Tuesday, December 27, 2016


Marissa's Selfie, December 2016

Our youngest often says things that bring laughter to the family, some of which need to be written down before they disappear into my memory.

The girls were in the midst of opening their gifts when they came across the gift of pajamas. Marissa already had a requested Polaroid camera by her side, an electric blanket and other seemingly more desired items. She opened the box with pajamas and said, "Oh thank goodness -- PAJAMAS!" Apparently both girls were in need of new winter pajamas more than I had thought.

One of the gifts I got for Wayne was a gag gift for "poo-pourri." It came in a box that was called "Master Crapsman" and had two spray bottles of fragrance that you're supposed to spray into the toilet before you use it, and it traps the smell in the toilet.

Later in the day, Marissa and I walked by a bathroom where we could tell the poopourri had been used -- it smelled good, but underneath you could tell...it didn't.

"Well I'm glad Dad's using it" Marissa says, "It's a gag gift, but he really needs to use it. It helps the whole family."

Monday, December 26, 2016

Christmas Eve Birthdays

My dad's birthday is on Christmas Eve; he would have been 72. This is the first birthday that he is celebrating in heaven.

Summer 2015
Growing up, Dad would get a single gift from friends and relatives that would be both his birthday and Christmas gift -- he usually didn't have birthday parties, since everyone was busy with holiday festivities. He felt like he didn't have birthdays like other kids did, and carried this sentiment into his adult life.

When my sister and I were kids, my mom made sure that Dad's birthday gifts were wrapped in birthday paper, Christmas gifts in Christmas paper. Every member of our family got to choose what the dinner was on their birthday, and for years my dad chose lasagna. My mom's homemade lasagna was our family's dinner on December 24th for years. All of his adult life my sister and I got him birthday gifts, even though we had stopped exchanging gifts with each other and my mom years before.

The traditions continue though he is gone.

My cousin Sam and his family live in Minneapolis now, and we invited them to join us Christmas Eve for church service and dinner. His parents drove up from Illinois and joined us as well. These are all relatives on my dad's side of the family, so it was appropriate that we were all together. Plus, they are wonderful people, and we enjoy visiting with them all.

We gathered around the tables set with the china from my childhood, china that my dad had bought for my mother while serving during the Vietnam War. We feasted on homemade stuffed pasta shells (the closest I can come to making lasagna), told stories and went through a few bottles of wine.

And, just like old times, we celebrated a birthday. This time it was Theodore's, my cousin's son who was born on December 24th last year.

Theodore unwrapping his gift.

A toy like the ones my girls loved when they were his age.
It was wonderful to spend this day with my extended family, making new memories and new traditions.

John and Deb Nemanich, Theodore, me, Marissa and Wayne, Sarah and Sam. Missing: Lindsey, who had a migraine

Saturday, December 10, 2016

The Mom Photo Syndrome

In our family, I'm usually the one behind the camera. Whenever I see a moment happening that I want to preserve, I grab my camera and snap it. From birthday parties, to moments of sweetness between daughters or daughter and dog, I am often taking photos of the family.

The day we got Beauty.

Sisterly silliness at the apple orchard this fall.

Recently I've been working to clean up our photo library, which is constantly growing and, outside of being in chronological order, is difficult to search.

Luckily iPhoto has a facial recognition feature and has you tag people, so then you can search for people by their faces. It makes it really handy if you're looking for photos of someone for a graduation collage...not that I'm thinking about that already (gulp).

I started with my kids, the most infamous and photographed members of our family.

iPhoto identified more than 1,000 potential photos of each of them. It took quite some time to go through them, clicking on the ones that were indeed each child,  rejecting or correctly identifying those who were actually other people. For the most part the software had it right.

Then I worked on photos of my husband -- there were 540 photos of him, usually with the girls. The software was usually right too, though every once in a while it picked my stepdad, often in later years when Wayne's hair was more the color of Mark's.

Finally, I worked on my own photos, of which there were only 123, most of which were not correct  because my sister, sister-in-law and daughter all look a lot like me, so of those photos I re-tagged them with the appropriate person.

