Weather Report

We have been home almost two weeks now, and I think we are just beginning to feel the delayed adjustment pains. Both kids have been challenging, the 2yo fussy like he’s sick but he doesn’t appear to be actually sick. The 4yo sensitive like only a daughter of mine could be, and reverting to 2yo style screaming fits– except so much more sad and personal. She needles me and needles me and needles me until I finally get mad and blow my top, and then she wails with wounded fury. She said the other day, “When you talk so mean to me, I think you don’t love me.” And although the whole of it is obviously a composed plea for my attention, focus and care, that end point of rejection is painfully uninvented.

For my own part, the back pain that started a few months ago has reared it’s ugly head again. It’s hard to patiently lift up your 4yo who wants to be carried to quell her Lost Home anxiety when your back is already screaming it’s own song. My Man keeps saying, “Just rest it” and I give him a big ole middle finger.

I have started working already, earlier than we’d planned, but only one day/week. We are strapped for cash in this after law school, before taking the Bar limbo. I was filling out the paperwork for Medicaid yesterday and it asked for level of schooling completed for both adults. Mine was 12th grade, which looked about right on a form for government assistance, but when I wrote out “law degree” for My Man, it seemed a bit silly. But how is anyone supposed to make this gap between school loans and steady income when graduation culminates in two months of intensive study for The Biggest Test of All? At any rate, my job here is the most basic sort, working the till and milkshake machine at our local taco joint. I realized the first day that the work was strangely similar to what I am used to– cleaning and service. But, the ability to carry through with each task is a pleasure. None of the customers (so far) hang on my leg and cry.

My emotional homecoming has been unexpectedly complicated. I’m not sure I can even suss it out yet. It feels good to be back, but I feel I am a bit ruined for the weather here. Talking about weather sounds like a joke, but it’s in fact most definitely not. This place is incredible– beautiful mountains, thriving wilderness, old fashioned small town community, the best salmon in the world. But it all comes at a very direct price. 100-160 inches of rain per year. That’s an average of more than ten feet. And cold rain, an average June temperature of 50 degrees. Farenheit.

Brrrr.

The bad weather largely accounts for those good things I mentioned though. The mountains are so striking because they are young and raw, so recently exposed by glaciers that are still only ten miles away. It’s that same enormous pack of ice that makes the river so cold, which in turn makes the salmon so extra-ly luscious with fat. The wilderness is intact because the town is small, and the town is small because the weather is so shit. Between the weather and the remoteness, you have to be devoted to this place to live here, which makes for a very special community.

Every place has trade offs. New Orleans was balmy and lovely for many months of the year, but I had a friend who’s neighbor was shot in his own front yard while his kids watched because he was trying to help someone who’s car was being stolen. I feel like I could take any number of cold rainy days to avoid that creeping fear in the back of my throat.

I am having an awkward time synthesizing these two realities. New Orleans felt real and normal (by the end anyway) and I worried that it had changed me, changed my expectations for normal, that I would feel lost and adrift after the move. Of course the minute we got back to Cordova, the town we had lived in for seven years, the house we had lived in for almost five, it also felt absolutely real and normal. Everything was just the same and I fit right back in as if I had never left. But my brain is simply not big enough to synthesize those two disparate realities. Only one of them can be right, making the other a ghostly dream.

It’s going to take some time to pick it all apart.

In the meantime, here are a few pictures of my new old Homeplace.

the view out our window, where I drink my morning coffee
rediscovered treasures
a few of my overgrown garden beds. that’s creeping buttercup. the wickedest weed this side of the state line. still, nothing compared to three years growth in New Orleans.
i hope to recover and plant two of my beds this year, although it’s already quite late for planting here. just carrots, kale and peas, and the carrots are a gamble.
our second day home, a friend brought over a freshly caught copper river salmon fillet. with potatoes and fiddleheads, a meal of the goddesses.

How to Thrift

***Today’s guest writer explains herself, but let me just say that although she lives a mere two hours away from our New Orleans home, we met here in cyberspace and have never met otherwise. The internet is a strange and glorious beast.***

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Hello fabulous Apron Stringz readers, I’m Charlotte and I blog at Living Well on the Cheap, a spot dedicated to living the good life (in your home, at least) without throwing a bunch of money at retailers. My husband and I both grew up in the suburbs of New Orleans, but we met at LSU in 2006 and never had the heart to leave Baton Rouge. We live in a great little neighborhood a few miles from campus where the streets are lined with oaks and all the houses are vintage.†Decorating, blogging, and thrifting are the creative outlets that help me balance the emotional demands of my career as a social worker. I love trolling thrift stores and estate sales for vintage treasures. There’s something very therapeutic about finding something old and giving it new life!

