Tuesday, February 26, 2013


sunset over the mountains

We each have very few people who truly know us. Whether we intend to or not, we have one or more personas that we present to the world--the professional, the crafty mom, the school volunteer, the artist, the athlete, the dork. It's like our own Sybil-esque Breakfast Club that we break out as needed depending upon our audience. The people who know the entire cast--who have seen us at our weakest and nastiest as well as our wittiest--are few and dear.

Nowhere is this more true than on the Internet. If you post to social media or blog, you inevitably choose what to say and what aspects of your personality to share. For a long time, most of my personal Facebook posts were of the Overtired Snarky Bitter Mom variety. Now that I drink less, sleep more, and am less cranky, I think I come off as more balanced. In fact, I am a little more sane than I once was, but motherhood was never as purely negative as I made it seem. I found sharing my frustration therapeutic in the moment and aimed to be humorous.

I haven't planned in advance who I want to be on this blog. I'm hoping that, over time, you get to know me fairly well. Despite that, I still have a mental filter. You're not reading everything I'm thinking. I might need to get a job someday, and posting without a filter would be hazardous. There are days that I'm a sentimental mom or a proud mom. There are days that I roll my eyes and have to laugh at the things my kids do. Some days, it's not about being a mom at all. I necessarily pick and choose which thoughts and experiences to share, which then influences how you think of me.

Take this morning, for example. If I were comfortable enough to brag openly about my kids--which I try to keep to a minimum, because who finds that entertaining?--I would tell you that they are both working on self-initiated, self-directed research reports. My third grader, who always digs deep on an issue of interest, is interested in the Tasmanian tiger, a carnivorous marsupial that is believed to have become extinct in the 1930s. My kindergartner has decided to learn about clownfish and can now tell you all about their coexistence with sea anemones. My brainy kids have searched the Internet, asked the librarian for research help (in real books!), and have begun writing up the results of their research. The little one kept working the genus and species of the clownfish into conversation over Cheerios. That's one mom, of one type of kids, I could be today.

If I were looking to share my frequent seriously-where-do-they-get-such-goofiness-it-must-be-from-their-dad moments, I would tell you that while I was taking out the trash this morning, I heard the little morons run out to the driveway in their socks, whooping loudly. I turned to see them whipping something above their heads, lasso-style. Upon closer examination, I saw that the items being whipped around among the whooping were my bras. Really. How this occurred, I have no idea. The bras were inside the laundry room, behind a closed door, hung on the back of said closed door to dry. What possessed the idiot squad to (a) find them and (b) run around outdoors partially dressed in February in New England using them as lassos is a mystery to me.

I could have chosen to tell you only one of those stories. One would make me seem like an annoying braggart with overachieving kids. Perhaps you would have been impressed. Perhaps you would have been annoyed. The second story makes me seem like the Chief Idiot at the idiot convention, which is often how it feels around here. Both are real. Both are true. Both combine to tell you who I truly am.

Saturday, February 23, 2013


plant in mason jar

Alone. Strictly defined as "having no one else present." If you search for synonyms for alone, you find sole, solitary, and single. You also find lonely and lonesome. Why must alone so often have a negative connotation? Alone in the world. Alone on New Year's Eve with no one to kiss. What about those who choose to be alone? Those who relish the quiet, the contemplation, the ability to be who you are instead of who others want or need you to be?

I am an only child. Only, as in single, solitary.  See: alone. This was never a problem for me, rarely a reason to feel lacking. I had parents, friends, parents' friends, my mother's large family, and books. Lots of books. I still have all those things. I also now have a family of my own--a husband and two children, all of whom love me for who I am but who necessarily view me as an extension of themselves. We are relatives; our very existence is relative to one another. Now, more than ever, alone is a positive state for me.

I have always been a social person--unwilling to go to bed lest I miss something, the last to leave the party, always up for a drink, a conversation, or a good time. But even during my peak years of college friends and parties, some of my favorite memories are of the time I spent quietly reading the school newspaper alone over lunch or in a sunny spot on the quad. Until fairly recently, I never gave much thought to being alone because it was something that was neither foisted upon me unwillingly nor something I felt was missing.

Since becoming a parent, I crave alone time because it is a scarce commodity. At first it was simple: I just wanted to use the toilet or shower alone, without interruption. Now that my kids are older and such interruptions are thankfully much less frequent, I still look forward to being alone. To having no one else present. It is not lonely, but it is solitary. Alone is now a desired state of being. It is a time when I can have a complete thought, finish a task uninterrupted, and pursue my own interests. Alone is when I can be most me, when I can initiate and create instead of react and respond. Alone is a reason to celebrate.

