Contractors are like bad boyfriends

We are doing a little (OK, not so little!) exterior renovation project on our house right now.  The house was built in the mid-1980’s, and though I’m sure the color “fecal brown” was all the rage at that time, I’m over it.  Since we moved in 6+ years ago, I have been wanting to give the exterior of our home a face-lift.  Unfortunately I have neither the savvy nor the budget of Joanna Gaines, so we’re just hoping that we can make our vision a reality.

This is the “before” shot. Hoping to have an “after” sometime this century.

We all know the old adage about renovating:  it will always cost more money and take more time than you think it will, which I can attest is true based on my own personal experience over the years of home ownership.

But here’s the thing about renovating that HGTV will never tell you:  Contractors are like bad boyfriends.  Trust me on this.  I’ve had some bad boyfriends in my day, SO I KNOW.  You call this contractor up for the first time for an estimate (which I think might be the contactor equivalent of a booty call), and they show right up at your door the next day.  They seem interested in you and they give you a professional estimate for a reasonable price.  You commit.  Then–NOTHING.  Crickets.  All communication becomes one-way.  You try calling, it goes to voicemail.  You email, sometimes to more than one address because you’re creepy like that.  No response.  You try texting, but you keep it light, you know?  Because you’re so breezy and easy to get along with.  You’re definitely not the type of girl to sit around your house waiting for your stone mason to text you back.


Why won’t you get back to me?  Am I trying to hard?  Not hard enough?  If you get back to me I will stop texting you, promise.

Don’t tell me that I just need a better contractor, or a different contractor, or that I should call this guy you know who is your husband’s brother and he’s so awesome and professional so he would never do that to me.  IT’S ALL LIES.  I have employed a least a few dozen contactors over the past 15 years and they have all done it to me at some point.  Sooner or later they ghost, and I find myself in the same old predicament–on my phone in the kitchen, stalking this dude who won’t call me back .  Hello, high school memories!

Inevitably, the contractor always seems to turn up a few weeks later, right around the time I am giving up all hope for our working relationship.  He is always full of apologies and excuses, just like those bad boyfriends.  And I am faced with a choice–do I smile, accept the apology, and move on toward a future in which my house is no longer the color of feces with 1970’s brick?  Or do I start over with someone else who could be just as bad or worse?  That’s the question.  That is always the question.

I would like to thank all of the bad boyfriends from my past who unknowingly but effectively prepared me for the rejection, frustration, and abandonment involved with home improvement.





I’m going to Haiti soon! Here’s how you can help!

Hello friends!  As some of you know, I will be going back to Haiti very soon!  The date is fast approaching!  Our team is leaving on July 1st, and we will be there for a week.  One of the primary purposes for our trip will be to start implementing a primary care program we have been working on with the community of Chambon (pronounced sham-BONE).  As some of you may remember, I spent a day in Chambon when I went to Haiti last year.

The organization that I am traveling with is the International Mission Foundation.  IMF has a history of working with Chambon for several years now, building relationships and partnering with them on other community development projects.  IMF also has an educational sponsorship program that allows children to attend the Valley of Hope School.

Chambon is a very rural community, with limited access to medical facilities.  Reliable health care can be very difficult to obtain in Haiti for a multitude of reasons.  Over the years of working with them on other projects, the community has expressed a desire for a community health program.  Since this will be our first time in Chambon specifically for this purpose, we expect to spend much of our time learning about this community and doing some more needs assessment.  However, we do hope to set up a primary care mobile clinic for the children who are currently enrolled in the Valley of Hope school.

When people find out about trips like this, they often ask if there is anything they can do to help.  The answer is YES, we do need your help!  Since this is a medical trip, we need supplies!  I made an appointment to go to Intervol in a few weeks, which was an invaluable resource for me last time I traveled to Haiti.  But we will still have many other needs aside from what I can pick up from Intervol.  If you are interested in helping, here are some things you can do!

