May 31

Gardening for Dummies

As soon as she puts her hands in my mouth, she asks me a question.

“I heard from Pat that you guys have a garden. How’s that going?”

I half stiffen, half laugh in my head because of course she would ask me a question right at that moment when I can only answer with drool and mumbles. Isn’t that just some sort of hazing ritual among dentists? The kind of thing they laugh about at happy hour?

The conversation continues as I lay at that awkward, head-slanting-towards-the-ground angle, a person at each ear with their faces just out of my peripheral vision, gloved hands and instruments moving up and over my face. I don’t hate to come here, as there’s no fear of pain since I take great care of my teeth, but I don’t really like it either. Something about the lack of personal space and the sensation that I’m restrained in that chair makes me want to jump out of my skin.

“I wish I could have a garden,” the assistant says. “Everything I try to grow dies.”

That is everybody’s reaction. “I wish I could have a garden,” followed by some excuse as to why they seemingly cannot. Or, “You have a garden? Cool!” Like I just told them I own a Ferrari or I’m having Betty White over for dinner.

It’s baffling to me. This hobby popular with grannies the world over is not difficult. You throw some dirt into a pot with some seeds, put it in the sun, water it and wait. TADA! Garden.

As a child, my mom always had a garden with mostly flowers and tomatoes. I always got to help dig holes and water, but one year when everything had already been planted and I was asking to help, mom sprinkled some popcorn kernels into my palm and I went off to sow my seeds. My parents nearly fell over when corn stalks sprouted up in the garden weeks later. I brought my harvest along with one of those old school popcorn poppers to kindergarten show and tell that week. The teacher and my parents exclaimed about my green thumb.

Having a green thumb is equivalent to having good luck, which frankly is closely linked with common sense. Plants need water and sun, so, you know, do that. Then consult Google or the people at the garden store to buy some decent soil.

As for space, having a yard and the ability to build garden boxes is nice, but as an apartment dweller, I had an herb garden in a pot outside my front door and it had the same effect as the larger gardens I’ve grown and maintained the last several years. There’s something uniquely satisfying about planting something, watching it grow, then eating it. It just tastes better and it’s more fun. Maybe it’s the prepackaged, convenience-oriented world we live in. We’ve forgotten that those carrots we buy at the store were actually grown by somebody and were pulled out of the ground at some point.

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But, I too was shocked with the near instant gratification when the seeds I planted in my first large garden as an adult sprouted in just a few days. It was so easy. Pat built a small box out of untreated cedar in the backyard and by the end of the summer it was spilling over the edges. The next three years, (minus last year when we spent the spring in purgatory – the name we lovingly gave our temporary apartment while our house was being built) we just built on the knowledge we gained the prior year, adjusting and experimenting.

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This year, the garden boxes are different in that they have gone vertical to accommodate our tiny backyard (No, everything is not bigger in Texas), but everything else is seemingly the same: Planting the favorites, watching the growth, harvest, preparation — minus the fact that we could plant in February when there would have been snow elsewhere. There’s something oddly comforting about settling back into a hobby and having it be exactly as you remember, especially when nearly everything else seems to have been turned upside down the past year or so.

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Cleaning up after a storm with massive hail.

Not everything performs exactly the way you’d like it to, but I have yet to experience a complete failure in gardening. The hassle actually comes when you accidentally plant too much of something or when something is an unexpected overachiever. Two years ago it was the squash. I had never even eaten squash, so I had no idea if I liked it let alone how it grew. A couple of mounds with four or five seeds each were planted and suddenly this prehistoric looking monster started taking over one of the large garden boxes crowding and blocking out everything else. Then the blossoms popped up and this thing started birthing yellow crookneck squash like it was Michelle Duggar. Pat and I would grab scissors, cut a dozen off the vines, then a dozen more would be back two days later. These things would grow more than an inch overnight and you had to grab them when they were small or they’d get bitter and seedy. I was out there almost everyday when Pat was traveling and I hated it mostly because the plant attracted huge spiders. I’d stick my hand into the jungle, a tarantula would jump onto my wrist then I’d scream, fling the clippers into the air and fall backwards into the yard. Also, come to find out, I hate squash. I cooked every squash recipe known to man—squash fries, squash pizza, squash boats— they were all nasty. I’m like, what the hell are we going to do with all this damn squash? Luckily in Denver, your co-workers are reluctant to take leftover cupcakes off your hands at the office, but they’ll fight over the yellow squash. That’s Colorado for you.

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squash laralaschen

 

This year, it’s the snow peas.

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The dentist had to switch instruments and took her hands out of my mouth just long enough for me to tell her about my inability to eat another freaking snow pea. I planted them in Denver and they didn’t produce very many pods, so I upped it to two-dozen seeds this year and it exploded. I lost count after pulling about 100 pods. But, snow peas have an acute life expectancy, especially in Texas because they can’t take the high heat. Half the stalks are now dead and the other half are starting to wither. They’ve run their course for the season and I’m relieved. Yes, I’m relieved that part of my garden is dead. I may never look at another snow pea again…first world gardening problems.

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snow peas laralaschen

We ended my bi-annual check up with a discussion about Betty…my dwarf Meyer lemon tree that grows in a big pot on wheels on the back patio. She’s my novelty this year, and hopefully for years to come, hence the name. I’ve never lived in a climate where you could successfully grow citrus trees and it’s one of the things I’ve added to my short list of things I like about living in North Texas. I’m grasping at straws here, but I have to or I’ll go insane.

Taken on Earth Day - fitting.

Taken on Earth Day – fitting.

Despite the interest (genuine or otherwise), gardening probably really is one of those topics reserved for those not-so remarkable times when you can answer nearly everything with a nod or a grunt while somebody fishes around in your mouth…or during grandma’s gardening club. But, for me, finding satisfaction in the mundane has been an important part of coping with the unexpected and often undesirable results of big change. The garden is sort of my happy place right now, I guess.

With that, I’m sure it will come up again whether I’m in the dentist chair or not along with, “I wish I could have a garden.” Just be careful what you wish for…because the next person who says it is going to be gifted with at least half of my next bumper crop. I hope you like squash.

Mar 23

Dallas: The First Year

About this time last year, Pat and I saw this house in skeletal form in Dallas, handed over a huge check, then sat at Love Field drinking beers and wondering, “what the hell did we just do?”

And, we’ve been wondering the same thing ever since.

The last year-or 18 months, rather-have been so strange and disorienting that it’s like somebody picked me up out of my old life in Denver and dropped me into somebody else’s then left me there without an explanation to just figure it out.

Moving across the country is stressful enough, but add in all of the other weird happenings that surrounded it and you have a made for TV movie. Just when I thought it had taken me through all of the possible emotions one could have and it would wrap up into a neat, lesson-learned bow, a few weeks ago our dog Maggie died out of nowhere. I thought, nope…nope, it’s still rolling.

One day I will write about my ridiculous first year in Dallas in my memoirs and it will be likened to the “I walked six miles to school in the snow uphill both ways” stories your grandparents told you. But, today I would rather focus solely on the positive highlights…for my own sanity…and for yours:

Oral Fixation

It was mid-August and 108 degrees. The sweat was constant, my hair was involuntarily plastered to the side of my face and when I wasn’t pondering the burning question of, “why do I live on the surface of the sun?” I was trying to find some things to love in Dallas. So far, I hadn’t had much luck, but it wasn’t for lack of trying.

I came across this show called Oral Fixation (An Obsession with True Life Tales) where regular people submitted their stories, went through an editing process then shared their true stories centered around a theme live on stage in front of an audience. I was intrigued and it didn’t take much convincing to get Pat to come with me.

