Reality Can Be So Real

When I find myself feeling particularly sorry for myself, which was the case on Friday afternoon, something always smacks me in the face to remind me how fucking fortunate I am to be alive and well and fully capable of surviving whatever miniscule bull-shit I have to get through.

I got a call late Friday night from my friend Bret. Bret and I have been trying, perhaps in futile, to hold on to our almost 12 year friendship. We are in very different places in life. We may not always be able to understand one another or relate to the trials and tribulations of the other, but the one thing we can count on – when it matters, we are there.

Like when she saved my ass my first week at the new job when Jack decided he was violently ill and I didn’t have the guts to call in sick. She sweetly came to our rescue so Andy could get a few hours of sleep and I could not worry that my already-selfish career change was already making me a bad mother and wife.

Or on Friday night, when the phone rang at 10:30p and I thought ‘she wouldn’t call right now unless it was important’. I was glad I answered and didn’t just choose myself and my deep desire for sleep over her call. She needed me and I was there. 40 minutes later I was hugging her in an empty apartment in Boulder listening to her soft sniffles and cries.

She had gone to a movie a few blocks away from said empty apartment and as she was leaving she recognized an old classmate across the street. They waved at one another and as he made his way across to talk to her, a drunk driver came around the corner and she watched in horror as he flew up over the car. She ran to him and watched him die…..

By the time she made the call to me she had already talked to a victim’s advocate and her parents, but I knew she wouldn’t call me if she just needed to relay the story to someone else. Once she finished the story and kept saying ‘I just can’t stop seeing it in my head…I don’t know what to do?’. I looked at Andy and my Mother-in-Law rocking Jack in the living room and said ‘give me a few minutes and I will be on my way’.

I don’t have many friends that are as geographically close to me as Bret. If any of my other ladies had called to tell me something like this happened to them I would be absolutely helpless. And even though the moment I hung up the phone I thought of ‘great…you’re going there…and then what are you going to do?….you have no idea what to do here do you?’ – it still just felt better to be able to do that teeny thing.

Sure maybe all I can offer is hugs from myself and a sleepy toddler who insisted he was coming along and a bag of sour gummy worms….you should always have some sour gummy worms in your cupboard for just such an emergency – but it felt like something.

I arrived with no idea what to say, or do. I brought a pillow and a toddler blanket (Note to self: grab a full-sized blanket) and then tried to decide if it was better to get her to talk more about it, or to distract her….I still don’t know the answer to that.

I know who she wanted – the same person I would have wanted – her mother. She called again shortly after I had arrived to check-in on Bret and wanted to speak to me. She thanked me incessantly and then scared the bejesus out of me by saying ‘if you see anything questionable, she has contacts for people to call’….um what?….I got off the phone and said ‘Bret, your mom told me to look for anything questionable….what would that be?”. She then told me that chest pains were a common after effect of trauma….awesome! Not 5 minutes later Bret was like ‘maybe you should just go home, I think I am fine now’….um CHEST PAINS? Who will watch for those if I go home?

Plus I was so beat – I decided that we should lay down and see if she could sleep. I asked her about her week and we talked about Sam (her horse)….obviously I decided to go with the avoiding the topic tactic. We both nodded off. The three of us on an air mattress* didn’t exactly go so well. Jack decided air mattress sleeping was not for him and woke up crying at about 2am. I hushed him back to sleep until 3:30a when he again decided Bret had gotten too much rest for one 4 hour period. I decided I was doing more harm than good at that point.

I told her I would go, that the victim’s advocate probably never said ‘you should probably try to get the least amount of sleep you can tonight…perhaps sleep with a two-year-old?’. I had rested enough to make it back home and Bret was actually able to get to sleep so it seemed like that is what I should leave her to do. So I packed up and headed home.

In hindsight I should have left him at the house and trusted that Jack might have cried for a few minutes, but that Andy and his mom would have handled it. But at the time, I wasn’t all there. And I wasn’t sure what the plan would be. I did offer to bring her back to our house for the night, but she seemed to want to be close to Boulder and keep her plans to go riding the next morning.

I did think there is nothing better than baby hugs when you are sad and I knew Jack would cheer her up, which he did when he got his second wind after we arrived and decided to run and roll and laugh through the apartment. He opened the cabinets and said “Bret! There’s a spider in here!”…which of course there wasn’t. And also strangely he decided that Bret would be the one to bring out the potty training in him. “I have to go to the bathroom!” and the little stinker peed on the regular toilet for her. Every time I ask him or put him on the pot lately – no dice! So he did do some good…I do just feel bad about the sleep portion of the evening.

