That One Time We Built a House: A tale of the extraordinary ordinary

Do you ever get wrapped up in the idea that you’re simply not interesting enough? Perhaps it’s my generation (I’m a Millexial; slightly too old to be Millennial, and slightly too young to be Gen X.), but I often find myself torn between the idea that I should at least TRY to be slightly more out of the ordinary (ahem Millenial), and a general disdain for the opinions of others in face of my much more important real life obligations (Ahem GenX/parenting.). A co-worker might regale me with stories of her horrendously busy weekend, and all I can say to her in response is: I don’t actually remember what we did.

This is truth: I can guarantee that our weekend included both laundry and Kraft Cheese and Macaroni.

Otherwise, I’ve got nothing. Typically, I’m good with that, but just occasionally I’ll start worrying about whether I have taken enough trips, had enough date nights, been active enough on my LinkedIn page, or whether I remembered to share that photo of a princess water bottle tucked into husband’s camouflaged hunting backpack. (Seriously, so cute.) Then I feel guilty because I *shouldn’t* care if other people find my life to be boring. I certainly don’t. Then again, I’m a DIY home-builder and we are a pretty cool crowd.

Social media is rife with people who are weekend DIY-er’s. In case you missed the above paragraph describing my fascinating weekends, I’m not one of those. No, I’m an honest to goodness legit home builder. Being a home-builder is a pretty heady thing. It absolutely shouldn’t be confused for someone who builds homes for a living. General contractors, carpenters, roofers and their ilk- they get paid for that insanity. Not only do they get paid – they KNOW things. Like how important a limitless supply of pencils is, and what to do when you accidentally wall off a live lightbulb*. Nor should it be confused for someone who hires another person to build their home for them. They might be footing the bill – and deciding whether they should go with the Corian or the concrete, but they’re not physically building their home. They don’t even know where their pencils are. A DIY home-builder knows just enough to be dangerous; we have pencils, but we never have enough. We are Jacks of All Trades – and masters of none.

It wasn’t always this way. My husband and I lived in a geodesic dome house when we were newly married. My parents owned the property (adjacent to their own homestead, where I was literally born and raised) – and they said, “Come live in the dome and pay us rent.”** We lived there for about a month before we decided to buy the home for ourselves. We were going to be cool cheese-making hippies – just with better clothes. We lived there for another year before it became clear that the dome was…not in good shape. Some of the structural beams were rotting, and we were forever finding woodland creatures in our home that wanted to commune with us a little too often. There were bats.(Plural.) Snakes (also plural). A single tail-less (I did that) ground squirrel that snuck up on me while I was contemplating life in the water closet and a whole host of mice that were at least reassuring with their constant presence. I certainly never felt alone. Or unwatched. Eventually we decided that the structural damage was too much and the woodland creatures too plentiful. We were faced with the choice to either move somewhere else or build on the property.

We were young – and stupid, and in love with our little chunk of property almost as much as we were in love with each other, so we built. Not having anticipated the expense of a new construction project (it can’t cost THAT much, can it?!) we built entirely out of pocket – and with agonizing slowness. Our first expense, the concrete for footings, was not enough to bankrupt us, but enough to preclude niceties like good beer and 2 ply paper towel. We grew adept at wielding hammers (or at least I did, my husband was already adept at these things) and the appropriate mixture of sand to concrete to water ratio for laying blocks. My husband bought me a special tape measure for idiots that had every 16th mark and possible fraction labeled. It wasn’t an insult – it was a genuinely necessary item for me and our marriage in general. I discovered that I’m a semi-decent outlet wirer, and that drywall is our personal version of marital hell. We coined the phrase, “measure twice, cut thrice”. We gifted ourselves new power tools for Christmas and birthdays. (We still do this. Old habits die hard, but so do power tools.)

After a while, the shine had worn off. We no longer had hands; we had feet-hands***. We stopped giving tours to friends and family members; they lacked the vision to see what it would become and we didn’t have an answer for the inevitable question: “So…when are you going to finish?”. It took us 5 years to build our home to the point where it was move-in-available. It was still a far-cry from move in-ready. My kitchen consisted of a laundry sink, a $20 plastic shelf, a card table that served triple duty as countertop, dining table and dish drying rack, and a very out-of-place stainless steel fridge and stove. For 3 months. But I was fat with our first child – and we needed a place to live where I wasn’t in fear of my baby being taken by the rogue band of squirrels living in the walls of the dome. We laid flooring when I was 7 months pregnant, which was such a miserable experience that I still cringe thinking of that. Eventually and bit by bit, our house became a home.

