On a Wing & a Prayer

Yesterday was one of those parenting days that leaves you wrung out and feeling like a pile of wet ashes. I’ve been pretty lucky that even with all we’ve been through, my kids are good human beings, and we have decent lines of communication. Under the best of circumstances, transitioning from parenting children to parenting teenagers to being a parent to a young adult isn’t a path with clear markers and boundaries, and it’s hard.

I’ve been 12, been 15, been 17 before… but they haven’t, and the world in which they live is so very different from the world when I was those ages. I don’t always know what to do.  So much of parenting is on a wing and a prayer. Years ago, an older friend who had been through the ringer with her four sons told me “Just love them. You love them through it. No matter what happens, you just love them.” My kids were very small at the time, but her words have continued to have ripples in my life.

When I don’t know what else to do, when I don’t know what to say, or when I cannot (or should not) fix things for them, I default to making sure they know they are loved.

Days like yesterday are when I most miss calling David. His gift of insight was profound, and he was uniquely good at finding the perfect pearl his kids’ needed. It’s not revisionist history, and I’m not glancing over his flaws; but he was like a concentrated mineral or resin; what he could offer might have been small, but it was potent and essential. There was light he could shed that I have a hard time always finding myself.

To the child yesterday, I said “I wish your dad were here. He would do better at this part than I am…” and the child looked at me and said, “Dad is just stories to me.”

My heart stung and split again in a perfect aching wave of sorrow and grief. Over and over this happens. You relive the loss, you revisit it, the waves catch you off-guard and vulnerable, and it just never goes away. My child spoke the truth. They don’t remember him, they don’t know the man I knew, they don’t carry him with them the way I do, they never got to know his bright and shining wisdom, and that loss will never be recovered. I want to wail and scream in sorrow, but I don’t. I swallow hard, and nod at my kid, who is speaking what is true for them, and I honor it. This isn’t about me.

When Jon got home, we sat on the porch steps and talked about the day, and about all five of our kids and their wildly disparate needs, and how we could (or could not) meet those needs. Big picture, mostly we’re okay, and mostly so are the kids. We know this, and we’re grateful. We know there will be bumpy days, and sometimes bumpy stretches. I carry the words of my friend in my mouth like a prayer, “Just love them. Love them through it.”

Journaling October

It’s one of those fall mornings where the light is golden and the leaves match. It’s finally cold enough (at least part of the time) that the heater clicks on and warm air floods the house. The dog is snoring, ever next to me in his undying loyalty, while I sit in my second-favorite chair next to my bed, feet tucked up under the edge of my comforter for a little extra warmth. (My favorite chair is in my office, where it’s too cold right now, and also the sunlight is better in my room.)

My thoughts are not calm most of these days, and when I do wander inadvertently into a peaceful space, it feels uneasy. I am worried about my country. I am worried about the world. I never wanted to live in ‘interesting times’ and find so much in the news to be unsettling and even frightening. News has always been that way—but there are trends right now I never imagined being attached to the America I was raised to believe in. I know enough history to be very concerned.

With the forthcoming election (everyone, please, I beg of you…vote) hanging in the foreground, I am also deep in the latter-stages of preparing to re-enter grad school. I’m not ready to talk yet about the what, and the where is still being negotiated, but nevertheless the ball is rolling. I waver between thinking it’s bonkers to do this at my age, and then thinking I’d be crazy not to. I’m smart enough. Other people have done it. The years are going to pass regardless. It was bonkers to go to college as a 38 year-old single mother with three kids. I did that. I can do this.

I want to have some legitimate weight behind the kind of SpEd activism and advocacy I have done for years for Bean. I want to help other people, and while I can do that on my own, having the degrees and letters after your name opens doors. If I couple that with my years of experience navigating the SpEd system, with fighting for my kid’s rights, and helping other parents do the same, I have some hope for contributing in a meaningful way to a field about which I am both passionate and knowledgable.

Fun fact: Jeffrey and I could be starting college together.