1.  You can shop on Amazon!  We have an Amazon wish list!  If you like shopping in your pajama pants, like I do, this is a great option–no need to leave your couch.  There are some items on there that are inexpensive, so no need to break the bank if you just want to contribute a little something.

2.  If you live in the Rochester NY area, I will take donations of the following items:

-OTC medications:  acetaminophen (tablets and children’s liquid suspension), ibuprofen (tablets and suspension), diphenhydramine (Benadryl-tablets and suspension), children’s and adult vitamins, ferrous sulfate 325 mg tablets, Poly-vi-sol or Tri-vi-sol liquid, Clotrimazole cream, hydrocortisone cream, and triple antibiotic ointment.  No expired medications please.

-any first aid supplies (gauze, band-aids, slings, ankle or knee braces, rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, etc.)

-otoscopes and/or opthlamascopes in good working condition (used OK!)

-manual BP cuffs in good working condition (used OK!)

-stethoscopes (used OK!)

-digital scale(s) in good condition (who wants to weigh themselves anyhow?  Perfect opportunity to ditch your scale!)

-small toys or stickers to hand out to the kids at the end of a check-up

3.  You can sponsor a child in Chambon.  This is a really great opportunity for people who are interested in a more long-term commitment with this community.  Student sponsorship costs $47 per month and pays for one child’s uniform, tuition, shoes, backpack, school supplies, personal hygiene items, and one meal each day.  Sponsorship dollars also help toward the cost of teacher training and costs related to maintaining and improving the school building.  You can read more about sponsoring a child at Valley of Hope here.


The Valley of Hope School in Chambon

Thank you for your support!  Please “like” and “share” this post!

Date night dissolution

The hubby and I had a date night planned this weekend.  The best part about date night, in my opinion, is that you get to miss the whole dinner/bedtime debacle.  The hours between 5-8 pm are, without fail, the most difficult for me as a mother.  I just don’t enjoy that time of day.  Even on the weekends when I am not as fatigued as I am after working all day, some kind of strange black magic takes over in our house and everyone gets cranky and nobody’s ears work and messes get messier and bedtimes creep later and children move at the speed of sloths and I just. can’t. take. it.  Add in the fact that you have to make dinner, clean up from dinner, and 5 out of 7 nights also nag kids to do homework and practice their instruments, then chase them into the shower, well–fuggedaboutit.  

But when it is date night I hire a teenager who comes to my house at 5:30 pm and feeds them hot dogs or soup from a can and plays with them and puts them to bed.  This is cause for happiness on both sides of the equation, because our kids love the teenage girls that babysit for us, and we love escaping the witching hour.  The babysitter always asks us when we are leaving what time we will be home, which I suppose is a valid question when I think about it rationally, but also–who is she, my mother??  I’ll come home when I’m good and ready.  Geez.  OK, 9:30 at the latest, I need my beauty sleep.

We were kind of aimless about our plans for date night this week, and at a loss about what to do with ourselves.  We had wanted to do something outside but the weather wasn’t cooperating, so all we had figured out is that we were going to go out to eat somewhere, and then hopefully find something else to do so that we didn’t get home before bedtime because–hello!– let’s get our money’s worth out of the babysitter!

I got dressed up really cute.  I have been following this fashion blogger on social media, and she is always putting up these cute little outfits with links to where to buy everything, which really takes the guess-work out of being fashionable.  I put on actual pants.  With a button.  On a weekend.  They weren’t even leggings sneakily devised to look like pants.  I was really working it.

I looked at the clock and realized that the sitter was 10 minutes late, which was weird, because she was always on time.  We texted her, and she answered back that she was so sorry, she totally forgot, and also she was sick today so she couldn’t come anyway.  At the same exact moment that this text conversation was happening, my daughter started yelling for me to come upstairs quick, because she had diarrhea and she didn’t feel well.   Sigh.  I got the hand sanitizer, changed back into my pajamas, and hunkered down for a night in.

So basically, in a 30 minute time span I went from  looking super cute in my new spring outfit and anticipating to some good food and an evening out with my husband, to standing in my kitchen in my pajamas, staring into my empty fridge.  With lipstick on.