I’m a writer. Stories are my thing, so of course I loved it, but I didn’t expect it to speak to me the way it did. The program encouraged submissions for the next season and the gears started turning.

I was burnt out and frustrated from the constant hustle of trying to find my next gig as a freelancer while simultaneously looking for the right full time job and more often than not coming up with nothing in the form of silence or rejection. I needed a challenge and a “yes” at the same time to keep me going. Oral Fixation gave me both right when I needed it the most.

I submitted a story and it was chosen for the November “Too Many Cooks” themed show. The process of molding and preparing a raw, written story for a spoken word performance was incredibly challenging. This, on top of the fact that public speaking is not one of my natural strengths made this experience one that pushed me well past my usual limits.

I think I’m a much better writer than live storyteller, but I was still above average pleased with my performance:

The 2nd Wind

The second wind

After a 13 hour drive from Denver at the end of March last year, Pat, the dogs and I climbed three flights of stairs at the apartment complex we would call home for the next couple of months while our house was being built, opened the door to the corporate unit and breathed a sigh of relief…because it wasn’t rat infested. We had never been to Las Colinas or seen the furnished apartment we would be living in, so we were preparing for the worst.

Of course, within the first couple of minutes the toilet broke, we saw that we essentially had a kitchen made up of a Fisher-Price play set, the air conditioner broke and we discovered when you sat down on the couch the faint smell of urine would waft into your nostrils. A few days later, the earthquakes started. I told you the last year was weird.


I was friendless, jobless and clueless and Pat traveled for work. I was alone…a lot…in this gross apartment, so I started to design and sew furiously as a way to cope with the less than desirable situation I found myself in. The 2nd Wind was born. I was never more thankful that I decided to put my sewing supplies in the car instead of the moving truck.

great dane onesieyour story mattersdallas skyline

I wrote about my idea to relaunch my Etsy shop a while back and it finally went live in July. Sales have been steady since then despite nearly zero marketing other than SEO. I can’t pay my mortgage with it yet, but I am turning a profit and, more importantly, fueling my achievement drive and gaining satisfaction.

Check it out here:

www.the2ndwind.etsy.com

Thanksgiving

Denver was the original destination for Thanksgiving 2015, but when our location changed, so did our plans and it actually worked out really well. The new house has more room with an actual dining room and at that point it was comforting to fill a place that didn’t quite feel like home yet with the warm fuzzies of family to make it feel more so.

I cooked my first turkey including wrestling it in the sink. Pat burned the sauce (and his hand) for the green beans, but recovered nicely and all nine people — my parents, my sister and her family and our friend Kellen — helped get dinner on the table while we tried not to trip over the four dogs underfoot.

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Channeling all of my favorite ladies — Ina, Martha, Ree, etc. — I came up with a green and gold table setting with rosemary from our backyard to coordinate with the rosemary turkey. I finally got to bust out my Aunt Maryo’s gorgeous China and the food actually outshined the wine — a difficult feat in my family. I even got one of my nieces, a notoriously picky eater, to try a piece of everything served at dinner. Of course, I had to bribe her with cash, but just add it to the collection of valuable life lessons I’ve taught her like how to imitate inappropriate pop culture characters and the fine art of mooning people.

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The poppers exploded confetti and cheesy riddles onto the table and just as I thought, everybody proudly wore their paper crowns for the majority of dinner. They are actually a British Christmas tradition, but I figured we’re probably all a touch British and pretty much everything is more fun while wearing a crown.

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We ended the night with a couple of drunken rounds of the game Things and some laugh until you cry moments. It really couldn’t have been more perfect.

Our House

We bought it out of sheer desperation. We had five days to find a house, the housing market was on the cusp of crazy, a record snowstorm blew in, our realtor had some connections with the builder, they gave us a deal and we jumped on it three hours before our flight back to Denver.

To make such a huge decision in such a rushed, frantic manner gave me heart palpitations, but stepping back and looking at the finished product…if this was our last resort, we did pretty damn good.

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It’s not me…at all. Or Pat. It’s tall and elegant. We are both short and quirky. I might as well strap a step stool to my back because I can’t reach anything and we both keep expecting our parents to walk through the door because there is no way this brand new grown up house is ours.

In short, it’s beautiful, we’ve made it our own and we both love it. Plus, the five-minute drive to downtown Plano was a pleasant surprise. I’m hoping to write a series of posts about the process of decorating this beast as long as I can keep the post-traumatic stress at bay.

house 2

Later this week, Pat and I will pop a bottle of champagne and raise a glass to our first year in Dallas — for the highlights and the fact that we’re still alive, happily married and moving forward, but mostly because…it’s over. Phew.

And, mainly so I can stick another one of The 2nd Wind’s listing photos into this post, I bid a proper farewell to the past year (or 18 months):

bye felicia

Apr 01

A woo worthy moment: Portfolio update

There isn’t a more “woo” worthy moment than when you finally accomplish a long term goal.

Change is a way of life for me. My job, my name, my logo, my brand and my location are just a few of the things that have changed in the last year and now that I’m nearly six whole days settled into my new home of Dallas, Texas, I thought it was time for another change.

My portfolio has been in desperate need of an update and through massive amounts of trial and error with different plugins, pushing well past my limits of web design and WordPress knowledge, I finally figured out a way to do what I wanted…I just needed the time and discipline to actually do it. So, a self-imposed two day deadline, nearly 20 bleary-eyed hours of sitting in front of the computer at all hours of the night and maybe five or six cuss filled outbursts later, I present to you my new visual, clickable, organized, branded, easy to navigate and polished portfolio:

 

Portfolio

 

The only thing left to say is, “WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!”

And, check back often for changes.

Jan 14

My Obligatory New Year Post

…And here it is:

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The only way 2014 could have been more eventful and surprising is if something were to have literally exploded in my face complete with sparks, fire and singed, smoking eyebrows. It went a little something like this:

Got married:  I never wrote about it because there’s a certain amount of detox a bride must go through before reliving all of that…or maybe that’s just me. The shakes have subsided, so I think it’s about time to delve into that.

European Honeymoon:  Two weeks, three countries, four planes, six trains, seven cities, 50 plus miles walked and countless gallons of wine, decadent food, gross bathrooms, sickeningly sweet honeymoon things (cue the accordion and sunset gondola ride) and awe stricken-ess. London, Paris, Venice, Florence, Pisa, the Chianti wine region and Rome, I am stomach fluttery in love with you…even your strange lack of public toilet seats and my inability to afford my own vineyard. Learning the Italian language is now in the five year plan.

Laid off:  The short story is my position was eliminated because there was an acquisition. The long story is the short story PLUS I was treated poorly there, like astonishingly bad, and I had already been looking intently for another job for three months. While we’re always supposed to be PC and completely void of any real honesty when it comes to past positions, the fact of the matter is that no matter how hard you pollyanna, sometimes you’re just in a bad environment and there’s nothing you can do about it. I left there knowing I not only did great things and produced excellent work, but also pushed my positivity and effort towards making things better to the absolute limit before allowing reality to sink in. I didn’t fail. I did my best. I’m happy it happened and I’m letting it all go.

Guess what, we’re moving to Dallas:  We were sipping wine and eating honey covered cheese with barley salad in the dark, musty basement of an 11th Century synagogue turned restaurant on a food tour in Rome when Pat’s former boss at the company called. He excused himself and when he came back just as I was staring up at the layers of arches built upon arches of the Roman Empire like some sort of historic lasagna on the dimly lit walls, he whispered in my ear, “I’m up for a promotion and if I get it, we have to move to Dallas.” I hadn’t had enough wine for that news, but I was in happy honeymoon mode, so the blow was softened. The actual offer and offer letter trickled in the next several weeks and everything was finally official three months later at the beginning of December. We’re off in April and while there are moments I get weird often coupled with spontaneous crying because I have to leave some things I love behind, I’m a big fan of change. We have to grow and evolve and experience new things and dive into life every chance we get. I’m ready. Oh, and also, my husband is a stud.

