Not All Driveways are Created Equal

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If you happen upon my driveway and turn off the road you will find yourself surrounded by nothing but woods.

If you keep going, soon you won’t see the road from which you turned or the house at the end sitting in a small clearing.

Every time I make this drive I savor those few magical
moments when this is my view.

The Mafia of Utah

 

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At 7:30 this morning I was jolted awake by my sweet Rosie barking her little, more like extremely large, head off. She’s a bit more of  a barker than I’d like and we are doing our best to help her distinguish between what we need to know about and what she can keep to herself. But this time I new something about her bark was different and so I  got up to see what had her so concerned.

Before I even pulled the covers back I heard a loud banging, hammer on metal, reverberating through the whole house. When I opened the back door it was not just ringing through my house, but the whole neighborhood. My neighbor was up on his roof removing his swamp cooler, and banging away with no thought to his neighbors. It’s not the first time, he’s not at all a considerate neighbor, he’s also the tree killer I’ve spoken of before. But I know if I yelled at him to quiet it down, he would just give me a look of disbelief and walk back in his house. Well, at least that is what he did last time.

A grumpy old lady used to live in that same house before he bought it. She liked to call the dog catcher on every animal she saw and once even threatened to shoot me and my dogs. But at least, once we had it out face to face, she kept out of my way and I returned the favor.

I miss her.

As I grumbled and walked back inside to make tea, I thought to myself, I can’t wait to leave this place and get back to “normal”.

Our 5 years here in Utah have not been what I would call pleasant years. I  think that really says more about my ability to bloom where I am planted than it does about the place, but it doesn’t change the fact that this place is Not Normal!  At least it’s not my normal, or the normal of any person I have met thus far in my 39 years. I’ve lived in 6 states and dozens of cities and although each one had their own differences, this state is just odd.  Joe (husband) would say, “this place is cracked”. I think that is pretty astute. People never, and I mean never react to situations the way you would expect.  They are complacent and not in a good way. They are numb, no one talks with their hands or gets passionate about anything. The “amusing” anecdotes they tell are beyond boring.  Maybe they are just simple folk or heavily medicated. I wouldn’t know, getting to “know” someone here is not really what people do. It’s all surface, no one shares, no one gets intimate.

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And so today instead of complaining about how much I’ve despised living here , how I can’t wait to move,  I will tell you one of the great lessons I have learned, but will undoubtedly never use again….

How to convey my discontent without giving offense.

Oh good grief, it is now 8:15 and said neighbor is loudly sawing. There is just no end to the thoughtlessness. He needs a job.

Back to my thought line. You see when we moved into this house it needed work. And so we have had the opportunity to employ many, many people. Most all of them were incompetent. I mean seriously, incompetent.  But there is more to it. They are like children, who’ve never been told what they are doing is wrong. When you tell them you aren’t happy with the work, they look at you like just you just stepped off the Tardis. They then follow up their disbelief with a sad “what do you want me to do?” They are disappointed, not that the work is poor and have an unhappy customer, but that you dared mention it. I am not combative or rude, I actually don’t like conflict, but I am assertive and vocal, which doesn’t go over at all with the people of Utah. They instantly shut down and on a few occasions even cry. They simply don’t understand why I am upset that they broke my bed while laying flooring, because, “it was an accident.” True story!

Here is just a sampling of the craziness.

Appliance Installer

Me: “the dishwasher is sticking out at least 6 inches past the cabinets.”

Installer: “you don’t like it like that?”.

Me: “no, I don’t”.

Installer: “What do you want me to do?

Me: “Push it further in?”

Painter

Me: “I don’t want the door frames,  floorboards and ceilings painted the same color as the walls.

Painter: “You don’t?”

Me: “No.”

Painter: “What color do you want them? ”

Me: “White, the same color as all the other trim in the house.”

Painter : “Really?”

Me: “How many homes have you seen with the doors, trim and ceilings the same color as the walls?

Painter “Well, no one has ever complained about it”

Air Duct Cleaners

Me: “Why do I smell gas?”

