What the F have I been doing?

Screen Shot 2019-04-24 at 2.38.44 PMI mean…its a fair question.

Screen Shot 2019-04-24 at 2.35.57 PM.pngI have been dieting again. Keto this time. Same diet new name. In my twenties it was Atkins. A few years ago it was low carb. Now it is Keto. All three involve me melting cheese on a plate and eating it with a fork, drinking heavy cream, and consuming lots of red meat. It could be called the cow diet but then the pigs and chickens would be unfairly left out. Bacon. Eggs.

It sounds horrendously unhealthy. And yet…I have lost 45 pounds. I have stuck to the low carb plan since late July with a pretty baguette length break during our trip to France.

Other than dieting I have been busy with everyone’s third favorite subject. Volunteering at Middle School. Hey Denver join us for a lightly Star Wars themed Gala on May 4th.

Wait, while I’m talking to you Denver…check this out.

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It is my new project. I have a partner which makes it less lonely and more collaborative than this navel gazing blog. We are also looking for contributors. I am going to make you click through to learn more.

And hey Vermont: the Palmers are coming at you very very soon.

And hey other readers: sorry I have taken a sabbatical from writing about sex and parenting. Now that I have semi-retired is there anyone out there who wants to write about used underwear?

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The life and death of being a parent

I am looking down at my shoes when I see hers. My flip flops have faded to a color that blends with my pale feet.  Into my square of sidewalk leaps a pair of converse high tops. I look up, but not too far, to see a frilly dress, a freckled smile and mis matched pigtails. One is low the other is high and the girl runskipwalks quickly past me. She is headed to one of her last days of one of her first years of school. I get a bit of that almost summer feeling and forget my flip flops.

Half a block behind her I see her parents. They are walking hand in hand. The mom is wearing the same shoes as her daughter and is holding a coffee mug in her free hand. It  makes me smile. This walk is just a bit of their day. I imagine them headed home, her mug still half full, to eat toast at a sunny table. They are a few steps beyond me now and I hear the mom call out “Stop” in a relaxed sing song. Then a little louder. “Stop” And finally it is piercing. “STOOOOOPPP” I turn at the sound, her mug crashing to the ground as the two of them sprint forward towards the edge of the broad road. Its canopy of trees has filled in, the houses lining it can best be described as stately. The three of them are in a tangle in the sloping curb. I see the mom gathering up the girl whose face is stone. The father is holding on to the mother as she screams. I have my phone out. It has just taken a moment.

Then come the tears. Before I have dialed 911 I realize the tears are from the child, not the parents.

The girl is fine. She was stunned and now she is crying. I’m not sure she knows how close she came to a car.  It almost doesn’t matter though. I can imagine her parents’ bodies. The rush in their ears. The thundering thud of their hearts. It is strange that trauma has a sound.

I am holding her coffee mug. It is empty and its handle is chipped. I run my thumb along the chip. Such a small mark really. I imagine they will keep the mug. It will be dry in the cabinet tomorrow. This moment will be forgotten, but somehow imprinted on the mom.

It is so hard to love so hard. I am flashing through time next to incubators, calls that turned out to be meaningless from pediatric oncologists, a son covered in blood in Steve’s arms as I stand at the door of the ER. In a moment I am scared of the other times that we haven’t yet lived.

I am holding out the mug but they are walking away from me, the three of them together hand in hand in hand.

I don’t want to interrupt them.

I set the mug on the sidewalk, its chipped handle facing the direction they will walk when they return from dropping their girl at one of her last days of one of her first years at school.

This is the truest part of parenting. Where the tangle of love and fear can stop life in an instant, even if it is just for an instant.

What happens when a piece of your family is gone?

I am holding the iPad at an angle so it is the boys’ faces reflected in the screen not my own. Steve’s face looms over me at this angle. He is fumbling for his ear buds so we see first his nose, then the lapel of his linen suit, then the ceiling of the covered Tokyo walkway. While he apologizes I watch the square in the corner where his sons’ faces are angled towards him. Their brows are smooth, Oliver’s hair, wet from the shower, flops over one side of his face. We are getting it cut in two days and I will miss this mop.

Finally Steve is ready.

“Can you hear me?” He asks. Because of course he did.

We can, and we could before, it was he who needed the earplugs. Oliver asks. “Can you hear US?”

He can.

The boys ask him questions. “How was your flight?” “What was your day like today?” I remind them that it is morning in Japan. Leo laughs. “I can never get used to that.” Steve tells us he is taking a bullet train today and the boys like the sound of that. Oliver tells Steve that both boys have done well on math tests today. I speak for the first time, a faceless voice off the screen, adding that they hadn’t actually gotten the test results back…just that they both FELT good about the test. “That’s a good first step.” Oliver tells me. “Yes” Steve agrees. “It’s a good first step.”

Silence. It is hard to keep a conversation going over Facetime even if everyone wants to.

