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The Awkward Kindness of Strangers

One of the very best t-shirts I ever received as a gift is one that reads: “A girl with a certain, je ne sais quoi.”

It’s pink and is in my cedar chest for the day when Ellie expresses an interest in what her mama used to wear. Who knows? Maybe she’ll also grow into the kind of person with an indescribable “I don’t know what” attitude (I mean. I hope she does, but I can’t know that.)

At the time, the shirt helped me feel pretty and identify myself as someone whose sense of identity is her own. Sometime in high school, I stopped caring about my appearance. I still put an effort into what I looked like, and how I dressed. I just stopped being overly concerned with how others viewed me. It was very liberating.

I do sometimes still wonder what I really look like to strangers? Do they see the sharp profile of my nose? Do they know that I prefer to think of my hair as gingerbread blonde rather than dirty blonde? I just don’t know.

What I do know though, is that apparently when you pay with change at Goodwill, you look like someone who could use a break. Or a helping hand. Maybe both.

Ellie is growing like a 2-year-old wildflower. She comes up to my waist and size 3T shirts are getting too short in the torso. The cuffs barely come to her wrists anymore.

As a result I suggested to my mother-in-law, Nona, that she go shopping with Elle and I today at Goodwill to find some long-sleeved 4T shirts just to get us through the rest of the season. We made our selections and were next in the queue to checkout when Elle very clearly announced “I have to go potty.”

Nona had brought with her, her change purse. They’ve only just moved to Colorado and during their packing found a lot of loose change. As in, a good two or three pounds worth of coins. My father-in-law, the Curmudgeon, teased her that no cashier would want to count out that much money and she, like me, figured that half-price Saturday at Goodwill would mean we wouldn’t rack up that much of a bill.

So while Elle and I are answering the call of nature, Nona is counting out change in orderly piles while the previous person finishes her return (Yep. We got the line where someone wanted to make a return for torn merchandise. To Goodwill.). Ellie and I return and Nona has exactly $15.00 stacked in piles by quarters, dimes, and nickles.

The clothes are all off the hangers, the items rung up and our bill comes to $15.64. I fish the 64 cents out of my wallet and both Nona and I are pretty pleased with our combined math skills. The cashier swipes all of the coins into a pile and begins to recount them.

“You’re a dollar short,” she informs us and then begins to recount the money again.

Nona is a retired elementary school teacher. Counting out coins is the sort of thing she could do in her sleep, but as she starts to get another dollar out of her purse, the man behind us swipes his credit card through the reader and says, “There. Now you’re good. You ladies go treat yourselves to lunch.”

My jaw drops. Not because of what he did, but because we are absolutely not the people most in need of this kindness.

“Thank you,” I tell him. “You really didn’t have to do that.”

I can’t meet his eyes. He’s wearing a flannel jacket and has a small pile of clothes in his arms.

“Don’t worry about it and have a nice rest of your day.”

Nona and I leave Goodwill and don’t speak another word to one another until we get to the car. A car that I maintain myself and recently invested $300 in for its 100,000-plus-mile preventive maintenance. There we try and figure out why we appeared so shabby and resolve that maybe we need to look a little less clueless the next time we go to Goodwill.

That, and decide that the $15.64 for Ellie’s new shirts needs to go to a good cause since I will not be able to look at the shirts that we picked out for her and not think of the fact that some stranger was willing to buy my daughter clothes. I think SafeHouse Denver might be a good place to start.

Either that, or the Denver Aquarium because I sure feel like an awkward turtle after that whole exchange.



Playing House

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I remember playing house a lot when I was little. Not so much with my friends, but when I played alone.

We had this little miniature cardboard kitchen with a red sink and a window that looked out onto a backyard with a tree. I would prepare brightly-colored plastic meals for my Cabbage Patch kids and would talk to them as if we were a family. I folded and refolded their clothes  — infant onesies leftover from when my sister and I were tiny — and mimicked chores my mom did around the house.

