Suburban Snapshots

I Live With These People: A Photo Series

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

I never have to ask my 9-year-old whether she's brushed her teeth, I just look at the sink, the floor, the side of the adjacent cabinet, anything that could be used as a towel, and the toothbrush holder, where hers will inevitably be plunked head-first into the bacteria pool at the base. I Live With These People is a celebration of the universal struggle to coexist with other living beings, and I'm taking submissions. Enjoy the first collection.

1. What is it about toilet paper that incites such aggressive apathy in otherwise reasonable people? Actually my kid did this so strike everything I just said.

2. Sometimes you're just not hungry enough for an entire strawberry.

3. My dog may not pay rent or refill the water bowl, but he can make his own snacks.

4. My friend's husband vacuums the fireplace for company, so I know who to call if I ever have to dispose of evidence.


5. Another friend received this dramatic reenactment of "I Nearly Brained Myself On Your Rainboot" from her husband.

6. This baby's mom has 4 boys under 5 so really this tub poop could be a few baths old.

7. I like to leave the butter out, but this overachieving husband likes to leave it ALL the way out.

9. Clearly this husband was overwhelmed by the Sophie's Choice of having two trash cans for just one K-Cup.

10. Here's a stark look into the future of that strawberry biter.

11. It's tragic when children are pulled into alien tractor beams from the safety of their own bathrooms.

Have a submission? Email it to me and let me know if you'd like credit, or if being mentioned will have you shunned from your community.

I Went to NYC and All I Got Were These Bags of Great Stuff (Giveaway)

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

I'd just gotten back from a trip down to D.C. when my boss asked me to attend a training at Real Job's offices in NYC. Without even unpacking, I booked my next hotel, and since I thrive on deadlines, I also scheduled Anna's birthday party with friends for just a few hours after I'd arrive back home. Sometimes it's like I'm new here.

In the midst of working and listening to repeated presentations of Anna's wishlist during the weeks between D.C. and New York, a rep named Taylor from the PR firm for Kid Made Modern emailed me. I don't know if it's the season or what, but I'd seen an escalation in the number of crappy pitches sent to my inbox, including two addressing me by a completely different name — by the way Rachel, someone's looking for you. Taylor wanted to send me a few Kid Made Modern creative kits, and mentioned that the brand is the brainchild of fashion icon/dog adopter/photographer/author/entrepreneur Todd Oldham and his partner Tony Longoria. I got a million warm fuzzies remembering Todd, his connection to a time when supermodels were distinguishable, George Michael released the Freedom '90 video and all was right in the world except my hair.

I started browsing the many kits, grateful to have a couple of little bonus presents for Anna that I wouldn't have to shop for. Taylor emailed me again, asking if I was near Manhattan for a studio tour.

I said I thought my training schedule would be too tight while simultaneously online-ordering Dominos delivery for the party I scheduled to take place the minute I'd pull back into my driveway.

"Let us know if anything changes. Todd himself would give you the studio tour."

I spent the next week trying to figure out what to wear, how many hours I could skip sleeping and still function at my training session, and practicing acting like a totally normal but sophisticated but not too excited but definitely a fan but not a stalker who spent my entire 20s trying to figure out how to be Cindy Crawford. I also wondered how many cocktails it would be appropriate to order at the dinner Todd and Tony would surely invite me to after the tour.

I should tell you about the kits though. They're so clever. Each collection has a box or pouch or case, meaning that cleaning up after your kids is a little easier because no matter what some sanctimonious Facebook rando tells you, kids never clean up after themselves right. Everything is hands-on, and every activity is covered. There are comic books, journals, weaving, duct tape projects, crayons, felt, even a ukulele; there is blessedly no slime! Tony mentioned that parents of children with autism appreciated the Gem Jackpot crayons because their unique shapes mean there's no "correct" way to hold them.

Tony and Todd are so smart about these creations, so enthusiastic to share them and thrilled with the outcome of their hard work. There are great ideas in these boxes, and thought went into every single detail, including the decision to keep their names off of the very minimal packaging.

My whole trip to New York, including my day-long training, was a great way to start spring. The hour or so I spent with Tony, getting to meet Todd, having the man himself ask how many party favors I'd need for Anna's friends and alleviating my guilt about serving Dominos after returning from the pizza capital of the country (don't even try) were surely highlights. But even if I hadn't been able to go I'd want you to know about these kits, because they are brilliant. And since I'm not the kind of gal to brag about stuff without sharing, I have a couple things for you, too.

I'm giving away two of the On-the-Go Coloring Kits. Leave one comment on the Facebook post and I'll choose two readers using the scientific method where I have my 9-year-old shout out random numbers at me. Winners' names will be tagged Thursday at 8 a.m. ET. Good luck!