So we cut to the round of “I miss yous. I love yous.” Then the part I hate. The hanging up. Its not that the Facetime call brought him into our life or us into his in any meaningful way. Its choosing to disconnect that I find hard. It was the same problem that found me asleep next to my phone at 1am on school nights in highschool. It is hard to hang up. I have my finger a quarter inch from the screen. Leo is still saying “I love you” I know that this can go on for a while. Saying it many times seems important to him. Oliver is more efficient, he feels there is the same meaning in one expression of love as in many. He is waiting patiently for his brother to finish his ritual. I try to catch Leo’s eye to get a signal that we are ready to end the call and he gives me a short nod. I add in one last “miss you” and tap the screen right as Leo is saying “I love…” Steve is frozen in front of us, somehow looking at the camera instead of to the side where his own image would have been. I feel terrible to have cut Leo off but he has moved on. He is “driving” the remote and he has started up the Flash. Facetime has ended and the boys have dropped right back into our lives. I, however, am waiting for a bullet train in Japan.

It has been a year since Steve’s job increased his travel dramatically. At the beginning I was scared.

I was worried about the stuff of life. The dinner and the lawn mowing. But Whole Foods and Leo have stepped in. I imagined myself bumping the giant toter trash cans down uneven driveways and spilling compost all over my feet. It has not happened. Oliver takes out the trash, and even though he has two left feet he has managed to keep both of them clean over dozens of Friday pick up days. I was worried about who would wipe Oliver’s butt when he broke both of his wrists and in that case it WAS me that had to do it but it wasn’t that bad. Being a parent gets you used to lots of shit.

I was worried that I would miss him. And I did. And I do. But I CAN go to Whole Foods alone on Mondays. I can have lunch with a friend instead of with Steve. I can have sex by myself. It is less fun but also requires less clean up. These things that seem impossible without him are not. They are possible, they are just less good.

I know couples where one of them travels for work and the other was home with the kids. For years I heard their stories and thought I could never do that. I could never deal with 8 feverish limbs and snow days trapped inside. I couldn’t handle math panic attacks and emergency room visits alone. As it turns out I am not alone. My boys are old enough to help AND to keep me company. We plan our meals and our evenings. Clam chowder and lettuce (I’d call it salad but that would require it to have more than one ingredient) on Monday with UNFILTERED water. The orange indicator light on the fridge has left Leo stressed. Outdoor poker on Tuesday with chicken sandwiches, fruit and carrots. The carrots might have been dumped unceremoniously on the table in their bag but they tasted the same. Just ask Apollo. The dance performance at school on Wednesday will go well with our regular pizza game night. Oliver objected- dance performances are NOT the same as games, but this one is a who-dunnit mystery (yeah, I don’t understand either) so we will be there. Thursday is haircut day. I tried to talk Oliver out of it, pointing at his head and saying it looked hip. Oliver said he didn’t care what his hair looked like so I could cancel if I wanted. Leo told me that the word hip was, well, not hip. Friday Steve gets home.

Like I said, it is fine.

Why then did I berate Steve in the shower Sunday morning before he left? He stood there, tears hidden by the streaming water but shown by his red eyes. “This was not what I chose.” I hissed at him. “I told you this isn’t working. I told you I wouldn’t keep going this way. What have you done to change things?” He looked back at me. “Have you looked for another job? Have you tried to negotiate the travel?” He lowered his red eyes. The fact that it was mother’s day gave my anger that little extra fuel that I needed to have it come out as mean rather than constructive. The last time we had talked about his travel it had been a talk. I might have cried a little bit but I hadn’t lashed out at him. I felt bad but not badly. This time I knew he was heading away from home hurt. I wanted to take it back. Sort of.

As I open my eyes this morning at 6:02 my first thought is the luxury of the dog being (almost) far enough away from me that I can’t feel him. My second thought is “how many more days?” I am pretty sure it is Wednesday so it is two or three more days depending on how you count. For the record Steve always counts as if it is the least possible time, me as the most. So early on Wednesday morning with a Friday late night return would be three days to me and two to Steve. I have finally agreed to count nights as our benchmark so I guess it is two. Two more days. Or at least two more nights.

Please note laundry in basket is clean and folded.

For the first time in a year I realize what my problem with Steve’s traveling is. It is not missing big family brunches (I kid you not as I am typing this Oliver enters the room and asks if I want him to make me peanut butter toast and bring it up to me in bed (So I am typing in bed. So what?)) It is not missing an alternate chauffeur to the haircuts (OK it kinda is, they go to a hipster place with no parking way way out of my bubble) It is not even missing Steve himself (at least most of the time.)

It is that my life has turned into counting and waiting.


Wednesday isn’t just today when I will meet my cousin at Steep and work on my Design Learning project. I might get work done, I might enjoy a lunch or a walk with a friend. Perhaps I will even figure out Who dunnit at the dance performance (still, no idea). Through all of this I will be waiting. A piece of me will be missing, keeping me from being a full participant in my own life. That piece will be both dreading and hoping for Facetime, it will be calculating how many hours ahead Tokyo is, it will be standing beside Steve as he waits for his train.

I will be broken into two parts, the one living, and the one counting the hours.



Hate local

Vegas, Manhattan, Paris, almost every part of the world that is not filled with white people. Gay people, Jews, women, Muslims. Hatred is everywhere. 

Including inside most of us. 