Screenshot of working through photos of "Jenny," 50% of which are wrong.
123 photos over the past 15 or so years. Sure, it's a lot of photos, but it's a fraction of the photos we have. I want my girls to look back on their childhood and know how happy both their parents were to spend time with them (and that we did). Sometimes photos are what trigger the memory - what will our girls remember about an event when the same person is always absent from it in photos? Although I do usually make my involvement in their lives pretty memorable, as time goes by photographs become the proof.

So I'm committed to making sure I'm in more photos. I never was a "selfie" person, so I'll be handing the camera to my husband or my kids more often, to capture more of life's moments with me in them.
Before-work selfie.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

What's a "Relish" Dish?

Thanksgiving traditions are changing as time goes by, but we still gathered with the Horsman family the Saturday after Thanksgiving for a big feast. This time we gathered at Kathy's home, and our family planned to drive down and back in the same day, since Millie's house is no longer available to stay.

My sister-in-law Kathy did all the planning and most of the cooking. She asked everyone who came to bring a side dish -- the specific request for me was a "relish" dish.

A relish dish?
What to fill these with?
Now, I know what relish dishes looked like that my mother put together back in the 70's and 80's. They were small little glass dishes with partitions in them. She would fill them with things like black olives, pickled green beans or pickled beets and little tiny Gedney pickles that apparently weren't tiny enough, because she would also slice them in half.

The relish trays were dutifully passed around the table with the rest of the feast, and would come back to the kitchen with only the black olives missing. Turns out Kristi used to put a black olive on each finger, wave them around for a bit and then eat them off. I remember having to use the tiniest tongs I'd ever seen in my life to pick up the itty bitty pickles and put them back in the jar, because they were mostly untouched.

I always assumed that's what a relish tray was -- food you served with meals that didn't really belong with the meal that no one really ate.

But now I was being asked to bring a relish tray to my sister-in-law's, to feed 27 people. So I had to ask all the sisters-in-laws: how do you define a relish tray?!

I got back suggestions of carrots and celery and dip (isn't that a veggie tray?). There was a suggestion of pickled herring or olives. Does pickled herring go with anything? Although that response did confirm my initial suspicion that a relish tray is filled with food you don't actually eat.

I decided to bring a veggie tray, cranberry jelly and another traditional side dish from my childhood, spiced apple rings.

Most of the spiced apple rings went back in the jar, but some of the cranberry jelly went. And veggies are always a healthy nibble, so those stayed out long after the feast had been put away.

I also learned that "crudités" is the fancy French word for a veggie tray. So next time I can just tell people "I'm bringing the crudités" and they'll wonder what I'm bringing and who this fancy-pants sister-in-law of theirs is.

Cousins playing pass the creepy baby.

How old, Kayla?!

Bear proves that he can sleep anywhere, including between two talking adults.

Friday, November 25, 2016

A Visitation

My Uncle Pete, Aunt Phyllis and Dad.
Laughter. Talking. The tinkling of glasses.

I awoke from a dream  -- the most bittersweet part was the awakening.

In the dream my dad, his two sisters and their husbands were all sitting around in the backyard of Carol and Chap's house. (Their house in Illinois, which they sold more than 30 years ago.)

The sun was shining and they were visiting and laughing. From Phyllis high titter to my dad's big guffaws, a time was being had, as my dad would say.

Phyllis sent me in to make her a new drink, something that never happened at these gatherings. I think everyone knew better than to send Tom's youngest daughter to make a drink. Phyllis gave me instructions, I went into the kitchen and of course botched it. In a typical dreamlike event, I put a cinnamon roll in her drink because, of course, cinnamon rolls are often garnish in drinks. It soaked up all the liquid and made a disgusting mess.

My sister Kristi came in, made a face at the mess I was making, fixed a proper drink and brought it out to Phyllis while I cleaned up.

The laughter and visiting continued.

My Grandpa Vern's 75th birthday party in 1976.
I awoke with a smile on my face and a lump in my throat. Phyllis and Pete are still living -- this vision is incomplete without them. I feel an urgent need to call them, yet it was 5:00 in the morning. I waited until daylight -- they are doing just fine.