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I have linked this post at Just Write. Click through the link for more.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Subterranean Swoon

rocking chair, map and freshly painted walls

When we moved into our house six years ago, we had a three-year-old and an infant and left behind a condo in the city. We were awed by the additional space of our new house. While I swooned over a laundry room (that now leaves me discontent), the finished basement overwhelmed the toddler. He "unpacked" the boxes of toys himself, scattered them across the basement playroom, and had room for a dance party to spare.

Over time, my kids have played less and less in this tremendous space. I'm sure they have other reasons, but my chief complaint was that it needed a face lift. The wainscoting that surrounds the room was off-white, poorly painted, and looked soiled and dingy. The walls were just a little too dark and a lot too blah. The wall hangings were a hodgepodge of stuff that didn't fit elsewhere. The whole place just bummed me out.

Allow me to share my pain in the form of some before photos. I took these as I started the project, so the blue tarps were project-specific. The rest of the clutter was pretty typical.
 basement playroom

basement playroom

basement playroom

basement playroom

basement playroom

basement playroom

basement playroom

Since summer, I speculated that the basement would make a great winter project. One day while the kids were at school, I couldn't take it any more and broke out the semi-gloss white. Once I started, there was no turning back on the giant room of wainscoting, six doors and trim, stair risers and banister, and built-in cabinets.

I was paralyzed by a color choice, so I posted this photo to the Flotsam of the Mind Facebook page and asked for suggestions.

basement playroom

Two college friends--one in California and one in London--suggested the same color, Benjamin Moore Limesickle. Another friend proposed I add an accent wall. I took their advice. After what felt like a gazillion hours patching drywall, caulking wainscoting, and taping off the carpet, I spent nearly a gaziliion hours making it happen.

We now have a white, Limesickle, and Polaris Blue basement.

basement playroom remodel

basement playroom remodel

Even before I finished painting, I couldn't resist picking up a few Target clearance pillows to brighten up the place.

colorful pillows

I think that, by itself, the Limesickle would have been too pale. With the Polaris Blue wall, the whole thing really pops. I liked it so much that I painted a second wall in the other section of the L-shaped room.

basement playroom remodel

Here is what the rest of it looks like, in all its Limesickle splendor.

basement playroom remodel

basement playroom remodel

basement playroom remodel

basement playroom remodel

basement playroom remodel

The walls still need to be touched up in a couple places, but I was able to move the furniture back into place and clean up after myself. I donated the old mattress and box springs and recycled the cardboard castle. My daughter weeded through her dress-up clothes and wants to list all her Disney princess dresses on eBay. We are brightening up and cleaning out.

The furniture is still a hodgepodge. I imagine it will remain so until the kids get a bit older and it becomes more of a tween hangout than a playroom. Now that I've spruced up the place, the rest of the family is scheming about how to further improve the space. I've dashed their hopes of a water slide and wrestling pit, but I imagine someday we will cave to a flat-screen TV and gaming system. For now, I remain steadfast in my refusal.

I have some ideas for wall art that I'll be pulling together over the next few weeks. I think some additional color in the artwork will add a lot to the room. I still need to finish painting as well; I left the stairs, banister, and built-in cabinets for Phase 2. Once I feel I have a final product, I'll be sure to let you know.

Thank you to all of you for your color advice. While it still needs further improvement, I'm beginning to swoon about my basement. If the kids still don't play down there when I'm done with the makeover, I'm taking over and moving in.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Vacant Mind

The minute I start working with my hands, my creative brain shuts down. Why is that?

For the last couple weeks, and for the last several days in particular, I've been focused (ok, fixated) on repainting our finished basement. It seems to me that painting is one of those things very few people are on the fence about--you either love it or you hate it. Put me in the "love it" category. I find the whole thing weirdly therapeutic. I put on my headphones and disappear into the task at hand. When I'm done, I have made an easily recognizable improvement that, unlike laundry or dishes, will not need to be done again anytime soon. It's all good.

What I have noticed, however, is that I can't work on a project like that and also sit down to write. It's not just the time constraint; I really have nothing to say. You'd think that spending ten hours at a time with nothing but country music and a paintbrush would permit my mind to zone out and create. It doesn't. Either my mind is fully encumbered with the project or completely vacant. I'm not sure which.