Which is super weird. I’ve been sending him on the college tours offered by his high school. It’s surreal to think in just a few short months he’s graduating. He was in kindergarten last week, his orange t-shirt matching his copper hair, sitting on the curb waiting for me to pick him up. Now he throws on his letter jacket and grabs his keys and heads out the door with a boisterous, “I’m leaving, mom…” and my heart whispers back, “I know…” Eighteen years is really nothing.


Eighteen years is about what a healthy cat can live. So Abby did the math on how long she could count on a new addition to our family being with her. The answer is that she will be 30, and have finished her PhD. God bless her. So I took her to the local shelter with the intention of letting her choose a cat. They had some guinea pigs, and I was kind of hoping for those, but instead she found a bonded pair of siblings who were five months old and oh my goodness would you look at them and can I hold them please mom? I mean, why not? I spent so many years having to say no to so many things. Two cats are really no more work than one cat, right? So now we have two cats.

Tiberius is…working on his feelings. The cats, in typical cat fashion, don’t care at all about him. He, on the other hand, really loves them and wants nothing more than to love and sniff and lick and hug them. It will be nice when they learn he’s harmless, but we are not there yet. We’re keeping them separate, allowing cats and dogs to alternate between spaces in the house, and where they can see each other, but cannot yet fully interact. That’s what the experts said to do anyway. So far we’re a week in, and Ty still just wants to love them. And they mostly ignore him. I suspect that’s pretty normal.

I’m surprised at how much I like them. I haven’t had a cat since I was a kid, and while I still generally prefer the open, unaffected, and boisterous love of a dog, there is something to be said for the refined charm and subtlety of a cat. Also, they don’t drool. The kids absolutely marveled that the cats knew to use their litter box without any paper training or accidents. Abby is over the moon with happiness. That’s worth it.


Apparently, along with going back to grad school, your forties are also about your body sort of falling apart. Sometimes it feels like after all those years of not having insurance and living on the edge, that things just held out as long as they could, and then everything exhaled and let go at once. And I know how lucky I am. My latest outraged organ is my gallbladder. Waiting to have that sucker yanked, while I live on Tums and Powerade. If you’ve ever had gallbladder pain, I tip my hat to you. I’d rather have another ten-pound baby with no drugs than to have this monster tearing up my guts.

On the upside, I’m not fainting anymore. The iron infusions from this summer did the trick, and for the first time in my adult life, I am not anemic. My hair stopped falling out, I have energy again, and not fainting in the shower or falling down the stairs is pretty great, I have to admit.

Two dear friends are getting married this coming weekend after the most amazing, decade-long, and star-crossed love story you could imagine. She’s a Mormon, he’s a Catholic, they were both previously married, and they approach the altar this weekend with letters from both the LDS church and from the Vatican, blessing their marriage. It’s going to be just overflowing with joy and love. The reception is mid-century themed, and I found Bean a red tuxedo jacket (Satin lapels and everything!) at the thrift store. The girls are wearing crinolines and spectators. Jon and Jeff are wearing pin-striped suits. I will change my mind at least 12 times between now and Saturday.

Last Saturday, by the way, Bean had a little adventure. The week before, he made a tweet (do you Twitter?) asking our local grocery store when peanut butter was going to be on sale again. I had previously bought 6 cases when it was on sale. Bean numbered them 1-72, and he’d just opened jar 72. We needed more. Surprisingly, the store responded, and said if he got 72 retweets, they’d give him 72 more jars! Thus began his adventure…

He got the 72 retweets in hours, which is awesome, considering at the time he had maybe 8 followers on Twitter, all of whom were us. But then Twitter did what it can sometimes do, and the grocer, Lidl, a German company that just opened shop in the US, challenged him to get 72 thousand retweets and get a lifetime supply of peanut butter. He tweet is currently at 33 thousand retweets and hundreds of encouraging comments from people all over the world. I don’t know that he’s going to reach the magic number, but it’s been fun and has helped amplify the voices of other adults who also have self-restricted diets and food or texture sensitivity due to Autism. And Lidl has been lovely to him.

We picked up his 72 jars from the store on Saturday. He wore his Rainbow Party Suit, after we put a poll on Twitter. Sometimes, every so often, social media can be a force for good and not just wreckage. Lidl did it right.


