A bad step-parenting analogy

Being a stepmother is like coming in to produce a movie after most of the major decisions have already been made. The director has been hired, the cast has been chosen, the locations have been booked, the financing is taken care of. Your job is to make sure the movie happens on time and on budget.

You can make suggestions along the way, and some of them will even be implemented or taken into consideration. You get to make the call on some things, like which caterer to hire for craft services or which limo service to use. Some days you’re the head honcho in charge, but at the end of the day the vision is the director’s.

Yet, you love the script. The script is TOTALLY AWESOME. You may never get to work on such a great script ever again in your life, and it is life-changing. You wouldn’t give up working on this film for anything in the world.

Just. Sometimes you wish your opinions had more weight, that you could express your opinion free of worry that it would cause a ruckus higher of the food chain, that you didn’t have to think so damn much before opening your mouth.


Progress, not progress

Last night I went to bed super stoked about sharing some in-progress updates on the kitchen, but then this morning I woke up to smart/depressingly true commentary on the SCOTUS Hobby Lobby decision as well as the news of another sexual harassment lawsuit out of the Silicon Valley which actually made me feel sick to my stomach due to its severity.

I am very lucky in that I have always been able to receive and afford birth control whenever I needed it, and never worked for a company that (overtly at least) tried to control my body. I’m also lucky that my own experiences with sexual harassment while working in tech companies in the Valley are reasonably tame. I will gladly take a VC not making eye contact, shaking my hand, or listening to a single word I say if it means no one is calling me a slut in front of my co-workers. But just because I have not experienced the worst of these things doesn’t mean I haven’t seen it, or known people who experienced it. I have friends who have walked through picket lines to get a pap smear at Planned Parenthood. I’ve had friends who put up with all sorts of gross, disgusting advances because they were too scared to quit their jobs.

Still. STILL. I expect better from the world in 2014. I’m not sure why. It’s not like the world, in situations like these, is trying all that hard to be better. Geez Louise, people, please pay attention and PLEASE VOTE. Sigh.

But let’s get on with the kitchen remodel, shall we? As I type, things are almost back to normal. We have a short list of things that need to be cleaned up, but I’m able to cook and clean and eat in the new space. I’m not gonna lie. It’s pretty glorious. Until late last week we were still living in limbo. Officially beaten down, we ate out for every meal but breakfast. And on the weekends, we ate out then as well. It wasn’t so much the cooking as the prepping and cleaning up. No matter how wide the bathroom vanity, it takes a toll on your soul to do the majority of your meal prep there.

Kitchen before countertops

A little over two weeks ago, the cabinets went in. We experienced this step with some trepidation. We had gotten used to the space being completely open – you know, with nothing in it – and had somehow convinced ourselves that the giant space was magically going to remain giant. Simply adding cabinets back immediately made the space feel claustrophobic. Was the island too big? Should we have left the old breakfast nook without cabinets?

Kitchen window seat

Then they put in the butcher block countertops. That made the space feel a lot more real. I am especially fond of this window seat, which has mostly been co-opted by Mr. Toberson the cat. It was at this point that we realized the blues we were considering for the paint were all wrong, and instead we started poking around the green family. The color swatch here is a minty sage, which is an awesome contrast for the dark blue tiles. It was also at this time that we learned the built-in bookshelf, sort of seen here mid-left, was less than ideal. First, none of the shelves were tall enough for 50% of my cookbooks, and second, the faux-wood-like-product they used to build sagged beneath the weight of even 50% of my collection. The sagging has since been fixed with braces, but we’re stuck with the shelf height. (Note to would-be renovators, give better directions to your designer/contractor than “put a bookshelf there.”)

Light fixture and backsplash tile

Once the countertops went in, other things started happening at a fairly quick pace. The tile backsplash/final electrical work/plumbing happened in roughly the same two-day period, though those two days were separated by some non-work days, as it typical in this sort of thing. The tile looks darker in this picture than it is, but it’s so sharp with that white grout. And I love the glass light fixture with cloth-covered wiring. It worked out exactly as I had hoped it would.