I finished Phase 1 of the basement project after midnight last night (remember, fixated). The furniture is back in place and the room is clean. Now that my hands are temporarily idle, I hope that my mind will be inspired to create. We are heading off for our last ski weekend, so I hope to split my not-skiing time among a new book, some online research for basement wall decorations, and a return to the blog. I know it hasn't been that long, but I've missed it (you).

Before and after basement photos are forthcoming. I'm looking forward to showing you what I've been up to and why my head has been so empty for so long. In the meantime, if anyone has a legitimate explanation why I cannot create with my hands and my head at the same time, please enlighten me.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Snow Inside and Out

homemade snow globes from empty jars

After two feet of snow and almost 48 hours with no electricity last weekend, I had to dump the contents of the refrigerator and freezer, despite having done a full cleaning only a month ago (sigh). This, however, will not be a post whining about what rotten luck that was. This is a post about making lemonade from lemons.

By Monday, we had electricity but the kids were still off school. After much badgering by the small folk, I agreed we would go sledding. We suited up, got the sleds out of the basement, went to the car, and it began to rain. It began to pour, actually. Although my six-year-old thought that sledding in the pouring rain still felt like a fabulous idea, I begged to differ and called off the trip. It was a difficult recovery period for some of us.

Scrambling, I remembered a craft project my daughter had asked to do that required an empty jar. Seeing as how I had about twenty jars of various shapes and sizes--formerly the fridge contents--in the recycling bins, it seemed like the perfect time to let her know I'd (secretly) purchased (previously forbidden) glitter to make snow globes.

empty jars

I hadn't printed instructions and had no Internet access. My daughter didn't completely understand why I didn't "just look it up." I relied on memory as best I could with a decent degree of success. If nothing else, it kept all three of us happily entertained and working together for quite a while, which is all I need to deem it a success.

We rummaged through the recycling bin, choosing our favorite jars (and fighting about who got which, of course). We cleaned the jars and lids thoroughly, peeled off the labels, and used Goo Gone to remove the last of the label adhesive.

I sent the kids to the basement to find a small plastic animal or other toy they were willing to sacrifice to the project. After we'd spent some time arguing about who got which of those, we matched them with jars and confirmed that the chosen lid/jar combination would fit the chosen critter.

First, we used a hot glue gun to glue the critter's feet to the inside of the lid. One of our four snow globe creatures already has detached and is now floating free, so I would use super glue if we do this project again.

animal glued to jar lid for snow globe

Next, we shook a pretty decent amount of silver glitter into the bottom of the jar to serve as our snow.

jars of glitter

We then filled the jars nearly to the brim. After that, we added several drops of glycerin to the water. The glycerin will slow down the falling snow.

I screwed on the lids as tightly as possible, turning them upside down to test for leakage. The final products looked like this.

snow globes from empty jars

When shaken, the zebra was in a storm of glittery snow (kind of like our weekend sans glitter).

glitter snow globe

The kids enjoyed it so much, they each made a second round. My son wanted something bigger and better than the little animals, so he added a whole clump of trees from one of his many dinosaur sets.

homemade snow globe with tree

Here is our new collection in its entirety (unshaken and at rest):

homemade snow globes from empty jars

My daughter liked hers so much that she took them in to share at school the next day. I enjoyed the somewhat-on-the-fly nature of the project, as well as the fact that we used trash. Around here, we seem to like craft projects from trash. It somehow made the effort of emptying and expense of refilling the refrigerator ever-so-slightly less annoying. And we made zebras, cheetahs, and palm trees in snow, which makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, and therefore is fairly outstanding in my book.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Snowy Day(s)

On the off chance you've wondered where I've been and haven't seen the Facebook page, I thought I'd provide a very short update. We were smack dab in the middle of Nemo, which sounds like a nice little fish but apparently is a very big, snowy, windy blizzard. We were without power for almost 48 hours, and without phone or Internet for another day and a half after that. I have not yet heard of anyone in my town who maintained electricity through the storm, probably for reasons like the below.

tree in power lines

That's the street that leads to my house. It's supposed to be a two-way street, but that tree and all the power lines it knocked down were taking up more than half of the street.  I also had some issues closer to home.

downed tree and cables

That's my front yard (with the neighbor's house in the background). The mess on the right used to be part of a large locust tree. Those cables you see hanging down are how I get electricity, cable, phone, and Internet from the primary lines at the street.

We are fully operational now, yet I still have two cables hanging down from that tree and running through the snowy yard. Apparently, they are cable for two companies whose services former owners of my house used for phone and/or cable services. Luckily, I happened to chat with the technician from my provider. Otherwise, I'd have no idea whom to call to have excess wires removed from my yard, which I have done. Gee, I bet removing useless cables from the yard of a non-customer will be right up there at the top of their to-do list.

