To-Do Tuesday: front walk

My spring project this year was Curb Appeal.  I guess the “architects” of 70s houses assumed we would actually use our garages for our cars instead of a shop/detritus storage.  So they didn’t bother widening the driveway enough for two vehicles and a person.  Consequently, the strip of yard next to the driveway was always trodden into a dusty grassless path to the door.  About 6 years ago I dug down and laid out flagstone in an attempt to pretty up the eyesore.  Of course, I didn’t know what I didn’t know and did it wrong.  Without sand or granite underneath, the stones became uneven.  And instead of grass growing daintily in the cracks, (my Yankee past showing again) the giant Saint Augustine almost immediately covered the whole area.  (Don’t ask me why it grows over stone and not dirt.)

DSC_1078.NEFAdd to that the problem created by the “architects” who, in their infinite wisdom, made a dip in the driveway and then installed a downspout leading to that area.  So any time there is a gully washer (which is almost every time it actually rains in Texas) a giant pool forms blocking our path to the cars.

This never bothered Violet.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd this section by the door was like someone had salted the earth.  Nothing ever grew.

DSC_1075.NEFSo out it all came.  I dug down a foot or more in a wonky triangle from the front door to the sidewalk.  I did it the correct way (this time) and put down landscape cloth at the bottom of the trench.


I suppose I could calculate the amount of earth I moved with my orange shovel and once-wimpy muscles, but it’s easier to show you.  Please note the pile of rocks unearthed from the last (failed) attempt to landscape.DSC_1094.NEFThe Bagster is a clever company that sells dumpster bags for $25 at home improvement stores and then picks them up when you fill them with rubbish for a fee about equal to what you would pay that creepy guy with a truck from Craiglist.  So I was pretty excited to fill up my Bagster with a ton of dirt… until I read the (very) small print which informed me the bag may only be 1/4 full of soil.  Because it’s heavy.


So I ended up hiring a less creepy guy with a truck at the rock supply store to dig the dirt out of the Bagster haul it away.DSC_1136.NEF

Said rock supply store delivered a pile of gravel and a palate of flagstone.   And then I literally toiled, breaking and shoveling rocks, for days and days.  I closed my eyes and saw flagstone puzzles floating on my eyelids.   The neighbors learned to ignore the crouching cursing lady muttering in the driveway, trying to fit edges together.

Some of you landscaping geeks will be wondering why I chose gravel instead of sand and crushed granite.  Well, it was my drainage experiment.  The granite compacts so much that the water doesn’t soak in quickly.  I thought gravel wouldn’t have that problem.  In fact, I dug down about 2 feet around the area near the downspout and backfilled with gravel and river rock, hoping for even more air pockets and space for water.

It seems to work quite well.  It takes a good hour of torrential rain before a little puddle even thinks about forming.  And even then it disappears quickly.  Plus it looks nice, right?  The neighbors like us again.  I still dream of flagstone, though.


Stay tuned to find out what I did with the old buried rocks.

circling back around


Eight and a half years.  That’s how long I’ve been writing this blog.  Three hundred and thirty posts.  But in the past year I’ve written only six.  Why is that?  The kids are older, I have more time to myself, I am no longer perpetually exhausted… so what’s the deal?

Maybe part of it IS because the kids are older.  When they were babies, or even preschoolers, it was cute and funny and helpful to go on and on about their lives.   Family loved hearing the minutia, other moms commiserated, friends understood better why we seemed to have disappeared.  But when Violet and Graham reached grade school, something happened.  It’s not that I suddenly started thinking about them as little people, but that I started thinking about them as their own little people.  As in, not really mine.  As in, what right do I have to bundle them up into sentences and send them out into the internet for others to make assumptions?  And, more practically, maybe I should be thinking about their online presence in the future.   How will the pronouncements I make about their personalities inform an admissions officer, or recruiter, or partner?  Not to mention the conclusions my kids will draw about themselves, about me, and about our relationships when they finally read this blog and realize I’ve been detailing the ups and downs of their lives for the world to see.