The primary solution being preached against hate crimes and acts of terror is Love. A life of love is what most of us aspire to…but it is not realistic for many of us. It is like advocating abstinence for teen pregnancy. Teens will have sex as surely as we will struggle with hatred.  

Let’s keep trying to cultivate love…but in the mean time…hate locally. 

In-laws who pretend you don’t exist, the person who cuts you off in traffic, the boss who belittles your work. Go ahead and hate them a little bit. Even better than hating specific people is hating specific behaviors.  Baby steps. 

Ideally we will all cultivate strong and long lasting relationships that can tolerate small slices of hate. 

Hate local. 

It might save a lot of lives. 

Go ahead and hate this post. I am here to help. 

Moving on from Miscarriage

At book club last night a friend told the story of calling her husband. “Bring home milk.” She told him. “And cornichons.” “What…are you pregnant?” he asked. We all responded with a hearty laugh. We are old enough now so that is barely a physical option. Most of us have made SURE it is not an option. It sent me back though, to the time when I thought it was a choice.

When I really wanted a third kid.

When I couldn’t have one.

The tiny woman stands in front of me beaming. She has sleek curls, white teeth and an open, friendly expression. Beside her stand two boys, clearly brothers, who look to be about the ages of my boys.

“How old are you?,” I ask the shorter one.

“Nine,” he tells me.

“I have a nine year son old at home.”

He smiles at me. What is he going to do with that information? I put those thoughts into words.

“Why do adults always do that? Tell you about kids who you will never meet and can never play with?”

He shrugs his shoulders kindly and I turn to his brother.

“How old are you?”

I can’t help myself, when he tells me he is just eleven I say, “I have a a ten-almost-11-year-old at home.”

All six eyes are on me. I look back at the mother.

“We have the same lineup.”

“Oh,” she replies brightly, “Do you have a younger daughter as well?” As if on cue a six year old girl shows up at her mother’s hip and slips her arm around her waist leaning in.

“No,” I answer, “Just the two boys.”


The family moves forward, continuing to sell raffle tickets benefiting childhood cancer, and I see that the mom’s hand that isn’t carrying her basket with tickets gently stroke that soft spot where her daughter’s hairline meets her neck. The ribbons on the girl’s pigtails are red and blue to match her shirt. I follow the striped ribbons with my eyes until they are lost in the crowd.

I turn to my husband. “Did you see, she had two boys our age and a younger daughter.”

“This has come up a lot lately,” he responds, looking mildly concerned.

It passes though, as he lays his hand on mine and goes back to inspecting his beer. He is a beer lover and has a bit of a ritual to conduct before he takes his first sip. I have a ritual too, so I return to it as he returns to his beer.

I look around the restaurant. Where would we be seated if we were a family of five? I locate a booth with a curved side where the three kids would sit. The girl would be between Oliver and Leo, keeping them from jostling, maybe getting them to play tic-tac-toe. I feel better now that I have put my imaginary family in its place.


After having two healthy sons who (surprise!) arrived seventeen months apart, Steve and I had a long conversation about whether or not to have a third child. We had already replaced ourselves on the planet, and figured out the rhythm of life with two toddlers. Yet as an only child I had wanted multiple kids, and Steve was one of three himself. Still, a newborn seemed difficult, but if we were ever going to do it, now was the time. It wasn’t a baby we were choosing, but a whole person, a part of our family and an individual.

The first pregnancy test came back positive very quickly. I showed Steve, and we showed the boys together. We counted the due date and their differences in age. They were interested, but not very, and we explained in a straightforward way that one in three pregnancies end in miscarriage. So there was a better than average chance we would have a baby, but no guarantee. Still, I placed the positive test in the special oak box that held our wedding vows and NFL playoff tickets.

It was only 5 weeks later that we lost this baby.

During those same five weeks another of my friends became pregnant with, and also lost, her third child. She and I both had miscarriages at the same time. It helped to talk about it. It is a personal choice whether to share news of a pregnancy and a pregnancy loss, but there is a societal norm to wait until 12 weeks to talk about it openly. I felt caring and reassurance from the people I told about this loss.


A few months later we were both pregnant again, and then another friend as well.We would meet for pastries and herbal tea, because… baby.

It was a bit further in this time that I stopped feeling sick. When I worried, my husband told me to be glad to escape the nausea, but I knew.

The ultrasound wand was cold with jelly as the MD calmly extended a finger to the screen and explained that I only had an empty sac. My husband said, “See, no baby at all.” The science of it helped him a lot. He found peace in the fact that the only life inside me had been an imagined one, helped along by some trickery to my body. To me, real or imagined, this was a loss of life — the life we would have had as a family of five.


Six months later I was spending less time with my friends and their rounded bellies.

I reminded myself of my relative luck. I had two healthy boys, whereas I had many friends who had lost pregnancies further along, or before they had kids at all. I had friends who had lost infants and even toddlers. This was nothing, NOTHING, compared to that. All I had to do was kiss a little blond head or snuggle close to a sturdy, healthy boy body for comfort.

