If We Could Somehow Make This Christmas Thing Last

I don’t know how I went from being so far ahead to being so far behind. I think it started with one little errand. That turned into two. Then lunch. Then three. Four, five, six, seven, eight. Just like that, Christmas Eve was almost over and almost nothing was done. When I say almost nothing, I mean not one single present wrapped, not one ornament on the tree, not one cookie baked, not one pie crust rolled. About the only thing that was done was the ham for Christmas lunch, and that’s just because it’s a Honeybaked Ham, so it’s pre-cooked. If nothing else, lunch will happen with relative ease.

Now here it is, 3am on Christmas morning, and I am wide awake, waiting for breaths to deepen, signaling the arrivals of sleep and Santa, which somehow always seem to coordinate. In 7.5 hours, a billion presents were wrapped, a mad dash was made to three pharmacies in search of eggs and sugar (because everywhere else was already closed), a batch of gluten-free peanut butter and chocolate chip cookies were conjured by Aubrey, the kitchen witch, and we three agreed that the Christmas tree could wait till morning for ornaments.

Other than a couple of presents from Matt and Aubrey, there is seemingly nothing under nor on the tree for me. This year, my gifts are intangible, and so much more meaningful. This year, I gave myself the gift of not being a martyr. Instead of trying to do everything, all by myself, or stressing everyone out because anything they were doing wasn’t being done perfectly (meaning MY way), I let go. I accepted my husband’s offer to wrap the Santa presents. There weren’t anywhere near as many for both kids together as there usually are for just one, so he could handle it. I gave him boxes, told him whose paper was which, and fled the room, for his sake and mine. I accepted Aubrey’s help in wrapping Ron’s presents, and I let her decide how to wrap the one from her, instead of my just doing it. Rather than micromanaging every piece of tape, every ribbon, every tag, I relaxed and enjoyed spending time with Aubrey, watching Burn Notice reruns while we wrapped in front of the fire. I didn’t worry about everything being perfect, or in this case, far from perfect. I focused on the important things; my husband, my son, my daughter, and all the giggling that goes on, on Christmas Eve.

Ron didn’t get me any physical presents, because I scored a tablet on Black Friday. On the last night before Christmas (and somewhat into Christmas itself), my true love gave to me the mad dash to the pharmacies, his offers of help with the night’s duties, and the precious gift of time with my daughter.

Above and beyond my gifts from my family, this year, I have learned to receive the gift of love. It is more difficult than one might think, especially for me, for whom “love” rarely meant love, but instead meant obligation. Perhaps it was my brush with death this summer, and the fact that I owe my life to my best friend, who knows me so well, she not only noticed something was wrong but acted on it; coming close to not being around to appreciate things tends to make one appreciate things, places, people in a way that one generally does not. As friends jumped in to offer their love and support, I was overwhelmed with how many people truly cared about me, no matter how far away they might be. And although my best friend and I had seldom told each other how much we love each other over the last 25 years that we’ve been best friends, we began to add “I love you!” to emails and posts and phone conversations.

Rico, my male best friend, has given me the gift of willingness to ask for help. He is the one who is available whenever asked, with no expectations of return on investment. From showing up with Starbucks when I really need it, to helping me buy/move/move again/move one more time various articles of furniture, Rico is there. Matt even made up a series of hilarious joke commercials that Rico could use: “When your house is saying, “Get out…”, Rico is there,” was my personal favorite. Rico regularly tells me I’m awesome, and now I’m finally starting to believe it just a little. Because I know that Rico does all these things out of love, not expectation, and because I know he won’t reject me unless he’s already obligated to something else, Rico has taught me that it is okay to ask. If he can give it, he does, and if he can’t, he doesn’t, but either way, I know that he will not later throw his help back in my face. Because of that, Rico has also given me the gift of my ability to help someone else without a constant pall of resentment. I am not forced by obligation, because there is none. Instead, I have the joy of helping a friend out of my own love.

Leigh and Bill have given me the gift of learning to accept the kindness of others. With an ever open invitation to get away from life for a few days and be spoiled with amazing food, good wine, excellent conversation, and riotous laughter, they have taught me that I can accept kindness without feeling like I am imposing. They have taken in my daughter, and treated her as their own, and while Aubrey has not yet received this particular gift of easily accepting kindness of others for herself, when kindness is forced upon her, she does allow herself to enjoy it.