On the other hand, it makes me sad to think of holding back.  Sure, I have photos.  Lots of photos.  But they don’t exactly tell the whole story.  Who whips out the camera during an argument?  How can a photograph document the true amount of school angst or sibling strife?  Browse my Flickr stream and our lives seem perpetually blissful.  But I don’t want a curated, smiling, sanitized version of my life to look back on.  I really do want to remember the struggle, the mess, the uncertainty, the worry.  I also don’t want my kids to think that they were perfect angels… or perfect terrors.

SO mean

So how do I walk this line?  How do I scratch this archivist itch in a way that is respectful to our family’s future selves but that remains meaningful?

I reviewed my first blog post to try to find the answer.  And I think the last few sentences give me at least a starting point: “So, maybe the most important reason I’ve started this blog is that it’s about ME. Me me me me. Oh, and Violet.”

Oh right!  This is my blog!  (Now here is where I fall into cliché territory, but bear with me.)  This angst over what direction my blog should take parallels my real life.  What should I do now that I’m slowly backing out of a decade focused on kids?  Maybe it’s time to circle back around to writing for the sake of writing, documenting, and trying to organize the chaos in my brain.  Oh, I’m sure I’ll write about family too, but I’ll tread lightly and see how that works out.  I understand that this will not be as exciting to some as Las Aventuras Fantásticas de los Niños de los Liffords, but that’s okay.  They’re writing their own stories now.  Just ask them.


4th & 2nd graders


Mini-fig Costco adventure

This is what happens when Rob takes the kids to Costco.

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Jester, 1980’s-Something Space Guy, Hero, and Robber scope the scene.

2014-07-13 10.17.35They pause to take in a show.

2014-07-13 10.18.40Jester tries on some shades.  He thinks it’s hilarious.

2014-07-13 10.20.47Exhausted, they find a good place to nap.

2014-07-13 10.26.07Jester, Space Guy and Hero wait for Robber, not realizing that danger is lurking.

2014-07-13 10.32.39 Danger avoided and shopping done.  No, no, they insist on paying.

2014-07-13 10.34.48Space Guy and Hero are hungry.

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Really hungry.

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They settle down with their churros.

2014-07-13 10.37.57Jester is thrilled.

2014-07-13 10.39.58 Space Guy is extremely exited.

It’s a bit indecent.

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Violet doesn’t think Hero can finish the whole thing.

He can.

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Jester is devastated.

Another shopping trip ends in tears.


my step-brother

We lost him yesterday. He left a wife, a young son, and a large extended family. It’s a shock.  A tragedy.
He was my age.
Our parents married when we were  in our early twenties. Since then we’ve lived across the country or around the world from each other. But the few times our families got together, I was struck by his kindness and love for everyone lucky enough to be in his life.


To say he will be missed isn’t enough.

new job

No, I haven’t found a new career, sadly.  (One of the goals on my overzealous sabbatical year To-Do List.)  What I did find last fall is a job.  A satisfying job.  A very part time, low paying job, but it’s just right for this particular time in our family life.IMG_0082

I work for Little Helping Hands.  LHH is a non-profit (thus “low paying”) that works with other local non-profits to get kids and families volunteering.  Basically, LHH curates volunteer activities that children are physically able to do and can be accomplished (at least in part) in about an hour.  During that time the kids learn about the organization, talk about how their effort helps others, and work with their own family towards a goal.

Our family started volunteering with Little Helping Hands years ago, and Violet and Graham love it.  Some of the activities we’ve participated in are park clean-up, animal shelter blanket assembly, envelope stuffing, graffiti clean-up,  gift donation wrapping and more.  It’s really the perfect length of time, especially for the… um… easily distracted child.

My job is to set up, break down, organize the volunteers, explain our activity and the particular non-profit we’re working with, coordinate the timing, supplies, paperwork, and, most importantly, chat with the families.  So far I’ve helped out Dell Childrens’ Hospital, Austin Animal Shelter, the city’s storm drain marking program, community gardens, the Food Bank, Lemonade Day, Safe Place, parks,  Meals on Wheels and more.  Having a work environment where you are surrounded by families who are a little giddy about doing good for their community together, well, I can’t wait to go to work.