I haven’t been doing much of it lately in my state of pregnancy-induced exhaustion, but perusing thrift stores is my absolute favorite way to snag awesome stuff for your home. Bear in mind, though, that thrifting is not for the faint of heart. You’ve gotta be patient and creative. Without further ado, here are my six best tips for a successful trip to the thrift store.

Take your time. Move slowly up and down each aisle, being sure to scan every shelf (the shelves of despair, as one of my favorite bloggers calls them). I usually walk down each aisle twice so I can concentrate on one side at a time.

Remove it from the context.†When examining an item for purchase, ignore the thrift store aura and imagine it in your home all cleaned up, hanging out with your stuff.

About half of what you see here is thrifted

Imagine it at its best.†Almost any little knick-knack looks fancy after a coat of high gloss paint. Look past the dated finish of all that 80’s furniture and imagine it painted to match your taste. Clean white? Happy yellow? Sophisticated gray? Classic black? Look for solid wood, quality construction, and a nice shape. If it’s got a cushion, could you reupholster it? (check out my technique for reupholstering a basic cushion†here)

Knack

Ask yourself what you can do with it. †Hang a silver platter as wall art. Use a coffee creamer or small bowl as a teeny tiny planter. Place a small dish as change-catcher near the front door. Repurpose an old dresser as a TV console or dining room buffet. Remove the original art from a frame and use it to display something more your style. Stack books on top of a chair for a unique bedside table. Platters are plentiful and are easily repurposed as trays for corralling everything from remotes to†the contents of your pockets.

Real Simple

Judge a book by its cover.Check out the book section for hardbacks with attractive bindings (take a peek under the dustjacket). Jacket-free hardcovers stacked here and there are oh-so-Pottery Barn.

Pottery Barn

Look at the lamps.Many thrift store lamps have classic shapes. Look for one you can update with a fresh shade or a coat of paint and you can get a Z Gallerie look for a fraction of the price. I’ve also been totally loving patinated brass lately, so all that thrift store lamp may need is an updated shade, no paint necessary.

Z Gallerie

In summary, the key to successful thrifting is to have an open mind. See not what lies before you upon the shelves of despair, but what wondrous whatnots could abound in your home. The proceeds often go to charity, so you’re saving the world by shopping (not to mention saving some of that stuff from ending up in a landfill). What could be better?

Of Houses, Toddler Stools and Spiderwebs

Well friends, I have some exciting news…

No, not that. Hopefully you won’t be hearing that exciting news from me, ever. We hope and intend to keep it to two. Two parents, two hands, two whirling dervishes. It’s simple math. How do you mamas of three survive?! I’d like to know.

No, our exciting news is of the big, boxy, constructed of wood variety. We’re moving! Not far away, and to another rental, but a single! We currently live in a ‘half of a double shotgun,’ New Orleans speak.  Which means a classy, 100 year old duplex. Worse even than a regular duplex, because both sides are completely linear. Seven rooms all in a row, no hallways even (the story is, if all the doors were open, you could shoot a gun straight through without hitting anything). Which means that every room is one wall away from your neighbor. Who is a 50-something confirmed bachelor, not particularly fond of kids, and worst of all works at home. The first year went okay. But… we grew tired of each other.

Funny thing is, he has never complained about the (copious) screaming, he claims he doesn’t hear very well. But what he has always complained about is the running. We have old wood floors, and the sound does really carry. I guess he hears the low vibrating floor sounds better than the high pitched, air-borne banshee screams. But what are you gonna do, right? Kids don’t walk, life is too short. The 3YO has finally learned to “run on her toes” but the 1YO walks as all toddlers I think, bang, bang, bang on his heels.

In August of last year, I suddenly was just over it. I didn’t want to feel the stress of keeping my kids quiet in our own home. And as soon as I realized I wanted to move, I could hardly think about anything else. I was obsessed. I scoured craigslist 4 times a day. We didn’t want to leave the incredibly walk/bike friendly part of town we’re in now, and we didn’t just want to move to another double in hopes of a more understanding neighbor. We needed our own place.

But there wasn’t anything. I mean, not anything. Granted I was looking at a small area, about a mile square. And we have a pretty small budget for a single family home, $1,500 was our top limit. One place came up, soon after I started looking. We applied, but didn’t get it. And then, nothing. For four months!

