Belated Christmas Cheer

For this post, I wanted to share pictures of some of the Christmas decorations I did for our house this year. This is our first Christmas in this house. I feel like I am still getting to know it and still figuring out what looks best where and what the house likes. This was also the first time in about 16 or 17 years that I was able to pull out all the stops and really decorate the heck out of things for Christmas. We decorated in our townhouse in Virginia, but there wasn’t as much room or opportunity for it due to space constraints and how our rooms were laid out in that house. Anyhow … Let’s just say I went a little “extra” this year. I should be ashamed, but I am NOT. (I bet you guys already knew that, right?)

So … let the post of many pics commence!

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Our Christmas tree falls into the category of “early marriage”, so it is about twenty years old. This is the last year we will be using it, as it sheds needles like crazy. Also, it used to be pre-lit, but none of the lights work any longer. We string colored lights on it every year. We found a great place to put it in our family room, and I think this tree is going out on a high note. It definitely makes our family room cozy on these cold and dark Illinois nights.

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We did net lights for the big bushes in front of our house. The funny thing is that we used to have tons of net lights when we lived in Texas. But, after living in Virginia for so long, we ended up giving them all away. We didn’t have anywhere to use them. This means we had to go out and buy brand new net lights this year. Womp-womp. Other than these and a wreath on the front door, we didn’t do much outside decor this year.

We’ve had snow a few times. I think the biggest snowfall so far was around two and a half or three inches. I thought the lights looked pretty under a blanket of snow.

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This was our entryway this year. Our front door opens right up to the back “wall” of our staircase. The stairs descend down into the family room, which is at the end of the hall to the left of this wall as you come into the house.

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This is above the previous picture. You can see this top banister as  you come into the house from the front door. I wrapped it in garland (fake, since I’m allergic to the real stuff) and lights. In our unpacking, I found some large paper lanterns that are star shaped. I didn’t put lights in them, but I hung them from the banister. The lights are pretty in the dark, and the paper stars are pretty in the daylight.

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The bulk of our Christmas decor was in the family room this year. I decorated the library, too, but I didn’t take many pictures of it. This is our mantel. I feel like I don’t have a ton of space for decorations along the top of the mantel because our TV takes up most of the room. I’m not too mad about this, as it’s a pretty fabulous TV. We spend a lot of time together watching movies or Netflix.

I hope to do a little more with the mantel next year, but I stayed kind of simple this year with just a few “Christmas Llamas” — because they crack me up. The silver deer actually stay there all year, but they feel festive, too. I wanted to put something fun and festive into the little vases, but I never figured out what I wanted to do. Next year, I shall tackle this conundrum!

It’s kind of hard to see in this picture, but I used a silver jingle bell garland for the front of the fireplace, topped off with a cranberry wreath, some Santa ornaments, and a “Noel” sign.

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I am enjoying the heck out of our built in bookcases! These are on either side of the fireplace, and I went a little bit overboard with them. I left a lot of the “everyday” stuff in place and tried to put Christmas decorations in and around them. This is the shelf on the left side of the fireplace, closest to the windows into the backyard and the Christmas tree.

Aaaand, a few detailed, up-close photos of the shelves:

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My daughter and I painted these little plaster buildings. We used to paint one each every year to add to our Christmas village. Sadly, I don’t think anyone makes them any longer. It has been a few years since I have been able to find them in stores, so I think our village is destined to remain small.

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Of course, this is a mix of old and new. I’ve had this blue glass ornament for about forever. When we lived in Virginia, I would consistently forget to put it away after the holidays, and it ended up living on the doorknob of my china cabinet. Hopefully, it will make it into the Christmas ornament box this year. The mirror stars are also old. I have had them packed away for ages, and it was fun to rediscover them this year. The little cardinals are new, and so are the round balls I scattered along the shelves.

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This is the shelving on the right side of the fireplace, closest to the double doors that lead into the library. It is harder for me to photograph, because that side of the room is consistently darker.

And, of course, some up-close photos of those shelves.

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The main thing I LOVED on this set of shelves was the little, wooden village. I find it so cute and kind of nostalgic. Parts of it light up with little battery-powered lanterns, and I could have run a string of white lights through the rest of the village. I chose not to fool with doing that this year, but I might next year. This little village was new for this year. We found it during our Thanksgiving trip to Virginia.

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I also love these little birds. They are fun for the holidays, but I like how they just feel “wintery”. I keep my holiday decor up all the way to the end of January, at least. Sometimes, I keep it up even longer than that! I like to have things that can be seasonal as well as festive. I feel like this makes it easier to stretch things out for at least an extra month.

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I’ll finish out with one last photo of the little village my daughter and I painted. It’s slightly out of order, but I wanted to try and show the whole village, because I was happy with how the different levels turned out. I bought new snow this year, and I really liked how fluffy it was. I think it is going to last for next year, too. Bonus!

I bet you guys know what I’m going to say already. Because I feel like I say this ALL THE TIME, and I sound like a broken record. But I’m going to say it, anyhow: December kicked my butt. Yep. Mark another one in the “win” column for Life and the month of December.

I had so many post ideas for the month. I had so much I wanted to say and share around the Christmas holidays. And yet, I did not do any of it. I was a little bit too busy enjoying the season to take time out for blogging. Maybe that can go into my “win” column …??

Whatever the case, we had a pretty good holiday. It was kind of wild and crazy at times, which will (hopefully) be a blog topic in the near future. We traveled a lot, and it was exhausting. Truthfully, I still feel exhausted from all of it. But I had some really great “family time” with my husband and daughter. That makes it worth every bit of feeling tired now.

 

 

November Flurries

Ah, November. You are a month designed to test my resolve, try my patience, and build my character — the hard way. For a rather long month, you tend to fly by in a flurry of activity. We are still getting used to our new town and all of our new schedules. Band has been busy. Hubby’s work has been busy. Our weekends have been filled with activities and yard work. In truth, there has been a LOT of yard work! We had gusting winds recently, and I think every leaf in the neighborhood ended up in our back  yard.

