This time I have a good excuse

Yes, I have an excuse and his name is Harvey. I meant to be back here sharing inspiration and projects at the beginning of September, but instead we had this storm and life has been shaken and stirred quite a bit more than usual.

All will be fine.  As I write this, we are in between a friend’s parents’ vacant apartment, a new apartment we have not slept in yet, and the room over the garage where we rode out the storm.  In a couple of days, we will be in only the new apartment and all our things will be accounted for.  I’m rather tired of looking for insurance papers or clothes that are in between the 3 places and our cars.

The community has been absolutely amazing. At times I swear all we had to do was think that we wanted or needed something and it showed up.  I will share more about how incredible the Houston community, our school community, and our friends from near and far have been.  It’s absolutely amazing.  I included below the Facebook post I wrote about a week afterwards, just to share my thoughts with you.

What I want to share here is that life for us will develop a new normal in a few days.  We will collect our kitties, who have been enjoying an extended stay with friends.  SG’s school will begin in a new location in 2 weeks.  Her school was destroyed… if you’d care to help, we need a lot of it.  This is one fundraising avenue:

Everything inside had to go… office files, books, tables, chairs, rugs, teacher supplies, art supplies, computers, lab equipment, everything down to the last stray pencil is gone.  

Teachers, students and faculty will be using an extra building at another campus for the entire year while the repairs to our beloved school are ready for students in the fall of 2018.  School start has been delayed a month while teachers, families and countless volunteers cobble together a makeshift school to have a productive learning environment for all of our children.  This is just one way to help.

And here’s a few shots of what our house looks like today.  It will be back better than ever, fear not.

Front yard


Water coming inside

Master bedroom

Finally, thank you  so much to those of you who have reached out to me, proving that blogland really is a very small world. xoxo

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Summertime reading: July

Before we dive into all the books I’ve been reading, and boy have I been immersed in some good ones, I’d like to let you know that I’ll be taking a blogging break for the month of August.  I’ve got some large projects to focus on, as well as no camps scheduled for Sweet Girl, which means she gets much of my time until school begins in 4 weeks.  (Did anyone just hear trumpets?)

Already for August, I know I’ll be reading:

So let me know what you are reading.  I’ll be back in September! xoxo

Protecting the Gift: Keeping Children and Teenagers Safe (and Parents Sane) Gavin De Becker

I wrote a separate post about this one and would love it if you’d read that.  De Becker’s book covers safety skills for children outside the home, warning signs of sexual abuse, how to screen baby-sitters and choose schools, and strategies for keeping teenagers safe from violence.  Highly recommend. 

The Little French Bistro by Nina George

I loved Nina George’s Little Paris Bookshop, so I thought I’d like this one.  I made it about halfway through.  I’m not sure why… I just wasn’t very interested.

I’ve gotten quite ok with abandoning a book mid-way through.  There are so many others out there I want to read!

Insomniac City: New York, Oliver, and Me by Bill Hayes

This collection of beautiful writings and observations is full of memorable encounters between Bill and New York City and Bill and the late Oliver Sacks, his partner.  There is at the same time a certain melancholy to the writing as well as a sense of amazement and gratitude for every day life.  Much of the writing is as delicate and fragile as life’s tenuous moments.  Mr. B and I got to hear neurologist Dr. Oliver Sacks speak at The New Yorker Festival in New York City in 2004.  He has always been someone I’ve kept up with and enjoyed reading.Random photos of New Yorkers and Notes From a Journal, some of which are records of conversations between the two and some of which are just observations, help divide the chapters.

“I cannot take a subway without marveling at the lottery logic that brings together a random sampling of humanity for one minute or two, testing us for kindness and compatibility. Is that not what civility is?”

One thing that really struck me: Bill frequently has meaningful exchanges with random strangers that he encounters in NYC.  I have to say that not one of the people he met would be someone I, a young female, would be comfortable approaching (homeless, skateboarders, etc).  I found it fascinating that men probably don’t have nearly the amount of fear that women do on a daily basis.  What must that be like? Future blog post topic for sure!

“What is the opposite of a perfect storm? That is what this was, one of those rare moments when the world seems to shed all shyness and display every possible permutation of beauty.”

I loved this book and decided to immediately read Oliver Sacks’ Gratitude, which was a series of articles written for the NYTimes shortly before he passed away.  That review is below too.

“I was standing in the kitchen last night making dinner for the two of us and a thought came to me: This is the happiest I’ve ever been.   I stopped myself: Is that true?  I kept doing what I was doing, making dinner, sort of testing the feeling; O was talking all the while; and I thought, Yes, yes, it is true.”

Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper

In her 80’s, Etta decides to leave home and walk thousands of miles across Canada in order to see the ocean.  This novel is a couple years old but I hadn’t heard of it until I read about it in O Magazine (I think that’s where I saw it).  This story intertwines the present and the past, Etta’s and Otto’s separate life stories, and even adds a bit of the fantastical with a talking wolf.  It reminded me a lot of Fredrik Backman’s books (especially that one where the character undertakes a similar journey).

The characters are real and lovable, if not quirky, the journey intertwines life memories and some magical realism, on  both parts… of Etta leaving and Otto staying.  It’s a quiet book and somewhat peaceful to read.

Besides being somewhat unbelievable, there were a couple of other things about this one that bothered me.  First, Hooper uses absolutely no quotation marks, which irked me more as I read. The writing is a little bit choppy.  In addition to that, the ending of the story was strange, if completely unsettling. Overall, I’d recommend this one.

Oleander Odyssey: The Kempners of Galveston, Texas, 1854-1980s by Harold Hyman

This is a multi-generational, immigrant “rags to riches” story. “Shrub” Kempner will be receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Jewish Committee in November, so I read this to get relevant material about his grandfather to help create a video about the family.  I’ve been collecting photos for a display as well.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life by Mark Manson

This is a humorous, short guide to how to grow up.  The premise here is that there are only so many things we can care about, so we have to select our most important few values and let the rest fall away.  Manson debunks “positive thinking” in favor of honesty and acceptance of our faults, mainly conveying that it is in the suffering through our fears and anxieties is what allows us to build courage.  Stop avoiding, stop hiding, and learn how to prioritize what matters to you.  Highly recommend.

His main question: what are you willing to struggle for?

“Because happiness requires struggle. It grows from problems. Joy doesn’t just sprout out of the ground like daisies and rainbows. Real, serious, lifelong fulfillment and meaning have to be earned through the choosing and managing of our struggles.”

“The tendency toward entitlement is apparent across all of society. And I believe it’s linked to mass-media-driven exceptionalism. The problem is that the pervasiveness of technology and mass marketing is screwing up a lot of people’s expectations for themselves. The inundation of the exceptional makes people feel worse about themselves, makes them feel that they need to be more extreme, more radical, and more self-assured to get noticed or even matter.”

Vanessa and Her Sister: A Novel by Priya Parmar

“I have the loose-ended feeling of looking, looking. What am I looking for? Looking for substance, looking for a moment I do not understand. Is that just how this part of life is? Do we ever have the sensation of finding, of arriving? I worry that life is always in the future and I am always here, in the preamble, straightening up the cushions so that life will go smoothly once it does begin. How does it start?”

Told from the viewpoint of Vanessa Bell, Virginia Woolf’s sister, this novel is made up of journal entries, telegrams, and postcards.  The Bloomsbury set come to life, but in their early days.  I know it’s a novel, but it feels very much like historical fiction.  I have read many of Virginia Woolf’s novels and diaries and love learning from this additional point of view.  Highly recommend. 

“Virginia has a vibrancy about her that makes time spent with her seem inherently more valuable than time spent away from her; minutes burn brighter, words fall more steeply into meaning, and you feel you are not just alive but living. I have understood this Virginia equation all her life—but I also understand what Clive does not. There is no rational, logical, reachable Virginia lurking beneath, and eventually Virginia becomes exhausting.”

Gratitude by Oliver Sacks

Oliver Sacks faces aging, illness, and death in 4 essays written at the end of his life.  Sacks writes about living a meaningful life and achieving a sense of peace.  Sacks celebrates the pleasures of old age, his overwhelming feeling of appreciation for a life well lived, and reflects on his lifelong love for the periodic table of the elements and on his own mortality.  Highly recommend.  It’s a life and a book that are both too short.

“I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return; I have read and traveled and thought and written. I have had an intercourse with the world, the special intercourse of writers and readers. Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.”

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See

This one just came out in March.  Lisa See explores the lives of a Chinese mother and her daughter who has been adopted by an American couple.  She tells us of a minority culture, the Akha, with their own superstitions and traditions.  So much of the book is about the art of growing and selling tea, with much of the narrative taken up with details that I luckily found interesting.  I could see how it could get to be too much for some.

As I followed Li-Yan’s life story, I was caught up in her hopes and disappointments.  I enjoyed learning of the Akha culture and watching as Li-Yan adhered to the principles while disagreeing strongly with much of it.