Despite this I found it difficult to be around pregnant people, which at our age was a tough proposition. I stayed home more with the boys, who in turn were getting a little rowdier. I took pregnancy tests even when I couldn’t have been pregnant.

A few months later I peered at the pregnancy stick, willing the second line into existence. I had the two boys in the bath in front of me and I called in Steve.

“Do you see it?” I asked, “Do you think it’s there?”

He looked at it through squinted eyes and told me it was possible. “Lets wait until morning when it will be stronger,” he advised reasonably.

I took just one more test that night, which sat evenly in line with the last test telling our future. When I woke up the double line on the tests from the night before showed with more strength and that morning’s test confirmed with even brighter lines what I was hoping for. Unbidden, I thought “Its a girl!” This was the first time I had ever had a strong feeling about the gender of a baby but it was as clear as the lines on the stick, I was pregnant with a daughter.

I began to wear maternity clothes. I felt confident, different from the last two pregnancies. I took all of this as a sign that things were safe this time. I told my kids about my super power — super sniffing — and we battled bad guys using their scent to track them.

One morning Steve took the boys skiing, and while they were away I had some light cramping. When my 5-year-old came back with a broken femur I pushed worries about my pregnancy aside. This child on the outside needed me.

Two days later I was home with my hobbled son. Except he wasn’t hobbled. He tore around the house on crutches, alternatively swinging like a monkey or swinging his crutches like a weapon. The attending had told me they don’t normally give 5-year-olds crutches but my son, feigning poise, had argued his case, and we left the hospital with armaments.

I began to bleed and took to the bed. I didn’t rush into the hospital, though it was bad. On Monday I had the ultra sound that told me what I already knew. They took blood to measure the levels of pregnancy hormone to make sure they went down and as I was too far along to have the miscarriage at home, they scheduled a D & C.

Afterwards I used the pregnancy sticks again. The sound of the foil wrapper offering none of the exciting possibility of the last. Instead I was hoping for lighter lines. They didn’t come. I was scheduled for a second procedure. Then it was done.

So were we.

Steve was ready to be all-in with our boys. I didn’t want to go through the emotional and physical highs and lows of the last two years. From the conception of our first child to the day we made the decision to get a vasectomy I had been pregnant or nursing (or both) 46 of the last 60 months.

Enough was enough.


And, enough WAS enough.

Four years later I still look at families of five and hear myself saying “they got it right” inside my head before I consciously and slowly let that thought go.

I reach towards my boys, now old enough to cook and clean and care for themselves, and I think how lucky we are. In the years between my pregnancy losses and today, I have helped friends through devastation much greater. Still, I remind myself that it is not a relative thing. Our loss was real, and it deserves the grief I gave it.

My husband grieved too, but has filed that sorrow away as a different time of our life. He can remember it, but not feel it.

When I come back to right now, I see his beer is almost all the way gone. I let the haze of loss drain away too. I picture it as his beer, cloudy to the point of being opaque. I concentrate on his glass as he drains away the very last of the sludgy bottom bits and leaves the glass clean. I lean in to my husband, who wonders aloud what the boys are doing right now. I realize that right now I am letting go.

As I pick up that third positive pregnancy test from our family keepsake box and set it gently in the bathroom trash, I think that today, finally, enough IS enough.

How to survive a renovation with your marriage intact

Steve and I have lived through a half dozen renovations together. I was finishing a renovation when we met and one of our first dates was a picnic on the floor of my new kitchen. We sat on 24 inch wide reclaimed pine flooring. I remember thinking that I would be there long enough to see wear in the golden planks and wondering whether Steve would be there beside me. I was sort of right. Steve didn’t leave me but we both left the pine floor to move in to our little house on the lake. That move was the weekend before our wedding, which also took place at the house. Within a few months we were opening up the basement apartment into a wide open guest room flooding the views and light all the way to the back of the space.

That wasn’t the only thing that flooded. The drainage issues on the sloped site hit the bottom floor hard, and what was eventually going to be the foundation of a bigger home became compromised. So instead of living downstairs and renovating upstairs as we had planned we moved out. Oliver was 10 months old, Leo was incubating, we were both working full time. We looked for a rental but with two dogs and four cats and a super tight rental market we ended up buying a starter ranch out towards the suburbs.

The day Leo was born was the same day we tore down the house on the lake beginning the process of building our forever home. As if. Eleven months after I went into labor we were moving into our labor of love. We decided to rent out our neighborhood ranch instead of selling it. The market had slipped and we were happy to find a young family who was thrilled to be there.  Right around the time we decided to leave the house we built from scratch we discovered that our ranch renters where hoarders. Evidently they moved out with two tractor trailer trucks under the cover of night. When we went to investigate we found 6 dump loads of things to get rid of. There were dead things in the freezer and other unidentifiable objects. We needed to rip out floors and walls and went though a mandatory renovation on that place. Meanwhile our next home went through two rounds of renovations. First the kitchen and living room. Then the mudroom and dining room. Two moves later we are going into our fourth year in our house in Denver. When we bought it we knew it would need a new kitchen, two baths and upstairs re-work. The only way to the master bedroom was through Oliver’s closet. Which was the size of a stand up shower stall.

