To Jason

Today my favorite person turns 40 years old. Happy Birthday, Jason!

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This year also marks ten years –  A WHOLE DECADE – since I met Jason. Every single day I wake up amazed and deeply relieved that I haven’t screwed this up yet.

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It has been my great honor to walk beside him through the most recent 25% of his time on Earth. We’ve tackled major and minor crises as a team, and he astounds me with his inexhaustible energy and grace under pressure.

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He has caused my shriveled little grinch heart to grow three sizes. He inspires me by performing countless selfless acts of service, by constantly looking for ways to help. I have become a more generous, kinder person due to his influence.

May the Fourth be with you, my friend.

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Make. Do.

NOTE: If you’re here for adorable Hazel pictures, skip to the bottom.

When I wrote about my mom suffering from lack of initiative, I realized that I also have a hard time “biting the bullet” and starting any of the projects that are rattling around my head.

I’m happy to report that I’ve been doing….better.

I planted herbs and vegetables for the first time in a couple of years. Two weeks in, they’re all still alive. I even used my own basil in pasta sauce last night.

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I’m also growing mint for the first time, because it’s easy.

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So far I have made a mint-infused simple syrup to be used in mojitos (or, um, tea). I see lots of mojitos in my future.

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I’ve also been using my sewing machine more. I bought an actual pattern and made Hazel a play dress out of scrap fabric:

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I took the opportunity to try a new decorative button attachment. Sexier words have never been uttered.

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And finally, using this tutorial, I turned another of Jason’s castoff shirts into a dress.

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Hazel and I are both pretty excited about it.

Now, off to whip up some well-deserved mojitos!

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Hippity Hoppity

We went to Jacksonville for Easter, partly so the kids could use the Chamblin’s gift cards they got for Christmas, and partly so we could attend my extended family’s annual Easter gathering.

There was a lot of eating.

On Saturday, Hazel had an appetizer of baby toes.

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Delicious.

Saturday night, we went out for dinner with mom and then out for ice cream at the Dreamette, a legendary Westside establishment.

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Sunday we had a giant breakfast at the Metro Diner, and then it was time to squeeze into our church finery. Whoops.

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We did all right.

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And here’s where I get on my curmudgeonly soapbox.

We do not consider Easter to be Christmas II. We do not give our kids toys, games, electronics, or wheeled things for Easter. Everyone gets a small basket of candy, because OH MY GOD WE JUST DID CHRISTMAS THREE MONTHS AGO AND I CANNOT DEAL WITH IT AGAIN. Some years we throw in socks and underwear, just for fun.

I can only stomach one quasi-religious gift-giving holiday in a year, it turns out. And while I enjoy “commercial” Christmas, with its festive holiday beverages, songs about snow (whatever that is), and strings of lights, the increasing commercialization of Easter really aggravates me. Maybe it’s the weather – in the middle of winter, we can all use some cheering up. But Easter falls right in the middle of spring, when temperatures are rising and things don’t look so bleak.

I think it bothers me as a Christian, which is a hard and awkward thing for me to type. Christmas, as most of us know, celebrates the birth of Jesus. Which, yeay, but everyone gets born. It’s a nice excuse to have a party and give gifts and whatever,  but it’s not ultimately that big of a deal.

Easter, to those of the Christian faith, is the biggest effing deal of all. It’s the culmination of Holy Week, which should possibly be re-named Week of Unending Horrors. If you’re paying attention at all, you come through Holy Week feeling a bit battered, and by the time you get to the early morning hours of Easter Sunday, there’s a deep sense of stillness, and darkness.

Instead, most of us are like, “All-you-can-eat deviled eggs? Yeah! Pass the ham!”

I’m not so much of an Easter grinch that I want the Cadbury creme eggs ripped from the shelves, or a bonfire made of wicker baskets, but I do want to push back against the rising tide of consumerist frenzy that seems to get higher every year.

I love Cadbury creme eggs. I love ham at family lunches. And I love little kids with baskets.

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But my wallet, and my sanity, can’t level up to Pinterest-worthy door wreaths and accumulating boxes of decorations to be hauled up and down from the attic.

We’ll be keeping our Easters small and simple.

Except for the creme eggs. I could eat like a hundred of those.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Big Reveal, or Why I Don’t Blog for Money

I’ll admit it – I’m a sucker for a remodeling show. Or a remodeling blog. Or anything featuring a cringe-worthy Before and an open-mouthed After. Ever since my first sweet hit of “Trading Spaces” in 2002, I cannot get enough radical transformation.

