5 March 2014 § 2 Comments

Currently, there is nothing that I like better than fixing things up around the house. I think it’s a combination of renting, so I don’t HAVE to fix anything (only the things that are in working order, but I’d like something nicer, or things that didn’t come with the house). So we can call the landlord when showers/kitchen sinks/washer drains aren’t draining, but I can replace the cruddy old bathroom faucets, which were still in working order, but not very nice. I replaced them with affordable, highly functional options from Home Depot, and that was a bear because the bolt on one of the old faucets was completely rusted in place. A day of spraying WD40 rust formula on it and laying upside down while saying all the swears and feeling like my arms might fall off from super-intense plier-ing (not a word? I don’t care) may not sound like fun to you. BUT having a tangible and obvious output for work that I do, as well as making things nicer or more functional in our living space is just SO AWESOME.

Faucet | Inviting Joy

NEW FAUCET with a special shout out to my dad, who served as my personal plumber helpline throughout the project, swears and all.

We also bought a used dryer really cheaply from the lovely handyman that came to fix the rent house and he delivered it, which was oh-so-helpful. About two weeks later, though, the drum stopped tumbling. Fortunately, that happened when Hubs’s clothes were in there, and not mine, and also fortunately we have so much closet space in this new house that we just hung dry all of Hubs’s clothes. But we needed to fix the dryer, and at first I was bummed because new (to us) things breaking is disappointing. But thank goodness for THE INTERWEBS, the source of my powers. Apparently, if an appliance breaks, you want it to be the dryer because 90% of the time you can fix whatever is wrong with it yourself. So I watched some youtubes, and it turned out that the most likely scenario when the drum stops tumbling is that the looooong skinny belt that goes around the drum and attaches to the motor has slipped off or broken. I took the dryer apart (YOUTUBES) and the belt had broken. I found an appliance parts store close-ish, drove there, and told them the belt part number that I needed. I also picked up a new pulley (another part that can malfunction), and a new lint trap because the old one was coming apart at the edges and the wire mesh was pokey. Then I replaced the pulley and belt, vacuumed out years of dust with the shop vac and wahoo:

The other thing that I’ve done so far, which isn’t really fixing things but makes a huge difference in any room, is hanging curtains. It may seem like curtains aren’t that big of a deal, but I agree with my girl Sherry over at Young House Love that curtains can make as much of a difference as painting. And since we’re in a rental and we likely won’t be doing any painting, the curtains are all we’ve got. And I love curtains, I think because I love fabric. I don’t have photos of our curtains, but I just love how they warm up the rooms and give us privacy.

My next projects are a serious clothesline outside on the wooden supports that came with the house (we won’t even need the repaired dryer!) and garage storage/organization. What are you working on around the house?


16 May 2013 § 3 Comments

We sold our house! It happened a little bit like this, except that we have closed and we are now leasing our house back from the buyer, our new landlord. Strange, but good.

Selling the house, but not moving out just yet, has come with a sort of emotional limbo to mirror our physical one. Saying goodbye to our first house, which actually was perfect for us, and the responsibility of owning it, which I hated, is bittersweet, like saying goodbye to Nashville. Here we got married, made our first adult home, and made dear friends. We also committed 20% of our years thus far to grad school, years filled with tears and frustration and [all too seldom] celebrations of success.

It’s bizarre to think about no longer doing something you’ve done for a long time, especially when your life has been consumed by it. In two and a half weeks, I have to finish up in lab in order to go to an amazing internship, but none of that feels real right now. I am too used to how my life has been. Instead of feverishly working in lab or on packing up our house or on seeing friends before they and I leave, I am writing about it, maybe doing a bit of processing, but mostly just sitting with it.

Have you ever had a transition that you just needed to sit with?

On owning a house (and my aspirational vs. actual self)

28 February 2013 § 4 Comments

We bought a townhouse right before we got married, a year into grad school. Our place is in a great location and has been a fine first house. As we prepare to sell it, though, I am certain that in this case I let my aspirational self get in the way of who I actually am.

