I was going to do that, and then I thought better of it

Front window view. #dogwoods

Dogwoods in the front yard.

Things I Was Going To Do But Then I Thankfully Reconsidered:

  • Publish a blog post of my memoirs as a homeschooler with thinly veiled descriptions of all of the most interesting and bizarre kids, with a particular focus on their mega-creepster parents and the dark comedy of religious fundamentalism
  • Get a master’s degree in English
  • Buy another houseplant
  • Dye my hair red
  • Re-attempt The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (Michael Chabon, I love your writing studio, but I have tried to read that book three times and failed every time)
  • Kept up with the annals of the Christian patriarchy movement
  • Log into Facebook to stalk the aforementioned homeschoolers
  • Watch anything ever again by David Lynch
  • Quit my job and become a dog trainer
  • Try to draw
  • Buy another black dress

Thankful for

Playing in the yard with the girls

Today, I am thankful for:

  • Guion
  • Gorgeous spring weather
  • Toiling in the earth alongside my helpmeet
  • Maddy, Sallie, and Tara
  • The fact that Rachel has kept up her blog; equally thankful for her gift of expression
  • This town
  • Dog-savvy people who bring their dogs to play with our psychopaths
  • Cherry trees in bloom
  • Everything in bloom, actually
  • Not going to the forum on the church and homosexuality so that I could have a long brunch instead
  • Hillary Rodham Clinton
  • Dirt under your fingernails
  • Our house
  • Books in translation and being able to trust that the translation is good
  • Dogs chewing on sticks
  • Open windows
  • Smelling like the earth after a long day working in the yard
  • Men who listen
  • The Wire
  • Annie Dillard
  • Family and friends who don’t ask me when I’m going to spawn a child and why I haven’t yet
  • Journaling again
  • Not having to moderate Facebook for the shepherd rescue anymore
  • Mom, Dad, Kelsey, and Alex coming to visit this weekend

Mental potpourri

Starting to look like a jungle

This is the magnificent, prehistoric-looking birds’ nest fern from Windy!

Guion had me take this StrengthsFinder survey, and let me tell you, the results of this little online questionnaire resembled a talented fortune teller. So accurate! So specific! One of the statements said, “You probably learned to read at a very young age.” Yep. How did you know that?? Or: “You love to collect information and read books and websites that most people would probably find boring.” Uh-huh. Or: “Your ability to accomplish goals you set for yourself each day affects how you feel about your success as a human being.” Most definitely. Or: “You need to tone down the violence of your opinions about abusive dog breeding practices.” OK. Not the last one. But I wouldn’t have been surprised.

Things we’ve planted in the yard that we hope will live: forsythia, three blackberry bushes, three blueberry bushes, two apple trees, one (producing) cherry tree, two ilex hollies. Things to plant still: more hollies, rosemary, sedum, columbine, lavender, black-eyed susans, coreopsis, and later, irises and daffodils.

The horde of boy children next door have been very effective additional birth control.

I’m reading Hillary Rodham Clinton’s autobiography (Living History) right now, and I want to say, (1) I will always love Hillary, forever and always, and (2) Why are politicians such a pain to read? I feel like they’re always trying to sell me something about truth, justice, and the American way, and hence, I never believe anything that comes out of their mouths. Even when it’s the majestic Hillz.

This weekend, I am attending a seminar/conference on the church and homosexuality. I am expecting to hate it, but I am trying to go into it with an open, peaceful, nonaggressive mind. The seminar is not at my church, so I am a bit less emotionally invested in their conclusions, but as my mother recently said, every church, sooner or later, is going to have to take a stand on the issue. I just hope and pray that, when the time comes, our church takes a stand on the right side of history.

Semi-related: I am often troubled by the fact that the modern church is rarely an institution of social progress. Sometimes we are. More likely than not, however, we take the backward view. This is odd to me, because Jesus was such a progressive, radical dude. This is not to say that churches are not involved in social issues; of course they are. I suppose the deeper question is whether the church should be a progressive institution. Or is the church intentionally slow to change?

Would that we were all more like Jane Goodall.

On feeding the houseplant fever

And how I learned to stop fearing and murdering houseplants.