I had given up. I was resigned by now. We only have another 16 months here. The neighbor’s not that bad. It’s perfectly livable.

But then a friend had a friend! With a house! A single! We’ll be able to run and jump and scream all we want! And it’s not even a shotgun! It has separate bedrooms, that you don’t have to walk through to get to another room! The baby can nap!

Yes, I am a bit excited. It’s just as nice as the place we’re in, though lacking the very old house charm. The location is not quite as ideal, but it’s still perfectly good. It’s about ten blocks away. The yard is a lot bigger. And it has central AC and heat (our current place has window units, loud and obnoxious). The rent is pretty much the same as what we pay now, $1,200, even though it’s a single family home. I think that’s because the neighborhood is slightly lower income. Read: Less pristine white yuppie-ness. Which is good, we’ve always been a bit too trashy for this well-manicured neighborhood. But sadly, as cities go, lower income can also mean less safe. We might have to cut out the night walks.

The only problem with our glorious new digs is that we have to wait till the end of the month to move. Darnitt! I want to move right now.

(Well, okay, the other problem is that it puts me half the distance to the chocolate croissant bakery, La Boulangerie.)

In other news, I’ve been excited to share my latest wood butchering project. A friend here got the Learning Tower for her 14 month old, and I was jealous. It’s basically a large, semi-enclosed stool, so that your little helpers can get up to the counter without fear of falling. When the 3YO was bitty I always just put her up on a chair. She fell a few times, but I didn’t worry too much. For some reason this time I was having a harder time letting go mentally. Maybe it’s because the 1YO is a daredevil. The 3YO was always very adventurous, but she was cautious too. Not this one. He’s a classic boy, I must admit.

Anyway, the Learning Tower looks like a great investment if you’re at the outset of your parenting years. But I just couldn’t pony up the $200 myself. Especially since I had a small stack of scavenged wood under the house (for no particular reason other than that I can’t help myself), and a reasonable amount of building experience under my belt.

This was pretty simple to put together, if you know your way around wood. It took me a couple of hours, and that was with “helpers.” The painting took another hour or more. But I felt it looked a bit too ghetto pre-paint, even for my crude taste.

I decided to make it attach to the counter. In order to be free-standing and stable enough for an adventurous toddler (who would likely grab one side and shake/rock as hard as his little arms could manage, to try to tip it over) it would have to be quite a bit bigger. Also, making wood projects free standing is always harder. You have to make your measurement and cuts perfect, and that’s just not my style. But if you simply attach your slightly wobbly whatever to a stable, stationary thing like a counter, voila!

I happily found some semi-locking hooks and eyes, which work perfectly. I have two sets, one for a station at the counter, and one at the sink, so he can help with the dishes.

I’m quite pleased. It works well, and really cuts down the stress in the kitchen. It’s small enough that it’s not too unreasonable in our little space, especially since we pretty much always had a chair in there before anyway. The 1YO loves it. Unfortunately the 3YO is also quite enamored, there have been a few sadnesses over it already, even though I was careful to stress as we built it that it was his stool.

When I built this, I started out taking a bunch of photos, thinking I would write a How to Do Basic Carpentry for True Beginners post, with this as the project. But as I progressed, trying to think from a true beginner’s standpoint, I realized this project would be a little too complicated if you were really at the point of learning to use a saw and screw gun.

But I really feel that a lot of women have missed out on these basic skills, and they are ever so useful around the home for little projects like this one. If you’re like me, you have trouble learning from a man. I was thinking of maybe doing a tutorial on it, with really in-depth descriptions and photos of how to use the basic tools for a smaller project, like a simple shelf. What do you think?

This would take me quite a bit more time than a regular post. I have seen some tutorials online that work like a class, and cost a small fee. Would anyone be interested in paying $20 or something for an online class like this?

Last order of business is the spiderwebs. Ah, yes.

I have a post-in-progress (post-out-of-progress is more accurate) about kids and messes. I’ve been thinking a lot about it lately. Remember the cute story about the 3YO asking if I was the “Cleaner” and proclaiming herself the “Messmaker?” She used to occasionally throw everything on the floor for fun. Not too bad. Well, since I started my Cleaning Obsession, she picked up the pace a bit. Then a few weeks ago I made the fatal mistake of yelling at her for it, laying on a big, dramatic guilt trip and generally making a scene. Aha. A whole new game.

This is the kind of Little Bit I’ve got, anyone else blessed with this kind?

