Making My Mark

It’s a strange experience, occupying a space that someone else had made her own for decades. All the furniture has been picked out, all the walls are painted, the art chosen, the plants planted. She’s not here, and yet she’s everywhere.

Which is not a bad thing, necessarily. For the most part, I like her taste. I would have liked her, I’m sure. But it’s time to make this place ours.

Slowly, but surely, we’re introducing change. We’re adding the new and getting rid of the old. We’re keeping the good, and getting rid of what no longer fits. We’re rearranging. We’re changing colors, here and there. We’ve had a garage sale. We’ve planted a tree.

Just recently we painted a glow-in-the-dark milky way on the ceiling. Adolescent as that may sound, I’ve had it in my last two houses, and I find it comforting to stare at as I drift off to sleep. So doing that meant a lot to me.

You don’t really think too much about marking territory unless you have dogs, but we humans do it, too. We just do it with paint and pillows and photos. It’s how you make a house a home.

Interior Design

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So, it’s official! I am buying a house! I’m so excited.

During this waiting period, while all the paperwork gets processed, and in between packing by fits and starts, I am starting to imagine the many ways I will make this house a home.

First of all, this place is really, really small. And it has very little storage. I see several trips to IKEA for shelving and cabinetry in my future.

And while the house is small, the yard is fairly big. My dog Quagmire is going to love it! But I’m going to need a lawnmower. And lots and lots of plants, to take up some of that space so I have less need for the lawnmower. I’ve always wanted a weeping blue aster pine, but I’m not sure if they fare well in Washington State. I’ll have to do some homework. I also insist on having a lilac bush and a forsythia, because my mother adored them. And I love Chinese maples. Oooh! And tulip trees! And junipers!

And I’ll need a couch. And tools. And…

Whoa, Nelly. Get a grip. All this is going to cost money. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Yadda yadda.

Oh, leave me alone! Can’t you see I’m nesting, here?


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Chez Nothin’ to Steal Here

I’m thrilled to say that no one has ever broken into my house. There are several reasons for this. First, of course, is the loyal presence of my ever-vigilant barking dogs. I have this theory that thieves are lazy and paranoid, so if they’re going to rob someone, they’d much rather go next door to the house that has no noisy and potentially vicious pets.

Second, I’m kind of embarrassed to admit that I can rely on my white privilege. I’ve never lived in the ‘hood. Granted, I’m usually right next door to it, but aside from the drug dealer two doors down, I have good neighbors who watch out for each other, and none of us are particularly desperate. In that way, I’ve been lucky.

But the main reason I’ve been spared a criminal invasion, I think, is that a quick peek into any of my windows would tell all but the most idiotic of criminals that I don’t own anything worth stealing. Why would anyone risk jail time over mismatched furniture that I’ve mostly picked up off the street? And I don’t have a TV or a stereo system. Truth be told, I don’t even own a couch. Aside from sentimental value, I doubt I could get more than 150 bucks at a yard sale for every single thing I own. If you really crave my 30 year old, dented and rusty pots and pans, just ask me for them.

One thing I do find annoying, though, is that stuff gets snatched off my front porch all the time. I’m hesitant to get packages, because there’s a car that actually follows the Fed Ex truck and the USPS truck and the driver helps himself to whatever they leave behind. (The cops know about it. They’ve even been sent pictures of the vehicle, for all the good that has done.) I’ve also been relieved of an old rusty lawn chair and a plant stand. One time, in a self-defense for women class, they suggested we get some old beat up muddy work boots and put them on the front porch to create the illusion that a man was home. Well, I did that, and even the boots got stolen. Sheesh.

But for the most part, my humble abode screams, “Nothin’ to steal here. Move along.” In Florida, on more than one occasion, I was accused of being white trash, despite my college degrees. I’d like to be one of those people with matching furniture and some sense of interior design, but I seem to have been born of the utilitarian school of home décor. And that’s just the way I like it.


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When I’ll Know I’ve Arrived

I’m a painfully frugal individual. I’ve had to be, simply to survive. I would never have gotten this far if I hadn’t learned how to delay gratification and resist impulse buys. I’ve given up imagining that I’ll ever have even one room full of furniture that matches. I’m more of the found-on-the-side-of-the-road school of decorating.

For the most part that’s fine. I’ve long since learned that it’s not things that make me happy. I get more joy from the people I love, and my dogs, and writing this blog, and having a job that I look forward to going to, and exploring this world.

But I have to say that there’s one thing that I want like it’s killing me. There’s a shop called Earthenworks Gallery, and in it they include furniture by an artist named Sarah Grant. She makes tables and benches and headboards and trunks… all manner of furniture, and it’s absolutely delightful, colorful and thought provoking.