William…well, he has given me the gift of learning to truly have unconditional love for a friend. While he does countless things of which I do not approve, I love him anyway. Will has also given me the gift of healing. My high school experience was pretty wretched, and Will certainly didn’t help back then. Of course, I tore into him with all the bitter sarcasm at my disposal (which was unfathomable in those days). Our friendship now somehow eases the viciousness of high school and removes the sting. Because he loves me, I can let go of the mean girls (and boys), and put them in the past where they belong. Will does not allow me to not love him. With his million phone calls a day that almost all end with, “I love you,” he is in my life, like it or not. I love that he values me enough to push past all my usual barriers, and forces me to let him in and allow him to stay. Few people make that effort, so when someone does, it is a magically unexpected gift, which is the best kind.

Sara Lynn has given me the gift of learning that just because I’m not at the top of the list doesn’t mean I’m not important. From fifth grade on, I was always jealous because to me, she was my best friend, but I knew that I was not hers. Her other friends did not like me, so although she tried to include me, I avoided social interactions with those friends, which meant I was often alone. I often hated her as much as I loved her, and I loved her more than anyone else at the time. Sara Lynn is a person magnet. People love her because she is open and fun and funny and brilliant and creative and outlandish. It is why I love her. This year, we have had wonderful chat sessions, and I’m able to listen from a different perspective. I had stopped talking to her right around high school graduation because I thought that she purposely would go after guys just because I liked them. Now I know that was my own insecurity, and not her intent. We had the unfortunate luck of having the same taste in men at the time, so of course she would like them, too. They were never in a million years going to notice me, or like me back, so what difference did it make if they liked her instead? How could they NOT like her vibrancy, her larger than life persona, her quick witted dry humor? I am regretful that we lost out on twenty years of friendship, but I am grateful to have her in my life now. Sara Lynn’s love, much like Will’s, has also helped me along on the path to healing. It is indeed a gift to accept that one does not have to be first.

And you, dear Reader, have given me the greatest gift of all…you have given me my voice. By valuing my words, you have taught me to value myself. Instead of only others deciding when, what part, and whom to tell about what I thought of as my shameful past, YOU have given me my own story back to me. Now it is up to me to tell, or not to tell. Because of you, I am no longer ashamed of my childhood, and I no longer take the blame for the things that happened to me. I refuse to keep the deep dark secrets; you give me the strength to shine light into all the places that are not so pretty, neither bright nor shiny. You give me the gift of freedom as I shed that shame, and that is something I never even realized I could have.

So this Christmas, while I may not have the traditional material gifts, wrapped in colorful paper and tied with huge bows, I am blessed beyond any Christmas that has come before. I have my extremely patient, kind, loving, and irritatingly perfect husband. I have my incredibly talented, creative, hilariously imperfect son. I have my beautiful, brilliant, witty, multi-talented, always surprising daughter. I have friends that make me love myself. And I have all of you, strangers yet friends, as you spend five minutes peeking inside my life.

Unlike diamond earrings, silver rings, or anything “as seen on TV”, these gifts do not need a receipt, and yet, I hope that I return them a million times over. As a wise young friend recently posted;  I give to you the gift of acceptance, who you are, as you are. I give to you the gift of forgiveness, both for the things that you have done, as well as forgiving myself for the things that I have done. I give to you the gift of love, without expectation or obligation.

These are the gifts of Christmas. May they always be. Merry Christmas to all!

“If you want to arrange it, this world you can change it, if we could somehow make this Christmas thing last…by helping a neighbor, or even a stranger, and to know who needs help, you need only just ask.”

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She’s Coming Home This Christmas Day

Finally, a moment to write and the energy to do so! I have been cleaning, organizing, and unpacking the boxes o’ stuff that have been languishing since we moved in five months ago. Sadly, I inherited quite a bit of my mother’s hoarding tendencies, although not anywhere near as much as my sister. It’s a lot like being an alcoholic. As long as you can admit that you have a problem, it can be addressed before it becomes a bigger problem. For me, being forced into this tiny house meant there was nowhere to stash my stuff. However, trying to get rid of all that stuff on one’s own can sometimes be a formidable and overwhelming task. Add in fibromyalgia, and it guarantees nothing is getting done. So how to get it all done? By hiring a professional organizer, of course!

Aubrey is coming home for an entire month. I don’t want her to come home to all the same boxes in all the same places as when she left. I want to be able to put a fire in the fireplace and let her curl up on her mamasan chair with my special recipe hot chocolate. That’s extremely difficult to do when there are fifty boxes of crap stacked in front of it.