We have now been in our home for 7 years, and it’s still a work in progress. The basement is unfinished and there are pieces of trim occasionally left undone. Landscaping, as it scares the crap out of me, is still hanging out in the ether world of “we’ll tackle that some day”. But it is ours – literally built with our own hands, and it is paid for – something very few 30 somethings can say.

I cannot imagine ever moving away from this home; my children will someday have to pry my claw-like hands from the front stoop in order to drive me to the nursing home, all while I am explaining to them how we once didn’t even have a front stoop, but rather a few concrete blocks haphazardly strewn about.

This story brings up a lot of feels for me. We were so young when we started this process, so stupidly young. As it turns out, that was a huge benefit to us. Optimism? Check. Energy? Check. Time? Check. Adding children into the mix makes housebuilding virtually impossible. It took us 3 months to lay a paved path this summer. It was 21 feet long and 8 feet wide, but it felt like 3 football fields laid end to end. Summer schedules being what they are, we were lucky if we could devote one Sunday every 3 weeks to the project– and then we had the inevitable child-related stoppages of lunch negotiations, snackus interruptus and general sandbox mediation. When we were young and sans children, building our home was not only something we did – it was our life. We would work our full-time jobs, rush home, and work another 3-4 hours per night building the house. We didn’t have cable TV or internet and we were boring as hell. And that was fine. Social media was nowhere on our radar in 2004. We had no one to impress and a whole host of things that were more important to consider. Things like making sure we had support walls in all the right places, and enough electrical staples; the blue kind, not the yellow. We were building a home – and that was everything.

Now, I’m not saying that everyone should run right out and build their own home. I mean, that would be cool – we could start a little online club (Housebuilders-R-Us) and share tips on how to cut plastic soffeting, but it’s not realistic. What I AM saying is that you should find your own version of housebuilding. Most people don’t look at me and think to themselves: Now there – THERE is a woman who has built her own house! It’s a unique and remarkable skill to have achieved while also being incredibly fulfilling. So whenever I am feeling as though what I am or what I’m doing is not enough (and this happens to even the most overachieving of us) I remind myself of what I have done, what I’m capable of doing and I suddenly feel much, much better. Find your proverbial inner house-builder. Buy her a tape-measure for idiots, 5 boxes of carpenter’s pencils and set her free.

_________________________________________________________________Footnotes for fun:

*(You let it burn out. It takes 6 weeks.)

** Those Christopher Marlowe fans among you can take heart in knowing that I am now humming, “Come live in my dome, and pay me rent” to the Passionate Shepherd’s tune. This is great.

*** FEET-HAND FEET HANDS: No matter which part of housebuilding you are engaged in, it will always, without fail, hurt your hands in some way, shape or form. When we were digging the footings for our house, my hands developed spectacularly man-like shovel calluses. When we blocked up the basement, I alternated between cement block hauling abrasions and disgustingly dry skin on my hands from mixing up batches of mortar. As the house took form, we then put our hands through a multitude of torturous activities, included but not limited to: hammer swinging calluses, sudden and abrupt encounters with a hammer head and non-hardened finger appendages, not so abrupt encounters with a hand saw, countless exposures to (possibly carcinogenic) house sealant resulting in excessive skin dryness, lethal punctures from an electrician’s screwdriver, constant purple staining from primer (admittedly not painful, but not pretty to look at), an unbearable itchiness from overexposure to insulation materials and an unbearable itchiness and disproportionate dryness of hand skin from drywall handling. For the sake of the reader, who by now is undoubtedly quite tired of my whining, I have left out all mention of the miscellaneous hand scrapes, bruises, cuts and pinches that are intrinsic to all aspects of house building.

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This is your brain on crazy.

This is your brain on crazy.

During a recent drive into town, my husband pointed out the hack job that our local road commission did on a tree which had the misfortunate to have grown perilously close to the road. “Look at that tree! Why would they do that? I know I’m just going to end up careening off the road at some point and getting decapitated. That would be just my luck.” My husband is much luckier that he likes to admit (aren’t we all?), but he has a point about the tree. It is very strangely cut, as the road commission left the tree otherwise intact but for a very large branch – perhaps 6 feet in length and about 8 inches wide – which now dangles into the shoulder of the road. The road commission lopped off the end of this branch, so that it no longer hangs into the road itself, but they have left the severed appendage hanging there, like a giant hand-less Ent. (My apologies. A little of my nerd just slipped out.)

