Thursday, July 31, 2014

I've moved!

Come and find me at:

My most recent post- "120 Years"

Wednesday, June 11, 2014


Like anyone in her mid-thirties, our house has been undergoing a lot of changes. In the past five years since we moved in, we’ve converted a basement garage into five rooms: bathroom/laundry room/bedroom/craft room/storage space. We had new kitchen countertops installed and had all of the wood floors re-stained. Thanks to those consistent Middle Tennessee hailstorms, we traded out our green roof, white aluminum siding and white garage doors for sage green Hardie board, a brown roof, and faux wood garage doors. While we were at it, we had a year-round sunroom built, taking up part of our patio.

In addition to all of this, figure in the extensive landscaping, front porch redo, and new carpet. And don’t even get me started on all of the interior painting we’ve done. (Paint chevron zigzags on a couple of walls and see if it doesn’t push you right up to—if not over—the edge. If chevron goes out of style—which of course it eventually will, just ask someone with a Jennifer Aniston haircut wearing stirrup pants—please, don’t tell me. I don’t want to know.)

Our latest adventure has been renovating two of our existing bathrooms: the hallway bath (a.k.a.- Knox’s bathroom) and the master bath. When you move into a house that needs some updating, you find yourself making lists with column titles like: Most Urgent, Next Summer, When The Kids Are Older. The column for the master bath redo was “No One Ever Sees It But Us So Who Cares.” But the unreliable, rusted toilet, the cabinets and drawers with the “weird smell” and the mildew stained tub/shower combo finally grossed us out one too many times. It was time to say good-bye (or tear down the entire house like the Book of Leviticus advises homeowners with mold problems).

Just like the stages of grief, a homeowner experiences a series of emotions during the renovation process:

Stage 1 – The “Wouldn’t it be nice?” phase. You lie in your bed at night and dream with your husband about how your lives would be different if you had a shower stall with cream subway tiles and quartz countertops. Hmmm…maybe, someday…

Stage 2 – The Estimate. Your husband gives you the go-ahead to get a few estimates, because you have NO IDEA how much redoing your bathroom will cost. When you get the estimate, you use all of the poker face skills you can muster to make the contractor think this is exactly the price you were expecting. You fight the urge to say, “Are you sure that’s where the decimal point is supposed to go?”

Stage 3 – The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. The work begins but its progress can be measured in fits and starts. Workers don’t always show up when they’re expected and when they do they don’t bring the right _______________ (tool/pipe/trim/wire/glue) because no one told them to. At some point every day, you stare at an empty room which only a month ago gave you the privacy—even if you were a little grossed out by it—to do your business and move on with your day, but now it’s dry wall dust and dirty foot prints. All you can do is curl up in the fetal position and sing Negro spirituals about the coming of the Lord.

Stage 4 – You can see the finish line. It’s almost done. It’s been a solid month of wallpaper removal (should be a punishment for Al-Qaeda terrorists at Guantanamo Bay), scrambling for another box of tile so the shower can be finished before the tiler goes on to his next job, your kids writing their names in the dust on your dresser, and waiting for people to show up. It looks like the contents of your bathroom threw up in your bedroom and there’s a giant piece of sheetrock leaning against your wall, blocking all of the outlets. You’re itching to lay shelf paper in your drawers and start finding the perfect place for your toothpaste. Soon, little grasshopper, soon…

Stage 5 – It was all worth it! It's done and it's the most luxurious bathroom you've ever seen! (Aw, who am I kidding? I'd just settle for a place to pee, poop, and shower at this point.)

I’m not to stage five yet, but I have hope. I’m still waiting on mirrors to be hung and the gaping hole in the hall bath to be repaired so I can paint that wall. The sheetrock is still standing against my wall like it’s waiting for a bus and it has “all day, thank you very much.” 

The Wallpaper Removal Fiasco of 2014 has left a very literal mark on my bathroom and a metaphorical one on my psyche. After googling “wallpaper removal repair” I tried to patch the wall with drywall mud. After sanding and more mudding, it’s definitely not perfect and it makes me want to rip every hair out of my head when I run my hand along the bumpy surface but Brent tried to soothe away my frustrations last night. He said, “Who cares if it’s not perfect? No one is going to see it but us anyway.” No! I haven't endured this month so that we can return to that column! Repeat after me: "This bathroom is beautiful and should be featured in Southern Living.Very good." Denial is the only way to survive a renovation.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Pool Party

When we moved into our current home about five years ago, we got 4 ½ acres, three bedrooms and three bathrooms, a partially finished basement, and a pool. (For more inside information about our house-hunting experience and general illustrations of how easily I can embarrass myself, read this.)

Since neither of us grew up having a pool (unless you count the plastic kind that is stacked outside of the Walmart garden center), we were skeptical if we could handle it. It didn’t help that when we saw it for the first time, it was a brilliant lime color with lovely, foam blobs floating freely in the deep end. This was way out of my expertise.

Now that we’re starting our fifth summer as “pool people,” it’s become part of our family identity—for good and for not-so-good:

  •       It’s easy for an impromptu get-together but some mechanism breaks every year, costing at least $600 for a new whosie-whatsit that fits the whatsy-doodle and keeps the pool running perfectly (for about a month and a half).
  •       We inherit lots of left-behind swim goggles and diving toys but—despite our efforts to encourage toweling off before going inside to use the bathroom—the floors are always covered in wet footprints.
  •       Listening to the soothing sound of the pool fountain is a pleasant way to end the day but pulling dead frogs, moles, and mice from the skimmer basket is a depressing way to start a birthday party.
  •       Even when it’s over ninety degrees, our kids spend hours outside swimming with their friends and cousins but I have to buy sunscreen by the gross ton.
  •       Our kids’ friends enjoy hanging out at our house but sometimes those friends need instruction on how to use a tampon for the first time ever. (Side note: It didn’t bother me one bit to explain this technique. I love to teach things that I truly know how to do, probably due to the fact that I’m not an expert in many areas. It was just difficult to have to describe to a sweet tween friend the certain outcome when a maxi-pad is submerged in a swimming pool.)
  •       Swim noodles are cheap and fun pool toys. You can float on them, hit your sister with them, and even use them to blow a large amount of water at your friend like you’re a whale with an overactive blowhole. The downside, other than the fact that pool water quickly disintegrates them if they are left outside too long and you’ll find pieces of neon pink, green, and orange in the skimmer basket for weeks afterwards, is that they are too often used by boys to imitate the male anatomy. You can’t make it that easy for them, folks.

Like everything else that has to do with owning and maintaining your home, we have learned a lot of things about the care of a pool, often from doing it the wrong way first. If I had a nickel for every time Brent or I ended a conversation with the phrase “Well, now we know…” I’d have enough nickels to buy a new whosie-whatsit or maybe even an entire whatsy-doodle. Okay, come to think of it, maybe this pool stuff is still way out of my expertise.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Birds of a feather...should flock somewhere else

For the second year in a row, a couple of blackbirds have built their nest in the gutter just outside my bedroom. (Disclaimer: I don’t know if they are actually blackbirds. I just know they are black birds. I tried to look up what kind of big, aggressive nincompoops like to build nests in gutters but the search engine fairy failed me.) We built a sunroom onto our house a few years ago creating an L-shape with our bedroom. Apparently, the resulting corner gutter is prime real estate.

 As I sit in my room, I hear birds fighting for this property. I can imagine every awkward movement of their large wings in such a confined space. They squawk and snap at each other. It is in all respects ANNOYING. If it’s true what the naturalist John James Audubon said that “hopes are shy birds flying at a great distance seldom reached by the best of guns,” then these not-so-shy birds are the exact opposite of hope—misery maybe. And the gun thing is questionable. Being a pacifist and non-gun owner, I’m surprised by my growing desire to see their birdy bodies riddled with bullets, feathers floating slowly to the ground after the smoke clears…I digress.

 On days when I want to sit and write in this private sanctuary of my bedroom, I’m frustrated by the constant noise. “Cut it out, you morons!” I shout at them. “There are about forty trees within seconds of here! Why did you build your stupid nest in my gutter?!” For some reason, my yelling doesn’t make a difference. Perhaps they don't know English. I’ve even resorted to sitting on the floor by the door to the patio with my laptop in front of me trying to get something done. Every time I hear them clattering around, I open and shut the door quickly to send them flying to the nearby pine trees only to hear them return in a few minutes.

 (Another disclaimer: Seeing as how this is the second year of this nesting, we would have been smart to place some sort of deterrent in the gutter during the off season. My husband Brent and I discussed this plan of action: What kind of material should we use? Who will stand on the ladder and who will hold a broom to swat away possible attack birds? Unfortunately we never got past the “planning” stage. I’m definitely regretting my laziness now since it’s illegal to remove bird nests that are being actively used unless they are home to an invasive species like house sparrows or European starlings. I’m not sure if these black birds are officially registered as invasive but they have certainly invaded my gutter.)

 If this year turns out to be like last year, another sound will soon be added to the thrashing and squawking. Soon I’ll hear the cheeping of baby birds and a new emotional conflict will plague my soul. Instead of just being annoyed by the pesky adult birds, I’ll succumb to my maternal feelings of cherishing anything newborn, even if it cries a lot. And this is all by design.

 The birds nest by design so that their eggs will have a safe place to hatch. No one teaches them what materials to gather or how to scout for possible locations but they do it every year. By design, mothers are compelled to love the fragile and tiny so that they will nurture and care for those too weak to care for themselves. I’m designed to see even the annoying aspects of nature around me so that I can be in awe of our Creator.

 Although I’d love for them to leave, I’m grateful for these stupid birds. I’m grateful to live in a place where I can witness wildlife—even if it’s just a squirrel drinking from a puddle in the middle of our pool cover or an over-sized groundhog pushing an imaginary friend in our porch swing (yes, that actually happened). Life and living things are a blessing and if I have to be reminded of them by squawking then that may be by design, too.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Double the Fun

“My name is Abby and I am the mother of twins.”

“Hello, Abby.”

“Welcome to the mothers of twins support group…”

It’s just in my mind, of course. I don’t go to any such meetings. Early on, I had plenty of opportunities to join groups when my girls were babies but I honestly couldn’t imagine using precious baby-free time to sit in a room with other moms every other week and eat light refreshments. There was so much I’d rather be doing, like sleeping. I got through their baby years the way our early pioneer foremothers did: I circled the wagons and held off the barrage of poop, pee, and spit up until the savages retreated to their naps.

I’m just kidding. My daughters, now almost twelve, were never really that bad, although I’d have to be hypnotized to remember the majority of their first two years of life. It’s all a blur. I do remember feeding them with a special nursing pillow (“My Breast Friend,” Boppy’s odd cousin, with sharp angles and a fabric slipcover featuring psychedelic, dancing bears and giant, building blocks that spelled words like CAT and DOG) that allowed me to feed them at the same time. None of this nursing discreetly in a parking lot stuff for me, no sir. I had to be in bed and shirtless for everybody to be hooked up correctly.

I also remember long walks pushing their stroller. We lived in an older neighborhood with wonderful, tree-lined sidewalks so we’d make the circuit around the block and head back. We had a double stroller but for the first several months the girls were too small to occupy a seat alone. Instead, they were tucked in together like they were still in the womb…but with straps.   

When they were a little older, their personalities began to emerge. Ella loved to sing and dance around in a dramatic fashion. A somber ballet was playing out in her head, no doubt. Lucy on the other hand was all about the facial expressions: Anything for a laugh. They were both bossy and very verbal, so there was nothing quiet about our home. They liked to debunk the stereotype that girls are dainty by wrestling each other at some point every day. I liked to debunk the stereotype that moms break up daughters who wrestle by sitting on the sofa and watching. They giggled and giggled until a pigtail was pulled or an arm got scratched then it was over. I would pull them into my lap and say, “That’s what happens when we wrestle,” as if I didn’t think it was a great form of pre-nap entertainment.