Fortunately, my organizer is like a Christmas miracle. She’s a tiny little woman in a great big truck, with hair that would make any Irish dancer swoon with jealousy at not having to wear a curly wig. She moves from spot to spot, waving her magical cleaning rag, and suddenly, not only is it clean, all the crap is neatly put away into buckets and bins and placed on shelves. By Monday afternoon, curtains were hung, the chimney was mostly cleared, and all the Christmas stuff is in the living room. I then spent the next two days in bed, unable to move.

While I will try to get the tree up by myself, I will wait for Aubrey before the ornaments go up. Although I know that for some people, those decorator spectacles in all white, or all red, or all red and white are their idea of lovely. Not so for me. It started when my mom didn’t want to hang the ornaments that my sister and I had made over the years. Instead, she wanted a themed tree. The ornaments meant nothing. I swore that I would always hang whatever glittery globbery glue that my children made, be it egg cartons with their pictures inside, God’s eyes, indeterminable animals sculpted from teacher-made clay.

As the kids got older, they stopped making ornaments, so I started getting one for each of us to go in our stockings. Matt’s all-time favorite, yet to be topped, is the knife-wielding gingerbread man, found at a World Market the day before Christmas.

The Knife-Wielding Gingerbread Man

Ron isn’t sentimental, but he loves the classic Pooh. When we found a box of chipboard Pooh characters on train cars, I knew he had to have them, especially since his dad is a train engineer.

Pooh on a Train

I tear up at Hallmark commercials, so it’s hard for me to pick a favorite. Unfortunately, the kids’ father kept all the ornaments from when they were super little, so I have no handmade ornaments from Matt. However, one year, Aubrey had a Christmas party, and I bought a bunch of paint your own picture frame ornaments from Michael’s, and let each girl pick one to paint. At the beginning of the party, I took everyone’s picture (the wretched days of film, indeed), then dropped it off at one hour developing. Then everyone got to put their face in the ornament and take it home. The mom’s all loved them, and the kids just loved the paint and glitter and glue.

Aubrey's Gingerbread Man

This was obviously the Christmas right before Aubrey’s artistic skills kicked in. She’s horrified everytime we pull this one out, but I love it.

For Aubrey, I can’t say that she has a favorite. I think she loves every one of them equally. As she goes through the box, lovingly pulling out each ornament and putting it on the tree, she will recite who made it, who it was for, where we bought it, which vacation, what state. Aubrey is our family oral historian, in more ways than one. She knows what year the cat was born, of all things.

She also reminds me that her stocking is 18 years late. I started it before she was born, and every year, I swear I will finish it. Matt’s was done by his second Christmas. He has a beautifully hand cross-stitched, extremely elaborate stocking with his name on it. For the longest time, Aubrey had a red “velvet” one with her name in silver glitter. We did finally upgrade to pretty stockings, but I know it’s not the same.

This year, it will be hard for her. Isaac made her our tree topper out of some of my chainmaille wire. I don’t know whether to hide it, or leave it be. I will likely leave it be and let her decide. Seeing Isaac’s empty stocking will be heartbreaking, lying flaccid amongst the four of ours, and the three for the pets. Last year was the best Christmas ever, because we were all together; Matt had been living in Colorado the previous year. This year, we are missing one once again, and it is deeply felt.

Knowing that this will be a difficult Christmas for her, my friend Will has thrown his hat in the ring to cheer her. He has promised to take her singin’ and dancin’ (and probably a little drinkin’ thrown in when my back is turned, knowing Will). Next week we will take her to the Riverwalk to see the hanging, glowing piranhas, then we will throw a ton of quarters in the jukebox at the VFW Hall, and dance until she is laughing her ass off at Will’s antics.

Hanging Glowing Piranha on the "Beautiful Riverwalk Extension"

She has been texting me with updates at every takeoff and landing, and her excitement is palpable. Or maybe that’s my excitement. Even so, we both agreed that if any soldiers were on standby and trying to get home, she would give up her seat and take a later flight. I know I don’t have to tell her…she would do it anyway.

So with four hours left, it is time for me to publish this and go throw some lights in the bushes, and hope Rico shows up to help with the tree. I still have to make my bed, clean my side of the room (Ron’s is always clean), take out the dirty clothes, vaccuum up the dog hair (I LOVE my DirtDevil stick vac!!!), start a load of dishes, and clear the pictures off the bed where she’ll be sleeping. The bathroom is clean and I have candles burning, making the house smell like frosting. I have fire logs, chocolate chips, whipped cream, chicken and Tony’s Cajun Seasoning…Ron got an entire gallon of milk and two dozen eggs. We have apple jelly and powdered sugar.

