Nearly five years after Atticus was born, and about four and a half years after telling me our marriage wouldn’t survive another pregnancy and postpartum tragedy, Daniel decided he was finally ready for the big chop.

Since his health insurance is crap and doesn’t cover any specialists in our state (let alone cover an elective vasectomy), he decided to find a urologist near the house and just pay cash. Considering that the process would take four separate visits, he figured, if nothing else, he’d save some money on the gas.

He set up a consultation with a urologist and mentally prepared for the worst. I got a phone call at work, and I stepped out of the office to get the details.

“So the doctor asked what sort of work I do. I told him social work and remodeling on the side. He asked if I’d be interested in a trade–installing an attic fan in exchange for a vasectomy.”

“Ohmygod–was he touching your junk when he said that?!”

“No, this was after he touched it.”

“Wait, so were your pants down? Or was the exam officially over?”

“My pants were up, and he just mentioned it. I said I’d do it.”

“So you’re getting a vasectomy in exchange for labor.”

“Yeah. It should only take me a couple hours to install the fan.”

“How much does a vasectomy cost?”

“Cash? About $900.”

“We need to find a dentist who needs a bathroom remodel. Why don’t all doctors do this?! Maybe there is some sort of underground doctor network we can tap into.”

So Daniel went and installed a fan for the urologist. They had some great conversation about life and dreams. He came home feeling his work was truly valued for once in his life. It’d be hard to argue with a $450 per hour wage, though. I can’t imagine how the urologist feels making that and more in about 15 minutes.

I drove Daniel home after his vasectomy.

“He said the fan works great.”

“Wait. Did he say that while he was touching your junk?! This is the funniest story of my year.”

I brought him flowers and a cake. Because having a vasectomy is hard work.


Let me tell you this:

There is a special place in hell for people who incorrectly wallpaper wood paneling.


In our future best-selling book, HGTV is NOT a License to DIY (working title), my friend Amanda and I will lay it out plainly for lady remodelers. Remodelistas.

By ladies–For ladies. Part memoir, part confession, and part guidebook for other hopeful remodelistas, we will reveal the ins and outs and ups and downs of the sort of lifestyle that leaves you living without floors, washing your dishes in the bathtub, and occasionally wondering which one of those assholes pooped in the non-functioning toilet–AGAIN. (Ohmygod! somebody get the bucket!)

Together with our beefcake trophy husbands, we’ve been spinning beauty from ruin for a long freakin’ time, so we know what we’re talking about.

The memoir section of our work will include first-person essays on what it means to us, personally, to live in a construction zone. We will highlight the joys of finding screwdrivers in the silverware drawer and a fine layer of drywall dust on every single thing you own. In this section we will also get irritatingly judgy toward people who turn up their noses at buying a particular house because they don’t like the paint color of any given room.

The guidebook will provide useful tips for newbies (Don’t buy the pink tools–everyone will know you’re a complete sucker), and a Q & A section offering a fun spin on contractor basics like “How many screws/nails should you put in a 12″ square section of subfloor?” (Hint: the answer is NOT 42, though this is contrary to what you’ll find in any home built pre-1970.) and “Should I put carpet in my basement?” (Duh, no.)

The confession section of the book can be summed up with acknowledging that our beefcake trophy husbands pray nightly to sweet baby Jesus, the patron saint of mysterious ways, that he will intercede in the dreams of the dearly loved, angelic remodelistas, wooing them deep in their subconscious sleep, to agree finally to move across the county line and build an off-the-grid earthship, complete with composting toilet. Or else to move into a furnished studio apartment halfway around the world, leaving the circular saw, the miter saw, the reciprocating saw, the table saw, the jam saw, the coping saw, the tile saw, the jigsaw, and all the other tools behind in a cloud of construction dust.


If you disagree about the special place in hell for those who have improperly wallpapered wood paneling, which I wouldn’t if I were you, it’s because you’ve clearly never gone through the hell of removing wallpaper from paneling.

When people find out that Grey and Atticus share a bedroom, their first response is usually a question like, “How long do you plan on doing that?” My standard reply is, “Till it’s creepy.”