We moved into a rental down the street and tore through that project. Now it is time to make some changes again. Our neighborhood home prices have gone up so much that even with a correction we have equity in the house. We are dissastisfied with our 3/4 car garage and entrance directly into the kitchen. We are working on plans to change those things and maybe, possibly excavate beneath the garage to build a dark scary space where I can watch sports. That last decision will depend on zoning rules and return on investment. Basements are not the best.

Here are some areas that were most important to make sure that Steve and I made it through our renovations as well as our houses did.

Ensure that renovation is the best answer. 

  1. To build or not to build… The first question to ask is will your renovation solve the problem you are looking to solve. There are times when moving is the right choice. When our kids were little and our house was very isolated. We wanted them to have friends and build independence from us in a family neighborhood. No amount of renovation could have changed the reality of our location. So we moved.
  2. Will your renovation”overimprove” your house? A realtor can give you a free valuation of your house as is and using comparable sales in your neighborhood help you understand your maximum home value  at this time. If what your purchase price plus the cost of your changes are higher than the max value of your home you should have a serious conversation with your partner about whether to move forward, or just to move. Steve and I have made this mistake. We grossly overimproved a house which we sold before the market could rise to make up the distance. We lost almost 20% on that house, wiping out all of the gains we had made on past renovations and sales. It caused us enormous regret. Luckily we did learn from that. When we did our first renovation on our current house we cut back on many things. Although we replaced three walls with steel beams to open our space we left in tact a fourth wall that would have necessitated us pouring new footings to support the posts. I had to mourn that loss for a bit, but it helped to remember the feeling of our last overexpenditure. We also set aside the idea of a garage addition at the time. We were new to Denver and I had a track record of relocating us from house to house. With the garage we would not have been able to get our money out of our house. Three years later that is no longer the case. We can add a garage and the market “should” be able to bear the cost of our addition. There are no guarantees of course. Which is probably the most important thing to have in mind as you embark on a renovation.
  3. Are you choosing the best places for your money? http://www.remodeling.hw.net/cost-vs-value/2017/ There are lots of sources that let you know what the return on investment is for your building project. Ti varies year by year and region by region. These numbers are huge averages across the country. Your case may be different. Even though kitchen renovations have dropped in ROI from 110% to 87% (at the time of this writing) I believe that our renovation was closer to the high end. The old kitchen was tiny and odd. The new one is open and generally appealing. We have not always paid attention to what the numbers say. A few years ago we knew that our passion project (turning a dining room into a mudroom) was one that would appeal to very few people. In fact it was likely that it would decrease the value of the house. Even though we were mindful about making changes that could easily be reversed back to a formal dining room we still took a risk. We thought that our needs and experience trumped any unrecouped expense. That was not our experience when we went to sell. Instead we felt regret at our choice to make a renovation that did not have mass appeal.

Determining that renovation was the best choice will help you get through the dark days of cooking only in a microwave or coughing through drywall dust.

Admit that your marriage will be a threesome.

This one is tricky. I often think that there should be research on the relationships between builders and their clients. It is rare that I come across one that is neutral. There is a strange boomerang of power difference that comes from the client paying but the builder holding the project in his or her hands. There is also the fact of the sheer amount of time and space you will share. Your heads will come together over drawings and tile samples, you will talk on the phone about granite slabs, you will likely spend as much time with your builder as your partner. It is your builders job (for the most part) to try to make your dreams come true. There is something appealing about that. I have become friends with my builders in the past. Many of the men and women I worked with in Vermont came to our parties and invited us to dinner. For a time we were friends with our Colorado builder as well. I remember sitting outside at a concert and watching him on a call with a client. His wife nudged me and said “that is one of his other girlfriends.” I was ashamed and a bit jealous. Not of his wife, who I really liked, but of his other clients with whom I had to share his attention and time.

Yet that is not the only story. There are times that you and your builder come close to divorce. Deep into our whole house build I felt as though I was making changes every day. Changes are frustrating for the builder and expensive for you, the client. However each of these changes were pretty important. This contractor was particularly demeaning about my choices, and I found myself doubting my instincts. When I pulled out my drawings for the niches for the art on the stairway and he questioned my request for a crisp plaster edge instead of wooden framing I felt defeated. After so much push and pull I finally gave in and scrapped the kitchen skylights that he didn’t feel happy about putting into the standing seam roof. On the heels of this discord he installed the posts in the living room, the organizing principle for the space, in the wrong spots. When I went to correct this he had a fit and I ended up having to go over his head to the company owner. I was crying with anger. I didn’t work with him again. The project however went on the win awards and be published in multiple books and magazines.

Even though it may not feel it at the time your primary relationship is with your partner…not your contractor. Steve and I took time almost every night to talk about progress and set back in the project. This kept us on the same page. I recalled conversations and disagreements that I had with the builders on various renovations. He was always in the loop both practically and emotionally, and even though this was sometimes awkward it was always helpful.

Get ready for a rift in the space time continuum.