Tomorrow, there will be crepes. Tonight, there will be hot chocolate, a fire in the fireplace, Aub’s Chocorgasmic cupcakes in the oven, a tree in the window, and love in the house.

“So, tell me Christmas, are we wise to believe in things we never see? Are prayers just wishes in disguise, and are these wishes being granted me? For now I see, the answering to every prayer I’ve prayed…She’s coming home this Christmas Day”

But He Can’t Go, And You Can’t Stay

(A special thanks to Cally at OlderNawtWiser for the inspiration for this post!)

When I visited Aubrey in October, we walked across the street from campus to a little store called Crazy Moon. If you’re ever in South Hadley, Mass, check it out. It’s an adorable gift shop with reasonable prices, which is practically unheard of when it comes to such places. Anyway, while we were there, I saw a little placard that said:

paper and embellishments from www.freedigitalscrapbooking.com

Wow. Now that is a tough question. If this were a magical phrase that could take me back to a certain age so I could redo things, what age would I choose?

Honestly, in my head, I feel 18. My body disagrees with me (damned fibromyalgia!), but I love to hang out with college kids. They can be more than slightly obtuse when it comes to certain things, and of course, they aren’t quite fully formed into human beings yet, but they almost always have fresh insights to things about which I thought I had formed a solid opinion. If you find yourself stagnating, and want to get back into the swing of intellectual growth, go find a group of college kids and have a discussion.

That is definitely one of the things that I love about visiting Aubrey. While there are a few legacy students that could not have possibly gotten in any other way, most of the students at MoHo are pretty damned brilliant. They are not consumed with conversations about sex, drugs, and alcohol. I’m not saying those conversations don’t occur; I’m just saying they aren’t consumed by them.

However, the question is, would I really want to be 18 again? 18 was a horrible year. I totaled my car just a few days after my birthday, which set the tone for the rest of a year that was full of heartbreak, drama after drama, the death of a friend from a motorcycle accident, and constant bullying from a crazy bitch at work. Of course, it was also the year that I got pregnant with Matt, so I think I would want 18 to stay the same. As a bonus, there was my insane upstairs neighbor, Nikki, who would leave me random post-its on my door, inviting me up for dinner parties or wine tastings. I ate a lot of weird stuff at her place, but it was all good, and she had really interesting (in a good way, not a bug under a microscope way) friends, so the conversation was always stimulating. Sadly, she was evicted for deciding to hang pictures in the middle of the night one too many times. I don’t know why she always chose 3am to redecorate, but at least once a week, I would wake to frantic hammering above me. I was not the one who complained, though. I’m pretty sure that was the guy next door to her.

So, not 18. How about 22? 22 was pretty wretched as well. That was the year I started therapy, so there were constant nightmares. I hated our apartment, and I was a horrible mother at that age. If it weren’t for not getting pregnant with Aubrey until I was 23, I would definitely choose a do over for 22, if for no other reason than the opportunity to be a better mother.

Because of Aubrey’s impending conception, 22 is out. 23 was somewhat decent, so it’s not worth wanting to change. 24 was when things started to really go downhill in my, up until that point mostly survivable, but not so stellar marriage. Quite seriously, here’s an objective way of determining your worth in a relationship: walk through your shared living space (this only works if you live together) and take a good look around. How much of “you” is represented there? If someone were to walk in, would they automatically know that it’s your place, too? In the nine years that Duane and I lived together, I think the only rooms that looked like I touched them were the kids’ rooms. Other than my clothes hanging in the bedroom, there was no trace of my existence in any of the places that we lived. All of the artwork, furniture, décor…all of it was chosen by Duane or his mother. I will never forget the day I left for work/school and came home to find the most god-awful, hideous, avocado green, herculon curtains hanging in my living room. I hated them so much, I cried. They stayed.

24 would be a good year to do-over, but what would I really be able to do with it? I didn’t have an education yet, so I had no way of supporting myself and two children. My self-esteem was in the toilet after two years of non-stop abuse from Duane. My car was unreliable. It was a bad year, but I don’t think there was a way to do it any better, other than if I had left and gone to the battered women’s shelter. Unfortunately, that was almost 20 years ago, and most shelters did not recognize any kind of abuse other than physical, so I was out of luck. Shelters are much better now, and realize that abuse comes in many forms, but it took them a while to get there.