After all of that insanity, I spent the last part of 2014 taking a much needed breath, a deeper look at myself and what I want, switching gears from Denver to Dallas and soaking in the things I appreciate. I captured some of those things on my new DSLR Canon Rebel SL1 – a Christmas present from mom and dad. It’s similar to the cameras I used as a newspaper reporter, so I was able to pick it up and shoot right away. I must say, my subjects are much more patient with a camera in their faces then they were in my journalism days.

12/27/14 – Post Christmas in Kansas City

Introducing a little stranger we call Lucie Liu. What a weirdo this one is. Ten years ago on Christmas Eve, my sister’s friend found her padding through the icy streets with a little red jingle bell around her neck after some idiot apparently dumped an unwanted Christmas present. This is why I often say I like dogs better than people. A dog would never do this to somebody…partly because they don’t have thumbs, but mostly because they only have the capacity to be self-centered jerks when it comes to food. She’s been a part of our family ever since as my sister’s dog and Shadie’s right hand lady. I love her despite her being a complete spook.

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Oh Shadie, the big orange lady…She’s the epitome of the faithful friends we find in dogs. We’ve watched her age gracefully into the 14 and a half year old she is today:  Still mobile; still joyful and wiggly like Labs and Golden Retrievers tend to be. I’ve always admired her rock retrieving skills. We throw a small pebble into the lake and she dives down, pulls up a big boulder from the bottom, brings it back to you on the beach, then stares at you wondering why you’ve collapsed on the sand laughing. The way she looks at you…you can almost see her shaking her head sarcastically at the silly humans. This old girl has a sweet, deep soul. There’s a person in there, I just know it.

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Remi, my first born, er, I mean, my sister’s first born. Sometimes I feel like she’s mine because I’ve been close by as she has grown up and more than one joker thinks she looks like me right down to the dental records. Sorry I passed that down to you, kid; An orthodondist’s dream. Staying close has been constantly on my mind now that I’m 600 miles away. Remi is always on your level no matter how old, smart, dumb, fat, skinny, kind or otherwise. She adjusts to the conversation like somebody wise beyond her years. The thing I noticed most during this last visit was her kindness. I don’t know many 7-year-olds that care about other people and their feelings, but she does, including her little sister’s…beautiful child, inside and out.

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“I’m mad at you, Auntie Harn.” This one actually said that to me. Kailer has no problem telling anybody exactly how she feels including her special Aunt who would walk on nails and hot coals for her; a tiny tyrant in pink footy pajamas. Of course, that week was full of late nights and Santa/present excitement, which don’t necessarily equate to the best of moods in almost 3-year-olds. She’s actually incredibly loving and it can also be difficult to be the little sister, so I’ll always have a soft spot for her because of that. This feistiness will serve her well as she comes into her own. She’s already well on her way to being freaking hilarious as a mini Jim Carey with that animated face and daily comedic performances. Keep the Kai-isms coming baby sister.

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These were big Santa gifts for the girls and I had to distract them with promises of puppies and candy, so I could get a turn. The amount of time I actually spent on these little scooter things is not embarrassing at all for a big kid like me, but these gals look much cuter and much less gangly on them.

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My own dogs served an even greater purpose during this trip home:  Healers and companions for my parents who are mourning the loss of their dog, Wolfgang. His health and quality of life had declined rapidly during the past year and they made the decision to let him go about a week and a half before Christmas.

About 11 and a half years ago, I convinced my parents they needed another dog in the summer of 2003 after my childhood dog had passed away months earlier. We found Wolfie on an adoption site and my dad drove all the way from Reno, NV to Simi Valley, CA to pick him up. When he arrived, he looked like some sort of lab experiment; a bunch of parts from different breeds of dogs all stuck together. All we could guess was Corgi mix, so we just went with it; a cinder block stuck on four, two-inch long pegs. Hilarious and joyful antics followed for years: Flinging himself off the deck with glee, hiking mountains, “smiling,” running around the backyard with a plastic flower pot on his head, herding the children at holidays and epic battles with such inanimate objects as a ceramic cat, a plunger and the handheld vacuum. He was a delightful little weirdo that always had us in stitches and we couldn’t have loved him more. To quote my dad, the retired veterinarian, “The only damn thing wrong with dogs is they just don’t live long enough.”

Of course, I’m mourning him, too as I do all my dogs. My parents buried him in the backyard with one of his flower pots and his favorite tug toy like some Egyptian ritual because, “Who knows where dogs go?” My dad said.

wolfie reno

 

12/28/14 – On the Road Again

After about nine days with family, dogs, friends, wine and more friends…and more wine, I was ready to go back west…and I’m pretty sure Pat was ready at about day five with his in-laws, but when you’re constantly vying for favorite son-in-law, one must just grin and drink more wine.

Three hours, one third of the way through an audio book, and maybe two half-assed attempts at a nap later, we were at our usual stop in Salina, Kansas. After trying to keep the dogs from ripping my arms off when they leapt from the truck in a frenzy trying to find the best gas station pee spot in the cold, whipping wind, we settled back inside and waited for Pat. We have this drive down to such a science that there are no words of instruction or discussion, just conversation along the way.

My dad said that while we were off with friends during most of the nights we spent in KC, Andy and Maggie kept the house warm and alive. I’m pretty sure mom and dad were already missing these two at this point. I’m glad they could lend their therapeutic services because I really can’t think of a better way to cope than having a dog under your arm.

Andy:  Little, hyper, avid snuggler

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Maggie:  Big, docile, cuddle averse

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Despite my many protests and exclamations of a soon-to-be move to another state, I couldn’t stop my dad from shoving a couple of boxes of my old high school crap into the back of the truck for me to take home. My dad’s latest obsession since the flood and subsequent repair of my parents’ basement has been to gradually unload everything with my name on it still in his house back onto me. This time I was gifted with copious amounts of stuffed monkeys and dance trophies because your 16-year-old self can never have too many of either one of those.

While the monkeys made their way to the Goodwill pile, I sat and smiled at the trophies for a minute or two. I spent my high school days dancing five hours a day, six days a week and going to five competitions a year all over the country. One year I was in 16 routines. These cheap, plastic winged ladies represented good and bad memories, leadership, discipline, spandex and spunk. But, I think my most favorite thing I got out of all those years of dancing was my mean high kick that I still bust out as an entertaining party trick.

The dogs were pretty intrigued by my unpacking:

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IMG_0177Der, whatcha doing?

IMG_0189What are THOSE?!

IMG_0190Can I eat them? No? Boring.

IMG_0194I enjoyed a few moments of reminiscing, but I’m too practical to keep a box of plastic in my basement. I pulled off a few of the placards, tossed them into a box of keepsakes and sent what remained of the winged ladies off to the landfill.

 

12/31/14 – The Last Hurrah on Fulton Court

Built in 1963, our sweet little house has been the scene of some of the best bashes since your college days. Once we saw the original vintage bar in the basement, we knew it was our job to use it as it was meant to be used.

This house has seen decades of friends gathered here and we did it again on New Year’s Eve perhaps for the last time for us in this place:

Maggie slopped through the snow while Andy barked at everything for no apparent reason…

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Then they both begged shamelessly for chicken wings from strangers. Tiny bums.