We checked in with each other the rest of the weekend. She felt better the next day and even better by Sunday. I am sure it is not something you easily get over and it is unfortunate that it takes something like this to make me realize I am an idiot for ever complaining about my own absolutely privileged life…..all I can think is that poor man’s parents. Reality can punch you in the face when you start feeling too sorry for yourself. So let’s all take the majority of our day to feel grateful for what we have because just a few minutes of gratefulness doesn’t seem adequate.

*Bret is moving into a new place the first of the month, so is semi-squatting at a friend’s place that’s on the market until she can move in. Thus the empty apartment and air mattress. Just in case you were curious.


No One Panic!

I am a planner and when I can’t be a planner and know all the options and outcomes then I become an alarmist….I am also an internalizer, especially when it comes to Andy and school.

Andy is a sensitive bird about school…which isn’t to say I wouldn’t be in his situation because I really would. I always joked from the beginning of him starting school that he was like a deer. I had to walk super softly and slowly in order to not spook him. That situation got infinitely worse with the derailment. Despite the anger I felt (mostly that he didn’t ask for help or give any indication that anything was wrong) I had to be pretty conscientious about my approach…which sucked because I was reeling between feeling lied to and trying not to overreact and make things worse. I am not saying that I was successful at all….If I was less of a school-nerd I think it would have gone way better. Also if I didn’t know so many nerdy things, like the vast availability of assistance at Universities that he could have taken advantage of and fixed the issue without having to tell me, he would be better off….But he didn’t ask for help….from anyone. I get that he was ashamed and intimidated to tell me he was struggling with something, yada yada yada…basically the male ego is a bunch of bullshit that gets in the way. But it didn’t change my feelings at the time and lessen the struggle it was to deal with it in a constructive manner when I just wanted to yell some.

But whatever, we got past it. And we’re mostly likely stronger…or whatever else you say when you try to find the silver-lining of a situation. But Andy still hasn’t really fully learned the lesson I hoped he would take away from that situation, and that is, there is no privacy from me! I need to be fully up in his shit to a level that makes me comfortable….not his literal shit…gross.

Sure it is probably good for me to learn the opposite lesson…that I can’t be all up in his business to the levels that make me feel comfortable. Discomfort is good?…maybe…I don’t know.

We’re trying this thing out lately (lately as in the past few years) where we try to have rational discussions rather than arguements….and well, you win some you lose some. But after writing the last post and getting to a point where I felt backed into a sad, depressing corner, I decided I should open the dialogue.

So last Friday Andy and I talked. He heard my perspective that I need him to be more connected to the process of working this whole issue out, that I don’t want to feel alone, and that I need answers ASAP for peace of mind. And I heard his perspective that I am just one of many people in his ear about school (he gets it from both sets of his parents…yay for blended families!…eerrr.not at all in this case), that he is overwhelmed by the amount of parties interested in this aspect of his life. But he did say that I am the one person who, although giving him a kick in the butt, is offering some forward momentum, as opposed to the other “parties” who seem to just depress and overwhelm him to the point of wanting to give up. I was happy to hear that he sees me in a different light than them, that he knows I am in his corner, but I also think it is unfair that he doesn’t realize they are in his corner too….but his parental issues run deep, so let’s not tackle that one today.

So the good news is, there was that conversation where we listened and heard the other person. And the better news is, that when I told him the options I saw (as listed last post) he actually weighed in on them and we seemed to come up with a semblance of a plan.

When I told him I didn’t see working full-time and going to school full-time as a real option, first he pointed out that he doesn’t have to go to school full-time. If he has 3-4 semesters left, he could potentially take two classes a semester and still work. For anyone who has looked at college tuition rates, the difference between taking 6-8 credits and 12 or more credits is like a $500/semester savings… basically not that great, but obviously if he can do that and still work full-time then we’d really only need to figure out the tuition cost.

I still think we are setting ourselves up for a rough family life for the next two years…which makes me sad. The commute to school is 2 hours no matter if he is spending 4 hours on campus or 6, and language classes are 4 days a week, so it isn’t like he can just go up there a couple of days…..but you know what? I think it just might work.