  1. Whatever the architect and builders say you should calculate that it will take 50% longer and be 50% more expensive than planned. This means that if you have a hard and fast budget DO NOT allow the initial estimates to run close to that budget. DO NOT. Eliminating the stress of unexpected expenses is one of the best things you can do to preserve your relationship during renovations.
  2. Think about moving out. Before things begin you can imagine plastic perfectly sealing you off from your project. That is not the case. The dust gets everywhere. But more than that there are people in your space. There is noise. And dust. And noise. There are workers peering at you in your PJs at 6:30 in the morning. It is annoying when they are there and annoying when they aren’t there. (Where IS that electrician?) It goes the other way too. Too much of you can slow down construction. A set daily or weekly visit depending on the stage of the project is best even if you are just on the other side of the plastic. Then both sides can save questions, time, and give each other space.

Focus on what can’t be changed.

  1. It is very very very easy to get bogged down in the details. There are endless decisions during a renovation. Which light switches switch which lights (something I have NEVER gotten right.) Where do the outlets go. Grout color on backsplash tile. Counter finish. Hallway width. Most of us get hung up on the counters, but they are not the big story. Those finish materials are just the jewelry. The bit you can’t change is the proportion of rooms, direction of natural light, and flow from room to room. The best book I have ever read on this is Patterns of Home. Steve and I have a basic system. We work together on those big things. The permanent things. Then I limit the choices for finish materials and present him with just a few. This way I like all of the options and he is involved in the big and little picture.
  2. Figure out what you will go to the mat for. In our family for Steve it is the kitchen layout. He is the chef. For me it is windows and natural light. We are both willing to give up other things to afford what mean the most to us. This way we don’t argue over small details.

Money money money

I talked about the 50% rule. It is worth repeating. Whatever the estimate expect to pay 50% more. Unexpected leaks in the walls, 10th hour changes, material upgrades…none of these things are in that first go around. Also factor in rental costs if you are moving out for the construction (good idea!) Additionally consider what you might spend on new furniture for your refurbished space. Sticking to your budget busts the number one cause for discord during a renovation.

Renovations are tumultuous. Schedules are up in the air. Money and space and time are all difficult to navigate. There are people in your life intruding on personal space and time. It is important to remember that renovations are temporary and your partner is forever.


My son hung out with Hitlr 

He should be hugging teddy bears not handling Hitler
Leo hung out with Adolf Htlr in the lobby of his Roblox game. When he told me this I was uncharacteristically quiet for a minute. “What?” Was my eventual nuanced response. “Yeah. I told him I was offended by his user name and he asked if I was a Jew. Then I said yes and also said that I thought other people would be offended. So then he said “burn all Jews” and someone else joined in.” He is telling me this in a matter of fact tone. Next to him Oliver is nodding his blond head in support. “It was horrible” Oliver adds. 
Turning back to Leo I continued “What did you do next?” “I asked him to go to another lobby and when he wouldn’t I took a screen shot of our conversation and then I left.” This sounded like a good start to me. “Then I reported his user name to Roblox…but I didn’t get a screen shot of the part when they were talking about the gas chambers.”
So there it was. Threatening hate speech targeted at my kid and possibly worse, a second voice chiming in (his?) support for Adolf Htlr. This is how it builds from one person to the next. This is how 12 year olds find their voices. And sometimes the voices say horrible bigoted things. 
Leo isn’t in this part of the conversation to keep his screen name private
We are looking at each other across the table. My boys are calm. I think that my ten year old has handled it well. He stood up for himself. When that didn’t work he documented the problem, went to an authority figure (the game moderator) and then left the area. The only thing I wish he had done differently was talk to me in real time about what was going on. He agrees to do this in the future and turns back to his plate as if things are all tidied up.

I realize that Leo isn’t taking this any more personally than he would have someone who told him his voice sounded like a baby. This attack has happened 20 times to every 1 time he was told he should die because of his religion. I think we need to review the difference between bigotry and trolling. So together we sit down and I watch him compose a second letter to the moderators of Roblox. 

Dear Roblox, I am ten year old boy who happens to be Jewish. I was playing Phantom Forces and I came across a player whose name was xXAdolf_Htlrxx. Now I said to him. “That name is sort of offensive do you think you could leave this lobby?” He told me no and asked if I was Jewish. I told him I thought a lot of people would be offended by that user name. Then Saintsrow3rdfan said “gas all j3ws” and then Adolf said “burn all J3ws!!!!!!!” And slayer32xx345 said “it’s only offensive to certain people” I said it was offensive to me and they told me to leave. So I took a screen shot of part of it. I like to think Roblox would not allow this kind of hate.”

Whether he feels it personally or generally Leo seems to understand that this is worse than insulting the pitch of his voice. 

For decades I have worried about racism, anti immigrant stances, homophobia and misogyny. I knew there was anti-semitism out there but I thought it was the fuzz on the end of the fringe not even the fringe itself. But here is my son fighting back with his fingertips and doing it without fear.

Part of Leo’s bravery comes from the same anonymity that allows Adolf to attack him. 

On the heels of the “unite the right” rally and its associated violence in Charlottesville I worry even more about the chat rooms in multi player games. Kids and those posing as kids have an anonymous space to spew hatred and they also have an arena for recruitment. 