How could I forget to point out that we painted the windows white? So very, very many 12-paned windows. The redish stain (see above pic) took three coats plus touch-up to cover. It took me an entire day to do two coats on three windows, and my hand took a week to stop cramping from holding the brush. [insert comments about being old here] The white looks so good, though! It completely changed the space.

Range island in kitchen

It was torture the day the range and double oven went in, because for several days they sat there taunting me with no gas or electricity. Both of these appliances are from IKEA, about which I have mixed feelings. Of course, in my wildest dreams, I would have all pro series Viking appliances. Each time we went into a store that carried the top-of-the-line products, I lovingly ran my hands along their surfaces. But let’s face it. We’re not made of money. And when you compare the Whirlpool-manufactured IKEA appliances to others in the same price range, there’s not a whole lot of difference. One day, maybe, I’ll be able to upgrade. These are great options for now.

Also. Double oven! I have wanted one of these for my entire adult life, and now I have it. I can hardly believe it’s mine! I will make pies and turkeys every single weekend to justify the space it takes up with Joel.

Claire’s favorite part of the remodel is the bar off the center island. She is lobbying hard for us to eat every single meal there.

Kitchen renovation at 75%

From the hallway, you can get a much better sense of how everything is coming together. White cabinets, butcher block countertops, sage paint, blue-grey tiles, stainless appliances. The fabulous new Samsung refrigerator is still out of sight in the dining room, the dishwasher is still in the garage and the dining room wallpaper (WALLPAPER!) was still on order. But at this point it started to feel like a livable space again!


Astraphobia and Lilapsophobia

I spent the first 25 years of my life living in Missouri where weather happened on a regular basis.

When I was a baby, my aunt and uncle’s house was hit by a tornado (spawning a lot of our family mythology which I won’t get into here). We did not have a basement at home, and I have a very clear memory of driving to my grandparents’ house as a young child, the sky a sickly greenish-yellow and the air strangely calm and thick out the car window as we outran a twister. In high school, it was not uncommon for the schools in my small town to close for weeks following ice storms that rendered the hilly Ozarks roads impassable by buses. I remember the crackle of breaking trees, the shattered-glass sound as the ice hit the ground. We had flash floods and crazy summer thunderstorms, real toad-stranglers.

For the last 12 years, I have lived in Berkeley, CA, and worked in San Francisco. I felt maybe half a dozen earthquakes in that time, horrible gut-wrenching seconds that were gone before I processed what was happening. But weather, real Midwestern weather, was largely missing from the equation. Rain became something I wanted to go out and run in, so soft and gentle were most of the storms. I can count on one hand the number of times I saw lightning or heard thunder. Once there was a hailstorm that accumulated on the ground for long enough that I saw school-aged children playing in it like snow. Another time I experienced the briefest of flurries in the Financial District. Mostly, we feared droughts, or complained about the fog.

I’m not sure whether it’s my age or the last decade sans intense weather, but the recent string of thunderstorms has put me on edge. Last week we had thunder/lightening several nights in a row and I barely slept. It did not help that Huck, Cooper and Kitty all demanded space in our bed during the worst of it. (My animals are 100% Californians.) But even before the animals came calling I was having nightmares about tornados. In the evenings, while normal Midwestern folk were going about their business, I was making excuses to stay home so I could get the animals to the basement if need be. When the skies grew dark and menacing during the day, I could barely get work done in the middle of checking the Doppler.

The thought of Joel and Claire and I being in separate places during a tornado makes my heart hurt. The thought of my animals being home without me during an intense storm makes me sick to my stomach. Putting this in writing makes me feel like a crazy fatalist, but just today a funnel cloud was spotted about an hour and a half south, and I felt an overwhelming urge to make an excuse to go home. Even though it’s sunny and clear outside!

Surely I’ll get used to this, right? I can’t go through the rest of my life scared of thunder and lightning!


Words and phrases

Claire has taken to calling me “girl.”