Cleaner: “Oh, we had some gas cans in the pack of the van, I guess some spilled”

Me: “Well it’s really strong I’m going to take the baby outside, so you can get another hose”

Cleaner: “I don’t smell anything,  just air.” (We have 5 cats, obviously my house seldom smells like “just air”)

Me: “You need to get that hose out of the house, it’s making me nauseous”

Cleaner: “I don’t have another hose”

Me: “Can you call someone to get another hose, I’m having to stand outside with my baby, the smell is so strong.”

Cleaner: “You want me to call someone else?”

Plumber 

Plumber: “I’ve finally figured out your problem, it needs a new washer, for two days I’ve been trying to think of what that thing was called.”

Fencing Guy

Joe: “Those holes don’t seem like they are 6 feet apart, the fence panels are six feet wide, how is that going to work?”

Fencer: “Um, I don’t know, I just thought I’d dig the holes and put the posts and concrete in first”.

Joe: “They have to line up with the fence panels, did you measure the distance between?”

Fencer: “I eyeballed it”

Joe:  “You need to pull out all the posts before the concrete dries, remeasure and make sure the posts are an equal 6 foot apart”

Fencer: “I can’t right now, I gotta go. I have to drop my kids off at their grandmother’s.”  Yes, he showed up with 3 kids I had to feed breakfast and babysit, while he “worked”. He cried when we fired him.

Roofer

Me: “I’m calling to let you know there are tacks and nails all over my front and back yard.”

Roofer “that happens, there will be a few”.

Me: “Not a few, hundreds, did you go over it with a magnet?”

Roofer: “I think my son did.”

Me: “Well then he missed the 3 foot long string of nails laying in my backyard.”

Roofer: “What do you want us to do?”

Me: “Bring your magnet and go over it again.”

Roofer: “But it’s Sunday”

Me: “you just left 30 minutes ago”

Roofer: “but I’m already home and comfortable”

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I could keep typing, but you get the point. For a few years we just assumed that these people were a little slow. That might be the reason for the lack of skills, but it doesn’t explain their being flabbergasted at the idea of their customers being unhappy.  I’ve since learned, no one ever complains about anything in Utah. It took hiring the second general contractor to finish our basement (after firing the first one) before we understood.

Here was HIS explanation.

“I’m not Mormon and neither are you, so if you don’t like my work, you complain to me. But if we were both Mormon you wouldn’t risk offending me, because ya never know who I might be related to. I could be the Bishop’s brother, or the Stake President’s son and then you’d be in big trouble. You have to be careful how you talk to someone, they might be connected” 

I suppose it’s probably a little like living in Newark, NJ.   Ya never know who’s uncle is going to break your kneecaps.

So with that I began to take a new approach, I’ve learned to be gentle. I know the front these people put on, kind and smiling even when they are breaking inside, and my forthright and direct manner  truly hurts them. So instead of demanding they do a better job,  I gently suggest they do it another way and then thank them for helping. No joke. This is the only method I have discovered to get people to do their job correctly, without hurting their feelings. Even then if you aren’t watching them closely, they will do something asinine like dump a bucket of grout on your front lawn on the way out.  Another true story.

The key to addressing an issue is to start your first sentence with this phrase. “I need your help”. It seems that phrase puts Utahns in a different mindset, helping people is something they either feel forced to do or actually want to do. Either way I’ve learned to use my kid gloves with the people of the Beehive state, something up until now, was never a part of my wardrobe.

But that is NOT going to fly in New Jersey, in fact, with that tactic they would run right over me. So I will get to go back to my normal forthright and direct self and no one in Jersey is going to cry when I do. They will instead wave their hands and passionately tell me I’m crazy. They will of course fix it anyway, because they want to make me, the customer, happy.

 

 Ah, normalcy, it’s definitely relative. 

 

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Suburban Housewife or Earth Mother Hippie?

Who am I supposed to be? Who do I want to be? 

Who SHOULD I be?

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My mind is a world unto itself.

When I relay my dreams to my husband he is most always incredulous. They are full stories, with characters, odd scenarios and they have a clear beginning and end. When I give myself over to my little gray cells to contemplate a subject, my mind can turn tirelessly for days while I still go about my daily activities.  I have no choice, my mind just needs to work it out, regardless of my thoughts on the matter. Today I am still turning over a thought line that started many days ago.

