Once Upon A Time, I pushed two bowling balls out of a garden hose.
It wasn’t easy, but I had no choice. There was no were else for them to go.
I toiled and huffed, and ate ice chips and swallowed laxatives, and lo and behold, the universe brought forth an unbreakable obligation to burping and feeding and homework and worry.
Yes, there were the ‘special’ times, the ones that make it ‘all worth while’, like “I love you Mommy”, and “I’m not talking until I have my lawyer or my Mom is here”, kind of awesome moments.
Ahhhh. The memories…
And then you promise them that if they work real hard, and fulfill their ‘potential’ you will fund the largest Capitalist shell game of all: College- any college they can get into. Any one.
They call your bet, and go ‘all in’.
Your tears, when reading the acceptance letters, are mistaken for joy.
All you see is money: tuition, books, i-n-c-i-d-e-n-t-a-l-s, airline tickets, and living expenses.
You feel the blood dripping from your eyes, but you take heart that eventually it will be all over, only four years each. You can withstand anything.
Except it isn’t OVER in four years, oh no, they keep needing you, they keep calling your bluff. They keep saying, “I love you.”
And you simply cannot resist because these creatures, the very ones who have stolen your soul, somehow have a stranglehold on your reason and as much as you try, you, you, need them too. You want to help. You want to see them happy. You take joy in watching them fly…
And sometimes, that’s to a new city, a new job, new friends, and new worries.
But, sometimes, if your lucky, you get to spread your wings along side them, and transform a bland cocoon of an apartment into a beautiful butterfly.
Because, whether you came out of the garden hose, or not, I’ve got your back– or at least I’ll help you hang art.
Here are my TIPS on turning a BLAH apartment to
Lighting- very few people have enough, or at the right height. I have a serious disdain for overhead lighting. It’s garish. Floods the room. No shadows, and you want shadows. They create mood. You should light at least one corner of every room. Use a floor lamp or something that hangs off the wall. We have both options at play here- a floor lamp in the living room and a hanging acrylic chandelier hanging off of an ordinary plant hook in the bedroom. You should have a light source for every place where someone will sit (and where you will sleep). We found an electrical outlet at the short end of the kitchen bar under the lip of the top, so we plugged in a charming lamp that sits on the counter but creates a wonderful over-glow when seated at the table that’s tucked under it. Also, notice the lamp shade. It blue. It stops your eye for a second so that you notice what’s going on under it. It brings in some color to the otherwise open dull space of the monochromatic kitchen.
Furniture- it should multi-task. The coffee table has drawers for storage, and the couch pulls out into a queen size sleeping platform because this is a one bedroom apartment. A desk by the side of the bed could not only be a study space but an end table. Get it?
Space delineation- space will most likely be tight, so areas will have to do double-duty. In this apartment, my daughter’s bedroom is also where she has her desk, and not in the living room. This way she can close her door from her cats and they still can reach their food and liter, and if she needs a mental break, she can exit her room and enjoy the calm organization of her larger space.
Flooring- it will probably suck. Dull carpet, scratched parquet flooring, peeling linoleum. In this case it was carpeting and ceramic tile- all in greige. We chose to ignore the floors because in this tight space you want it to seem uninterrupted- except in the bathroom, where we placed a long (7 foot) indoor/outdoor runner. She originally thought it would be too long. I assured her it would not. I was right. All the way from the shower to the toilet you have a soft warm surface under your feet, and it adds visual interest to an otherwise utilitarian space.
Art- my 29yr old son has a large piece of art hanging in his home office that is the accumulation of hundreds of cigarette packs. He thinks it’s cool. OMG. It must be burned. Most young adults will not have had the resources to purchase ‘good’ art yet, but ‘smart’ art can be had by all. In this case, I have encouraged both of my kids (What happened son?) over the years to not buy things to just cover the walls. Better to have less and have it be meaningful and appropriate then just crap on the wall. My daughter, years ago, fell in love with a large mirrored wall clock that is the focal point in her living room (and reflects light-SMART) and a lovely vintage oil painting she found for a few dollars at a junk store (and we had cleaned), for over her bed. When you walk into either of these rooms they are the perfect compliment- not overwhelming, not confining, not amateurish. You learned well grasshopper. Your brother- the jury’s still out.
