Thursday, July 17, 2014

why you should watch Fixer Upper



Whenever I need an injection of happy vibes I click on this show….

Fixer Upper on HGTV.

Do you already know about it?

new show2

Joanna’s kitchen

Because it’s an inspirational little gem and its popularity is quickly sweeping through blogland.

If you want an uber-talented designer’s introduction to this show you have to read this Cote de Texas post by Joni. It’s filled with great photos and her wonderful commentary that makes me sigh and wish I could afford to hire her if she lived in Huntington Beach.

Whatever Joni said?  Ditto. That’s what I think.

But here’s my quirky, non-designer view of why you should watch this show.

When it comes to TV shows it’s the backstory that always intrigues me. The dynamics between the people and the likability of who I’m watching on the screen

(which is why I would rather jump off a bridge than watch any show that has the words

The Housewives of.. blah blah blah…. in the title).

And this explains why I faithfully record Fixer Upper every week…


…it’s because of this cute little couple.

This is Joanna and Chip Gaines, the decorating/renovation team

behind Fixer Upper.

She’s an exotic beauty who loves rustic shiplap on walls and lots of white and he is the laid-back-slightly goofy dude who can do anything she asks.


And together they have this adorable little family that they’re raising on their renovated Waco, Texas ranch with motherless calves and puppies and cats and goats that Chip keeps bringing home to the delight of his four shiny-eyed kids.

Chips likes to rescue animals which makes him Mr. Dream Man in my book.


One of my favorite scenes was when they renovated a home for a veterinarian.

(This is the AFTER shot of the living room Mrs. Vet ended up getting,

don’t you just love that lighting fixture?

I’m telling you.. you gotta tune in to see Joanna’s decorating choices)

Anyway, during the renovations, the veterinarian stopped by their ranch to give the new puppies their shots. And afterwards, the camera followed Chip and Joanna’s little boy as he hugged the chubby puppy to his chest and comforted him in the way only a little boy would,

and honestly,

it was too precious.



Seriously, there’s lots of wonderful DIY inspiration and decorating ideas that I get from this show but I watch it for those genuine moments that you can’t fake

that show a loving Momma and a Daddy who are juggling their kids and their work, and their deadlines and those harried school mornings with an occasional lost (and found) dog.

And I like that they mention this to the audience because it’s refreshingly real and imperfect.

I like that even though Joanna’s renovated homes are beautifully decorated, her own taste is simple and understated and rustic which is aka kid friendly.


I like the way they bring their kids onto their work sites and show them what Mom and Dad are working on..because it such a nice reminder to keep our priorities in order

even in the middle of our most engrossing design project.

Yep, I think that’s the part of the show that has hooked me.


It’s the little old family piece

that comes along with all Joanna and Chip’s creative transformations.

But tell me what you think.

Have you seen this show yet?




I’m linking this post to:






Wednesday, July 9, 2014

…thoughts on soul-mates, apologies and real love



Last Wednesday we spent our anniversary at a funeral. The entire day couldn’t have been more heartbreaking and certainly it was light years away from the starry-eyed excitement of our wedding day twenty six years before, when I wanted everything to be perfect.

But I’ve learned a lot about love and happiness since my wedding day.

And the illusion of perfect.

I’ve learned that in real life tragic things happen that make absolutely no sense. And so you end up burying your twenty-nine year old nephew Nick, on your wedding anniversary huddled next to your husband and your sons on a windy, green hilltop while you mumble the words of Amazing Grace.

I’ve learned that holding hands while you watch a casket slowly lowered into brown dirt can be just as soulful as holding hands after a night spent between 800 thread count sheets in a fancy hotel.

When you’re married long enough, life will wink at you. It will pull the curtain back on all those fluff, romantic movies and show you that an enduring love that has little to do with ‘happily ever after’ and everything to do with accepting flaws and saying I’m sorry and counting your blessings.

Oh, and never underestimate the aphrodisiacal power of a partner who makes you laugh.

“Marry someone with a great sense of humor” I tell my boys when I catch them shaking their heads while I laugh at their Dad. 

It’s probably annoying. But every once in a while I drip out advice about relationships to my sons, just in case they’re listening. Mostly I’m just trying to offer some balance to this strange culture we live in, one that looks increasingly like a breeding ground for narcissists.

Yes,I know. It’s true social media helps us stay connected to more people in our cyber world, but I wonder what it does to the intimacy of our face to face relationships. Especially those deep, loving relationships we hope for our kids.

Do you ever think about this?

Some of it is common sense, but what kind of slow, engrossing conversations can happen when you’re constantly distracted by your IPhone screen?

How do you make someone feel like they’re ‘the apple of your eye’ when your eyes are always multi-tasking?

How do you develop the sturdy sense of self worth that you need to pick a healthy partner when your mood is dependent on something as fleeting as the number of “likes” you get on a given day?


And how do you hear your deepest feelings when you never unplug from your technology?