I want one of her dining tables. Not only are they stunning and whimsical, but all along the outer edge are sayings that make me smile. “Tell your story.” “Believe.” “Live life to the fullest.” “Enjoy the changing seasons.” Those are just a few of her pearls of wisdom.

When I’m able to buy one of these tables, I’ll know I’m a success. I say this not just because I can’t imagine ever being able to treat myself to a 3,000 dollar splurge, but also because to own a table like this, one needs to have a lovely room to put it in, and wonderful people to sit at it with. One would also have to have the confidence to know that things were going so well that there would be no regrets in buying such a wonderful work of art, and enough space to never feel the need to cover its beauty with clutter. I crave all of those things.

And then, of course, with a table like that you’d need some really nice chairs. Oh, and I also want one of her trunks, and a grandfather clock, and I’d love to sleep in one of those beds, and those benches are really cool…  It never ends, does it?

On Living Like a College Student

Lately I’ve seen the inside of several people’s houses, and it makes me wonder if I’m an exception to some rule that I’m not privy to. I don’t have a single room in which all the furniture matches. I never have. I don’t have a color scheme per se. I also don’t have a television or a couch, but that’s because I’ve been moving around a lot in recent years, and there’s only so much I’m willing to lug from pillar to port. My decorating consists mostly of textiles I’ve collected during foreign travels.

I’m also not neat as a pin. Don’t get me wrong, there are no moldy ham sandwiches lying about, and I am not a hoarder. The dishes get washed and the carpet gets vacuumed. But I have clutter, and I have dogs.

I basically live out of my bed. I rarely sit at the table. I eat in bed, blog in bed, read in bed. If I didn’t have a living room, I wouldn’t miss it. It’s just that room I walk through to get to the kitchen, and the place I store my beloved roll top desk.

After visiting other people’s houses, I look around my own and I realize that it’s not a place where others would make themselves at home. It works for me. I am comfortable. I know where everything is. But I suspect others wouldn’t go out of their way to live like I do, and House Beautiful is never going to beat down my door for a photo shoot.

It seems that when I went off to college I adopted a dormitory lifestyle, and I never quite seemed to have abandoned it. I probably ought to grow up domestically.

Nah, I can’t be bothered. I’d rather spend my money on travel.

[Image credit:]
[Image credit:]

Points to Ponder Before Getting a Dog

I love dogs. I’ve had at least one my entire adult life. They are an amazing source of unconditional love and companionship and entertainment. They supply much needed body heat on cold winter mornings. And they are great, discreet listeners.

The two dogs I have now, Blue and Devo, have seen me through a lot of changes. My return to college. My drive all the way across the country. And when my boyfriend died, their soft fur often dried my tears. They are my best friends.

Having said that, there are certain responsibilities that you take on when getting a dog that many people don’t even consider. But you owe it to a dog to think about these things before you bring it home. Its very life will be in your hands. That’s a big deal.

First of all, if you are someone who likes to go out for coffee with friends after work, you can forget about that. If you own a dog, you’ll have to go straight home and let him out to pee. In fact, your whole world will revolve around your dog’s pee schedule. And the smaller the dog, the smaller his or her bladder will be. So forget about sleeping in on a Sunday morning. If you don’t have a safely fenced yard, you will be walking this dog, rain or shine, cold weather or warm, several times a day, for the rest of its life. If you don’t see this as a pleasure, you may not be a dog person.

There are also the expenses to consider. Dog food isn’t cheap. (And don’t you DARE go for that Walmart Rob Roy stuff. It has no nutritional value, and it is the doggy equivalent of torture by food.) Vet bills aren’t cheap either, and you’ll have those at least once a year when you get their annual shots. And if they wind up with a chronic, not life threatening, ailment, that can cost a fortune, too. Then there are city licenses, pet rental deposits, the occasional toy or treat, and if you want to travel without your dog, kennel expenses or dog sitters can cost nearly as much as your hotel bill.

And expect to have increased housework. More sweeping, mopping, and carpet shampooing. And a dog needs a bath now and then, and its nails will need clipping. And I guarantee you that at least once in your dog’s life, you’re going to come home to find garbage strewn all over the house. It seems to be some sort of rite of passage. And if you think they’re going to keep their muddy paws off your furniture, think again. In fact, you can forget about having nice furniture.

If you’re a renter, your landlord won’t like you anymore. He’ll be worried that the dog is destroying the dwelling and/or infesting it with fleas, and he’ll make you pay through the nose for that. And your neighbors will complain when the dog barks. Count on it. The majority of people won’t rent to you at all. Full stop.