I never imagined what this house actually looked like. Everything revolved around the kitchen though. The doll bunk beds were in the kitchen. We drove to the store in the kitchen. The kitchen was basically the only room in that world of pretend.

Maybe my earliest imaginings about a home are why Mr. Pirate and I do not have a deadline for fixing up the Jade House. Perhaps, I am still not yet sure what this house looks like either.

That’s why I drool a little bit when I read articles in the newspaper like this one about a family who built their dream home with repurposed materials. Their home seems so funky and thought out. They knew what they wanted and they made it happen with hard work and dedication.

Here at the Jade House, we have moments of inspired progress. This winter we worked on the baby’s room in large part because with three weeks left, the baby’s room just needed to happen. The walls are still a little bare, but all the furniture is in place. Or at least, in place until we figure out how this space is going to be used and we end up rearranging to make it better.

There are even fewer rules with your own house than there are with the pretend house of my childhood games. I feel embarrassed at times by the clutter and overall state of work-in-progress-affairs. And then my cousin just randomly stops by and we stand around in the kitchen and talk about books and life in general and it’s all good.

There’s no stress about making our home neat and tidy in that moment. Just laughter and an overall moment of peace.

When you get right down to it, I think that’s the home that I want the Jade House to be. That’s the house I want this little person to grow up in.



New Addition

I’ve been a little distracted recently. And by a little, I mean big, life-changing kind of distracted.

We’re going to have a baby.

Okay, really I’m going to have the baby and my pirate mister is just along for moral support and trips to Kroger for cravings runs (Seriously. Who craves baked potatoes? Apparently I do.).

But I like to think of it more are a we thing because Owen and I are a team. We even like the sound of the word.

All of a sudden though I am looking at the way we live and wondering how we’re going to make this fixer-upper house work with a small person crawling around. Granted it will be a while before the kidlet will be that mobile, but thinking about all that still needs to be done around the house is now extra daunting.

I am doing my best to not be stressed out during my pregnancy by basically ignoring stressors. This avoidance strategy has always worked in the past.

For example:

The green space that is our weed-infested lawn needs to be mowed?
Meh. Not if you don’t go outside when it’s daylight.

Do I actually have clean socks for tomorrow?
Probably. That’s why my sister sent me a box of socks as a care package right?

It’s better this way. I think.

Between now and the end of April 2013, this will be transformed from a space that is sparsely used, to a kid-friendly bedroom to grow into.

Gender neutral colors and a Tardis bookshelf for starters. My writing desk/craft desk will have to find a new home. As will the drying rack actually. But those are minor details.

This is going to be brilliant!


One Year and Counting

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When we bought the house, people kept reminding us that even though it needed a lot of work, that was okay. We could fix it up and then move again in another couple of years to something newer/nicer/better.

I bristled at that. It took extreme force of will to respond politely and not jump down a well-meaning commenter’s throat.

But it stuck in my craw for days at a time. It bugged me that people would assume that we intended to just inhabit a place, make it our own and then drop it.

I chafed under the attitude that since we are young we either:

  • a) don’t know our own minds and had no long-term plans


  • b) we’re not ready to put down roots

The truth is though, we are ready to have roots. This is our Home now.

We moved because we were tired of renting. Tired of not being able to really put our mark on a place. Tired of just being temporarily in one place or another.

Now, after almost four years of living in Colorado, I feel like I can allow myself to be a part of this state. I can build community and look critically at the school system as a potential generator for little people to attend said schools.

It’s an alarming process this growing up business.

You play house as a kid or you build a pillow fort with friends. Either way, we play at claiming a place as our own. Maybe it’s just a part of our domestication as a species but saying, this is where you can find me is just another way of identifying who we are. This is who we are as a family. We are homeowners. We live here.

Here in this case is our clutter everywhere chaos kind of house. And it is good.


The Girl With the Cardboard Sign or Why I’m Thankful

Tonight, on my way home from putting in 9 hours at the garage, I swung by Kroger to pick up a few groceries. Somehow we managed to not move our bottle of soy sauce from the old place. Soy sauce is a funny thing – it lingers as little packets in the fridge and becomes a part of your daily awareness long after the last time you had Chinese takeout.