They know how much my dad enjoyed his time with them. Somewhere there is sunshine, a chair, a proper drink and company waiting for them.

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

A Wake of Our Own

In happier days, at our Floria/Smathers family reunion in May.
My dad was initially diagnosed with colon cancer in 2007. He has been battling this disease for 9 years. Yet the day he died, we were all surprised at how "quickly" he went.

We received materials from the hospice nurse on the process of dying. We didn't even get a chance to review them when he passed. I flipped through them later on and realized that he had been in the process of dying for the past 6 months or more.

Kristi and I were the only two in the hospital when he died. Terry thought she would be by his side, but he decided that was not to be. We called Terry and asked her to come back to the hospital because he had passed. We cautioned her not to drive herself; she was too distraught, so she should get another family member to drive her.

Kristi and I made a few phone calls to family members on Dad's side; his sister, who had just celebrated her 90th birthday, my mom (his ex-wife), and others. And then we waited.

We sat in the room with dad's body for almost two hours. We could feel his skin cooling, saw his face draining of color, his fingernails turning from blue to white.

We marveled at his passing. It was just incredible that this had just happened. Stories were exchanged, tears shed, laughter shared.

And Dad had to have the last fart joke.

At one point his body passed some gas through his stoma. I looked at Kristi and said, "Was that you?" and she pointed to Dad.

Shortly after, she did indeed pass a little gas, and pointed to Dad again. "Sure," I said, "Blame the dead guy." We laughed through our tears. I'm sure Dad was laughing with us; he loved nothing better than a good fart joke.

We had become accustomed to his deathly presence. When the rest of the family arrived, some walked into the room cautiously, afraid of what they would see. Kristi and I welcomed them in. "Come, see Dad. He would want you to say good-bye."

We were two hours into the grieving process; others were just beginning. She and I had been holding a wake, just the two of us, while the rest of the family was just getting confirmation that he had passed.

It is amazing how quickly our human minds become accustomed when faced with the physical proof of death. My dad's spirit was no longer in his body. It is wherever we believe it to be, whatever gives us peace.

Now the process of grieving and of healing can begin.

Thursday, November 03, 2016

A Story of Photographs

Kristi and I spent some time the past few days going through the photos my dad had collected over his lifetime. He never threw out a single thing, be it a broken tool he was going to fix some day, a pair of jeans with a rip in them, and most certainly never, ever photos.

Years ago, Mom told me about the time when Dad was in the army during the Vietnam War. He would write her letters and include photos of the sunrise or sunset over the ethereal, foreign-looking Korean landscape. Never any photos of him, his fellow servicemen or the camp they were in, just endless pictures of the sun.

Kristi and I came across entire rolls of photos of flowers, bushes, trees, gardens, and dogs. The only person he took photos of with any frequency was he beloved wife, Terry. He always wanted to take pictures of her working around the yard, and then would ask her, "Why don't you take pictures of ME when I'm working?" She found it curious that he wanted her to photograph him at his dustiest, sweatiest self. She would rather that he captured her at her finest, freshly showered with hair and make up done. Instead she has photos of her gardening, painting, cleaning and other chores.

After Lindsey was born in 2003, Dad drove to Minnesota alone to visit his first granddaughter from his own children (by this time he had several step-grand kids on Terry's side). Wayne and I had been living in our Minneapolis home for only 9 months, and Dad was fascinated by our neighborhood. He couldn't believe that we could walk to so many places, were so close to the lake and had such a quaint, charming home.

He took pictures of flowers growing in our neighbors' yards. He photographed their homes, the street, the outside of our house, and, finally, the second-to-last photo on the roll, one solitary photo of his granddaughter. The last photo was of our dog Dax.

Dad's photos of his first trip to our Minneapolis home.
This was back when you had to wait to develop a roll of film to see what you'd taken pictures of, and he laughed when he realized he only had one photo of his new grandchild.

The only photo Dad took of Lindsey when he first met her. I think she's giving him the finger.
"Well, how come people take so many pictures of babies anyways? It's not like they change or anything," he joked. "You know, if I make a trip up there once a year, in 18 trips I'll be attending a high school graduation."