Turns out there can be solutions for everything. We still need as many scholarships as fucking possible, don’t get me wrong there….If I wasn’t about to have a second child right now then we’d be able to use the maternity leave bank I am gathering to get ready for tuition. But since I am having a second child and there won’t be much of anything to bank once we have two kids in daycare, this is where we are….but I definitely feel a little more hopeful that everything will work out.


The Reminder of Defeat

I grew up in a middle-class family…..based on what I know now about the striations of the middle class, we were on the lower end, but I didn’t come to that realization until my late teens. Which I have always considered to be a great compliment to my fabulous parents.

There is this little white lie that I heard in high school…you might have heard it too “don’t worry about how to pay for college, there is SOOOoo much money out there to help you!”…..I mean I guess I understand the value of that white lie now… who wants to squash the dreams of a young aspiring architect by saying “you can go to college and some of it will be paid for because you worked your ass off for the past 5 years, but the other part of it you will have to take out loans that will hang over your head for a decade or more. Sometimes you won’t think about them, sometimes you will realize that they were worth it, but other times you will feel like crawling under a rock and hiding from them…and if we’re being honest here, every so often you will feel like a wild animal whose paw is caught in a trap, so panicked that you consider gnawing your own arm off to get away”…no one wants to be that guy.

So yes, I did all the things a young girl should do. Extracurricular activities, achievement awards, good grades, part-time job, yada yada yada…..just thinking about all of it makes me want to take a nap. But it was all in pursuit of this next big goal: the full-ride.

I pursued it as best I could. I applied to 9 billion scholarships and grants (give or take 8.9 billion) as a high school senior….I think I was awarded 5 or 6. Not the greatest return on time investment, but you know what? It turned out to be worth it….for the first year. For a year me and my family were worry free.

The next year wasn’t as fruitful. I had to get creative. I became one of those dreaded Resident Advisors…you know the glorified tattle-tales…yep that was me. So that covered room and board. Then I had another part-time job as a barista and then I tutored….that covered spending money, books and supplies (architecture school is a supply free-for-all!). But there was still a gap with fewer and fewer scholarships to be found….and I knew that weight fell on my parents and I felt guilty about it.

The summer after that I got married and decided that meant my parents should be freed. I insisted I was on my own after that… was that a stupid idea 🙂

I kept applying for scholarships and grants….but nothing was as successful as that first year.

Slowly it became clear that what people meant by “don’t worry about paying for college, there’s money out there” is loans……loans is how you pay for college when you just “don’t worry about it”.

Here’s the thing….no one really tells you about loans…no one educates you about what they are, what they mean for you long-term. When you are young and stupid you just think ‘oh I am going to graduate and make so much money that these loans will be no big deal!’….which is maybe true for your first $20K in loans….but then you hit $40K, $60K…..$100K….maybe more.

I like to think I was more prepared than some. I was aware of what was coming. I factored the repayments into our budget when we started looking for houses. Don’t get me started on home-loan officers, but I basically had to tell the guy ‘no I can’t afford the amount you will approve me for because I have a second mortgage payment beginning in 6 months’.

The first two years I was able to stay pretty positive about things. Counting down – “Babe in 8 years we’re going to have an awesome celebration party”. Then Andy started back to school. I was more than a little green with envy realizing the G.I. Bill was going to give him the freedom I didn’t have.

Then he got derailed. He’d probably kill me for sharing that, but I am pretty certain he forgot about my blog about 40 seconds after I told him about it…four years ago. Besides people get derailed….it is life. And honestly the worst part of derailment isn’t the time it takes to get back on track, it is the emotional damage the person experiences by something so tiny and meaningless in the grand spectrum of life…that’s the truly unfair part. Anyway suffice it to say, he got off schedule and has had to work tooth and nail to get back….which after this next semester he’ll be there! Woohoo! But with only one semester of G.I. benefits remaining we are looking at three options: one – he does a degree audit and figures which degree he is closest to receiving and ditch all previous efforts; dos (bringing the culture back) – settle for a two-year associates degree and ditch the undergraduate degree; trois – finish the degree he was in the process of pursing prior to derailment.

To me one and two are obviously real options, but make my heart super sad. I obviously got to pursue my dreams….all the way to the fucking top of the world. RE: earlier statement about massive amounts of student loan debt. So the equitable option is trois – finish his original pursuit.

The catch with this one is the language requirement. When he left he had completed 2 of the required 6 semesters of French. Now I don’t know about where you live, but French isn’t exactly something you can easily maintain around Colorado. So in theory he starts back and only has 4 semesters left, but….who knows? it could take longer to get back up to speed. And it isn’t like you can take 2 levels of language in one semester (oh why can’t that be possible?).

