I’ve been thinking about starting a blog for a while now… I guess ever since we decided to bake up a couple of twins from scratch using borrowed eggs and my forty-seven- year-old oven. My daughter once called us the “Real Modern Family” – and you know, she’s right. I’m a Southern woman married to a half-Korean, half-Italian/Slovenian Yankee man twelve years my junior; I have two beautiful twenty-something daughters, an arthritic dappled dachshund and a morbidly obese cat. And now, after much thought and consideration — and then funding and injections, vaginal suppositories, and appointments — I have started motherhood all over again. This will be the story of us: our real modern family. Or maybe, more appropriately, our postmodern family. Postmodern, as in “radical reappraisal.” And our story is, indeed, a radical reappraisal of how to make and nurture a family.
Many things have changed since that summer almost three years ago when we began our in-vitro journey… I will do my best to record current happenings, as well as flashbacks to those glory days of post-modern fertilization, pregnancy pillows, and preeclampsia. I’m hoping our story will be an inspiration to those battling the frustrations of infertility, to those navigating the beautiful and rugged territory of twindom, and to those who decide to either start a family or do it all over again at a rather ripe age.
Even as I try to type this, I question why I’m doing it. I have nothing special to say. I’m nothing special. I nearly stop before I’ve begun, but then I think… I’m nothing special, true… but I do have something different to offer. I can’t imagine there are too many forty-nine year olds out there lactating. Not too many women out there with twenty-three years difference between their last baby girl and their most recent baby boys, not too many women who, as my father says, “ran the engine and the caboose when it comes to supplying grandchildren.” Not too many women out there who just suffered through a sixteen-month stint of extreme sleep deprivation. If nothing else, I can be a freak show for people to point at and ridicule. Still, I hope I can inspire a few to give postmodern family planning a go.
Walking into the remodel this week, it feels rather bleak. It’s been cloudy or raining, which doesn’t help any. The progress seems stalled. Everything smells sort organic, like sawdust and drywall mud. There are wires dangling and pipes poking out.
It’s all the underbelly stuff, raw and exposed, and just waiting for life to take root.
It kind of reminds me of another raw, exposed point in our lives when Mike and I were deep in the underbelly of the IVF process and, likewise, waiting for life to take root.
It was also that germinal stage, where the boys had been conceived (under the guidance and care of contracted experts). My uterus had been scraped and prepped and chemically insulated, and I was lying there in the stirrups, plumbing exposed, tubing and wires hanging out, waiting for the transfer. Waiting for the professionals to come swooping in to fill my interior with life. The life we’d planned and prayed for.
And that’s where I feel like we’re at with our house — in that germinal stage where all the ideas have been conceived, the prep work completed, the progress multiplying — although almost invisible to the untrained eye.
But the professionals tell me the progress is substantial.
And tomorrow — tomorrow! — the connective web of visible changes begins. Tomorrow, one after another, the replicating pattern of tile will take hold in the bathrooms, doubling and tripling and breaking ground for a whole host of physical changes developing over the next few weeks.
The basic structures are in place, but in the next week, the kitchen cabinets — like upper and lower chambers of the heart of our home — will be installed. The painting and flooring will happen soon, too, adding pigment and personality to our sweet girl. And then, finally, the fixtures, sprouting like appendages from ceilings and sinks.
We’re about two-to-three weeks out now — so close! (but it all still feels so far!) — until we can finally introduce our girl to the world.
We’ve got three more weeks with kids and then one more for post-planning, and I’m ready. This year nearly convinced me I didn’t want to ever teach again.
It’s just been so hard. To keep going. To make connections. To smile.
Nobody could see them anyway, hidden behind our masks. And for me, Miss Far-from-Dynamic-or-Charismatic-or-Entertaining… smiles are how I form connections with my kids. How I build relationships with them. One reassuring, genuine smile at a time. (But after the loss of two of the most important people in my life, the few smiles I had weren’t always even genuine.)
Some folks have a presence that commands, an energy that radiates off their entire being like they swallowed the sun and breathe its fire through their pores.
That’s not me.
I’m quiet and unassuming, and I easily blend into the background. But I am warm and I am safe. I’m steady and exacting. And so is my classroom. And smiles are how I convince students to take risks inside its walls, under my warm, watchful eye… and smile.
I’m a firm believer in rigor. I challenge. I set a high bar and watch my students struggle to meet it, with smiles of encouragement and with applause and constructive criticism, and the warm assurance that they are in a safe place.
But not this year.
This year, the rigor was softened — the only soft spot in the entire year.