Orchid no. 4. Birthday gift from @montgomeryjewelry! #inlove #houseplantfever

Orchid no. 4. Gift from Tara and Andrew.

My obsessions come and go and stick with me in various, minute forms. My most enduring obsessions are dogs, and as of last year, plants — specifically houseplants. (As a genetic side note, I inherited my love of dogs from my father, and my love of plants from my mother.)

I killed — either by neglect or by over-attention — every houseplant I had in the first two years of our marriage. Including a spider plant that my boss gave me, with the caveat, “Not even you could kill this plant.” But I did. I was quick to term myself as a person with a brown and/or black thumb.

The maidenhair lives. Miraculously. #houseplantfever

My most finicky plant: The Maidenhair. She will wilt if you even look at her funny.

But then I decided I should actually start learning and caring about these living things, and so I did what I always do: Read all the books! I read every book our public library had on houseplants, and, imagine that, some extra knowledge helped. I am killing far fewer, and I daresay some plants are even thriving under my amateurish attentions.

My plant obsession continues to nearly untenable levels. (I started a houseplant inspiration board on Pinterest. Yes. Oh, my, yes.) Thankfully, some of the plant fever is spreading outdoors. Guion takes care of the practical plants (e.g., vegetables, herbs, hops, fruit trees), and I have taken charge of the ornamental plants (landscaping the front yard, choosing plants). It is a good system.

The main things I’ve learned about houseplants

  1. Get to know the conditions of your home. If you have a very dry home, look for arid-loving plants, e.g., succulents. If you have a humid home, look for ferns and tropical plants. If you’re somewhere in between, like most of us, find those versatile, hard-to-kill specimens that seem to thrive anywhere.
  2. Learn about light. Plants want light in various forms; get to know your plant and what it likes, and get to know your home and what kind of light it offers throughout the day.
  3. Plants die for two reasons, generally: (1) too much or too little light, or (2) too much or too little water. If your plant looks sad, it is probably a light or water situation, or both.
  4. Stay on a schedule. I water (almost) all of my plants on Sunday morning. This, more than anything else, has kept me from killing. Without a consistent watering schedule, I am liable to forget when I watered last, and either overcompensate with water or let the plant dry out and suffer from neglect.

Recent acquisitions

I used all of my birthday money on plant-related things. Gran gave me a gift card to Etsy, and I bought this beautiful handmade ceramic hanging planter. I spent an absurd sum at Fifth Season, my houseplant oasis. (Local people: If you are feeling stressed about your life, just go walk around Fifth Season. You will feel better when you leave. And you will probably leave with a plant.)

Plants recently added to the family:

Oh, yeah. And I jumped on the fiddle leaf bandwagon. #houseplantfever

Jumped on the fiddle leaf fig bandwagon.

New houseplants (pothos)

Pothos, to be hung in our bedroom.

New houseplants (million hearts)

Million hearts plant, to be hung in the living room.

New houseplants (jade plants)

Two jade plants for the kitchen table.

New houseplants (haworthia)

Haworthia for my studio.

New houseplants

Succulent for the living room.

New houseplants (English ivy)

English ivy in a basement window.

New houseplants (fittonia)

Fittonia (aka nerve or mosaic plant) in windowsill.

New houseplants

Plants to be hung, along with Guion’s seedlings.

And Windy gave me a magnificent birds’ nest fern (Asplenium nidus) for my birthday, which I haven’t had a chance to photograph yet. So, yes. I think I have reached my limit. For now…

Fifth Season = personal plant heaven. #charlottesville #fifthseason

Bonsai section at Fifth Season.

Heads up: I think bonsai trees are going to be my next obsession. Just wanted to declare that to the world.