While the storm wreaked a great deal of havoc, the snow was beautiful. If we'd only had electricity, it might have been nice to hunker down, hang out, watch a lot of movies, play games, and the like. Unfortunately, it was mostly just pretty cold.

snowy trees

It rained all day yesterday, so unbelievably a lot of the snow is already gone. No worries, I hear we have more in the forecast. Maybe we'll actually get out sledding this time around.

I'll be back soon with my attempt to make lemonade (kid craft projects) from lemons (the contents of my spoiled refrigerator) and other fun post-blizzard updates.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Trendy Be Damned

gold sunburst mirror
I don't often talk about home decorating here on Flotsam of the Mind, especially if there was no DIY involved. If I did it myself, you can be sure I'm going to tell everyone about it, but today I'm going to tell you about a thing I bought at a store (Home Goods). I share my recent purchase with you for three reasons:

1. It makes me happy, despite the fact that...

2. It demonstrates huge hypocrisy on my part, yet it...

3. Is a circle, which is a new and good thing for me.

I'm going to skip head to number 2 and confess that I purchased a sunburst mirror. If you frequent home or design sites, you have seen a nauseating number of the ultra-trendy sunburst mirrors. I have. If you're not familiar with the ubiquity of the item, Google "sunburst mirror" and view the multitude of images available. The one above, by Global Designs, can be purchased at Amazon for a mere $447.50.

I claim no design experience--or skill for that matter--but I occasionally enjoy looking at home design sites. As a result, I am over the sunburst mirror. It is overdone. Every room on every site has something chevron and a damn sunburst mirror. I've grown weary of them. I mock them. And yet, there is now one on my wall. The hypocrisy is nearly killing me, as is the weight of owning something trendy.

I have had a big empty spot above my family room couch since we moved into this house six years ago. Every now and then, I consider hanging a picture there, but nothing has ever been big enough. The room doesn't get much light, so I had a flash of inspiration that a mirror might both fill the wall space and help the lighting.

empty wall over couch

When I was at Home Goods for a completely different reason, I remembered this brilliant idea and predictably began browsing large, rectangular framed mirrors. I even bored myself.

I drifted across the aisle to the more interesting mirrors and saw one that caught my eye. I looked at it. Walked away. Came back, looked some more. Moved it around and tried to take a picture of it. Accepted that I really liked it and tried to convince myself it was not, in fact, a sunburst mirror. Reminding myself I could always return it, I purchased it. Now the wall looks like this.

sunburst mirror above couch

sunburst mirror

There is a so-trendy-it's-probably-over sunburst mirror on my wall, and I think it's perfect. Like most of my house, the entire room is made of right angles: boxy furniture, rectangular tables, rectangular frames, and square-patterned faux roman shades. The circle mixes things up a bit. I hope the mirror reflects a little light to brighten up the place, and lamplight shows the bronze in the metal, adding a new color and depth to the room.

close-up of metal sunburst mirror in lamplight

sunburst mirror

I like it. It's ok, judge if you must. I probably would.

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Night Before

yellow and orange tulips

Nine years ago at this moment, I probably was saying goodbye to my friends for the night. I'd hosted the weekly TV viewing party, the shows were over, and we had work the next day. I'd planned to go to work, but I didn't make it. By 7:17 a.m., I had a baby and never went to work again.

I should be wrapping presents right now. Or hiding the packages for the scavenger hunt my daughter made for her big brother to do before school.  Or packaging the brownies to share with his class. I should be coming up with a clever surprise to leave in his room, so he can see it when he first wakes up tomorrow. I usually leave a small gift, and I know that he hopes to open it at precisely 7:17 tomorrow.

I should be doing so many productive things, but instead I sit at my computer and think about that night, that day, that moment I first saw my firstborn. When I'm done writing, I'm certain to spend more than a few minutes looking through photos from that day nine years ago, the day when my job description forever changed.

As much as I will remember his arrival, I'll also recall the moments leading up to our meeting. The carefully packed bag, the perfect iPod mix, the deck of cards, all of which were completely superfluous for a shoulder presentation and unexpected C-section. Instead, I'll remember being awakened by the bizarre feeling of my water breaking. The leisurely showers my husband and I each took, how I stripped the bed and put a load of sheets in the washer before departing for the hospital. Definitively agreeing to a name while we drove down Lakeshore Drive.