Ikea DIY Kitchen Renovation In
Only 4500 Grey Hairs

Thursday, March 16, 2017

I've been writing this post in my head since sometime in September, two months after we took down our first wall, before I realized that we wouldn't even have countertops until mid-October, and hadn't imagined it would take until January to get the walls painted. These, I recognize, are good problems to have. We borrowed a bunch of money, bought a bunch of stuff, and my smart, handy husband (with the help of a few contractors) got the job mostly done. There's still some trim to finish and the matter of painting the stupid ceiling, which, ugh.

I didn't totally hate my old kitchen, but we'd lived with it for ten years and the original 1950s cabinets weren't tall enough or deep enough for real-people dishes. We couldn't sit comfortably at the breakfast bar, and the white woodwork was always filthy. My pots lived in a hole that used to house a wall oven, and my range was rammed into a space that rendered one drawer and half a cabinet unusable. I also had corner storage so dark and deep I'd have to go spelunking after the crock pot. Also, everyone driving down the street could see what we had on TV. Here are some befores:

Kitchen and dining area from front door

That faux brick attracted so much grease and dust and pasta sauce

Shitty wall oven and broken cooktop we eventually replaced with a used range
We realized fast that even the lowest-end big box store cabinets would eat half our budget, so we looked into Ikea. Steve has so, so much patience for manual labor, and didn't flinch at the task of assembling the entire kitchen even though he doesn't speak Swedish. We got all the bells, whistles and allen wrenches at half the price of our nearest chain home store, and Steve was really impressed with how the system — and especially the quality hardware — worked. We've lived with the cabinets for a few months now, and I don't hesitate to recommend them to anyone with a fully-charged drill, a good playlist, and friends who can be paid in beer. I'll show you all the after pictures, but let me tell you what we learned.
  • Buy during Ikea's kitchen sale (there's one now!) We got 15% back on a gift card, which bought us $900 worth of other stuff for the house, like the credenza and bookcases, and so many Swedish meatballs.
  • Measure, then do it again, and one more time. We had no major mistakes, but were off by an inch or two here or there that would have saved us trips to Ikea. Keep in mind that measurements feel different in real life than they look on the kitchen planning tool.
  • Go to an Ikea to check out the wares and cool storage ideas, and have someone in kitchens review your plans, but then
  • Order your Ikea kitchen online. Delivery cost $200 for our entire kitchen, and I used the list generated by the design tool to check every item (the emailed receipt doesn't group parts by cabinet). Not a single box was missing.
  • Expect to make a few trips to Ikea despite all your planning. 
  • Watch YouTube videos for recent installation experiences, or to troubleshoot.
  • READ THE INSTRUCTIONS. I had to re-assemble a bunch of drawers because I got cocky.
  • Know when to hire out. We needed a crew to slice a door-sized hole in our brick house and to reinforce the load-bearing wall we removed. We also had a plumber install kickspace heaters and take out old baseboard radiators. I'm sleeping with the electrician so at least his work was free. Also, don't live in a brick house, because masons are hella pricey.
  • Invest in or borrow a laser level.
  • Choose your splurge(s). I thought our countertops were my big spend until I met our backsplash. No regrets, but maybe don't accidentally wander into a high-end tile store you found on Google.
  • Everyone who's ever renovated will tell you to anticipate the unexpected. We didn't run into anything terribly budget-busting, but there definitely were a few surprises.
It's hard taking out debt, and it's hard functioning with your house turned inside out. Fully half of our 1,100 square foot house was in revolving disarray for weeks. Dust is still everywhere — oh my God the dust. But having this new layout has made the place where I spend almost all of my day easier to work in, prettier to look at, brighter when the sun shines, and ready for a party. Ultimately it's just "stuff," but it's the stuff I use and live in and look at every day for hopefully many years, and it was so worth it.

Here are the after photos I took yesterday. For reference, the fridge and table didn't move. P.S. it's never actually this clean but those are real fruits.

Kitchen and dining area

There used to be a wall blocking this angle

The wood trim on that left wall will eventually be stained to match the cabinets

View from the kitchen. Yes, it's a disco ball
Sorry neighbors, watch your own damn TV
I got this smooth-drain sink and I love it

Trash and dog food, 100% worth the space it used

Chalk wall for family notes and kid lists

This drawer changed my entire life

I added a $150 piece of glass over the new table because someone is still unclear about how Sharpies work

I offered my electrician a quickie and he wired up the island for me

This recycled glass, shell and resin countertop requires no maintenance
I would actually marry this stained glass tile

Facebook Tips to Help Keep You
Sane Right Now

Monday, January 30, 2017

Whoo boy, relatives can be a bit much when they're riled up, am I right? You're learning horrible new things about the people you love, getting in long thread debates with the guy you only ever see at weddings but whose friend request you accepted because his Electric Slide is so on point.

Sometimes diplomacy in these situations is tricky — Facebook lets you block or unfriend anyone, but then your mom will call you crying because Aunt "Proud Birther" Louise can't see pictures of your new baby and Christmas is ruined.