Written on the body

  • One of my eyes is slightly larger than the other. It’s apparent in photographs when I am smiling.
  • My legs always get a pleasant, healthful tan in the summer, but the rest of my body stays resolutely pale.
  • I can wiggle my ears with impunity.
  • I have a chipped tooth in the front, from a cul-de-sac hockey game.
  • My hair doesn’t like the water from other people’s houses.
  • I am extremely vein-y.
  • My mouth is apparently too small for my head. According to dentists. Also according to dentists, I have very shapely teeth.
  • Like my mother, my left leg aches when I am synchronized with the moons and the tides.
  • I like the shape of my fingernails; I dislike the shape of my toenails.
  • I have a mole on my right side that I always think is a tick. I check it every time.
  • I can barely touch my toes.
  • I have a tiny beauty mark above my mouth; it is cherished and never covered with makeup.
  • I have never broken a bone and have no intention to break one. I was always a very cautious child.
  • My hands and feet get numb very quickly (yo, Raynaud’s!) and stay numb when they feel so inclined. For this reason, I cannot stay outside for very long in the winter.
  • My second toe is longer than my big toe on both feet.
  • I have two fake teeth, because I was born without permanent ones there (thanks to a paternal genetic inheritance).
  • I very much like the color of my eyes; I very much dislike the formation of my hairline at the nape of my neck.
  • I have a very intimate relationship with my eyelashes.

Took them as he found them

“Perhaps it is no wonder that the women were first at the Cradle and last at the Cross. They had never known a man like this Man… who never mapped out their sphere for them, never urged them to be feminine or jeered at them for being female; who had no axe to grind and no uneasy male dignity to defend; who took them as he found them and was completely unselfconscious. But we might easily deduce it from His Church… Women are not human; nobody shall persuade that they are human; let them say what they like, we will not believe, though One rose from the dead.”

— Dorothy Sayers, Are Women Human?

The ringing in my ears

Or, more accurately, the rushing/roaring/oceanic whooshing in my ears.

I’ve mentioned my tinnitus before; last week, in the throes of concern over Eden’s health, my tinnitus suddenly and inexplicably worsened and became a louder, 24/7 ordeal. (Previously, the sounds only afflicted me at night, right before falling asleep.) I’ll admit that it’s kept me in a state of panic and barely regulated madness. To have auditory hallucinations all day long, with no relief? It does actually drive people crazy, and I foresee it causing me to lose my mind.

There is no cure for tinnitus and little explanation for why it afflicts some people and not others. It will probably not get better; it will probably continue to get worse as I age, until my hearing is severely affected. Even now, I have trouble hearing whispers, because the roaring drowns everything out. Falling asleep is a fitful struggle.

I went to an ENT about it when the ringing/roaring first started, two years ago, and he was spectacularly unhelpful. I am loath to go again, just to hear another doctor say, “Yep, sorry, nothing we can do for you. You have to learn how to live with it.”

The best advice tinnitus sufferers give each other on the internet is to try not to think about it. That is hard. It is very hard, when the noises never leave you.

I am trying to derive some poetry from it. A tinnitus sufferer wrote online that tinnitus creates a vicious cycle with mental disorder; anxiety or depression can cause tinnitus, and having tinnitus can cause anxiety or depression. This, of course, is not happy poetry, but it makes sense to me. A German pianist on the internet said that his lifelong tinnitus has just made him think that he has the best hearing in the world, that he can actually hear his body working! Glory! (Tinnitus is often synchronized with one’s heartbeat, as mine seems to be.) That’s a rosy thought. If I had a choice, I’d rather not hear my body working all of the time, but perhaps this is my new fate: to be doomed to know my body too intimately.

An amateur’s journey in the beauty cosmos

I’m not shy about the fact that I LOVE beauty products. I don’t even wear much makeup myself, but I love playing with it. Into the Gloss is one of my favorite and most consistently read blogs. Birchbox makes me giddy about beauty samples and eager to experiment. I love how bold Ruby Woo makes me feel. I particularly love putting makeup on other people and pretending like I know what I’m doing. It’s like getting to be a painter… on someone’s face.

Source: Photopin.com, Creative Commons license.

Source: Photopin.com, Creative Commons license.