Believe it or not, we are STILL unpacking. When we moved in at the beginning of July, I felt so overwhelmed by the stacks and stacks of boxes all around me. There were boxes in the kitchen, in all the bedrooms, in the hall, in the basement, in the garage … Well, you get the idea. There were boxes everywhere! I bet you guys remember. I showed y’all the pictures. I looked around and wanted to cry, but I consoled myself by looking forward in time. “By Thanksgiving and Christmas, we will be all unpacked and settled.” Yeah. Not so much. We are getting settled, though. It is happening. It is just happening slowly.

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In the midst of all this family activity, I have been busy, too. As if I didn’t have enough happening in November already, I decided to jump in and tackle NaNoWriMo. I posted about it the last time I was here in the blog. So, I’ve been writing! Yay!! I have been sneaking in some writing time in the mornings and also here and there between errands and housework.

It’s been good! I can’t say with confidence that my story is any good. Or that my characters are any good. But it feels darn good to be writing again on a regular basis. I am not going to hit my 50,000 word goal. We are traveling, starting tomorrow, and we are going to be visiting old favorite haunts in Virginia and catching up with old friends. I don’t expect I will have time to write over the weekend. But, if I had the weekend to spend writing, I would make it. I’m at 40,812 at this moment.

And you know what? I’m okay with it. I don’t feel bad about not hitting the NaNo goal. Because I wanted this year to be different. We are in a new town, a new house, a new school, a new job. It’s time for a new start, right? And that’s what I wanted from NaNo this year. I wanted to rediscover the joy of writing. I wanted to feel satisfied with the knowledge that I managed to carve some time out of each day to let ideas and dreams flow onto a page. No matter my final word count, I did that. I’ve had fun with it. I’ve started to learn, once again, how to listen to that dreamer inside my head. I think this makes November (and NaNo) a success. I’m okay with that.

The Mean Grumps

I’ve got a case of The Mean Grumps today. Do you ever feel that way? Like you woke up on the wrong side of the bed … wrong side of your brain … wrong side of the world … wrong side of the universe … wrong side of life … wrong side of EVERYTHING.

That’s me today. I am locked down tight into a funk. I woke up this morning feeling discontent and dissatisfied and discombobulated. I am unhappy being myself. I am unhappy being out of bed. I am unhappy being in bed. I am just … unhappy. And grumpy. And I don’t know why.

Our weather is cloudy and spittin’, as we say in Texas. “Spittin'” means that it is raining, alternating between a little bit and a lotta bit. The sky is gray, and the sun is hiding. For most people, it might be easy to pinpoint the weather as the source of their doldrums. Not for me, though. I like gray and rainy weather. I wish it was a little colder, but, other than that, this is the kind of day I enjoy.

So … why the awful, terrible, no-good mood? I don’t know. I’ve been thinking on it ever since I woke up and realized this was not going to be a happy day for me. And I have come to no conclusions, other than deciding I am not in the mood for introspection. That makes it a fabulous time to write a blog post, doesn’t it?

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Maybe I’m tired. I know I’ve been talking about it a lot in here, but this move has been dragging on and on and on. From last April, when we first came to look at houses in our new town … through the end of that month and on into the beginning of June, when I was dealing with fixing, staging, and selling our house … through the middle and end of June, when I was dealing with packing up the rest of our belongings and traveling to our new state … and right up until now, when I am still dealing with all the unpacking. I feel worn out just thinking about it. I’m not proud of this, but the truth is that I would like to ignore all of it. Not for forever, but for a good, long while. And yet, that is not possible. I feel like I have been “moving” for a thousand years, and I have yet to get to the reward of actually “nesting” in my new house. I’m ready to nest. I’m ready to be done. I’m ready to feel at home.

But I’m certain the moving funk isn’t the only source of my grumbles today. It’s just part of it all. Where the rest is coming from, I don’t know. But I do know I need to take a deep breath and chill out, for my own sanity. My poor husband has already retreated into the basement, after trying (very unsuccessfully, I might add) to have a normal conversation with me. The man has his faults, as do we all. But, mostly, he is a saint. I don’t deserve him. And I will tell him that — but probably not today.

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So, yeah. I’m in A Mood today. If you are out there, and you happen to cross my path …

You’ve been warned!!

The Parentals are Landing …

I have so many posts in my head for this little blog. And yet, I continue to be tardy and (maybe) a little bit lazy about putting my thoughts into words. I’m still unpacking and organizing and all that moving stuff. So, yeah … that’s my excuse. Yep. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it! Rawr.

My parents are coming for a visit. They, along with the rest of my family and most of my husband’s family, live in Texas. It’s a little over a thousand miles from our new town to where my parents live in the Texas Hill Country. A thousand miles that, to my homesick Texas Girl heart, feels more like a gazillion. An insurmountable distance. My beloved Texas hills might as well be on the moon for how much I miss them.

It’s not that I dislike our new town. On the contrary, I like it. It is a good size for me, with traffic that isn’t crazy and people who are unfailingly polite and friendly. It reminds me a lot of my parents’ town and of San Antonio, the city I called home when I lived in Texas. But not San Antonio from 2019. Instead, our new town reminds me of San Antonio from my high school days. It might not seem like it, but this is a good thing. Illinois hasn’t been the most welcoming state, due to all the red tape, taxes, and bureaucracy surrounding every detail of life here. But I feel I can eventually be very much at home in our new town.

But I still miss the place I’m from. There is a lot of value and weight to those words: the place I am from. My Texas hills will live in my heart and soul for the rest of my life, no matter where I choose to lay my head and no matter what winding road I travel. One day, maybe I will get to go back home for good. If I am lucky.