We always wanted them to share a room, but we never set out to turn it into a lifestyle. Turns out that it’s a pretty big deal. Not just because we’ve got two kids in the same room, but we have two kids of opposite genders sharing the space. And now that we’ve gone this long, it seems silly to quit till it becomes either apparently necessary or totally questionable (right now I’ve got boobs/masturbation, whichever happens first, as a clear marker).

We recently became interested in a house (that didn’t work out), and when we went with a realtor to see it we noted that it was only technically a 4 bedroom house: one of the bedrooms was actually just one larger space with a closet on each end, and down the middle was one of those accordion partition walls that you could open and close. The agent was working hard on Grey to get her on board with the “big bedroom” with “all that closet space” and shoving her brother into the tiny loser bedroom at the end of the hall.

Grey was adamant, several times over, that she and Atticus would share the space, and when they needed breaks from each other they’d just pull the divider shut. The realtor didn’t know what to say to this small, insistent person.

When Daniel started fixing up our current house we discussed secret passages and hidden rooms that we always imagined for ourselves when we were tiny. So he installed “the secret door” for them.


It leads from their room into the closet of the front bedroom that we use as our catch-all area (bookshelves, exercise equipment, art area). When we first showed them what Papa had made for them, they were ecstatic. When we first moved in, Atticus didn’t even have to duck to go through it. Grey made a rule that “only small people” can use it.

They use it to chase and hide and sneak and escape.

Sometimes I wish I was better at sharing space. Or better at protecting what is important to me, even under pressure. I’d really love a secret door for sneaking out, too.

What about you? Did you ever imagine fun hideaways as a kid? (I drew out plans for a dinosaur-shaped bed complete with stuffed animal storage and a reading nook.)

We talk to our kids all the time about how some things are for children and some things are for adults. We joke around about watching “adult films” with our friends, (a phrase I’m hoping Atticus actually starts using sometime: “Mama and Papa are watching adult films with Miss Ashley.”). Adult films are shows that are not age-appropriate for them, and we end up using the “adult” label for loads of things: movies, beverages, language, some of those tricky abstract concepts or subjective feelings that they can’t quite grasp yet like romantic love or patriotism or judgment of someone’s poor clothing choices.

Teaching kids about the world is often more complex than I’m game for, but it’s good to go looking for answers when you’re asked about all the flags on Memorial Day or why Ganesh has an elephant head or who first said the moon was made of cheese.

Giving the kids language for everything is possibly one of my very favorite things. Directing their understanding with my own limited sense of the world is, I hope, making us all more aware and open to just how wonderful everything can be.

:  :  :  :  :  Atticus picked a leek fiber out of his soup the other day. He held it up to Daniel, who thought of another sort of leak and took it upon himself to teach the kids the phrase “take a leak.” They were pleased to share that one with me and so excited at the new homophone in their vocabulary.

:  :  :  :  :  Grey and Daniel were talking today, and in casual conversation she shrugs and says “What the hell?” He tries to not crack up and explains that “What the hell?” is an adult phrase, generally frowned upon coming from a 6-year old.

As he was telling me about the conversation later on he said she asked what hell is. I asked what he told her, thinking Why the hell is he talking to her about hell? (not age-appropriate). He said he was just trying to explain the phrase, but he couldn’t figure out what it meant and shrugged it off as just one of those silly expressions that adults use.

I got pretty excited and said words are symbols, so he should find a way to explain the expression to her. He walked away griping about symbols being a homophone.


My mom called to say it struck her today that Grey would be turning 7 this summer. It’s pretty painful to think about having a kid already so old. It seems like just last fall I made myself an entire Thanksgiving dinner a week after Thanksgiving and plowed my way through it like a champ.

Seven doesn’t seem little-kiddish anymore. Seven makes me want to tuck her away forever for real this time. Seven is when I remember starting to feel the heartbreak of growing up.

Seven was when I remember becoming painfully aware of a world outside of myself.

For my seventh birthday my mother’s mother gave me an alarm clock radio. She also sent a birthday card with a note on the back scolding me for not sending her a birthday card the month before. “Don’t you think grandmothers have birthdays and would like to receive birthday cards?” she wrote in her gorgeous penmanship.