Big lessons learned

  • Your face needs more moisture and hydration than you think it does. Having oily skin doesn’t mean that you should skimp on moisturizer; usually, it means the opposite. You’re not getting enough hydration, and so your complexion overcompensates. Learning this one thing has revolutionized my actual face.
  • Splurge on face products; skimp on eye products. Having the perfect base, foundation, or powder matters. But no one can ever tell if you spent $5 or $50 on your mascara or eyeliner. Spend money on the important stuff.
  • Experiment until you find the right thing. Everyone’s face is different. Just because half the blogging world raves about this one product doesn’t mean that it’s the best thing for you. Shop samples and travel-sized products when you can until you find what really works for you.
  • Curl your eyelashes! Unless you have naturally curly eyelashes, putting mascara on without using an eyelash curler first is kind of a moot gesture.
  • Also, learn what your eyelashes need. Study the composition of your eyelashes. Are they short but full? Long but sparse? I have decently long lashes, but they don’t look that full naturally, so I need a volumizing mascara. A lengthening mascara is a nightmare for me.
  • Embrace your natural brows. Don’t succumb to the sin of over-plucking your eyebrows. Define them, cherish them!
  • Trust your natural hair. Don’t fight your hair. Work with it; love it; embrace the frizz (or the straightness or volume or thinness, or whatever it is you were born with). It’s easy to tell when people are fighting against their God-given hair (and it’s often very expensive and time-consuming for such people). Surrender to your hair.
  • Stop washing your hair so much. Shampooing every day is so bad for your hair. So bad. Stop it. Your hair hates you for it. I now wash my hair twice a week, and it’s immensely happier and healthier for it.

Favorite products right now

Whish Coconut Milk Correcting Gel

Whish Coconut Milk Correcting Gel. $32. This was a Birchbox discovery, and I swear it’s the main thing that’s revolutionized my complexion, because I haven’t changed anything else. It’s a mostly organic serum that’s composed of aloe vera, water, and coconut oil, and I think it might be magic. It’s also marketed mainly to people who are aging and have skin imperfections. I’m aging (aren’t we all?) and I certainly have skin imperfections, and I think it’s really smoothed out my complexion — AND the biggest thing is that I’ve completely stopped having my seasonal acne flare-ups. I’m a bit obsessed.

Garnier Skin Renew Miracle Skin Perfector BB Cream, Light/Medium

Garnier BB Cream. $12. I’ve tried so many different types of foundations and BB creams, even samples of higher-end products that sell for $50 for a tiny tube, and nothing beats this drugstore version.

Ultra Facial Cream

Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Cream. $26.50. Yes, a lot of money for a little jar, but this is the best heavy cream/night-time moisturizer I’ve tried. Somehow I also trust it more because of its lack of fancy packaging? Reverse marketing psychology?

Maybelline Volum' Express The Falsies WP Mascara

Maybelline The Falsies Mascara. $7. I’ve probably tried 25 different types of drugstore mascara, and this is my current favorite. I’m really into the slight curve of the brush.

Benefit Fakeup

Benefit Fakeup. $24. I am a very vein-y person. I have tons of veins on my eyelids, and I’m starting to get a bit of darkness under my eyes. This is the best eye-area concealer, because it comes with a moisturizing ring around the concealer itself, so it’s never flaky or drying, and it blends in perfectly with your skin. Love it.

Miss Jessie's Quick Curls -  8oz

Miss Jessie’s Quick Curls. $28. I went on a quest to find the perfect thing for my naturally curly hair, and this is where I’ve landed. I learned that my softer curls got too crunchy with gels, so I was hunting for curl creams. A lot of curl creams can get too heavy or greasy, but this is the perfect stuff. The cream is light and makes great curls on my head, and it smells very strongly of fresh laundry. Which is maybe kind of weird, but it’s not the worst thing for your head to smell like.

SheaMoisture Olive & Green Tea Body Wash -  13 fl oz

Shea Moisture Olive and Green Tea Body Wash. $9. Love this body wash, and I love how self-righteous it makes me feel! It’s all-natural with no parabens, mineral oils, chemicals, etc., etc.

Favorite brands

I’m not loyal to that many brands, because I’m always experimenting, but these three are my tried-and-true favorites.

  • MAC. The serious side of real-deal makeup, but I love everything I’ve ever tried from them. Their lipstick pigments can’t be beat, and their pressed powders are miracle workers.
  • Benefit. I’m not sure what this brand’s deal is, but I also love everything I’ve tried from them. They’re slightly less expensive than some of the more premier makeup brands, too.
  • Essie. It’s completely a looks-based judgment, but I feel like it’s classier than OPI.

One day, maybe I’ll try the really high-end stuff (Dior, Chanel, YSL), but for now, I’m enjoying the low-end experimentation.