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But this post isn’t about my homeward longings or my wandering life. It’s about my parents. So …

As I said, they are coming for a visit. It will be their first visit to our new town and our new house. I have all kinds of nerves about this. It’s silly, because they have seen me at my best and at my worst. And they still claim me. But it’s nerve-wracking to know people you love are coming to visit before you are unpacked and settled into a new place. I only just got the guest room ready. The bed we ordered arrived just in time, and I got fresh linens onto it last night. I got some pretty curtains up in the room, and one cute little night stand. I went this morning to get the second nightstand from our local Home Goods store. And the closet is mostly cleared. It’s a small room, but I think they will have enough space for their suitcases and such. I hope they will be cozy and comfortable in there.

On the plus side, I know they will be more than happy to pitch in and help me get the rest of the boxes unpacked. If I’m lucky, we will get some shelves up and the basement storage somewhat organized. It’s been 17 years since the last time I moved, and my parents aren’t as young as they were. Neither am I, for that matter! Time marches forward and takes all of us along for the ride. I’m not sure how much they will feel up to doing, but having the moral support will help, at any rate.

There will be one bone of contention between us. I know it already. My closet is a mess. It is beyond a mess. I’ve been so busy getting the rest of the house unpacked and fixed for my family that I basically tossed my clothing into the closet and left it. I can’t even get in there. My mom is going to want to help me clean it. Which will, inevitably, lead to a discussion about how she hates all my clothes and the way I dress. And that will, inevitably, lead to her offering to buy me some “pretty” clothes. This translates to clothing that she likes, but that I, typically, do not like. No matter how much I’m looking forward to seeing them, I am also dreading this. There. I said it. I feel much better getting it out of my head.

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So, the closet situation is one source of nerves.

My parents’ mode of transportation is another. They decided to drive. They’ve been planning this trip for at least a month, and I have been worried about it ever since my dad announced they were going to pull out their Garmin and a new road atlas and tackle the highways and by-ways of the US.

My parents are both in their eighties, and I think it’s been about twenty years since the last time they tackled a long-distance road trip. It’s not that they aren’t capable people. They are. They are self-sufficient, in great health, and have been “adulting” since they were teenagers. And  yet … I can’t help but worry. I’m not sure when that switch ticks into place, but at some point, kids start to feel responsible for their parents. For me, I guess that happened around the time my daughter was born. It’s difficult to explain, but it suddenly felt like I needed to take care of them. Maybe it’s a “mom” thing gone into overdrive. I don’t know.

Anyhow … that leads us here. My parents, their little Toyota RAV loaded with stuff, and a thousand-plus miles of blacktop. I hate the idea that they are out there, wandering in the wilds of the world. What if something happens to them? What if they get lost? What if they encounter too much traffic? They are from a small town, after all. What if? What if? What if?

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Of course, I’m being silly. “Borrowing trouble,” as my dad says. My mom just called. They stopped over last night in Little Rock and had a grand time eating out and staying in a motel. They are now about a hundred miles outside of St. Louis, which puts them about 260-ish miles from our town. And they are loving the adventure.

And you know what? My heart feels happy. Because, even though they are in their eighties, it seems like my parents have rediscovered some of their youth and fun. And, really, isn’t that what we are all looking for? That eternal fountain of youth? Maybe it’s there … waiting inside of us … ready to be discovered.

MOVED to Illinois …

I did not plan on being gone for an entire month. But you know that old saying about the best laid plans and all that. Yep. Story of my life. By now, I should know that the only plan I need to make is no plan at all. But some life lessons are hard to learn.

So! We are actually in Illinois. We are actually in our new house. And it has been a series of mishaps along the way. Some of them were funny. Some were not. I’ve intended to sit down and write a post so many times since we arrived in our new town. But life kept getting in the way. Things were too busy. I was too busy trying to figure everything out. For a long time, I didn’t have my  desk or computer set up. And then, when I finally had a space where I could sit down to post, I felt overwhelmed by all that had happened. Have you ever felt like you had TOO MUCH to say? And so, you end up not saying any of it because the saying of it feels too hard and like too much. Maybe it’s just me, but that’s where I’ve been.

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And so, I think I will just start at the beginning and figure out where to go from there. This is as good of a beginning as any other: our new front door. To our new house. In our new town. In our new state.

It feels like it has been a long journey to get here. And I mean long journey in every aspect: emotional, mental, and physical. We closed on our half of the Virginia house sale on June 26. We signed our papers in the morning, and then went back to our house for the last of the packing and loading onto the trailer. Compared to everything the movers took, we didn’t have much left. But we had more than we thought. I bet you guys know how that goes, right? It was not a great day, honestly. It was hot, and my husband was stressed, and my daughter was unhappy. Basically, we all fought and snapped at each other all day long. Well, not ALL day. For half the day, until we got on the road. By then, we were all angry and not speaking, so the first half of our drive to Illinois was fairly peaceful.

I know, I know. It’s awful. And I guess I’m a terrible person for admitting this happened. But you know what? It’s also real. This is Real Life. And, in real life, anxiety and stress have a way of spreading themselves around and oozing downhill into all the nooks and crannies. In real life, we get mad at the people around us, no matter how much we love them. It wasn’t my proudest moment or my best day. But it was Human. Also, we all survived it with our love and our senses of humor intact.

I had all these plans of blogging from the road, because it really was a good trip, in the end. We sang and told jokes and stories. We laughed a lot. The dogs even enjoyed the long car ride, which was a huge relief for me. But the trip was also exhausting, so my keyboard remained silent.

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We drove about halfway (or possibly a little more than halfway) the first night. The second day, we got on the road relatively early and made it the rest of the way. Sadly, we were not coming home to our new house. We arrived in our new town around June 28, and we still had 5 days to wait until we could close on our new house. And so, the local Candlewood Suites became our home away from home.

It doesn’t sound too bad, does it? This idea of staying for a few days in a hotel … not having to cook … not having to clean … and so on. It actually sounds pretty great — like a mini vacation at the tail end of what turned out to be months of non-stop activity and stress. This is what I told myself, anyhow. I was trying to stay positive and look at it as some quality time with my daughter getting to know our new town.