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Baby Beau saw midnight on his first New Year.

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I made cookies…

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Friends…

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Bubbles and coining the term Das flute! Those plastic champagne glasses will splash you every time.

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Midnight popper aftermath…we’re still finding little paper streamers all over the house.

 

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A post midnight selfie…my husband:  Beefy, barrel chested and broad shouldered; Always good for that bear hug you try to wiggle away from, but end up staying in because you didn’t even know you needed it until it was there. Just 20 seconds squished into one of those and everything else falls away. My human Prozac.

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And, cheers to an excellent 2015.

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First New Year’s resolution:  Don’t leave the Kokanee out on the patio…

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And, other New Year’s Resolutions? Be happy, do what I want and take some of those Hail Mary chances to make it happen. I think I’m already on my way.

Aug 08

Furniture Upcycling – Crappy Cabinetry

I wanted to be a furniture designer in high school. Orange Wolf Designs was born in 2000 when a wide-eyed, 17-year-old me obsessed with the orange and purple color combination, drew an orange wolf lounging on a curvy, modernistic purple couch in art class. Right about the time I started paying off the many make-me-want-to-barf dollars I’d spent on my advanced business education, I had a horrifying, fleeting thought that maybe I should have gone to art school instead. Der. No.

Of course, no furniture designs ever came out of Orange Wolf Designs. My preoccupied teenager mind didn’t understand it at the time, but the creation of this drawing was actually a branding project instead of a “what do you want to be when you grow up” assignment. And, here I am a brand manager. Even though I found my high school experience completely void of any valuable career advice (man, that is really horrible, isn’t it?), I do look back and realize my gravitation to writing, branding, and design was there the whole time. That brief stint in architecture school was all I needed to catapult me in the right direction…but we’ll talk about that later.

Anyway, I’ve been known to keep that furniture designing dream alive by fixing up a cheap and or ugly bookshelf, desk or trunk scavenged from a yard sale here and there. I can’t help myself. My mother, who is also quite gangsta, has done what she calls “drive-bys” on every garage sale with me in the car since I was tiny. It sounds criminal, but really it’s just slowly creeping by a garage sale trying to spot treasures without getting out of your car.

Picking things up on the cheap and repurposing them was not only a fun hobby, but a necessity as a poor college kid trying to fancy up a craptastic apartment. We used to take these crusty, discarded relics, clean them up, then spray paint them. After about a year, I’d usually look at whatever the object happened to be and say, “OK, I’m pretty sure this looks worse than it did before.” I’ve since graduated to real paint, priming, sanding and replacing hardware for much better results.

When we struck out on the garage sale circuit, we could always turn to the cheap, put-it-together-yourself tissue paper furniture section of Target or Wal-Mart where there would literally be a piece of cardboard in the box that you were supposed to use as the back of the cabinet or entertainment center. I’m surprised they didn’t just supply you with a roll of duct tape instead of actual nails. I secretly love putting these things together (also inherited from mommy)…except those three panel drapes from IKEA in our kitchen. Pat and I weren’t even married yet and we almost got divorced over those.

While a bit flimsy and always blandly manufactured looking, these pieces were actually pretty functional. Rented spaces full of expensive, real furniture just never made much sense to me. You’d move after a year and when your friends, who you paid in pizza and beer, jacked the corner of your cardboard box dresser on the door frame it was much less of a big deal than if it would have been your grandmother’s antique bureau.

I actually still have one of these piece meal laminate utility cabinets leftover from my rental days. It had been taking up valuable space in my studio as I was only using it in a very half-assed attempt at jewelry storage.

There’s obviously no sentimental value attached to this thing…unless I had some hidden nostalgia for my last apartment. I’m not a pack rat either, I just really hate wasting anything. If I can reuse something I’ll do it, but this wasn’t really working.

Then Pat provided a shocking confession that he’d been hiding from me as long as we’d known each other. He absolutely hated my antique chest of drawers:

Oh, did I forget to mention they are plastic…and purchased in 2001 when I left home to go live in the dorms at college? Yeah. I used to stuff these drawers full of Cup ‘o Noodles and other highly nutritional dorm cuisine. I’m not really sure what I’ve been thinking keeping this thing all these years and letting it hang out in the open. Like, out in the open of our grown up bedroom in the house we own together as a married couple. I’m worse than a frat boy. I guess they’ve always just served me well, so I never felt the need to upgrade. They’ve literally been taped together and loaded into as many as 12 moving trucks over the years just to sit and be ugly and now, after over a decade of wear and tear, really freaking disgusting. My husband, of all people, finally had to risk the delicate “happy wife, happy life” balance in our home just to make me snap out of it.

Well, it worked, but probably not as well as he wanted it to because guess what? Crappy white utility cabinet got a new home. But, I decided it needed a makeover first. It was a power tool-worthy project and any day when power tools are used is a good day.

After gathering some inspiration and tips on crap furniture refurbishing, I bought my own power sander, some primer, paint and picture frame moulding from Home Depot and some drawer pulls from Hobby Lobby’s ridiculously extensive collection, then got to work.

I removed the doors, hinges and original plastic pulls then started sanding. I sanded the ever living crap out of this thing and the white laminate would not budge. They should probably start using it on storm shelters. Then, I eventually managed to get some brown to show on some of the corners.

I wanted a bit of an aged look – not like 18th Century old, but maybe beach house shabby – so I picked up a tip from my research and coated the worn spots with candle wax before slapping on a coat of primer. The woman in the tutorial said she used “tea lights that were just hanging around the house.” HA! I have a 13-year-old set of plastic drawers sitting in my bedroom. Why would I have tea lights just lying around? That is far too sophisticated. But, what I lack in sophistication, I make up for in resourcefulness:

It worked just fine and I happen to like the added flair of the sparkles.

After the primer was dry, it was time to fearlessly coat it in some peacock blue paint. That’s the thing about redoing crappy furniture. There’s no risk involved…except for that whole not using the proper tools thing, leaning it up against a patio chair and ripping a huge hole in the back of it. Whoops. I was going to be really lazy and not replace the cardboard backing that had since warped from sitting out on the patio during half a dozen thunderstorms, but this little mishap forced me to find some plywood instead.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I had way too much fun with this one. That’s Pat’s best creepy horror movie eyeball peeking into the women’s locker room impression on the right.

The blue paint kind of makes it look like it belongs in Jimmy Buffett’s beach house and while I vetoed Pat’s idea of gluing seashells all over it, I did bust out the saw for some 45 degree cuts. This contraption used to belong to my Uncle Pete, which provided me with some warm fuzzies while using it, but basically the only thing it taught me was that we need to invest in something that requires me to do fewer pushups in preparation.

I marked all of my cuts on the framing and started the long process of sawing. Right about the time you feel like your arm is going to burst into the flames and fall off, you continue on a few more seconds and then the piece of wood finally drops to the ground. Then you take five to reattach your arm and psych yourself up to start on the next piece.

There are a few things I absolutely will not tolerate – incompetence and simple things taking way longer than they should. The glue I originally bought for attaching the frame pieces together immediately tested both of these annoyances, so I tossed it aside and reached for the Gorilla Glue. Some people call it impatience. I call it efficiency.

After a couple coats of white primer, I decided to attach the frames to the cabinet doors and realized they were ragingly crooked. I sort of noticed when I was gluing them together before, but I might have been too deliriously exhausted from sawing, not to mention out of wood, to care all that much. I put them on the doors anyway. It looks a little Dr. Seuss-esk, but I like it that way. This is why I would have been a terrible architect. My attraction to organized chaos rather than perfection is a quality unsuited for inhabited building design.

