house

Reclaiming My Bedroom—My Messy Beautiful

Glennon Melton of Momastery recently asked writers to post an essay about their messy, beautiful lives to celebrate the paperback release of her book Carry On, Warrior. I realize she’s using “messy” in reference to life’s big things—parenting, work, marriage, friendship, health. But I decided to take a literal spin on the project and write about one of my own messy beautifuls that I carefully hide behind a closed door—my bedroom.

For months, it’s been a disaster.

Something had to give. Every child goes through tougher periods and for Owen and James, 3 has been hard. With everyone in school in the mornings, I’ve tried to pick up a lot more freelance work. Thankfully, I’ve been successful. Unfortunately, it has taken me many months of 2am bedtimes and feeling like I was failing at stay-at-home parenting as well as freelancing before I allowed myself the grace of sometimes hiring daytime babysitters. I’ve had some odd health things going on, the latest of which requires light therapy treatments up in Cincinnati three times a week. My current life story is the same as all of our current life stories. We’re all busy (even when I try, daily, to live a life of not-busy). It just happens.

Still, something had to give.

So I threw in the towel (literally, into a pile of all the other clean clothes on the floor, waiting to be folded) on trying to maintain a clean bedroom.

It was so easy.

Sophie has a play date and I don’t want the kids getting into the paint? Throw it into the bedroom. Guests coming over and I don’t have time to properly put everything away? Throw it into the bedroom. Seasons change and I don’t have time to switch the clothes over? Stack the boxes in the bedroom.

I would go through and pick things up, put things away. But always there was a clothes basket filled with odds and ends that needed sorted and put away—wooden beads, game pieces, Barbie shoes, car wheels, a broken Nutcracker, loose change, a half-empty pack of wipes, mesh bags used when traveling, pencils that needed sharpened, too-small socks, too-big shorts bought on clearance, the extra contents of a purse acquired when I switched everything else of importance over to another one.

I wasn’t always like this. In my previous life I was managing editor at several magazines, a job that is based around organization. In my previous life I prided myself on having an always-cleaned-out fridge, an organized basement and books arranged alphabetically on my bookshelf. In my previous life I hung up my clothes by sleeve length with a nod toward the color wheel and sorted my M&Ms before eating them.

Children change you.

These days, I’m lucky if my clothes even make it to the closet. Turns out, when I have more than just my wardrobe to deal with, I’m terrible at laundry. Every morning, while sifting through the piles of washed-thanks-to-Andy-who-takes-care-of-that-every-time-he-video-games-in-the-basement-but-per-our-deal-I-never-actually-fold-and-put-away clothes I silently curse and swear I’ll fold everything that night. I continue silently cursing while ironing everyone’s outfits because everything is wrinkled and while giving up on matching socks because everyone has approximately three minutes to get to school before they will be considered late.

While lamenting to a friend about my laundry woes she mentioned that she was hiring a laundress. A laundress. It sounded so decadent, so Downton Abbyish. I daydreamed about my own laundress (a modern Cinderella came to mind) before coming back to the reality that some days the kids are going to have to play a board game (or five) without me and some nights I’m going to have to forgo freelance work and/or skip puttering around on the Internet, reading a book or watching a show.

There’s a threshold for everything. And last night, I reached mine.

Despite my freelance deadlines, despite the fact that I had pulled late nights two nights prior, despite the fact that I’m three episodes behind on “Parenthood,” I cleaned my bedroom.