I’m just going to ignore Halloween, which I think is tomorrow.

We have family coming in for the holidays and I am so happy! Jon’s parents will be here for most of November, dividing their time between us and Jon’s brother, who just moved to the area. I love having family visit, and I love my in-laws. I love that we finally have family that lives close. One of the hardest things about moving to the east coast was being so removed from my family—it still is. But Jon’s family has felt like my own family from day one, and having someone nearby who you love makes a huge difference. We have November birthdays to celebrate, a baptism, some awards, Thanksgiving, a holiday concert, and we get to decorate for Christmas.

Oh, and I dyed my hair red. It’s October, and no one stopped me this year. Dammit.


Yesterday was my birthday. I am forty-seven (we’re pretty sure; long story).

I don’t feel forty-seven—or at least I don’t feel whatever I imagined this would be back when it was just a faint notion. My hair has tiny streaks of sliver starting to sprout amid the waves, and while I am blessed with a thick Scottish complexion, my cheeks aren’t defying gravity any longer and no one is ever going to card me again. My children are all capable of feeding and bathing themselves, and in some cases, are currently considering collegiate options. I am deeply in love with my spouse, and we navigate our individual imperfections imperfectly, but always centered back on that abiding love. My dog thinks I am a good person.

So why did this week undo me?

I’ve been mildly politically active my whole life—you don’t grow up on the San Francisco peninsula with hippie parents and not learn about protesting, campaigning, or fulfilling your civic duty. One of my first memories is seeing my mom on the local TV news. I was in kindergarten, and she was lobbying against public-school closings in our neighborhood. One of my first jobs was canvasing neighborhoods for CalPirg. I am not blind to my privilege, but I also haven’t been isolated in comfortable white-woman oblivion.

Like so many women across America this week, old memories buried deep percolated up in painful waves, bursting the surface of my pretty nice life. My hands have been shaking, and I’ve been low-grade nauseous, even while I tried to avoid the bulk of the really toxic news. My spouse has done his level best to be supportive, but the scars that suddenly flared up were old and faded and two decades behind me; I didn’t expect those dusty bones to suddenly hum and rattle. I wasn’t prepared, how could he be? I spent the night on the phone with my mother, compelled to share for the first time what happened to me twenty-three years ago. No mother wants to hear those stories. No mother wants her own dry bones to hum and rattle.

After telling my mother, I never plan to tell my story again. I don’t owe my pain and sorrow to anyone.  Tearing my wounds open didn’t help me, it didn’t help my family, and it didn’t do anything for the countless women like me, who are nursing their histories with a mix of agony, grief, depression, sorrow, and rage. It did nothing. The only way to move forward is let those bones rot and disappear into nothing. There was nothing I could do about it at the time, and there is clearly absolutely nothing I can do about it now. The message has been received.


Three Little Birds


When they were little, it felt like the days stretched on without end.

Those were hard years—for everyone, yes, mothering very little ones is intense—but for me, I think maybe especially so. I am old enough to know that even lives that look smooth and easy from the glassy surface probably have hidden riptides. There was never anything smooth or glassy about the surfaces of my life, but when the rip tide rose up, it took with it any semblance of a stable life, destroyed my first marriage and ultimately took my first husband’s life. It left me with three babies and no visible means of support.

So when I say those years were hard, I mean it. In one paragraph, I can create a shiny, smooth surface over years of violent loss. But what those years really were was day in and day out of caring for the intense needs of three small children, while also watching my husband, their father, slowly die. In my mind, I can tick off the relapses and losses with matching snapshots of the kids’ first steps, first days of preschool, first loose tooth, first day of kindergarten. First all-night withdrawal, first overdose, first seizure, first in-patient hold, first ambulance ride…and on it goes.

Like any mother, I did my best to protect my kids from the reality of what was happening. When something like that starts, you really cannot see the end from the beginning. Your partner is hurt. They messed up. You can help fix it. It’s not too late. When you’re married, have three kids, and just bought the dream house where you both imagine living for the rest of your life, you don’t just give up. You just don’t. Even now, a decade removed and with the perspective of time and hindsight, I still don’t see a clear place where I could have chosen differently.