I passed the same tree coming home from work last night with my young daughters in the back seat, and I immediately began with my internal ODAI (offspring death avoidance imaginings). If the acronym doesn’t give it away, this is something I do quite a bit. If you were to slip inside my crazy brain pan for a minute while I was actively engaging in ODAI regarding the tree branch, it would sound like this:

Brain: “You know, if the road was slippery, and conditions were just right (i.e.: wrong), you could slip off the road and into that branch. It would be on the passenger side though, so you would probably live, but your eldest child would not. Maybe you should teach the kids to DUCK on command, so that in case of such a scenario, you could tell them to DUCK, and they would thereby narrowly avoid a tree branch decapitation. The question is: How would you teach them to DUCK on command? It’s not like you’re a headmaster at a school for bad children where they have to learn to immediately obey or risk a flogging. You’re not a despot. You could make a game of it and throw soft tennis balls at their head as a funky parent/child trust exercise, but that might be construed as child abuse, so you’d probably better not. Then again, if we talked about it ahead of time and they had plenty of warning…”

Look at this garden hose. Just lying in wait for some poor unsuspecting child.

I could continue. I DO continue. But for the sake of my reader, I won’t continue here. I have no excuses for the weird and often horrific places that my brain goes when I think about the things that COULD-POTENTIALLY-IF-EVERYTHING-WENT-COMPLETELY-WAYWARD happen to my offspring. Active imaginations are highly regarded when you are a child, useful as an adult, but as a parent, they become an unfortunate mixture of: “Boy it would be fun to do __________!” (and it generally is) and “Oh crap, my child is going to slip on a misplaced Barbie shoe, fall down the stairs and impale themselves on a bendy straw.” Parenthetically, this is undoubtedly why I’m a very upbeat and happy in person; I’m always thrilled with the fact that my children haven’t yet died of a freak garden hose accident.

On the other hand, working in a legal field, this propensity for the Chicken Little Life often comes in handy. You consider the worst, best and typical case scenarios, factor in how likely each of those scenarios are, and prepare accordingly. Typically these machinations don’t involve things like rogue tree branches impaling our clients, but you see where I’m going with this. Consistently preparing for the worst, while hoping for (and working towards) the best – make sure that we are equipped for any outcome. I imagine this is much the same for all fields – legal or otherwise. I also imagine that I am not alone in my eccentric offspring death avoidance imaginings. In conversations with friends, this does seem to be the norm. It’s encouraging to know that mass insanity is alive and well..

But even if it weren’t, I can take heart in the fact that at least one of my children escaped this genetic propensity. Here is an excerpt of a recent car ride to school, wherein we were discussing why it is so important for everyone to be buckled in and safe while the car is in motion:

Elder Child: (From the backseat) Mom, what if sissy’s door was like BARELY hanging on by a thread, and then it just fell off? And then – sissy didn’t know that, and she unbuckled her car seat and then the wind ripped her out of the car, and she got run over? That would be bad, right?

Younger Child (Also from the backseat) That makes my knee bleed.

Save your fancy words. No need for a five minute recap. Let’s just keep this real shall we? Certain death by accidental car evacuation makes my knee bleed. Every family needs at least one realist.

With a Hack, Hack Here and a Hack, Hack There

With a Hack, Hack Here and a Hack, Hack There

Let’s talk for a moment about life hacks. I’m sure by now everyone is so sick of reading this term that they are ready to use a potato scrubber on their eyeballs. I hear you, I read you and I’m with you. My eyeballs are also ready for a good scrubbing when it comes to overused terminology and phrases.  In fact, if I have to hear the overused term “RIGHT?!” tacked onto an otherwise non-inquiring sentence ONE MORE TIME, I’m going to put that scrubber in my ear and spin. It obviously won’t do any good because the human ear canal is intensely complex, but it will at least make me feel better.