I first encountered the concept of an ideal or aspirational self on the 2000 Dollar Wedding blog and then more recently at Northwest Edible Life. The idea is that when we think about how we want our lives to look, we must strive to be authentic with ourselves. Sara might wish that she would be happy taking care of a farm, but her truth is that she’ll probably always be happier at her computer or sewing machine. In Erica’s parallel aspirational life, she weighs 150 pounds, but her husband reminds her that at age 30, when she actually did weigh 150 pounds, she was cranky, cold, and libido-less.

My parents bought a one owner fixer upper, unupdated since the 1960s, when I was twelve. As they exchanged dark pine kitchen cabinets painted with Bible verses and foil wallpaper for sleek, modern cabinetry and lightly textured, neutrally painted walls, I was proud of how great our house looked and how much of the work they did themselves. Enter the rise of HGTV and my hours skimming blogs like Young House Love, and I was pretty sure I was going to love owning and working on a house.

As Hubs and I stood on the brink of married life, with house down payment burning a hole in our bank account, I envisioned only our aspirational life. In this parallel universe, we happily visit Home Depot, paint rooms, and reglaze windows on the weekends. When something goes wrong, we gamely work together to find an immediate solution and are available to meet repair people at all hours of the day.

In real life, home ownership combined with the pressures of grad school has been overwhelming. On the weekends, we want to watch the entire first season of Homeland on DVD and brew beer, not reglaze windows. And I hate painting so much that I started painting a half bath (the tiniest room in the whole house) in November 2010 and my mom just finished it for me in January. One memorable Saturday included replacing old ceiling fans and me screaming f-bombs, while Hubs silently cursed the project (and me, probably). As far as repairs go, we paid an extra $10-20 on our water bill for months because of a leaky tub faucet. When we finally called the plumber, he replaced the fixture in less than three hours for half the price of the water that had just been going down the drain all that time.

I’ve learned so much about my authentic path through this first try at homeownership. While my parents now have a beautiful house, I’m not sure they would go the fixer upper route again, and I definitely will not. In fact, as we prepare to move to North Carolina this fall for Hubs’ postdoc, we are planning to rent. Maybe we can find a house with space for the garden I’ve been dreaming of, but we’re definitely going to think carefully about who we really are as we take this next step.

Where does your ideal self intersect with your real life? Where do they diverge?

Where I got the homesteading urge

19 November 2012 § 1 Comment

If you’re a follower of mine on Pinterest, you may have noticed my new Urban Homestead pinboard, which I am pinning to at the rate of 10 pins a day.  I have also read nearly every book on urban homesteading that our library has, and I’ve been requesting that they buy more and more of them.  I’m currently reading Barnyard in Your Backyard (goat kidding diagrams FTW)!  I wrote a list here of the produce I would like to grow someday.  As Hubs goes to postdoc interviews and we contemplate our next location, the significant part (approximately 98%) of me that is a super-planner has been looking up the livestock ordinances in the places we might live.

Hubs, my family, and friends have given me varying levels of teasing about this homesteading urge, but I think I’ve traced the source of it.  Cue this piece from The Atlantic about new evidence that good books can change who we are.  Immediately, I thought of the Little House books.  I probably read the entire series more than 10 times growing up, and then I read the Little House on Rocky Ridge books (about Laura’s daughter, Rose).  I was so obsessed that my mom found a pioneer day camp for me to go to (or maybe even persuaded the church that hosted it to start it).  We visited the Little House in the Big Woods (in WI) and I played pioneer endlessly (both with me as pioneer and with my dollhouse family who had their own covered wagon, handcrafted by my grandpa).  My mom got really good at sewing sun bonnets, and family members who lived close to Amish country were in charge of buying “real” pioneer gear at Amish general stores for Christmas and birthdays.