In reality … yeah. It wasn’t quite all that. Our first room, which we camped in for a couple of days, wasn’t even a suite. It was a studio, which means it was bedroom, kitchen, and living room all packed into one tiny space. And into this tiny space, we crammed three people and two dogs, plus our suitcases. Most of the things we brought from Virginia had to stay on the U-Haul trailer out in the parking lot. We arrived to an unprecedented heat wave, with temperatures hovering over 100 every day, so my husband and I unloaded some of the most fragile things from the trailer and into a storage unit provided by the hotel. Basically, this meant my anime art collection got unloaded so it didn’t melt. But my nail polish collection had to stay on the truck, along with our furniture and other odds and ends.

By the second day in this tiny room, we were all on each other’s nerves. Even the dogs were feeling it. My boy dog started following my girl dog around the room and growling at her. My girl dog is a nervous nellie, anyhow, and she began slinking around and trying to hide in the bathroom. This led to more growling. Which led to more slinking. And so on. And so on. And the humans in our party weren’t much better. We were all cranky and annoyed with life.

On the morning of the third day, we were able to move into a larger, one-bedroom suite. There was a fold-out sofa for our daughter to sleep on, and space for the dogs to separate from each other. The only drawback was that it was on the third floor. And neither of my dogs have experienced apartment or hotel living in their lives. My girl dog, nervous nellie that she is, turned out to be a total rock star with this situation. My boy dog could not adapt. He is used to peeing as soon as he gets outside the door, and he still wanted to do this in the hotel. I ended up cleaning up on the stairs a few times and on the carpet a few times, too. And we had to basically run down the stairs with him reminding him, “Don’t pee. Don’t pee. Don’t pee,” all the way down to the bottom floor. Good times. Actually, it is pretty funny.

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We closed on our house on July 3. After our townhouse in Virginia and the hotel’s close confines, the new house felt HUGE. Of course, we headed over as soon as closing was done and we had our keys. And we were greeted with clean, empty rooms devoid of clutter. The dogs were in heaven. They had a great time running up and down the stairs and sniffing into every nook and cranny of each room. My boy dog got so excited that he christened our master bedroom the very first day in the house. Yeah. That was not the highlight of the day, for sure. But I guess it’s the little things that makes a house a home, right? Right! *ahem*

Since we were in the house on July 3 and July 4 was a holiday, the rest of our things were not coming until July 5. This meant we had two wonderful and lovely days to enjoy all this empty space. I know that sounds weird. But I really got a kick out of going up and down the hallways and moving from one room to another. We didn’t really have hallways in the townhouse. We had a hallway on our third floor, where the bedrooms were. But the first and second floors were open living space. You guys! I never realized it before, but I really missed hallways and walls and separate rooms.

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Of course, those empty spaces didn’t stay empty for long. And they didn’t feel huge for long. By mid-morning on July 5, they looked more like this, with boxes stacked everywhere. And furniture stacked everywhere. And things stacked everywhere. The movers unloaded the entire day. They started around 8:30 or 9AM, and they left around 5 or 5:30 PM.

I stationed myself in our family room, just off the kitchen. It’s the most central place in our house, and I was the “traffic cop” of the unloading operation. I had the task of catching every person that came through with a load of boxes so I could tell them where to put things in the house. More or less. The way our packers labeled the boxes meant that some things ended up in completely the wrong place, but I did the best I could.

It was a long, hot day. And it was a mess. At the end of it, I stood in my family room, surrounded by stacks and stacks of boxes. Even though I hadn’t carried or lifted a single thing, I felt exhausted, both mentally and physically. I felt like there would be no way I could unpack all of this stuff. I felt like I was in no way equal to the hugeness of the task awaiting me. And I wanted to cry. It was not the joyous homecoming I had expected, that’s for sure.

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So, here we are: a little over a month later. Our daughter is finally registered for school. (This was a huge ordeal; perhaps it will be a blog for another time.) My husband and I finally managed to get our Illinois driver’s licenses and license plates for the cars (Another huge ordeal … are you sensing a theme here?) Our daughter has been attending marching band camp and rehearsals since the end of July, and this is her second full week of school. We are slowly learning our new town and finding favorite places and things like that.

Are we totally unpacked? NO. We are still working our way through boxes and trying to figure out what we want to keep and what we want to donate. We make regular runs to Goodwill and to the recycling center. For the most part, I have unpacked by myself, so it has been slow going. Thankfully, my husband started working on the huge stacks of boxes in our basement storage area last week. He has made a lot of progress down there! Our kitchen is up and running. Our master bedroom is up and running. I have the bare bones of my office space up and running. Our daughter’s bedroom is more or less sorted out and functioning.

We are getting there. But it takes time for a house to become a home. It takes laughter and memories. It takes long, quiet nights enjoying a good book in a quiet room. It takes so many other things that are subtle and gentle and pass you by unnoticed in the hustle and bustle of living. But, one day, all the boxes will be unpacked. All the things will be put away. And, somehow, we will realize our new house isn’t just a “house” any more. Instead, it has become “home”.

I know one thing for sure: I am NOT moving again! (Famous last words …)

 

Moving to Illinois … Wrapping it Up & Signing Off (for now)

So. The time is upon us at last. It’s funny how you wait and wait for something, and it seems like it is taking FOREVER. Until it actually arrives, and you realize it took no time at all. And you feel a little bit panicked that you won’t have enough time in which to accomplish all the things that need to happen. Oh yeah, I am totally in that mental place.

Today is our last true day in our house. We will be here tomorrow, too, but the whole day will be taken up with getting the U-Haul trailer and loading up the remains of our belongings. Tonight will be the last time we sleep here. It feels … weird. I don’t know how else to describe it. I’m excited and happy for the move. I am ready for a change of place and pace in my life. At the same time, I feel a little bit sad. And a little bit mystified, as if, perhaps, none of this is really real. We have lived here a long time, and I never thought we would move. I had kind of given up hope, honestly.

My husband arrived late Friday night (or early Saturday morning, depending on how you want to look at it). And we have been clearing and packing ever since. I think we are pretty much done at this point. We cleared the garage yesterday, other than the stuff we have packed and boxed for the move. We made one run to the household goods disposal place, and we will have at least one more. You guys would not believe how much paint I had stashed away in the garage. It was a lot!

