Friday, November 22, 2013

Cleaning out the cobwebs.

I cleaned Abby's room this week.

You're probably asking yourself: isn't she 13?

Yes, she is.  Actually, she will be 14 next month.  And yes, sometimes I still have to purge her room of all the things that make her a prime candidate for an episode of Hoarders.

When she was younger - because I never really lived with her when she was little, just younger - and after she came to live with us full-time, I would clean her room about every other month or so.  Somewhere towards the end of that six week time period I could no longer live with the tiny bits of paper on her floor or the piles of dis-robed Barbies or the 824 Littlest Pets that were living in every nook and cranny in her room. When I was working full-time, we'd all pitch in and clean the apartment on Saturday - Uriah and Abby did their parts while I worked Saturday morning, and then I got my chores done Saturday afternoon while Uriah worked, sometimes enlisting Abby's help, depending on what she'd done with Uriah in the morning.  Usually her task was to clean her room, because for the most part, she contained her scatter to her own room.

We lived in a small apartment, which I love to this day, and even though we haven't lived there for years I still sometimes get homesick for our first little nest.  The three of us were crammed together in two bedrooms, one bathroom, a living room, and a kitchen not much bigger than a closet, and I'm sure I would have lost my mind a million times if her mess was everywhere.  It still managed to trickle its way down the hall and onto the kitchen table or into the living room, but she learned that those messes in the "common areas" had to be cleaned up before she moved on to something new.  She could usually get by for a few days by telling me that she had a game going with her Polly Pockets or Littlest Pets and that was the reason for the urban sprawl on her bedroom floor.  And I usually let her get away with it for a few days.  But at some point, she needed to clean up her room (usually by Saturday afternoon), and that usually involved her shoving all manner of papers, pencils, markers, books, toys, broken crayons, and dolls into her closet, into toy bins, and under her bed.  I think her goal was to shove her stuff anywhere she could get it out of my sight, but still hang to each and every small scrap of paper, nub of crayon, dried out marker.

There always came a breaking point, usually when I'd open her closet only to be bombarded by the most awful smell and an avalanche of crumpled paper pieces and all-around junk.  That's when the big black garbage bags came out and purging began the crying started.  She would sit in the doorway and sob over every little piece of paper, every broken game piece, every item of clothing she had out-grown.

It took a few years for me to really wrap my mind around why she holds onto things with such a tight fist. When she came to live with us, the decision was immediate.  There was no taking her back to her Illinois home and packing a suitcase or her toys; she got in our car and we drove to Kansas City.  She was wearing a pink and orange dress and sandals and I hung that dress in the back of her closet and she never wore it again.  Of course, when we got to our apartment, she had her "Kansas City clothes" and her "Kansas City toys," but up until that point those were kind of like special things because she didn't get to play with them that often - really only twice a month.  The clothes weren't her regular clothes - her "Illinois clothes," and the toys weren't the ones she'd grown up playing with and had to leave behind.  It was a long time before we got a box with any of her belonging.  She was so happy when that box finally, finally came years later, I think she had anticipated something like that coming for her for so long, but I could tell she was disappointed when she opened it; she'd outgrown everything in the box and I think the feelings she had about that stuff were mixed.  Good memories and bad memories equally wrapped up in Barbie clothes and books and smells from a past life.  While she was an every-other-weekend kid, we'd refer to her "Kansas City home" and her "Illinois home," two completely different lives that she'd had to balance between.   It took years before we were able to stop differentiating between the two and when she talked about "home," we knew she was referring to us.

So when I was cleaning her room and throwing away garbage bags of paper pieces and crayon nubs and pencil shavings; as I loaded up bags with outgrown t-shirts and shorts that will not fit next summer, I had to breathe deeply and remind myself how far we've come.  The stuff in her room?  It's just her stuff and most of the junk is there because she's a teenager and she can be really, really lazy (What? Take that piece of paper to the garbage can all the way across the room?  Nah, I'll just shove it here, under my bed.). And while she's certainly no longer worried about being pulled from the life that she has, old habits die hard and she still hangs onto things - because then she can say she has something from when she was little (which, for all intents and purposes, is 4th grade). I know it pains her a bit when she asks what her first words were or when she learned to walk. I don't have those answers.  But I can tell her that she's been head-strong for as long as I've known her.  I can repeat the "I am an American and I have rights" story until we are crying from laughing so hard.  It's funny now, and I can see so much of her strong personality already bubbling up when I look back on her childhood with us - short as it has been.  (For the record: I was not laughing when she asserted her "independence" not long after moving in with us and that was her argument for not having to listen to me).