So my children spent their early years in this foundry of pressure and loss, and I was powerless to stop it, or to even hold it back.  While those individual days absolutely felt like a never-ending eternity, it turns out ten years flew by when I glanced away for a moment.

All of this is on my mind because my oldest son turned seventeen yesterday. Seventeen.

He was four and a half years-old when his father relapsed the first time, he was eight years-old when I took a deep, grief-filled breath and signed divorce papers, and he was thirteen years-old when the call came that his father was dead.

The seemingly small age difference between him and his siblings turns out to be a relational gulf in foundational memories. My oldest son carries with him the double-edged memories of his father that his brother and sister do not share. He remembers my frantic calls to 911. He remembers the paramedics pounding on his father’s chest. He remembers his grandmother crying in our kitchen. He remembers the judge’s order, and his dad not being allowed to see him for a year. He remembers.

He remembers packing up our home, and moving to a tiny place across town. He remembers crawling into bed with me, while we both cried. He remembers going to the welfare office and getting free school lunch. He remembers filling out his little paper ornament to hang on the charity Christmas tree in the foyer. He remembers having to sell the car so we could afford to keep the heat and water on.

He also has powerful memories of people helping. He remembers strangers dropping off boots and coats for us. He remembers packages arriving on our porch anonymously. He remembers kids from church canceling a ski trip to help us move. He remembers the scout troop helping set up swings in our tiny yard. He remembers fishing trips and garden plots and motorbike rides and free pizzas and sledding and invitations to multiple family Thanksgiving and Easter dinners.

The life he’s lived, while not one I would have ever chosen for him on his birth day, has changed him in powerful ways I also could never have imagined. I unequivocally do not believe the trite aphorism everything happens for a reason. That notion reduces people and their lives to bit pieces moved around on a chess board for another’s benefit. There is no world in which that is just or moral. What I do believe is that life is messy and hard and full of chance and dumb luck and grace when we are looking for it, and it will roll forward whether we want it to or not. We have very little power over anything outside of ourselves, but the power we do have for ourselves is pretty remarkable.

Had twenty-seven year old me been given the choice, I would have probably avoided every single thing coming down the pipeline. Thank God I didn’t know. Thank God we are not given that omniscience, because we would screw it up every time. I would have moved heaven and earth to try and save my children, myself, and David, the pain we would all experience. But looking back, I cannot fathom a bigger mistake.

The things twenty-seven year old me would want to avoid end up being foundational to who I am, to how I now move through the world. And while I cannot see yet what that means for the future from right here in the middle, what I do have now that I didn’t then is faith in the process. I don’t know why things happen, and sometimes they are wretchedly sad and sometimes loss is just heartbreakingly meaningless. I think the only why is what we do with our own pain.

So I look at my son. Seventeen.

He’s not like other kids. He’s acquainted with loss and grief in ways many kids aren’t. He’s comfortable with disabilities, with the language of inclusion, with blended families, and non-traditional roles. He volunteers in the SpEd class and walks a vision-impaired classmate to the bus in the afternoons. He is aware of how fortunate we are now, how wonderful it is to have a full refrigerator and not to worry about the heating bill. He keys in on the needs and feelings of others, and navigates easily between wildly different peer groups. He flew with me to retrieve the ashes of his father after he died, and held them in his lap on the flight home.

He’s also exactly like other kids. He forgets to do his homework, and spends too much time playing video games. He complains about picking up dog poop in the yard, and is a jerk sometimes to his youngest sister. He plays Dungeons & Dragons, and he lettered in Varsity football. He has an easy smile and a ready laugh, and will happily show you all the vintage rock on the phone he got for his birthday. He likes Billie Holiday and sings loudly off-key to Billy Joel with his step-father while he does the dishes.

And now he is seventeen, and the heavy lifting of the early years—and even the teenage years, to a large extent—are behind us. What once felt like an inescapable forever of sorrow and hardship is now a snapshot of complex and nuanced memories, with a tail on the curve of stability and a fair dose of happiness. To someone outside looking in, the surface looks pretty smooth. Don’t be fooled; those waters run deep.