He didn't quite make it to her high school graduation; Lindsey's still 5 years away from that milestone. But I can guarantee I'll be taking pictures of trees or shrubs on her graduation day, in honor of my dad.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Losing Dad

February 2014, Arkansas.
We all knew my dad was going to die, we just didn't know it would be so soon.

My dad's been going through an immunotherapy trial in Nashville for the past 4 months. Each time he has a treatment, he gets a bit loopy, gets diagnosed with a urinary tract infection, takes antibiotics, it clears up and he regains his lucidity.

So when my stepmom called me on Wednesday to tell me she was taking Dad to the hospital and that he was out of his mind, we all thought this would be routine. Get the infection cleared up, send him home, and continue on the journey to a cure.

Instead, she was informed that the tumors had grown significantly in the past several weeks and were impeding his kidney function. There were no more treatment options; he had been out of options for some time. My stepmom was told that he had 3 days to 3 weeks to live. They recommended hospice care for him, to keep him comfortable until he died.

Kristi and I caught a 7 a.m. flight on Friday, October 28th. I had toyed with the idea of traveling on Saturday, but decided to go earlier since my youngest wanted me back home in time for Halloween.

She and I arrived at the hospital at 1:30 p.m. Dad was in a drug-induced sleep the entire afternoon, his chest automatically expanding with his breath, mechanical in its steady rhythm. He was snoring loudly with his mouth wide open, unable to squeeze his hand in yours, open his eyes or respond. He slept with one foot hanging off the bed, a familiar position that I remember from his healthier days. Kristi and Jessie re-positioned him, but throughout the afternoon his left foot kept drifting toward the edge of the bed, even though we never saw him move.

Kristi and I left the room at 5 p.m. to meet with the hospice nurse and set up the hospice care. We asked to see a chaplain, and spent the last 10 minutes of our time in prayer with the chaplain, praying for peace for dad. When we returned to the room, he was gone. The nurse told us she'd just been in just minutes before and he had been breathing the same as previously, so he must've passed in the past 10 minutes while we were praying.

So much for those 3 days.
December 2013 in Valparaiso.
I believe he timed it that way -- he did not want his loved ones to be there to hear his last rattling breath. But he knew his two daughters, the last two family members who hasn't seen him that week, had been there and had said our good-byes.
The Florias attack a model of Chicago.
I am so grateful that we had so many good times together of late. I had just been down over Labor Day weekend to visit, he had come to Minnesota the previous October, and Kristi had many more trips than I, creating many memories with him and with our southern relatives.

Kristi and I are in Arkansas now, helping my stepmom organize her life. We are erasing every sign of his illness in the house -- the adult diapers are being disposed of, medications being purged, hospital bed returned to the agency it was rented from, medical agencies phone numbers erased from the home phone. We are re-instituting the good memories that those items had pushed aside --  photos and the cherished items of his that had been shoved in closets to make way for medical supplies.

In some ways I lost Dad a long time ago; I haven't been able to call to talk books with him in a year. He hasn't been able to give me advice on work-related topics for longer than that. His cancer treatment was all-consuming; it was the only topic he would discuss at any length.

Yet now, he was truly gone. He will not be coming back to us.

It's a lot to process.

I'm sure I'll be writing more on my dad. He was a wonderful storyteller, I can continue on those stories to keep his memory alive.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Nine Grams

Marissa joined me in grocery shopping the other day. At this age, shopping with one of the girls is fun. We get silly, we look at foods we have no idea what they are, and we laugh.

I nearly bought this cereal, even though I knew no one would eat it, just because Marissa and I had a good laugh over it.

Marissa will pretends or actually sneak food into the cart that she knows I don't allow in the house, then run-walk down the aisle with the cart so I can't see what she put in it.

This sneaking of food into the cart tends to happen most in the cereal aisle. I thought back to when Lindsey and I did our sugar-free challenge and how difficult it was to find cereals with no sugar in them. I picked a random number and told Marissa she couldn't buy a cereal that had more than 9 grams of sugar. In the meantime, I was also scanning for a new gluten-free cereal for Lindsey to try.

I had no idea how challenging this would be.

Marissa brought me the "Dory" cereal which had 11 grams of sugar per serving, only two grams more than my limit. Surely only 2 games doesn't make a difference, right? She held her hand over the corner with the picture of the cereal while she asked for it, so of course I said she couldn't have it. The picture was of a cereal with marshmallows in it -- really, only 11 grams? I'd been reading ingredients lists of 17 grams, 23 grams and more. If that's 11 grams, how sweet and sugary are those other ones?

I decided to start looking at the "healthy" cereals vs the ones that I would assume would be more sugary.

First I checked out the Chex cereal choices. I looked at the GF "fruit and oats" variety, then happened to see the chocolate Chex next to it.

Guess which one had more sugar? Yep, the Fruit & Oats one.

She asked for the S'Mores cereal. Lucky Charms (which makes both girls crazy). Choc-O something-or-other. No. No. Nope.

Finally we got tired of studying cereals and saying "no" and went for a long-standing favorite in our house, Cracklin' Oat Bran.

It wasn't until we brought it home that I saw what the sugar content was -- 17 grams per serving. Guess we're crossing that one off our list, too.

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Our Blessed Dog

Getting her Beauty rest after a run.
You may know that our rescue dog, Beauty, is a runner.

She will run for 10 miles in the morning, snooze for the day, then is ready for more play and racing around by dinner time.

She's well trained to stay in our yard...unless she sees a squirrel. Or a dog. Which is why when we leave her out for a while we put her on a tie-out in our front yard.

Saturday was no exception -- she was going crazy inside watching all the squirrels through the windows, I figured I'd give her a first row seat by putting her on the tie-out so she could observe more closely.

About 10 minutes later Wayne says to me, "Where's Beauty?"

"On the tie-out," I say.

"No she's not."

"Yes she is. I put her there myself."

I go out front to look, and the leash that she had been attached to is lying in a pile. No Beauty. We investigate it. It's not broken, and it almost looks like someone coiled it and laid it on the lawn.

Outside of the concern that someone may have nabbed her, her disappearing act is a familiar routine. I grab shoes, the leash and a dog treat, and Wayne heads to the car to search the neighborhood, both of us with cell phones.

I post on NextDoor, a social media site for neighborhoods, and Facebook. I get lots of sympathy but no leads.

Since it's like searching for a needle in the haystack by walking the neighborhood, we both eventually return home empty-handed. I post a better description of her on NextDoor with photos, and wait to hear.

Finally, someone posts that they found a brown pitbull, please call their number. I leapt to call, and discovered that they indeed had our dog.

Here's the best part.

Beauty had pulled on the leash so hard she had snapped the metal ring that held the leash to her collar. When it snapped her identifying tags also flew off -- we found them later scattered in the lawn.  It explains why the leash was in a neat pile, it was from the recoil.

 Beauty's broken collar.

She chased said squirrels for a while, and then got distracted by a dog going in to the Lutheran church just a block away. Turns out that the Lutheran church was having a blessing of the animals that day. The people brought her into the church to see if it was someone else's loose dog. They figured she was a stray, but she was so sweet and nice to the other dogs that they had her join the service. After all, that's what this service was all about, right? Don't just bless the dogs who have loving homes, but the strays, the unwanted by society. (Or so they may have thought.)

She got to visit with other dogs, get treats, and get a little holy water sprinkled on her head. We were worried she was in danger of being hit by a car, and she was safe inside, getting pampered.

Beauty was blessed. Literally.

After the ceremony they posted on NextDoor about finding the pitbull, then walked her down to our house for a joyful reunion.

Guess this means we should start going to church.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Our New Old Home

The lockbox is coming off the door, the inspection sheet is no longer on display. Crews of people are  not showing up to at random times of day, needing access to our house.
Old Kitchen
New Kitchen
 Our remodel is done and we are thrilled.

It's not just that we have a mudroom or a new kitchen, it's what that change in space has meant to our family.
New main floor powder room.

Previously, with four of us sharing a bathroom, we've gotten into a habit of wandering while preparing for bed. For example, one person uses the sink to wet a toothbrush, then walks around the upstairs to brush teeth because the next person is using the sink to wash her face. By the time the tooth brushing is done the face washing is done, but then I'm leaning over the side, getting just a bit of mirror space so I can take out contacts as the face-washer wets a toothbrush.

Now when I want to get ready for bed, I go into my bedroom, shut the door and use my own bathroom. No one else needs to use the sink. No one else needs to use my mirror. It takes me half the time because I'm not waiting for someone else to be done. Ironically, though, we are all accustomed to walking around while brushing teeth, so now we have to train the girls to not wander into our bedroom while readying for bed.

New master bath.
The new kitchen has changed our family dynamic.

I used to enjoy cooking, but for me part of the enjoyment is being able to visit with other people while I'm working. This hasn't been possible for years, as there wasn't a suitable place in the kitchen for others to be. Many times Wayne or Kristi would stand in the kitchen to chat, but would have to move while I opened a drawer or needed in a cupboard. Trying to share in preparing a meal was practically impossible. I often felt cut off from the rest of the family, alone in the kitchen while everyone else gathered in the living room or on the patio.

Now, more than one person can be in the kitchen at the same time. The girls sit at the island and do homework while I cook; I don't have to keep stopping and walking into the dining room to look at a problem or hear a question. Homework feels less of an interruption and annoyance and more a part of the evening's activities.

I enjoy cooking again for the first time in years. And I can't wait to be able to finally get some of the kitchen gadgets that I haven't been able purchase before because there was no place to store them.

The new space has also allowed Wayne and I to have much-needed couple time.  We can sit down and share a glass of wine in the kitchen while the girls are in the living room, meaning that our conversation is a not open for commentary.
Our original bathroom, refreshed for the girls' use.
Our bedroom feels like a retreat. Even though it is right next to Marissa's bedroom, it feels a bit more secluded and private. We have a chair in our bedroom -- a chair! I have sat there in the early morning with a cup of a coffee and a computer, writing. What a joy.
My new coffee and writing corner.
I am so grateful that we were able to make the location we love into the home we love. 

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Arkansa Edition

Terry and Dad together; a good evening on the patio.
My dad has not been in the best of health for some time. He is living with stage IV colon cancer,  with all the trials and tribulations that come along with that condition. He has been on a chemotherapy regimen for about a year, which doctors tell him should keep the tumors from growing and spreading, if he can withstand the side effects. As soon as the chemo stops working or his quality of life is such that he decides not to continue treatment, the cancer will probably continue to spread and grow.

This is a tough diagnosis to take. Quality of life has been less than ideal, not just for Dad but for my stepmom, who has been thrust into the role of primary caretaker.

I have not been to Arkansas to see Dad for some time, not to say that I haven't seen him or don't talk with him, but he came to Minnesota twice last year. He understands that my life is busy and it's hard to get away.

But at some point "busy" becomes "bullshit," and the people who are really important in your life must come to the surface. On some level I've been holding off on visiting, waiting for him to have the energy to have company. I finally came to the realization that I need to make the trip.

Kristi and I planned a trip over Labor Day weekend, flying from Minneapolis to St. Louis, then taking a 10-seater directly to Jonesboro, Arkansas.
We ain't in Minnesota anymore. A drive-through liquor store. They'll hand you a cup with ice with your vodka. No lie.
We had ourselves a time. There was plenty of "gabooning," as my grandfather Vern used to say (his term for visiting). The weather was divine, with plenty of opportunity to sit on the porch in a nice breeze, taking in the peace and quiet while three white dogs played the part of immovable porch rugs. Hummingbirds flitted from the feeder to trees; crickets and other insects provided the background music to their wings.

The largest and most immovable of all the white dogs, Jack.

Can you find all three?
We ate some good southern fare, and I made authentic Minnesota Wild Rice Soup, with wild rice smuggled from Minnesota. (Apparently bags of wild rice look like weed when viewed through a security x-ray machine, and warrant extra screening.) My nephew Sam decided it looked like bird suet, and leftover soup the rest of the weekend was donned "liquid suet."

I spent time with family members that Kristi has gotten to know so well through her many visits. We had a feast of pulled pork, barbecued ribs and smoked chicken.

Kristi and I helped with chores that escape doing in the midst of caring for someone else. We made trips to the store for victuals and supplies, vacuumed, helped organize the week's pills, cooked, and cleaned dishes, usually accompanied by laughter and banter.
Terry gives me a tour of the yard, including a fig tree.
By the end of three days Kristi and I were ready to get back to the land of North, and I think Dad and Terry were ready for us to leave. They themselves had to travel to Nashville the next day. What is it they say about fish and company?

Memories were made, and that's all that matters.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

A Series of Unfortunate Events

Don't get me wrong. 90 percent of our remodel project has gone fantastically. And the majority of the big work, the stuff that really matters like laying a foundation, framing, electrical work, etc., has been done flawlessly and on time.

But in all projects some rain must fall, and the last three weeks it's been pouring. And unfortunately these final "touches" have everything to do with the creature comforts of why we took on a remodel in the first place, so they are hard to ignore.

It started with our kitchen backsplash tile, which I saw installed for the first time as the tiler was putting the final piece into place. I walked in and stared in utter astonishment -- were my eyes deceiving me?

"How do you like your tile?" he said, expecting a positive response.

"It's beautiful!" I replied. "But...it's not the color I picked out."

"Oh, ha ha, people say that to us all the time."

"No really, I wish I were kidding. It is not the tile we picked out."

Within 30 minutes the two people who had spent an entire day tiling our entire kitchen began the work of ripping it all out before it set and took the drywall with it. I felt badly for this small business owner to literally un-do an entire day's work, not knowing if he would get paid for it or not. It hurt all of our hearts to see that gorgeous tile in a trash can, all that beautiful greenish-gray tile, when we had selected white.

Turns out that the store we had purchased the tile from mislabeled the sample. Our designer ordered the right color, assuming that "Whisk Me Away" meant white since that's what the label said on the sample. I had set the white tile out the night before, but, in a fit of neatness, Wayne had put it away, so they didn't have a piece for comparison.

That same day our electrician informed me that the lights we had selected to hang vertically alongside our mirrors in our master bathroom were only meant to be hung horizontally. Plus...they were as bright as a fucking lighthouse lamp. He hung one up just to show me -- I can't imagine how someone could see past the brightness of that light to see their reflection in a mirror.

Back those lights went and a re-order for more appropriate light fixtures was on task.

The tiler got to work tiling our bathroom while waiting for the re-order of the correct white kitchen tile. Then the plumber came to put in our faucets -- finally, we would have a working master bath!

But alas, the faucets were set too low, the nozzles hung into the sinks themselves and the turn knob could not be turned before hitting the countertop. The beautiful tile work around the faucets was ripped out, the dry wall taken out, and the plumber raised the plumbing up and all was re-done again. Only this time the tile is not QUITE as perfect as the same time it was laid, and we can kind of see where the tile had to be taken down for this fix.

Throwing away more beautiful tile.
At least the SHOWER is ready to use! Except...the glass shower door hasn't arrived yet. And we still don't have mirrors. So we can use the toilet in our master bath, but then we have to walk to the original bathroom to wash our hands and brush our teeth, and the four of us are in a familiar bathroom battle.

Finally, the shower door arrived along with the mirrors, and the faucets were re-installed in the new, proper location. A working bathroom! I couldn't wait to take a shower in our OWN bathroom! Except...why doesn't the water drain? Not a single drop of water made it down the drain -- I had to stop my shower early or risk an overflow onto our bathroom floor.

A shower full of water.
Did you know that plumbers do an air test any time they install new plumbing? That makes sure that there are no leaks in all of the pipes that are laid. When they're done with the air test, they're supposed to take out the plastic stopper that keeps the air from escaping the plumbing during the test. And when they don't, well, then you don't exactly have a working shower.

