Knock-kneed Herons of the Apocalypse

I am happy to report that I have been painting. I promised to show you the fruits of my creative efforts, even the bad stuff, so here it comes.

For months, I wanted to paint something to fill the big blank space above my mantel. I’ve been stalling because big canvasses are expensive, and if I invest in one, I need a plan so I don’t screw it up.

However, plans and pressure suck all the joy out of painting. I like to paint because it’s meditative and freeing for me—but only if I’m not trying to achieve a perfect outcome.

While cleaning the garage, I found a possible solution: two plywood crate lids that my ex had left behind. They were each 3’ x 2’, so I figured I could make a diptych (two-part work of art). Free “canvasses” mean I don’t have to worry about screwing them up!

So, one Sunday, I sat in the garage and painted for hours. I set the two lids next to each other, top-to-bottom, and painted them like one big canvas. Freely, meditatively, I layered on base colors and then stretched big swaths of contrasting colors over them. I played with different brushes, different strokes, and different amounts of water. I got some good stuff.

I made a spirally sun and I liked it.

Then, like a dork, I got out a t-square and painstakingly laid out a compass rose in one corner. (If you’re trying to be free and meditative, don’t get out a t-square. Duh.) I painted it with metallic gold paint. Since I’m going for a travel/adventure vibe in my living room, I thought it would be perfect, but it looked really stupid. It pretty much wrecked one of the lids—I’d have to paint over it and then it wouldn’t match the bottom piece anymore– so I figured I’d just paint them separately and ditch the diptych idea. Diptych is such a ridiculous word anyway. Who even wants a diptych? I painted over the stupid compass rose.

On the other board, now a solo project, I thought I’d try to paint the silhouette of a heron. For some reason, I kind of want a heron in my living room, too. I don’t know where any of this comes from.

The heron started out awesome, but ended up looking like it was doing a pee-pee dance.

Hmmm. What do you do with a knock-kneed heron? You don’t hang it in the living room, that’s for sure.

I wasn’t thrilled that I’d jacked up both my free canvasses. In fact, I was more than a little disappointed. I set the boards aside and began to clean up my work area.

A little while later, I turned around and there they were, leaning next to each other, not top-to-bottom as I’d originally planned, but side-by-side—a different perspective all together.

knockneed heron

And they looked kind of cool.

I called Maddy, my 19-year-old, whom I can trust for an honest opinion. She said, “Well, it looks like a spaceship is going to abduct the heron. And it kind of looks like the apocalypse.”

Okay. I can see that. All valid.

But I was still excited. Not because I want to hang it in my living room, but because it helps me know what works and what doesn’t. Yes, I do want a big heron in my living room. No, I don’t want a compass rose. I like the rough texture and not the smooth, I know which colors work, and I have to watch out for the apocalypse effect.

See? Progress! I actually feel like I could drop $50 on a real canvas now and paint something living-room worthy.

That’s the beauty of letting go of ideal outcomes—you can engage in the process without fear of failure, and find value in whatever results.

I so often hear, “I want to try that, but I’m afraid it’ll turn out terrible!” People who have great stories are afraid to write them. People are afraid to try painting, crafting, whatever—because it might turn out shitty.

So what? Make something shitty! Get it out of your system. Use it as a practice run. Use it to determine what you DON’T want. Not only is it acceptable to write shitty dialog or paint ugly birds, it is often necessary. And sometimes, you make something and feel lousy about it, until you step away from it and give it a little distance…and then you find something redeemable in it. Maybe even something awesome.

Gotta save up for the big canvas. When I make my masterpiece, I’ll let you know.

The Organized Life: Tips from a Reformed Slob


A funny thing is happening to me on Pinterest. I’m not a big pinner, but I have a few boards. For some reason, my Organizing board now has over 300 followers, and more follow every day. This is very surprising to me. I’ve never thought of myself as any kind of guru on organization.

Except wait—maybe I am, kind of.

