behind my shoulder

* a reflection from the first weeks in the new house *


As I rub back and forth, back and forth, the particles that I’m sanding flying into the air, I see them settle on my arm, noticing how much my arms look like my father’s.

He is watching me, telling me to go slowly and carefully. I need to make sure I erase the mistakes of the past – the drips of paint that were allowed to settle and roll down the molding carelessly.  This is not something to rush, it is something to do with reverence.  Patience.

As a child I watched him laying on the floor, head almost on the ground, painstakingly sanding and puttying the baseboards.  You would never guess the amount of time that went into perfecting the woodwork.  Paint, let dry, then walk around with a three inch by two inch piece of wood with the tiniest bit of sandpaper wrapped around it, correcting every little nick and drip.  Mom and I called him the stubborn German, always wanting it to be perfect.

I’ve never been good at waiting to get something done.  My husband and I have only been in this house for 18 days and I want the dining room finished.  The ugly, salmon colored tile floor will have to wait, but the dentil  molding around the chair rail and the ceiling are perfect, hardly worn considering how ill cared for the rest of the house was.

I try making quick work of the molding, but my father clears his throat disapprovingly and I switch to a smaller brush, the handle as thin as a Bic pen, and slowly, methodically, begin dipping the brush in the smallest amount of paint, working it into every groove.

This is going to take me forever.

After forty-five minutes, hunched over and hand cramping, I stand up straight and admire my work.  I’ve only done about 3 feet of the chair rail. I sigh, put my paintbrush down on a brown paper towel, and walk outside.

He does not follow me.

dad circa 1950s


I think I saw a U.G.O….

I would say that it is our first full Spring in our house, but with the way that the weather has been, I think both the plants and myself are confused.  It has been so deliciously warm the past few weeks that, as I’m sure you know, all the Spring flowers, that typically are only beginning to peak their heads out to see the sun in the coming weeks, have begun to bloom now.

Because we moved in mid-May of last year, we missed many of the typical Spring flowers and were bewildered by what was in our garden beds.  The only thing I knew for sure was that we had some daffodils in the front.

I spent most of the warm weather last year ripping out lots and lots of English and Boston ivy as well as honeysuckle off the side of the house, where it covered the dining room window, and out of the garden beds where it was trying to strangle our plants and trees.

The past few weeks have been a joyful discover of color. However, I still didn’t know what half the trees were in our yard.  We contacted a wonderful landscaper to come over and get some opinions on what to do with our yard, as well as to identify the U.G.Os – unidentified growing objects.

What we found out was that we had a whole lot of orphan trees and seedlings all over that should be removed.  And I had my own personal tutorial in what lives in my garden.

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We have a young Crape Myrtle next to our weeping cherry, common lilac, and Star of Bethlehem.  There was a dogwood tree hiding under a see of ivy, and a flowering quince that I felt bad for hard pruning the previous summer (when we didn’t know what it was and I was avenging wrath for the holes in my gardening gloves and fingers that it had caused). Finding the Grape Hyacinth all over the beds was a delight, and we have more Rose of Sharon than we know what to do with. Perhaps most exciting to me was that the tree right by our back door is a double flowering cherry tree. I can’t wait until it sets its blooms.

The front of our house was very plain and very symmetrical when we bought it, and only has a few rhododendrons, azaleas, and a whole lot of weeds. The trees are beautiful, if not a little close to the front of my house for my taste, but the azaleas were hugely overgrown, and the parts that you could see from inside the house were largely dead or thinning.

Unfortunately (for the azaleas) I hated how big they were and how close to the stairs they were. So the obvious solution was to rip them out.  With a tow rope and a Ford Ranger.

Removing large bushes is always a challenge. And very heavy. But the man did so admirably. After reversing down the driveway with the azalea in tow, he had to drag it to behind the garagCan you see a truck? Nope, no truck here!e. We learned the hard way with the first azalea we removed the our garbage men are not a big fan of actually taking the garbage with them, even when we had hacked it into itty bitty pieces. So instead, the area behind the back of our garage has become a bush graveyard.

After the azalea was safely behind the garage, the man and I walked across the street to get a good view of the change. I cannot tell you the joy!

Now you can SEE the house!

So now with a lot of raking, grass seed, and new plants, we will begin the restoration of the gardens, front and back.

One of the biggest frustrations prior to buying a house was that I wanted to be able to sit in my own backyard and read a book or plant some vegetables, or simply enjoy the sun (while slathered in 70SPF). The past few weeks, I have pulled into the driveway, gotten out of the car, dropped my work bag on the patio, pulled out a book, and sat myself down to read for an hour.  How can you not love that?