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I had hoped to come in here with a blog full of moving shenanigans and funny stories. But, really, it has all been uneventful. It might not make for good blogging, but “uneventful” is the way I like it. We have been darting out here and there, amid packing and boxing, to eat at some of my husband’s favorite places. We had fantastic Korean BBQ last night, along with peach flavored soju in a perfectly chilled shot glass. Yum! Our daughter has been getting together with friends and saying her good-byes, as well. Today, we have a couple of “last” appointments with health care providers.

Overall, it has been a time of winding down and wrapping up. I can feel it, inside of me and in the air around me. It is as if I am mentally saying good-bye to the streets and places and people who have become familiar to me over the past sixteen years. Inside, I feel peaceful and kind of quiet, but I know it is only a short time of rest before another flurry of activity.

For today, we will finish up the last of the packing, which includes my computer. That’s why I’m in here now, typing away before it gets boxed for the trip to Illinois. The next time I land in here, I will probably be in our new town. And I will probably be anxiously waiting to get into our new house. So, it is so long … for now. And I will see you guys on the flip-side — in a new state, a new town, and a new home!!

Moving to Illinois … So Much to Do, So Little Desire

We are quickly coming to the end of our time in Virginia. Our house is sold, although not yet officially “closed”. My husband is coming from Illinois on Friday so we can get the last bit of stuff packed and loaded, as well as making sure our house is clean and ready for its new owners. We are trying to make the rounds to say good-bye to all the dear friends we have gathered here over the years. The “saying good-bye” part is proving particularly difficult for my daughter. She has many more friends than I do, and, of course, the move is going to be more difficult for her than for either my husband or me.

It’s weird, because I usually look forward to the end of school and the beginning of Summer vacation. I love spending time with my daughter. I love having her home and hanging out with her or just sitting quietly with her while we both read or write together. Summer’s arrival usually brings me a huge mental sigh of relief. But not this year.

This year, I approached the end of school and the beginning of break with butterflies in my stomach. Because, of course, this Summer is not like any Summer that has come our way in a long time, due to the move. For me, part of it is excitement. I am happy about the move and about a new adventure in our lives. I can’t wait to be in our new house. I’ve been thinking about all those rooms and all the decorating and painting and fun stuff I can do with them. I’m also looking forward to getting to know our new town. At the same time, I have to admit I have a fair amount of trepidation over the upcoming move. I’m nervous about my daughter switching schools. And I am a little bit afraid for her, just because this is such a big change. I have every confidence that she is going to handle it well, and that she will have new friends in no time. But there is that “mama bear” part of me that wants to make it all okay for her. Even though such a thing isn’t possible. In a few months, hopefully, I will be starting back to work. That is a source of nervousness, too. I’m excited about it, because it will be great to have income of my own again and to feel as if I contribute money to our family finances. But I haven’t worked in fifteen years! I would be lying if I tried to deny the edge of fear I feel when I think about it.

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At any rate, all the big changes coming our way have me feeling overwhelmed and frazzled. It’s silly, because I have known about all of this for a long time. I have been anxiously waiting for all of it to happen and for time to pass just so I could stop marking time and move forward. Now, though … I don’t know how I feel. I have so many emotions whirling around inside me, and I don’t know which one to cling to or pull out of the stack from one moment to the next.

I still have quite a bit of work to do. We are not completely packed up yet, and I had planned to have as much of that done as I could before my husband arrived. I really should have been working away at it all along. I’ve had two months and a little bit more, after all. And yet, here I sit, with none of it done. Every day, I tell myself I need to do SOMETHING to move this goal along. And, at the end of every day, I find myself no closer. It’s like I have run out of energy after the frantic push to get the house ready and the continued stress of getting it sold. And, maybe, a bit of it is general sadness over leaving a place that has been home for almost two decades of my life. I may not love Northern Virginia. But I am familiar with it. I am used to it. And, while there are things I hate about it, there are also things I like very much.

Somehow, I have to give myself a kick in the pants and get moving. I went out and got packing tape and bubble wrap today. If it is the last thing I do, I WILL get something packed up today. And, perhaps, my freezer cleared out, too. Because the reality is that my long good-bye is almost done. And it will soon be time to say hello, instead, to a new home and new family adventures.

Moving to Illinois … Sold! And the Long Good-Bye

You guys!! My house is SOLD!!

Well, not officially, because closing hasn’t happened yet. But our buyers signed off on the last of the contingencies yesterday morning, which means our contract is now locked-in. The appraiser is coming tomorrow, and we will do the termite inspection later this week. After that, it is just a short slide to the official closing date, when the buyers will sign their half of the documents. My husband and I are planning to sign our part early, so we can pack up and head to our new state. Let me just say right now: With an overstuffed SUV … towing a trailer … and two dogs … We are going to be traveling Beverly Hillbillies style! I’m kind of dreading it. But I’m also kind of looking forward to it. Just the thought of it makes me laugh. It’s going to be frustrating as heck but also fun.

So, of course, this means the start of our long good-bye to our current house. I have so many emotions right now, and they are all jumbled together in a clump around my heart. I am happy and relieved that the house sold. It was a crazy and exhausting push to get it ready to go onto the market, and another crazy and exhausting push to get it sold quickly. It didn’t sell as quickly as we had hoped, but we still sold within 3 weeks of listing. This is not bad at all. I will take it! I feel almost giddy with relief that we are so close to “done” on this part of our new adventure. Our buyers are a cute young couple. I say “young”, but they are probably in their early to mid-thirties. They remind me of my husband and me when we moved in here. It makes me happy to know the house is going to people who love it and are excited to live here.

At the same time, everything feels bittersweet to me. And tinged with a healthy dose of guilt, as are most things in my life. I swear, I am a guilt magnet. We’ve lived here for almost sixteen years. There are a lot of memories tied up in this house. It was weird, this Spring, to think about how this would be the last year I would look out of my front windows and watch our cherry tree blooming. That has to be one of my favorite memories from this house: standing at the window and watching the petals float down to the ground like clumps of pink snow. I love watching the huge bees bumble in and out of the tree’s leaves and flowers. Often, they come right up to the screen and bump against it.