I’ve come a long way in terms of organization. I used to be a real slob. I used to never ever have my act together. I used to lose my keys EVERY SINGLE DAY. My family will testify to all of the aforementioned.

Just like the best weight loss advice comes formerly fat people, l suppose the best person to give organizing advice is a reformed slob, right?  So, without further ado, here are my super-basic tips for getting and staying organized.

  1. Have less stuff.  Most of us don’t need more storage, we need less stuff.  So purge! Getting rid of stuff you don’t love or use makes it easier to enjoy the stuff you do. Before you buy something new, try to imagine where you’ll store it and how often you’ll use it. Do you have a place for it? And is it worth the space? Think about that potential purchase sitting on a closet shelf, with all the other crap you thought you needed. Think about selling it at a garage sale in a couple years—for a dollar. That kind of visualizing really helps me buy less stuff.  The less stuff I bring home, the less I have to organize.
  2. A place for everything, and everything in its place. That expression has been around for almost 200 years.  ( You can’t put things away if you haven’t established where they go. And you can’t keep everything on the counter or table or floor. Your belongings need a real home, where they are out of the way when you’re not using them.  Clear surfaces make your home much more peaceful.
  3. Read Organizing from the Inside Out, by Julia Morgenstern. This book was life-changing for me. The gist is to organize according to your natural tendencies, not someone else’s prescribed system.   Julia offers a simple method to make your surroundings and your systems fit the way you live. I still mentally refer to it whenever I set up or reorganize a space.  Best organizing book ever.
  4. Just do a little tiny bit. I am easily overwhelmed, and when I’m overwhelmed, I do nothing. So when the housework is piled up or I have a nasty organizing job, like the craft room or the garage, the trick is to not let it overwhelm me. I tell myself that I will just clean one counter. Or empty one box. Or, I will set the timer and tell myself I just have to work on it for 20 minutes.  I can stop when I’m done with just that little bit…but I almost never do. Progress begets progress. When you complete one small task, you feel motivated to continue.
  5. Make it pretty.  If I buy a $3 bouquet of flowers, it will prompt me to clean my whole kitchen, because I can’t stand to put something pretty in the middle of a mess. Likewise, if I enjoy my space aesthetically, I’m more likely to honor it by sticking to my organizational systems and keeping it tidy.  I found this cute dresser in my favorite antique store. I use it for all the small stuff– jewelry, socks, scarves– and it’s so pretty, I don’t want to mess it up– so I keep it neat!dresser collage 1
  6. Throw a party. Seriously. As a procrastinator, I find a deadline immensely helpful. I also have a healthy sense of shame* about my shoddy housekeeping tendencies. So if people are coming over on Saturday, then that paper pile-up on the dining table has to be gone, and the floors have to be cleaned- by Saturday. Otherwise, there’s no reason I can’t leave it messy for another week. Entertaining helps keep me on my toes. It doesn’t have to be a party, just a dinner guest will do—any new set of eyes around my house does the trick.

*Most shame is not healthy, of course. Your house doesn’t have to be perfect before you have someone over.   And you don’t have to scrub your shower or re-organize your garage before you have a dinner guest. Use this trick only to the degree that it’s helpful.

These days, my house still gets messy, but it’s definitely functional. Everything has a place and the places make sense to me.  And you know what? That’s all it means to be organized: my home works for me. There is a functional order to my belongings and I enjoy being in my home. I win.

Nothing Charming: Meg’s New Old House

I just moved. More precisely, I finally finished transporting my enormous mountain of largely superfluous personal possessions from a two-bedroom apartment to a tiny, three-bedroom house. I am exhausted and more than a little scattered.

When this little house became available, my dear friend, the property manager, told me about it with a hint of reluctance. “We have a house opening up that might work for you. But…you should see it before you get excited. It’s very old.” She must have seen my eyes sparkle (I love old houses) because she added, “No, there is nothing charming about this house. Believe me. It’s just old.”