“Look around you… This is the mother tree.  These are the sister trees.  You may never see this place again, but it is yours by right.  Our blood is in this earth.  It has nourished these trees.  You are a part of them, and they are a part of you.”

The other side of the story is the adoption of girls from China during the “One Child” policy and the mixed feelings that causes.  It was a minor diversion from the main story, and one that didn’t add all that much, in my opinion.

Overall, I found this novel compelling. The characters are real and believable, the writing simply flows, and it’s always enjoyable to me to learn new things about the world we live in.  You only have to read the acknowledgments pages at the end of the book to realize the extent of research that went into telling this story.  See mentions over 100 sources and texts, a couple of which I hope to look into.  Highly recommend.

Theft by Finding: Diaries 1977-2002 by David Sedaris

From his lost phase to his drug phase to his school phase to (at last!) his New York phase, this series of completely random snippets is slow-going and rather odd.  Sedaris records out-of-the-ordinary occurrences (fights, overheard conversations, things people tell him, observations).  Of course, that is part of why he is a great writer.

His observations are spot-on and humorous.  There is no story line, but each short entry is compelling in it’s own way.  What I like most about Sedaris is that he’s real (and unapologetic about being real).    Still, I would only recommend reading this one if you already know you love him.  This wouldn’t be the way to encounter his writing for the first time.

“The point is to find out who you are and to be true to that person. Because so often you can’t.”

The Stars are Fire by Anita Shreve

I think I’ve read every Anita Shreve novel, so when this came out a couple of months ago, I was already on the library’s waiting list.  It tells of a housewife in 1940’s Maine who is stuck in a loveless marriage and an unfulfilling life and her desire to escape and create something new for herself, which she eventually does.  This story is full of true-to-life situations and is a vibrant, quick read.  Recommend.

“That night, after Grace has put the children to bed, she slips her slicker from a hook and walks down her front porch path to the sidewalk.  She has maybe a minute before Gene will notice her absence.  It isn’t much, but it’s everything.”

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson

At the time I read this, it was #1 on the NYT hardcover nonfiction list.   It’s a straightforward, easy-to-understand introduction to the universe.  Much of the book is in casual language and accessible to the average non-science major and written with a slight hunt of a smile.  It’s definitely worth your time.

“Every one of our body’s atoms is traceable to the big bang and to the thermonuclear furnaces within high-mass stars that exploded more than five billion years ago.  We are stardust brought to life, then empowered by the universe to figure itself out — and we have only just begun.”

“From a distance, our solar system looks empty. If you enclosed it within a sphere – one large enough to contain the orbit of Neptune, the outermost planet (No, it’s not Pluto. Get over it.) – then the volume occupied by the Sun all planets, and their moons would take up a little more than one-trillionth the enclosed space.”

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Puzzles, puzzles everywhere!

All I can tell you is that I’ve been obsessed with jigsaw puzzles the past few months. I set up a card table in the living room so I can be with the family while doing them. I get the same sort of feeling doing a puzzle as creating art… especially fun if you’re doing an art puzzle!

Honestly, I am ready to get back into the art room.  I got a little sick of these and put the table back into our garage. Plus I have been busy with other things lately.  Still, this was fun.

More to come! These were all very cheap on Zulily.

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Pool project #3: landscaping and the end result

Almost done… the front yard was barren after all the construction thoughtlessness.  At our own expense, we replanted a great deal of grass.

We added a fence to the side of our house in order to extend the area in the back yard.  Before…


We put up lights around the perimeter in the back and plan to add more along the garden fence.  Very important… SG was the first to turn them on!

As mentioned before, we decided to shorten our screened-in porch.

As you can see from the photo below right, from inside the house looking out, it’s now a lovely view (not blocked by the porch). The left photo is what our garden looked like pre-landscaping.  I still can’t believe how many plants were lost.

It was a very quick decision, but we added an aluminum pergola over part of the back patio.  Literally, Mr. B went out of town on a Monday and came home on Thursday to see it up!

The issue we encountered: As you can see below, one side of the beams were on the roof, but the other side was hanging down from the main brown support beam.  Mr. B saw a photo and was insistent that we stop work and raise that side.  It really did look sloppy and I agreed it needed to be done.  I hated causing trouble though! The beams weren’t long enough.

We were going to have to reorder some new pieces at our expense.  I worked my charm… the contractor had packed up for the day (and the Easter weekend actually), but I convinced him of a workable solution and we got our electricians to help raise the beams so we could put them higher.

(I must add that SG and I both thought it would have been much more pleasant had the guy worked with his shirt on!)