It had to be. This year, the rigor couldn’t come from the classroom because the rigor was coming at them hard from life. For them. And for me. These are some of the toughest tests we’ve ever endured.
So the smiles were lost. From them. From me.
And we all feel lost. We all feel like we lost.
And we did. We have.
We lost loved ones. I lost my dad. I lost my aunt.
We lost our edge and gained a few edges we’re not proud of — edges formed from resentment and anger. And we nearly lost our motivation. (Some of us, sadly, did.) And our lights were nearly snuffed out.
Remember that old Sunday School song about hiding your light under a bushel? Well, with our smiles hidden under a bushel, the Satan in the form of Covid almost stole our light.
Me, I’ve tried faking it till I make it. Since my smiles are invisible, I’ve tried slipping them inside my voice. Packing my vocal chords as tight with tinkling, prismatic light as I possibly can and then practically singing each student’s name as they come down the hall. But the muffler slung ear to ear on my face acts as a soft pedal, tamping down my smile and energy. They meet me with their own, soft, tamped down greetings behind their own, soft, tamped down smiles.
And the connections have been slow. Or not at all. With almost all of them. Except, thankfully, for my study hall kids. My study hall kids make for an ideal case study on the importance and value of smiles.
Those kids, they get to see me smile. And I get to see them smile. And for an hour each day during lunch, they eat in my room, and I eat in my room, and none of us wear masks. It’s a small group of eighteen. And they’re all spaced out – each to their own five foot desk.
So no masks, and lots of smiles. And the relationships I have with them are flourishing.
But with my six other classes? Well.
We are not well and good. We are far from it. And we are all so thankful this year is drawing to a close.
No, this year has not been my best. And it sounds silly to say because I know no teacher thinks this year was their best. Nobody at all thinks this year was their best.
But I guess sometimes saying it helps. Sometimes saying it helps us move on. And I need to move on. I’m ready.
I’m ready to put this school year to bed and wake up and unleash my smile.
We closed on the last bit of property in my father’s estate today. In April, my husband, boys, and I took a little ride through the land of the pines from Cartersville, Georgia to North Caroline, from there to Virginia, then east from the Cumberland Gap to Johnson City Tennessee.
Along the way, we visited several gaps, including Big Stone Gap, Cumberland Gap, and our primary destination, Fancy Gap.
Virginia is chock full of ’em.
Since I knew what a “thigh gap” was, I found myself wondering if the mountainous ones were sort of the same.
Turns out, a geographical gap is the lowest point between two mountains, providing relatively easy passage for settlers; the other, the anorexia-driven absence of topography on the sexualized female body (and therefore, easier passage).
The two are synonymous. And both are societal low points, as far as I’m concerned.
The land is gorgeous, don’t get me wrong. But not only is Daniel Boone territory chockfull of gaps, it’s also chockfull of rebel flags.
Fancy Gap is nestled between Mitchell Knob and Harris Mountain, an hour’s drive north of Winston-Salem. Back in pioneer times, a trip down and back to the tobacco giant would’ve taken five treacherous days.
So treacherous, in fact, that legend has it a team of mules — one named Peter — was positioned along the pass to pull wagons out of danger. The area came to be known as Peter Pull, and between Dad’s love of mules, the fact that a gap was involved, and the double entendre of his patronym, is it any wonder my long-suffering bachelor father bought property here? (My father’s name — Randy Peters — was oh-so apropos.)
Fancy Gap’s a town whose population is nearly as tiny as its dimensions. In 2010, there were 237 citizens (down from 260 in 2000.) and there are nearly as many stars and bars on porches and posts as there are people.
Which brings me to another piece of this place’s past I uncovered while there — a stream called Yankee Branch. The story behind it is far darker than the humorous Peter Pull. This creek got its name after two rebel brothers slaughtered an encampment of union occupation soldiers on its banks. One brother purportedly wore a Yankee uniform jacket to church every Sunday for the remainder of his years, bullet holes proudly displayed on his back.
Is it any wonder Mike, who is both of mixed parentage and a Damn Yankee, has muscles still aching from the tension, weeks later? Is it any wonder my heart is still aching from this hate-filled heritage held tight a century-and-a-half later?
I even hate using that word. Heritage. It’s how people around here defend that damned flag. I don’t want to celebrate the customs and culture of treason and hate — one that enslaved and dehumanized an entire population. One that continued to refuse rights and deny opportunities to that population for decades after the war, and one that persists in flaunting the hate and privilege that flag promotes from pickup trucks and front porches to this day. Old times there are not forgotten.
But they should be. Or at least not idolized.