I love saying “I’m going to work.”  It surprises me how much.  Staying at home with the kids is admirable and whatever, but now that both are in school I felt like I needed to contribute financially (snicker) or at least start building my resume again.  And since I work mostly on the weekends, I don’t have to put the kids in childcare that would keep them away from home for 11 hours a day or completely negate my paycheck.   Plus we can still enjoy maximum flexibility during vacations and sick days.  And I daresay the kids are enjoying some one-on-one time with Rob.

My career “path” continues to be elusive, but I remain hopeful that inspiration will strike out of the blue.  Maybe while at work.  I do meet a lot of interesting people there.  Who knows?

By the way, Little Helping Hands has an amazing activity right now for anyone who’d like to combine volunteering with a family night at home.  I never do product reviews or advertisements on this blog, but this is such a great idea I think it’s worth mentioning.  Big Night In, from LHH, is a box that includes a  game, a gift certificate for a 4-person meal, snacks, drinks, and a volunteer project.  So it’s like family game night (with a new board game you can keep), without cooking and including a meaningful activity you all share.  All the proceeds help Little Helping Hands continue their mission.  I’ve never heard of anything like it, and I think it would be great fun or a thoughtful gift (Mothers’ Day?).  Check it out:

Let me know what surprises you find in your Big Night In Box.

To Do Tuesday: Shed of Death

To step into our shed was to be ankle-deep in compost and carcasses (rat and lizard).  To retrieve an item from within its depths, I had to grip the door jam with one hand,  lean forward precariously while keeping both feet outside the “death zone”, grab the item and shake it vigorously to dislodge any mice or black widows, then swing myself out of harm’s way.  Likewise, my storage strategy was to whip open the door, fling in the item, then slam the door shut again before anything could climb my leg.  An object that flew too far back into the Shed of Death was obviously doomed.

Clearly the situation was out of control. I finally had to tuck my jeans into my boots and deal with the it, or never garden again.

Three hours later:

(dusts off hands with satisfaction, realizes how much petrified carcass is in the dust and immediately showers)


To-Do Tuesday: Corner of Shame

Hidden in our yard, far away behind the shed, is my Corner of Shame:

But the truth is even more tragic when you realize that  it used to look like this:

I know, I know. (And apologies to my Dad, who was in the trenches with me, digging out mulberry stumps for days.)

After I moved the sandbox to the play area, this empty corner became a magnet for the detritus of all my other projects.  It was beyond my control.  And, since it is literally out of sight, well, you get the idea.

Shame was less of a motivator than need, however.  I needed a new compost system.  This one was NOT doing it for me:

I mean, it was a fine (free) bin, but I had to have somewhere to start another one while this pile cooked.  Plus, since it was tucked between the back of the shed and the fence, I didn’t have enough room to swing my shovel.

The corner formerly known as Sandbox, was a perfect location for my new system.  I just needed to erase The Shame.  Thankfully, October proved to be slightly cooler than hell, so I got to work.

Just to review, this is what I was up against:

Now, to construct the new bin system.  I had a few pallets leftover from my playhouse project, a few planks I salvaged from a neighbor’s old fence and some hardware cloth leftover from the chicken coop.   Cordless screwdriver, leftover hardware and viola!  An almost free compost system.*

One side gets all the kitchen scraps, chicken poop, leaves, garden debris and weekly mixing until it reaches about 3 feet high and wide.  Then I let it sit for a couple months or so (with weekly stirring).  Meanwhile, I start the process on the other side.  When the first pile is almost done I stick it in the compost tumbler as a final mixer.

*I got this one half off through the city rebate program.  (Downsize your curbside garbage can and Austin will subsidize a compost bin).

Confession and penance done.  Now I am shame-free.  Until next week.

garden candy cane

Hello blog.  It’s been a while.  I just popped in to share something seasonal from the garden.  The kids actually discovered this.

Last year I put in a stevia plant with high hopes of harvesting and drying the leaves in case the zombie apocalypse leaves us without sugar.  Of course I have not accomplished that task, mostly because the kids strip the plant bare.  It really is very sweet and, clearly, a hardy plant.  I don’t baby it at all.

So the other day the kids excitedly told me they had invented a candy cane and called me over to the veggie beds.  There they picked a stevia leaf, then picked a mint leaf, put them together and popped them into their mouths.  I had to try it.

YUM.  It’s like eating Christmas. But healthy.

You’re welcome.