I finished it up by reattaching the doors, drilling new holes for the knobs and going over it again with the sander to pull off the pieces of candle wax:

This thing is cool and functional – Orange Wolf-worthy. The inside now houses all of the stuff I had shoved into the plastic drawers as well as a new and improved jewelry organizer:

While I’m not sad to see the little plastic set of drawers go, I still haven’t thrown them out yet. I think I’ll wait until Pat gets home and let him do the honors. I’m pretty sure he’s earned the privilege.

 

Jul 15

Slow Your Roll

I walked into the house after a rousing day in the third grade and heard a strange *splish, splash, splish* coming from my parents’ bathroom. While some of my friends’ parents treated their master suites like sanctuaries by posting no trespassing signs for their children, the linen closet in ours contained the family’s stash of necessary goods – ointment for ailing pierced ears, hair bows and band-aids. So, it was perfectly normal for me to march in there to investigate.

I flicked on the light and saw the source of the splashing sounds was a foot-long snapping turtle swimming laps in the bathtub. While most 9-year-olds would be at least mildly surprised at the sight of a large reptile taking a dip in the master bath, I thought nothing of it.

It was the kind of thing my father did all the time. A veterinarian turned veterinary pathologist and a renowned turtle-crossing-the-road rescuer, he would usually just stop and try to prevent our shelled friends from being crunched by passing motorists scooting them off the road in the direction they were heading. But, on not so rare occasions, his fascination with animals and a particular love for the turtle made these creatures end up in a box…or the bathtub at our house for a few days before he released them back into the wild.

The residential Doctor Doolittle, if he wasn’t bringing in the animals, the neighborhood children were bringing them to him. The baby birds that had fallen out of nests didn’t usually fair well despite hourly feedings via eyedropper, but the turtles? They were tough. One summer the kids brought him a half squished, yet still living box turtle with a split shell full of maggots. He cleaned it up, used epoxy to glue the shell back together and after a few short weeks in a homemade cage in the neighbors’ garage, we all gathered to watch our perfectly healthy and patched up pal plod off into a nearby field.

I saw a fan club form around him that day. I imagine that if he were to walk into the woods with his arms stretched out and his face to sky belting out a note, birds would start landing on his arms and all the little woodland creatures, especially the turtles, would gather around him a la Ace Ventura, Pet Detective – minus one pompadour, plus one beard.

However, my favorite turtle he ever brought home, by far, was Myrtle. In the early 1970s, he picked the little silver dollar sized turtle up trying to cross the road, dropped her in his shirt pocket, went to a race of some kind…cars…motorcycles…something that goes vroom vroom…and forgot about her. She ended up back at the house…then stayed for 32 years. A protein-rich diet caused her baby shell to grow a little jankety, so my dad’s usual catch, bathtub, release program went awry and he kept her.

Myrtle the Turtle

 

I was born into a family that had a turtle walking around the house like a dog and nobody within the walls thought it was strange in the least. The first time I realized it was different was when Myrtle crawled out into the living room during a neighborly visit and the neighbor girl squealed and pranced up into the chair like she’d just seen a mouse. I remember looking at her with a furrowed brow thinking, it’s just a turtle, lady. Some people…

Myrtle’s miniature dinosaur tendencies always had my sister and I scouring the neighborhood after a rainstorm gathering worms just so we could watch her slurp them up like spaghetti. She also had an annual appearance at school show and tell where she’d chomp on strawberries, a little red, Kool-Aid mustache forming on her beak as she went, while I fielded the usual, “where does she go to the bathroom?” questions from my peers (she went on the paper we put under her when she ate, by the way). Her school performances also spawned wide spread rumors that we had a turtle elevator in our house and we let her sleep in bed with us. Of course, I’m not sure what’s more disturbing, the child that made up turtle elevator rumors or the kid that had a turtle running around her house.

When we weren’t supplying her with the neighborhood’s freshest bugs or entertaining our friends, she was just our pet. She begged at the dinner table, we patted her on the head and we even cheered her on during her epic battles with shoelaces, belts and any other household items that resembled food she encountered in her journeys across the fuzzy expanse that was the first floor’s wall-to-wall carpet. You really had to watch your toes! While she was understandably and accidentally stepped on from time-to-time making a *swoosh* when she tried to tuck herself into her shell, we loved her and we loved the experience. Anybody that spent any time at our house has a Myrtle story to tell.

She died when I was in college after 32 years of crawling around the Hastings household. I’m not sure if we set any captivity records, but she most definitely had the life of a reptile queen and we a richer, more fascinating childhood. I think about that piece of my life everyday.

My dad has given me many things besides a pet turtle:  Planned responsibility, respect for living things, a love for music, a quirky can-do spirit (I can fix just about anything and often in a Macgyver-like fashion when necessary.) and the ability to not give a sh*t about the people who don’t like it. He always says, “I’m a nerd and proud of it!” Then he props his thumb up on his nose and wiggles his fingers in a mocking gesture. I will never be one of the cool kids and I never wanted to be because he makes the art of nerdiness far more admirable…said the girl who grew up with a turtle hibernating in the coat closet.

But, when Father’s Day rolled around, I saw no better gift than immortalizing Myrtle via embroidery thread. I went old school with Mother’s Day, so it was time to do the same for Dad. Even though it’s hard to go cutesy for a guy, this has a particular sentimental thought behind it. He can throw this on the couch in his man cave:

 

 

I added “Slow Your Roll” just to go with the turtle stereotype, but Myrtle was actually quite speedy…especially when there was a hot dog in her line of sight.

Believe it or not, the guy that brought a turtle home to live with us like a dog, was and is still the most practical person I know. While I appreciate this inherited trait in myself on most occasions, I have to push it away to be the dream chaser I really want to be. His dream of animal medicine just happens to be more practical than my non-starving writer dream. Imagine that.

I know I will always forget my cup of tea in the microwave and pieces of furniture will suddenly fling themselves out of the darkness of night just to collide with my freakishly long second toe causing me to drop to the floor and roll around in astonished agony screaming, “How the hell did that even happen?!” No, I do not constantly stub my toes on everything like a clumsy idiot…the bed frame is trying to kill me…I swear.

I get it all from Dad…except one thing:

I may help a turtle cross the road, but I will never put one in my pocket, forget about her and then bring her home to live with my family for 32 years. That’s a quality reserved exclusively for Dad and it’s definitely one of my favorites.

 

Jun 29

Soul Food

“Whatever’s good for your soul…do that.”

 

One who is job hunting may believe telemarketers have it made.

As if the relentless harassing of strangers with a targeted pitch and wistful, unproductive stares at the phone followed by rejection (or complete silence) wasn’t deprecating enough, it never fails that as soon as the job hunter is ready to hit send on a perfectly crafted package of job obtaining awesomeness in the wee hours of the morning, the position closes or the internet connection mysteriously fails.

WHHHHHHY?!

Then you scream “POS!” so loud at 1 a.m. that you hear a muffled *berga berga berga* coming from the bedroom, realize you’ve woken up your poor spouse and now he’s dragged into your mess (yeah, right, like he wasn’t already).

But, you know, that’s not me. That’s job hunters.

Anyway, after a particularly rough Monday morning this past week, I decided it was time to crawl out of my hole and into some enlightening activities. I started clicking “register” and “join” all over the place and texting the friends that were long overdue for a visit. My week soon filled with productive, feed-your-soul kind of things. It was like my normal, non self-loathing life in overdrive.

 

My anti-procrastination mantra I adopted a couple of years ago that works wonders on everything from cleaning, to getting off the couch to job hunting. Just don’t tell Nike I stole it from them.