Even as I yelled at her, I knew I would regret it. And regret it I have, man oh man. She started doing it every couple of days. And when I say she throws everything on the floor, I mean everything. She often does it right after I’ve finished cleaning the house. Making null and void my hour of picking up in a mere 6 minutes.

In an attempt to get at the root cause, I took our big bags of recycling out from under the house the other day and set them in the backyard. I gave her the green flag to throw them around, and she did, but there was no glee in it. The point is to be bad mama. What fun is sanctioned chaos?

But the spiderwebs. I’m not sure why I told the above story, they are related in my brain. But is it because making spiderwebs provides a healthy release for chaos, or because it drives me almost as insane as the throw-everything-on-the-floor game?

Spiderweb making is something she started ages ago, after a Curious George episode. It’s probably hugely educational, challenging one’s physical and mental dexterity. And that’s why I’ve let her continue it as a semi-regular habit. That and the fact that she adores it.

The web construction goes like so, I give her a ball of string and she winds, hooks and twists it around over under and through everything in the room/house/yard/whole fucking world.

Don’t forget now that our house has no hallways, and you have to walk through every room to get to any other room. Talk about claustrophobic. Yeesh.

I’m not sure I can exactly recommend this to you other mamas out there. But I feel like I can’t not recommend it either, it’s such an infuriatingly healthy little excersize. Maybe if you start out with a rule about spiderwebs in the yard only, you’ll do better than I, who has learned by experience what it’s like to be a fly.

Then again, what the hell am I doing??? Stop making messes you damned curious, inquisitive, passionate little monsters. Can’t you go watch TV?

Frillery and Summer Plans

I never did extend my No-Frills 5 to 7, weekend included. Too hard to give up our weekend spending treats. Too hard to even want to.

But we’ll have plenty of time for weekends full of wholesome, creative, money-less activities this summer. Because, have I mentioned? We’re going home! We’ll be in our little coastal (read: cold and rainy) Alaskan town from mid-May through August.

I’ll be working part time, cooking at a local lodge. My Man will be working part time doing the same paper-wrenching he did before law school came along. We’ll split the parenting, which is always how I prefer it.

We do have a house back home, that we’ve been renting out, but we won’t be staying there. We’ll be living in an old broken down school bus! In the same hippie squat where we first lived together in My Man’s homemade tipi. Some folks might consider this going backwards, but we’re excited about it. It’s a great place to be, especially in the summer. It’s only a mile from town, and right off the road, so not bush living by any stretch. We can still go to the library whenever we want. And with a little community of good folks, and woods, marsh and a pond, it’s an awesome place for kids.

Although I haven’t been homesick really at all this winter, now that summer at home is approaching, I’m getting a yearning for mountains, wilderness, moss, dumpster diving, and especially friends who know me well. I’ve really made quite a few good friends here since my poor, lonesome me post. But there’s nothing like people who’ve known you for years… And especially having a community of friends. Pot-luck dinners, music jams, bonfires, “a pack of hippies” as we jokingly call ourselves to go berry picking, plant gathering, and adventuring. I’m sure I’m romanticizing, a lot of my good friends don’t even actually live there anymore, but nevertheless, I’m excited.

Every now and then My Man will get a restless look on his face and say, “Let’s do something fun tonight.” It’s interesting to compare what “something fun” ends up being in these two disparate locales. At home in Alaska, the only “fun” (which really means out of the regular routine) thing I can ever think to do is go for a hike. I had really imagined that here in New Orleans there would be so many exciting things to do at any given time. But in fact, with a toddler and a baby, “something fun” almost invariably means going out to dinner. There’s a few other things we do here, but they pretty much all involve money and consumption. We do walk or ride bikes in the park a lot, or go wandering around in the French Quarter, but even those often lead up to a purchase and frankly feel somewhat unsatisfying without one.

It’s the culture I guess. Here the culture is spending money. And don’t get me wrong, I am definitely enjoying it! I feel like a kid at the candy store with all the incredible food to be had here. (We just ate dinner at a Thai restaurant the other night that was divine. Scallops in a spicy basil sauce. Oh god, so good. But– there was a $52 bill at the end.) Still and yet, I do occasionally have a feeling of weariness about it all. And a sort of gladness that our time here is limited. I know myself, and my weaknesses, and although it’s fine for three years, it would be hard to balance in the long term.

So a little dose of home is in order. Where there are no scallops in spicy basil sauce, no chocolate croissants, no berry brioche, no 100 year old Italian gelato shops to tempt my weak self. Just good friends, fantastic pot-lucks, craggy mountains and wild rivers. Here we come!