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This house welcomed our new baby daughter when we came home from the hospital. It has been her only home — her whole world, really! — for fifteen years. She learned to walk in our upstairs hallway. She learned to talk in her bedroom, while we were reading books together. She used to stand in her crib in her room and listen for me to walk out into the hallway, so that she could call out to me. Because she knew I would always come for her.

This house held us close and sheltered us every winter when the snow piled up outside and the winds howled around the windows and doors. It gave us a perfect spot for our Christmas tree every year. We made hot chocolate in its kitchen and laughed together as a family in this house. Sixteen years can hold a lot of laughter. Sometimes, I feel like I can hear it echoing against the walls, even now. In the Spring, we planted flowers on the deck (in spite of my lack of a green thumb!), trimmed back the roses, and blew bubbles in the front yard. Our daughter learned to ride her bike in our driveway and the parking lot in front of  our house.

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My two goofball dogs grew up in this house. They learned to play and trust and guard within its walls. They changed from puppies to grown dogs, almost in front of my eyes. They raced and play-fought and had zoomies in the back yard, even though it was small. They sat with us on the sofas during movie night, trying to steal popcorn out of the bowl when we weren’t looking. Nothing brings joy and laughter like goofy dogs.

Of course, there were sad times, too. Because life isn’t perfect. This is the house where my beloved dog, Tex, crossed the Rainbow Bridge. And the same with our sweet Sister Kitty. And this is the house where my husband had a heart attack, followed by quadruple by-pass. This is the house where I learned to live with depression. And it is the house where, in many ways, my creativity died.

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This was our first house. I still remember the excitement and slight terror that came with that first set of keys. We learned a lot about ourselves in this house. We learned a lot about “us” as a family, too. Some of those lessons were fun. Some were horrible and painful. But all of them were good and valuable.

I feel like this house and I never got along — not really and truly. I don’t know why. Maybe I expected too much from it. Maybe I couldn’t get over the fact that, when I dreamed of the type of house I wanted, this house never approached that ideal. And, to a certain extent, I feel I gave up during the years we lived in this house. I relinquished my creativity and my desires. I never finished any of the projects I had planned when we moved into this house. I had big, big plans at that time. But then, life happened. I got sad. And I retreated. For the most part, I never even started my house projects. Yeah, I think it’s fair to say I gave up.

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For many  years now, I have felt trapped inside this house. I wanted to love it, without reservation. I wanted to give myself over to this house and work to make it into what I had dreamed and hoped after for such a long time. And yet, I couldn’t see my way out of the morass of negativity into which I had sunk over the years. I couldn’t find the light that would lead me out or that would let me find a path forward. In some ways, I blamed this house. Which is silly. It is an inanimate object. But there you go. Human emotion isn’t rational. And I came to realize this house would never be what I wanted it to be, but that problem wasn’t with the house. It was with ME.

Now, I find myself in a weird place. I am looking backward and seeing all of these sweet memories. And I am also looking forward and seeing our new house in my future — a house that comes very close to what I dreamed of all those years ago. And I find my heart is filled with love for my “old” house. Because it taught me how to be a homeowner. Because I learned how to be a mom here. Because it taught me about myself.

But mostly, because of this: For sixteen years, this place wasn’t just a house. It was HOME. And you can’t place a value on that. Not ever.

Moving to Illinois … The Staging

We are coming down to the bitter end of the first part of my relocation saga. I say “first part”, because I haven’t even left Virginia yet! I’m still in our same house, waiting out the end of the school year with my daughter and the very most basic of basics in terms of furniture and clothing. And my computer. Because, you know … I’m not an animal! At this point in my tale, we have gone through the packing and boxing. We have watched our stuff get loaded onto the trucks and carted away. We have done the painting and the flooring. We have fixed the backyard, both the patio and the grass. And I prettied up my deck with my flower container gardening adventure, supervised by my pups — of course!

All the basics were done. It was time for the final little touches that act like the icing on a very pretty cake: the staging. I have never sold a house before. So I have never been through the staging experience. I love decorating and home stuff, in general, so I went into this experience thinking it would be amazing and fun. In my mind, it was like a little reward after all of my hard work coordinating the rest of the background stuff and doing all the cleaning and clearing away.

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The reality of it didn’t match up at all. Isn’t that the way it often seems to go in life? You think something will be incredible, and it turns out to be anything but. It’s not that the stager did a bad job or anything. Her work was nice, and she made the spaces in my house seem large but cozy at the same time. I think she is great at her job. She kept it pretty simple, as you can see from our family room, in the above photo. I like the eclectic mix of furniture she chose. And I like the earthy-toned colors she used. I think they fit nicely with the paint and carpeting colors. You can’t see it in this picture, but we finally — after almost sixteen years! — uncovered our fireplace. It’s nice to see it as part of the room now.

This room is laid out strangely in that the fireplace is on one side and the outlets for the TV and other electronic equipment are on the opposite side. Our family is big on movies. It’s one of our main forms of entertainment, and my husband is mad for his television and stereo equipment. I always wanted to rearrange this room so that we could have the fireplace and the TV at the same time. But I never did it. I never did anything to this house, honestly. I mean, we made some changes. But I never did anything as far as decorating or putting my own style into the space or making it into something more than what it was when we bought it. I’ve been puzzling through why that is, and it will probably be fodder for another post later on.

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I really like the little conversation area the stager created for our second floor sitting room. This space is right across from our dining room. We always put our Christmas tree in front of the window where the palm tree looking plant is now. And we had a sofa, a large armoire, our piano, and some reclining club chairs in this space. I originally had a cowhide rug, but I had to take it up once my cat got old and cranky. Because she decided she had to pee on it. Constantly. Poor cowhide.