 

In an effort to avoid listing the mudane to-do items I’ve crossed off my list a la terrible Facebook status updaters the world over (please stop doing that…post a video of a cat knitting or something, just not your productive day of laundry, childcare and picking up dry cleaning), I’ll sum it up my week into networking and friends.

My motivation actually kicked off the week before when I sent an email to a few of the women I traveled to China with in business school as an invitation to a happy hour at Govnr’s Park and the majority of them showed up. It was like one of those signs from the universe telling you that everybody wants and needs a little interruption from the usual grind. They’re just waiting for an invitation. Of course, I really hate waiting, so I’m usually the invitation provider. It’s that Type-A thing (quit making that face. It’s not that bad.). Reconnecting with a group that contains so many different personalities is almost exhilarating for an extrovert on lockdown like me. A light bulb went on. It was exactly the thing I needed to continue doing to keep myself up during this head-in-my-hands period of time.

Speaking of hating, does anybody actually like networking events? I really, really dislike them. There. I said it. Everybody I’ve talked to says they hate them as well, but it always seems like I’m feeling more ill at ease at these things than everybody else. As a former newspaper reporter, I have absolutely no problem walking up to a complete and sometimes very important stranger and making friends. However, minus my little notepad, pen and giant camera, I get a little bit Tina from Bob’s Burgers. Duuuuuuh. I like turtles.

I mean, it’s probably not THAT bad, but yeah…yeah it is.

So, in an attempt to make them bearable, I focused on only going to networking events that feature an educational speaker. The first one talked about marketing integration and gave me that wiggly feeling in my stomach I had in graduate school and now during certain projects that tells me I’m in the right profession. The second one was about using creativity in everyday situations, which I don’t need lessons on since that’s that only way I think (although I didn’t know it until I went to this thing, so there you go), but I did gain some teaching tools. I connected with a few people and while there were still nametags, the awkward stranger-in-a-bar vibe was gone making it much more enjoyable.

The rest of the week was filled with friends:  A couple of old greats mixed with brand new ones at a bar trivia night (Did you know the skin of an onion is called a tunic? Stimulating.), one of my oldest in Colorado and dearest in general at brunch and an impromptu pit stop at my house, my dearest of the dear at home everyday and a “business meeting” with one I used to work with. Business meetings with wine are way more fun, by the way. Goals are made, personal grievances are aired, crafts are shared and everybody leaves feeling happier and motivated.

This is what I have to hang onto and keep doing when I’m up late staring at yet another description, writing yet another letter and having yet another tinge of hope that not just somebody, but the right somebody will take notice. I’m picky, too after all. Learning keeps me going and while I’m trying to impress a stranger by jumping up and down and doing back flips via a piece of paper, my friends don’t need impressing. They need good company and that’s a job I know I’m good at…no resume required.

 

May 13

Mama Said…

Well, this sucks…

I had grand plans to spend my entire Saturday elbow deep in animal crap enriched dirt planting our massive garden, but a little peek at Sunday’s weather made me decide to hold off a few days.

The freak snowstorms in May aren’t really that freaky in Colorado. I’m constantly trying to convince people from my home state of Kansas that the winters here are actually much milder and sunnier than any in the midwestern tundra. They never believe me and I’m pretty sure it’s because of days like this.

Fatty fat snow making trees touch the ground:

Seriously, Colorado, you A-hole. Poor lilacs.

But, after seeing the trees and bushes bend to touch the ground, trudging around with brooms trying to relieve the branches from the weight and mourning the loss of all the flowers, 36 hours later, it’s almost like it never happened…minus the inevitable limb clean up.

To all of those KC people who pointed a finger and told me to enjoy the snow in mid-May, I’m pointing a different finger back and telling you to enjoy your perpetual schweaty balls. Now, I’ll be basking in high desert paradise where the shade actually works and my hair looks fabulous all summer long. I’m totally going to laugh at your Kansas summer fro.

Now, to get this jungle out of my kitchen:

 

The Sunday snow had me preoccupied, but not enough to forget Mom. Mother’s Day has always been breakfast in bed, homemade cards, amaryllis bulbs and my mother exclaiming loudly and proudly at all of them…even the eggshells that almost always made it into my sister’s gourmet room service. She’s always been our biggest fan. She thinks I am the funniest, smartest and most talented person she’s ever met. Even when I’m face palming myself, which happens often, I can always count on her to laugh wholeheartedly and make me feel like I get myself into these situations on purpose just to entertain others.

This year I decided to go a little old school and do a handmade gift. The fact that my skills have evolved since fat Crayola markers on a vintage ream of computer paper combined with my mom’s minimalism made it a safe bet. I remember her walking into my dorm room at K-State with every square centimeter of the white brick walls covered with an explosion of late teen-dom and refraining from “fixing” things. I’ve since scaled down my crap collection because like almost all daughters come to realize…I’m turning into my mother. I won’t give anybody anything unless it’s inherently useful, meaningful or provides an upgrade or replacement, so that’s what I did.

I’m a card maker already, so I cranked this out in a few minutes for Mom, then had some fun shoving that seemingly little yellow flower into an envelope:

Then, I finished up a project I had already started. I taught myself to hand embroider a couple of months before my wedding when I decided I wanted to give my bridesmaids and flower girl embroidered vintage handkerchiefs. I sat on my couch in my down time (because you have so much of that when planning a wedding) and hand sewed “No Ugly Crying” among other things into eight of these delicate, little babies. As it turns out, if you’re acquainted with sewing, you can hand embroider, and I ended up kind of liking it despite the old lady image. Pass the Metamucil.

Even though I probably haven’t sewn a pillow since eighth grade home economics class (and can rarely sew anything without cussing loudly at the machine, this project included), I decided to combine my skills and just assess the damage when I was done. No damage assessment necessary:

Olive Juice, to my knowledge, comes from a scene in the movie “The Other Sister” with Juliette Lewis. When you mouth “Olive Juice” it looks like you’re saying “I love you,” to somebody from across the room. It was probably famous before that movie and if anybody knows where it actually came from, shoot me a message.

It was perfect for Mom since her favorite “Click Your Heels” pillow went missing recently – replacement! Yes, click your heels from Wizard of Oz…in Kansas. By all means, ask me where Toto is because all Kansans really love that. No, seriously, I’d love to roll my eyes and fake sarcastic laugh so hard that you wish the flying monkeys would come take your lame ass away. Yeah, Kansas humor; it was never funny.

And, I don’t care how old I get, it’s hard to be this far away from Mom. It always will be. She has taught me so much about character, letting things roll, perseverance and doing your own thing. She has fielded countless phone calls, even just in the past four years, about everything from being homesick to heartbreak to happiness. There’s nobody else that will ever teach, listen or get through to me the way that she does. I told her in the card that I was saying “Olive Juice” from afar. You’re supposed to say it from across a room, but it covers larger distances, too.

Then, as always with my most adoring fan, she exclaimed via text, then again when I called her later in the day, “You could sell these and sell out of them! You’d need a factory!” A mother’s affirmations are always appreciated and never ignored, but this time I’m taking this one and running with it.

I’ve been thinking about re-opening my Etsy shop now that I’ve learned the ropes of business and marketing. Any dummy can run an Etsy shop, but I’m going to dare to guess that one would be more successful with such a background. My first attempt didn’t fail as much as it fizzled out when Colorado, graduate school and my desire to do something more (and three jobs) consumed my life. In fact, with zero marketing and minimal effort I had a couple of online sales and even had my product in a local boutique as well as an art show within a short time.