Stuck with 24 as is, how about 26? 26 had some huge positives. I was a computer programmer, making a ton of money for that particular time period. I had great friends. My kids were 2 and 7. I was separated from Duane, living in a tiny, treehouse style studio apartment in one of my favorite neighborhoods. Most significantly, I had Sean.

Sean is always referred to in our house as, “The One I Should Have Married But Didn’t.” Even Ron thinks I should have married Sean. Sean was beyond perfect. Positively brilliant, he had a double degree from Georgia Tech, worked at IBM, was an amazing dancer, an avid cyclist, a fantastic cook, and loved to travel. We would decide on a dime that we would go somewhere, and just take off in the Miata, a huge stack of cds at my feet. Our motto was, “All we need is a hairbrush, lip balm, and a credit card.” Indeed, many times we left with nothing more than that, and Sean would buy me something to wear when we got to wherever we deemed our destination.  Sean was extraordinarily generous; more than once he paid my rent, and he gave me the money to buy a reliable car.

Oh so incredibly sadly, I was still a psychological mess. I was consumed with someone who was emotionally and physically unavailable (as in married), and would often cry on Sean’s shoulder about Mr. Eggo (so named because he tended to waffle back and forth between me and his wife). I loved Sean dearly and desperately, but I carefully put miles of emotional distance between us. Like most women with an abusive background, subconsciously I believed that I did not deserve him. I rejected him three separate times; after the third time, he gave up on me, and on our friendship. I know I did deserve that for the way I treated him, but I miss him terribly, even now. I tried to get in touch with him a few months ago, but he would not return my calls.

26. Would I really want a do-over? Yes….and no. I would like to be able to go back and treat Sean better. Would I choose to marry him, though? Really, the question is, would I choose to not be married to Ron? NO. For a million different reasons, Ron and I are much more suited to each other, especially once my fibromyalgia got into full swing. Ron doesn’t mind staying home and entertaining himself with video games if I’m not able to get out of bed for days at a time. Sean might have adjusted, but I think it would have made him miserable. That knocks 26 out of the running.

32 had a lot of mistakes that I wish I could do-over. That was the year I married and divorced Jon, and fell madly in love with Ron. I wish that I could have been more respectful to Jon, who was never anything but kind and caring to me, and my children (although Matt was at a difficult age, and really hated him). I would still make the same choice in a heartbeat, but I would have done things better, nicer, kinder, less hurtful, more honest. Yes, 32 would be my do-over year. I would do most of the same things, but I would do them differently. I would act like the person I’ve become, instead of the person that I was then.

With all that said, I AM 42. Do I feel it? Well, having one’s uterus ripped out is usually a sign of impending age, but that doesn’t really have any effect on my mind. There isn’t anything spectacular about being 42…except after Aubrey was born, I would often say, “My life will start at 42.” I knew this was the year I would be childless, and thought I would finally do all those things that I couldn’t with children in the house. That’s not reality, though. The reality is that having the house to myself all day is pretty damned dull.

42 has had its ups and downs. I’ve made some wonderful friends. I’ve learned a lot of new skills and updated some old ones. At 42, I am a photographer, writer, social media expert, graphic designer, home stager, real estate assistant extraordinaire. I have found my voice, and learned to use it. I know where I stand, what and who are important to me, and what and who really don’t matter. I have learned to work around my fibromyalgia instead of constantly fighting with it. Although I tried hard to make 42 my last year, fortunately, I have had the opportunity to make it one of my best ones.

Today, I am sitting in front of the computer, combing through eBay and craigslist as I try to find a duvet cover that doesn’t make Ron want to stab out his eyes. Although I love my bright green Anthropologie mandalas, it is too much for Ron. I think he’s hypersensitive to stimuli, so it’s possible that it really is painful for him to look at. As I flip through listing after listing of duvets, I am trying to decide between something simple and sophisticated…something grown up, or something bright and fun…young and fresh. Even what would seem as simple as shopping for a duvet cover is fraught with the question of how old am I?

While my head thinks I am forever 18, and my heart wishes I could be 32 again, and my body tells me that I am 42, I realize that age is just a number. My age does not define me, although it gives me mile markers for my growth experiences. I will never, “ACT MY AGE!”  Quite honestly, I never have.

So how old would I be if I didn’t know how old I am? Who cares? Not me.