My mother tried to explain that the note was meant for her, but there are things that cannot be un-read.

When I saw Anne Lamott in Nashville this spring she said, “To be a parent means you’ve drawn your last complacent breath.” She is not joking. It is so hard to care for every thing. But I think somehow caring for every little thing is one small way I can protect my sweet nearly-7-year-old girl.


Back in the fall my friend Jessica told me about this silly little book Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon. I need to pick up a copy for myself, but what I skimmed was fun and challenging. No creative person wants to think they’re plagiarizing or copying. How many times have I stopped short because I’ve convinced myself it’s not worth the work because it’s already out there by someone else?

Then a few months ago one of my favorite hometown bands, twenty one pilots, crowdsourced their fans for a few song-inspired posters. They made a contest out of it, and I started a design but got bored before finishing (and/or I realized that someone else with superior Photoshop skillz would laugh at me).

Around the same time, Neil Gaiman worked alongside his fans and readers to create The Calendar of Tales. After writing the short stories he went back to the crowd for illustrations.

And about that time Gaiman’s wife, Amanda Palmer, blew me away with her Ted Talk, “The art of asking.” Please, please watch her.

I’ve kidded around for years and years with my friend Cholle that together we are one amazing creative genius. We have had idea after idea just dripping with creative energy. My favorite was our idea to create greeting cards for those occasions when you just couldn’t find what you were looking for at Hallmark. And then someecards beat us to the punch. (Although I have yet to see a “Congrats on your baby-daddy making parole” ecard or the “You’re so emo you make me wanna put my hoodie up and stare at my shoelaces”…so maybe there’s still a market for us.)

I’ve always worked better in a team, but when it’s come to my own creative process for my own projects I’m stingy and guarded, as though I’ve only got a limited supply of good ideas and once they’re gone, I’m so screwed. So this spring when some of my creative inspiration peeps went so far beyond themselves to incorporate others, my own thinking about creativity really shifted.

I’ve had some characters sneaking around the dark places of my brain for a little while now. In effort to bring them to light I’ve done a little of my own crowdsourcing. I asked friends on facebook to participate in a story-telling survey so I could perhaps glean tiny gold story nuggets from their real-life experiences.

I asked specifically for people who would be willing to write about their mothers, hoping against hope I’d get a few tidbits to round out some of my characters.

The response to my request has been staggering. I have been so overwhelmed by the beauty and the tragedy my friends have shared, and so many more people are still sending their responses back to me. I’m working my way through the responses more slowly than I anticipated because I’m trying to honor each story given to me.

This exercise has been wonderful for me to see how big and wonderful being creative can be, how limitless creative energy can be. My characters are still growing, and I have no idea where they’re going or what they’ll do along the way, but I’m slowly starting to find out who they are. I’m starting to see how a detail as small as that one birthday card on a 7th birthday could shape just the right character or even that character’s daughter. And I’m blown away that I am able to have such a kind and generous group of people to give me some of their pieces.

*If you would like to share some of your pieces with me, leave a comment for me, and I’ll send you my little survey (not guaranteed to be better than therapy, but definitely cheaper).

It’s nearing the end of March, and we’ve had some times this month. We held our breath for weeks to see if we’d get a house we hoped to restore to it’s previous glory. The details didn’t sort themselves out in our favor, and so we go back to the drawing board, wondering why we aren’t content ever to just work jobs and earn a living and watch our kids grow up in this town. I got to see one of those elusive sunrises this morning on my way home from an early grocery run. When I got home, Daniel was sitting on the couch researching the weather in Cotacachi, Ecuador (perpetual springtime?!). I told him about my first adventure in Ecuador, hiking down an unknown cobblestone road with strangers, on our way to “the white mountain.” Three hours later we stopped for Fanta in a small town and did our best to ask how long it would take us to reach “el montaaynyo blanco.” (Did I mention one of the strangers was a redneck mountain man? Have you ever heard a North Georgian try to speak Spanish?) The sweet local was kind enough to not outright laugh, but you could tell it was a struggle. He used a series of gestures and baby talk to let us know it would take us three days to walk to Cotapaxi. We paid for the Fanta and headed back to our original location. Something in the telling of this story caught my heart, maybe the fact that my overseas adventures happened so so long ago and mostly without my best friend. I see us sitting down to write some long-term life goals for ourselves one day soon.