But how did the Little House books really change me?  Why do I identify so much with a homesteading lifestyle now?  While I believe in the call to sustainability that we’re all increasingly being asked to follow, even more than that, these five years of grad school have helped me realize the part of me that yearns to do work to produce a tangible output.  Maybe that output is food from a garden, milk from a goat, a clean baby, a craft for a friend, the patient grinning at the children’s hospital upon meeting Tonks, a delicious supper, writing that I’m proud of, or time enjoyed with people I love.  I am ready for the time when these things are how I measure my life, just as Laura measured hers in her family’s little house.

Dollhouse covered wagon | Inviting Joy

Bunnies go west!

Pioneer Camp | Inviting Joy

Pioneer camp: more fun that it looks? I’m the one in yellow with the REAL TIN CUP tied around my waist for, you know, drinking out of streams and things.

How have books changed your life?

Having it all

26 June 2012 § Leave a comment

Wow!  I just read this article from the Atlantic* that is sweeping the interwebs, and my head and heart are so full.  First, I am so thankful to Anne-Marie Slaughter for saying publicly that she wants to be home with her kids.  When I say that I would like to work part time when I have kids in order to stay home with them to most people in science, this declaration is usually met with one of two responses:  1. Polite nodding, frequently (though not always) backed up by a slightly incredulous look or tone of voice OR 2. “I can’t imagine not working full time” (this second response more often comes from other women).  What Slaughter’s piece helped me realize is that these responses are less about me and more about a system that values hours worked over productivity and devalues parenting over other pursuits.

Second, I feel profound relief in knowing that other, smart, ambitious, high-powered career women (like Slaughter and other women she mentions, such as Mary Matalin, who worked as an assistant to President George W. Bush) have achieved high ranking positions while also having families, have not been forced out of these positions, and have still chosen to leave these jobs in order to be the mother and partner they want to be.  In spite of reading the very encouraging Professor Mommy and following the blogs of several tenured female scientists, I still can’t see how having to be on the tenure clock at a Research 1 institution is going to allow me the freedom to be the mom and partner I want to be.  This is absolutely about how I feel, and not about other women who choose to go into academia.  Slaughter points out, in fact, that the flexibility of her schedule as a tenured professor and former dean makes it infinitely easier to achieve work-life balanace than her job in government did.  I am just glad to see female role models that have prioritized their families in the way that feels best for them.

Finally, I am elated that this conversation is happening and that smart, driven people everywhere are reading this article and responding to it.  Slaughter’s message is twofold.  In addition to being about the expectations women (and men) of my generation have regarding work-life balance and why they can be really difficult to fulfill, she delves into how we can change the current climate for everyone by revaluing family, redefining the arc of a successful career, and encouraging the pursuit of balance and happiness.  As Hubs and I explore plans for our future, I pray that we can keep these things in mind, too.

*If you don’t have time to commit to reading the whole piece, watch the interview video that is included with it.

Dream dream dream

15 June 2012 § 1 Comment

I have homesteading fever!  From downloading books about chicken and bee keeping from the library to searching for rent houses and land in any of several places we might move, I can’t get enough.  I’m not sure whether it’s the hot sun or the fresh food at the farmer’s market or the friends that have defended their dissertations recently (two in the last week), but I feel ready for a change that would involve more time making a home!

I love the idea of an urban homestead, within walking/biking distance to the farmer’s market/co-op.  Ducks and chickens in the backyard, kitties in the house, and the pup wherever I am.  Lovely, medium sized garden and maybe one of these prefab sheds at the back of the yard for science writing/editing, screen printing, crafting and sewing.  A basement for Hubs to brew beer and a lovely large kitchen with a gas stove and plenty of space to make cheese.  Eventually (like 2+ years), this imaginary awesome homestead might even have a baby or two living there.

My current idea goes a bit against the idea of cohousing, but maybe there could be good alternatives (like this).  We also have these amazing friends from college who have always [sort of] joked about starting a commune where everyone that they love would come live.  As I meditate and pray about my calling, as well as continue on my current path, dreaming about all of this stuff is REALLY fun and inspiring.