As in “Yeah, girl, you’re probably right [someone did want our parking space]” or “Giiiiiiirl, that’s a cool skirt” or “Sure, girl, I know what you mean.” Even, to my horror, “Get it, girl.”

The first instance of “girl” was a couple of weeks ago. I would love to meet the sassy 2nd grader who started this trend, and I definitely want to be a fly on the wall when Claire and all her friends are standing around calling each other “girl.”

As I type, she’s down the street with a couple of girls – nay, “girls” – from the neighborhood. We so lucked out to have two other kids her age right on the block. I’ll call them E1 and E2. E2 seems to be the quiet one in the group, but E1 strikes me as the ringleader, very bold. I would not put it past her to have been the one to bring “girl” into our lives. I imagine them down there right now, scootering around in circles. “Girl, that’s a cute top you’re wearing.” “Giiiiiirl, I wish I had sandals like those.”

Claire’s last day of 2nd grade was Friday, and the change in her this year has been incredible. I feel like she was still a baby when she started, but now she’s this long-legged, headstrong girl who gets exasperated at her father when he asks too many questions (“Daaaa-aad, it’s going to be okay”) and talks to me like she’s on an episode of Sister, Sister.

I shudder to think what the 3rd grade will bring.


Life sans kitchen

Prepping asparagus in the bathroom

So. This keeps happening.

Prior to the start of the kitchen remodel, it was our very sincere intent to do all the cooking in the downstairs bedroom and on the grill. The first day, while Joel was out of town, I realized that the spare bedroom didn’t have any clean flat surfaces on which to place the Vitamix – and also that the Vitamix cord is ridiculously short and needs to be right near an outlet – so I made my morning smoothie in the bathroom. The next day I needed to chop some peppers, and again couldn’t find a flat surface. So I did it on the sink. Then I cut some raw chicken there. And prepped two bunches of asparagus. And cut up a gorgeous grilled steak (and stood there in sweaty running clothes eating it with my fingers).

I’m also washing everything in that sink, and tonight I’m going to wash my dog in the bathtub in that same room. Did I mention the construction guys use this bathroom?

Ugh. No amount of lysol wipes can possibly make this okay, but I have to tell you, I am beyond caring. Last night I ate a peanut butter and honey sandwich on a paper plate in my bed. It was that, or cereal. We’ve resorted to pre-made rice in a bag, because using the rice cooker requires too much washing. The only line I’ve drawn so far was over drinking milk out of a plastic cup. Milk, as everyone should know, belongs in glass. We’re not animals!

We are, however, covered in white plaster dust. Despite the contractors sealing off the kitchen in plastic, the dust has infiltrated the entire house. I was petting Huck two days ago and my hand came away white and chalky. The cats are leaving tiny white paw prints on everything. It gets in your eyes and your throat and your hands feel perpetually grimy. I’ve taken to wearing pastels so I don’t show up to work looking filthy. We’ve both eaten cereal out of dusty bowls and the animals seem extra thirsty. We have decided, when it’s over, that we’re paying to have the house cleaned from top to bottom.

The remodel is continuing apace and is on track to be finished at about six weeks of construction. The original estimate was four to six and I was counting on six to eight, so I can’t complain. (As I type, I am knocking on wood so I don’t jinx it.) Yesterday they finished the drywall work, and today they started putting in the cabinets. Despite the fact that all contractors seem to work half days, it’s been relatively smooth.

The biggest issues have been with ordering things on our end. We were naive, I guess, to believe that things like farmhouse sinks could be bought in stores. They can’t! At least, not the good ones. Also not in stores? Downdraft range hoods. I didn’t even know such a thing existed until we learned the ventilation wasn’t going to work with an overhead range hood, and then we were looking at a special order and no time. Easier to get? Hardwood flooring. At least the red oak kind we needed. Also, tiles for the mudroom. Those will be in on Friday.