I am grateful none of us are given the option of seeing the end from the beginning. I take a deep breath as I type that, because sometime I act braver than I really am, and we are all in the middle. The truth is, we simply cannot comprehend or manage that kind of magnitude, and we would stunt ourselves in the process of trying to create an ideal that can never exist.

I am utterly not ready for this child to graduate from high school, to be applying to college and to become an adult. His lived memories and experiences and mine are intertwined in a way that is inextricable. At the same time, I am ridiculously happy that he is so good, so competent and has so much to offer others. I am excited to see him thrive and find happiness, and I know that only happens when he learns to stand on his own.

When they were little, it felt like the days stretched on without end.

I was wrong.

It’s the process of learning to let go that is without end.

Empty Seat at the Table

Screen Shot 2018-06-08 at 3.37.21 PM.png

I never met him, but I started to cry this morning when I got a text telling me that Anthony Bourdain had died. I was no one to him—a nameless, faceless, American woman whose kids turned their noses up at the food I put on the table each day. Every once in a while I could distract the kids and find a spare moment to breathe, and surreptitiously change the channel from Noggin to Travel and see Bourdain living the life I dreamed of.

He meant something to me.

He might not have known who I was, but he paid attention to the women cooking noodles on the street corner in Vietnam. He listened to her story, watched her skilled hands move in the timeless rhythms passed down to her from her mothers. He didn’t romanticize the people he walked among- he was cutting and sardonic, but people were not ironic pawns in his story. He submerged himself in real life, messy life, complicated and beautiful and painful life. He showed reverence for the process, and I drank it down.

So much of my relationship with his travels and love of food was swallowed in stolen bits between the needs of my family. I have impressions burnt into my memory—a rickshaw ride through the swirling night, with lights and green hazy alcohol. A president meeting him at a flimsy plastic table to share a beer. The butchering of a camel and the consumption of the hump, much to my slight revulsion. The slaughter of pigs, and the using of every single valuable part of the animal. The slight terror of being at a shiny white hotel in the middle east, and suddenly being under siege and unsure of what would happen next.

He showed us that people are people everywhere, and they have beautiful stories if you will pause to truly listen. He modeled how to travel, how to be human with other humans, how to connect and really see the flux and flow happening constantly. He showed us—really showed us—that we have nothing to fear from difference, and everything to gain.

Food is personal. Food is fundamentally how we care for each other. It’s labor. It’s life. It’s also ultimately death. Food is love. My friends know that if I love you, I will feed you. And while I was nobody to the lucky bastard who got to travel the world finding the best food, because of the way he looked at, talked with, moved among, and actually saw the people he sought out who were cooks, I feel like he saw me too.

I wish there was a way to wind back the clock a few hours, to invite him to sit in my kitchen while I run my knife over todays garden picking, adding some salt and garlic and a few chilis to some pig. I wish I could pour him a beer in one of my chipped kitchen glasses, and shoo the dog away. I wish I could give him back some of the hopeful sustenance he gave all of us, and help him get through this day.

I’m just so damn sorry.  I hope the pain is gone.

More than seven years ago, I wrote about my secret crushes. Number three on my list was Anthony Bourdain.

Day 48: Childhood Toy

Taking part in the Ann Dee Ellis 8-Minute Memoir Writing Challenge. This is Day Forty-Eight.

I’m still embarrassed by the red flannel cap I wore that Christmas. Do you have anything from your long-ago past that still makes your cheeks sting with chagrin? I don’t know how old I was, maybe ten? But I’d read Little Women and was enamored of the fashions and traditions of the idealized past, and I had started trying to sleep in flannel nightgown and sleeping cap–the kind you would see in Coca-Cola ads depicting sleepy-eyed children and Santa Claus. Nevermind that I lived in California, and a flannel nightgown and cap were not only absurd on their own, but particularly so when “winter” meant cooling to 72 degree December days.