Color- in a small space color should be uninterrupted whether it’s bold or soft. Using all one color family, in ALL the rooms, will open the ENTIRE space. In this case the apartment walls were painted before she moved in, so we had to work with it. Thankfully it is a non-committal taupe. Easy-peasy with her warm whites and greys, but to make it your own- chose a few accent colors and use them to either bring your eye to a certain spot (like a comfy corner), or to add a bit of pizzaz. Look at that shrimp-colored wing chair in the living room. No other powerful colors- just that chair. Understated. Interesting. Powerful. Well done darling.
Furniture Placement- Walk into your rooms and LOOK. Really look at the space. Do you want to walk into your bed? No. Does it make your bedroom look claustrophobic? Yes. Here’s the thing: ALWAYS place your bed so that when you walk into the bedroom the bed is somewhere you have to walk to, ahead-of-you, from the foot to the pillows. ALWAYS. Let me see the bed in all of it’s glory. As for living space, I love furniture placed on a angle, but that requires square footage this apartment didn’t have, so up against the wall it was. But- the couch is a sectional that has a switch-back that creates it’s own kind of delineation which cradles the coffee table and doesn’t block the view/light on the other end. Perfect. Also, the kitchen island counter stopped short of the kitchen flooring leaving this strange unused area which was perfect for slipping her table under. A continuation of the counter AND proper seating for meals. The lamp on the counter makes it very bueno.
Accessorize- it’s personal, as it should be. Accessories are supposed to reflect who you are, but they are often disjointed and spread out all over the place. GROUP your like objects- either by Topic, Function, or COLOR ( Wait. I’ll tell you how in a second). Case in point: TOPIC-1) Group all of your framed family photo’s in one place- not three in every room. Do I really have to stare at you and your dog in the bathroom? See your wedding picture from the kitchen counter? 2) The only other place GROUPS of books should be, other then in a bookcase in ONE room, is on a coffee table. Do you really think that by casually stacking a few classics together and putting a vase of flowers on top, that I’ll think you just happened to leave them there on your way through? Coffee table books are conversation starters- that’s why they’re out. If you have a collection (three or more)- of anything- GROUP them together. Don’t put one here, one there, another thata way. GROUP by FUNCATION. You put all of your flatware in one drawer don’t you? Put all of your magazines in one place, your electronic charging stations, your cooking utensils, your small appliances, your cleaning supplies, your cat supplies, your bills! Have places ready to recieve these items. Put them where you use them. If you need TP it’s a bitch to have to go to hall linen closet isn’t it? GROUP by COLOR. Okay- let’s say you don’t have a lot of any one thing, but you love the color blue. You tend to have a lot of things in the color blue. GROUP them. I recently walked into a women’s clothing store that didn’t have it’s selections separated by size. They had them grouped in color blocks. Not only was it very pleasing to the eye, it made my shopping easier. If you have a collection of vases, some in red, some in yellow, some in white- separate them and group them by color. THEN- separate the groups.
Finishes- chose three. My daughter likes painted surfaces, upholstery, and natural fibers. A space full of dark cheery stain, shabby chic whites, stainless, 50s vintage bakelite, and South American indigenous pottery is a mish-mash of style, Continents, and history. Pare it down.
The WOW factor- each room should have a little surprise. It might be an object. It might be a color, or it might be the size of something- a really big couch, or a little lamp placed just so. In this apartment, my daughter’s WOW factor is the crazy awesome chair in the living room, the chandelier in the bedroom, and the lamp on the bathroom counter…
AFTER/.Bathroom.. with Ned inspecting.
What do you get when you combine a guilty pleasure in a huge crowd of other people who have the same guilty pleasure (aside from knowing your not alone and your Mother was wrong all along)?
Because if you
love like magazines (all kinds) with their shiny and hopeful and clever ideas, and answer when they call ‘Cherylllll. You can do this!’ and then they come-to-life, REALLY come to life with admired artisans and glitter and food and lifestyle authors and demonstrations… you go.
To the Fair.
And, as is so often the case in my ridiculously opportune life, I found myself in need of a portapotty but found instead a tribe of crazyass ladies who celebrate their awesomeness in vintage travel trailers with cute curtains and crocheted spare tire covers and wine- lot’s of wine.
At 2- o’clock.
In the afternoon.
With their own private facilities.
My kinds gals…
My kinda Fair.