.

“It’s the mystery of the ocean, but now he’s in over his head. This is no place for the young man, he’s got to send you on instead. And still you’re looking so surprised that this change has come as prophesied, but the years won’t compromise, ’cause in the years it takes to make one man wise, the young man dies.”

Uno, Dos, Tres…

What a lovely way to start a Wednesday morning. I finally tackled getting caught up with all my comments and messages, and found that words i never said graced me with a second Liebster Blog award. I’ve been seriously feeling the love lately, and “Thank you!” doesn’t really seem to cut it. words i never said is my favorite poetry blog, with heartfelt posts that ring true to me every single time. Anyone who has ever gone through a breakup can relate to these words of heartache and longing. Being given a Liebster by someone with such skill is truly an honor, indeed. My humble appreciation, dear Bee.

For those of you not yet familiar, the Liebster Blog award is passed along to blogs with less than 200 followers, but whom one believes deserves more attention. One may not always be able to tell who has less than 200 followers, but one can usually guess.

The rules of the Liebster are simple. Thank the person who gave it to you (see paragraph one!), pass it along to five other blogs with less than 200 followers that deserve more attention, and share a little Liebster lovin’.

With that in mind, I hereby pass the Liebster Blog award torch to the following five blogs:

TheMentalWard – sigh. I only dream of someday writing this good. A journal type blog with posts about personal thoughts, experiences, and triumphs.

smallestofthings – my super indulgent, someday in my wildest dreams, favorite photo/journal blog, by a resident in Edinburgh, Scotland. I love her photos, which I never say lightly, and her appreciation of the little things in life.

CrudMyKidsSay – short, sweet, to the point posts that remind me of my own children’s hilarity when they were younger.

OlderNawtWiser – A journal blog of dealing with the sudden discovery that one is supposedly a grown up. Hell, I’m 42 and I’m still having a hard time dealing.

MummyBigBum – My most favorite British mum, who writes the funniest posts about her life with Sam, as she travels the single parent road. If she lived nearer, I’d make her be my best friend.

My greatest thanks once again to words i never said for the nomination. I love to be loved…who doesn’t?? Please do check out the blogs above, as they deserve every single click. A special thank you to all my readers and even more so to my followers. If you’d like to follow along via email, just click on that little button on the left hand side under the  “Follow Life of Wonder” section. I’ll be your favorite spam! If you really want to show some love, click on that little share button below your favorite post and stick me somewhere…

“Lights go down and all I know is that you give me something…”

Still It Comes So Slow, The Letting Go

Moving is tough. Selling a home in which your children were born and grew up, in which you were born and grew up, is emotionally exhausting. Even without the emotional ties of a house being a single owner family home, it is difficult for some people to let go and realize that the way you live in a house is NOT the way you sell it.

I have a friend who is a real estate agent, and every once in a while, he asks me to come stage a house. Staging WORKS. A staged home sells faster, and for a higher price, than a home that is over personalized, or one that is empty. The difficulty comes when people are attached to the way their home has always looked. They can’t make that psychological jump from “home” to “house we are selling.” In order to sell quickly, that jump must be made.

Yesterday, I staged a home that is absolutely, drop dead amazing. When I first went to see this home, I walked into the front living room and there was stuff everywhere. This is when I made the real estate mistake equivalent to asking someone who is not pregnant, “When are you due?” I said, “Oh good! You’re already packing!” Uhm, no, she was not. That is the room where her children play, draw, do their school work, so all of the necessary supplies for those activities were strewn around the room.

The owner is a party planner with excellent taste, and she is VERY proud of her children. Hence the problem…She had approximately sixty photos of her children and family all over the house, with about 11 of them being giant, poster sized photos hanging down the hallway. They are fantastic photos (and as a photographer, that is not something I say lightly), and her children are beautiful, so I understand why she is so proud of them. However, all those photos make her house look like HER house. It’s important to make the house look generic, so that someone else can imagine themselves living in it.

The other issue with this home is that because she is also a photo stylist and designer, all three of the children’s bedrooms are extremely personalized to each child. The rooms are not just regular kid rooms; they look like rooms you’d see highlighted in Southern Living. I’m sure you’re thinking, “Well, that should make it easier to sell! They already look beautiful. You shouldn’t have to stage anything.” Actually, it makes it harder to sell, and a lot harder to stage.