As of this morning, this is what it looked like:

New support beam from kitchen remodel

This has been the biggest chunk of the work. The beautifully smooth beams you see at the top of the picture used to be the walls of the dining room. We weren’t sure how we’d feel about the new room having even this smallest of breaks, but we’re happy to have it now. It allowed us to keep the crown molding in what used to be the dining room, which is barely visible here.

New lighting from kitchen remodel

The dining room molding is more visible in this picture! You can also see where the new lights will go. Cans in the kitchen and these guys over the dining room table. The good news about that downdraft range hood is that there won’t be a giant hood hanging in the middle of the kitchen, so it’ll be more open. It would have hung to the right of those can lights.

Kitchen remodel from the hallway

The chair rail to the right used to be wood paneling, and in the future it will be cabinets and a bookshelf and a window bench. Just having that dark wood out of the way makes the room so much brighter, not that you can tell from this picture. Backlighting is not your friend, friends. You can also see where the light over the sink will go.

Selecting paint colors

We’ve been pretty hands off this entire remodel, except for some wallpaper removal last week. This weekend, though, we have to paint. Which means we have to pick paint colors. We’re doing a tile backsplash – like you do – in a light slate grey. It’s possible that it could suck some of the light out of the room, so we don’t want the paint to be too dark, even though we both tend to lean that way.

From right to left above, the colors are: Behr Moonquake, me totally screwing up and not rinsing the brush and therefore combining two paint colors, Behr Loft Space, Behr Tin Foil, Dutch Boy Empire State and Dutch Boy Quicksilver. (Super annoying that I couldn’t find any of the colors except Empire State on the brands’ websites, even though I am holding the color swatches in my hand and they are clearly current.) Joel’s favorite is Empire State, but I am leaning toward Tin Foil. Given that the tile leans toward blue, I feel the paint needs to have a whisper of blue, too. Empire State is just straight-up grey. Joel says I get to pick, so, you know, I’m gonna.

Tonight we have chicken pesto burgers from Whole Foods and also some bratwurst as our dinner options, but I can hardly stand the thought of cooking. I’m going to post now so that I can go lobby for eating out. Again. Two more weeks (or so)! Two more weeks (or so)!


REVIEW: May Stitch Fix

Today is the seven-month anniversary of me starting my new life in Minneapolis. They say time flies when you’re having fun, but as it turns out, time also flies when you’re a total basket case!

As strange as it sounds, I think these monthly subscription services have helped me hang on to what little bit of sanity I was still capable of during the hardest times. No matter what the dog destroyed or how many times Claire compared my cooking to her mom’s (“my mom knows how to make oatmeal FOR REAL”), a couple of times a month these little boxes arrived and for just a couple of minutes I was able to put everything else aside and enjoy the surprise. Documenting everything for the blog ensured every post wasn’t all “wah wah woe is me my life is so terrible and it’s COLD and my dog is crazy and WHY WON’T THIS KID EAT?”

Silly, I know, but a girl’s gotta find pleasure in the little things.

This month my Stitch Fix was extra exciting. Even though I have so many vintage summer dresses that I could wear a different one each day and never repeat – fact, not hyperbole – I am terrible at buying separates. That doesn’t mean I don’t buy them, but I tend to get a skirt here or a top there, and then nothing goes together. This month my Fix had two adorable tops that solved long-standing conundrums for pieces I already owned. Huzzah! To round out the box was the perfect casual summer dress and a lovely vintage-inspired statement necklace that goes with lots of things in my closet. The pieces were so good and well-priced that I bought them all!

Under Skies Topanga blouse from May Stitch Fix

Okay, next time? I promise to steam out the pieces before taking pictures. This Under Skies Topanga flutter sleeve blouse is so good with this Anthropologie skirt, which I have had for years without successfully finding a match. Flutter sleeves are not  normally my thing, and I do have some reservations about how the blouse will perform in the Minneapolis heat – like, am I going to sweat right through it – but it has a lot of potential.

Pomelo Brook tie-waist top in May Stitch Fix

Finally! A top to go with this Banana Republic red skirt! I had reservations about the tie front of this Pomelo Brook dot top at first, but I think it’s pretty great. Should go well with all sorts of skirts, should I choose to buy more of them.