It’s 87 years old, to be exact. It was built in 1925 and it’s just outside the historic district of Old Towne Orange. Peeling paint, abundant chain link fencing, a freestanding garage that doesn’t look as if it will be standing much longer—this is not Better Homes & Gardens material.

Some of the windows won’t open. Some won’t close. Many will open but will slam shut again unless you prop them open with the nearest object. Viewed from the outside at night, my new house looks like a strange, light-up showcase for bottled water and cleaning products.

There is no hallway; there is just one bathroom in the center of the house with doors leading to the kitchen, middle bedroom and back bedroom. The back bedroom (that’s mine) is only accessible via the bathroom. The bathroom is ginormous, relative to the house, and it is so oddly shaped that it has eight walls and no place to put anything.

Then there is the garage, which I am afraid to enter at night. A power cord dangles from the ceiling, and if you plug it in, a dim, flickering fluorescent bulb provides just enough light to dismember someone by.  If I have to go in there at night, I open the dilapidated garage door, back my car into the driveway, and make my daughter press on the brakes so my taillights shine into the garage*. (There is no way I’m feeling around for that dangling cord in the dark.) Then I sprint in, grab whatever I’m after and sprint back out before I feel the cold, clammy hands closing around my throat….

The garage is fondly referred to as the “Murder Shed,” thanks to my friend Lauren, who calls it like she sees it.

*I don’t know why I didn’t pull into the driveway and use my headlights. Why did I reverse? I just realized how dumb that is as I was typing the above paragraph. That’s how fried my brain is. Criminy.

Also, some classy individual wrote “FUCK” on one of the garage walls in marker. It’s sort of a decorative, bubbly lettering style. If it weren’t such a cute sort of lettering, I would have to believe it was someone’s last word before being dismembered. You can’t vandalize if you don’t have hands, punk!

In 1925, when the house was built, people didn’t amass boatloads of crap the way we do now, so closet space wasn’t a big deal. Consequently, I don’t have a lot of closet space. Other things not planned for in 1925: dishwashers, garbage disposals, or doorways big enough to slide a refrigerator through.

But it’s not all bad—obviously, I rented it for a reason. Most importantly, it’s cheap. I have my priorities, you know. Second, it’s not an apartment. Hooray! Also, it has a big back yard for my dogs.   It has washer/dryer hookups, so no more community laundry room. The scary garage is perfectly acceptable for storage (provided I access it during daylight) and the driveway has plenty of space for me and a guest to park.

You know what else it has? Charm. Sure, it’s hidden under the catastrophic paint—flaking off on the outside and layered thick on the inside—but there is plenty of charm to be found. There’s a huge front porch and tons of windows. We are already picturing our carved pumpkins out on our front porch, and our Christmas tree in the front room with all those windows.  Oh, and there’s moulding everywhere: big chunky baseboards, window moulding, door moulding— a girl like me gets pretty excited about moulding. And that chain link fence is perfect for sweet peas. Spring is going to be fun. The yard is really sunny, so I can plant herbs and tomatoes again…summer is looking good, too.

To be honest, I’m kind of excited about the whole mess.  I love fixing up old stuff. One of my favorite things is to find an old piece of furniture and paint it or repurpose it. Now I get to do that with a whole house.  I can’t spend money on it, because it’s a rental, and the whole reason I moved in was to save money (and escape the apartment).  So I will have to do it on a shoestring, which is another backwards pleasure of mine. I am the queen of frugality. Bring on the thrift stores, garage sales and Craigslist! Give me your oops paint, your castoffs, your unused plywood longing to breathe free!

I may be romanticizing a bit. Okay, I may be romanticizing a lot, but I find something loveable about this weird old house.  In a few months I may be cursing the wonky walls and pitching floors and longing for the relative modernity of my apartment.  But for now, while the house and I are getting to know each other, I will keep my rose-colored glasses firmly in place.

There it is, under the peeling paint and behind the chain link fence: something charming. See?