Most nights during the spring and summer, the man will turn on the grill, cook dinner, and I spend the time either reading or chatting with him. Being outside and simply enjoying the colors of our yard is beautiful, relaxing, and even joyful. And now that we no longer have any UGOs, I feel at one with my gardens.  I know what lives there now, and can’t wait to tend to it.

don’t open until 2004…

In some ways we were lucky that the previous owner decided to leave so many things in the house.  Among the dilapidated couches that we ended up throwing out and the pet stained carpets that had outworn their welcome, they also left an upright piano which I love and cherish.  And they also left some furniture in one of the bedrooms.  As we were moving the furniture outside to rehab it, one of our friends found a standard size envelope, addressed to one of the people who had lived in our house before us.

Inside was a letter, written by one of the girls who had lived there, from 2001, her freshman year in high school.  Seven pages long, written on notebook paper in green gel pen in bubbly print. It opens “Dear My Senior Self”. Whether it was a school assignment, a friendship pact to write the letters together, or a personal adventure, I’ll never know.   It was postmarked June 11, 2004.

She asks about certain people she went to school with – whether they’re still friends, whether she still keeps in touch with teachers, who she ended up dating and kissing or whether she ever “did it” with a certain person.  She wonders how the whole “eating disorder thing is going” and whether she ever made 120 pounds or wore a bikini and met hot guys at the shore. She even asks herself if she did anything during band camp.

She goes on to talk about classes she liked, teachers she hated, and lists the phone numbers of people she MUST keep in touch with. I wonder if she ever did. If she opened this letter in her senior year, or perhaps in college, and laughed at her childish spelling and handwriting, wondered why she was so curious about her sex-life-to-be. I wonder if she ever did make size 5 or 120 pounds, and if she did make out with the cute guy on the color guard team. But I’ll never know.

me, circa 2003What I do know, is I remember myself at that age. So innocent, so optimistic, a large group of friends that I thought would be around forever.  I still know their phone numbers, without having written a letter to myself, and despite the fact that I haven’t dialed some of them in 10 years or more. I thought that in high school my awkwardness would somehow dissolve, that I’d have my first kiss, and that I would be going to an ivy league school.

I wish I had written a letter like this to myself. Maybe it would have captured some of my own innocence and dreams that I had for my future. Sometimes it seems that when my father died my freshman year, I lost something of my youth. I lost some of those dreams, or they were just forgotten, never cataloged in a journal on a personal checklist of goals.

I wonder why the girl left the letter behind. Maybe she put it on top of the bureau and forgot about it, or maybe after reading it she didn’t have the heart to throw it out but didn’t want to remember it either. What I do know, is that I now write letters to friends that I haven’t spoken to since I was a teenager, and may never find or speak to again. I reminisce on what we did when we were teenagers, wonder what they’re doing, and tell them why I miss them.

And I fold them up, put them in envelopes, and store them away in a box. Maybe some day I’ll sit and read them.


A year ago today, the man and I were sitting at a long, polished mahogany table, nervously questioning what we were doing. Was it the right decision? Were we getting in over our heads? Were we moving too quickly? How were we going to manage everything?

Because a year ago today, we put the offer on our house. I remember the trepidation, the excitement, the butterflies in my stomach as we signed page after page.

Throughout the whole process, we were blessed to have an amazing real estate agent working with us, answering all of our questions, guiding us beyond our fears, and laughing at my sarcasm. We went to homes in foreclosure that had beer cans left in living rooms, and homes where the kitchen had been ripped out save for a cabinet. We laughed over other peoples decoration ideas, and fretted over whether my grandmother’s furniture (which I had inherited) would fit up staircases. We wondered if we could make one of the houses our home.

And then we made a second visit to the house we live in now. The decor was shabby, run down, and the kitchen left something to be desired. But it had a huge yard. A two car garage. And every single item on our wish list. And more. It was huge. Would the owner’s really come down on the price? Would I be able to put up with the wallpaper until we could afford to take it down?

Every other house that we had been to felt like a space that would always belong to another person.  I found myself wondering who lived in the houses, why they were selling, how long they had lived there. But somehow in this space, I felt like we could make it ours.

So now, as I sit in our attic “manloft” with the man on his computer in one corner, and me on the couch typing at the coffee table, both cats perched in the room, I know. We are home.

from behind the desk

In an average year, I spend over 1,700 hours behind a desk. For the past six years, I have been driving 9 miles (which takes about 45 minutes) into the city to go to work.  I started as a temp, and was hired full time to be an Administrative Assistant II.  For two years, I did that job, and after I completed my Master’s, I switched to another position.  For the next 4 years, I had 6 different job titles. I had worked my way up, had outlasted the departments that I worked for, was trusted, was given jobs and responsibilities that I had to learn on the fly.  There were good days and bad days, but overall, I began to feel important. Necessary. I finally got an office! And then three days before my wedding, I lost my job.