Disclosure: I feel like this is not necessary, but whenever bloggers mention products, I get suspicious, so: I was not paid or asked to say any of this about any of these products. These are my independent and trivial opinions about beauty products.

On the emotional effect of clutter

I love online shopping, but I’m really bad at it. I’m constantly buying clothes that fit me poorly, and because I’m often too lazy to deal with the hassle of returns, I stuff these garments in the back of my closet or in a dust-gathering bag that says “TO TAILOR.”

This year, I’m trying to commit to the “one in, one out” principle with my wardrobe. If I buy one new item, I have to donate or toss one old item. I’m getting addicted to this buoyant, weightless feeling of throwing things away, of making room, of seeing space recreated. (And, I also took two pants to the tailor this week. Little victory!)

210/366

Grace’s closet, circa July 2008. It still looks like this, even though she doesn’t live here anymore.

I’ve always loved throwing stuff away and then organizing the remainders. It’s a quality that Kelsey and I share with Mom. My mother is very organized and sensible about her purchases, and she rejects clutter in all forms. We elder sisters have adopted this lifestyle from her. Kelsey in particular keeps an immaculate, minimalist studio apartment that is just zen.

But we can also take it too far. For example, last year, Kels famously threw away all of her tax documents in one of her cleaning frenzies. (Grace, on the other hand, missed out on this tossing gene, and any space she inhabits looks like an art supplies store/Salvation Army exploded. See the photo of her childhood closet, above. She is the purest definition of an artistic pack-rat, and this drives the rest of us family women insane. Sharing a bathroom with her feels like sharing a bathroom with 100 bag ladies.)

As a girl, I was more nostalgic for my short life, and I saved everything, especially letters. I pined for the Austen-esque days of handwritten correspondence, so my nerdy girl friends and I wrote hundreds of letters to each other — even though many of us only lived a few miles apart. I had boxes upon boxes of letters about the most adorable, inane things. At the sage age of 12, we liked to write in a highfalutin style: “That boy is the most preposterous creature I have ever met in all of my existence!”

Work time. #calligraphyI kept all of these letters for years and years, stuffed under my childhood bed. But when we moved to our new house, I threw them all away (saving only letters from precious relatives, particularly my late Great Aunt Lib).

This seems harsh and heartless to many, I am sure, but I had to have a hard conversation with myself. What was I saving these letters for? I was never going to go back and read them. Did I think my future offspring would find them interesting? Hardly. Instead, these letters — albeit cute and nostalgia-inducing — were taking up valuable real estate in my home, and were weighing me down, a burden of clutter. I did not need to keep them. I still have the memories of how much joy those letters brought me and how delightful it was to write and receive creative, strange letters as a girl.

The simple truth? Clutter affects me emotionally.

Although I am not as pristine and spartan about my cleaning regimen as Kelsey (who is?), a cluttered home — particularly a cluttered kitchen — makes my brain feel disordered. As my eyes scan around our messy kitchen, I begin to feel unhinged, unsettled, uncertain. I have to take immediate action.

Devoted assistants

Man and dogs in kitchen.

Being in a cluttered space makes me feel breathless and anxious; I feel like my heart rate is rising. It’s really something of a personality weakness. Because, clearly, clutter does not bother some people at all, and I do not fault them for it; Grace, for example, thrives on clutter, as an artist. (And maybe “clutter” is a judgmental word for it? What could we call it? Piles? Of important but disordered stuff?)

I am not immune to clutter. There are plenty of pockets of clutter in my house. The console table in the dining room has a basket full of unsorted items. My closet is far from pristine. (I haven’t ironed a single thing in months.) And I don’t even attempt to deal with Guion’s various piles around the house; that is his emotional business, not mine.

And so I clean and organize my house — not because I feel like I have to, not because it makes me feel superior — but because it keeps me sane. I’m all for the preservation of sanity.

A copy editor’s daydream

It’s easy to get lost in the microcosm of your job and think that the rest of the world should be operating within your work-day paradigms. Today, for instance, I was editing an extremely poorly written blog post, and instead of whistling while I worked and cheerfully improving the piece, my to-author queries just started getting more and more touchy; I was enraged that such a person could exist, someone with such a paltry ability to form a solid sentence! With such little knowledge of punctuation and the difference between an em- and en-dash!