And instead of dreading it, all day, I looked forward to it. All it took was some rethinking. I wasn’t cleaning my bedroom. I wasn’t giving up play time with the kids or my nightly TV show with Andy. I was reclaiming my bedroom. My beautiful bedroom I purposefully painted off-white and in which I hung floor-to-ceiling white drapes from Ikea to create a sense of calm. My beautiful bedroom with the huge leather chair I found on Craigslist, with the ribbon board my mom made for me years ago hung up behind it, filled with loved mementos, and the broken brushed-brass floor lamp next to it, held together with some twine—my reading nook I never used, because of the pile of clothes encroaching it. My beautiful bedroom with the queen-size bed that more often than not holds five instead of two, the same bed with the wedding album tucked underneath it, which Sophie loves to pull out and look through (when the room is clean enough for her to be able to). My beautiful bedroom with the two Target dressers I so desperately want to replace with antiques, the same dressers that now hold framed photos, alarm clocks and perfume bottles but for years held handmade burp cloths and breast pump parts and were decorated with rings of milk leftover from bottles. My beautiful bedroom with the handmade jewelry cabinet my uncle made filled with handmade jewelry my mother-in-law made. My beautiful bedroom with the non-working fireplace and gorgeous wood-and-mirrored-and-columned mantel that surrounds it, one of the key things that made me fall in love with the house before we even purchased it.

So I took out all the dirty clothes. And old water glasses. And gathered all the loose items and put them in their proper places, which took a ridiculous amount of time (and prompted a glass of wine). Then I turned on “Weeds” on Netflix and for two hours I folded. I folded all the clothes. All.of.them. And put them away.

I reclaimed my bedroom.

I reclaimed my office (which is my bed).

I reclaimed my reading nook and dusted off the pile of magazines next to it, noting the bookmark in my book that hasn’t been moved in weeks.

I reclaimed the floor, another play space in our small, old house.

I reclaimed my bed, which the boys immediately jumped into the next day insisting I make a cave with our down comforter and my arms and feet for them to play in.

I reclaimed my sanity. My sanctuary. The place I go to read. To write. To sleep. To be on my own. To be with Andy. To snuggle with the kids during a middle-of-the-night thunderstorm. To dress for the day ahead. To retreat after a day done well. To hide after a day done poorly. To be.

And now my door is wide open. I’m calmer, just thinking about it. I’ve already allowed myself grace, for when it will invariably get messy again. But I also have given myself permission to reclaim it more quickly. Life is easy when you can throw a bunch of stuff in a room during a super-quick cleanup and close the door. But it’s a short-lived easy. Because even though the rest of the house may be beautiful, there’s still a hidden mess to deal with (isn’t there always?). And already, this morning, I’ve learned this: Life is a whole lot easier when clothes are in drawers and all the socks match.

“I got the blues thinking of the future, so I left off and made some marmalade. It’s amazing how it cheers one up to shred oranges and scrub the floor.” —D.H. Lawrence

And now, a giveaway! The folks at Simon & Schuster were kind enough to send me a copy of Glennon’s book, Carry On, Warrior, which I would love to pass on to you. Simply post a comment telling me how you deal with laundry by Saturday, May 10. I’ll randomly choose a winner on Mother’s Day, and send it your way!

Thawing Winter

Last night ice crystals formed on our single-pane, leaded-glass windows that frame our front door.

This morning, I noticed the most beautiful ice formations on the window in our half bath, accentuated by the early morning sun.

And then Owen climbed up on the stool to wash his hands and … nothing.

I looked at the ice crystals and let out a slow and heavy sigh.

We had forgotten to let the faucets drip overnight.

I read some “how to thaw frozen pipes” articles online, all of which talked about the importance of prevention. I called Andy at work. I turned on all the other faucets in our house (which were still working) to a slow trickle. I turned on the half-bath faucet, too. I put a space heater in the half bath, turned it up to 70° and shut the door.

Our house is more than 100 years old. The half bath was an addition. There is nothing below it, except a crawl space (which we discovered after moving into the house was used to store piles of slate tile that once served as the roof on the house—we’ve since turned several into mini chalkboards).

“You have to go into the crawl space,” Andy said, over the phone. “You have to find out what’s going on in there.”

On went my boots, coat, mittens, hat and scarf around my face. I bribed the kids with Neccos (yes, it was still morning) and TV. Out I went. Except the four-foot door, made out of wood and lattice and held on with rusty hinges, wouldn’t open. I looked down to see that a block of the concrete sidewalk had risen high enough to block the opening of the door.

I pulled, and pulled, and pulled.

Back inside, I called Andy.

“The pipes are more important than the door,” he said. “Do I need to come home?”

“No,” I said. I was determined to handle this mini household emergency myself.

I dressed again, and went back outside with a hammer. I looked for a pin to pull out in the hinges, but everything was ice-encrusted and rusted over. Still, I hit the hinges with my hammer a few times. Nothing.

So I lifted up and pulled on the door, with all my might, thinking if the door broke, so be it.

Success.

I crawled into the crawl space, smiled at the piles of slate tiles and wondered about the old moulding and hooks that were also down there. I could do something with that, I thought. I tried to focus.

I could (obviously) see no pipes. All I saw was cold stone foundation, and some poured concrete.

And then, I heard screaming. Owen screaming. A blood-curdling scream followed by sobbing.

I ran out as fast as I could to find him on our icy deck, in his winter coat on but upside down, barefoot.

“WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” I screamed, scooping him up and rushing him inside.

As I rubbed his feet to warm them up he said, “I wanted to help you and I couldn’t find my shoes.”

(He’s fine.)

Back outside. I cleared out some debris and carried another space heater down to the crawl space (where, conveniently, there was a plug). I plugged it in, turned it up to 70° and shut the door.

Then I went back inside and read up on the dangers of space heaters, freaking myself out well enough that I checked on it (which required re-dressing for the weather) every 20 minutes throughout the day.

Around 3pm I noticed the ceiling of the crawl space bulging. I could see the insulation peeking out. I also noted past water stains.

Surely, I thought, our pipes had cracked and the space was filling up with water.

I went back inside, called Andy.

“Drill a hole,” he said. “See what happens.”

So I grabbed our drill, chucked a 3/8″ bit into it and didn’t think about the possibility of accidentally drilling into the pipe until I was halfway through the drilling job. I pulled the bit out, held my breath and waited.

Nothing.

Back inside. Back to peeling clementines, building Lego towers, insisting on Christmas thank-you notes, soaking a doll’s hair in a concoction of water and fabric softener, negotiating TV time, fruit snacks and games on the computer.

Back to checking the crawl space.

Over and over.

And then, something clicked. The space heater running in the bath wasn’t pushed up right next to the pipe. I was simply using it to heat the space, in general. I felt the pipe, behind our pedestal sink, and close to hardwood floor it was, indeed, very cold. So I pushed the space heater up practically against the pipe and set the temperature for 75°. And while peeling clementines (for the 10th time that day) I heard the noise of rushing water—it was from our faucet, into our sink.

I’m still holding my breath. Having only lived in 100-plus-year-old houses since Andy and I have been married, I’m used to things not working out. In fact, I still keeping checking the crawl space, expecting to find water everywhere.

But for now, we have running water. And for now, our pipes haven’t burst. And forever more, I’ll run a bit of water every time it gets this cold (that’s what you’re supposed to do, right?).

Fingers crossed.

“Three feet of ice does not result from one day of cold weather.” —Chinese Proverbs quotes

My “Closet”

When we moved into our old house the previous owners left behind an old (antique?) armoire in one of the two bedrooms. I loved it. And I thought it was so kind of them to leave it for us—until we realized, while moving into our current house, that the reason they didn’t take it with them wasn’t, most likely, to be kind but because it was almost impossible to get it down the very steep and narrow staircase.

I was at my parents’ house, with our 3-month-old boys and Sophie, while Andy, Andy’s mom and my dad were with the movers at our old house. Andy called me, asking if I really wanted the armoire. It was easy to say yes, in the comfort of my parents’ home. It ended up in our new house, lifted with curse words, strained muscles and scrapes to the paint on the wall.