Oh, and fleas. Don’t even get me started. Fleas, ticks, dead animals, rolling in cat poo (the dog, not you)… all these things will become a part of your life.

But believe it or not, I’m not trying to talk you out of owning a dog. In fact, I highly recommend it. I just want you to think it through and know what you’re getting yourself into. Knowledge is power.

So many dogs need good and loving homes. And if you get one, I hope you’ll consider a rescue, and never buy from a pet shop. They just encourage puppy mills.

Remember, too, that dogs are social creatures. So if you leave your dog all alone, tied up in your back yard, I may just have to hunt you down and force feed you a 25 pound bag of dried kibble. And for heaven’s sake, please spay or neuter your pet. It’s the right thing to do.

(These are my boys. The photos were taken by me, and then artistically enhanced via Photoshop by my friend Martin. Thanks, man!)

serenity-pup-2a serenity-pup-1

Donating Yourself

Times are tough and there’s so much need out there that it can be overwhelming. But it’s understandable when people can’t make financial donations. I for one am struggling to make ends meet. But there are so many other ways to help.

Here are some ways you can give of yourself, show the world how wonderful you are, and improve the lives of others without spending a dime, and if you need added incentive, in many cases you can write these donations off on your taxes.

  • Become a marrow donor. If you’re between the ages of 18 and 44, a simple cheek swab will get you registered, and if you become a match it could save someone’s life. Go here to order a registration kit.
  • Become a cord blood donor. Are you pregnant? Donating your baby’s cord blood after birth does not put you or your child at risk and could save someone’s life. Talk to your doctor and find out if your hospital participates in this program before your child is born. For more information, go here.
  • Donate your used clothing and furniture. It breaks my heart to see useable items on the curb on trash day when there are so many organizations who would be happy to take them off your hands. Many will even come and pick it up from you.
  • Donate your used car. There are a lot of organizations that will take your used car. Here’s a site that can connect you to various charitable organizations, but personally, I plan to donate my car to National Public Radio when the time comes.
  • Volunteer. Many organizations in your community could use your help. Here’s a website that can help you find those opportunities.
  • Give someone a micro-loan. I can’t say enough about In a nutshell, loan 25 dollars, change someone’s life, get paid back, and hopefully do it again. What have you got to lose? Not one single penny, that’s what.
  • Help a neighbor. If you have a neighbor who is sick or elderly or disabled or a single parent, they could no doubt use your help. Whether it’s shoveling snow, running an errand, doing home repair or mowing the lawn, there are any number of things you could do to make their lives easier.
  • Donate blood. Another free opportunity to save a life! Imagine that. Go here to find the blood bank nearest you.
  • Freecycle. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Rather than filling the landfill with your perfectly usable but no longer wanted items, advertise them here on your local freecycle network. This is a great way to pick up things that other people are giving away as well!
  • Spread the word. Do you know of a way for people to save money or live healthier or safer lives? Don’t keep this information to yourself. Share it. Facebook it. Tweet it. Whatever it takes to share this with others. Knowledge is power.
  • Donate your hair. Planning to cut more than 10 inches of your hair off? Don’t let it go to waste! There are organizations that will make wigs for people who have cancer or alopecia. I don’t want to give any one organization special treatment, so simply google “hair donation” and choose the one you like best.
  • Listen. Sometimes all someone needs to turn their day around is someone willing to listen to them. Really hear them. That’s a skill. Please practice it.
  • Participate in Neighborhood Watch. Help keep your neighborhood safe the RIGHT way, with an organization that does not advocate vigilante behavior. Google Neighborhood Watch to learn more.
  • Be a mentor. Share your knowledge and expertise with someone who would benefit from it. Learn more about this here.
  • Recycle. Think of this as volunteering for the planet.
  • Report abuse and other crimes when you see them. If you witness domestic violence or any other crime, speak up. That’s the only way you’ll prevent its recurrence. This is a way of doing a good turn for a future victim. Simply dial 911, or if you are outside of the United States, find out your emergency number and keep it handy.
  • Be an organ donor. Sign up to become an organ donor in your state’s organ donor registry and you will not have died in vain. For more information, go here. Also, be sure to share your wishes with your loved ones so that there’s no conflict or confusion when the time comes.

There are so many ways to make a difference in this world, and you don’t have to spend any money doing so. If you can think of any other ways that I may have overlooked, please add them to the comments section. I do 13 of the things mentioned above, but doing even one will make the world a better place. Join me, won’t you?


Remember when you were young and willing? It’s never too late.

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