It all started with my IPAD.

I have a Facebook account with zero information on it. I signed up to see some photos of my friends new baby 8 years ago and once I started getting “friend” requests from people I barely knew and others I no longer wanted to know, I never returned. That doesn’t stop Facebook from coming through my email and I haven’t taken the time to decipher how one leaves Facebook. If one can.

Laying in bed I checked my email, Facebook wanted to know “Do you know these people?”. 

And there he was, a former, hmmm, not boyfriend, but more than friend? Whatever he was in relationship terms, he was a dear friend whom I shared some amazing experiences with. But…he was different now.  We spent countless hours talking about dreams, plans, ideas and ideology. We leaned more toward the live in the bush of Alaska and sew our own hemp clothes. Nature was like a religion to us, hugging trees was no joke and our best moments were spent sitting completely surrounded by the works of Mother Earth.

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That is not the man I see on Facebook.

He lives in a perfectly suburban home complete with decorative accessories, his wife is the picture perfect kind, makeup, scarf and earrings for every snap of the phone camera.

Where was the cabin in the woods, the organic veg garden, there aren’t even any trees in his .17 acre backyard. Did he change? Or did he bend?

Part of me was envious of his life. The idea of living in a new suburban home with a tiny backyard has always sounded good to me. Then I would have time to decorate each corner of the mantle just so. Salon appointments would be more regular than veterinarian visits and that frumpy feeling I seem to have day in and day out would no longer exist.

But then there’s the other me, the me who still wants to live on a giant partial of 50 acres, where you will find clean sustainably raised food and dirty kids in second hand clothes (because health and happiness are not found in a  J Crew dress or bottle of Purell).

The fact is, I want them both. I want an apartment in the city with a standing pedicure appointment and a farm in the country with a fairy forest to ramp through hand in hand barefoot with my girls. Whichever way I “bend” it will always include a French Country farm kitchen, toile and an English tea set. This much has always been clear.

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So who am I? A friend once dubbed me a  “Hippie Princess”.  Although I’ve always thought that was an apt description, it really doesn’t answer the churning in my brain.

Although in my youth these questions were fun to explore, as an adult and parent they seem disconcerting. I should already know these answers, how else am I to parent without a strong sense of self. Who am I? What a  ridiculous question for a woman of my age.

The reason for these questions becoming almost unbearable is simple, I’m looking at real estate.

For the money we can spend…..

we could get a nice little suburban home in a pretty little neighborhood.

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Or….a storybook house with 15 acres in need of major renovation, that could only be afforded over time. 

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What would you choose?

If I was worrying about feeding  my children while making a 5 mile trek to my village with 50 pounds of water strapped to my back, I would not have these thoughts.

*sigh* , definitely a first world problem.

 

 

A Cow, A Goat, 4 Chickens and Chest Pains

I have been cleaning, decluttering, painting and all around beautifying.

And then…IT happened.

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First came the news that our Annabelle (bovine) is pregnant. One of the bull calves we put on her to nurse, grew up and took over the role of paramour. She is almost 7 months along which means we will need to stop milking her soon. Only those who live with fresh milk from their backyard will understand the worry that came over me knowing  we would no longer have fresh milk available. So in true form we delved head strong into getting a goat. Aldonza, a sweet gentle LaMancha is now in our pasture. Fences must be replaced, gardens must be protected and the existing animals must be gently introduced to the newest family member.

Definitely looking forward to the cheese.

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Next came the matter of our egg layers, who are now basically pets, they are either laying in some obscure location or have decided to retire. I would gladly stew the Rhode Island Reds, Henny and Penny, as they are not the friendliest, but Mrs. Orpington is the girl who loves too tight hugs from my 2 year old and will then follow her around for more. How do you make soup out of an animal that loves hugs?!

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So next we found ourselves in a stranger’s backyard, large fishing net in hand terrorizing 4 laying hens to relocate to our little farm, names to be determined at a later date.