Making Merry at the Country Living Fair
What I call the Aqua Trailer. And it was FOR SALE!
Because there are several of you who have asked, ‘What’s the story behind your kid who doesn’t look anything like the rest of you?’ I made a phone call, asked permission, and am now laying it ALL out there.
The short answer to the question “How To Adopt a Child Without Going to Court’ is by omission: when the birth parent doesn’t give a shit.
Okay- short story long:
Our kids had many friends.
We had the kind of home that all the kids tended to congregate at- plenty of food, plenty of room, always something going on, adults that were interested in them, etc.
Ben and I knew all of them, though some better than others. It didn’t matter. A friend was a friend was a friend blahblahblah, unless I caught you smoking pot- and then you were out.
One day, our son Chase, came through the door with a young man I knew, bashful and polite, but wasn’t one of the ‘regulars’. They both looked stunned and dazed.
He sent his friend upstairs with a, ‘I’ll meet you up there in a minute”, and then turned to me and said,”Mom, we have a problem.”
Oh Jesus. My favorite sentence.
“Tyler’s sister has just committed suicide.”
“She was found hanging from her bathroom door and his parents are out of town. He doesn’t know what to do.”
“Where is she?”
“I don’t know? Maybe at a hospital?”
“Okay. I’m going up to talk to him.”
“Tyler? May I come in?”
A small, “yes.”
“What’s happened? Can you tell me?”
“My sister’s killed herself.”
“What have you been told? Who called you? Where are your parents?”
“I just saw my stepbrother. He told me. He found her just a little while ago. I was with Chase at the gas station. I can’t breath.”
“Where are your parent’s?”
“They’re picking up my other step sister from an Outward Bound program where they sent her because she was in their way.”
“When are they expected home?”
“I don’t know. They never told me.”
“Who’s taking care of you and all the other kids? Who’s the adult at the house?”
“We have a full-time housekeeper. She’s there. She cooks too. And drives us to school.”
“Why don’t you stay here, with us, until this all settles out. Okay?”
“I’m going to talk with Chase now, okay? Chase, can I see you alone please?”
And so I found out that Tyler was part of a blended family- except the blender had very dull blades.
His birth mother had died of an accidental drug overdose when he was just shy of eight and his stepmother’s first husband had died of something that she had sued over and won a wrongful death claim leaving her a very rich woman.
Tyler’s stepmother came to the marriage with three young kids (two girls and a boy) controlling the purse strings, and his father with three young boys- and the backbone of a slug.
All through that week, we both waited for a call from his parents.
I chalked it up to shock, but still….
Several days later, Tyler told us that his stepsister’s funeral was scheduled for the coming Saturday.
“Did your Dad finally call?”
“No. I found out at school from some kids.”
I called his family house and was told (by the housekeeper?) that neither parent was taking calls. I told her I had Tyler with me. She said, “that’s nice.” then hung up.
Ben, I, and our two children, took Tyler, standing with him, to the wake.
His stepmother was so drugged she could barely speak. Tyler told me that that was the way she always was. Stoned on prescription meds.
His father just bobbed his head up and down, with a stupid grin on his face (was he high too?) when I introduced myself, told him that Tyler had been with us, and would he call me to discuss ‘matters’?
I never received that phone call- ever.
Little by little Tyler, a senior in High School, told me what is was like to live in his home.
I’ll just say, here, that it was not a happy home and I’m being -g-e-n-e-r-o-u-s.
Over the next several weeks, with no contact from his family, I was encouraged, by my friends and family, to call Tyler’s father and stepmother.
I decided not to: I wanted to see just how long, and to what degree, they were willing to abandon him.
And they were VERY willing (several months of ‘willing’), so with High School graduation upon him, I decided it was time for a
showdown conversation with his father.
“Hello. Mr. Smith? My name is Cheryl. You’re son has been living with my family for the past several months. I think it’s time we talk.”
“Oh. Sorry, I’ve been really busy lately. Could we talk tomorrow?”
“Tomorrow? I’m sorry I thought you said ‘tomorrow. No. We will talk today at 4pm, here, at my house, and if you don’t show-up I will be at your home, pounding on the door and roasting weenies in your driveway, so it’s going to be today, Mr. Smith. Am I clear?”
“I’ll be there.”
“I have a big mouth, Mr. Smith. You don’t want me using it in our small town. Start being smart.”