Here are other Facebook functions that can help you filter or completely avoid certain people, posts, or conversations while remaining on each others' friend lists. I employ all of them depending on the situation and my level of sobriety.

1. Restricted lists make your status updates invisible to specific friends
To automatically prevent certain friends from seeing any of your posts (they'll still see your activity on others' posts) except those you set to share as "Public," use the already-existing Restricted List. Here's how.

You can also create custom friend lists, then customize your share settings to exclude those certain lists. For example, post photos from the day you called in sick and went on a pub crawl by sharing them with everyone except your "Narc Coworkers" list.

P.S. This is merely an example, Kim and I are still totally friends
P.P.S. I have never called in sick to pub crawl

2. Unfollow
Had enough of poorly-Photoshopped, inaccurate memes? Tired of being asked to "Share if you agree?" Can't resist fact-checking your friends' highly questionable statistics? Unfollow! Unfollow! Unfollow! You'll still be friends, but seeing their updates is totally optional.

P.S. Kim doesn't do any of these things and I totally still follow her

3. Stop comment notifications and unfollow individual posts
You commented on a friend's status update 9 hours ago but you're still getting comment notifications every 12 seconds — and you can't stop going back in! Stop the little red notifications dot, then practice diaphragmatic breathing or whatever.  Check out the different sanity-saving options hidden in this little menu.

These are intense, maddening times. It's all so overwhelming. Information is important, but we are the gatekeepers of our sanity. Pass these tips along to friends who need them, or passive-aggressively to friends you're about to shut down.

How a Thin Man Helped Me Love My Fat Butt

Monday, January 09, 2017

I've written before about my husband's slim build. Through our 19 years together, I've outweighed him by anywhere from 15 to 30 pounds. Sometimes I forget about his physique until we're spending time with other husbands, approaching middle-age and comfortably wearing the particular shape of midlife. Steve's weight doesn't fluctuate much, and indications are it won't; his father still wears the high school cast offs Steve and his brother left at home when they moved away. Our daughter is easily 10 pounds lighter than her smallest classmate, making it almost impossible to find her bathing suits that are both long and narrow enough for swim lessons, jeans that reach her ankles, and pajamas we won't lose her in. These are her dad's genes.

There's a photo set on my bookshelf taken when I was maybe two or three, and I'm a solid toddler. I grew into a meaty kid, then a tall, thick teenager, when I started learning to diet. I remember joining Weight Watchers with my aunt when I was around 13. I lost several pounds for a little while. In my junior year I ate only salads for a few weeks and lost weight again. I got thin in college during a bout with anxiety, then again before my wedding when I ate nothing really aside from light wheat bread and veggie burgers. If I felt deprived and hungry, I knew it was working. If I was denying most of what I wanted, I felt accomplished. In 2010 I lost weight again and kept it off for three years before it started a slow creep. Now I'm about 15 pounds from where I'd like to be and avoiding all but one pair of jeans.

There's a friend I meet not frequently enough for dinner or brunch, sometimes drinks. She's fantastic, and I don't know if it's a conscious effort or not but she has never once condemned herself for choosing fries over the side salad. I've never heard her tell me she was "being bad" for taking our server up on the dessert menu. Our conversations never veer into dress size or martyrdom over what we've been denying ourselves. She's not a small person, and her company is a joy. I never realized what a relief it could be to just let all that shit go, or how much of my conversation with other women — and even my husband — revolved around eating habits. It's a supremely defiant act simply to be a woman unapologetically enjoying your food.

So months ago I decided to deliberately shut up about it. I told a few people about my plan: I'm not going to say one disparaging word during meals, I'm not going to whimper about what I shouldn't have eaten yesterday, or how I'm making up for it today. I'll make my own food choices, I'll accept this body I've fought with for most of my life, and sometimes if it wants, I'll feed it a gooey reuben with cole slaw. And I did it. It's been three months with only a few remarks now and then, mostly post holiday indulgence.

But back to Steve, my husband. Living with him, watching him year after year trying some new high-calorie shake supplement, or eating almost nothing but steak bombs and pizza, drinking rich, hoppy beers and maybe occasionally feeling a little bloated, all of that made me really understand, truly, finally, and very late that bodies are different. I know this isn't a revelation for everyone, but as someone who's spent 30 years either fighting weight or being frustrated by it, I've never taken the blame off myself, Why can't I just eat less? Why don't I have enough willpower? Why am I shaped this way? Why do my thighs always touch? Why am I such a failure? When will I get this right? Steve has a weight problem too — his body just won't put it on. It's not him, it has nothing to do with his success or failure or effort or his value as a person. And yet I continued to pin my struggles exclusively on my own inadequacy, some character flaw or lack of discipline.

I hope I'm at some new place of understanding, of being a little kinder to myself, and at the start of figuring out where this body wants to be and how to keep it there without berating it, or feeling accomplished in deprivation — that's so messed up. I hope not having to listen to me lament my every food choice makes me a better dinner date. It turns out I have a lot more to talk about.