An August 14th New York Times article about the events in Charlottesville cites George Hawley, a University of Alabama political science professor who studies white supremacists “he said many of the far-right members he had interviewed did not inherit their racism from their parents, but developed it online. Many of them had never heard of, say, David Duke, the former Louisiana politician and former leader of the Ku Klux Klan.”

 The New York Times article ended on this somber note: “on the neo-Nazi site The Daily Stormer, a post promised: “There will be more events. Soon. We are going to start doing this nonstop. Across the country.””

So as this disgusting sentiment plays out from chat rooms to Charlottesville I think the first thing to do is talk to our kids. I ask Oliver and Leo to tell me stories of when people expressed hate online and how they handled it. Their instincts are exactly what I would have suggested:

  1. Stand up for yourself and what you believe to be fair and kind. 
  2. Document your conversation.
  3. Call in a grown up. 
  4. If the threats continue leave first. 
  5. Report the incident. 

Before we review these steps I just want to wipe Skype (and Minecraft and Roblox) from their life and shelter them from all kinds of ugliness and pain.  But I know that shutting their computers is the modern day equivalent of shutting our doors, hiding and hoping the hate fades away. It is up to each of us to stand up and speak out and take screenshots. 

The most stylish blogger I know interviews me (?)

People who don’t blog (the sane ones in the world) often ask why I put it all out there. I have written about that before. Another hidden benefit of blogging is the connections I make online. I have friends from all over the world who know little slivers of my life as I do theirs.

In addition to the navel gazing bloggers like me I have developed relationships with “niche” bloggers. AKA those who know something about something. One of these is Linda Hobden of Boots, Shoes, and Fashion. She lands interviews with international fashion greats from her home in the UK. She has more style than I can ever imagine and teases truths out of every subject she features. Guess who is her latest subject?  Even though I am a fashionleasta she still wanted to share me with her readers. So here is the interview

Want more Linda? Go ahead and follow her on twitter and Pinterest.

Living with a bad case of nostalgia

We have returned to Vermont and I have caught a bad case of nostalgia.

My symptoms are obvious. I walk around sighing deeply my phone at the ready to capture images of things I remember. Something is wrong with my vision because I only see in sepia tones. As my son eats his creemee I see him in triplicate. He is a toddler and a young child and here his is now, on the same bench under the same tree with the same country store behind him. He is even giving the same sigh of pleasure as he makes the maple mustache that he never seems to see.

As I type these words I feel that I have written them before. Perhaps even at this table in the corner. Likely at this coffee shop. Certainly in this town.

After dropping Leo off at the field house for soccer camp just as I did four years ago I walk the few blocks to the village center. As I go I want to head down the lane to the carriage house that used to be my office but I pass by, worried about trespassing. It is part of a larger sense of no longer belonging. The sign in the town green says “you are here” but I read it “you were here.” I am a visitor in my own life.

Finally I reach the worn stairs and see the same lovely young mom that I passed each morning many years ago. Now she has three kids but the young ones are echoes of the first born I knew when I lived here. I ask her what she has planned for the day and she tells me “play group and nap.” Her present is my past. There is no more playgroup. There are too few naps. I wonder if the nostalgia I feel is for this place or for the family we were when we live here year-round.

A few weeks ago we were eating lunch in Burlington at Flatbread continuing our tradition of Flatbread Fridays. We are friends of this restaurant, Steve has brewed beer here and the boys know the menu (or their small slice of it) by heart. They sit, like always, in a table in the closed section of the bar with a backdrop of City Hall Park through the picture windows. They are silhouettes in the sun my sons. I see the lemonades in tall glasses that they are now old enough to order from the bar and say please and thank you without prompting. They carry them with confidence to the table and I wouldn’t give it a thought except that I remember the times when this would not have been possible. I am not the only one remembering. Leo asks if they can slide down the stair rail at City Hall “for old times sake” and I wonder if he has caught my case of nostalgia.

When I pick up Leo up from soccer camp I ask him how it went. His eyes are bright “I rescued a frog” he trills. “I knew just how to save him. I put him back in the pond that we went to in Kindergarten.” He goes on “I wonder if it is the same frog?” “Was he sort of brownish, faded around the edges, and did the theme from Wonder Years play when you held him?” I asked. Leo writes off my wistful description with ab arched eyebrow and we drove away, stuck at the same traffic light as always, thinking about frogs and photo filters.

The next day I know Oliver is also suffering. We are at the playground at their old school and the stories are coming quickly. “This is where I fell and hurt my knee, this is where I ran the jog-a-thon, this is where my friends knew how to push me just high enough on the tire swing.” But this last one is not true. The playground is new. There is no tire swing. I try to read his face but it is neutral. Leo has bumped into friends and they are off playing soccer in the field, everyone exclaiming over his short hair. Oliver, now 12, is climbing around the playground alone. He has almost outgrown it. His body is broad and strong. He is in a new setting and for now I see him just as he is. A boy who holds my hand and still also offers the advice of a much older soul.

He walks towards me slowly where I sit on the picnic table which dates back to our years here.

“I am not sure if it is nostalgia” he tells me. “But I don’t like this playground as much as the old one.”