Pomelo Rowson striped shift dress from May Stitch Fix

I wore this Pomelo Rowson striped shift dress two days after it arrived with some very tall stacked green/navy wedges I bought at Target on clearance last year. Despite having only worn them once before, the shoes blew out by the end of the day from nothing more than walking to meetings. I think I spent around $15 on them, so I’m not too bummed about it. The dress, however, performed swimmingly. It was nice enough for a corporate meeting, cute enough that I felt like myself in it, and ridiculously comfortable. I could definitely see myself owning it in another color.

Splendid Ruben tab-sleeve open cardigan from May Stitch Fix

Cooper was such a good about about staying put for this photo shoot. Huck often darts in and out and turns his head away from the camera at the last minute. Coops is a natural! I had no intention of keeping this Splendid Ruben cardigan, because I am slowly amassing a lovely collection of vintage ones. However, I put it on and it was so soft and lightweight, I knew I had to have it for summer.

Bay to Baubles Gretchen necklace from May Stitch Fix

I realized too late that I hadn’t taken a picture of the Bay to Baubles Gretchen crystal stone necklace that also came with the Fix. Luckily, Joel had taken this picture of me (and Huck!) for my Instagram account last week, and I happened to be wearing it. Think of it like a bonus photo! The onesie is from Anthropologie last year, and I won the bag in a Botkier Instagram contest last summer. I’m all gussied up for “Fancy Friday” at the office, which was basically just a reason for myself and a male colleague to wear something other than our usual ad-agency casual.



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More about landscaping than I thought I had in me

I am pretty excited about the daily watering/watching things grow part of gardening. Just yesterday I noticed that my radishes had popped through the soil and I felt an embarrassing amount of pride and joy that it had happened – that I had put those seeds in the ground and watered them and they grew into plants.

I am also more of a fan of outdoor labor than most of you might assume. I get immense satisfaction out of doing hard things, especially things that could be considered exercise. I liked hauling the bags of soil around, the digging of randomly placed ferns until my palm blistered, even the back-breaking work of hacking at an invasive root system and yanking as much of it up as possible. (There was more of it than we thought, roots everywhere, which we will have to continue to tackle next year).

The part of gardening that I hate, at least so far, is the tedium in between. I was annoyed at the trips to Menards and Bachmann’s. I didn’t like choosing plants or assessing seeds. I didn’t even like planting the seeds or putting plants in the ground. I hated putting net over the garden to keep the critters out. Spreading mulch? Forget about it. I want to do the hard stuff, and then watch things grow. Joel and Claire can be in charge of the rest.

The clean-up process took the better part of two weekends, with the planting happening piecemeal and almost haphazard. Once we got a space ready, we ran out and bought stuff to fill it. The bulk of the first weekend was spent wrestling with those pesky ferns and spreading mulch over half of the backyard. It definitely resembles a dog park back there, which is not ideal but better than a giant dirt pit, which is inevitable with giant dogs. We also did some major root hacking, and managed to get some shrubs planted in the space outside our fence – which is where the bulk of our landscaping will take place because it gets such good sun. We planted:

The starts of landscaping

The starts of landscaping with tufted hair grass

The starts of landscaping

The following weekend we prioritized getting the vegetable garden pulled together, and also planted three pots alongside the garage in the “dog park” area. (Looking at all that mulch was sort of depressing, and we needed a pop of color somewhere.) The pots are still filling out and are kind of unimpressive right now, but we planted:

Backyard pots

For the vegetable garden, I bought this three-tiered planter bed from Amazon. It is not as fancy-schmancy as I would maybe like, but it went together quickly and without fuss, and it feels like a great starter garden for me. Remember, I haven’t grown food since I was a kid. And then it was mostly just me eating food out in the garden in my diaper (as the story goes) and not so much as me actually growing things. In the veggie/herb garden I planted:

