My Garden, the Mission Field

Well, we’re back from our Superlong Vacation® and so the gardening can officially begin. But I find myself at a loss. I’ve kept tomato bushes and herbs alive, occasionally, and killed African violets with great guilt and inevitability, but my horticultural ignorance is considerable.

I feel inordinately bad when I kill things, and I don’t have the budget for it, anyway. So instead, I’ve been starting out slowly with hand-me-down plants, like the Solomon’s Seal a friend gave me last month, or the mini rose bush we received as a housewarming gift. But I keep hitting roadblocks from ignorance: Is this grassy weed-thing grass or actually some bulb? Is the peony bush supposed to look like that? Can I plant irises, and where?

A couple of weekends ago, some of J’s family came to visit. When they’re in town, we try to entertain them in high style (ha! two little kids! ha! our little town!), but on Sunday morning they materialized after Mass and his grandmother and aunt announced they were going to work on my garden.

Oh, ok, I said perplexedly. Then I noticed the gloves. They had been planning on this.

Grandma Judy rescues the front garden
For the next few hours, I flitted around unhelpfully, ferrying the occasional San Pellegrino, pulling a weed here and there as instructed, putting the baby down for her nap and getting her back up, then keeping her from eating (much) greenery.

And they — well, they revolutionized my yard. With cheerful determination, the two women shaped and tidied, tossing off advice as they went. I scrambled inside for my notebook. They sent J and his uncle to the hardware store with a list: mulch, trowel, more gloves, clippers. (When they had asked for clippers, we, with what I’m sure was charming naïveté,had fished out wire clippers.) In the interim J and his uncle fixed the gutter his keen-eyed real estate agent aunt had noticed needed attention.
The whole thing actually reminded me of the medical mission trip J and I tagged along on when we moved to Uganda as newlyweds. The doctors had drawn up careful lists of supplies and come armed to teach the local surgeon new orthopedic and urological procedures, leaving behind the scope and other tools they’d lugged with them. They’d assisted in surgery, teaching Dr. Frank as they worked, knocking out the most pressing cases in the region for free during their little mission trip. It was amazing.

New! Improved!
This, too, was a mission of mercy for clueless new homeowners. (I didn’t even know anything was wrong with our gutter, for starters.) They graciously sacrificed part of their vacation to work and work hard for our sake, and imparted their wisdom along the way. I’m not sure it’s any less noble, in its own way.

The rescue squad

The Long View


At the end of March, we bought ourselves a house. And I don’t know if it’s our age or the recovering economy or whatever, but in that time I’ve had four or five other close friends go through the same exhilarating/nauseating roller coaster.

Most of those friends have a kid or two, and one friend asked me how to get unpacked and settled in with kids underfoot and the answer, I suspect, is mostly you don’t, or at least not with much haste.

All of us, we new homeowners, want something Instagrammable right away. We are scouring Pinterest, so impatient to make this new house “ours.” It’s tempting to stay up late unpacking, to spend a lot of money right away for that missing detail, to hold off having anyone over until we’re really settled. We’re Millennials, and we’ve been renting our entire adult lives. We’re ready to really own a place.

Mostly, though, I try to get out of the house with the kids because hey, it’s summertime, and we shouldn’t waste it, but also because when I am chasing off the baby from the electric outlets and fielding the preschooler’s request for a toy we haven’t unpacked yet and thinking about how I should haul another box up from the basement or take a crack at a better kitchen arrangement, I’m not the kind of mother I want to be.

Luckily for me a few weeks into unpacking (or not) we headed down to Tallahassee, where much of the month I stayed in the house my parents have owned since I was seven years old.

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My dad, spiffing up the back of the house in 1993

It’s a house where I can see work and evolution and process in every room. That evidence is somehow reassuring. My mom’s gardening has changed and improved as she’s gotten to know the soil and entered a new season of life without kids at home when she can devote more time. As far back as I can remember, my parents’ house has been tidier than my current acceptable level, but the level of cleanliness they can maintain now that my father is a full time homemaker differs form how I remember it growing up. And every time something has broken since 1993, my parents have replaced it with something just a little nicer, a little more to their taste.

It all combines to reassure me that there is no static moment when a house is done. It feels overwhelming to think of the projects that loom before us, but so long as we keep the back porch from completing its transformation into a rotted death trap, we’ve got all the time in the world to make this little Craftsman our home. We can afford to play the long game.