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Once all things on the milk and egg front calmed down, I found myself sitting in the ER with chest pains. If I had just waited 6 hours I would have discovered a virus that would make it’s way through each member of my family, morphing into a different symptom with each incubation. My body weakness is muscle tension so it was no surprise Doc thought it was muscular. I am pleased to report that despite a hereditary heart problem my ticker is in perfect shape.

As we began to make progress in health it was time to take a look at the state of my much too ignored home, only to discover, the washing machine decided it was time to say adieu and the small drip from the garbage disposal I was managing with a tupperware container was now gushing.

As  a final “how do you do” we received the sad news that my husbands best job prospect demanded he work in Baltimore, Maryland where homeschool laws are absurd and the next best prospect would not be needing him to relocate until next spring. Hope is still alive, but the urgency for a ready to sale home is not.

Life, IT happens.

The purpose of this post is to get my patooty back in gear. Our home deserves to be beautiful and stress free whether we sell it to someone else or spend yet another winter here in Utah.

After finishing the room downstairs, my youngest started asking  to sleep in the “pretty bed downstairs”. I had spent so much energy on “getting the basement finished”, I didn’t realize my children would feel left out.

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When my first was born we bought a beautiful convertible crib (crib, toddler bed, daybed, full bed).  When my second was old enough I purchased a second toddler mattress and slipped it under the daybed as a trundle and this has been their bedroom for some time.  I expected at some point they would share the full size bed, but their personalities are not shaping up in a way that makes that expectation seem plausible. So I think it’s time to define their spaces.

Here’s the plan:

I’m going to make 2 toddler beds. That’s right I’m going to make them. I just can’t see spending money on furniture that will last only a few years.

Paint the walls. Keep me in your thoughts, I’m having a hard time with neutral. I want pink walls and so do the girls.

Toys will be limited to a few.

Create 2 full bed sets. Pillow cases, throw pillows and comforter. I’ll probably buy the bed skirt, that actually seems too difficult to sew.

Art for the walls.

New curtains

New furniture, well new to us. I will be scouring the classifieds and thrift stores.

 

She Wants Equality, The Church Wants Her Back in the Kitchen

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All this woman is asking for is equality within the community she loves. 

 

This is where I live.

This is where I’m raising my daughters. 

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Update: “Today, Kelly’s former ecclesiastical leader in Virginia, Bishop Mark Harrison, contacted Kelly by email to inform her that the all-male panel of judges who tried her in absentia on Sunday, June 22nd, has convicted her on the charge of apostasy and has decided to excommunicate her, which is the most serious punishment that can be levied by a Church court.”

 

Toddler Life Lessons From Jacques Pepin

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As a parent we get to enjoy the education of life that takes place in the world of our children. Sometimes it’s joyous, sometimes it’s heartbreaking and sometimes it’s both.

This is one of those “both” moments.

I watch tv on my Ipad in bed. No, it’s really not healthy to watch tv before falling asleep. But sometimes I am wide awake, mentally dumb and physically exhausted at the end of a day, so I choose to lay still and watch rather than meditate or read. Recently, I started rewatching Julia Child’s The French Chef. It brings back childhood memories of Saturday morning cooking shows on PBS. One evening, in an attempt to get my 4 year old to bed when she was refusing,  I offered to let her share my ear plugs and watch with me, thinking it would soon bore her and eventually she would sleep. To my surprise and delight, she loves cooking shows!

Last night was one of those nights when she was refusing bedtime, so I offered a cuddle with Momma and a cooking show. This time she chose Jacques Pepin. Unfortunately, it was a lobster recipe. It was already cooked, but still whole and he began tearing and pounding at that creature. Some of my readers will remember me discussing my daughter’s decision to be willfully obtuse when it comes to the reality of where we get meat.  With this episode, she wasn’t going to be able to ignore the carnage she was watching.

She asked what it was, where it lived, and finally why that man was “breaking it”. So I answered simply, that is how you get the meat out. Realizing it was bothering her, I had 2 choices, turn it off or let it happen. I was afraid if I turned it off, it would leave her with questions and a negative impression. So instead I asked her. “Does this bother you?”. With sad eyes she looked at me and said “uh, huh”.  Instead of telling her about the cycle of life and trying to remove those feelings, I did what most might consider ridiculous. I told her it bothered me too and that it was ok to feel that way,  because we are supposed to feel sad when life is taken. Because it is sad.