Anyway, let’s not think about that, let’s think about the best case scenario – two more years. With one semester of tuition paid for. But the stakes have changed considerably. Now we will have 2 babies….my income doesn’t quite stretch far enough….he can’t conceivably work his 10-hour night shifts and attend class full-time in a city an hour away for 6 hours a day and get more than miniscule sleep, let alone do homework or have any type of family life…….the trap keeps feeling tighter and tighter.

Let’s get really real – $85,000. That is what it would take to replace enough of his income for our family to survive for two years of him not working and cover the tuition. Long-blabbering-story-short – adding $85,000 of debt isn’t really an option….I already fucked that up for him. So the hunt is back on. This time I hope his military service is enough to give him the edge over me. Hopefully….if not, then things have to get creative…..and longer. Like one class at a time kind of longer. Which I suppose might have to happen, we shall see.

As I started browsing scholarship sites, the reminder set in….what it felt like to surrender to the beast. To admit to myself that I had done everything I could to get free money and that the boat had sailed. I hope the boat is just pulling into the docks for Andy. I hope the boat is piled sky-high with money…and you know what? While we’re dreaming, I hope that boat has a large crate of money with my name on it too!

Here we go again.

Old-Timey Activities

Something really hilarious happened a couple of weekends ago.

Andy and I channeled our 80-year-old grandparents for 2 and a half days and started doing a bunch of old-timey activities. I think if it hadn’t happened all in a few days we wouldn’t have noticed, but the fact that it was all congealed into one, made us laugh at ourselves immensely.

It all started with the sewing. I have been sewing for decades….wow…..I just realized how true that is and that I am old to be able to say decadeS instead of just decade….sadness. Anyway, so the act of me sewing in and of itself isn’t that big of a deal, but from the sewing we went to the farmers market…and from the farmers market we pulled out the pickle crock…and from the pickle crock we decided to also learn how to can pickles and to top it all off, we decided to make some sun tea.

The hilarity of it all is that I actually hate pickles. And the smell of dill makes me nauseous. Which made the week of smelling the crock as the pickles….well pickled – a whole lot of fun. The only real reason I decided we should take advantage of our 1/2 bushel of pickle cucumbers was because the skill of canning could easily then be translated into canning other items.

In a few weeks the farmer’s market will have 10 bushel bags of Colorado sweet corn….perhaps I haven’t conveyed this yet, but Jack eats corn on the cob like it is his job. The first time we saw the 10 bushel bag (a few years ago) we laughed at the idea of anyone being able to use that much corn…but now with Jack’s recent corn-eating-talents, we are thinking it might be a good investment and something we could do a lot with: can kernels and freeze cobs, etc. Point being, we needed to figure out what we were doing and if we even wanted to attempt any more canning…..which I am sad to report – our canned pickles apparently turned out squishy. Obviously I have no idea.

But it seems the canning process itself was a success…so yay! And it honestly wasn’t too terribly hard or arduous, so I think we’re going to try our hand at canning corn and see how it goes….but I think we will just buy a few ears first….no need to get crazy with the 10 bushels until we know for sure the end product is good. Anyway, we are crazy and apparently 80 years old….but pretty funny. Here’s some corresponding pics:

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Maternity pants are so expensive considering you wear them for less than 9 months. So I figured why not convert an old pair of pants that I rarely wear? It started with just one pair…and then I got carried away.

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The panels are made out of swimsuit lining which you can get at the fabric store. I cut off the waist band and went a little lower in the front, for round belly accommodation, and voila! I would say these 4 pairs of pants cost me about $20 to make. The panels are about 1/2 yard each. And super comfy. The benefit of the material is that it doesn’t fray so you don’t need to stitch around top. I’ve now washed all of them and they are holding up beautifully….and I may now have an itch to continue converting pants. Bahhaa. But next step is some new maternity tops….stay tuned.

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The beginning of the picking process. Not pictured is the gigantic canning pot. Trust me, it’s huge.

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They might not have turned out as crisp as Andy likes, but they sure looked pretty.

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The Money Itch

I told you this would happen. Our budget has been working for a while now and money is starting to accumulate in secret, yet not-so-secret, places….and now the itching has started.

