By Nathalie Hardy
Summer, 2018 | Behind the Picket Fence
Roots to Roofs Special Section of The News-Register
I love it when friends stop by my house. Even when they ask aggressive questions like: “So, what’s with the chair on your front porch? The broken one?”
“I’m going to make something with it,” I replied. Of course, people who know me well enough to stop by without calling also know the odds of this actually happening are quite low.
“Oh, cool — what are you going to make with it?” My friend asked, humoring me.
“A planter! First, I’m going to paint it, though. Well, OK, first I’m going to finish painting the bed,” I replied, avoiding eye contact.
“The bed that’s been in your dining room for a month?” she asked, laughing, because best friends can call you out on your own nonsense.
“Whatever! It’s on my dining room table now. Because I am painting it!” I asserted. I didn’t add that we’d been eating on the couch for the last week because the painting part of the painting project has stalled.
Then, my friend eyed the plants in their hospice stage of life — all lined up on my porch next to the unused watering can — and she nodded slowly, opting to tread gently as if some kind of illness was at play.
To change the subject, I suggested we drink some wine. Of course, we’d have to drink it outside. Also, we had to walk around the driveway because the porch is covered in the horticultural hopefuls.
However, opening the bottle of wine created a new project, with a more immediate deadline. My trusty pocketknife corkscrew broke off at the base. Despite the fact there are two stores and my friend’s house is in walking distance, I was determined to open that bottle with tools I already had. Stubborn and stupid? Persistent and creative? You decide.
Either way, here is a complete list of what did not work to open it: my shoe hammering the base of the bottle, my son’s soccer cleats, a screwdriver, a hammer and pliers. We did, however, successfully decimate the cork to the point where I could push a metal straw through it and then we used my herbal tea strainer to keep the cork bits out of the wine. Turns out, I just needed some kitchen tools.
As I’ve been learning the ropes of being the solo homeowner of an awesome old house, I’ve discovered the complete game changer that is having the right tools for the job at hand.
A little willingness to be weird, and look stupid, helps, too.
Until recently, I could count on my fingers how many times I’d been in a hardware store. Now I have my own rewards card and know the employees by name at my awesome local Ace Hardware.
It started with a fence project I volunteered to help with. I brought to the table zero skills or knowledge about how to replace fence boards, along with determination and a hammer. I watched some YouTube videos, I asked friends via video on social media and I was good to go. Kind of.
After measuring the boards needing to be replaced, I called the lumber store and ordered the materials I needed. It was sort of like calling in a to-go order for dinner. I thought that’s how everyone does it. Apparently, I’m a project princess.
And then I panicked.
I called the guy at the lumber store back and asked: “What happens if I did this wrong?”
“What do you mean?”
“Like, what if I ordered the wrong boards or the wrong screws, or got the measurements wrong?” This was quite likely, since I said things like, “and the third little mark after the longer half mark, you know?”
“Nothing. Nothing happens,” he said.
And guess what? I pulled off and replaced 30 fence boards by myself that afternoon without a hitch and didn’t even break a nail. A fingernail, for clarity.
Of course, every project seems to open some sort of Pandora’s box. When I surveyed the fence after finishing it, I saw that the boards weren’t even. So, naturally, I needed to buy a saw.
I did a little research and went to see my new friends at the hardware store.
“I’d like to buy a reciprocating saw,” I said, sounding like I knew what I was talking about.
I was handed a Sawzall.
“Oh, no I need a reciprocating saw,” I repeated. My friend at Ace explained that’s what I was holding.
This was not the last time I sounded like a fool at the hardware store.
Last weekend, I decided it was time to fix the hole in my wall I’d ignored for the last seven years. It was a round hole. So I paced the aisles searching for circular drywall.
Someone asked if I needed help finding something.
“Yes, I can’t find the circular drywall?”
“I have a round hole in my wall and all I see here are square pieces of drywall….” I trailed off as I processed her facial expression. So, that’s not a thing. Now I know.
I purchased the proper materials and they are, even at the time of this writing a week later, still perched at the bottom of the stairs waiting for me to finish the job.
As I paint and start my recent projects, I’ve been listening to a book on tape called “Finish” by John Acuff.