We needed some for the casserole I was making for dinner tonight but since I wasn’t really in a big rush, I called up my dad and chatted with him for a bit while sitting in the parking lot. We talked politics, we talked cooking, we talked about the goofy things Sonic and Leo were up to. And while we talked I watched this girl standing at the entrance to the shopping center parking lot with a cardboard sign. She looked to be about my age with a burgundy jacket and a small backpack. Wooly hat. Jeans. Homeless.

Every single person leaving the lot drove past her. Like a soy sauce packet, no one seemed to pay any attention to the girl with the sign. Normally, I’m that person. Normally, I drive past folks with their signs, maybe glancing to see what they have scrawled on the cardboard in dark letters.

Tonight though, I didn’t drive by. Instead I walked up to her and asked her if I could get her something hot for dinner from the deli. At first I don’t think she believed me. She hedged and when I mentioned I was going to get some macaroni for myself she said ravioli would be good. If they had soup though, she’d really like some chili.

So I bought her dinner. A bowl of Stampede Steak Chili, a 32 oz. jug of orange juice and a chocolate peppermint bark snowman because no one wants chili breath all night long.

She thanked me and said God bless.

I wanted to tell her not to worry about it. That I was going home to make dinner for my husband in our messy kitchen. That I just finished talking to my dad on the phone and that both my parents love me and have always lifted me up. That I have a job that pays quite well given my level of experience.

Instead, I wished her a good night and told her I hoped she’d stay warm.

While leaving Kroger and cradling the chili I walked past the Salvation Army guy with his bucket. The sign above it said: “Doing the Most Good.” I didn’t leave any change in the bucket though. They’ve been out there every day since Thanksgiving and I question how much good loose change can do when there are more active ways of effecting change.

No, buying the girl with the sign dinner won’t change her life. But it could do the most good in her life for just today. And I’m okay with that.


Breathing life into the Jade House

I have come to the conclusion that throwing a house-warming party while the house is still on fire, is a bad idea.

We’ve been in the Jade House for almost a full month now and have decided that maybe we’ll throw a shindig for the house sometime in the fall. Of next year.

Owen and I are Level 1 homeowners and moving into a serious fixer-upper like this has kind of been like running into Molten Core wearing only starting gear.

At times, I feel like I’ve been running around my head and screaming: “STICK TO THE PLAN GUYS! STICK TO THE PLAN!

Coming to live at this house felt very much like a whirlwind three-month long courtship where neither party was really ready for something serious.

We had a rocky first date where I wanted nothing to do with the house, met a second time when I started to reassess my original opinions, and finally the pirate and I decided to propose our intentions. We had some issues surrounding our signing and I started to worry that the house was getting cold feet and wanted to back out. Finally, we made our for better or for worse commitment.

And now here we are. The honeymoon hardly lasted an hour and now both us and the house are hanging out all of our dirty laundry. Our toolbox is inadequate to handle the house’s needs. It was empty and neglected for sometime before even going on the market. There’s a random hole in the kitchen ceiling. Every faucet leaks in some endearing fashion or another. We have more weeds than actual lawn. Our laundry list goes on.

We have our work cut out for us, but we’re enthusiastic about the challenge.

It’s really nice to have a space where we don’t have to answer to anyone. If we want to paint the walls. We can. (Currently we’re going with Behr’s Wax Sculpture but accent wall’s are in our future.)

Yes, Wax Sculpture looks like beige. But it’s our beige.

If we want to put up an aerial jungle gym for the cats in the future office, our only limitations are our imagination and our skills.

We’re even thinking about signing up for a couple of classes through my community college on basic at-home plumbing and electrical. Because seriously. Beyond knowing that water goes down the drain and that electricity likes to be grounded, we don’t know a whole lot.

It’s a slow process which is fine by us. We’re not here to power level and move out.

It’s at least a 30-year commitment and we want the Jade House to know that we’re in it for the long haul. Come what may.