I would love, love, love to make money writing a blog about home projects, home improvement, homemaking, and other domestic engineering pursuits.

I would also like a unicorn with wine udders, and a side of unlimited cheese.

For one thing, I don’t have the money to generate content for that kind of endeavor. Even blogs that feature on-the-cheap projects are expensive to produce. Think about it. If you’re publishing a $20 “budget” project five days a week, that’s nearly $500 a month. I don’t have $500 a month to sink into hot glue guns and spray paint.

Blogging has become a big-money game, and with those increased stakes is the pressure to brand yourself. The cute couple at Young House Love started out as intrepid DIYers, but ended up pulling the plug on their cult-followed blog in 2014 after realizing they had become two-dimensional puppets. (Don’t worry, they still have a line of accessories at Target and Home Depot.) From NYMag.com: “Family outings had to include something “bloggable,” like a stop at an antique store. Each holiday required fresh seasonal content. The Petersiks were also picking up all those side projects that felt like huge wins, but required a tremendous amount of additional work.”

The quest for content is unstoppable and invasive. One blog I follow, Merrick’s Art, recently posted a tutorial for a DIY slouchy t-shirt dress. It featured lovely photographs of the blogger, in her postpartum room in the hospital, hanging out with her 24-hour-old newborn in said slouchy t-shirt dress. Her hair and makeup are perfect. Her pedicure is on point. Her hospital bracelets look like a bold accessory choice.

This is insanity.

If this was a woman who worked in an office, and she was answering e-mails and holding conference calls from her postpartum room, we would give her a bit of the side-eye. We would encourage a bit more work-life balance.  But because bloggers aren’t seen as real workers, we expect them to be accessible to us, the readers, in every facet of their lives. They’re not entertainers, they’re our friends.

Bloggers also tend to get pigeonholed. Heather Armstrong, Dooce, rose to fame with her honest account of postpartum depression. Jenny Lawson, the Blogess, turned social anxiety into blog-and-book-deal gold. Ree Drummond, the Pioneer Woman, has parlayed her isolated ranch life into a line of cooking gear at Wal-Mart. If any of these women grow beyond their “one thing” – say, if Ree ditches her ranch for a cool urban loft, or Jenny finds the right combination of therapies to enable to lead a life free from anxiety – their livelihood is threatened.

When I started this blog, I envisioned it as a way to work through my own divorce and the creation of my blended family. I could share the ups, the downs, the legal hurdles, the emotional punches, and tips for those going through a similar situation. At the time, it seemed like divorce was this endless process, that I could write about it forever.

I was wrong. Thank goodness.

It’s been over eight years since my divorce was finalized. I now feel it would be unhealthy to continue rehashing my own divorce, thinking about other people’s divorces, or otherwise dwelling on that part of my life – solely for the purpose of getting blog hits.

I’m a different person now. Life has moved on, and taken me with it. I myself am radically transformed.

As an aside, I imagine it’s hard to find corporate sponsors for blogs on depressing-but-not-edgy subjects like divorce. Maybe Ben & Jerry would take on “Ice Cream for Dinner Again? Hell Yes.” And Kleenex could help me out by funding a post called “You Will Cry at the Drop of a Hat, so Be Prepared.” Bose could underwrite “Belting Power Ballads to Cope With The Frustration of Another Enormous Legal Bill.”

I will always enjoy a dramatic Before-and-After, but I also recognize that, for the most part, they are experiences carefully orchestrated for my consumption. My life is not orchestrated for anyone but Jason and myself.

And that’s good enough.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Crazy Jason’s Furniture Emporium-o-rama

Three weekends ago, my mother gave us a truckload of furniture from her house. It was a great and generous gift, but quite a process to get it all incorporated into our home. We have finally finished our substitutions, which means we have furniture to sell, for cheap.

Like this child’s chair, which was in the girls’ room:

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Or this pair of loveseats, which are just a couple of years old and have washable slipcovers:

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This bedroom set was given to us, and we split it between Tyler’s room and the girls’ room. I refinished Tyler’s set but Jensen liked the dresser au naturel. It would be easy to refinish the dresser with mirrors and have a nice bedroom suite.

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There’s also a dresser out of our room. It’s missing two pulls, but they’re easy to replace.

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And finally this lingerie chest or tall skinny dresser:

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If you’re looking for furniture, or know someone who is, we’d love to send these pieces to new homes. Thanks!