I was a weird kid. Dreamy. Lost in my books. My books were my world, and I wanted to live there. So sometimes I tried. I wish it had stopped with that ridiculous lace-trimmed flannel cap, but it didn’t. I tried to make a corset from wire-hangers and duct tape after I read Gone with the Wind. I tried to dry plums in the sun on top of the chicken coop after I found Steinbeck. I imagined myself Fern, lecturing my father and his friends on the morality of killing a pig to eat.

So that Christmas, in my red flannel while the rest of my family was comfortable in shorts, I opened the last big package. It was a pair of roller skates. They were beautiful white leather with smooth nylon wheels that whispered on hidden ball-bearings, and giant purple pom-poms covered the un-marred toes. I gazed into the box, so happy, imagining myself gliding over the fresh patio my dad had poured in the backyard.

Then I remembered the stupid hat, and tore it off. One couldn’t wear a Victorian sleeping cap and possess the finest roller-skates on the west coast. Worlds collided, and modernity won.

I was a weird kid. But I roller skated the wheels off of those suckers, and I’ve never worn a sleeping cap again.


Procrastination Renovation

Or: How to Avoid Doing What You Should Be Doing


So in an effort to both avoid Writing the Next Book and Other Things, I got a wild hair to do some major home improvement. Thankfully, my family is game and goes along with most of my wild hairs, albeit not always with the same vision that grips me.

It started simple enough. I’ve lived in this house for several years now, and as with almost everyone, there were changes I wanted to make. I’ve done a lot of them, but apparently not as many as I thought. It started with replacing the curly-que door levers (pocket-killer and headphone rippers-out) with regular old doorknobs. Not a big job, and I found a great deal on knobs.

Then I decided a few of the light fixtures needed to go (they were never my taste, and didn’t remotely fit with the mid-Atlantic architecture of the house.) I also found some great deals on light, and can make second-hand things shine like new. I’m comfortable with electrical work, so I did all of this myself. When I pulled down the ceiling fixtures, I found old junction boxes that were only held in with one screw, so I found a YouTube video and replaced them all. It wasn’t hard, and with the breaker off, you really can’t hurt yourself.

So that was good, and I felt happy with the upgrades and safety changes.

Then it was time to use more of the house. Our house is as much house as I ever want—not a fan of giant McMansions in the suburbs, this house is a moderate size for an American  home, and certainly big enough for a family of six plus a dog. But it does require that we are smart about our spaces and use it wisely. We don’t have the luxury (or want it, really) of having a room or two set aside that doesn’t get used. No formal living room or dining room, just rooms that the entire family can functionally use. That required some rethinking.

The basement is 1/3 of our house. We’re lucky in that it’s a walk-out daylight basement and opens to our fenced backyard. But it was poorly designed, with choppy flooring, asymmetrical built-ins that jutted into the living space, and literally zero wall space unclaimed in an already awkwardly L-shaped room. Time to demo, boys!


It only took one Saturday, but we ripped out everything down to the badly marred drywall. Bean and Jon both really like demo, and Jeff was with me on the vision that was coalescing for the room.


Once everything was removed, it was time to learn to drywall. At first I thought about hiring someone to do it, but it just didn’t look that hard–and our budget is super tight. I turned to YouTube again to learn how to tape and mud, and I got to work. (Two thoughts: It’s not necessarily hard, but it’s a LOT of work, and if you take it on, expect it to take twice as long, and expect your arms, shoulders and neck to pay a heavy price. It’s serious physical work.)

I’m sure my patches aren’t perfect and my tape joints would make a drywall professional roll their eyes, but it wasn’t bad, and a little texture covers a multitude of imperfections.

Then I painted. A little bit about paint. A) paint is expensive, and B) if you have an eye for color, I’ve got a hack for you… All major hardware stores have a rack of “mis-tints” or paints that didn’t come out the color the customer desired. The store sets them aside, and marks them down significantly. Its not unusual to find a $45/gallon of paint marked down to $5. Check those racks. If you find a color you like, score! If they don’t have a color you like, you can mix your own! Grab a can or two of neutral colors, get a clean bucket and start mixing. Use a light-ish base, and add some brown, green, yellow, whatever… most colors when mixed will make a taupe-brown-grey color. If the color isn’t right or feels too muddy, add white!  Doing this, you can get a couple of gallons of a super neutral tone in a high quality paint that would have cost $100 for less than $20. My *entire* house is painted this way, by the way. Every room. (The only downside is that you can’t order more.)