So I had to stop. Put it away. Breathe. Realize that I live in a weird, underground world that is detached from most people’s everyday reality. A world in which editors obsess over language precision and the correctness of a word for hours. A world in which you strive not to betray an author’s trust by changing a comma. A world in which, if our jobs are done well, no reader even thinks of our existence.

Dutch braid, attempt no. 1. #braidselfieBeing a copy editor makes you super-attuned (almost presciently) to detail, but it also makes you an ass. I don’t know why a knowledge of grammar makes people self-righteous, but being a copy editor is a fast track to unbearable party behavior. Guion can’t go out to dinner without me making snide remarks about apostrophes and how most people think “portobella” or “portabella” is the correct name of the mushroom “portobello.” I’ll launch into a tidy tirade if you talk about how your English teacher told you that two spaces belong between every sentence. It’s amazing that I have any friends at all.

Because it’s a hard thing to turn off, this editing nature. I’ve been reading a memoir by a stroke survivor, and instead of thinking, Wow, this woman is amazing, and she has overcome so much, all I can think is, Couldn’t she afford an editor? What is this run-on nonsense? What is the deal with these double spaces between sentences?

Many of my coworkers say that they can’t read for pleasure anymore because of this curse. Or, if they do read, they can only turn to the lowest common denominator fiction (e.g., Nelson DeMille), fiction that requires only a marginal part of your brain.

I don’t want to resort to that, but I admit that reading Proust was a heck of a lot harder than it might have been if I’d had a different profession. Or Faulkner. Or Woolf. Or any of the writers that I deeply love and admire. Since Infinite Jest, fiction has been much harder on me. I gravitate toward nonfiction now. I don’t even read the short stories in the New Yorker; they don’t interest me. I don’t know if this turn away from fiction can be blamed on my handful of years spent editing or on David Foster Wallace, but something significant in my reading life has shifted.

I miss stories, but I crave knowledge. I want to know about everything. Reading 100 books a year doesn’t seem like enough. It’s a foolish endeavor, to want to know everything, but it’s never felt like a vain striving. Rather, I’d like to class it with Annie Dillard’s deep curiosity about the universe, spanning from the vast Milky Way all the way down to the mystical formation of a butterfly in its chrysalis. I want to know about all of these things, and I want to be able to tell these stories.

Goat moth. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

I can’t pretend to have Dillard’s level of beautiful, boundless curiosity, but I can aspire to it. To know, to have precision, to be curious; I think of these as developing attributes of my small life as a copy editor.

I have, perhaps, always been this way; it’s just now that I’m realizing that my love of being a copy editor has fit perfectly within my natural design. Being a good editor means knowing right from wrong; valuing precision; internalizing arcane details of our complex and often nonsensical language; memorizing rules; ably recalling information about history, politics, and culture; possessing all of this knowledge and holding it at the ready, on a precipice of your brain.

I learned to read when I was 3; I enjoyed being sent to time-out because it meant I could stay in my room and read; I read straight through our set of encyclopedias when I was 7 or 8 (remember when you had physical encyclopedias? An alphabetized set that probably lived in your parent’s basement?). When I got to “D,” my mother had to explain the birds and the bees to me earlier than she expected, because I was confused as to why a woman would use a diaphragm during something called “intercourse.” I memorized the names of exotic animals and thought of them as my invisible companions. (Guion and I have been watching David Attenborough’s fabulous documentary series, “The Life of Mammals,” and every episode brings me this childlike glee when I can successfully identify an unusual animal. A tapir! A pangolin! A dik-dik! Heaven!)

As a child, I wanted all of the information (a history, a theory, a flood), and a large part of me still does.

I have often noticed that these things, which obsess me, neither bother nor impress other people even slightly. I am horribly apt to approach some innocent at a gathering and, like the ancient mariner, fix him with a wild, glitt’ring eye and say, “Do you know that in the head of the caterpillar of the ordinary goat moth there are two hundred twenty-eight separate muscles?” The poor wretch flees. I am not making chatter; I mean to change his life.

— Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek