Saturday, November 7, 2015

Moms Don't Need the Gratitude Police

Everyone who is a mother has had this moment. Probably a lot of them.

Worn out with an endlessly fussy baby, non-stop toddler tantrums, grade-school homework revolt, or a morose and defiant teen, a mom vents to friends and family, or posts something to the modern-day confessional, Facebook.

Almost without fail at least one other mom, and often an entire guilt-inducing chorus of them, will make a comment that is some variation of this:

"Oh, you should cherish every day with your child, because eventually all those precious moments will be gone and you'll regret it. Count your blessings. You should be grateful!"

Honestly? Stop. No. Don't say this to other moms.

I've never been a huge fan of those who insist that a properly thankful attitude is the solution to every problem--or as I call them, the Gratitude Police-- but lately I've been more bothered by them than usual. Maybe because I know a lot of young moms right now and I feel protectively big-sisterish. Maybe because as the years have gone by (I've been a mom almost 21 years), the Gratitude Police keep showing up, and I'm tired of grimacing through their advice.

I've decided that "you should be grateful" isn't all that helpful. I think in a lot of cases it's not well-meant-- it's a form of passive aggression. In quite a few cases I think it does real harm.

In the first place, I'm generally of the opinion that any sentence that starts "you should...." is not going to be well-received by a woman who's had dried spit-up in her hair for three days straight. Nor should it be.

To anyone who shared their fears, frustrations, irritation, exhaustion, and bewilderment about mothering a child, regardless of whether it was on a minor or monumental scale, "you should be grateful" plays like a one-sentence lecture. Because that's what it is. A lecture on how you should be quiet about your feelings, and how your attitude is all wrong.  I don't call that empathy; I call it an an emotional shut-down.

And who said anyone was ungrateful? What a way to leap to the worst possible assessment of someone's character. The large majority of the time, moms are letting go of some temporary frustration, not rueing the day their child was born. They're stating the hardly earth-shattering news that breast pumps and nights of lost sleep and sibling warfare and melted candy bars in hot mini-vans are all really crappy. Nobody should have to feel grateful for that shit. Ever. Believe it or not, it's absolutely possible to hate these things and still be grateful every moment that your kids exist. They're not mutually exclusive. Complaining in the moment doesn't negate your overall commitment to the people you brought into the world.

At its worst, "you-should-be-grateful" talk angers me because when we address someone else's discontent in such a casually dismissive fashion, we may not know what we don't know. We're telling a mother her feelings not only don't matter, that she should feel bad for having them? That's not a super-great message to send to the average woman who is momentarily struggling with some parenting challenge, or just needs to blow off some steam. But what if you're telling that to someone who is also battling severe anxiety? Post-partum depression? A physical health problem? Emotional abuse? What if what you see on the outside is just the tip of her very large and frightening iceberg? Do you want to take that chance?

Cut it the eff out, ladies. Seriously.

As an Official Older Mom Person, here's what I know from all of my two decades of experience:

Good, bad, or indifferent, these moments moms are having will pass regardless of how we feel about them. It's not like we get jelly beans in the Extra Time Jar for being properly grateful, whatever-the-baby-poop that even means. Nor do we get to return to yesteryear for being properly grateful. Either way, the calendar pages flip-- some days with a loving and wistful look over the shoulder, and sometimes with a "welp, we survived." We can be glad for both. Because they are both real life.

I had four absolutely adorable, funny, mostly-happy babies that I loved with every particle of my being. I did not, however, love every minute I spent with them. And that's okay. I can say honestly, years after the fact, that I still do not miss tantrums, dirty diapers, and sleep deprivation so profound and ongoing I had difficulty remembering the proper names of common household objects and my own husband. I don't. And no one can make me. It doesn't mean I loved my children any less, then or now.

I think it's okay to stand up for yourself, which I began to do when my youngest, the twins, were little. "Excuse me. I didn't say I was ungrateful. I said that I was at my wit's end because my child keeps throwing food on the floor. Do you have any useful suggestions?" Reframe the conversation away from shaming you. Because you do not need that garbage when you have a valid problem, and they should know better.