What are you dreaming about lately?

Closet Reorganization

19 April 2012 § 1 Comment

Do you ever feel so bogged down by one thing that you can’t get anything else done?  The closet in our guest bedroom was like that for me.  After I sold all our furniture, I was totally ready for that room to become a crafting mecca, but instead I ended up with a very full closet (see photo, right).  The giant box that says “wrapping” held all my craft supplies for beading, paper crafts, fabric crafts, and absolutely no wrapping.  I couldn’t ever find the supplies I needed and the box was too deep for the shelf it was on, so it fell on me a lot as I was digging through it looking for glue sticks or the corner puncher.  I also had nightmares of it falling and crushing our cats.  When the giant box was full, I just kept piling craft supplies on the floor of the closet in grocery bags, which meant that it was a huge production to try to extricate my fold up work table, which was [in]conveniently stored at the back of the closet.  The huge production meant that I wasn’t doing crafts (sad) or was doing them at the kitchen table or on the living room floor (messy).

After the giant box fell on me or I tripped over the nine bags of craft supplies (I don’t remember which) for the last time, I vowed to do something about it.  But storage stuff is EXPENSIVE and my anxiety about money is at an all time high (more on this later).  Enter this inspiring tutorial, the fact that we work in an academic building where things get delivered in cardboard every single day, and the people who owned our place before us, who left MOUNTAINS of stuff behind, including several volatile chemicals Hubs took to the disposal center (rude) and tons of extra closet shelving (useful).  I now have custom storage boxes for under $15!  It would have been less, but mid-project I had to buy glue for the hot glue gun because I couldn’t find the extra in the giant box, and really that was just an incentive to get done and fast.  Things I found that had been lost in the clutter abyss:  18 glue sticks (3 separate almost new packages), some really cute, forgotten fabric scraps (to be featured in an imminent project), and three different, opened packages of cat treats (?!).

So tidy! Some of the paper I used has roosters!

Exploring Cohousing

5 October 2011 § Leave a comment

Due to a sort of amazing convergence of events, Hubs and I were recently introduced to the concept of cohousing.  First, we talked about how great it would be to have a community that would support us and our [future] children and be some sort of intentional living type situation.  The day after that, I googled this type of concept and found tons of websites describing the benefits of this type of living and calling it cohousing.  The day after that, we went for happy hour with some couple friends and they told us about an awesome opportunity to hear Katie McCamant and Chuck Durrett speak and my mom brought up cohousing to me on the phone that same day.  (Sounds like it was meant to be!)

We went to the cohousing presentation by Chuck and Katie, who coined the term “cohousing” from the Danish bofœllesskaber (literally living communities) and are the authors of several books on cohousing, the most recent of which, Creating Cohousing:  Building Sustainable Communities, I am reading right now from the library.  I could go on and on about what really feels right to me about cohousing, and I have to numerous people with whom I’ve interacted over the past couple of weeks, but I think a quick sum up is better.  Among all the amazing things I feel can be enjoyed by living in cohousing, these are my top three:

Smaller houses, fewer possessions, less stuff.  Cohousing communities are generally built around shared pedestrian/outdoor areas and include a community house that can contain among other things:  several guest rooms for visitors to the community, a shared workshop with tools, a sewing/craft room with supplies, a children’s playroom, and a tv room.  Imagine not needing to buy a lawnmower because the community already owns one for mowing the common area, skipping buying tools for home renovations because they are already in the community workshop or not having to buy all the stuff and clutter up a room in your house to do crafts or beer brewing!  Or being able to afford to have solar panels put in because your mortgage for your reasonably sized house isn’t sky high and all your neighbors are getting them too, so the contractor is giving you a discount.  Or best of all, the ability to choose a smaller house in the first place because you didn’t need to have room for your in-laws to stay in your house when visiting, because you had access to a workshop and craft room, and because your children won’t need a playroom at home because they have the whole common house, especially the playroom, and the entire outdoors of the community, which is car free, in which to do frolicky kid stuff!