We are so removed from the process of food that we no longer look at that pound of ground beef and see a life force. I firmly believe  the reason our food sources have turned to putrescence is because we as a nation no longer emotionally or physically participate in it’s production. When we feel the loss of life, we respect our food and demand that it be better. We are more grateful for it’s gift of nourishment. I can tell you the name of every piece of beef in my freezer. Each steak had a personality, a name and a life. I don’t ever want to lose that, I was proud of my sensitive child for feeling this way and I wanted to nurture it. No that’s not true, what I really wanted to do was change  to another episode, tell her it was only a TV show and that the lobster was fine. But I didn’t, and I am proud of both of us for taking the hard road of truth.

The end result?

She decided it looked yummy and wants to try some lobster. She was too tired and most likely too young  to understand the problem with good seafood in a landlocked state.

That truth will have to wait for another day.

The Road Not Taken

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Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.  
Robert Frost

For some women, Motherhood is a dream come true. Keeping a home and caring for a family was all they ever wanted. For the rest of us, Motherhood is sacrifice.  I have not been able to find a way around that fact.

 But how much do we sacrifice?

Where is the line between a well rounded homemaker, a self centered egotist and a self sacrificing martyr?

The last few days I have been quietly treading water. Feeling that my life is being swallowed in a whirlpool that is sacrifice to others, while simultaneously feeling guilt for even having such a thought. There are people in this world, Mothers, Fathers and childless alike who do this daily without thought to themselves. I’m going to say it, I’m selfish. I want things for myself, not stuff, but moments.

When I was a teenager, I met my first kindred spirit. We spent our first few moments together singing the score to The King and I. Every moment after that we created the world we wanted to live in. We dressed the part, served the food and spoke the lingo. What I mean is, we wanted to live in another world and so we did. We were young girls of 14 and although to most this seemed odd, to us it was pure joy.

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We acted out our favorite parts from Anne of Green Gables.

We easily drawled a Southern dialect while eating fried chicken and telling Rhett we didn’t give a damn.

We wore pastel toile and tiny floral prints when everyone else thought geometric shapes were the thing.

We spent way too much of our Father’s money at Victoria Secret back when it was pretty nightgowns and not bustiers.

We played the piano and sang almost constantly.

We set full tea services complete with silver, china and linen, while discussing the weather in our best English accent.

We argued over Arthurian legend.

We picnicked on Box Hill as often as the weather would allow.

We lived a romantic life, we created our world and did it quite easily.

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That was the last time I remember fully being me.

Life became about school, work, boyfriends I should not have had, marriage and children. My love of a romantic living remained and dotted in that real life there were still enchanting moments. Once children arrived, they have been slowly disappearing. This morning as I sat watching my children eat breakfast I flipped through two of my favorite magazines, The English Home and Victoria, that’s when I began to feel the loss and regret that has been central to my doldrums. I realized my down in the dumps feeling was not about being a “bad Mom”, because thanks to many kind comments, I realized I’m not. It’s not about knowing how to be a “good parent”, that really is instinct when you love your children. It’s not about balancing the harmony of rules vs breaking the rules. For me it was about something entirely different.

I realized what was missing from my vision of a well rounded homemaking experience was the  actual woman who makes the home.

I needed to be able to do it all, make a clean orderly home, create healthy home cooked meals, raise and educate thoughtful intelligent children, and still have the life I want for myself. A life of peonies, inspiration, scones with cream, a garden for beauty and food, lazy days to read Thomas Hardy, a comfortable, toddler friendly AND beautiful home.

The fact that I do not have these things is in direct correlation to MY CHOICES. There is no one else to look to. 

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Can a women really have everything she wants for herself and still meet her family’s needs?

Is it possible to not sacrifice, or at the very least know when to sacrifice so it doesn’t feel like martyrdom?

So this is the beginning of a new dream. A life where Mommy is not just a maid, cook, educator, nurse and laundress. She’s a whole being with wants and needs of her own that are every bit as important.

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I think it’s worth a try, if for no other reason it’s a path I have yet to explore.

And you know what they say about the road not taken.