She's well-adjusted. She has plans for the future and when she talks about where she'll spend her holidays when she's in college (less than 4 years from now), I have no doubt that she'll come home.  I will even help her clean out her dorm room at the end of her freshman year.  It will probably require lots of big black garbage bags and that's okay.

Certainly not the oldest picture I have of Abby, but pretty close.  The first Christmas cards we sent out as an every-other-weekend family, November 2007:

Friday, November 15, 2013

Previously Enjoyed.

A few years ago the happiest mail day was when Pottery Barn or Crate & Barrel's newest catalog slid into my mail slot.  I could read those magazines and dream for hours, ignoring all manner of housework and dinner making. When we lived in Kansas City, blocks from the trendy shops on The Plaza, Uriah and I would spend our kid-free evenings walking through Pottery Barn and Restoration Hardware and, for a brief while, Z Gallery.  Oh, the dreaming we did amid $90 sheet sets and thousand dollar couches (all right, I did the dreaming, Uriah kept trying to bring my champagne tastes back down to our water budget). 

Kids have changed so much in our lives, not the least of which is our budget for expendable income, which was tiny before and is now almost non-existent.  We happily used hand-me downs when Finn was born for everything from baby socks to bibs to toys to his car seat -and all manner of accouterments in between for the past 3 years. When Abby was younger and came every other weekend, she usually hopped in the car on Friday afternoon with just the clothes on her back, so we shopped sale racks and clearance racks and held our breath hoping that she wouldn't grow a lot in the two weeks between visits.  These days she relishes when her aunts clean out their closets as she is usually first on their list to go through the clothes and shoes.

Last weekend, Becca was in town - she is my person, my go-to-gal, and I am certain we were sisters in another life, maybe even twins (but probably not, because she likes to run 5ks and half marathons, and I like to run to the grocery store for my car),  She loves to thrift and antique and sift through junk as much as I do. After Sarah's shower last summer, we stopped at an antique mall south of the Cities and spent more time than we probably should have finding good deals.  We hit up the Duluth Junk Hunt when she was in town, which was successful for me, not so much for her, and we were hoping to get in a little junk fix up the shore at a flea market on Sunday, but they'd already closed for the season so we had pie instead, which I have to say, is not a bad alternative.

I'm slowly filling our home (which is an antique treasure in and of itself) with items that have been previously enjoyed...not necessarily antiques, because they're not worth a lot of money, and often times I paint them or re-purpose them away from their intended use.  

I still love looking at Pottery Barn and Restoration Hardware - but now just for inspiration and ideas on how I can make some of those looks work in my home for way, way less.

The Half-Marathon Bachelorette Party.  I love, love, love the stool.  
And you can't ever go wrong with a vintage yellow Fiestaware bowl.

I knew I wanted something different and mis-matchy in my kitchen.  I collected all sorts of random chairs over the summer (my only stipulation was that they had to be functional, because I'm not really a fix-it girl and they had to be under $10).  I half consulted Uriah on color options and painted.  I did not use a primer.  They are a little chippy in spots, but I love that, and each has a different fabric on the seat.  I still have two more in the cottage that need to be painted, but the weather isn't really conducive for that now, so that project will probably wait until spring.

I bought the map print at an antiques shop that was more like an uncomfortable episode of hoarders - but since it was only 75-cents for two or three huge maps, I say - hoard away, sir!

These are my most recent thrift store purchases (as in: today).  Finn has discovered puzzles and I need more serving dishes for Post Thanksgiving 2013: Turducken II.  This Corningware dish is a 2-1/2 quart - so deep! - it will hold Potato Casserole just fine, I think!  I also found a pair of vintage pillowcases to make our flannel sheets feel a little less wintery.

Last weekend I got this old metal milk crate to put my piano books in (which had previously been in a precarious pile on top of the piano).  Once I got it home, I thought of about six other places that I could use those crates, they make awesome storage!  I will be on the look-out for these in the future.

My favorite thing to look for is vintage table cloths.  
I feel a little like a 1950's house-wife when I have a table cloth on my kitchen table.

Mostly, though, I like the feeling of giving something old a new lease on life.  Yes, the table cloths have stains on them, but that's probably because they were part of years of great dinner conversation.  My dining chairs need some wood glue fixes every now and then, they're a little wobbly and sometimes pieces fall off of them, but they have character and I can repaint them in 5 years if I get sick of their color (I probably won't though, they make me feel so happy when I look at them!).  And instead of buying a whole new set of sheets just for some happy pillowcases, I found a pair for a dollar!  I've had to dig a little and I've had to dig a lot, I've had to go out and search through some random (and a few questionable) garage sales.  But truthfully?  That's the fun part.  