Southern Pride is not my kind of pride. Nor was it my father’s, thank God. Still, it’s a complicated inheritance — the property we were there to deal with in the first place, and then the equal parts love and revulsion I feel from being southern born and bred.
I love the flora and fauna here. The accents and cooking. The smiles and sunshine. I do not love the fixation with confederate army relics and the past.
And here, I’ll take my stand.
That past was not some noble, God-fearing kingdom. It was a festering swamp of slavery and manslaughter. It stunk then and it stinks even worse now, after percolating in its own poisonous putrid presumptive self love.
Kind of like my Dad’s trailer…
It’s why we went there in the first place remember? And we found it, sinking into itself at the ankle end of a dogleg gravel road within a mass of fallen leaves, broken windows, coroded beer cans, and moldy siding– the remnants of past seasons, now nothing but decay and detritus. Inside, more shattered glass and cankerous ceiling tiles stewing in a slurry of insulation, rat droppings, and rain.
The closets were open and empty, as were the cabinets in the kitchen. A spongy rug in the den oozed the faint hint of skunk – whether animal or meth aftermath, who knows? One chair, a folding vinyl one, stood upright and pulled up to a greasy, head-shaped inprint on a pillow atop a murphy desk.
The place had been ransacked who knows how many times by who knows how many people. Even the toilet was upended, a sneer of cold command on its toppled visage.
It’s glory days long gone, nothing of value remains. Round the decay of that colossal wreck, the lonely, lore-filled mountains stretch far, far away.
School is winding down and our house remodel is picking up.
The demolition is nearly done. Floors are bare, surfaces are stripped, and a couple more walls have come tumbling down. Our vision is gaining new light and our faith is coming to fruition!
We walked in the other day while the kitchen wall was breathing its last. It gave me goosebumps to see it fall, like scales, from my eyes.
The space stretches out before us like a prairie, vast and ample. It’s both exhilarating and daunting to think we’re sowing the seeds of our future here.
But it’s not all fertile soil and wide open spaces.
Because there’s the matter of the cramped little cubby of a bathroom off Mike’s and my bedroom that we’re trying to cultivate into a little patch of paradise.
Picture a craggy cranny of jutting angles and narrow crevices.
By blasting the doorway and wall between the separate vanity room and the sort of larger shower-toilet-second sink room, we opened her up.
Still, she isn’t quite where we need her to be. So we’ve annexed a former game closet off the Great Room and are twisting it into new life as a water closet.
We’re sliding the toilet into the newly recessed area that backs up to the great room and coaxing space enough to accommodate something along the lines of a wet room, with a stand-alone soaking tub for me and an open shower for Mike.
So we’re maiming closets for a tub — a tub some folks would find it silly for us to even try carving out space for. I saw a question posed yesterday on social media about whether or not anybody truly needs one in a primary bath anyways.
And I say YES.
Yes I do.
It’s how I unwind.
Every. Single. Night.
People love showers. I get it. (Well, I really don’t.) Still, I don’t care if I’m the sole surviving tub soaker on the planet, I need my natural habitat. And Mike needs me to have it. Like I said, it’s how I unwind. And he really doesn’t need to try to live with me all tied up in my feelings. That would be way too harsh a climate.
That’s where we stand after this past week. Several walls don’t… and paint is coming for those that remain. Our little patch of paradise is coming right along.
What can I say that hasn’t been said about Trevor Lawrence? Not a thing.
Still, it’s worth saying that the reason our family — and so many families in this, his hometown — are so proud of him and love him so much isn’t because he’s the football player who was just drafted # 1 overall.
No, we all love him because of his heart.
How he pours his heart into his faith, his people, his community, and his sport… and in that order. (The order of priorities that got him trolled recently by social media hate-mongers.)
Because in a world accustomed to egos and bad behavior, Trevor is an anomoly. And people don’t know how to deal with it. They’re so used to celebrating celebrities celebrating themselves, that they don’t know how to handle one who seeks purpose beyond the spotlight.
But Trevor does just that. Relying on God and his conscience to guide him. Trevor has real conviction and a moral integrity that often takes years to come by (if ever). None of it is an act. This is no finger-point-at-the-sky-for-the-cameras kind of faith, and he is no press-conference-full-of-pomp-and-promotion kind of player.
There’s a reason he didn’t have major news networks at the high school when he committed to Clemson in 2016 and why he didn’t travel to Cleveland for the 2021 draft yesterday. Hype and hoopla, football and the fans don’t drive him. Love does. God’s love and his heart.
And we in his community love him for it. How he’s hyper-focused on where he’s going, but hasn’t lost sight of where he came from. How he surrounds himself with folks he can trust and stays loyal to the ones who helped him get where he’s at.