Crafting a Craftsman (general house updates after a month of homeownership)

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Look at our fancy Montessori floor bed…which has stayed this way for two weeks while we try to figure out what to do about our box spring not fitting up the stairs.

So, at the end of March we entered the ranks of homeowners, and mid-month, on a random Thursday evening, we decided just to get it over with and move. That means we’ve been sort of camping out here and bringing carloads over, setting up slowly as J rounds out the semester and fights a terrible case of not-flu.

One of the important things we had to settle was what to name our house — we loved the idea of our home having its own name. We consulted the names of some of our favorite literary houses (Ingleside, St. Anne’s on the Hill, etc.), and this British list of house naming conventions. Some possibilities we considered:

  • Avonlea Cottage (I’ll just have to wear J down into letting me use this for a baby girl someday.)
  • Benison Cottage (discarded because J thought I was saying “venison” and I doubt he’d be the last one)
  • Dogwood Cottage — our yard is pretty bare of vegetation, except for the two dogwoods outside Pippin’s window.

We eventually settled on Cottontail Cottage, because like a lot of this town, it’s overrun with the little guys.

We also spend waaay too much time trying to figure out how to incorporate our mostly mid century modern furnishings with the Craftsman bones of our house. Apartment Therapy has been a good resource here. Behold this looker:

view into dining room wood trim modern chairs
Not our house, but sort of what we’re going for — link below.

{a big inspiration is this house here}

A friend mentioned that she’d read the advice of keeping in mind friends’ houses you love, and I’ve tried to do that. I often think in particular about the home of Scout’s godparents. It’s not fancy or even especially intentionally decorated, and children are piled in. But if you run into one of the parents on campus, they’ll invite you to dinner and slide over to accommodate your whole family — the food is always unfussy and excellent. You’ll never worry about your kid making too big of a mess, and you’ll always feel welcome.

I think too of the houses I’ve found most beautiful, and most clearly a reflection of their owners’ taste: my grandparents’ light-filled Danish modern treehouse in Sarasota when I was growing up; the lovely Alabaman Craftsman that perfectly expresses my brother-in-law and sister-in-law’s eclectic antique tastes, my sister’s densely layered apartment, filled with art made by her friends. There are more, of course. We are lucky to have such warm and hospitable friends.

And let me say right here — and hold me to this — I promise you I won’t go around talking about how we just need the exact right shade of linen curtain, how I’ve looked everywhere for the perfect piece of art for that wall, how frustrated I am that I’m stuck with this kitchen layout. Because I’ve never been very tolerant of people who complain at length about the enormous privilege of getting to feather a nest that belongs to them. So while I’d like to talk to y’all about my adventures in homeownership and making this place our own, I’ll try not to be completely insufferable. Mmkay?

The Future In Four Walls

Last week I had a day that was weirdly frenzied and crabby and anxious, even though Pippin was a dreamboat — nap, no fits, no “nuffin’,” as he’d say, and Scout, was, well, Scout. There were some scheduling complications, to be fair, but even during simultaneous nap (!), things felt frantic and hard.

I think some of it was coming off the tiredness from Scout’s most recent illness and trying to regroup in the shambles inevitably left behind, but mostly, I think, it was a sort of happy overwhelm at the prospect of moving.

You see, dear readers, we’ve bought our first house. (We hope it’s our last one.)

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Furniture not included, but kiddo in pajamas and rain boots, free with purchase

We know we’re moving, but we don’t know when or our strategy (essentials first and camp out there, or non-essentials first and move last thing). We’re kind of in limbo and need to do nothing and everything, and, well — I’d always prefer doing everything to nothing. So that day, I’d start a blog post, then open 30 tabs about dining room chandeliers, then realize I hadn’t considered the possibility of wallpaper, then wonder if I should ask the neighbor her views on irises.

The thing is, I know this is the house where we will someday bring home the baby boy with the brown eyes, or the little girl with the dark hair, where Bonnie will grow old and creaky, where we’ll gather with fresh-faced, impossibly young college students, and welcome our future nieces and nephews, and grow old in friendships now just beginning. If I ever write a book, it will be in the weird, big master closet with the desk and window; if Pippin ever sticks glow-in-the-dark stars to the ceiling it’ll be in the bedroom that right now stands bare and waiting for him. Scout will invite friends there for her first sleepover, and J will try to appear nonchalant as he waits there for her return from her first date.

I just can’t wait to get started.

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OUR ACTUAL FURNITURE IN OUR ACTUAL HOUSE. (Because J’s grandma bought us this swanky table.)