You can really see our refinished flooring shine through with the sparse and elegant staging selections. And looking at what the stager did with our spaces makes me realize I never had furniture that was the right size for this house. I was used to bigger spaces and a different flow when we moved in here, and I don’t think I ever adapted. Instead, I continued buying large furniture. I love large furniture. It’s a weakness of mine. But large furniture doesn’t work well for a townhouse. Lesson learned on my part.

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This is our dining room. For the first time since we moved in, it has returned to its original purpose. We never had a formal dining table and chairs in this house. My mother-in-law has promised us a beautiful, Asian-style cherry table and chairs. This was years ago, and we never brought them into the house because they seemed too big, overall. I’m not sure if she will remember her promise or not, but we shall see. On our watch, this room was a playroom for our daughter during her younger years. After that, it was an office space for my husband. In reality, it ended up being a cluttered mess. It looks so much nicer now.

But here’s the thing about the staging process. It makes the house look nicer and more elegant. I can’t deny that! But it is painful. It is a painful and frustrating process. Our stager hated that I have dogs. She wanted me to get rid of them for the duration of the staging. How am I supposed to do that? Where are they supposed to live for a month? Initially, I intended to have them in the house with us, albeit not on or around the stager’s furniture. The stager hated that idea. She told me she could not use her nice furniture because of my dogs. So, basically, I have the crappy second-hand furniture in my house. Which I don’t really care … because, sadly, it probably still looks nicer than my own furniture. In the end, she needn’t have worried. After the new carpeting went in, I realized the dogs would have to live out the rest of our time in this house in the garage. I hate this, but it’s the only way to keep the carpeting nice and dander-free.

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The office was an easy room to stage, since there wasn’t much that needed to happen in here. She basically left the room empty. This is my desk and chair and computer. The stager added some “inspirational” pictures and a fake plant to hide my routers and such. I miss having my bookshelves and “stuff” in here. But I have to admit I enjoy this sparse and clean look.

Once all the staging was in place, I quickly realized how much I disliked our stager. In the beginning, I was just mildly irritated with her and her attitude. But I was willing to overlook it and put most of my annoyance off to me being overly sensitive about my dogs. After all, the woman was just doing her job. And I know a lot of people don’t like dogs. I sometimes find this to be a major character flaw. But what do I know? I am a lover of all things dog. And I am certain some people consider that to be a character flaw on my part.

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This is my daughter’s room. She hates what the stager did in here. My daughter is fifteen, and this room is fit for a six or seven year old kid. One who is super girly, which is not my girl at all. Luckily, my daughter loves the color pink. Otherwise, it would have been torture for her to live with this for a month. It is cute, overall. I like the paintings the stager used on the walls. There are two of them, both city-scapes done in tones of green, blue, and pink. And I like how she used the space on the shelves behind my daughter’s bed. My dad built all of those, as well as the cute little desk beside the bed.

Back to my story about the stager and how mild annoyance grew into active dislike …

I came home to my lovely and elegant-looking house thinking all was well. Until I  needed to wash my hands and discovered there was no soap. None. Anywhere. The stager had taken away all of our soap. And she had put other soap in its place. But here’s the thing: You can’t really use the other soap she added. It’s just for show. Because … staging. I guess I should have known this when the stager told me, several times, that they usually only stage houses that are vacant. But, you see, my house is not vacant. I am still living here. And I need to wash my hands. And shower.

In the end, I found soap. But the stager had hidden it in weird places. So, basically, I had to continue hiding the real soap while the fake soap sat out on our counter. Before the stager came, I had cleaned out my drawers and medicine cabinets, leaving only the very basic things we use for every-day life. Apparently, people who live in the magazine houses don’t use basic things for every-day life. Because the stager took all of that stuff away. In its place, she left seashells and starfish inside our medicine cabinets. Oh. And more fake soap. It’s like she’s mocking me with the fake soap. I have to admit I rebelled a little by putting a bar of bath soap and the non-skid rubber mat back in my daughter’s shower. I hope no one tells the stager, though. I am certain she will come back to take it away.

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This is the master bedroom. That, of course, is not my bedding. Because my bedding was not good enough for the stager. Instead, she had to bring new bedding. She did this in my daughter’s room, too. But she actually liked my daughter’s comforter and left it underneath the staged comforter. My bedding didn’t make the cut at all. She wadded all of it up and stuffed it in the back of my closet. The bed is ours. It’s the queen-size bed that is destined for our guest room, once we eventually make it to Illinois. The bedside tables are mine. And the lamps are mine. The stager didn’t like any of these things, but she was forced to work with them. Poor lady, having to make do with my ugly and substandard furniture.

I used to have Alexa in this room, along with a clock, a phone, and a noise maker. The stager unplugged all of my electronic items. Every single one of them. In this photo, I had snuck my noise maker back onto my nightstand. Shhh! Don’t tell! Shortly after this, I put Alexa back, too. I need her because she is my alarm clock every morning. Also, she can tell me what time it is, since, apparently, people who live in fake magazine world don’t own clocks. Or care about time. They are dirty, smelly people who are perpetually late.

I guess fake magazine world people don’t have phones, either. Because the stager unplugged all of our telephones. And when I say unplugged, I really do mean “unplugged”. She managed to wreck our entire phone system, so I now have no home phone and have to rely on my mobile for everything. I say “everything”, but I do have one landline that still rings in the kitchen. I can never get to it in time to answer, but at least I can check voicemail now and again.

And the final thing fake magazine world people don’t have: trash cans. The stager systematically went through our entire house and removed every single trash can. She stashed some of them away in places where I found them later. There are a few I still haven’t found at all. And I ended up having to put my kitchen trash can into the garage. I am making do with a white trash bag hanging off a drawer knob for now. Because, yeah … that’s so much more elegant and lovely than the stainless steel trash can I originally had.

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In the end, the stager and I will not be friends. And the staging, overall, is difficult to live with. No soap … no trash cans … towels we can’t use or touch … furniture we can’t sit on … and the need to keep everything hidden and picture-perfect all the time. Did she make my house lovely? Yes. She absolutely did.