Three months later, I was back at the same place in a part time job, with a different title. And six months after that, I was back again, full time. With another title. And back at the bottom.

Some of my titles were fancy, and others more to the point, but none of them describing exactly what I did for a living. When I started back full time, I again felt valued and wanted, even liked. It was a fabulous arrangement: coming in a little bit late was no problem, which meant I didn’t sit in commuter traffic. I could leave early and finish work at home if I had an appointment or wasn’t feeling well. I could wear jeans every day. I was writing content for internal documents and copy for the web. I loved it. The long hours, taking work home – not a problem. I was working far above my job title and I loved it. But like all good things, that changed. I need to know my place, I was told. It was like getting a new job title all over again.

So now, as I settle down and rethink how I work, agonize over my actions and make sure I’m acting only within the parameters that I “should” for my title, I have to realize that it is just a job. A job where I spend over 1,700 hours every year, but nonetheless, just an obligation. A contract. A way to pay the bills.

I still have dreams. I will find the perfect job one day. I will be a writer, valued for her talent and wit, sought after to teach lectures at universities.  I will publish a book. I will have an article in Real Simple Magazine about how I restored my house by hand, how I salvage architectural finds, how I even crochet amigurumi and run a successful blog and teach and…. The list goes on.

I am more than my job. I have a life. And I try now to keep work from invading, and keep my “life” separate, sacred these days. And when the time is right, I’ll get the dream list. I’ll get a job where I am happy and feel like I make a difference. I have a BA in English with minors in Gender Studies and Faith Justice. I am a trained Writing Fellow. I have presented at the National Conference of Peer Tutoring & Writing twice. I have a Master’s in Writing Studies with a focus on creative non-fiction. And I can’t get a job as an adjunct. And I can’t get writing internships because I’m overqualified (yes I’ve been told that). But some day, I will have the dream. I just have to keep hoping. And in the meantime, I have my house. I have this blog. I have friends and family who love and support me.

And I have 7,000 hours of freedom a year not behind a desk.

the lonely island*

Don’t let the post title fool you.  This blog entry is not going to be prolific, inspiring, emotional, cathartic, heart wrenching… I could go on and on. It’s just not. Trust me. Void where prohibited.

Instead of blogging for the past week, I have been washing the walls of my living room with trisodium phosphate (TSP).  I cannot express to you the joy —

lies. All lies. If anyone tells you that washing walls with TSP is fun they are absolutely, positively, certifiably psychotic. Or Martha Stewart.

This week a painter is coming in to fix, treat, and paint the living room ceiling which is horribly stained and discolored. The more I look at where the stain is – above our mantle – the more I am convinced that the previous owners were pyromaniacs. When my husband and I cleaned out the fireplace, we found burnt advertisements, photos, bills, and the list goes on. So, logically, maybe it’s just that they couldn’t afford a shredder. Or maybe I’m right and they were pyromaniacs. Either way, the appointment with the painter has given me new found motivation to finish the living room, though, which is a good thing.

Because of how hard I have to scrub the walls and how many times I have to get on and off the ladder, though, I tend to only work on it for about an hour each week night. Which means not a lot of progress.  Until tonight.

Let’s backtrack:  My mom gave me – or regifted me – an iTunes gift card that I had gotten her but she had never used. So Sunday night my husband got to make fun of me and suffered through, “Wait what is that song that kinda sounds like JLo’s that is Latin in the beginning?” and “What about that one where I think he’s singing about Galileo?”** followed by his laughter, and immediately pulling up the YouTube video, with me squealing in delight, “OH MY GOD! How did you find it?! What’s the name of it?” I then proceeded to make fun of half of my music collection from college.

The point of this is, music actually made washing the walls bearable. Somehow shaking my ass while scrubbing my walls made the time fly. So if you have an unbearable task at hand that may or may not involve chemicals that may or may not make your hands shrivel up and look like prunes (even wearing gloves), I recommend music. And here is my wall washing mix.***

* In an attempt to have a melodramatic post title, I chose one of the artists featured on the playlist. Thank you for music that makes me shake my ass and laugh at the same time.

** Please see Taio Cruz’s “Dynamite”. I also at one point thought that Rihanna fell in love at a homeless place.

*** This mix does not reflect the entirety of my taste in music. And feel free to make fun of the random, bad, nostalgic songs in there. Yes, there is Backstreet Boys on there.  And yes, FCC, I bought or owned all the songs/CDs 😛