 

Unfortunately, I’m secretly drawn to life hacks. Every time I see a  blog post or a news article that talks about the latest and greatest life hack, it’s as though my clicking finger is possessed. MUST.READ.LIFE.HACK. There’s just something about the idea that someone out there, some brilliant and innovative stranger, has come up with a potentially greater, better, or faster  way to make it through the daily drudgery that appeals to me. The kicker is, as much as I  read them, I rarely implement them. As it turns out, their way is rarely better, greater or faster – it’s just different, occasionally strange, and rarely particularly useful for my brand of crazy. No – I’m not going to store my refrigerated condiments upside down in an empty egg carton. My beloved condiments barely have room to breathe on their plastic shelf as it is, and it requires a degree in engineering to replace one once it has been removed. (My husband typically declines to participate in Fridge Shelf Jenga, and usually just places it somewhere WHERE IT DOESN’T BELONG.) Therefore, throwing an egg carton into the mix and requiring space- actual space – between plastic bottles, is right out.

eggcarton
Tell me that this is not THE stupidest thing you have ever seen. ALSO, how can you have so many mustards and so few pickles?! Travesty.

When they are not completely useless for my lifestyle (like the egg carton trick above), they are typically such a no-brainer that it’s a literal insult TO my brain to read them. “HACK YOUR LIFE – GET MORE SLEEP!” My brain rolls its cingulate cortex in annoyance, and I’m done.

 

Nevertheless, I continue reading these puppies whenever they cross my cell phone screen in the hopes that maybe someday, someone will come up with a life hack that actually works for me. Who knows, I might EVEN come up with a few of my own to share…(That’s right. This is happening.)To my working parents and momrades in arms, I present to you – –

 

Life Hacks for the Working Mom (and Dad – where applicable):

 

[But first a necessary legal disclaimer: My post contains general life hack information. The information is not advice and should not be treated as such. The information in my post is presented without any warranties, legal or implied. I do not verify that the information contained in my post is either true, accurate, complete, current or non-misleading. If you have specific questions about how the author’s life hack information may pertain to your life, I suggest you contact a life hack expert. The author is not a life hack expert. The author is a hack, but that is an entirely different thing. Please read this post in good health and fun. If you don’t agree with the information contained in the author’s post, you should a.) seek a second opinion from an actual life hack expert or b.) invest in a good potato scrubber.]

 

 WORKING PARENT LIFE HACK #1: Appropriate morning time management can be boiled down to one tip: Makeup over Hair EVERY TIME.

 

First off, I swear that these will get better as we go on, so bear with me. I absolutely want to start small and work my way up. HOWEVER, I’m a born again make-up junkie  – and as a result, my morning routine has gone from a very quick swipe of mascara, shimmery eyeshadow and blush to a daily makeup routine that could easily take 30 minutes if I’m feeling persnickety about liner placement. (And much, much longer if I’m allowed a babysitter and a night out.) I’m also a busy working mom that has to get not only herself ready in the mornings, but her two young spawn as well. So while I’d LIKE to take 30 minutes to do my makeup what typically happens is that I end up with around 8-15 minutes, depending upon how quickly (or if) I can convince the 3 year old to brush her teeth, and how many times I have to remind the 6 year old to PLEASE PUT ON HER SHOES. Moms have to make concessions, you know. So, my life hack to manage my burgeoning desire for cat eyes, on fleek (scrub scrub scrub) eyebrows and contoured cheekbones is that I simply ignore my hair entirely. The messy bun has become a very close and personal friend of mine. (Don’t let the profile picture fool you. THAT hair day was facilitated by my bang up stylist. 98% of the time, I’m rocking the mom bun.) What I’ve found personally is that people pay much more attention to the face than the hair – so it makes more sense to master a few quick and simple styles that you can whip out in 2-3 minutes and then spending the remaining 12 minutes of your time on making your eyes sparkle like magical sleep restored diamonds.

mombunmafia
“A smile will get you pretty far. But a smile and a bun will get you  farther.” – Ma Capone.

“But Maggie, what if I don’t use make-up?” Then this hack is probably not for you, my fresh faced friend. On the other hand, you could get down with your minimalistic bad self by using your mom-bun time to down an extra cuppa joe or three before waking up the ankle biters. Just a thought.

 

WORKING PARENT LIFE HACK #2:  Actually getting more sleep at night is easy: Go Blind.