But she also made me really sad. Because my house is now just a house. It isn’t a home any longer. It isn’t comfortable or inviting for us. It’s just where we live … not where we LIVE. All of the memories are there, but, for now, our house has become a place where my daughter and I are marking time until we can move on to the next step in our journey. I guess this is the first step in saying good-bye. And good-bye is always hard.

 

Moving to Illinois … My Lack of a Green Thumb Haunts Me

When we last left off, I had done some basic renovations and repairs to our house: new paint, refinished flooring, and new carpet. We had put in a new backyard, basically, by laying down sod in all the worn spots. The stone patio in our backyard had been repaired and given new life. All the work was progressing well and on time. And we were very quickly counting down to the last few tasks that needed to happen before we could officially put our house on the market.

One of these tasks involved gardening. I have pots sitting out on my deck. They are kind of old and a little squidgy around the edges (like me!), but they are colorful, cheerful, and bright. At one time, they were also full of flowers. A few years ago, I took a wild hair to improve our deck by adding some pretty plants. Even though we have beautiful and serviceable deck furniture, we didn’t use our outside space much due to my allergies. But, when that gardening bug hit me, I bought my colorful pots. I filled them with rich soil, and I planted lots of beautiful flowers. I had pansies and petunias and daisies. Of course, they didn’t last. My intent at the time was to keep refreshing the pots every warm season. Like so many of my fantastic plans, it never happened. The flowers died out, and the squirrels started planting things, instead.

And so, my beautifully cheerful and colorful pots sat out on my deck for years, growing a jumble of this and that, which could be characterized as a “hot mess” if one was feeling somewhat generous. I had some galvanized tubs in an often-shady corner. Originally, I planted herbs in there. But the squirrels dug those up and planted tiny trees. My husband started storing things inside the tubs, like heavy bags of soil that, over the years, turned into hard mud bricks and a bag of rocks. Yes, you read that correctly: a whole bag of rocks. I felt my soul die a little bit when I made that discovery upon starting this project.

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Initially, I had planned to get rid of the pots altogether and leave the deck bare. But my realtor thought it would be a better idea to keep them and plant them with colorful, seasonal flowers. At the time we discussed this, we were heading into Spring, after all. And a bit of colorful cheer never hurt anyone. And so, that is what I resolved to do. First, I weeded out all the pots. This sounds easy, but it was back-breaking work. When squirrels decide to plant things, they don’t go halfway! After weeding, I cleared out all the miscellaneous junk. Hauling all of that stuff down to the trash was no fun!

Once the boring but necessary ground work was done, I headed to my local Home Depot for supplies. I got a couple of bags of soil and some assorted flowers. I wanted pansies, but they were all gone. So I settled for petunias, which are fun and almost as colorful. I also got some type of yellow, daisy-looking flower, although I don’t remember what it was called. There is a theme to this, which you will discover shortly.

I am writing this post a little bit out of order in terms of the work that I did. I wanted to lump all the indoor renovation and repair work together, so I talked about all of it in one post. But my little gardening adventure happened in between: after the paint was done, but before the flooring and sod. This worked out great, because I was able to have the moral support of my two favorite helpers. After days cooped up with me in the garage, my dogs were only too happy to lounge in the sun on the deck and supervise my progress.

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They are great supervisors. As you can imagine, I can’t really make a move without them shadowing me. There was a lot of tripping over each other and some excited barking — from all of us. My poor dogs were so happy to be outside, on the deck, and just hanging out that they were almost too excited. Considering how noisy we were, I was happy none of my neighbors seemed to be out and about while we were cavorting on the deck — my dogs happily and me much less so.

My rescue girl, Fae, is a great supervisor. She likes to roam around a bit and get the lay of the land. After that, she is happy to find a spot to sit and watch. She gets out of the way and lets me get on with my work. I like that in a supervisor.

Shiner, on the other hand, is very hands-on. Or, I should say “mouth-on”. He wants to be in the middle of everything. Every time I turned my back, he would sneak into my little pots of flowers and pull blooms off of stems. He wasn’t eating them. He was excited and just yanking them off for the joy of it all. I suppose we all have to express it when that type of giddy joyfulness wells up inside us. But this led to a few cross words between the two of us. For a while, I was afraid I wasn’t going to have any flowers left to plant! This boy is a maniac!

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As I hauled dirt and filled pots and dealt with the bag of rocks and assorted trash, I realized something. I hate gardening. I hate it. I really do. I love the idea of it all. I love flowers and nature (although I am allergic to all of it). I love being outdoors. I have this dream of having a beautiful garden where I can sit and read a book or have a cup of tea and watch bees happily humming along about their business.

But here’s the thing: I hate the actual action of gardening. I hate getting my hands dirty. I hate bugs. I hate finding bugs. I hate how I get all hot and sweaty and irritable when planting stuff. If I ever have the garden of my dreams, it had better come with a gardener who will care for it properly. Otherwise, I am going to be sitting in a patch of weeds and some weird tree-things that the squirrels planted in their spare time. And we all know the squirrels are quite mad, no matter how much we love them. Heck, I love them all the more for their innate madness.

I ended the day a hot and sweaty and stinky mess. My hair was flying around my head in crazy tangles. My clothing was plastered to my skin from being out in the full sun. My voice was hoarse from speaking crossly to Boy Dog. I was in the crappiest mood. I felt like my head was going to explode from pent-up rage, and I kept thinking about that and wondering about how so many people I know find gardening relaxing. I mean, what in the world did I do wrong? Maybe I need to garden in the shade more. Or maybe I need less canine supervision.

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In the end, I was proud of my efforts. My little plants look brave and cheerful and colorful out in the sun on my deck. I feel like I did a good job mixing colors together. And, overall, it turned out pretty great — even if I did have to spread the bag of rocks throughout one planter and make two extra Home Depot runs for more dirt.

Was it worth it? Yes. I think it was. But, as I stood at the sliding glass doors that evening, looking out at my handiwork, I thought to myself, “Self. Let’s not do this again. Ever.”