Part of the solution… 2 posts that really don’t get in the way of our line of sight.

I ordered this outdoor fan… I wished I’d gotten a bigger one.  He put a plexiglass square over that part of the pergola to protect the fan from water.

On to landscaping, finally.  I have an awesome gardener to took me to a wholesale nursery where we got 2 trailers full of plants, trees, mulch, rock, and stone (to make stepping stones) for very low prices.  It made the Home Depot/Lowes prices seem exorbitant.

We love how it’s filling in with lush colors. The jasmine is slowly climbing those trellis pieces and the flowers are blooming. The bouganvilla are on wheels so when it rains, I can roll them out a little to get watered.



Catch up on Pool post #1 and Pool post #2.  (There’s also Garage project #1, #2, and #3.)

Thanks for reading! Come on over for a swim anytime. 🙂

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Keeping our children safe

Parents worry.  I think we can all agree on that one.

Among all the concerns that parents deal with, safety is up toward the top.

Sweet Girl has always been overly cautious, but in the last year or so, she’s started physically recoiling from most men as she and I cross paths with them when we’re out in public.  Sometimes she’ll grab hold of my hand tightly, sometimes she’ll switch to the other side of me, and sometimes she won’t go anywhere near that person.  It hasn’t caused her to decide not to go somewhere, so I hadn’t been concerned, besides the thought that she could be offending these people if they notice her aversion.

It is that vulnerability and evidence of fear that worries me after reading Gavin De Becker’s Protecting the Gift: Keeping Children and Teenagers Safe (and Parents Sane). I learned that seeming vulnerable or “quiet, withdrawn, compliant, easy to manipulate” are traits that predators watch for.

However, that initial reaction can be a good thing. “There are people they recoil from, and that reaction is something to cherish and to nurture, not something to force them to ignore.” So I will not be telling SG not to be afraid, but neither do I want her walking around in a constant state of fear.  I want her to follow her intuition.

The risks to children can seem overwhelming.  That’s why, after completing De Becker’s Gift of Fear last month, I wanted to read his book about what risks children face and how parents can help kids learn warning signs and safety skills.  In Gift of Fear, De Becker’s main point was that we should not deny or discount our intuition.  “It’s not always be the loudest voice, but it is the wisest.”

So what should we be aware of regarding children’s safety?

“Of all the serious harms that could come to your child, sexual abuse is the one that most needs your attention and your intuition. And, unfortunately, the odds are getting worse, not better.  One in three girls and one in six boys will have sexual contact with an adult. Sometimes it’s a neighbor and sometimes it’s a day-care worker, but a family member is still most likely to be the sexual abuser.”

De Becker writes that often parents see their kids as partners in their safety, but…

“Until a child is old enough to understand what predatory strategies look like, old enough and confident enough to resist them, assertive enough to seek help, powerful enough to enforce the word No—until all that happens, a child is too young to be his own protector, too young to merit any of your reliance, too young to be part of the defense system, period.” (At the end of this post, I have added De Becker’s list of things children should know before they are ever alone in public.)

“Child victimization is a big issue and one that should be on all parents’ minds.  There are many things we can do to help ensure the safety of children through increased awareness, education, advocacy and action.  We need to teach kids how to recognize, interrupt and report inappropriate behaviors and situations.”

“Who are the offenders in these crimes? Nearly 100 percent are heterosexual men. All of them have a process by which they gain access to and control of a child. In response, parents need to make careful choices about the people in your child’s life and teach your child about touch, the body, boundaries, communication, assertiveness, and sovereignty over the body.”

How can I teach my child about risk without causing too much fear?

Constant depiction of a dangerous world leads children (and adults) to believe they are not competent to meet the challenges of life, and that belief can permeate the entire experience of life.

True fear is involuntary.  It’s there to get our attention if something in our environment signals us that we are in danger.  However, “unwarranted fear or worry will always be based upon something in your imagination or your memory. Worry is the fear we manufacture; it is a choice… When someone feels fear constantly, there is no signal left for when it’s really needed, which actually making them less safe.”

Being afraid of others is actually the fear that we are unprepared to protect ourselves. Obviously, we cannot change or eliminate all the dangerous people in the world; what we can change is our ability to deal with them.”

Reading this book was seriously freaking me out.  I was jumpy, not sleeping well, and couldn’t stop obsessing about it.  I tried to quickly finish the rest of the book and wanted to convey to SG some basic points, which I did.  She even had some ideas and points to bring up as well.  We discussed:

  • Wherever you are, you can call home at any time.
  • No adult should ever touch (specific parts) or ask you to touch them, watch them, etc.
  • No matter what you want to tell me, I can handle it and I will believe you.
  • You are the most important person to me and you matter.
  • When you feel uncomfortable about someone, trust yourself and get away.
  • When you are ready to learn ways to protect yourself, we will learn together.