 

I am an unrepentant member of the Bad Decisions Book Club. (This really does exist. There’s even a t-shirt.) This means that while I’m typically one bad mother-shut-yo-mouth at time management, all my time management skills depart forthwith when I am faced with the 9 o’clock hour, my bedsheets and an unread book. I will spend HOURS reading at night, when in fact I should be sleeping. Nevertheless, I recognize that I need sleep more than I need to know what is going to happen to Madam Pennywhistle in Chapter 4, and the only cure I have found for my “just one more chapter” blues has been going blind.

baddecisions

Now before you grab your handy potato scrubber, I merely mean that you should take out your contacts (or remove your glasses) and head immediately into the bedroom. This hack is obviously operating under the presumption that you are (like me), as blind as a bat without optical assistance. CAN I read without optical assistance? Absolutely, but it’s a major pain in the tookus. Likewise, watching TV in bed loses all its appeal when I can only hear what is going on and not see. Eventually, I grow so tired of having to create the pictures in my own head (Geez imagination, just GO TO BED ALREADY) that I give up and sleep. This particular tip works like a charm for me every time. Well, every time I’m not lying awake in bed, blindly thinking about life hacks or posts about life hacks, that is.

 

“But Maggie, what if I’m NOT a member of the Bad Decisions Book Club and I already have great self control when it comes to sleep habits?” Then I’m afraid we can no longer be friends. Remove yourself from my sight immediately, please.

 

WORKING PARENT LIFE HACK #3: Quality Family Time is Disconnected Time.

 

This one is easy for me and horrifying to Millennials. I recently had to purchase a new phone (I abhor new technology and cling to my old things for as long as possible – which seems counterintuitive for someone posting an article online, but is true nonetheless) and had the pleasure of mystifying the young salesman who was trying to upsell me the latest and greatest gadgets under the sun.

 

Me: I just want something with REALLY good reception. I don’t care about features or camera shutter speed. I’m leaning towards a Droid because I’ve heard that they tend to have the best reception in spotty areas.

Him: Well, I could sell you a Droid, but I really think you’re going to like the features that this HTC will offer.

Me: Yeah, I had an HTC for a millisecond. I couldn’t get a bar. Not even standing on one leg in my kitchen while leaning out the window, which ALWAYS works.

Him: Well, I mean, you can get occasional 4G, right?

Me: SNORT

.explode

 

He was horrified. I mean, I think he may have physically moved away from us in repulsion before he proceeded to tell my husband how he actually gets twitchy (like honest to goodness anxiety) when he is disconnected from his phone.

 

This is more and more the way of things, but one of the beautiful things of living where I do is that I have absolutely no choice in the matter. We are so far out in BFE that we cannot even get internet. And let me tell you, it is lovely. My children will grow up with an understanding of how to navigate online waters (even kindergarteners have computer class these days), but not relying upon it 100% of the time. It allows my family time to unwind, unconnected from any distractions that aren’t family related and to really talk to one another.

triangle
Remember THIS gem? Yes, me neither. Is Dan Cortese still alive?

“But Maggie, are you trying to say that people who ARE connected are doing their family a disservice?” Absolutely not, you fool. Merely that *I* have no choice in the matter – and what a wonderful thing it is to not even have to worry about it.  Are there days when I wished we had internet? Of course. More and more often, my children have homework that require some sort of online access. Tax season (we file online) is likewise a right pain in the butt. We also occasionally give the local providers the old college try by calling them up and asking them to come out to our property (yes, AGAIN please.) to see if maybe their towers can now reach us. (They can’t.) Each time, they leave our home dazed, disoriented and confused by our personal Bermuda Triangle of Connectivity. Abandon all signal, ye who enter here.

 

 

But to be honest, I’m always a little happy. For starters, I think that most people don’t believe me when I tell them that we’re internet free at home – so I’m always happy to add another believer to the list – but more importantly, because I love our little disconnected nest. There are woods to explore, fresh air to be breathed, children and spouses to reconnect with after a long day at work and a crap ton of potatoes to be scrubbed. Good thing I have just the right tool.

potato-scrubb

 

 

 

For further reading:

http://www.scienceandentertainmentexchange.org/blog/annoyed-blame-your-brain

 

http://smartbitchestrashybooks.com/2016/05/welcome-bad-decisions-book-club/

Winning Shit and Taking Names

Winning Shit and Taking Names

Do you remember when, as a child, you would see something in a magazine and think to yourself, “I WISH I had that!” For me, this was typically the latest Veronica Lodge outfit in my Archie comic book. Say what you will about Ronnie, but that girl had a killer wardrobe. trenchcoatronnieThe best part was that there was a small part of you that actually believed that if you merely wished hard enough – you *would* get that double breasted trench coat you were coveting so hard. (What can I say? Even six year old Maggie could get on board with fashionable work wear.) Well, as is the usual course of these things, young Maggie quickly discovered that things don’t typically work that way. In fact, it became obvious very early on that, while I have always lived a very lucky life in general, luck was never one of those things that I was actually lucky about. This is a nice albeit slightly convoluted way of saying: I never win anything.