Now, of course, it’s a difficult full time job, a husband, house, dogs, travel and 40,000 other hobbies that overload my schedule, or lack there of.  But, when you want it, you focus and figure it out. Listing No. 1:  Olive Juice…Listing No. 2: ??? But, something different. I have a list of ideas and a long way to go. I’m not quitting my difficult job yet, but I’m definitely dreaming about it (Shameless plug:  I’m still, and always, freelance copywriting, as well. Contact me for more information). Here’s the logo I whipped up today for Etsy:

Copyright © 2014 Lara Hastings

All Rights Reserved

Aren’t you just dying for an Olive Juice pillow of your very own? You know you are. Everybody’s doing it. Hopefully, I’ll let you know shortly where you can buy one.

Apr 28

Signs of Life

I turned 31 yesterday and while that may seem far less significant than what happened about three weeks ago, everyday your feet hit the floor is significant. Plus, I still can’t seem to wrap my words around the complexities of the wedding and marriage quite yet. Pat and I made it official on April 5 and with all of the emotions and details and thoughts and stories, I’ve only since pieced together a few coherent thoughts to put on paper. It’s funny how you’re an overwhelmed bundle of crazy when planning the day that’s supposed to epitomize love and happiness. While I tried hard not be stressed during the entire process, it didn’t always work. I also didn’t realize how stressed (and absolutely nuts) I actually was until after it was all over and I sat up most of the night the Sunday after buzzing like I was coming down off this self induced, drug-free high. I think I’m still coming down from it and just trying to settle down, which is part of the reason I’m not ready to revisit it yet. What I do know at this point was that April 5, 2014 and the days leading up to it were the happiest of my life, so we definitely got the most important part right. I was also extremely content with how it all came together and played out. More on that later.

Life continues to be happy especially post wedding now that I’m reminiscing instead of feeling the weight of a heavy to-do list hanging over my head. Oh, believe me, there’s still a list. There’s ALWAYS a freaking list, but this one is light, airy and dreamy:  Spring blooming of all kinds.

Last Sunday, one week before my day of birth, and right around the time everybody in North America starts bitching about their allergies (including me on a smaller scale), Pat and I decided to take the green grass and the blooming cherry tree as a sign to kick start the growing season. Last year, we built a tiny, crude garden box, threw in some soil and a few seeds in late May and watched incredulously as it exploded into a vegetarian’s paradise. Neither one of us knew what we were doing and we still don’t, so I like to blame our success on that one time when I was 5-years-old and I accidentally grew corn in my mom’s garden from a handful of popcorn kennels – a green thumb and pure luck. The Colorado sunshine and a buttload of chicken shiz infused soil probably helped a little, too.

This was when I rescued the last of the vegetables before the first big frost last October. We were still shocked then as I pulled carrot after beefy carrot out of the ground:

While Pat pruned unruly bushes on the outskirts of the yard that Sunday, I sat on the patio, cranked up the music on my phone and pushed microscopic seeds into tiny pods in miniature, makeshift indoor greenhouses. There was no reasoning behind what I chose to throw in there other than the fact we got free seed packets from a wedding last September and managed to keep track of them for seven months. I just planted pretty much everything. Without expectation, four days later signs of life appeared:

Duct tape fixes everything…including squirrel eaten greenhouses that you accidentally left outside…

Once again, I am amazed by the near instant gratification.

Construction also began on Pat’s new garden box, which will apparently eat last year’s old rickety one (pictured). The massiveness of this thing is going to be ridiculous…if it ever gets done and we have the same kind of luck as last year, we might have to hire ranch hands to help us manage it…then open our own farmer’s market.

The cherry blossoms make the backyard smell like delicious cake.

Speaking of blooming, Andy and Maggie are beside themselves jolly.

Being around some joyfully happy dogs is one of my favorite kinds of therapy.

Then, suddenly it was time to say Happy Birthday. It kind of snuck up on me this year.

This photo was taken on my 30th birthday:

It was part of our first engagement shoot done by my friend Kate and there’s not another picture that represents our life together better, especially on that day. It later became our Save the Date. I saw turning 30 as a rite of passage rather than getting older. People flew in from all over the place and dressed up in costumes from different decades to help me celebrate. My parents showed up dressed as beatniks and I literally fell to my knees laughing. Who knew if would get even more hilarious when my mom almost dropped the cake with all the candles lit, Pat acted as bartender in a terrible 80s rocker rug and Lacey a.k.a. Audrey Hepburn finally fell asleep sitting up at the table at 4 a.m? These were all things I wanted to write about last year, but found myself too wrapped up in wedding madness to sit down and do it.

This year was far more tame…and now I just feel old balls. Just kidding – like I said, the more birthdays that come and go, the more spunk for life I develop. There’s no definitive photo this year, however, birthday celebration number 31 will forever mark the year I realized our parties will never be the same. I drank my favorite Apricot Blonde beer at Dry Dock Brewery, then far too much wine (as if there was such a thing) when we moved the group back to our house. No costumes required this time. Then, I noticed the extremely apparent increase in the presence of tiny humans…five to be exact and a sixth one at home with a sitter…Plus, two more on the way. And, the house was also empty by 11 p.m…on a Saturday night. I’ll blame that last one on the onslaught of Spring and Coloradans’ baffling obsession with running all sorts of knee cracking, lung busting races on Sunday mornings. All three of us not currently involved in procreating or distance running of any kind went to the neighborhood bar to finish off the night.

The next day, dreary weather, sweatpants and the Back to the Future trilogy ruled the day, which was exactly what I wanted. The art of doing nothing is usually lost in my obsession to whittle down a to-do list no matter how light, airy and dreamy. But, opening Pat’s birthday gift to me brought me back to life and I started making pasta, of all things, at 9 p.m.

Unlike the disappointing toys of our childhood – robotic, possessed dollies posing as lifelike newborns and remote controlled hoopties disguised as shiny Ferraris – this thing actually worked as advertised. The accidentally domesticated housewife in me found it highly amusing, smiling as the mess I made actually transformed into something pretty and edible. Despite the usual why-would-you-do-that reaction to homemade pasta, it’s surprisingly easy with the magical power of Kitchen Aid attachments. The mixer itself is a piece of art. Don’t be afraid of it.

Amber waves of flour, eggs and water.

What you should be afraid of, though, is the pasta that goes bump in the night. After stomping out of the bedroom to escape a relentlessly snoring husband at 2 a.m., I settled in on the couch. Unfortunately, Andy did as well and in a Jack Russell’s world that means on top of you. I was hot, I was itchy, the dog wouldn’t get off me, then wait…what the hell was that? *ping ping ping* Just when I was sure a burglar was picking the lock, I realized that it was just raining pasta in the kitchen. The drying noodles were becoming brittle, breaking and dropping onto the counter in chunks. It took several pasta showers for me to figure it out and instead of getting up and fixing it like a logical, not deliriously exhausted person, I stayed trapped (and hot and itchy) under the Jack Russell on the couch and we both jolted awake every time another piece of pasta pinged off the counter. The adventures of the formerly domestically disabled never cease.

Now that I’ve eased my weary wedding warrior self back into post wedding life with gardening, jolly dog therapy, 31st birthdays and pasta rain, it’s time to get serious:  Finding a career mentor, a possible Etsy revival, a resume redesign and online portfolio updates are up next…and maybe I’ll mix in some more gardening and pasta rain, just to keep it interesting.

Jan 13

American Girl Millionaire

While I usually not only shamelessly enjoy, but practically revel in my diaper-free, childless life, I found myself in the most precarious of places yesterday for the first time – the American Girl store.

Oh. My. God.

*pause for mouth to hang agape*

The above is what I did when I walked in the door and it only got worse from there. The only two things I knew about the place before I decided to innocently wander in was that my niece loved it and it looked pretty tame from the outside.