Our two boys have grown up seeing Trevor play ball. From the practice field to the Friday night lights to the Saturdays in Death Valley, they know Trevor. But they know him for more than the player with the golden arm. They know him for the person with the heart of gold who always has a smile, a hug, a high five, and a “how y’all doing?” when he sees them.
They know him for his heart. And I would like to think America will get to know him for his heart too. To focus on who he is, not just what he does. Because Trevor Lawrence is so much more than the NFL’s 2021 #1 Draft Pick.
He is a really, really good human ready to accomplish really, really beautiful things, all while slinging a really, really mean football.
Remodeling a home on a strict budget is wicked tricky. Pinching pennies and pleasing our family’s personal tastes is no piece of cake.
To say I’m overwhelmed is an understatement.
Thankfully, we’ve got a couple of builders serving as our master chefs, guiding us through the whole concoction. Cartersville’s own Jennifer and Jeffrey Vann of Native Construction (and their amazing sous chef Tae Henson), are keeping us straight when it comes to ingredients, quantities, and measurements. Without the guidance and support of the Vanns and their crew, this could easily become a recipe for disaster.
Our first order of business was to strip the cupboard bare. Carpets have been pulled up and walls are coming down. By the end of the weekend, the house will have been reduced and rendered and ready to be reconstituted.
Next comes the meat and potatoes of the project: flooring, paint, and tile.
For flooring, we went with LVP – or luxury vinyl planks, for anyone not in the know (I wasn’t either until a month ago). LVP is cheaper and hardier than hardwood (both great qualities for our school-teacher salaries and twin boys’ shenanigans). We selected planks on the lighter side and dredged in warm and cool grains.
The paint for the kitchen walls, cabinets, and great room is Sherwin-Williams’ Alabaster, which is warm as a glass of milk at bedtime. We then found a creamy subway tile for the kitchen backsplash, which we’ll seal in a dark grout for texture and contrast (and to pull that admired-and-anguished-over black matte sputnik fixture into harmony).
So far, easy peasy.
But then came the granite, and I suddenly felt like I was biting off way more than I could chew. The choosing gave me so much indigestion and I really can’t say why.
Maybe it’s because the cleanest stones – the ones that look like massive slabs of vanilla ice cream drizzled lightly with caramel and walnut sprinkles – are well beyond our price range. So many of the others look like the crust of an everything bagel to me — hand tossed in peppery seeds and spices.
And while when it comes to flavor, for me it’s usually the more the merrier — in this instance, I needed coaxed and controlled, subtlety and nuance. And with the help of Araceli at RS Solid Surfaces (our hometown stone supplier), I think we found what we were looking for.
With the texture and depth of a creamy oyster risotto, it’s high caloric content without the high caloric cost. RS Solid Surfaces knew just what we needed to complete our kitchen, and I can’t recommend or thank them enough.
Now that most of the major prep work has been completed and the house is cored and ready to be filled with creamy goodness, I’m getting hungry for the finished product… but that’s still a long way off.
Until then, I’ll drink deep from the heady bouquet in our garden, just bursting with big, dense, opulent flavor. I get a buzz just looking at it. My heart is as full as my glass is.
This morning, as the mist blankets the ground and the rooster off in the distance sings good morning, I realize there are only so many more weekends where I’ll wake and write on this porch to the magic of Dawn stretching blankets of spun-sugar clouds between her fingers
Our home goes live today on FMLS — the real estate platform. The random disappearance of our family so the showings can occur will begin – two silly twin boys snagging at our sanity as we try to entertain them without breaking the bank for hours on end.
This house of ours has been such a wonderful home for us. We came to her when the boys were sixteen months, needing space to roam and room to grow. She has provided that, and so much more.
I pray she shows well. It hasn’t been easy getting her ready for the world to see. A life well lived isn’t easy to clean up. We’re a cluttered and scattered crew. Full-time jobs and taekwondo and dance classes keep our wheels spinning and our home in perpetual disarray. Then, between homework and showers and Harry Potter read-aloud sessions at night, there’s not a lot of tidy-up time.
Our lives are what some would call – especially the real estate world — a hot mess. The real estate world has no room for Hot Mess. They need cool, sleek surfaces and calm blank spaces. A house with twin boys has no room for sleek surfaces and blank spaces. This is a paradox that must somehow be overcome.
So Mike and I have spent every stolen second for the better part of a month sweeping legos into baggies, LOL dolls into containers, and stuffing books – SO MANY BOOKS – into boxes.
And today, for one hot second, our blank spaces and sleek surfaces are shining – and I pray she sells quickly. For so many reasons.