I sincerely mean that. Scratch off tickets? Nope. I could scratch that sucker with a 2,000 year old Roman minted coin and I still wouldn’t win a brass farthing. Call-in radio shows?  My phone invariably chooses that moment to remind me that it hasn’t been turned off in 73 days and needs a good reboot RIGHT.THIS.SECOND or it may just explode.

explosions-nokia-600x387
Just like this.

I hardly ever step foot into a casino; mostly because I’m convinced the sounds and smells are specifically created with insanity in mind*, but also because I know there’s no point. I won’t win. Basically, if it requires luck, you are better off staying far, far away from me.

 

Until today. Today I was notified that I had actually (drumroll please) won something.  Fans of the cult classic The Jerk will understand when I say that I feel like Navin upon discovering his name in the phone book.

Navin R. Johnson: The new phone book’s here! The new phone book’s here!

Harry Hartounian: Boy, I wish I could get that excited about nothing.

Navin R. Johnson: Nothing? Are you kidding? Page 73 – Johnson, Navin R.! I’m somebody now! Millions of people look at this book everyday! This is the kind of spontaneous publicity – your name in print – that makes people. I’m in print! Things are going to start happening to me now.

cans
He hates these cans!

Of course, Jerk fans (if you haven’t seen this movie yet, get thee to Netflix/Amazon immediately)  know that the next part of this interaction is a sniper going through that very same phone book and choosing Navin Johnson’s name at random for sniping.  And therein lies the rub. Let me extrapolate this for you: I have won something – but there is a catch.

In this case, the catch is what we won: A family four pack of tickets to the Octonauts Live. The Octonauts, for those not of the parental persuasion (and if this applies to you, please bear with me here. Obnoxiously unnecessary description of a children’s tv show to follow:), follows an underwater exploring crew made up of stylized anthropomorphic animals who go on undersea adventures. The show does focus on the exploration/discover of real life marine creatures, but I have difficulty taking this seriously when it’s coming from the mouth of a talking penguin/medic who is making nice with his captain – an anthropomorphized polar bear. (For the record, Captain Barnacles would eat the crap out of Peso the penguin. If they didn’t reside on OPPOSITE SIDES OF THE PLANET, YO. Boom. Science.) Compounding matters is the fact that the brave Octonauts crew employs a team of half vegetable/half fish servants called the Vegimals broadly and with names like Hallibeet (half halibut/half beet) and Yamchovy (half yam/half anchovy) individually. Also there is 90 minutes of this.  Live.

tomminowistickledbythegrabber
“Tominnow is tickled by the grabber.” WHAT THE FLAMING HELL IS GOING ON HERE?

 

 

 

The upshot is that the kind purveyor of this prize also included a $50 gift certificate to a local restaurant that happens to serve the best damn bloody marys this side of Wisconsin**.

 

Suffice it to say that I intend to drown my sorrows ahead of time thoroughly. And if things turn out the way I hope, I subsequently won’t have to restrain myself from charging the stage and attempting to eat Tominnow, delicious Tominnow. These are the things parents do for their kids.

picard-winning1.png

 

 

 

 

*This guy agrees with me: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/in-excess/201307/the-money-maze

**Apparently, Wisconsin wins as the state where the most bloody marys are consumed. Or, perhaps more aptly (since this is based on Yelp data) the state where the largest concentration of whiny bloody mary drinkers are located.bloodychart

 

 

 

Out of the Board Room, Into The Brambles

Out of the Board Room, Into The Brambles

This past weekend was gorgeous in Northern Michigan, and finding myself woefully unprepared – without any sort of mulch or plant life on hand, I did what any self-respecting landowner would do: I spent three hours cutting down brambles in an attempt to make the yard look more presentable with what I DID have on hand. Loppers.

 

if_your_loppers_arent_sharp_enough
This guy doesn’t even need loppers. He’s clearly the Chairman of the Board somewhere.