The brownies sit on the counter. The lunch boxes are unpacked. The presents are unwrapped. The surprises unhidden. Everyone else has gone to bed. Here I sit, listening to the hum and slosh of the washing machine, remembering the morning that life changed from Before to Now.

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I have linked this post to (and been inspired to write it by) Just Write, "an exercise in free writing your ordinary and extraordinary moments." Want to see more? Like the Flotsam of the Mind Facebook page.

Vintage Red

Every now and then, you stumble upon something you want to examine further. You want to get up close, see the details. If you're like me, you want to capture the image to take with you. You examine it from several angles, taking in the colors and shapes.

vintage Coke machine

Mobile gas for 32 cents

This scene, in a side street off the highway, grabbed my attention as I drove by at 50 mph. Red does that. It grabs you and makes you look again. Corporate logos use red for a reason.

29-cent price on vintage gas pump

These are functional items covered in corporate logos, but they are beautiful. They make me appreciate why "vintage" is desirable. The current versions of these items may have greater functionality, but less beauty. They lack the shine and personality of the older models.

vintage oil pumps and Mobile logo

vintage Mobilgas pump at 32 cents per gallon

vintage Coca-Cola machine

I don't think gas cost either 29 or 32 cents in my lifetime, but I remember when Coca-Cola came in shapely glass bottles that felt good in your hand. I remember popping off the cap with a mounted Coca-Cola cap remover--the tilt, the flick of the wrist, the pop of the cap, the sound of the fizz. It tasted better then.

Mobil Gas thermometer with Christmas lights

Sunday, February 3, 2013

15-501 is My Road Not Taken

Duke clocktower

My parents started my prospective college tours early, in the spring of my freshman year of high school. Our first stops were the University of North Carolina and Duke University, neighbors on Route 15-501.

On the day we visited Duke, the campus was a disaster--covered in toilet paper, littered with trash, and reeking of beer. It was Monday, March 24, 1986, the day after Duke beat Navy to make it to the Final Four. As I walked smiling amid the Gothic architecture and scattered party remains, my dad turned to me and said, "You love this, don't you?"

I did. Although we toured many other colleges over the next three years and I applied to several, Duke was always my first choice. For the rest of high school, I followed Duke basketball religiously, posted Duke photos in my locker, and acquired a treasure trove of sweatshirts, key chains, and other Duke memorabilia. Like every other senior, I wrote my admissions essays, mailed off my submissions, and waited.

Duke Chapel from BC Walkway

I received a thin letter from Duke.

Everyone knows that no good college admission news arrives in a thin letter. If you've been accepted, you receive a thick packet of information. The thin letters are only bad news. I took my thin letter upstairs to my bedroom and opened it. Wait listed. Not denied, but I might as well have been. All my visions of heading south to the college of my dreams were obliterated by that thin little letter. They wouldn't take me. I had to make other plans, become excited about other opportunities. So I did.

I still have the thin letter.
After I got the news from the other places I applied, I weighed my options and decided to attend UNC-Chapel Hill, Duke's rival eight miles down 15-501. Because Duke was no longer an option, I moved on and prepared to become a Tar Heel.

On a spring afternoon while my parents were out of town, the phone rang. I answered in the kitchen. It was a phone call that would change my life. Duke would have me. It was so unexpected that I couldn't process it. After hanging up the phone, I only vaguely remembered the details of the call. I checked the notepad where I'd been taking notes. All it said was "DUKE" in all caps.

I did go to Duke that fall. I loved my college experience, but to say that phone call changed my life is not merely a hyperbolic statement of nostalgia. That phone call, and my subsequent decision to take Duke up on its offer, set the course of my future. Had I gone elsewhere, nearly every experience of my adult life would have been different.

I would have different friends. I met many of my best friends at Duke, including several I chat with online almost daily and the godmother of one of my children.

I met my husband at Duke. Without that phone call, I'd likely be married to someone else. I would have different children.

Had I married someone else, I might have made different career decisions. I certainly would have lived in different places, as my husband's career has dictated our moves for the last fifteen years and will for the foreseeable future. Those moves, in turn, have determined the friends I've made and the experiences I've had since we first moved for my husband's career in 1998.

Different spouse, other children, different friends, and other life experiences. All the result of a single phone call in the spring of 1989.

That one phone call changed everything. When I play the What If game, that is the decisive moment. The moment I stood in my parents' kitchen, ballpoint pen in hand, and spoke to someone sitting in an office in Durham was my road not taken, my unanswered prayer, my sliding door. Without that phone call, my life would not be life as I know it.

I'm awfully glad they called.