Tiered veggie garden

Potted herb garden

Candy apple sweet peppers

California Wonder sweet peppers

There are lots of things we’d like to do with this little space. Next year we’re going to have to do more root excavation, and once we figure out how all the previous owner’s perennials are going to grow in, we’ll probably separate and move a bunch of them. (They are oddly clumped right now.) I suspect that Joel will wage war against Claire and I in an attempt to get rid of all the garden tchotchkes. Except for the red pinwheel and a passive-aggressive dog ornament, all the garden decorations were left by the last owner, who certainly liked her yard ornaments. As it turns out, seven year olds have the same taste as 70 year olds, so Claire loves having all that stuff around and I’m inclined to let it go on her behalf.

No dogs allowed

Landscaping beginnings

Our first attempt at gardening

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REVIEW: May Birchbox

I was so bummed about my last Birchbox that I wasn’t much looking forward to getting another one.

Upon further reflection, I think it’s less about Birchbox and more about me. They’re still holding up their end of the bargain, sending prettily packaged boxes each month with lots of new things for me to try. And even though I didn’t ask for makeup and they still send me eyeliner, most of the things are exactly what I’m looking for, even if I don’t like them. On my end I’m sort of frustrated that I don’t understand exactly what I need in terms of health and beauty products, and the fact that we skipped right over spring and into summer isn’t helping. Remember how super dry my skin and hair was all winter? Now I’m all oily and frizzy.

So. I was bummed and not excited. And then my May box came! It was sunny yellow and inside were things I felt stoked to try.

May Birchbox

  • Whish Shave Crave Shaving Cream – Acai Grapefruit. I am linking to the Birchbox page and not the product website, because my Heartbleed Chrome plug-in is telling me the site is vulnerable. Scary! Anyhoozle, I use a Kiss My Face lavender shave cream that I love, but it’s a little hard to find and I was excited to try something new. The fact that I can get Birchbox points for buying it was a total bonus. Sadly, I did not love this. The scent was sort of off-putting, and it wasn’t as creamy as the Kiss My Face kind.
  • derma e Hydrating Night Cream with Hyaluronic Acid. I have no idea what hyaluronic acid is and why I would want it, but I love this cream. It goes on smooth and light and smells heavenly. Bonus: the sample is really big! The jury is still out on whether this will be too heavy for my summer skin, but I’m definitely invested in checking out more from this brand.
  • Supergoop! Everyday SPF 30 with Cellular Response Technology. You might remember that I got a Supergoop! product a couple of months ago, and that while I enjoyed it, it was too heavy to wear with my usual base serum. I love the concept of this, though. It’s a sunscreen that adjusts its tint to match your skin tone! Super exciting. In reality, the tone comes out a little chalky and too light for me, and it kinda makes me itchy. And even though it’s probably the fault of Minnesota summer, my face has been breaking out since I started using it. That’s two strikes for Supergoop!
  • Caldrea body wash and body lotion. Here’s the truth. I used the lotion on my arms two days in a row and got lots of little clogged pores. I’m still using the body wash, which has a very pleasantly light lime scent, but it’s just a body wash. Nothing fancy. Certainly nothing to unseat my Aveeno daily moisturizing wash, which is my favorite standby.
  • SmartyPants adult complete gummy vitamins. I am very easily persuaded by cute products and packaging, and these vitamins are just the cutest! They’re also yummy. I’m stocked up on vitamins for the moment, but I would most definitely buy these.
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Lifestyle renovation

There are so many stories I’d like to tell, but as of this week they all pale in comparison to a kitchen remodel which has been so far out of my mind that I haven’t even mentioned it here.

In hindsight, I did a poor job preparing myself for this thing to happen. While I was worried about dog medication and Mother’s Day, Joel did a great job of making the upfront part seamless for me, fun even. He used to work on a kitchen renovation show on the DIY network, so he contacted a designer and contractor he knew and they went to town. With little work on our part we got a design we love and an IKEA shopping list that required us to do nothing more than hand over a printout to a sales assistant and initial where she told us.