 

To make it more fun – I told myself it was like a game of pick up sticks. You know, where the sticks are barbed and instead of saying “Oh MAN!” when you accidentally move the wrong stick, you yell “YOU SON OF A @#$*!” when the wrong stick swings back and stabs you in your unsuspecting eye socket. A demented game of pick up sticks, to be sure, but my hand to eye coordination is feeling very top notch now and my skin has the type of rosy glow envied by Edward Scissorhands aficionados worldwide.

 

 

donttrythisathome
Don’t try this at home. Oh wait…DO try this at home. For fun.

All attempts at making lemonade out of my prickly lemons aside- you do a lot of thinking when you are absorbed in yard work like this. This weekend I found myself pondering whether anyone else was “lucky” enough to be out enjoying the weather in this way – and more importantly, whether they COULD enjoy it in this way.  I am specifically thinking back to an article that I read on LinkedIn a few weeks ago, which referenced how there is a new breed of woman taking the corporate world by storm thanks in part to a combination of daily blow outs*, designer shoe shopping and 4 a.m. gym routines. To be fair, I think this was a vastly unfair article. The idea that any of those quoted women worked their way into those high powered boardrooms based on the recommendations of a good  pair of stilettos and the doctor performing their monthly botox injection is laughable. Those things take hard work, dedication and you know…COLLEGE. Preferably a really good college.It’s also completely offensive to suggest that a woman has to be one or the other- that beauty queens can’t also be brilliant as hell. Nevertheless, the sheer quantity of time spent dedicated to the pursuit of looking mahvelous made me wonder whether Fernando Lamas and the corporate world in general were missing something. Sure, they can navigate the waters of commerce, but can they navigate a difficult bramble to the brush pile?  Would they even want to? (For that matter, do *I* want to? Not really. But I will. ‘Cuz character.)   When everyone moves to the city and the joys of property ownership are usurped by the joys of maintaining your gym membership, how do our ties to the natural Earth fare? Is it easier to discount the importance of the blue collar jobs in the world when we don’t actively get our OWN hands dirty? I take pride in being able to both wield a rake**– and a mascara brush with some degree of skill. There is a lot of joy that comes out of those quiet moments*** when it’s just you and the 32” loppers – and even more once you see the job that has been done.

 

mascara.gif
Behold the art of eyelash raking. You don’t get to jump in a pile of discarded eyelashes when you’re done, but otherwise, exactly the same as raking leaves.

Of course, this is all well and good for me to write; As my six year old reminded me last week, “You don’t know my LIFE, mom. There are things I don’t TELL you.” Although our conversation was about brussel sprouts (and specifically whether she did or did not enjoy eating them) – this is easily transferable to the conversation at hand. I don’t actually know any of the women in that article – nor is it my intent to judge them harshly. Goodness knows I too can navigate my way around the Macy’s makeup counter with ease and even a fair amount of joy. It’s entirely possible that they too enjoy getting back to their roots (and I’m not referring to the Clairol Nice N’Easy Kind) – but between the thrice weekly hair salon trips, daily morning workouts, and post work hour networking – where do they find the time?!  And that’s all fine and well; to each their own downtime. Those women ARE out there, however. A friend of mine is the Chief of Staff in a fairly well known financial service company. On the weekends, she builds outdoor playground equipment for her daughter, and refinishes pieces of furniture that she finds by the side of the road. My sister is the executive director of a non-profit organization, and she finds time to plant, tend and harvest a garden when she’s not flying around the country on business or making music in her band. I tend to think that those two examples are more indicative of the actual norm – then exceptions to the rule. They are crushing it in the corporate world, but don’t you dare call them one trick ponies. They can be ALL of those things: Business leaders, Wives, Scientists, Mothers, Carpenters, Beauty Queens and Rake Wielders.****

 

It’s enough to give me the warm fuzzies. (Or at least, I think it’s the warm fuzzies, it could actually be an antihistamine reaction to the multitude of scratches down my arms.) For those of you actively maintaining this work and home life balance, I salute you. Let’s get together and rake awhile…in solidarity. Yeah, solidarity. Can I get a rake high five?

rake
That’s right. Up top.

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*I should clarify that by “blow out”, I mean the process by which hair is washed and professionally blown dry/coiffed by a certified hair stylist – and not “blow out”, the process by which your small child/infant ruins their entire outfit. These are the clarifications required for professional moms taking the corporate world by storm.