Gratitude can't be coerced out of you by someone else. Because that's not gratitude. That's guilt. Moms have enough of that to deal with as it is. We are made to feel bad because we breastfeed in public, or because we choose not to breastfeed at all; because we stay at home, or because we have a job; because we let our children walk to school unsupervised, or because we are helicopter parents. Society delivers us a lot of conflicting messages about motherhood except for one: mothers are expected to be damn near perfect. We're not. We're exactly the same person we were before we became mothers, only with less sleep and more laundry. There's no point in feeling ashamed of our humanity just because we produced some more of it. Do your best. Accept that some (many) days it won't be enough. Love them anyway. Love them ferociously. Forgive yourself. Forgive them too. Somewhere in the middle of all that, gratitude tends to take care of itself.

What if gratitude isn't taking care of itself? Ask for help from friends and family who don't discount your feelings. Tell your doctor and pediatrician. Be specific about what you need, and what you're worried about. There's a whole world-wide army of variously imperfect and yet awesomely capable and loving mothers out there who understand, whatever it is.

They are not the ones who will tell you to be grateful. They are the ones who will tell you to hang in there, and offer you the extra hand you need to do so. They are the fellow mothers you need in your life. They are the mothers you will be truly, truly grateful for. Without having to be told you should.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Post-season Garden Review (No, There was No Pre-season Preview)

I did have a vegetable garden this year. I even started plants from seed in my basement. I just didn't blog about it because this spring I was so rushed and the garden looked so incredibly puny and frail. I didn't have high hopes. While it was more productive than last year, it wasn't quite what I had in mind this year either. But there were problems all summer.

I think I can illustrate the main problem by way of a list of the things I grew.

Carmello tomato (eaten by rabbits)
Big Beef tomato
Aunt Ruby's German Green tomato
Corno di Toro sweet pepper (eaten by rabbits and replanted with starts from hardware store)
Bennings Green Tint patty pan summer squash
Dill (eaten by rabbits)
Purple podded pole beans (eaten by rabbits)
Basil (eaten by rabbits)
Onions (eaten by rabbits)

Bunnies are not cute, people. They are toothy little bastards, descendants of the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog, and all they do is eat and destroy, eat and destroy. In their spare time they breed like, well, rabbits, and produce more of their evil and all-consuming kind.

By mid-summer I had most of my really prized things fenced. My few rose bushes were never freed from their mesh prison this season, which is a sad way to enjoy rose bushes, but I was tired of spending my money replacing things. But it was too late to start over on beans and onions, and the dill I tried again never came up.

In spite of the the eleventh plague of Egypt that was rabbits, it didn't go all badly. We got a ton of summer squash. Here are some that hid from me and grew too large to eat, though they sure were pretty:

I would estimate we got about two to three bushels of tomatoes from just two plants. I'm not sure I will grow the Aunt Ruby's German Green again. I grew them because I had an Aunt Ruby (who was German, no less), and the name just made it too good to refuse. It was a handsome-looking plant, if you can consider a tomato plant handsome. But I found the tomatoes overly sweet and a little too watery, and I don't have enough space to grow things just out of a sense of novelty, despite my nostalgia for my Aunt Ruby, rest her soul.

It was nice enough just to have an unlimited supply of slicing tomatoes for sandwiches and hamburgers and salads, and a few squash and peppers for the summer supper table. With an earlier and better line of defense against the &*$# rabbits next year, I hope to do better.

We also had an assist from elsewhere in September, in the form of apples from my aunt and uncle's farm in Missouri. I will never have the room here for orchard fruit with my postage stamp yard, so it was nice to have this. They became pies and happy bellies in short order.

My goal is to eventually have the back yard entirely in garden, with little to no grass. Flowers and vegetables and paths. This was a good learning year, and I'm already looking forward to next year and more progress.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Painting My Garage, in a Series of Bad Cell Phone Photos

This has been done for awhile, but since I'm in the middle of a long streak of intense single parenting these days, I just haven't had time to blog. 

But ignore the mess. Ignore the weeds. Ignore (for at least a little while longer), the hideous features of that purple broken door and light fixture.

One more side of the garage is scraped and painted. No, I didn't exactly do this in the right order, and no, I don't really care. It was me managing my fear of heights. By procrastination, one of the other things I'm super-duper good at. Deal with it later. Tomorrow's another day. Fiddle dee dee. Until I can't stand to look at it anymore. 

It is clear in this last photo that I was losing daylight, and the last of summer. 

Next up is the door and light fixture. And as is usual around here, some other projects scattered around the place. Because nothing can happen all at once, start to finish, in a straight line. Normal would be abnormal around here. But for the foreseeable future, it's all about the paint. And more paint.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Room for Change

Last weekend my oldest son, who'd been home from college for summer vacation, moved into an apartment.

Since he's a junior this year, on the face of things it isn't much different from the last two times he moved out, cramming laundry baskets full of socks and t-shirts and boxes of textbooks in the back of his car. But this time, he also borrowed my van and loaded up his mattress. And headed not to the dorm, but a shared two-bedroom apartment, with a tiny closet of a kitchen and a living room with just enough space for a small futon sofa.

It's not really that different. But it is. I'm pretty sure it means he won't be living with us, full-time, ever again. That's a healthy thing. He's 20, spreading his wings, finding his adult life. That's all as it should be. I also realize he's close by, and I don't have to face the hardship other parents deal with, of him going to school several hours or even several states away.


While he's seeing the beginning, I'm also, just as much, seeing the ending. And I'm having emotional reactions that are not the norm for me. My good intentions (being proud of a young adult going out on his own) are colliding with my fears and losses (I'd had no idea how much a dependable and reassuring presence he's been to me).

Take that torn-up conflicted mess of my emotional insides and add a big pile of the usual back-to-school stress for the other boys, and.....well.  It's made me bossy. It's made me a scold. It's made me not unlike Kitty Forman from That 70s Show. I have been reminding myself of this episode a lot lately.

Yep. While for my oldest child life is moving on at a rapid and wonderful pace, I feel like I'm left behind with the metaphorical equivalent of a fucking car show in Kenosha. I wish I could be more graceful about it, but right now I'm just not.

His more-permanent departure has left the door open for other big changes, too.

Since birth, my twin sons Ben and Joe have shared a womb, a swaddling blanket, a crib, and always, always, a bedroom.

While at the subterranean level of the heart, their relationship is like this:

On the day-to-day level it's more often like this:

They're twins with vast differences in their personalities, and I'll admit there are times when the entire family would benefit from a break in the cycle of open conflict and armed detente in the twin identity/sibling rivalry wars. While that sounds pretty dysfunctional, I understand it's normal for same-sex twins.

Normal can be pretty exhausting for the bystanders, though. At 11 years old, the twins are starting middle school this year. They feel grown up. They want grown up things. They're each wanting the same thing their oldest brother wanted: a space to call his own.

Grant's bedroom up until this last weekend looked (when clean and uncluttered, which I'll admit wasn't often) like this:

The twins' bedroom looked like this:

This weekend, we moved Ben's bed into his big brother's old room. We'll be working this fall to gradually morph the twins' old room into Joe's personal space, and Ben's new room into his very own.

Unlike television shows and some other blogs, this won't be a total renovation of both spaces in just a few weekends. Real-world budgets and schedules don't really allow for that. But we'll see how far we can get on use-what-you-have decorating.

We'll also see if I go all Kitty Forman on this change too. The rooms in my house are still all full, but so is my heart. In both cases, rearranging is a messy process.

Friday, August 14, 2015

How My Summer Went Off the Rails, and Why It's Still Okay

It will come as no suprise to anyone who is the owner of an old home that things didn't go quite as planned this summer. Only I still get surprised, sometimes. I don't know if it's because I'm stubborn, or stupid. Probably a little bit of both.

Anyhoo, at the beginning of the summer I'd been getting good momentum on bedroom and bathroom renovations, which you can read about here. I was at a good stopping point for letting some hired help come in and do some things. It felt awesome.

But a chronically slow bathroom sink drain finally frustrated all my amateur attempts to keep it unclogged. It turns out there was a good reason, and I had to call in the pros. (If you're eating right now you might want to put down your sandwich).

The glory of old pipes. And by glory I mean alskdnfaeknaefr, that's disgusting. So there was an expenditure that wasn't quite planned.

Then, we went on vacation. That part, at least, was planned.

But then I got a rather large repair bill on my car. Not planned. And THEN my central air conditioner's fan motor burned up, and needed replacement. Another unplanned expense.

None of these were disastrous, but add them all up and it meant that my budget for hired work had been mostly eaten, at least temporarily.

It was a bummer. There may have been language followed by kicking of shit in the garage followed by sulking followed by wine consumption. Maybe. But what can you do otherwise? I was going to have to wait.

So I waited. That meant doing other things, stuff that I could do myself or needed no or minimal financial output.

I waited it out in the garden.

My perennial beds had gotten out of hand a bit in the last two seasons, so I spent a lot of time weeding, edging, and mulching. It's a good thing I like weeding. It's meditative for me; my mind can wander while I tackle the crabgrass.

I also finished the front foundation bed. I'd let the bare dirt and incomplete landscaping get weedy:

But some raking, weeding, mulching, and river rock near the front water tap got it looking much better. It's too late to establish any plants or shrubs here this season, but I'll be ready to go for next spring. 

I waited it out by scraping paint. Paint scraping is always free, except for the part that kills your soul. Ha.

Here's the north garage at the beginning of the season:

And here's some progress from a few weeks ago:

There will be more progress to report soon. 

The weather's been a real jerk this summer too. My first summer with exterior painting, I thought it was just some fluke that every weekday would be sunny, every weekend rainy. But it's apparently some extended cosmic three-year joke that every single weekend would be hosed up by the weather. Climate change, you are really beginning to damage my calm. 

I waited it out by doing more demolition. After the plumbing-car-a/c repair stuff, I decided to use a portion of the remaining money to get something accomplished in a different direction. I rented a dumpster. I'm a bad blogger because while I have a "before" I didn't even think to snap a single "after":

Just know that 10 cubic yards of building waste-- yucky wood paneling, ceiling tiles, old aluminum storm windows, and garage refuse from the previous owners-- went off my property and out of my life. There's another blog post in the future about that but for now, this was the progress we were able to make instead of what was planned. 

How's your summer to-do list going? Any setbacks? Enjoying great progress? 

Saturday, August 8, 2015

The Long and Short of Summer

Summers in Iowa always seem to lift one by the soul right into the impossibly sunny air around June. Your toes sink into cool grass and your spirits rise starting from somewhere around your bare knees. You imagine that's what it feels like to be growing in the good earth like the things all around you, from flowers to sweet corn to blossoming trees.

Come August, it's a different story. It's just hot, the cicadas are whirring more like an alarm than singing like a song, and the whole of nature looks a little like an overexposed photo--blasted by heat and light, faded in color, tired of being. 

That's how this summer has gone in respect to time. We began buoyant and full of hope. I'm ending a little faded and dissatisfied.

There's been a lot of delays and redirects on home projects, but I'll save a lengthier discussion of those for another post.

Those delays and redirects, coupled with a lot of work and family-related......stuff, for lack of a better word (good, bad and indifferent, most of it has no place on the blog), made this summer feel more like a holding pattern than progress or a respite in the normal yearly schedule.

I'd been longing for, if not an ideal summer, at least one like some I had when I was a kid. Like the summer I was thirteen, for instance. That was hardly a perfect summer. I'd grown to my full adult height of 5'8", was taller than all the boys, and yet couldn't fill a bikini top. I hardly recognized my own body and wasn't sure I was at all in love with this suddenly new and horribly awkward version of myself. I began to suspect I was too old for Laura Ingalls Wilder, or wanted to be, but re-read her books like I did every summer in the heat of the backyard lawn chair or the cool of my bedroom. I listened to 45s of Blondie and Pat Benatar. I went to the public library and read old issues of New Yorker magazine, wishing I understood life in its sophisticated and worldly way which my Midwestern upbringing surely had nothing to do with. I felt inadequate and sweaty and bored.

That summer seemed to stretch on forever, though. Time enough to read books, not just Wilder but trashy teen novels and thick biographies and Rolling Stone. Time enough to exhaust myself in our town's community swimming pool and walk home with my little sister, flip-flops snapping and chlorine wet towels steaming around our necks. Time for cherry popsicles. Time to visit my favorite aunt and uncle's farm in Missouri for sweet corn and green beans and the smell of hay. Time to pedal past that cute boy Nate's house, hoping he might be home.

It's in the nature of being an adult, unfortunately, that I can't do those things now. My own kids' summers look a lot different and are a lot more structured. Some of that is a good thing. Every year my son Noah participates in a School of Rock program that gets musical teens on the live stage. I'm always proud and surprised by how professional and accomplished they sound.

And Ben likes art camp:

But we've also had time for free-form silliness:

And like me, they've had time for books and boredom, swimming pools and cherry popsicles. We struggle with the maintaining a healthy amount of screen time and not more, but that's the norm for most kids now.

For myself these days, I seem to find that long summer feeling the most in the garden. As a little girl I was outside most of the time, with uncombed hair, dirty feet and fingernails. I can revisit that time in the garden even if I'm weeding, but especially if I'm watching the bees, considering how a petal curves into a sepal,  palming the ripe heft of a tomato. 

Here's a squint through the front yard perennial bed in one direction: 

And another squint through in the opposite direction, toward the house: 

We've got two weeks left before school starts, and I have mixed feelings about it. I've been ready to let this less-than-ideal summer go but I'm at a point in life, with my sons growing up, that I have no real desire to wish the days away either.

One thing I know is true from my four decades plus of summers. They all blend together in a wash of heat and breeze, cold drinks and the smell of cucumbers on the kitchen counter. There's little distinction in my mind, now, between any afternoon at the pool, some particular July day with my bare feet in the dirt, that other watching fireflies at dusk from the farm porch. It's all one long Midwestern summer in my mind, and while that might feel like a loss, it's really a gain that averages out the short summers, the frantic ones, the ones of self-doubt and emotional transitions. This one too, will sink into that perpetually green and shimmering seasonal memory, and seem the better for it in time. I'm grateful for that.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Just Bee

On the day we had really weird-looking sunlight because of the Canadian forest fires, I took a picture of this fine fat fuzzy fellow.

But that's all I have for readers now. This bee. Hope you're all enjoying the fleeting small moments of summer too. I'll be back soon.

Saturday, June 20, 2015


This year I was just as eager to be done with the school year as the kids were, and ready to take a break from the home improvement grind. So our family has spent most of the month re-setting our gears for summer and getting a little vacation time in.

We hit the long road almost immediately after the last class bell rang to go to my sister Dyan's house in Georgia. Getting there from Iowa is a two-day drive and somewhat of an endurance test, but it was worth it for the week we had the sisters and cousins together. It included a great moment at Indian Seats, a lookout point on Sawnee Mountain, pictured above. We were eye level with turkey vultures wheeling in the sky on a clear and gorgeous day. 

A memorial to Chief Sawnee, a Cherokee for whom the mountain was named.
Dyan lives north of Atlanta, and it had been awhile since my kids and I have been able to avail ourselves of big city culture. So we hit Zoo Atlanta, a small but extremely well-cared-for institution. 

I have mixed feelings about zoos, but realize that they in many cases are the last thread holding together a fragile existence for some animals, including these rhinos, and the pandas that are also a big draw for Zoo Atlanta. 

I loved that they were hosting artists all over the zoo that day. I was struck by how this woman's painting matched her clothing. I wonder if it was intentional? 

My sister and I took a day to have lady lunch and visit the High Museum of Art in downtown Atlanta: 

It's green, it's a chicken. It's absurd. There is so much to love here. 

I love how this icon of a little house is situated in a backdrop of ultra-modern lines. 

But as is usual with me, the stuff I cherish most about these kinds of vacations is often about the moments that don't make for very good bragging or photo album fodder. I'm glad my sister and I cooked together in her warm red kitchen. I'm glad my brother-in-law made me try frozen cinnamon moonshine. I'm glad I had a few hours' reunion with a dear friend I knew in Michigan who now lives in South Carolina. I'm glad I got to sit in a lawn chair by the pool and read while the cousins swam and shouted. I'm glad I was there for my nephew's birthday party for a change, and could marvel in person the fact that at age 12 he's taller than his Auntie Laura. 

Now that we're back, I'm ready to move into "lazy and long" mode. My kids have reading lists and and pool passes and bare feet. I'm working in the garden, and hope to make a few passes at outdoor painting in the weeks to come. 

What's your summer been like? 

Friday, June 5, 2015

Five Home Decor Trends That Have Overstayed Their Welcome

This blog post could have a lot of alternative titles. Ones like "Unrealistic Things I'm Tired of Seeing in Magazines" or "What Laura Writes When Low Blood Sugar Crabby," for instance. Or for that matter, "No One Told Me Listicles are Overdone." No, not really that last one. I know they are overdone. And I hate the word "listicles" with a special passion. 

I'm not really talking about those fads that rapidly reach peak everyone-everywhere-yawn within months (like chevron pillows in 2013, for instance). I'm talking about those trends that keep hanging on and hanging on and hanging on, until people take it for granted that they are a good idea. And yet aren't. 

A couple of disclaimers before I start this list (hold the "-icle").  Though I could find better visual examples from elsewhere and still be under fair use rules, I'm not going to use photos from commercial sites and especially not other blogs for this post, because it seems rather shitty to me to call out specific individual people for their choices. We should all do ourselves and our style, regardless of other people's opinions. Including mine, which leads me to the second disclaimer. It's my opinion, for my own house, and the way I live. But I'd love to hear other people's nominations for and disagreements with this list. Here we go!

1. White slip-covered sofas. 

This one is the worst offender, and it dates back to the beginning of the whole shabby chic trend from the 1980s. You can love or hate shabby chic itself, and I have no strong feelings either way until you get to the anchor element of that style, which is the plumply upholstered sofa slipcovered in something like canvas dropcloths (utilitarian version) or vintage French linen bedsheets (people-with-more-money-than-I-will-ever-have version). Every magazine spread that has ever featured one of these sofas in the history of ever always has a giant (black) dog, or a couple of slightly sticky-looking (diapered) toddlers, or a glass of the noir-est pinot noir within what should be this thing's de-militarized zone. The photo is always paired with a blithe quote from the homeowner saying "White slip-covers are the easiest-care furniture. Spills don't matter, because you can just pop the covers in the wash, and put them back on. What a breeze." 

Besides the fact that these sofas already look like unmade beds (and should you want to look at an unmade bed, sheesh, go look in my bedroom, where one normally finds such things), if you want these slipcovers to look clean on a DAILY basis, one would be washing them daily. Because white+dog+young children+wine+overdyed jeans+illegal popsicles in the living room= never looks clean. And if the slipcovers are always in the wash, that means they're never on the sofa. Which means that you're constantly putting them back ON the sofa. Which is sort of like wresting an elephant into giant elephant-sized pillow case. Every. Day. 

I'm still trying to decide how in the world the white sofa trend caught on at all, and yet it will not go away. You know what color my sofa is? Brown. Because that's the color of coffee, chocolate, and dirt. It'd probably hide a good pinot noir indiscretion too, though so far I've been lucky. And while my sofa is a second-hand one and probably not what I'd have chosen new, it certainly hasn't thrown me into any illogical "white is the easiest color to clean" neuroses. Which is just as well. My washer and dryer time can therefore stay reserved for bigger priorities. Like socks and towels. 

2. Chalk Paint

I've said before that I'm not the biggest fan of painting wood furniture as an entire recent trend. (That's another opinion post I've long wanted to write). Not that it doesn't have its place, and I certainly have painted furniture pieces in my own house. 

But even more specifically, I don't understand the vast enthusiasm on DIY blogs for chalk paint. It's flat paint. My cynical gut reaction to that is "big whoop." We've had flat latex paint for a long time, and even more importantly, we've had flat latex paint for a long time and it didn't cost an arm and a leg and a first-born child, like chalk paint seems to. 

Even more puzzling to me is painting a piece of furniture with chalk paint and then waxing or poly-coating it. Um. Hmm. If you don't like the flat surface, either for ease of maintenance or aesthetics, then why in the world would you start with a product that doesn't give you the finish you want in the first place? Paints come in a range of gloss options. It seems like people are opting to go the costly and time-intensive route for no other reason than that it's trendy.

Chalk paint is another thing that traces it's origins back the shabby chic style, which favors chippy, distressed surface pieces of furniture. I'll admit I'm very much on a case-by-case basis with this style. One piece I will like. The next will seem fake and I don't like the pretense. A whole house of this stuff seems twee and not very visually grounded.

I just don't get it.

3. Pallet wood anything

I'm all for a little upcycling. I'm all for finding building materials on the cheap. But here's the thing about shipping pallets. They're used for shipping all sorts of things. Which means they are exposed to all sorts of things. Rodent droppings and bird feces. Pesticides. Herbicides. Fertilizers. Petroleum by-products. Mold and Mildew. Spoiled food. Blood. Chemical toxins. Heavy metals. Wood is a porous material that can absorb a lot of not-so-nice things. You can't sand or wash it off. 

So when I see them paneling a baby's bedroom, or made into a coffee table, or anything remotely to do with humans sleeping, eating, or placing objects on them, or growing food in them, I don't find it "rustic" or "clever" or "thrifty." I want to quite literally gag. 

It's my mother all over when I was a  little kid and put some random something in my mouth: "you don't have any idea where that nasty thing has been." Same thing with pallets. I've been aghast about the building-everything-with-pallet wood trend since the beginning, and I can't quite understand why no one has considered the possible health risks. Because that's all I can think about. 

I'll be passing on the pallet wood projects, all of them, everywhere, ever, and can only hope everyone else will too, though I'm not holding my breath. I don't think it's worth the risk. And really? Yuck. Just yuck. 

4. Open Shelving in Kitchens. 

Open shelving in kitchens is the evil twin sister to white slipcovered couches, I'm sure. If white couches are the ultimate in impracticality in the living room, open shelving is that same ultimate, the kitchen version. 

In magazines, it appears that people who have open shelving in their kitchen bought their entire tableware ensemble from this spring's Crate and Barrel catalog plus a few pieces of tasteful art pottery they picked up in Tuscany that last time they vacationed. There's a single fresh poppy in a slender vase posed just so next to the salad plates. And if we've admitted to actually eating in this open-shelf kitchen, there's a bowl of artfully stacked clementines and three boxes of organic whole-grain quinoa hipster crackers. You know those hipsters. With their artisanal hipster crackers. Pfft. 

I don't think I'm going out on a limb to say that most households have plenty in their kitchen cabinets that are not view-worthy. I am not going to style my mismatched dinner plates, or the plastic Peter Rabbit and Winnie the Pooh cereal bowls my teenage boys still eat their Cheerios from. I don't want to look at them, and neither does anyone else. Even the items I do use in my kitchen that are beautiful, I don't want the added work of keeping them attractively arranged, dust and grease free, and color-coordinated with the decor of the room. For a woman who often barely manages the time to flip grilled cheese sandwiches in this space, I'm sure as hell not going to sacrifice ease of maintenance and practicality to stage my kitchen as some sort of glorified still life. That's what fireplace mantels are for. 

Here below are my refinished 1960s era kitchen cabinets. With all their glorious doors of glorious hidden storageness. Just like nature intended. 

What my kitchen might look like if it was open-shelf concept: 

Yup. Economy-size boxes of Cheez-its and bulk warehouse oatmeal. No bud vases or polished clementines anywhere. I rest my case. 