I spent four hours yesterday depersonalizing each room in preparation for an open house. (When I say, “I,” I really mean I directed my real estate agent friend and told him what to do.) We took down photos, carefully wrapped them in bubble wrap or brown moving paper, rearranged furniture, and fought a constant battle with the owner’s husband. While it was easy to do the kitchen, living areas, and dining room, the kids’ rooms were a nightmare. As I took stuff down from the walls, the husband kept walking by saying, “This doesn’t even look like my house.”

The problem really arises when the owners are still living in the home, and must continue to live there until it sells. Having lived in a staged house for a week after spending an entire month getting it staged, I know how hard it is to detach. I would wander through each practically empty room and think, “It doesn’t look like I live here.” That’s the point.

So when dealing with a gorgeous bedroom that has a ton of decorative STUFF, it is a fight. For instance, in the son’s rooms, I removed two 13 gallon bags full of stuffed animals that covered the bed. That was easy. Then I had to start paring down the decorations. I removed all the hats hanging on the wall except for the cowboy hats, as the room has a cowboy theme. I took down all the personal photos, and put several baskets of toys under the bed to make the room look less cluttered. Although all that STUFF is beautiful, when there is a lot of it, it makes a room look small. This is not a small room, but it looks tiny, because there is too much furniture, and too many decorations on the walls. Will their son die if they pack up all those knick knacks for a while? No. Will they do it? No. Will I do it? Yes.

It is my job as the stager to help the homeowner slowly detach from the home. On the day that I went to take photos, I took down all the dead animals on the walls in the great room, “just for the photos.” We left them down, and when the owner came home, she said, “I really like the look of the clean walls!” She had lived with those animals on the walls her entire life, and could not imagine the room without them.

Taking down the photos was the next step. Hopefully she doesn’t have the time or energy to unwrap them all and hang them back up, because I’ll just have to do it again for the next open house. Taking out some of those stuffed animals was another tiny step. Moving the living room game table from the corner of the room into the center was another small step. With that one, the husband walked by and said, “That table looks really good in the middle of the room!”

Next week, we will have another open house, and I will come prepared with more boxes, sharpies, and more bubble wrap. I will quietly take down more stuff, and pack it away. Will they notice? Yes. Will the buyers notice? Hopefully, they’ll never know what it looked like before. If I do my job, the buyers will have no idea what the house looked like when the “soon to be previous” owners lived there. If I do my job, the “soon to be previous” owners will come to terms with the idea that they no longer truly live there.

If you are attempting to stage your own home, keep in mind that staging has two meanings. It can mean to set the stage, to make a room look a certain way. It can also mean doing things in small steps. Don’t expect to do it all overnight. If you can, invest in a storage room or a Pod. Then as you remove stuff, you can tell yourself that you are really packing. You’re not getting rid of anything. You’re just packing it and moving it into a storage space, which will make life so much easier when you really do move.

As I kept telling the husband yesterday, “I’m not getting rid of anything. We’re just taking it down for the open house.” Keep telling yourself that. It really does help. In general, people are attached to their stuff more than they are the house, so remember that your stuff is still around, it’s just not out in the open. Say, “I’m going to have to pack it anyway, so it might as well be now.” Remember that your goal is to no longer live there. If your house LOOKS like you no longer live there, that’s half the battle.

“Piece by piece, I take apart this complicated heart.”

Like Good Times That Haven’t Happened Yet, But Will

Ron is from Nebraska. If you happen to know anyone from Nebraska, you know that they are not talkers. Because Ron is so quiet and shy, very few people really know him, or know how hilarious he can be. People who know me wonder how Ron and I are compatible, but the truth is, we are like jagged, torn picture pieces that fit back together to make a whole picture. His strengths complement my weaknesses, and my strengths complement his.

It’s more than “opposites attract,” because we are not opposite at all. We are merely complementary. I am a spender, he is a saver. He keeps my spending in check, which keep us from bankruptcy. He is quiet, I am a talker. When we are in social situations, I make casual conversation so that he doesn’t have to. He hates to shop for clothes. I buy them and stick them in his closet.

Since public awareness of his amazing sense of humor is practically nonexistent, I thought I would share a few of the conversations and quotes heard around our house.

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Ron: “I am filled with joy.”

Me: “You have no idea what joy even means.”

Ron: “Uh huh! I am full of joy at being married to such a WONDERFUL WOMAN!”

Me: “No, that’s sarcasm.”

Ron: “Oh.”

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Ron (while rubbing Amy’s belly with his foot): “Poor dog. Why do you have to look like a pig?”