“Yes” I tell him. I open my arms and he leans against me. Too big to play, old enough to know what he has lost, but no matter where we are, still and always, my little boy.




A revelatory “conversation” with the dentist about pole dancing

I don’t know what I expected from a dentist that offers Botox.

I am reclined in her chair preparing for my filling. The dentist is preparing for my filling and I am listening. She is cheerful as she chatters about my upper jaw (maxilla, I learned, like the little known uncle of the scary ape). “It is like swiss cheese” she tells me. “I don’t really need to aim this thing at all, wherever I put it the numbing agent will just spread everywhere.” Here she waves the syringe that is at least 3 feet long. I wonder what “everywhere” numb feels like and slightly more urgently I wish that she does aim this “at all.”

My mouth is open on some sort of silicone torture device. She tells me just to rest my muscles on it and let it do the work. Instead I am biting down. I am trying not to. I relax for a minute and it slides just slightly and I begin to gag. Her response to this is of course to stick additional items into my mouth. She waves Mr. suction with a flourish and jams him into my mouth.  I try to open my throat while also closing my lips around her hand, the plastic mouth prop, and Mr. Suction. “I see here” she says twirling on her seat to check my chart. “We have a note that you have a very small mouth.” I try to make a joke about how my husband would disagree but instead I say glglgghepghap-djwjwjhw. “What sweetie?” she asks catching my hair in the crook of her elbow. “Never mind” I tell her but she hears “uhuhuhhhGlu” so she removes Mr.Suction and begins the several step process of disengaging the plastic prop. About halfway through she can make out that I am saying “never mind” and she laughs. Ha. Ha. So funny that she can’t understand me.

Still chipper she sighs with pleasure over her view. All I can see through my scratched dentist provided sunglasses is a bright light which reflects my legs in its shiny casing. They are warped and look shorter and wider than reality. Not something I was going for. She is referring to the industrial park out her window behind which peek the peaks of the Rocky Mountains. I guess I should commend her for seeing the mountains rather than the squat buildings but I am distracted by the hygienist who has joined us. At first I think she is all business. She is unwrapping all of the instruments from their blue sanitary plastic. She is patting my shoulder and somehow managing to pull my hair for the second time. I reach back to try to smooth it and upset the paper bib and delicate balance of tools in my mouth and set my hand back on my large leg in failure. I try to lean my head further back to allow some slack in my hair and she adjusts her grip pinning me more firmly in place.

The two are talking to each other now.

“I never sent the letter to Delta Dental” the dentist tells her assistant.

“No?” asks the assistant, clearly not interested.

This doesn’t matter much though because the dentist has a captive audience. “I am preparing to go out of network with Delta Dental.” She tells me over the noise of the drill. Delta Dental is my insurance. I try to let her know by saying “akljneowown”  which she interprets as acknowledgement of her trials and tribulations. She goes on to explain in great detail her 14 year history with them which includes decreased payment for services. We all understand insurance misery…but her problem is about to become my problem and I don’t want to think about it right now. She continues to list each procedure and the amount the insurance gives her. “But you don’t need to worry sweet Anna”, here she swivels again leaving her arms and tools in my mouth resting a finger on my upper gum. I can feel her nail through her glove. The numbing agent has most distinctly NOT gone everywhere. My hair is once again caught in her elbow and I stifle a response because it will just slow everything down. “Oh,” she says in surprise “you ARE Delta Dental.” So I am.

She quickly changes the subject and looks over her magnifying glasses at her assistant. “Remember that spa our patient told us about?” How, I wonder, did a patient tell her anything with a mouth crammed full and the incessant chatter. She must not be talking to me. The hygienist is back with us now. “Sure. I want to check it out so I invited a friend for her birthday. She just cant seem to make the time. July she told me. July. Can you believe it?” “No!” My dentist is outraged “how ungrateful. You are trying to do something nice for her. Tell her your doctor wants you to check out the spa.” That’ll work. I think. The friend will certainly celebrate her birthday on doctor’s orders. A few minutes go by while they rev each other up with further protestations. By now it seems like the spa-less woman is heartless. And difficult. And unworthy of friendship. Terrible. But not quite as terrible as the hair pulling, nail gumming, filling drilling that I am experiencing right now.

Luckily things get more interesting.

“I can’t wait until my sister moves here” the assistant tells the doctor. “She is the best masseuse in the world.” In my mind I correct her term to “massage therapist” as trained to by the body workers who have beaten the crap out of my shoulder for the last 10 years. This is the same shoulder that the dentist is resting her bony elbow on, once again pinning my hair in an uncomfortable position.

“She has the strongest hands” continues the hygienist. “We grew up on a goat farm and your hands get really really strong milking the goats.” At this moment the drill stops its whine so each of the neighboring dental patients can hear her say. “And then she was a stripper. That pole dancing makes you even stronger than milking goats.”

The dentist visit has been very valuable. Not only did I fill a hole in my tooth but several holes in my knowledge base.  I could pass a quiz on the proper name for apelike swiss cheese bones. More importantly I can educate people about the best pathway to become a masseuse. Goat milking and pole dancing.

To this I say “auhauahhaglge.”