I feel better that we’ve had this discussion and that it’s something on her radar.  I hope just being aware of some dangers but also learning to trust her inner voice might help her.

What are your thoughts on this issue?

Thanks for reading!

Related resources:

Child Lures website with free downloads, parent resources, as well as materials for schools and religious organizations with the goal of helping to prevent crimes against children and youth through education and awareness.  (I ordered the Parent Guide.)

Ellen Snortland’s Beauty Bites Beast – Parents must first un-teach the cultural lesson that girls are not able to defend themselves.  “It’s not a how-to book,” she writes, “but a ‘How Come?’ book.  Snortland says that self-defense training for girls should be as automatic as teaching them to swim, and the best place to get that training is from IMPACT or KIDPOWER.

(If you’re raising boys, maybe this one would be helpful: Real Boys: Rescuing Our Sons from the Myths of Boyhood by William Pollack.)

IMPACT for Kids Age-appropriate personal safety education classes work to strengthen children’s emotional and psychological integrity and focus on developing smart safety habits when dealing with strangers and people they know.

Kidpower International

The National Center for Victims of Crime has specific recommendations on what to talk to kids about.

Finally, as promised, De Becker’s test of what children would ideally know before they are ever alone in public.

1. How to honor their feelings—if someone makes them uncomfortable, that’s an important signal; 2. You (the parents) are strong enough to hear about any experience they’ve had, no matter how unpleasant; 3. It’s okay to rebuff and defy adults; 4. It’s okay to be assertive; 5. How to ask for assistance or help; 6. How to choose who to ask; 7. How to describe their peril; 8. It’s okay to strike, even to injure, someone if they believe they are in danger, and that you’ll support any action they take as a result of feeling uncomfortable or afraid; 9. It’s okay to make noise, to scream, to yell, to run; 10. If someone ever tries to force them to go somewhere, what they scream should include, “This is not my father” (because onlookers seeing a child scream or even struggle are likely to assume the adult is a parent); 11. If someone says “Don’t yell,” the thing to do is yell (and the corollary: If someone says “Don’t tell,” the thing to do is tell); 12. To fully resist ever going anywhere out of public view with someone they don’t know, and particularly to resist going anywhere with someone who tries to persuade them.

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Garage project #3: last steps and finished product

Catch up on Post #1 (demo) and #2 (foundation and framing)

By December, we were happy to see progress.  Some days were busy, others nobody arrived to work.  There was a general lack of communication we found very frustrating.  One day in January, the electricians showed up and sent me on a rush trip to the hardware store to buy a fan, sconces, garage lights, bathroom vanity light, and an emergency light for behind the garage.  I couldn’t believe it! Some advance notice?

Mid-January, we had painted walls, windows, and flooring.

A topic of much discussion was these posts.  Mr. B and I had seen some posts that were wrapped by wood to resemble actual trees, and we tried very hard to make that happen.  We ended up with hardy planks. The garage door and wood accents were to be stained dark brown, but they ended up mainly red.  I had to get them to do it over.

Our agreement included new concrete for the upper driveway where the electric work happened.  However, the entire driveway needed help, so after pondering pavers, we decided plain concrete was expensive enough.  We said go for it…

We reconfigured the front walk as well to include a curve.

And finally in March, things were done and we fit TWO cars into the new garage!!! That remains a huge triumph 4 months later.  Every time I park in there, I think how nice it is.

And then the floor paint started peeling.

We waited many months… the issue ended up being that the floor should have been primed first because it’s smooth new concrete.  This guy scraped up the entire floor and did it right.

I ordered some cabinets from Home Depot and sent my handyman to help me bring them home.

Besides installing the cabinets, he made this ceiling storage for our hurricane boards.  I was happy to get them out of our sun porch! (You can see this is the peeling floor paint.)

Here’s the finished product:

It’s painted to match the main house.

This is the door to go upstairs.

We shortened our screened in porch by one segment in order to make it easier to go out the double doors and directly across to the office.  We also could go from the garage into these doors if it were raining.

Here’s the side area by the pool.

Where Mr. B makes his magic.  We just got the shades last week.

The rest of the space.  The couch is from Crate & Barrel and opens into a Queen bed.

Exiting and heading back home.

We love how the overhang on the side of the house is shortened.

Thanks for following along!

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