This must be the 40-something’s equivalent of getting stood up for a date in your 20’s?  Except I don’t remember someone else’s diarrhea being a part of that.


What NOT to buy for the holidays

Well friends, here in the USA, it is almost Thanksgiving, and the holiday shopping rush will soon be upon us.  I would like to take a little time to discuss with you, my kind readers, a few tips for  your holiday shopping lists.  I know most of the articles you are accustomed to reading around this time of year talk about the “best gifts to give” or the “hottest toys of the year”, but I think that sometimes knowing what not to buy can be just as informative, if not more informative, than a list of most-wanted items.  With this in mind,  I am going to take you through some of the worst things to ever take up space on our family’s personal toy shelves. Because I love all of you, I have compiled a list of the most annoying, most obnoxious, most unworthy toys that you should definitely NOT  put on your Christmas lists.  Grandparents–listen up!  This goes for you too!  So without further ado, here are the most annoying toys we have ever owned:

Tickle me Elmo TMX edition:  My son received this on his second birthday, and it scared the crap out of him the first dozen times we used it.  Pressing Elmo’s belly or foot induces a fit of muppet laughter which sometimes includes hysterics such as rolling over, kicking his legs, and pounding his paws on the floor.  Once Nate got over his crippling fear, it was kind of funny, for a little while.  But after your toddler compulsively pushes Elmo’s tummy  80 times in a row before breakfast, it is NOT  FUNNY ANYMORE.  Also, we nearly went broke trying to keep batteries in this thing.  It took 6 AA batteries, and Elmo ate those things like he was at some kind of all-you-can-eat battery buffet.  When the batteries would start to fizzle out, we would sometimes hear Elmo give a random, unprompted giggle from the bottom of the toy box while we were trying to unwind after the kids were in bed.  Creepy.  A special thank you to my in-laws for bringing this red fuzzy ball of laughter into our lives.  Pretty sure they don’t sell this one anymore, but there are lots of other talking/giggling variations on this theme that would be worthwhile staying away from.

Despicable Me Fart Blaster:  Again, this one came to us as a gift from my in-laws.  I love you guys.  Also, are you mad at me?  Did I do something wrong?  I really try to be a good daughter-in-law, so it is hard for me to understand your insatiable need to torture me with battery-operated toys.  In my in-laws defense, my sweet, delicate daughter did ask for this toy by name a few years ago.  This toy is a hit with pretty much every kid who has ever stepped foot into our house, for obvious reasons.  Compared with all of our other toys, it also spends an inordinate amount of time out of reach in our uppermost cabinet in “time out”.  It basically looks like an air horn, with a variety of fart sounds for your enjoyment.  Really great for those of you trying to discourage the constant potty humor with your school-age children.  There is a  similar item on the market which looks equally annoying, called the Tech Gear Multi-Voice Changer.  I suggest steering clear for the sake of your sanity.

Moon Sand:  There are no words for how much I despise this stuff.  Some kid whose mother obviously hates me gave this to one of my kids at a birthday party, and the next thing I knew it was everywhere. In every nook and cranny, between every floorboard, in every tiny crevice.  And because it doesn’t absorb water and never dries out, it is completely impossible to clean up.  Ugh.  I kept waiting to get an invite back to that kid’s party so we could give him an ant farm with a hole in it.

Melissa and Doug Band in a Box:  This one was my fault.  I bought this for the kids one Christmas thinking it would be a fun way to foster a love of music in my young children.  Indeed, when the were crawlers and early walkers, it was just too precious to watch them shaking the little maracas and tapping on the tambourine in time to their favorite kiddie music.  But as they got older, it became apparent that this toy was just another way for them to make a ridiculous amount of noise.   And you know what?  They do not need any help with that.  And the cymbals, good heavens , the cymbals.  Remember that skit from SNL with Will Farrell and the cow bell?  “You know what this needs?  MORE COW BELL!  It’s just like that, except with cymbals.  Help me, Jesus.