Winter seems to be dragging its soggy feet on the way out this year, but I’ve been coping by reading some really beautiful fiction. I wanted to reread one of the first books that caused shifting in my brain plates as a young person. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury is still a dream of a story for me 20 years later. If you’ve not read it, go now and check it out from the library. It’s a quick 180 pages, and there’s not a wasted moment in the story. In brief, Guy Montag is a fireman in future America, where life moves at a furious pace with little independent thought, meaningful human interaction, or simple appreciation for nature and beauty. Books are outlawed, and firemen are called upon to burn books and the homes of their owners. After meeting his young neighbor, Montag’s eyes begin to open and he steps outside the norm and his role. Montag recalls an old English professor, Faber, he’d once encountered at a park and goes to him for help. This pairing is wonderful, the dialogue between them full of gems. One of my favorite of Faber’s rants:

The books are to remind us what asses and fools we are. They’re Caesar’s praetorian guard, whispering as the parade roars down the avenue, ‘Remember, Caesar, thou art mortal.’ Most of us can’t rush around, talk to everyone, know all the cities of the world, we haven’t time, money or that many friends. The things you’re looking for, Montag, are in the world, but the only way the average chap will ever see ninety-nine per cent of them is in a book. Don’t ask for guarantees. And don’t look to be saved by any one thing, person, machine, or library. Do your own bit of saving, and if you drown, at least die knowing you were headed for shore.

That last bit’s just a sweet little foreshadow, as well. There are a million phrases in here I love. Faber’s exclamation, “But remember that the Captain belongs to the most dangerous enemy to truth and freedom, the solid unmoving cattle of the majority. Oh God, the terrible tyranny of the majority.”Even the quote opening the book is perfect: “If they give you ruled paper, write the other way.” (Juan Ramon Jiménez)

Toward the end of the story Montag meets Granger, who has a grandfather full of brilliant sayings (the grandfather is nameless, and I suspect he’s only brought into play because Bradbury had more monologuing for Faber but had already written his character out of the story). That poor old grandfather just sent my heart reeling after our month of bated breath and subsequent dreaming.

“I hate a Roman named Status Quo!” he said to me. “Stuff your eyes with wonder,” he said, “live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories. Ask no guarantees, ask for no security, there never was such an animal. And if there were, it would be related to the great sloth which hangs upside down in a tree all day every day, sleeping its life away. To hell with that,” he said, “shake the tree and knock the great sloth down on his ass.”

Other books I’ve read recently:

Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon–I have no idea how Chabon made Grady Tripp, a doped up, washed up, playboy loser such a compelling character, but I couldn’t set him aside. Maybe I’m the only one, but I laughed myself silly the last third of the book. There was definitely some magic in this one, and I will be reading more of Chabon in the future. (Save yourself a few hours and skip the movie starring Michael Douglas.)

The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson–Mr. Wilson is a sort-of-local writer (Sweetwater, TN). I couldn’t explain how I came upon his book, but when I saw that Ann Patchett (another of my very favorites) described this as “A comedy, a tragedy, and a tour-de-force examination of what it means to make art and survive your family” I was in. The Family Fang is one of the most bizarre stories I have read, and I had a blast with it. Wilson has a way of telling that is subtle and gentle, but way beyond typical. Where my brain wants to find a period, he manages to squeeze in just a few more words to really add to the beauty. For example, “Buster emptied his pockets of the pennies he had taken earlier and lined them up in two equal stacks. He and his sister then took turns tossing them back into the fountain, each making wishes that they hoped were simple enough to come true.” See, I would’ve stopped after “wishes.” Another, “In his entire life, he had kissed five women. One of them had been his sister. This was, Buster understood, a terrible percentage. He could count on one hand the number of times he’d had sex and still have enough fingers left over to make a complicated shadow puppet.” I would’ve ended at “sex.” It’s fun to let good writing be your teacher.