 

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The Bookshelf

Books are my favorite things. Nothing makes me happier than a stack of unread novels or a row of “new” badges across the top row of my Kindle. Most of my childhood was spent with my nose buried in a paperback, and my favorite places to go on the weekend were the library and the used bookstore. Bask in my awesomeness. In college, I spent four years reading and writing, and they gave me a degree in English. Seemed like an eminently fair trade.

As anyone who has ever moved can attest, books are heavy. I have moved six times in the last 15 years, and each time I have hauled around an ever-expanding library. Jason gave me a Kindle for Christmas 2011, which sharply curtailed the number of physical books I brought home. I still could not resist the siren song of Chamblin’s Bookmine in Jacksonville.

No one can.

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Two things happened last year to make me re-consider my personal library. The first was reading “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” by Marie Kondo. As some brilliant person said, “this is a bat-shit crazy woman who gives good advice.” In her book, she is super-harsh about book ownership, which made me clutch at my throat in horror. Keep only around 30 books? You are not my people, Marie Kondo. But the more I thought about it, the more I wondered how many books I needed to hang onto. At this point in my life, I read only for pleasure and occasionally to expand my knowledge base. I read anything and everything, and the vast majority is fiction.

In short, I do not have a library. I have a hodgepodge. I have a jumble.

The second thing that caused me to re-evaluate my library was one of the worst things that has ever happened to me. I am not even kidding. I bought a used copy of Neil Gaiman’s “Stardust” at Chamblin’s and began devouring it. When I got to the end of the first chapter, I discovered that the last page was missing. Bummer, dude, I thought, but kept reading.

I reached the end of the second chapter. The last page was missing.

And the last page of the third chapter. And so on. Some ASSHAT had removed the last page of every chapter in the book. I was horrified. Who does that?!?!?!

My problem was this: even though I knew the book was ruined, I couldn’t get rid of it. I put it in the recycling bin five times, and took it back out five times.

I started to think maybe my love for books had become an unhealthy attachment.

My bookshelf purge is ongoing, but I’ve made progress. The first category I tackled was Books From College. Who was I trying to impress with my collection of light Russian literature? Was I ever going to re-read my textbook from Ancient Greek? Could I ever muster the anger to re-read political books? But how will people know I’m smart if I don’t keep a lot of smarty-pants books around???

The next category was Books I’m Keeping Just In Case They Are Assigned To The Kids At Some Point. This is absurd. If I didn’t personally like the book, it was escorted out of the building.

The third group I’ve been dealing with is Books I Bought But Haven’t Read Yet. There were a surprising number of these lurking in my shelves. I weeded through them mercilessly, and gave myself a year to read the keepers. The unread books still take up an entire shelf.

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I’m not sure what my end game is, yet. I will never have zero books – I will also never get down to Marie Kondo’s suggested 30. But I’m learning I don’t need the physical presence of lots of books to advertise my identity. “Look at meeee! I’m a nerrrrd!”

I’ve also discovered that I love giving books to other readers. I finished a book last Monday and gave it to a friend on Tuesday. I don’t have to worry about if or when it will be returned to me, and I don’t have to find space for it. This is a win.

You might be wondering what happened to my ruined copy of “Stardust” in all this. I took it back to Chamblin’s and explained to the nice hipster at the counter what happened. “I need you to take this from me,” I said. “Don’t tell me what you’re going to do with it. Let me believe you have a book cemetery out back.”

Bless her, she took it. She even promised to give it a Viking-esque send-off, in a tiny flaming boat.

Book lovers. We get each other.

 

 

 

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Pro Tip: Croutons

We have three school-aged children at our house, so we run through bread at a rather alarming rate. Like almost every other kid ever, they don’t like to eat the bread ends. I hate to waste food, so I’ve come up with a couple of ways to put those ends to use. I store them in the freezer until I’m ready to implement either of these strategies.

Make breadcrumbs!

Remove bread slices from freezer to thaw. This takes about 10 minutes, so don’t go anywhere. Put the slices in your food processor. Turn it on. Ta da. Breadcrumbs. You can use them to coat chicken, stir them into meatloaf, or top a casserole.

If you make more breadcrumbs than you need, store the extra in a Ziploc bag in the freezer.

Make croutons!

This is a new discovery for me, so I remembered to photograph it.

Preheat your oven to 300 degrees. Cut your bread into squares.

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Throw them in a bowl with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and toss them until coated.

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Spread the croutons out on a baking sheet, and bake at 300 for about 30 minutes, until the croutons are dry and crunchy.

Now they’re ready to be deployed in a salad.

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Unused croutons can also be stored in the freezer.

Yeay for saving money and avoiding waste!

 

 

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