didn’t fit or didn’t work. Some of the clothes I was VERY sad about, so I let myself keep a box of it under my bed. It was much easier for me to think of it as “going away temporarily” than it was for me to think of it as “I will never wear this adorable dress again I might as well eat all the brownies.”

2. I went shopping, with a very specific list.  I have a really good idea of what silhouettes I like to wear, and what looks good on me. (If you know me in person and disagree, feel free to pipe down over there.) So armed with my list of what I thought I wanted in my closet, I sought out some of those things.  Mostly on Ebay and Old Navy and at American Eagle. Not all of them were winners and probably I should have tried things on, but this is reality. I hate the mall and I have two small children.  And like I said, I know that knee length skirts/Old Navy t shirts/v neck cardigans work on me.  This doesn’t leave room for that suprise fabulous “I can’t believe this looks so good on me dress”, but that can come later.  We were at emergency status over here.

I have a few things left I am looking for, although it’s possible that I just don’t look good in button down shirts, so we’ll see.  I will probably have to spend some time looking for that and a few more dresses in actual stores or at the outlets, but I’m not really in the mood for that right now, so it’s on the back burner.  If anyone has a recommendation for button downs for short curvy girls, I’d love to  hear them. 

3. I made myself wear the clothes.  All the stuff I have now pretty much goes together, and this is where it started to get fun.  I started mixing and matching it, and putting different things together, seeing what worked and what didn’t, what shoes I liked with what.  And I made myself wear a skirt to some occasions when I thought “I could probably just wear jeans.” I could just wear jeans, but I have five skirts! I should wear them!

(And bonus – this whole process has made packing AWESOME. So easy!)

This is when I finally started to get excited to get dressed in the morning again.  I started going to bed thinking about what I’d get to wear the next day.  Instead of feeling sad about the fact that I was wearing my husbands dubiously clean Detroit Tigers shirt, I started thinking “what this shirt needs is a long turquoise necklace” or “I wonder if that tank top would be cute with this?”.  Just this morning, in fact, I thought “I wish I had a cute blue jacket to wear over this outfit instead of this brown puffy vest” and then I remembered that I do in fact own a cute blue trench coat, and I wore it! I haven’t worn that thing in a year! Success!

It should also be noted that at NO POINT in this process did my husband notice any of this effort or anything I was wearing unless I said “DO YOU THINK OUTFIT IS CUTE?” so please be aware of that potential for disappointment.  Dudes will, for the most part, not get that you are wearing a cute new skirt and they should comment on it. 

5. I made myself accessorize, and it was finally fun instead of awkward.  I think maybe it was Holly that finally inspired this? She wears tons of cute necklaces and makes it look so easy! Or maybe my Target just finally got on the ball, but I have bought five big chunky necklaces and a bunch of scarves there lately, and I finally realized that the reason I NEVER wear jewelry or accessories is because the ones I have are from 1994.  Seriously, I owned all these tiny little delicate girly necklaces, when what I wanted to be wearing, what speaks to me, are big chunky long fun necklaces! Not crystal earrings from being a bridesmaid eight years ago.  And so I cleaned out the jewelry bin and bought some fun necklaces and now I feel like I need more! Bring on the chunky necklaces!  The Target website makes the baby Jesus cry, but here is a ridiculous picture of me wearing my latest find:


6. I officially gave myself permission to do my own thing.  I have a very particular fashion aesthetic. I suspect it is not officially sanctioned as cool, this weird mix of preppy and california beach bum, but it is what I like.  I do not own a single pair of skinny jeans.  I LOVE madras.  I do not want to buy peach colored anything.  I like navy and orange and boat shoes and flip flops and wedges.  I will buy anything striped, but polka dotted shirts remind me of rashes.  I will never be the person in the hipster outfit of the week.  And I have given myself permission to be totally ok with that. I like what I like.  Who cares what anyone else is wearing?

7. I decided to be really honest with myself about how certain things look.  Mr. E and I once had an epic fight because he advised me not to wear pajama pants to the movies.  “For my own good.”  Quite frankly, given my preference, I would wear a too big hoodie, pajama pants, and Uggs on every occasion.  I am not sure I quite ready to give up my hoodie entirely, but I am entertaining the idea that it might not be as cute as it is comfy and I might want to reserve it for lounging around at home.  If it made me feel great when I wore it, I don’t think I would care who thought ill of me wearing it in public, but it doesn’t make me feel great. It makes me feel as though I have given up. I might just buy a smaller size one though.  Everyone needs to wear a hoodie to Home Depot every once in awhile. 

8. I told myself it was ok for me to own three of the same thing. I always felt sad when my white spaghetti strap tank was in the wash. They go with so many things and I always feel cute when I have on those combinations. I never wanted to wear the brightly colored ribbed tanks sitting in my drawer, the ones that seemed SO FUN! in the store.  So I got rid of the ribbed tanks and bought myself two more plain white tank tops. 

9. I finally stopped spending money on kids clothes. Seriously. My kids do not need more clothing.  I can barely fit the clothing they have in their drawers.  Katie could wear a dress every day for two months and not repeat a single one.  Based on the hand me downs from my cousin alone, I never need to shop for her again. And yet every time I walked in the hallowed doors of Target, I headed for the little girls clothing section.  What a stupid habit! I have mostly stopped doing this, although I still think to myself “I wonder if I should go see if they have leggings on sale”. NO. MY CHILDREN DO NOT NEED MORE CLOTHING.  Seriously.  But honestly, the first time I found a necklace that I liked? I touched it, put it in the cart, then put it back, then told my husband I’d love it if he wanted to buy me a necklace like that as a present, then came home and obsessed about it, looked for a different or cheaper one online, im’ed Maggie Cheung about it, thought about it some more, and then finally went back to Target for it. Over a $12.99 necklace.  And this is the same woman (me) who will throw $40 worth of children’s clothing in my cart with no second thought.  Clothing my children do not need, and have not asked for. I know. Weird. 