Next up: the fam…
“Chase. I’d like you to not return home after school today. I will be having a meeting with Tyler’s father and I don’t want you around until I call you.”
“Because I said so.”
“Bryn. I’d like you to go to Rachel’s house after school today. I am talking with Tyler’s father here this afternoon.”
“I’ll stay in my room.”
“As long as it’s Rachel’s’ room darling.”
“Ben. I’m going to have a talk with Tyler’s father later today. I don’t want you here.”
“Because you don’t like conflict, and this is going to be painful for someone. And I don’t want it to be you.”
“What are you going to say?”
And, he showed up. Tyler’s father, and, we had a talk, or maybe I should say ‘I had a talk’.
He attempted to garner my sympathy by telling me he had recently been diagnosed with cancer.
I said I didn’t give a shit. I really did.
“I don’t give a rat’s ass about your health. We are only talking about the son you have failed to have contact with for over five months.. The one who not only lost his mother, but has now lost his beloved stepsister. The son you and your wife have on all sorts of unnecessary medication. The kid who can’t get up in the morning without his pill, and can’t go to sleep at night without ‘his helper’. We are not talking about you. We are not talking about me. We are talking about him. And if you think because you have a ‘law’ degree you can manipulate this conversation you will find yourself sadly underestimating me.”
What I did give a SHIT about was 1) his son’s stability, 2) his son’s collage education, and 3) he having anything more whatsoever to do with his son because he was a sniveling tripe of a little man with no business being a father, and didn’t deserve any of his children, but I could only save one.
We agreed on a financial arrangement for Tyler’s college fund (no other monetary compensation was offered or requested), and he was on his way- never to be heard from again.
Never. To be. Heard from. Again.
That was 12 years ago.
Our entire family has taken him in as one of their own- all the weddings, the picnics, the holidays. The whole kaboodle.
Tyler graduated from Collage, did a ‘find myself’ moment in Colorado, and later found his way to New Orleans, after Ben and I relocated here.
He now lives down the street.
There have been ups-n-downs, like any young man finding his way.
But he will. Find himself.
And he can always come home.
Because WE are the blended family now…
and I keep my small appliances in tiptop shape.
How far can you remember back?
My first memories are at 2 years old.
I am in my parent’s newlywed apartment- second floor of a three story walk-up. On the left.
Enter living/dining area. Parquet floors. Large picture window looking out on the front lawn. Television on a gold metal cart in the corner on an angle. Captain Kangaroo on the tube. And Mighty Mouse. I love him. He can save the day. Large gold lamp on low table. Pretty. Modern sofa with no pillows. Black. Good for jumping but scratchy. Single bedroom off the dining area. Parent’s bed to the right as you walk in. My crib against the wall opposite the end of the bed. Dull wall color. Bad lighting. Overhead. One window. Gauzy curtains. The window is open and the fabric is moving. I like it.
It’s early. The daylight is dull. I want my mother.
I stand up in my crib and see that she is on ‘that’ side. I swing my leg over the railing and drop down. I can’t remember which side she’s on by the time I hit the floor. I move to the left. I reach up and wake my father. He yells. Loudly. And swats at me hitting my head.
I’m stunned. I swallow my breath. I open my mouth and nothing comes out. I feel something bad- it’s called fright. I can’t move. My first nightmare is with my eyes wide open.
Where is my mother? I need my mother, and swoosh, there she is. Scooping me up. Safe. Happy. Safe.
We are on our way into the galley kitchen with her whispering in my ear. I like her, and the kitchen.
All appliances to the right. Metal cabinets. They’re shiny and have a nice sound when they open. Click.
Single window with red and white curtains. I like the curtains.
There’s a clock that looks like a cat with his tail swinging. I like that cat.
The table is shiny aluminum-rimmed with a sticky top that has silver and grey swirls and little red bubbles. It feels smooth. I see funny faces in the swirls. The table has extensions that pull out- and up, clicking into place. I think this is very clever. The flatware pulls out of a drawer on the side. All the silverware is so organized. I could look at it for hours.
My mother lets me get my own fork before putting me in the hard beige booster seat on the red plastic covered matching chair. There are two.
She puts my small red plastic plate in front of me. I love the color. The scrambled eggs smell good.
I push it on the floor. As a show of love, and to see what sound it will make.