The car free part and what it means for social interaction is my next favorite bit.  Cohousing communities are designed so that you park on the perimeter of the community and then walk to your home on a path that passes by the common house, as well as by your neighbors’ homes, so you are automatically set up for spontaneous social interaction, which is completely lost if you drive into your garage and go straight into your house in a typical neighborhood.  Spontaneous social interaction is one of the very best parts of college that we really miss out on as adults. People eating together in a cafeteria, throwing a disc together on the lawn, or sitting outside on a nice day and just talking doesn’t happen in typical adult life unless you plan it.  And who has time to plan all of that?  We’re busy important people with busy important lives and we don’t always make time for these things that really enrich our lives, so we grow to rely on ourselves or on our partner for all of our social needs, which can leave us feeling depressed and lonely.  I didn’t realize it until I was knee deep in learning about cohousing that what made me so sad about our neighbors moving this spring was that, in their move, we lost our main opportunity for spontaneous social interaction.  Everyone else we have to plan to see, no matter how close to us they live.  There’s nothing quite like knocking on the door to see what the neighbors are up to or spying through their window that they’re watching the football game and inviting yourself in.  It’s simple and therefore feels inherently more possible than calling up the friend who lives a 20 minute walk away and having to make a plan.  In cohousing, it’s all built into the design of the community and in that most cohousing communities offer 2-7 common meals a week.  And you don’t have to worry about who’s going to drive home after you’ve had a bottle of wine at dinner either because YOU JUST WALK.

My final favorite thing has to do with my desire to have four children.  I have loooooooong struggled with the environmental impact of bringing four children into the world, but I often feel like having more than one sib is better for growing up.  Enter cohousing and an extremely elegant solution:  raise your kid[s] in a community of children and adults.  Get the benefits of having grown up together and having a common home, but nix the environmental impact!  Beautiful.

How does cohousing sound to you?

Another one bites the dust (WARNING: contains dog puke)

21 September 2011 § 5 Comments

Tonks has eaten some things she shouldn’t have, including some vidalia onion brats, which led to the very worried, young dog owner in me to take her to the emergency vet so they could induce vomiting.  This service, as you might imagine, costs a pretty penny and is fairly traumatic for everyone, especially the receptionist who had to leave the room because it was “smelling too much like human puke back there.”  Therefore, when we came home on Monday to an empty chocolate bar wrapper, I was more inclined to research how bad chocolate really is for dogs than to take a multi-hour, 200+ dollar trip.  According to both the vet (whom I called) and the interwebs, dark chocolate is not usually toxic in dogs until they’ve eaten an ounce per 3 lbs of body weight.  Since Tonks weighs a svelte 69 pounds and she’d only eaten a 3.2 oz bar, we were not especially worried, but decided to induce vomiting at home just to be safe.

Per the vet’s instructions, we administered two tablespoons 3% hydrogen peroxide (a bit less than one teaspoon for every 10 pounds of body weight*), via syringe that I shoved into her growling mouth, and took a walk (to, um, agitate things).  Exactly a block and a half later onto the sidewalk in front of the park by our house, up came what we thought were the entire contents of her stomach.  I’d hoped she’d aim for the grass, but sometimes you just can’t control these things, and rain was predicted, so we didn’t worry too much about it.  It was dark and somewhat difficult to examine the puke for evidence of chocolate, but, as I already mentioned, we thought she couldn’t have anything else in her stomach, so we made a loop and headed home, passing a few joggers headed in the direction of the puke [bless their hearts] on our way.

Not five minutes after we got back in the house did sweet Tonks throw up twice more, this time on our living room rug, while Hubs and I looked on.  Not sure why I didn’t think to hustle her out the front door, but I just sort of watched it happen (maybe something to do with my depleted willpower; it had been a long day).  After that ‘episode,’ which obviously contained the chocolate, she was back to her old self and we put the rug in the washing machine because it was “washable.”

