Family MVP

Our current rental house looked so promising at first: yoga room, brew room off the garage, dining room, large kitchen with ample storage, fireplace, two baths, and a fenced-in yard, the cherry on top for our sweet pup. In many ways, all of these allegedly awesome things have been awesome, but with a house this big, I’ve found us accumulating stuff, and it’s expensive to rent and to heat and cool. These are obviously minor problems and within our control (buy less stuff! turn down the heat and grab a blanket!), but it’s the out of our control things that have been more problematic.

Getting the management company to clean up broken glass from the previous tenant in the yard–something they said they would do when we moved in almost a year ago–was a nine month battle that we gave up on and just cleaned the glass ourselves. On Sunday, an outlet that had a small piece of something permanently broken off in one of the plugs spontaneously caught fire. Hubs was there and turned off the breaker before the fire went anywhere beyond the outlet itself, but if he hadn’t been, who knows how far it would have spread. But the most special part of living in this house has been the mice, which brings me to today’s story.

Shortly after moving in, I noticed that there were mouse droppings and one chewed food package in one of the kitchen cabinets. I was obviously totally grossed out, so I pulled everything out of the cabinet in question and its neighboring cabinet, found more evidence of mice, threw a bunch of stuff away and cleaned a bunch of other stuff, including the cabinets themselves and my arms up to the elbows multiple times. Then did my best to block the entrance to the cabinet from the gaps around the stove hood exhaust that go up to the attic, where it looked like they were coming in. After showering extra-thoroughly, I felt that my job was done.

That night, Hubs and I were sitting in the living room watching a show, and Zeda came walking in. I tend to praise the cats for carrying around their toys, which likely sounds ridiculous to anyone not as into cats as I am, but so be it. So when I saw she had something in her mouth, I said, “Goooood kitty, do you have your–SHE HAS A LIVE MOUSE!”

Hubs grabbed her–with the mouse still in her mouth–and ran for the front door to carry her out. I asked him to stop so that I could take a photo of Z with the mouse and OF COURSE she dropped it. In the yoga room. What ensued looked like Zeda hunting the mouse, while Duncan sort of herded it, and Tonks enthusiastically, albeit unhelpfully, sort of jumped around and thought that Dunc and Z were playing with her (bless). Eventually Z recaptured it and then Hubs actually got her outside and made her drop it. A week later, Z also caught a bird that ended up inside. She is, without a doubt, the family MVP.

Family MVP

Satisfaction

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?

Transition

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)

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

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

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

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?