It didn’t fit in our bedroom so we put it in the boys’ bedroom. Given that their changing table was also a dresser with drawers, the armoire was not needed. And given that my closet has no place to hang dresses, I used the armoire for my longer-length clothes.

And then, we moved the boys to twin beds. We took the changing table out but kept the armoire—Andy refuses to move it again. With no other place to put the boys’ clothes, I had to move my dresses.

There was only one option. A U-Haul box, in the attic:

This should, honestly, frustrate me more than it does. But mostly, I find it humorous. We moved the boys into their beds about a month ago. I have been up to the attic zero times to retrieve a dress. I’m not in a dress-wearing stage of life right now. This was painfully obvious to me today, when the children and I met Andy for lunch. I picked him up on the side of the road, outside his office building. We went to one of the downtown Skyline restaurants. The place was filled with suits, dress shirts, heels and scarves. Our kids were the only children in the restaurant the entire time we were there. I had gone to a yoga class. I had to pick Sophie up from preschool and I didn’t have time to change. I was wearing yoga pants, a T-shirt and sweatshirt, my hair up in a messy ponytail, and I was surrounded by women who clearly blowed out their hair that morning, applied lipstick, were rocking beautiful suede boots.

It’s a life I once knew. And although I’m happy, sometimes I wish mothering and heels went more hand in hand.

I think about when this house was built. I think about the women, mothers, who lived in it. I think about where they stored their clothes—several items, I’m sure, compared to the on-clearance-having-a-bad-day-special-occasion-oh-but-it’s-so-cute gluttony of clothes currently in my closet. I think about the decades, and styles, that have passed. Where did the women store their hats? Their gloves? Their boots? And purses! Where, in this tiny closet of mine in this “master” bedroom did they store their purses?

Sophie asked why I was putting “all my pretty clothes” in the attic.

“To make room,” I said.

For Owen and James.

For the “creakings, rustlings and sighings” of this old house.

For this beautiful, exasperating life of mine.

“She lay for a long time listening to the mysterious sounds given forth by old houses at night, the undefinable creakings, rustlings, and sighings, which would have frightened Virginia had she remained awake, but which sounded to Nan like the long murmur of the past breaking on the shores of a sleeping world.” —Edith Wharton

Our (Tiny) Playroom

In addition to the three bedrooms and one bath on our second floor there is a small, maybe 8×10 room that the previous owners used as a walk-in closet. We live in a foursquare, which means our first floor consists of an entry, living room, dining room and kitchen. There’s no big finished basement. The attic is large and tall and will make a beautiful finished space someday, although Andy keeps reminding me it will be a many-years-from-now someday. In short, we don’t have a lot of extra space for toys. So we decided to turn what was a walk-in closet into a playroom. The kids still have toys in their bedrooms. Baskets of toys reside in the entry. And living room. The play kitchen is in the dining room. And there’s always a block or car under foot in the kitchen. But this room, although small, holds many—if not most—of the toys (particularly, the craft supplies). It serves as a creative space, a space I don’t mind getting messy. And often it’s a quiet space for Sophie to retreat to, when she’s tired of the boys “decorating” her artwork.

The shelving unit is the ever-popular EXPEDIT from Ikea. For storage we purchased eight DRONA Boxes, also from Ikea. They’re fine, given the price, but I often wish the unit was filled with prettier baskets.

My mom and I made the garland, inspired by The Purl Bee, for Sophie’s nursery when she was baby. You can see a sort-of tutorial here.

The artwork is from Trafalgar’s Square by Kit Chase. I ordered them from Zulily but you can also purchase them from her Etsy site here.

We were going to paint an entire wall with black chalkboard paint … until Andy found some old slate roof tiles in our attic. I fell in love with them, and insisted we use them as chalkboards instead.

The eraser, from my mom’s teaching days, reminds me so much of elementary school, clapping those green-covered erasers together, washing down the black chalkboards with a bucket and sponge.