I had pretty high hopes for getting a clean rug out of the whole thing, but soon the washer stopped working.  When I went up to check on it, the rug had become completely wrapped around the part in the middle of the washer and I couldn’t get it out.  Turns out that probably “washable” meant “only in an industrial washer, take this to a laundromat you inadequate housekeeper,” and I blew it.  Hubs had to use his considerable upper body strength to pull the soaking wet rug out and into a laundry bag, which we then carried downstairs and out to the trash.  All in all, the rug was difficult to vacuum anyway, most likely the chocolate puke stains were there to stay, and I now have some interesting insight into how Hubs reacts to messes of that scale.

*You should never induce vomiting if your dog unless it’s on the express recommendation of the vet, especially if she has eaten something caustic or pointy.

Making the most of my 168 hours

25 August 2011 § 3 Comments

After my outlook on life changed dramatically about a month or so ago, Hubs and I had a serious talk about cleaning our house.  Keeping the house clean doesn’t take us too much time, but that is mostly because we try to stay on top of things.  And let me tell you, with three [extraordinarily] furry friends in the house, “clean” probably means a different thing to us that to people with no pets.  We’ve talked before about paying someone to clean, and it always seemed unnecessary to me because we equally share the responsibilities.  Plus, once we had a housekeeping service come out to give us a quote, and it was OUTRAGEOUS.  With me re-focusing [or perhaps truly focusing for the first time ever] on grad school, however, it seemed like it might be time to reconsider having someone help out.

Over at 168 Hours, Laura Vanderkam always stresses that, in order to make the most of your 168 weekly hours, you should pay people to do the things you don’t have to do.  This way, you allow yourself to fully enjoy the time you’re not working or to truly apply yourself to work when it’s work time.  This idea has always made tons of sense in theory, but now faced with the goal of [actually] applying myself to finishing my PhD and knowing that the best way for me to not lose steam is to practice self-care by giving myself real time off (weekends filled with crafts rather than chores), we set out to find someone to clean our house.

I called seven (count ‘em!) cleaning services and filled out as many online forms and I didn’t hear back from a SINGLE ONE.  (Maybe it was the truthfulness of my applications.  On the scale that you could use to rank your house: 1 – fairly clean, 2 – Some dust and dirt, 3 – Lots of dust and dirt, and I chose 3 every time.  If given an option to include more information, I put something like “we have a lot of fur here”).  I’ve let it just sort of simmer since I made the initial push, but the whole situation got me started thinking about how I spend my time.  Honestly, an hour or two of cleaning a week isn’t breaking the self-control bank, but dedicating time to things that don’t fill me up at least as much as I am pouring out is.

So I really carefully examined my time, and I realized that I needed to quit coaching Ultimate and cancel cable television.  I love coaching, and if I had a 9-5 job, I would continue to do it as long as I could.  Quitting was an extremely difficult decision, much harder to make than the choice to quit playing, but the emotional energy and time that I was dedicating to coaching had become too much.  The decision to cancel cable was easy:  I hated that the TV was always on, that watching TV was my main relaxation activity (rather than reading books, which I LOVE), that Hubs and I watched TV together but didn’t have as many good conversations, take as many walks, or enjoy as many meals together.

I tearfully informed my team and am now navigating a new life of not traveling multiple weekends for Ultimate or being committed to four+ hours a week of leading and planning practices.  We kissed our DVR goodbye and said hello to free DVDs from the library, streaming shows we love on the computer, and an antenna that lets us catch the NFL games of the local team (in HD!).  Hubs and I are having great conversations, and I’ve been able to [mostly] stay motivated at work.  Yesterday I met with my counselor, and it was one of the first times in years that I haven’t cried throughout the session.  These changes in my life have been varying levels of challenging to enact, but I am SO GLAD I have.

How could you make the most of your 168 hours?

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