But mostly I pray she meets the family that is perfect for her — a perfectly imperfect family — a comfortably cluttered one, full of growing children ready to build beautiful, messy memories in the shelter of her walls. Because she’s really good at doling out blessings to busy, well-lived lives.
Let us be a shining, hot mess of an example for you.
Consider this: I’ve never remodeled a house before. I find it daunting. Terrifying. All-consuming. Every whisper. Every waking hour. I’m choosing my possessions. Trying to keep up with it all.
I feel possessed. Paint colors haunt my newsfeeds. Floor choices haunt my thoughts. So many hazards, so many missteps, so much room for error.
What if all these favorites come flailing around and now I’ve done… too much?
What if they look garish together? Hideous. What if they clash like a room full of drunk uncles? Like I was drunk myself when I picked them all out? I’m haunted by the possibilities.
Case in point, I found this modern sputnik light fixture with jutting black appendages and amber Edison bulbs. It spoke to me of my inventor father and his love of physics and Russia. It’s destined to orbit over the kitchen table. Still… how will vintage space race get along with an apron sink and schoolhouse pendants above an island not four feet away?
Can I smash centuries together without causing chaos — a wrinkle in time that destroys the peace of the entire project?
I hate chaos. I like calm. I like soothing and lyrical. Creamy neutrals. Warm whites, muted golds, flat black.
But along with that daring sci-fi find, I’ve also discovered a saturated paint color, dark and brooding. And I do like me some dark.
I guess I like my house like I like my literature — soothing and lyrical, but with an undercurrent of secrets, of storied histories.
But southern gothic meets science fiction?!?
Is that even a thing? Should that even be a thing? Because Lord knows, I don’t want farce, and parody is not the look I’m going for. I want original and authentic, full of harmony, but with an undercurrent of designed tension.
I really want this whole design process to be like writing — chasing the best possible word to build the best possible story. And it sort of is, honestly. It’s full of fun and promise and a whole lot of hard work. And a whole lot of fear, too… Will it be all that I’ve dreamed of? Will it be a success?
But then, it’s not like writing either. Because in writing, at least, you can keep editing — rework your mistakes until you strike the right chord, find that ringing, tonal clarity with the perfect, eclectic mix of characters. The one in the corner. The one in the spotlight. The brooding introvert, the flashy aunt, the absent-minded professor, the plump grandmother handing out gingersnaps and hugs. And then you add that one character. That mysterious outsider who brings tension and electricity. The one who’s losing her religion.
In writing, you’re the boss. If somebody does something out of character, or outside your plotline – they’ve said too much, or haven’t said enough — you strike. Their action or even their entire person. You’re god.
Or… you’re not. The errant character with the giant misstep takes control. Because her mistake, you discover, is pure poetry. So you let her run with it. You go backwards. Return to chapter two and change the trajectory of the entire piece. Sometimes not being the boss in your writing is okay too.
But this is real life. And life is bigger. And I don’t have that luxury. I don’t have that kind of money — to erase my purchases to accommodate the slip of the century. I wish I did.
I feel like a hurt, lost and blinded fool, and I don’t know if I can do this.
Here I sit, another day up and at ‘em inside the dark tunnel of Dawn’s nether-regions. I wanted to sleep in. I really did. But apparently the universe has other plans in mind, so I’m up. And I’m writing. And honestly, writing is where I want to be. What I want to do. And so I follow my calling and I swallow my coffee and I stretch my fingers to the task.
I’m thinking as I toil away at this memoir and toil away at ideas for our new house (she’s all ours now!) that perhaps I’ll weave the two together. A sort of rebirth of a home and a life. A new chapter, born from the ashes of the old. A phoenix rising.
And I say that, but the past wasn’t a complete, combustible disaster, razed to the ground and smoldering. For either one of us. Both histories have provided rich ground for a remodel. A new life born of the dust of the old, ready to germinate and grow.
Both me and this house, we have good genetics and good bones.
Some bad choices were made along the way, of course. The makeover is long overdo. Both our edges are weathered and worn. We’ve got harried histories and some significant split ends.
But we’ve got pasts that deserve to be preserved. Because the pasts from which we’ve entered the present are storied ones. Compelling ones.
I’ve heard from so many who know our new house. Their childhoods were spent inside her walls, playing with friends, sharing in sleepovers, babysitting or breaking bread in her generous kitchen.
She’s always been among friends and family. And so have I. Even in the hardest times, there’ve always been those to rely on, to sustain us.
And now the remodel is underway and the transformation can begin.
The cabinetmaker has been called. He’s sketching out the plans even now, as I type, singing along as He works,