I like the sound.
My mother gently asks me not to push my plate off the table again.
I think,’Love Mommy’, but say nothing, just smile, and she smiles back.
That simple. I would do anything for her.
These days I continue to show my love on small plates, with small bite-size food, sometimes even on small red plates.
But, somehow, no one pushes it on the floor…
Booster seats optional.
Beef Tips with Gorgonzola Sauce
2 beef steaks- the cut is your choice
2 Tablespoons Salt
1/2 Tablespoon Pepper
1/2 Tablespoon Onion powder
2 Tablespoons Butter- salted
1 Cup of Gorgonzola cheese- grated
1/4 Cup cream
1 Tablespoon butter-salted
1 teaspoon ground rosemary
1 Tablespoon all-purpose flour
Cut the steaks into just a bit larger then bite-size pieces (they will shrink when they cook).
Mix the dry ingredients together and put them into a large zip-lock bag.
Place the steak pieces into the bag. Zip closed, and shake to cover the meat. Let this rest for at least 1/2 hour (we are tenderizing the meat). Make the sauce as follows:
Melt the butter over a low heat so that it doesn’t burn- just melts.
Add the cream and bring to a gentle boil.
Add the grated cheese and stir to combine.
Lower heat to simmer.
Whisk in the flour. Return to simmer, add the rosemary, stir, and then take off the heat. It will be runny but will come together as it sits.
Pour the cheese sauce into a container that has a pouring lip- like a glass Pyrex measuring cup. Cover to keep warm.
In a new larger skillet, melt the 2 tablespoons of butter that was listed for the steak prep.
Add a few tablespoons of oil, blend, and increase the heat.
When the oil is very hot, place the steak bites into it and brown on all sides.
When nicely browned, lower the heat to medium high, and continue to cook the steak for an additional 5-7 minutes, turning often.
Remove the steak from the skillet and place on paper towels to soak-up excess oil.
Remove the covering from the sauce and stir to blend again.
Pour some sauce on a plate and place several steak bites on top.
Add a sprig of fresh rosemary for garnish.
Ingredients & Preparation (makes 8)
8 large capped mushrooms- stemmed and cleaned
2 Cups crab meat
1/4 cup mayonaise
1/4 cup grated Romano cheese
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 teaspoon smokey paprika (often times labeled as Spanish paprika)
Your favorite barbecue sauce
Place the mushrooms on a lined baking tray.
Combine all the other ingredients.
Stuff the mushrooms.
Place under a broiler until the tops are golden.
Remove from heat and cover. The ingredients will continue to ‘come-together’ for the next few minutes.
Drizzle a little of the barbecue sauce on a plate.
Uncover the mushrooms and place on plate.
Garnish with a few cherry tomatoes, or splay a yellow pepper like I did.
We have two, or three, children, depending on when you entered our lives.
I usually say, we have two biological children and an adopted child, though we never legally adopted our third.
Let me explain.
Ben and I birthed (who are we kidding? I BIRTHED our two kids– a boy, then a girl) then, many years later we took-in a third boy (a few months older then our oldest child- a son, when they were both 17) and made him our own.
His name is Tyler.
He is the light of our collective lives ( and I do mean ‘Collective- the entire family accepted him as one of their own).
We I had never considered adoption because we I had never had to consider it. They came from us me – or they didn’t come at all.
It was just that easy.
“I think we should have a baby”.
“Another one seems right”.
I’ve joked that all Ben had to do was look at me and I was pregnant, which is my mothers’s premonition about ‘birthing hips’ come to roost.
Thanks Mom. I’ve always loved barn yard animals that made me spit nails. What a way to build a barn.
Anywho, Tyler came to us one summer after a horrific event in his life and no one (least I could see) that would come to his rescue.
“Kids? Are we onboard?”
“Yes, we are.”
“Okay then. Here we go”.
(And, some how, this post, is eventually supposed to lead back to our daughters apartment interior decoration.What am I writing here?)
So… all I can recall is that I love my kids, and they are my inspiration, and I love to partake of their E.N.V.I.R.O.M.E.N.T.
Which clumsily leads to these before and after pictures of Bryn’s Columbus, Ohio apartment.
Because, wether you came out of the garden hose, or not, I’ve got your back– or at least I’ll help you hang art.
After… with Ned inspecting.