Squawking Rubber Chicken:  I am happy to tell you that we have never owned this toy.  Whoever came up with this idea is the devil incarnate.  Seriously.  If you don’t believe me, check out this video of the chicken in action.

Trust me when I tell you this: when it comes to toys, less is more.  Toys that make less noise, toys that have less pieces to keep track of, toys that require less (or no) batteries, and toys that do not take 2 hours to assemble.  Allow these principles to be your guiding light as you shop for the children in your life.

While we are on the subject of holiday giving, let’s have a quick chat about your child’s teacher.  Most of us feel the need to get a little something for teachers at holiday time.  My husband used to teach elementary school and would himself come home with bags filled with tokens of appreciation the day before Christmas break.  And while your teachers all appreciate the thought and spirit behind the gifts, as the wife of a former teacher, I implore you:  Do not buy your child’s teacher a mug.  Please trust me on this.  Yes, even if it is filled with candy or other confections.  Every year, we would receive an average of 10-15 mugs from students per year. First year:  “Yay!  Look at all the hot chocolate we can drink!”  Second year:  ummm…I don’t have any more room in the cabinets for those mugs, honey, might have to use some to hold your pencils at school.  Third year:  “If you bring home any more mugs, I will cut you”.  So please, just don’t.  Just say “no” to mugs, kids.

I do have a few fun suggestions though, for those of you who are looking for some creative and meaningful gifts*.  These are not well suited to young kids (who rarely appreciate creative and meaningful gifts anyway!) but may find a place on your list for other special people in your life.  Here are a few things I have come across recently that I really love:

Deux Mains:  This is great little shop that I was introduced to while in Haiti earlier this year.  Deux Mains is a small footwear company in Port-au-Prince that exists to empower Haitians to be financially self-sufficient by creating jobs that pay a fair living wage.  They partner with Rebuild Globally, a non-profit organization that engages in business development, job training, and education in Haiti.  They sell some of the most beautiful (and comfortable!) sandals and flip-flops I have ever worn, and, neato-skeeto, they use recycled tires to make them!  You can order their products online, which will ship from their warehouse in Miami, but rest assured that the labor of love all takes place in Haiti.

Noonday Collection:  This is another fair-trade business that sells jewelry and accessories from artisans all over the world.  Your purchase helps to support the artisans in their respective countries and provide dignified employment.   You can shop by country or just browse the collection online.

Mantrabands:  I am really digging these.  They look so stylish and fun stacked up, and you can pick the message(s) you want as your own personal mantra.

Emily McDowell Studio:  I really love this little online shop that sells cards, journals, and gifts that are both hilarious and refreshingly honest.  Need a little something for that person you know who is going through a hard time?  You will likely find it here.

Story People:  A good friend introduced me to this sweet little shop filled with art that combines whimsical illustrations with soul-soothing poetry.  You can find cards, books, calendars, ornaments, and the like here.  If nothing else, it is so fun just to peruse all of the different “stories”.

Design-her gals:  This site is so much fun, and great for that friend on your list who likes personalized stationary.  You can create an account for free, and then design and save any number of “gals”  (or guys) to look like you, your best friend, your mom, your sister, or whoever is on your list.  Kind of like a bitmoji (though this company predates bitmojis by almost a decade).  Then you can have your personalized image printed up on whatever gift item you choose from the store’s offerings.

So, talk to me!   What are the most annoying toys to ever enter YOUR house?  What would you never buy again?  And what are your favorite gifts of the moment?

*My blog is not sponsored, so I am not trying to sell you anything!  These are just some of my personal favorites!  Kind of like “Oprah’s favorite things” but way less famous and with no giveaways!

A season of change

 I know some people who are not good at saying “no” to things.  As a result, they find themselves over-scheduled, over-committed, and spread thin.

I am not one of those people.  I don’t like to have a full calendar or a busy schedule.  To that end, I say “no” to social engagements and requests to be involved all the time.  “No” comes fairly easily to me.