10. Doesn’t it seem like there should be a number ten here? Oh, here it is.  I tried to pay REALLY CLOSE ATTENTION to what was a stumbling block for me when I was getting dressed.  I started thinking “I wish I had a less boring pair of flats” and I know I don’t like ballet flats, so I started saving up for some metallic Top Siders.  I felt stressed out about the fact that one of the two bras I owned was always in the wash, so I bought two more bras.  It’s amazing how much less awful the process is when you eliminate things like “none of these pants actually fit me” or “I have no clean bras.”  

Now I just have to work up my courage to take some pictures of myself in actual clothing.  And to buy a pair of white shorts.  That’s all A’Dell’s fault, that one. 


Some days, I think of only having two children, these two specific children, and my breath catches with just how wrong it seems.  And I think with absolute certainty that there must be three. I know that having three is the absolute number one most important right thing. 

But some days I become almost obsessed with how bad I am at this job.  I give myself a terrible performance review in my mind over and over again and I think that anyone who is this bad at something and who would choose to make it harder and to add more and to keep doing it must be absolutely certifiably insane. 

I take the quiz in the New York Times Magazine about enjoying parenting, the one that says that women like parenting more than men.  The only activity I give a full score of 5 to is “shopping for children.” Erik scores much higher than I do. 

Some days I realize that I can either spend all day cleaning my house or I can shower or I can make sure everyone eats three good healthy meals, but on no day will I be able to do all three of these things, and no matter what, I’m just going to have to wake up and do it all over again the next day.  

Lately, I’ve been thinking that there are some things I’d like to do. I’d like to go back to school and become a librarian. I’d like to raft down the Grand Canyon. I’d like to see the pyramids. I’d like to move somewhere for a year where all we do, every day, is surf.  I’d like to eat dinner in the Blue Bayou.  I’d like to run an under two hour half marathon. I’d like to run a Double Dipsea, even though people have told me “it’s very hard.” 

Remember when awhile back, I said that I felt like someone was not here yet? As though someone was missing?  In spite of how hard all this is and the lack of showers and the very bad job I often feel that I’m doing, in spite of all that, I do still feel as though someone is missing, like not everyone is here.  

But lately sometimes I wonder if maybe, just maybe, that missing person is ME. 

Books I Read In March

30. Wintertown.  Oh. Hmmmm. Well.  This is one of those books that I wish had been better, and I didn’t LOVE it, but at the same time, it did SOMETHING, if that makes sense. It was more than just some dumb bland churned out storyline.  And the graphic novel tie in was so weird and the dynamic between the two teenagers in the book just got old.  But still, it was not irredeemable.

31.  American Boy.  I found everyone in this book incredibly irritating, and I found myself hoping they would launch themselves off of a cliff as soon as possible.

32.  The Taste of Salt. I thought this was really well written but ultimately it felt sort of clinical and it left me feeling awfully detached from the main characters.

33.  Flatscreen.  Boo. No.

34. Between. This was just weird, and has been done over and over lately, and much better by other people.

35. The Lions of Little Rock.  I tried to love this, I did, but I think I am just not a middle grade reader because I just thought it was boring.

36. The Language of Flowers.  This book made me nervous and I got really frustrated with the bad decisions the main character kept making over and over and over again, but I still really really liked it.  I’m not sure why I had to wait 100 years to get it from the library request system, because it so wasn’t ALL THAT, but it was an entertaining read.

37. Beyond the Beautiful Forevers.  This was so depressing. I know that this is how it is in India, but I just can only read so much about hopelessness and corruption and how nothing will ever be fixed or better before I just want to give up.

38. Gob’s Grief.  Yeah, no.  Way too much dippy woo woo hoo hoo for me.

39. Curveball. I have tried so hard to love these books because Janssen loves them and I feel like I should but they just do not do it for me.

40. Immortal Bird. So when I read this book I felt like there was something really weird about the father, but at the same time I felt like I shouldn’t think that this person is a giant douchebag because his child died.  But, uh, this person comes across as a giant douchebag, and that basically ruined this book for me.

41. The Spy Who Jumped Off the Screen. Doesn’t this book sound exciting? It was not.

42. The Scorpio Races. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that the author who wrote a three part series about werewolves would write a book about magical murdering horses who drink blood and eat human flesh, but dude. This book was just so weird.  That being said, I kind of got into it after awhile. It was waaaaaay less boring than the last two wolves books. But still.  Magical killing blood drinking horses.  Hmmmm.

43. Article 5.  This was tremendously stupid.  And let me add that because I decided not to read a specific number of books this year, right around this time there was a METRIC TON of books that I read three pages of and then deemed too stupendously stupid/poorly written/absolute piffle for me to even bother with, and this book was no exception except I made it halfway through before I gave up on it and dammit I am counting it.

44.  The O’Briens.  I liked it. I didn’t love it, but it entertained me.  It had a nice soul to it, somehow.

45.  The Miseducation of Cameron Post.  Oh, wow.  This book has my heart, it truly does.  Review to come, but until then: Two thumbs up. Get it, read it, do it.  Loved loved loved it. (CONFIDENTIAL TO NGS DO NOT READ.)