There has been almost no friction between me and Joel.I didn’t have to fight to get the double oven of my dreams, and only had to fight a little to get the new fridge I wanted. We ordered tile samples, loved our first choice and the completed order shipped on time. We agreed on handmade pendant lamps, a white apron-front farmhouse sink, and faucet styles. There was a momentary skirmish over cabinet hardware, easily solved. And as the contractors were arriving for the first time, we disagreed over whether or not to keep the built-in china cabinets in the dining room, a topic on which I had been waffling. My love of built-ins was trumped by the ugliness of ours, so they went.

I am sure I will eventually eat these words, but I am so very lucky to have a partner with similar tastes to mine. There are enough differences to overcome in moving in together and starting a family. Thankfully for us, we don’t have to wrestle over paint colors, sofa patterns, or throw pillows.

We were also in complete agreement regarding our distaste for the kitchen in our new house. While it didn’t classify as horrible by any set of standards, it was definitely dated and not at all us. The layout was far from ideal, with an unused breakfast nook and no counter space to speak of near the cooking surface. And don’t even get me started on the stupid, no-good, awful flat-top electric stove. Fiery suns, hate, hate, HATE. (I hate it so much, apparently, that I didn’t even take a picture of it before it was carted away.)

Kitchen cabinets before the renovation

Kitchen cabinets and breakfast nook before the renovation

Kitchen cabinets before the renovation

The dining room was also fairly inoffensive, with the exception of the country blue paint and standard-to-our-house wallpaper. The aforementioned built-in china cabinets weren’t appalling, but weren’t beautiful and full of old-world charm like the ones in my 1906 Victorian house in Berkeley. They were just sort of there, with v-shaped cabinets that weren’t very good at holding things – hence their demise.

Dining room before renovation

Dining room before renovation

As of Tuesday, everything has changed. We emptied the contents of the kitchen into the basement, and set up a temporary kitchen space in the spare bedroom downstairs. Men with sledgehammers and saws showed up and tore almost everything out in a day while the dogs cowered at my side and looked concerned. Plastic sheeting shields the rest of the house from the white dust. I’m making smoothies in the bathroom and washing dishes in the bathtub and eating cereal on the couch and boarding the dogs so the contractors can punch a hole in the floor to put in a new support beam. It is already deeply unfun, and it’s just begun.

Dining room demolition

Kitchen demolition with investigative Kitty

Kitchen and dining renovation

The dividing wall between the two rooms made each individual space feel smaller than it needed to. And we often found ourselves shouting spelling words to Claire while she sat at the dining room table doing her homework. That duct at the center of the picture has caused much gnashing of teeth, as it was an unexpected find when the wall came down and requires yet another contractor.

The makeshift kitchen in a spare bedroom

I am already so sick of trying to feed myself out of this space that I’m ready to declare eight weeks of takeout. We can make a game out of it by creating a list of restaurants we haven’t tried and ticking them off one by one. We can subsist on the Whole Foods salad bar. Or maybe I should take this opportunity to try a month-long juice cleanse. Can kids do juice cleanses? Claire would love not having to take time out of her scootering schedule to chew. What could go wrong?


Plant destroyer

The house I still co-own in Berkeley, Ca., sits on a ridiculously large double-wide lot. People who visit are always shocked at the enormity of the backyard, which feels like a kingdom compared to other spaces in the Bay Area. And when we moved in, it was beautifully landscaped with two plum trees, two apple trees, a meyer lemon tree, a redwood tree, an oversized avocado tree, and three palm trees. There were also three or four large boxes for planting tucked away behind the original well house and shed, and, randomly, a 5″x5″ stage smack in the middle along the back fence line.