 

**To be honest, I loathe raking. It’s hands down my least favorite yard chore bar none. Give me brambles, tree pruning or dog poop duty any day. Just please…not the raking.

 

***Quiet is an arguable term. By my calculations, Rumble in the Brambles 2016 was interrupted 4x for potty breaks, 3x for snackus interruptus, and 15x for sandbox conflict resolution.

 

**** It’s entirely possible that this is the culmination of our generation having watched The Breakfast Club WAY, WAY too many times.

Spring: The season of hope, renewal and dirty cars.

Spring: The season of hope, renewal and dirty cars.

This is an oldie, but a goodie that I am resurrecting from the bowels of The Book. The weather people tell me that we are expecting a gorgeous Spring weekend, so the timing is perfect and it’s a good reminder of one of my essential personality traits.

tombstone

 

Spring is the best. The smells, the warmth, the exuberance you feel at not having to start your car 15 minutes early every morning. All these things = excellent. However, there is one part of Spring which I despise, and that is the fact that my true color always comes out in the spring. And that color, my friends, is dust. So now for the confession:

I am the unrepentant driver of an absolutely filthy car. Yes. I am that woman, who may be stylishly attired, but often has a streak of dust down her pant leg from when she accidentally rubbed against her car door while buckling a kid in. Did she just go mudding down a two-track with her high school buddies? Maybe. Was her car swept up in a freakishly localized northern Michigan dust storm? Possibly. No matter how it occurred, the fact is that my car is just….not clean.

dirty car
Look at how sad this car is.

 

To be fair, it’s not entirely my fault. The quickest route to town for me in the mornings usually involves a mile long trek down a dirt road. For those of you who don’t know (or perhaps just don’t remember) what a typical morning getting two kids and one fully groomed (grade 3) adult ready in the morning entails, trust me when I tell you that every second counts. So yes, I could avoid the dirt road – and spare myself the dust, but I won’t. I need the 2 minutes and 27 seconds that it saves me to brush my teeth. It’s safer and better smelling for everyone this way. So now you know – my literal “dirty” secret. I hardly ever wash my car. Why bother? I’m just going to get it filthy again the next morning.

In *my* house, this means that the three or four times per year that I DO wash my car are often met with incredulity or even occasionally, concern. Here are a couple of my favorite interactions:

Me: I washed my car today!
Husband: Are you feeling alright? Take a Tylenol.

Or

Me: I think I need to wash my car.
Husband: What’s the special occasion? Did you invite people over again without telling me?

At least I am predictable in my filth. Among other things.

So now we come to the crux of the issue: Spring is the time of the year that separates the seasonally filthy car owners from the perpetually filthy car owners. I am obviously of the latter – and I find myself looking around in envy at all of you people with your clean cars. Overachievers. Don’t you know that it’s spring?! Mud puddles abound, man, but you don’t care. You’ll just go out and purchase ANOTHER car wash. Clearly, you have more money than I. You probably even have a garage to park your squeaky clean cars in. (Flah. Who needs a garage anyway? I bet those garages smell like garbage and cardboard.) Of COURSE your car is still clean three days later. If I had a garage, paved roads and a car wash money tree, my car would be crackalackin’ clean too.

carwash
On second thought, maybe I’m missing something. I mean, this family seems to be enjoying the car washing process QUITE a bit.

Sour grapes aside, every spring I tell myself that I’m going to do a better job of washing my car regularly. However, I think that this year I’m going to be kinder to myself. My friend Laura (Who is the closest thing I have to my own personal self-help guru. She self-admittedly reads way more blogs than is acceptable.) has told me that happiness comes out of being more in tune with yourself and subsequently accepting what you are and what you need in life. I think that I’m finally ready to accept the fact that car-washing is just not one of my fortes. So this year, I shall instead focus those energies on determining what I need: a car color that will best mask the dust. I think champagne will do nicely.

Enjoy your spring friends, and the next time you find yourself in a stall with high pressured water jets coming at you, send some happy car wash vibes my way. I’ve accepted my fate – but am always open to the cleansing power of car wash vibes.

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*On the scale of 0 to 10, where 0 is immaculately well groomed at all times, and 10 is covered in dog hair and wearing two week old sweatpants, I’d like to think that I am routinely at a 3.