That's what makes each item I find and add to our eclectic and mis-matched little home a treasure.  

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


Seemingly overnight the wind blew in and took with it the leaves from the trees and the light from the sky.  I almost feel as though we should be getting into jammies and brushing our teeth for bed by five o'clock.  I'm planning a lot of soup and I light candles by four o'clock to ward off the gathering darkness.

Autumn is my most and least favorite time of year.  I love the crispness and the squashes in the grocery store and the onset of comfort foods for dinner.  I love flannel sheets and warm slippers and the way my hands feel around a cup of hot coffee in the morning.  I do not love full-blown night time by six o'clock, even if it is a little easier to get my small human ready for bed.

Our fall so far:

Finn grew his own pumpkin in our garden this summer and has been asking every day since July when it was going to be time to carve his pumpkin.  We finally carved it the day before we left for Kansas City, but we lit it up a few times when we got home.  Finn wasn't too keen on the squishy insides but was insistent on it having an angry face.  He also had to write his name on his pumpkin, which these days is a lower-case i, followed by a backwards upper-case F.    

Finn wanted to be a fireman for Halloween this year.  When Uriah and I went out for our anniversary, we stopped at every costume store in Duluth looking for a fireman for our small human. We found one at Target, but it was sized 3+, which means it was made for kids much bigger than Finn.  I was lamenting the fact that Finn was swimming in his costume to my mother-in-law and she said said she saw a costume at Costco and she'd check to see if they still had it.  Sure enough, she had one waiting in a 3T size for Finn when we got there on Halloween.  He did not wear his mustache trick or treating, apparently it "tickled." Abby, of course, is too old to trick-or-treat, but she wanted to dress up anyway to hand out candy.  When you're 13, it's really just an excuse to wear a lot of very heavy make-up (I believe that she calls it "smokey eyes") and some super high heels and call yourself a vampire.  And then she was resistant to having her picture taken with the small-ish cousins.  Go figure.

Finally this fall we have begun the process of raking and raking and raking the leaves.  I've already done one round.   I have piles in the yard that need to be bagged and taken to the community composting site. And I end up raking each pile at least 15 times because it is just too tempting for Finn to run through! He looks so cute, though, I forgive him and re-rake.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

There is always, always something to be thankful for.

I have a collection of Finneaus' hand in the shape of a turkey.

I didn't think to make a turkey out of his little 3 month old hand for his first Thanksgiving.  I wasn't on Pinterest then, maybe it hadn't even been invented.  And also, I was too busy keeping a squalling human alive that fall to think about things like turkey hand prints and Thankful trees.  But in 2011, his daycare ladies sent him home one day in November with two little turkey hand prints.  The paint was squishy and his hand looks like it's probably two sizes bigger than it actually was.  I guess that's what you get when you try to keep a 1 year old still for arts and crafts time.  But I thought it was the cutest thing - those fat little fingers making the turkey's face and feathers.  Last year I did it again - made a turkey hand print with his wiggly fingers.  And trust me, it's a little bit easier to keep a 2 year old still and his hand flat for the turkey.  Last year's turkey is so cute and perfect.  He laid his hands flat and the colors looked so good.

And this year?  You guessed it.  I did it again.  Only a 3 year old has a mind of his own.  This year Finn wanted to pick out his own colors and paint his own hand and make his own turkey.  This year his turkey body is orange and he has green and purple feathers and blue legs and eyes.  After a few very messy tries and some oddly shaped turkeys, I insisted that he let me make his turkey.  He could pick out the colors, but I was going to paint and hold his hand down in one spot on the paper so that it would resemble a turkey (albeit a very colorful turkey).  And he let me.  He sat still and we painted the body and the feathers.  We let it dry a little bit and added a beak and eyes and legs.  It turned out so cute.

This morning I compared the one that I insisted we do together and the sloppy, splotchy turkey that Finn created.  My turkey?  It looked good; it probably even looked like a Pinterest-worthy turkey.  Finn's turkey, with the blue dots for eyes and thick stick legs; the turkey with half of his orange body missing because he didn't quite paint his whole hand and water drops on the paper where his paint brush splattered.  Finn's turkey is perfect.

This smudgy, multi-colored turkey that he created all by himself will always remind me of that fall when I blinked and realized that my baby had turned into a boy.