Yes, I too, appreciate the irony. Which is why I’m reading it. Maybe this will be “The Thing” that turns me into a finisher. We’ll see. I’ll keep you posted, Friend.
You might be thinking this tendency is why I’m doing all this solo, and I get that, because I drive even my own self crazy. But, on the upside, it’s more time to start … I mean finish, new projects.
Fridays are my favorite. Well, that's not all the way true; Thursdays are my favorite weekday. Yes, because of my beloved Friends.
Recently some kids at work were talking about binge-watching Friends and I said, "Oh, yeah I used to have to wait until the following Thursday at 8 p.m. to see how Chandler and Monica worked things out …"
So anyhow, I'm bringing back my Friday Favorites feature from a blogtime ago.
Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate – which basically means I've spent a bunch of time trying to figure out how it works exactly and have, to date, not earned a dime. However, you need to know –on account of being on the up and up with The Law– when you click on any of these images that link you to buy them on Amazon I conceivably could get a few coins – and the idea is for that to add up over time. We are taking the "over time" part very literally apparently.
That's enough words about that — here are five things I'm loving right now.
2. I love bullet journaling. I've been doing some version of it since years before that first episode of Friends even aired. Now it's a Thing. And I am always happy to geek out on this topic with anyone and everyone. This is the current one I'm using. I'm planning a flip -through video to post later this month.
3. And this Faber Castell pen set is my fave for basic journaling. And letters. And sticky notes. And last minute school permission slips …
4. This is my current beverage obsession. This Cold Brew Coffee+ Unsweetened almond milk + Ice = My post Whole30 favorite coffee drink. I really expected to go back to my old stand by but this has grown on me and when I couldn't find some at my favorite local store, Naps Thriftway, I had no choice but to turn to Amazon.
5. These stainless steel drinking straws. Love. Them. That is all.
If you add your email below you can get updates in your inbox so you never miss a post. Yay?
This top picture came across my Facebook Feed the other day and, as is often the way – it stunned me. How so much can change in so relatively little time.
At the time, I didn't know it but it was an Ebenezer stone. Of course, that's all easier to see in the rearview mirror.
This picture, that smile projects so much confidence and if you just look at that moment in time you see it seems I was just so lucky! After all, I was able to be home with my babies and then land a job in the newsroom where I got to intern years before that.
However, not pictured … is the courage it took to come out of the situation I was walking through and present a confident seeming self after feeling so beat down it would take many years (and counting) to right the wrongs.
I didn't talk about it then at all and still don't much today.
All I really need to say is this: nothing is as it first seems. You already know that, though.
But that doesn't stop us from getting Facebook Envy when we see a picture and make assumptions about what that person's life is like.
You know what else?
It also doesn't mean the picture is a lie.
Moments captured on camera are exactly that – moments, captured.
In that still frame the absolute truth was that I was so happy in that moment to hold my boys and know that despite how I felt on the inside, I was able to get a job in a field I love.
This moment is the moment capturing I knew things were changing. I knew the foundation below me was shaky and I knew things were not going as planned.
But, getting that job gave me a new plan. It gave me hope. It meant I had to make a hard choice and many more after it, but I was capable of making them and as I continued to pray this one specific prayer "God please make the way clear…" it became more and more so.
The steps I was asked to take where not according to (my) plan.
would be able to do something that would bring money into our home and Wells Fargo could take my number off speed dial.
This also meant I was two weeks from getting a paycheck and Wells Fargo could stop trying to take my house back.
And here we are, living in this house I love, still unable to keep the water tray from overflowing apparently, with some major and minor changes – but here we are.
Silly, stable and safe.
*A note about the top picture: this was a snapshot following the longest I'd ever been apart from the boys – not counting when I was in labor with Jake. It was seven hours! And I was about to go from that life to working full-time as a reporter. It was incredibly hard. And awesome. And awful. And amazing. Balancing work you're passionate about and being a mama is no easy thing, but it was an incredible experience to work with my newsroom friends and to make new ones along the way.
The bottom picture: Well, that's just us goofing off trying to recreate a moment :)
For the News-Register
While chatting with a group of friends, decorating styles came up. As in, what’s your decorating style? Terms like “shabby chic,” “farmhouse style,” “minimalist” and “bohemian” bounced around the conversation.