5. The entire concept of decorating for resale value

The idea of making all of your design choices in a house for the benefit of the next people to own the house drives me straight bonkers. Have you met them? Do you know anything about their tastes? Are you willing to bet the farm and $10,000 on granite counters that you do? The answer should be no, no, and hell no. 

This is less a decor trend than it is an ongoing and tiresome philosophy, but it needs to stop. I think the constant grating on the topic of resale value in home improvement shows is merely to sell you things your home may or may not need. Is resale value important? Absolutely. But what they don't tell you on these shows is that for the majority of homeowners over the long term and in stable markets, real estate value is only going to increase, regardless of what you do to your home short of outright neglect and abuse. So if that's the case, why in the world would you subject yourself living in a sea of beige carpet and white walls? Why would you invest in granite counterops if you don't even like them? 

Go ahead. Paint your front door orange. Keep that knotty pine paneling in the den. Paint your bedroom wall royal purple. Put that gorgeously-patterned mexican tile on the floor in the bathroom. Bring home those vintage pieces and weird quirky things that make your heart sing, and stop consulting the opinions of people who don't even live there. The next owners of this house can worry about it when they own it. Right now, they don't get a vote.  

What are the decor trends that really toss your sofa cushions? What would you add to this list? Which one of them would you defend, and why? 

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Photography Class: Getting to the Basics

I've had a good beginner's DSLR for awhile, a Canon EOS Rebel T3i with an 18-55 mm lens. It's got good reviews as hobbyist camera, and even without any real knowledge of photography, I've managed to get some pretty good shots out of it, like here:

And here: 

But I had a lot of mess-ups and a lot of "meh" shots (if we were still shooting film it would have been a lot of expensive "meh"), and I knew for certain I wasn't using nearly all the features that the camera was capable of. I wanted better pictures at personal events. I wanted better pictures for the blog. Also, I work in public relations. It's fairly typical for an organization to have outrageously expensive photography equipment around with no one who can use it, and to refuse to hire a photographer. I can't even begin to count the number of times I've been at an event as a writer, had someone shove an $8,000 camera in my hand, and say, "here, you can take the pictures." As if they assume an expensive camera operated by an idiot will still guarantee fabulous photos. Um. Sure. 

It took a while to find a photography class I could handle. By that I mean the time commitment and cost. There were several expensive, semester long, three times a week, graded classes around at our local university and community college, but I didn't want to dive in quite that deep at first. Finally I located a 4-week, one night a week class hosted at our local botanical center. It was taught by a freelance professional, and was limited to 12 people per class. I was sold. 

The instructor was excellent, and he had such a great way of breaking down all the individual technical components of a good photo, that suddenly, all the dials and buttons on my camera started to make sense to me. That's a lot of progress in my book. 

He spent a lot of time explaining to us the function of f-stops, or aperture, and it's effect on depth of field. In our homework assignment above you can see how, with increasing f-stops, the background comes more and more into focus. For some reason, just learning this one function was the great "A-ha" moment for me with the rest of the camera. I'm still a beginner, definitely, with lots left to learn, but this one piece of information has me off and running, and I feel as though my photos got a lot better. 

The photos in this post are not post-processed or cropped. While I realize they are far from technically perfect, they're better, and I know what to do to improve them. That's a good thing to learn from any class like this. 

And since we were taking our class at a botanical center, of course the photos assignments were all nature shots. Not a bad thing, though I'd like to learn better indoor photography for the blog too. I realize that's a different animal entirely. 

The only negative thing I learned through taking the class is that my ability to commit to this sort of thing outside work and family responsibilities is minimal. It took a lot of juggling elsewhere to get to a 2 1/2 hour class every week. And do the homework. That part was disappointing, since I've been considering some bigger commitments, like graduate school. Clearly I'm not cut out for being spread thin. Maybe it's my current stage in life, but the thought of taking on anything bigger than this is overwhelming. 

That said, I'm still looking to sign up for the intermediate version of this class, which starts in August. I'm so glad I took the chance on learning something new.