The Solitue of Prime Numbers by Paolo Giordano (who is a HOTTIE)–Achingly sad, and yet absolutely incredible. Chapter 2 ripped my heart to shreds because it is emotionally true to some of the heaviness of my childhood self. This book follows the lives of two children, Alice and Mattie, each broken young by tragedy, and broken again and again by the fallout from their pasts. Their lives cross and intersect and weave through and out again. The unspoken things in this story are what really weigh so much. It was absolutely a breathtaking telling. I wanted to find the perfect quote, and there are just so many. Here’s a section I really liked.

Mattia knew what needed to be done. He had to get out of there and sit back down on that sofa, he had to take her hand and tell her I shouldn’t have left. He had to kiss her once more and then again, until they were so used to that gesture that they couldn’t do without it. It happened in films and it happened in reality, every day. People took what they wanted, they clutched at coincidences, the few there were, and made a life from them. He had either to tell Alice I’m here, or leave, take the first plane and disappear again, go back to the place where he had been hanging for all those years.

By now he had learned. Choices are made in brief seconds and paid for in the time that remains.

So much beauty, so little time. I’m gonna have to just go out and see it all for myself.

Anyway, check out one, or all, of the books above! Uhh . . . spring break is here, summer soon to follow . . . maybe don’t pick any of these for light, beach reading. :) BUT, I will find something fun and maybe less tragic in the coming weeks and tell you all about it.

I can see the back door of Tennessee Temple University from my front porch. This month the university began installing a ginormous fence around the entire campus. I’ve >written about fences< before (a lifetime and a whole different girl ago) and the message they can sometimes send. I’ve been looking through my internet, but all I can find is this one >very tiny mention< of the project on the TTU website. A few ironies I’d like to point out:

1. Tennessee Temple’s tagline is “Training to Transform.” I get it, I get it. But I just can’t help but wonder how this fence plays into the scheme on a symbolic level. I imagine in such training sessions, the real-world simulations might not include an 8-foot tall metal fence topped with spikes, and I fear its presence will overall negatively affect students’ possible effectiveness in post-graduation transforming missions when there is no literal fence to protect them. Also, it’s gonna be hard to “think outside the box” when you’ve been trained in one. I could go all day on the symbolism of this thing.

2. This official press release is titled “TTU Committed to Highland Park.” Honestly, I’ve not been around too long, but I get the impression that when you build big fences, it’s a way of either trying to keep something OUT, or a way of keeping something IN. I’m not certain which of those is the goal here, as our neighborhood is riddled with crime and Temple does have a history of psychotic control over its students. So maybe both. Either way, the message I am getting from this fence is anything but a commitment to the neighborhood. I see this as more of an insulation from the neighborhood.

3. Nowhere in this press release does it mention how said gargantuan fence will affect the drug traffic for current students. Additionally, what will become of campus safety, creatively named “Eagle Force One”?

OK, so in complete fairness I have not talked about the fence with anyone from TTU except our neighbor, and I doubt the powers-that-be discuss their campus decisions with the groundskeeper. His overall impression, however, is that TTU is attempting to boost enrollment by showing students and their parents just how safe campus is.  It is in this light that I propose that Tennessee Temple University should come up with a new tagline. Something catchy, with as much alliteration as “Training to Transform,” that can more accurately reflect the mission–and snazzy new look–of the school. This week, as those construction workers and their giant cement mixer inch their way closer to my home, I’ve been working on my list of possible taglines, and I’d like to share it now.

1. Enclosure of Evangelicalism
2. Stronghold (poss. Stockade) against Secularism
3. Penitentiary for Punitive Christianity
4. Compound of Conservatism
5. Fortress of Fundamentalism
6. Bastion of Baptists who don’t wear pants

That last one’s a little iffy. They’ve since changed the laws around campus, so you see girls in those awful short pants all the time. But, since it’s part of their history, I thought it’d be a nice throwback. If they don’t like it I could always change it to Bastion of Biblical Literalism.

Gosh, I just re-read that, and I sound kind of cranky. But I’m not! I definitely giggled my way through writing all of that. (Honestly, my real concerns are only two-fold: dammit, now I’m gonna have to drive an extra block around this nonsense to the Post Office, and this better not affect my property value.)

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