They crawled then walked and their teeth came in but unlike better moms, I didn’t write anything down. I don’t know what their first words were but I do remember Ella saying “Maybe so, Baby Ho” so I knew their intake of Dr. Seuss books was more than adequate. They played together and were each other’s best friend/worst enemy.

I stopped dressing them alike somewhere around kindergarten. For some reason, we’re expected to keep them identical (even if they’re obviously not) at all times. So if one poops out the back end of her striped onesie do I have to change the other one too so that both of them now have matching polka dot onesies? That sounds like too much laundry and maybe a level of hell. (An eternity of rolling a huge boulder up a hill with Sisyphus would be better than trying to remove breastfed baby poop stains.) I still got a few matching outfits out of them on Sundays but that eventually ended too. They wanted to be independent of each other, their own woman. Deep down, I suspect they felt comfortable loosening their reliance on each other because they knew the other sister was never going to be that far away.

This year, we decided to put them in two different schools for 6th grade. It was a difficult decision but an attempt to preserve the fragile ecosystem of twin sisters. I get it. I understand being compared to a sister, only mine was two years older than me. Teachers met me with certain expectations, often unrealistic. Having a twin is even worse. As a parent, when I try to praise one, I end up dissing the other one. Everything is political when it comes to vying for pecking order with your siblings. So we’ve decided to do the only thing we know how to do, keep going. Keep making mistakes in spite of our best intentions and start saving for their future therapy sessions. The most I can hope for is that they will someday enjoy the benefits of having a sister. They will do as I do with my sisters, complain about their childhood and bemoan their parents’ parenting. They'll be so grateful to have another person who completely understands their crazy family. At least, they’ll bond over something!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Thoughts from the Pot

Like most people, I have a love/hate relationship with public restrooms. How many times have I heard one of my kids’ panicked screams break the calm reverie of a long car trip (thank you very much, inventor of the DVD) to tell me they “HAVE TO PEE NOW!!!”? We pull into whatever is the next available pee receptacle and do what needs to be done to save the car upholstery. It’s usually something that hasn’t been cleaned this millennia but it solves the problem and isn’t that why God created hand sanitizer? I’m grateful it was there but grossed out until I can shower.

Recently, I went to a middle school swim meet at a very nice private school. The facilities were clean and mostly plentiful, but I had one issue with them: They were too quiet. After downing my large Coke Zero with vanilla from Sonic, I found the nearest restroom to the indoor pool complex. This particular restroom was only a two-seater, which meant several ladies waited in line behind me. The bathroom was as sound proof as a recording studio. Nothing from the hundreds of people just outside the restroom could be heard, only the tinkling from within. Talk about humiliation. I didn’t know anyone in line but I felt the need to small talk. Unfortunately, the sounds I couldn’t help but hear only made me need to go more. I couldn’t think of anything to say. “How about the weather? Looks like it might rain.” No good. All talk of precipitation was off limits if I wanted to get out of there without making a puddle. At that moment, I wished for two things: 1.) Some kind of music piped in to mask the bathroom noises. Macaroni Grill even plays “Learn to Speak Italian” CDs. Brilliant. (Dove posso trovare? Where is the bathroom?) 2.) To make as little sounds as possible when it was my turn. I was suddenly grateful I didn’t order any food from Sonic when I got my coke. Had I eaten a breakfast burrito there would have been sounds aplenty.

There are so many examples of love/hate relationships. Usually, we prefer to say bittersweet. When our kids tackle the next hurdle towards adulthood, it’s a bittersweet moment. We want to see them grow and mature but we also want to keep them little and adorable and taking long naps. Some experiences are more bitter than sweet and vice versa, but I have realized most experiences have both. It may seem clich├ęd to look for the silver lining in every dark cloud but finding the love amidst the hate is the only way to persevere through some tough times. Finding things to be grateful for makes the low points seem more temporary.

So I salute you, public restrooms! You have saved me countless times! Thank you or as my Italian friends would say: grazie molte!