At some point, it was clear I was the only one not to contribute. “Um. Well. I’d say I roll with kind of a work-in-progress, ‘cluttered chic’ style. Can that be a thing?”
The discussion then turned to a more philosophical one about what really makes a home feel like “home.” That was a little trickier to answer, because mine really has felt like a work-in-progress for about eight years. So that’s basically from the moment we got the keys to a home I was so in love with the moment I saw it, I knew it was where I wanted us to raise our babies.
The previous owner had impeccable style. I don’t know what you’d call it exactly, but it was worthy of some Better Homes & Gardens coverage. Unfortunately, when moving day came, her stuff was all gone, and with it, the style that made the home seem so much like what I wanted but didn’t know how to create myself.
So, there’s one answer. Home, I think, is something we create with our intentions and actions. Since my divorce, though, there’s been a lot of non-action. Or rather, there’s been plenty of action in juggling all the responsibilities of managing a home, working full time and raising two boys who are no longer babies. But it feels more like barely keeping up on things, instead of actually making progress on any of my decorating dreams.
So, there’s that: Home is where you live your real life. And for me right now, that means no sooner have you pulled the bacon out of the oven than there’s spilled, hot bacon grease all over the floor, which turns into a fun ice rink for a little bit.
And then when you’re done cleaning up that mess, the bacon has mysteriously disappeared but somehow, despite eating an entire pound of bacon between the two of them, there are two boys wondering what’s for breakfast. And lunch. And dinner.
At that moment, and frankly, for a few days to follow, my kitchen is “decorated” with the remains of that mess and the evidence of quickly trying to cobble something else together before everyone is heading out to where we needed to be.
Because no matter what our mothers taught us, most of us don’t put everything away immediately. It is, however, a highly recommended practice. And for good reason.
There is little more discouraging than waking up to a fresh day with remnants of yesterday’s disaster on the counters. This is where cultivating cleaning habits you stick to no matter what comes in really handy. You know, stuff like soaking pots right away so you’re not working out your biceps scrubbing them quickly in time to make soup for the next meal — that kind of thing.
Speaking of soup, I’m teaching my boys how to cook. My youngest made Avgolemeno soup last week, and if you haven’t had that, you should try it because it’s delicious. When it came time to put dinner on the table, he wanted to serve it out of a fancy bowl. I tried to convince him to just ladle it from the soup pot.
“Mom, you don’t spend this much time on something and then just serve it like that!” And, yes, he did help me with the dishes. Because it mattered to him how the table looked, he carefully set it while declaring: “I love fancy.”
He put out cloth napkins, a full place setting for each of us and carefully arranged the bread bowl and plates. He refuses to touch butter, so his brother contributed that to the arrangement. Instead of using the butter dish, his brother tossed the whole stick, still in its wrapper, in the middle of the table.
“There. I hate fancy,” he said, shrugging.
I surveyed the scene, Jake drinking out of his crystal goblet, Sam sipping water out of the container closest to him and me with my water poured into my beloved, ubiquitous mason jar.
Ideally, home is a place you can really be yourself and drink out of whatever you please. Home is where you can be fancy, or not. I suppose I’m a pretty good balance between my boys’ degrees of fancy.
As we’re eating the soup, which two-thirds of us loved, Jake said: “Wherever we are together, that is home.”
“Oh, Jake. I love that!” I was touched, and told him so.
“Mom,” his brown eyes flashed as he nodded toward the wall behind me, “It literally says that on the wall.”
Ah. Right. One of my first acts of decorating my home in a way I loved was finding that sign in an antique store, buying it, leaning it against the wall for a year and, finally, hanging it up where it could remind me what matters more to me than decorating.
Perhaps the whole point of home is figuring out how to be ourselves throughout life’s changing circumstances. Because physical homes change, who lives with us in our homes changes and all along the way, so do we.
Home, I’ve decided, is where we figure ourselves out as we continue to be, well, a work-in-progress.
If this resonates with you, I’d love it if you’d share it.
If you add your email below you can get updates in your inbox so you never miss a post. Yay?