This artwork, courtesy of the kids, hangs on Ikea’s DEKA curtain wire.

This lovely little table was a gift to Sophie several years ago, from Grandma and Paw Paw.

I love Land of Nod’s Art Caddy. Every time I order something from Land of Nod I tend to throw one of these in my online shopping basket. We now own three, and each is used every day.

Some of the storage isn’t quite adequate, but works. Plastic shoe boxes from Target hold shells and snake skin, poofy balls, glittery ribbon and plastic beads. A wooden crate from a Melissa & Doug musical instrument kit holds all the Play-Doh. And dress-up clothes reside in a (very) large basket on the floor.

Two paper lanterns hang in the room. They were a gift from my friend Linda, who found them in a “free” pile at work.

This little handmade wooden toy, which I purchased at Tamarack, often resides on the window sill.

This guy is a handmade toy from Switzerland. My mother-in-law purchased it for me years ago while on a business trip. I miscarried, and the toy sat on our piano in an otherwise toy-empty house for a long time. And now I smile every time I look at it and its surroundings.

Perhaps my favorite decorative element of the playroom, though, is this. Sophie drew it and hung it up on the wall with a red glitter heart sticker. It’s a picture of Sophie and Andy, and when Andy asked her about it she said it was called “Between Friends.”

The playroom small. And still needs (a little) work. But it’s loved and played in every day. Which, I suppose, is the very definition, and purpose, of a playroom.

“It is a happy talent to know how to play.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

Paper Cut Art

I love Nikki McClure‘s beautiful paper cuts. Her work graces several children’s picture books, including “To Market, To Market” and Cynthia Rylant’s “All In a Day.” While visiting my brother, Kyle, in New York City, I found a set of 15 postcards, each of a different McClure paper cut, titled Take Care at The Powerhouse Arena. I bought it.

At Target I found small white wooden frames, for just a couple dollars each. I bought 12.

I then did this, in our entry:

They were originally arranged above cubbies filled with baskets filled with toys. This made sense to me, as I associate McClure’s work with children’s picture books and many of the paper cuts feature children. But then friends graciously gave us a piano—and the wall with the cubbies was the only place for it. Still, I like the small framed paper cuts, above the piano. And it was an inexpensive way to fill empty wall space with work I love and memories of a wonderful weekend in NYC with my brother.

“So live it well, make it count,
fill it up with you.
The day’s all yours, it’s waiting now …
See what you can do.” —Cynthia Rylant

Decorating the House

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Ever since Sophie helped me decorate for a family birthday a couple years ago, she’s been obsessed with decorating the house. Lacking streamers, balloons and our birthday banner, she improvises with her dress-up clothes and, occasionally, toys.

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This is creative, yes, and she enjoys it. But she decorates everything. Furniture, doorknobs, light fixtures … The little plastic monkeys from the popular barrel game hang all over the gate blocking the stairs. Puppets are placed precariously on the rocking chair. Disney princess figurines are lined up the arms of chairs.

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Every time we paint a room she gets upset with us, because we never paint it pink or purple or red or better yet, red with glitter. She was downright mad when she realized our kitchen was going to be green. So I guess this is also her way of making up for it, by littering the house with butterfly wings, animal masks, purses and baseball hats.

But it does create problems. (1) The boys love to take down her decorations. This does not go over well. (2) I certainly don’t try to keep a clean house—in terms of toys—throughout the day. But her “decorations” are everywhere. You have to constantly watch where you step and what you touch, for fear of toppling a tower of decorations that took a long time to create. (3) She’s much more enthusiastic about decorating than she is about putting everything away. Statements that include ridiculous things like “but it’s just too heavy!” as she laboriously lifts a scarf are all too common.

Sometimes I wonder what our house would look like if she were given full responsibility of decorating. I imagine it would make my head hurt—but I also imagine it would be a lot more interesting.

“I deeply believe that a beautiful decor can have a beneficial influence on our lives.” —Albert Hadley