This is the grey color I mixed with mis-tints from Lowes. Cost: $18. And it was their premium paint with primer built-in. You just have to be cool with imperfection. Can you see my drywall tape? Nope!

Then I scored a major deal at Lowes with some clearance flooring. Again, if you go in with an open mind regarding colors and style, you can really do well. I know a lot of people get freaked out by big decisions, but if you stay in a neutral family of colors, I promise it will look good when you’re done. You can mis-match a lot of stuff, as my own home proves…

We installed this ourselves. Floating floor is easier than drywall, honestly. Find a YouTube video, and recruit your family to help.


Meanwhile, Tiberius was terrified off all the chaos and noise, and spent the week hovering on the stairs, too afraid to come all the way down.

I found this chandelier meant for a castle at Costco marked down to $59. I bought it, came home and installed it, wanted to love it, and then got up at midnight (literally, I couldn’t sleep in a castle) and took it all down and packed it back in the box. My husband is a very patient man, and did sleep through my Castle phase. Now there isn’t a light in the dining room. But I’ll find something second-hand. It can wait.

So I enlisted the help of my teenagers (have I mentioned that teenagers are awesome? I feel like I have.) and we decided to move the boys to the new basement palace. It didn’t take long for them to think they were done:


Insert narrator’s voice: They were not.

What actually happened, instead of the man-cave they imagined was the creation of a new bedroom suite for the boys in the basement, and the girls getting their own rooms (and bathroom!) upstairs.


The boys’ game and living area.


Jeffrey’s space.


Bean’s space.


The dog finally screwed up the courage to come downstairs and promptly staked out Tiberius’ space.


Abby’s room…


…and Kelsey’s.

A word about decorating, because I have a lot of friends who are intimidated and who ask me for help…

First… Decorating doesn’t have to be expensive. Keep in mind my paint hack, and my willingness to look for sales, second-hand and shop garage and thrift stores. I realize this takes time, and not everyone has a lot of time, but a Saturday at a flea market or a thrift store can yield great results. I know it’s been said a lot, but look at the bones of things. A second-hand lamp that’s well-made can be re-wired with a $5 kit from the hardware store and can be spray painted. A solid chair can be recovered, painted, or stained. Nearly every single item you see in these photos of my home was found second-hand. Don’t buy junk particle board, look for solid wood, solid construction; you can tell when you hold something, when you touch it, if it’s good.

Abby’s bed is a thrift store find. Solid maple. I sanded and painted it. It’s lasted her more than a decade now. Bean’s bed is from IKEA, but found on Craigslist. Kelsey’s bed is vintage heavy-as-hell iron, also found on Craigslist. Every bookcase in my house is from from a garage sale. The dressers were hand-me-downs, the coffee table from a yard sale (it’s been pained three different colors over the years, but it’s solid!) The china cabinet was my grandmother’s, the TV cabinet and our sofas are hand-me-downs from Jon’s brother. My piano came from a garage sale. The yellow chairs in the basement, from my favorite thrift store. The rug is from the clearance bin at Home Depot. I painted the artwork on the wall (maybe you can’t do that, but maybe you can creatively frame a poster, or ask a friend to help, or hang a vintage table cloth on the wall… think outside the box!) Even the curtains are second hand. Really folks, it just takes a little faith to take some risk, and a tiny bit of creativity.

Oh. And one more thing. Forget matching things. FORGET IT. I mean it. Literally nothing in my house matches. None of the wood is the same color or species, none of the upholstery matches.  Do you notice? Nope. Why? Because it doesn’t matter. Matchy-matchy makes your home look like a store or a hotel. Give it up. Find things you love. Marry them together, and your home will shine.


Oh, I almost forgot… it all started with painting the porch ceiling (mixed that paint by hand, too.)