Then this past week we were startled to get a text from our girls informing us that water was pouring into our kitchen through a recessed light. The water was from Marissa's bath in our original bathroom, NOT the new bathroom. What?!

Turns out that the construction work against the back of the original wall had displaced tiles in our original bathroom, so there was nothing keeping the water from running through the floor and out our new kitchen ceiling.

The radiator was drained, moved away from the wall and the tiler was called back again so he could fix the files underneath said radiator that had broken during the construction project.

Broken tiles (plus nasty dirt) in our existing bath due to construction on the wall behind it.
Our circuit breaker that controls our oven and frig goes off at random times, apparently due to an electric current fluctuation in the frig model itself. Fix is in order.

Our newly corrected bathroom faucets apparently STILL don't meet code. Being worked on.

Our hood vent for our oven was delivered with two massive scratches down the middle of it. The hood vent sat in our basement unopened for 2 months before they went to install it and found the scratch. We are waiting for a replacement. Seriously, people.

By this time our project manager was pretty pissed with the number of things that weren't going right at the end of this project. And for as nice and understanding as Wayne and I can be, we were rather pissed, too.

We appreciate the work all the crews have done in our house, but we just want them to leave and not come back.

Once it's all working, that is.

Tuesday, August 09, 2016


Our family has had to get used to constant change since this spring. For the most part I think we've adjusted well - the girls shared a bedroom beautifully for nearly three months. We learned to live without running water or a sink. We adjusted to eating in a variety of places: the Desk Kitchen, the patio table, now standing around an island because we have no chairs.

What better way to embrace chaos than to plan a surprise birthday party for Marissa...at our still-being-remodeled house?

The party was entirely planned by her big sister Lindsey. After sharing a room with her for three months she knew her well and planned a spa party put on with her friends. There were four stations: pedicures, manicures, facials and make up stations. Lindsey told Marissa that she was hosting a spa party for her own friends, so it didn't seem unusual for Lindsey to be planning and scheming.

Wayne took Marissa out for lunch as a special daddy-daughter treat, since he had been traveling over her actual birthday a few days earlier. While she was gone Lindsey and I frantically prepared -- I got groceries, Lindsey set up the spa stations and drinks in the kitchen.

When Marissa got home Lindsey led her into the kitchen to show her the spa set up. All of Marissa's friends had arrived by then and hid behind the island, then jumped up and yelled "SURPRISE!" And she was!

Marissa had a fantastic time getting her nails done, a facial, pedicure, all of it. We learned that some of her friends aren't quite as "girly" as Marissa is and didn't take advantage of the spa stations, but they seemed to have a good time anyway. We had gluten-free chocolate mousse cake which was divine!
Cake cutting.
It was supposed to rain that afternoon which was concerning,  since all the activities had to happen outside. At the time our living room floor was covered in paper, our dining room filled with furniture and our basement was our storage area where everything else is stored! Thankfully it turned into a beautiful afternoon and everyone could enjoy the great outdoors.

Marissa was very surprised and grateful for her party.

Friday, July 29, 2016


Self portrait. 
When we had concrete poured for our new patio, she wondered how the ants and worms felt when they tried to reach the surface only to find concrete in their way. The thought worried her.

She has instant love for every dog she sees being walked on the street. She would probably feel that way about cats too, but most people don't walk their cats.

We once saw a homeless man in frigid weather holding out a sign asking for help. She asked what it meant to be a veteran (because that's what his sign said) and why we hadn't stopped to help him. How do you explain to your children the social injustice of poverty and safety nets that aren't wide enough to catch everyone? I did my best, and there was silence in the back seat. I turned to look and she was crying, tears silently rolling down her cheeks.

You've never met an 11-year-old with a bigger heart.

She is happiest and most herself with her music, making videos, singing and dancing. If you can sneak a peek without her knowing you're there, you will witness pure joy.

She is chronically messy, yet meticulously organized. She brushes her hair religiously every day but has to be reminded to wash it.

Take a moment to look her in the eyes while she's talking and you'll be distracted by their depth. Are they grey? Green? Brownish blue?

She is our Marissa, and she is eleven.