For some reason today is the day that I decided we should really dig in and landscape the front yard. We’ve been in the house for 5 years now and have done shit-all to the yard….okay well I have added a total of 6 raised garden beds, but shit-all besides that.


This was the latest addition – reusing the pallets from our stone and buffalo grass. See what’s growing around the garden boxes though?…yeah those are weeds, so basically the yard looks like shit!

But today I started dreaming..mostly because I needed a brief escape from this project that never ends. Dreaming involves sketching. What started out as most likely a multiple-thousand dollar project then had to be revised down to a dirt-cheap version.

Colorado flagstone retaining walls were replaced by manufacturered block walls (we scalped some block off our neighbors before they foreclosed….sketchy? why yes. yes it was). Fancy stone edging was value-engineered to metal landscape edging. But in the end I still saw a plan I could work with. One that would be a right fit for our house.

Here’s the thing: we live in a fairly modest area of Denver. The houses aren’t the cheapest you will find, but they are a nice “starter home” price for young families and what not. So the fear with any project I visualize is “will it over-develop our house?”.

Believe me, tempering my own imagination is no easy task. When we first moved in I came up with about $200,000 worth of things we could have done if the money had been sitting in bags and that was just a first pass. I modeled the house in sketch-up and realized with minimal excavation off our bedroom we could have a pair of french doors out to a small patio….I know, I am my own worst enemy.

But the reality is still there. If we put $200,000 or more into our house, the house across the street will still only sell for so much, so at that point you are risking a huge loss….to be clear, we’re not set on selling or anything, so part of me wants to say ‘well fuck it! I’ll do what I want’. Then the rational part of me knows that we most likely will sell at some point (maybe soon, maybe years from now) and I sure as hell want my money back….and then some.

So I’ve learned the absolute best thing to do is nothing. Wait and think and wait and rethink. So here I am, eeking up on 3 1/2 months pregnant and what do I start thinking about? Why landscaping of course. Moving blocks and dirt and digging and most critically – spending money that I shouldn’t be touching.

The good news is I have a plan for my plans. Phases! Something we do all the time for architectural projects. You can’t build those 4 buildings, but you can build 2 and design the other 2 for the future.

So what can I do now for supa supa cheap or free? That is where I will start…..or actually probably what will happen is I will go home, lay on the couch, fall asleep and not do anything. Which in reality is even better! Because that will be completely free! Win-Win. I do believe the nesting has begun…..Andy is going to be so excited.

The 3 Minute Sell

I’ve now been part of several interviews for projects. Sometimes I am comfortable, sometimes I am painfully nervous, but somehow I have managed to make it through them in one piece…’s weird how I haven’t been in one of those interviews where they murder you and chop you into pieces. You would think the way I get anxious that it was coming at any moment.

I have learned that I definitely feed off the energy of the other people presenting with me. If they are nervous or start taking too much time then the panic starts in – i need to make up for them….I need to shorten mine so we stay on time….oh no, we are losing them! Quick where are my tap shoes? etc.

This week I had two interviews in two days and unlike the past interviews I have been a part of, these were only 15 minute interviews with zero time for questions at the end. With a team of 4 people with the principal opening and closing, that gave us each 3 minutes or less to sell ourselves and show them our passion and ideas for the project…..3 minutes. It’s nearly impossible.

After it was all over, I started thinking how ludicrous it all is. If someone told you “you have 3 minutes to earn your salary for the next year and go!” wouldn’t you just shit your pants? Obviously there are other opportunities to make up for it if you don’t win, but still, how can they assume that 3 minutes is adequate to know you are the person for the job? How do they know you are who they want to work with for a whole year or more?

I mean I know there are people who if you only spent 3 minutes with them you’d think they were the coolest person ever, but then if you spent an hour or two a week for 52 weeks you want to stab your eye out. Vice versa, there are people who in 3 minutes would make you believe they are lame and could care less about ever seeing them again, but I am sure that given more time you’d be their BFF….

Anyway, I was just thinking more about this whole project interview process and how critical the 3 minute sell really is. The good news is, we know we won at least one of the two projects. The other one I am not that confident about. Even though it was the second interview – so you’d think we would all be more comfortable – the main dude talking on that one was too nervous and bland and it came off as disinterest. Then I tried to overcompensate, but just ended up sounding rushed and shakey….sadness.

Oh well, as exhibited here: you win some, you lose some. I do think it would be a fun experiment though to stage a 3 minute sell experiment with a group of people. Who’s with me?