Though the glorious property was a huge selling point for the house, it quickly became apparent that neither I nor my ex nor our co-owner friend Nick were much interested in doing any gardening. Shortly after we got the dogs, all the grass died. (We later found a receipt for the cheapest sod ever, which had been hastily put in as the house went on the market, and unlikely to live even without dogs.) Soon after that we learned one of the apple trees had fire blight and had it removed. At some point an arborist told us the massive date palm in the front yard was going to grow into the side of the house and likely tear the roof off, so it also had to be removed. Then there was the soil disease of some sort that killed a poor, pruned-to-oblivion tree in the front as well as the plum tree next to it. The planter boxes sat empty until they rotted and we had a service come pull them out and throw them away. The brick retaining wall along the fence crumpled and fell over.

At some point, my ex did some amazing landscaping work in the front, terracing around the redwood and planting ferns in big terracotta pots. He took a bunch of flat paving stones piled behind the garage and put them to good use. I often took charge of the overzealous bougainvillea threatening to take over our outbuildings. And eventually we hired a gardener to keep the whole thing knocked down.

Backyard in Berkeley, Ca

Still, the property is a mere shadow of its former glory. The photo above was taken on the day I moved out, with the giant dirt pit fully on display (and Joel and Huck and some palms).  One day Nick and I hope to whip it back into shape. You know. When we win the lottery. Because that ish is EXPENSIVE.

I remember almost nothing about the summertime landscaping of this Minnesota house, because it snowed the week after I moved here and didn’t stop until April. I do know that we had to rip a bunch of stuff out next to the driveway to put up our fence. Once the snow finally melted that spot emerged as a muddy pile with a dozen tiny stumps jutting from the ground, both inside the fence and directly outside it.

garden sweet garden

The people who lived here before left behind these two bits of garden paraphernalia, as well as some sort of mesh pot that was also chained to the tree until we pulled its rusted carcass off and threw it away. It is these momentos from the old homeowners that resulted in me promising Claire we could put in a flower garden on this spot. Emboldened by that declaration, I also decided to put in a small herb and vegetable garden, even going so far as to order a terraced cedar planting box from Amazon which is waiting in its box in the front hall closet.

I have never grown a single thing on purpose in my entire life, and a lot of things have died under my watch. For example, see my entire backyard in Berkeley. My wedding gift to the ex was a very old bonsai tree which we killed when we drove from North Carolina to California four years into the marriage. Look how that turned out.

Claire has grown up gardening with her mother, and she is adamant we have a garden at our house, too. For several hours one Saturday she raked our little garden plot and put the ladybug in exactly the right spot and brushed off the remaining brick edging. She gave me seeds for Mother’s Day. And, left all on its own, mystery things are growing in our spot, making the prospect even more exciting.

The starts of our flower garden

The only thing I recognize are the chives, and then only after Claire was like, “Ooh! Chives!” and started chewing on them last weekend. Someone thought the flowers in front were tulips – as does Claire – and maybe the plants toward the middle were hostas. Everything is sort of scattered. I hear it’s not too late to dig them up and re-organize a bit, which sounds scary. There is still a lot of debris around that needs to be clipped and pulled and sawed down. Pretty sure we don’t have a saw.

So I guess this is a gardening weekend. I’m actually really looking forward to being outside as much as possible – it’s going to be 70 on Sunday! Apparently going through the Worst Winter Ever was enough to turn me into an outdoors person, which is not exactly how I would have described myself before coming here.

I am more concerned about the actual planting and growing things. I’ve been reading some blogs, and it sounds like people take their gardening very seriously. They, like, have a plan. I have this tiny plot of land and a yet-to-be-assembled planter box and two packs of seeds. I have a vague list of the veggies I want to plant. I have a vague idea of things like soil and mulch. I am, of course, very excited to buy cute gloves and some sort of gardening clogs for me and Claire. But, basically, I’m going to go to a garden center and buy some stuff, stick it in the ground, and see what happens.

Please, please let something good happen!

My real fear, of course, is that nothing will grow and everything will die and Claire will think I am a total gardening failure. She’s so excited for us to do this together that I don’t want to let her down! I’m willing to give it my all, and suspect I will even like it. But life would be so much easier if only she would take up, say, collecting vintage sequin evening gowns or playing the clarinet. Now those are some topics where I can add real value.