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Ron (while torturing the cat): “Oreo…you’re such a NICE KITTY.” (Meanwhile, Ron is petting the cat’s stomach, which Oreo hates with a passion.)

Oreo: CHOMP

Ron: “OW! Why are you biting me?”

This continues for at least ten minutes. At least twice a day. Every day.

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Me: “Will says you married me because of the sex.”

Ron: hysterical laughter

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Ron: “Butter is better for you, and tastes better. Why do you get margarine?”

Me: “Butter is expensive.”

Ron: “It can’t be that much more. I’m getting butter from now on.”

Two days later, as Ron enters the store…

Ron: “I’m at the store. What kind of butter should I get?”

Me: “Unsalted.”

Ron: “Unsalted is just for baking. Salted is more for putting on food.”

Me: “If you knew which kind you wanted, why did you ask me?”

Meanwhile, Ron has reached the dairy section.

Ron: “What kind of margarine did you want?”

Me: “I thought you were getting butter.”

Ron: “I thought you wanted to bake stuff.”

Me: “No…Aubrey will when she gets home.”

Ron: “Ok.” Silence as his cart rattles along.

Ron: “FUCK! Butter is expensive!”

Me: “I’m hanging up on you now.”

Ron: hysterical laughter

Click

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At bedtime, every single night, for I don’t know how many years:

Ron: “Brush your teeth.”

Me: “I always brush my teeth.”

Ron: “Brush your teeth before you fall asleep.”

Me: “I have to pee before I go to sleep. I will brush my teeth after I pee.”

Ron: “Brush your teeth.”

Me: “I will brush them when I go pee. I’m in the middle of something right now.”

Ron: “Brush your teeth. Brush your teeth. Brush your teeth.” (He says this like a cheerleader.)

Me: “I’m going to sharpen the handle of my toothbrush into a shiv and stab you through the heart.”

Ron: hysterical laughter

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At 8:30 pm, every single night, for I don’t know how many years:

Ron: “Mzklever…do you know what time it is?” (He actually sings this part.)

Me: “Is it 8:30 already?”

Ron hands me a cup of juice and the meds bucket.

Ron: “Take your meds.”

Me: “I know. I will in a minute. Let me finish this email/tv show/blog post/row of crochet/enter activity here.”

Ron: “Take your meds.”

Me: “I WILL in just a minute.”

Ron: “Take your meds.”

Me: ” I WILL!”

Ron: “Take them now.”

Me: “Five minutes isn’t going to make a difference.”

Ron: “Take your meds.”

Me: “AUGHHHH!”

Ron: hysterical laughter

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Ron: “I’m at Walmart. Do you need anything?”

Me: “Chocolate of some kind.”

Ron: “You don’t need chocolate.”

Me: “I have a migraine. Chocolate helps.”

Ron: “I’m not getting chocolate.”

Me: “What are you getting?”

Ron: “Nutrient bricks.” (This is what he calls frozen food like Lean Cuisine.)

Me: “Then why did you call me?”

Ron: “To see if you needed anything.”

Me: “I just need chocolate.”

Ron: “You don’t need chocolate.”

Me: “I’m hanging up now.”

Ron: hysterical laughter

Click.

Ron comes home with a giant bag of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.

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We have lived in this house for over four months, and have yet to install a dog door. We have this conversatioin weekly.

Me: “Are you going to put in the dog door this weekend?”

Ron: “It’s a metal door. What if I put it in wrong?”

Me: “Fine. I’m going to hire someone to come put in the door.”

Ron: “No! They’ll do it wrong.”

Me: “So you don’t want to put in the dog door because you’re afraid you’re going to do it wrong, but you don’t want me to hire a PROFESSIONAL to come do it, either?”

Ron: “I’ll do it.”

Me: “So are you going to do it this weekend?:

Ron. “No. What if I put it in wrong?”

Me: “What if I strangle you in your sleep?”

Ron: hysterical laughter.

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Ron has the greatest sense of humor of any man I’ve ever known. He is dry, sarcastic, witty…but the best thing about him is that I can make laugh. He laughs all the time, and it is a beautiful sound. Having someone who makes me laugh is important to me, and he definitely does that. But being able to make him laugh? That is priceless.

“We’re like Romeo and Juliet, 40 dogs and cigarettes, we’re like good times that haven’t happened yet but will. I can tell you where we’re gonna be, when the whole world falls into the sea. We’ll be living ever after, happily.”