Despite my current love of non-peanut butter smeared couches and places that don’t allow strollers, being an aunt is something I happen to enjoy. Part of that is being able to indulge my nieces in something that would otherwise be spoiling by a mother and it’s a real treat for them and me. I say tossing a gift at them five or six times a year does not a spoiled child make. It’s nowhere near grandma status, anyway. So, since my American Girl loving niece has a birthday coming up, I thought I might find a little purse or something for her doll…

…and that, my friends, was the understatement of the year.

It is not only the land of 18-inch tall, buck toothed dollies and their wardrobes that are more extensive than mine, but it is also the place where little girls’ heads explode and bank accounts die.

The sound when Pat and I walked in was enough to scramble your brain and put you in a straitjacket. One little girl’s voice is sweet and unassuming, but the sound of several dozen mixing together in a place like that, yammering and cackling non-stop sounded more like a swarm of locusts and the impending apocalypse.

“Grandma! I found Isabelle!” One girl shrieked, her hair frizzed out on both sides of her head, both front teeth missing and a look of pure joy on her face. “I FOUND ISABELLLLLLLLLLE!”

My eyes narrowed to block out some of the bright patterns and doll stares coming at me from all directions as we made our way around one corner in search of something birthday gift worthy. I felt like an over stimulated cat and resisted the urge to bite somebody then scamper away. As overwhelmed as I was, I was also fascinated by both the meticulous detail and excess of it all. Tiny dresses, lacrosse sticks, jerseys, custom screen-printed t-shirts and leg warmers abound all sold separately for maximum wallet impact. The little girls can also pick the doll that looks just like them:  All different skin and hair colors, ethnicities and stories – glasses, freckles, braces, crutches, sporty, girly, on and on and on. At one point, Pat pointed and exclaimed, “Look! That one’s in a bubble bath and has head gear!” I think it’s safe to say that Pat was just as dizzied as I was.

The thing is, I would have LOVED this place as a 7-year-old. I remember the American Girl books – JUST the books. There were three or four ratty copies in the school library that the second grade girls adored and fought over. If only my little girl brain had the knowledge then that it does now…or if they taught the concepts of business and entrepreneurism at a younger age in schools…a light bulb would have gone on and I could be on top of this dolly-crazed empire.

At one point, I managed to zero in on one of the books kind of squeezed in between the perfectly organized chaos of doll-sized riches, thankful they actually survived the madness. I remember the stories about the girls with lovely underlying messages of bravery, kindness, doing the right thing and being anything you wanted to be – a far cry from Barbie’s message of, you know, absolutely nothing. The stories and messages seemed to remain intact, but I wondered if anybody even noticed or cared about them amidst the showy displays of tiny shoes, nightgowns and dogs.

I thought about it as we continued to browse, our eyes going up and down the individual aisles, not sure where to look next. Eventually, we crossed over the front entrance again and to the other side of the store. I was admiring a $40 ballerina ensemble complete with a gorgeous gold metallic tutu and lace up ballet slippers when Pat caught my attention again. Turning around, I caught sight of a woman spritzing a doll’s hair with a spray bottle then spinning it around in a miniature version of a barber chair.

“What color bow do you want in her hair?” The woman asked, leaning towards the little girl in front of her, raking a brush through the doll’s damp hair with a crunching sound.

At that point, my head sort of involuntarily tipped to one side as I stared agape. It was a doll salon. Apparently, that’s why all the girls running around were already clutching their dolls. They had an appointment for a cut and color or rather their dolls had an appointment for a spritz and style. I pictured the employees heading to the American Girl Hair Academy to learn how to correctly fashion dolly’s hair into a French twist with miniature flat irons and teensy tiny cans of volumizing mousse.

“Oh. My. God.” I said, out loud this time.

Right about then, a man with spiked hair and a bewildered demeanor wandered by. He must have heard me exclaim because he stopped and turned to us.

“You can pay to have the doll’s ears pierced,” he said, wide-eyed like a man that had spent the better part of the afternoon and his last paycheck at the store.

I just shook my head. Pure genius, I thought. Pat’s brow furrowed in response.

“What the hell do they do, get out a drill?”

I’d venture to say they have special, branded piercing guns just like the cheap jewelry stores in the mall, but picturing one of the highly trained doll salon ladies whipping out a power drill to pierce dolly’s ears was far more entertaining.

Of course, that was when we fell upon, or rather finally noticed, the section with the doll furniture. I was pretty much done when I found myself staring blankly at “Kit’s ($98) Bistro Set” and realizing that it was more expensive than my first human sized bistro set I owned just out of college. I clutched my chest, sure that I was going to pass out from shock when Pat motioned me over to check out a $90 chaise lounge – the perfect spot for your Southern Belle doll to rest when she’s feeling faint. Then, it was onto the $125 teepee. Oh, the $125 teepee. I was pretty sure Pat’s head was going to fall off. He just kept repeating, “That teepee is $125.” All I could do was think, “give me a few minutes in Hobby Lobby and an hour of time and I could make a better one for $8.” Of course, that wasn’t the point. The coolness of the brand wouldn’t be attached and most little girls wouldn’t appreciate it until they were much older.

As I flashed back to my childhood, using the coffee table as the Barbie house and dreaming up adventures, I couldn’t help thinking that this store was not only the death of bank accounts, but of creativity and imagination, too. Sure, all this stuff was amazing, but were we better off without it?

I was pulled out of my daze by the sight of a little girl gleefully ripping an informational sheet off of the pad in front of a doll slumber party scene, then skittering off to no doubt show it to mom or grandma. While it was a cleaver little money making scheme, it was still adorable and I felt a warm fuzzy spread throughout me…then I pictured the little girl sprouting horns and speaking in tongues when mom said no.

It was time to go.

We walked out the door empty handed and astonished with a slight ringing in our ears. I’ve never been so torn over a child’s toy store in my entire life. The businesswoman in me applauds the brilliance, while the aunt and possible future mother in me chastises it for its exploitation and the important message lost in a sea of dazzling merchandise. Then, of course, the little girl in me thinks it’s absolutely magical.

It’s dangerous to even think about letting my niece run around that store, rip pieces of paper off those little pads and bring me the entire stack with a giant, toothless smile on her face, but me wandering around this wonderland trying to find something doesn’t do any justice either. If we’re going the American Girl route, she gets to pick it out. That’s 99 percent of the fun for both of us. But, just because a $90 doll chaise lounge exists doesn’t mean she has to have it. Out of all those little slips of paper, she can pick one and only one on a special occasion. And, in the meantime, on all those “non special occasions,” maybe we’ll make that $8-better-than-the-store teepee together, talk about it and have some fun because that’s what we’re supposed to do:  Instill some balance and perspective while encouraging imagination despite the existence of the “we already did it all for you” world we live in now.

My urge to spoil has always been in check, but now even I’ve gained a fresh perspective courtesy of American Girl. I straddle both worlds – the money making business world and the realistic personal world – on a daily basis and its important to not only keep them separate, but also teach the existence of both as well as the differences between them.

All I have to say is, if you have a younger little girl or are expecting one, you might want to pop your head into one of these stores, marvel at it like you’re 7-years-old again, then be afraid. Be very afraid.

As Pat and I continued down the path back towards our car, walking arm in arm, frightfully aware, yet blissfully unaware of what lies ahead of us all at the same time, the gears continued to crank in my head.

“I’m going to put that sewing machine to better use, learn how to make doll clothes, then make millions,” I said. “We’d be set for life.”

Ah, yes, if only it were that simple.