I am particularly good at saying “no” to my children.  For me it is, in fact, almost a knee-jerk reaction to most every request that is lobbed in my direction.

“Can I have my own iPhone?”

“Can I invite 47 eight year-olds plus all of our neighbors and their cats to my birthday party?”

“Can I have waffles with maple syrup and whipped cream and sprinkles and candy on top for breakfast?”

Can I have my own You Tube channel?
Uh, no.

The requests are never-ending, I can hardly keep up.  I could probably just have a tape recorder (do those even exist anymore?  How old am I anyway?) parked in a corner of the kitchen with my voice saying “NO” at 6 minute intervals.  I would likely intercept a few requests that way and save myself some headaches.  Or perhaps I would have an uninterrupted shower from time to time?  Hmmmm.

The thing I am realizing is that, though I may be the master of the “no”, I need to also be better at saying “yes”.

I was sitting on the couch on a quiet Saturday afternoon last weekend, book in hand, with the sun shining in the window and my favorite quilt on my legs.  My favorite weekend posture was interrupted by my little guy who came in and said, “Want to go out and play in the leaves with me mom?”  I had a second where I felt the “no” rising up, my knee-jerk reaction, with all of the attached excuses.  I had just sat down.  I had been doing chores all day.  I hadn’t been feeling well.  I wanted to read my book.

Then I looked at him.  How much longer will this kid want to play in the leaves with his mom?  How many more golden autumn days will I be able to do this with him before he starts preferring his friends over me, or gets a girlfriend, or goes off to college?

So I said yes.  And look what happened:

We had fun, we connected, and we made memories.  I am so glad that I didn’t succumb to my knee-jerk reaction of “no”.  Instead I stepped into the discomfort of the “yes”.  It wasn’t uncomfortable once I got there, but making the transition from “no” to “yes” always involves a little discomfort for me, a little stretching, like working out some stiff muscles when you get out of bed in the morning.  Your bed is warm and cozy, and you want to stay put under your covers.  But when you do haul yourself out of bed, there is coffee waiting, and the sun is shining, and you decide that it’s good that you got out of bed, because there are some fun things and some important things coming your way that day.

The last month or so I have been getting ready to make a change.  I am in transition.  I made some personal realizations that I had to say “no” to some things and some people that I really cared about, in order to say “yes” more often to my people at home.  And perhaps more importantly, in order to say “yes” to me, and what I really need right now.  It is not a very graceful transition for me.  There have been a lot of worries, tension, tooth-grinding, and a few sleepless nights.  A lot of concern about what other people will think or feel, fear of letting people down, and fear of the unknown.  I have been afraid to come out of my comfy bed, so to speak.  The stretch from the “no” which keeps me where I am, to the “yes” of moving forward, demands discomfort.

And then there’s autumn.  Autumn is just out there, doing her thing, bursting into color, making her transition in the most glorious, beautiful way possible, with no concern over what people think about summer making its exit and giving way to a long, cold winter.

Autumn is such a show-off.

Most of the transitions that I make in my life look a lot less like the beauty and grace of autumn, and a lot more like the bitterness of February giving way to the unpredictability of March.  I have always thought that March was the most hideous month, all slushy and mucky and dreary. There will be a day here or there with a break in the weather, giving some hope that spring is coming, only to snow again, covering up the progress that the warm sun had made. Once the snow finally melts and the ground has thawed, we look around only to see that the grass is brown, the gardens are a mess, and there is a lot of work to do.  That sounds a lot more like my transitions.

So, me and autumn are going to do this transition thing together.  She is going to remind me that it is possible to move from one thing to the next with beauty and grace, and that even the most beautiful changes leave a big pile of leaves to rake up at the end.  Transitions are always labor-intensive in some way.

Just like I’m learning to say “yes” to my kids, I’m learning to say “yes” to change. Let the leaves fall where they may.

“As uncertain as I was as I pushed forward, I felt right in my pushing, as if the effort itself meant something.”               ~Cheryl Strayed