Look, I have no idea how it is to grow up only knowing this kind of hyper-kinetic communication, but I do know that having an incessant need to pose and share intimate photos of every facet of our lives seems like the opposite of living in the moment…

which is where real joy is.

Especially for young girls, it seems like a road to a dangerous kind of neediness. One that’s too focused on being seen and valued for our shallower parts.


Do I sound old?

You’ll have to forgive me.

But there’s something about wedding anniversaries and funerals that open up our hearts and remind us what’s important in life. 



Last evening Mr. M came home from the gym while I was walking in with groceries.

“Come on, let’s go see the sunset. Put the bags down,” he said. So I grabbed my camera and we rushed out wondering if we could make it in time before the sun went down.

Five minutes later we had  parked our car across from the beach and were already walking toward the sand when we saw this brilliant orange sky (no Photoshop used here).

I was so startled I almost forgot to take this picture.



lifeguards at sunset

last night on the beach


I snapped a few shots but mostly we just stood in the warm mist and stared at the water…

and while listening to the waves crash on the shore I realized that when you forget how many years you’ve been married, it’s not because your love has dulled but because you no longer remember a time when you weren’t together.


Much later I told him about this little bit of trivia.

It was a reunion photo shoot of Ali MacGraw and Ryan O’Neal, the stars of Love Story.

Do you remember this movie?  I was ten years old in December 1969 when Love Story was released and when I first fell in love with straight, flat hair parted down the middle.

(When you’re a little girl with thick, wavy hair, you lust for that look).

Even though the movie remains one of the top 40 grossing films ever, that one line always bugged me. You know which one.




This one.



44 years later;

Ali MacGraw age 75   Ryan O’Neal age 73

Thank you Ali for getting it on record that the famous line of Love Story

“is a crock.”


Maybe because I know I can be a royal pain in the butt, but even when I was a dreamy ten year old girl clutching my copy of Wuthering Heights I knew this wasn’t right. 

What do you think?

Do you believe in soul mates?

I do. But even soul mates have to work hard at love. To listen. To apologize. And listen some more. To discover that kindness is more important than being right. And to know that sometimes, enduring love is no more complicated than the act of falling down and getting back up again.


tell me what you think.



(this post is dedicated to my one and only)


parties I’m joining:


Tuesday, July 1, 2014

our house hunting update….(grab a drink)



Have you ever been out somewhere and bumped into a old friend that you haven’t seen in a while?

You have this electric eye contact and the next thing you know, you’re in the middle of a deep conversation, happily sharing the latest happenings in your life. Then afterwards, you wonder why the heck you lost contact in the first place because this person is someone you really enjoy?

Well that’s how I feel about YOU and this little old blog of mine.

It’s hard to believe it’s been four big, fat weeks since my last post—my longest break ever---so today I thought we should bump into each other. Do a little catching up.



Tell me. How’s your summer going?

Lots of relaxing? Reading? Traveling to cool places? 

I sure hope so.

Our summer has been …well, let’s just say…interesting.

I certainly thought I’d be in our new home by now, slathering white paint everywhere and sharing my photos with you, but isn’t that how life goes?

The good news is that after being here in Huntington Beach since mid-March, we’ve figured out that we want to live in a neighborhood with easy bike access to the ocean.

Well, actually, I was more focused on the house and square footage, but the men in my family all said in various ways, “Hey, if we’re moving all the way to Huntington Beach, we have to be close to the ocean.”

And since the downtown neighborhood with the charming parks, tree lined streets and cool vibe are out of our price range, we are limited in our areas. Plus, living in a tiny condo has reminded us that we want square footage, and did I mention we’d like a fixer upper that doesn’t need too much fixer upping? With a reasonable price tag too?

I know. It sounds like a lot but our wish list hasn’t been the issue.

The main problem is that week after week there haven’t been ANY homes for sale in our chosen neighborhoods. I mean ZERO. The last two homes that have come up, were both too close to a loud, busy street.

That’s really it. Lots of homes everywhere else-- in fact we made an offer in another area that didn’t work out —but nothing for sale in our preferred areas.

It’s downright strange if you ask me.

Although there was This ONE House that came to our attention.


not it, but looks verrry similar


Did I tell you the story about the house with the black Dutch door? 

(If we were together, this is the moment I’d refill your wine glass)

It was a Friday evening and we were meeting our realtor over at this house that wasn’t even on the market yet. Hooray!!!!  It turns out our realtor met a homeowner in one of our favorite neighborhoods who was willing to offer us a private showing; she had decided to sell after her divorce and wanted to avoid the hassles of listing her home on the market.

As we walked up to the house the first thing I noticed was this black Dutch door. The top was swung open and I could see a warm, yellow glow from inside and the first thought I had was, “this is SOOOO cozy!”

And the second thought I had was, “I want a home with a Dutch door!!!!”

The pale, yellow house was in a quiet cul de sac and there were lit candle lanterns on the ground as we approached. The owner was a stylist for a Pottery Barn-like store and she had wonderful taste. Beautiful hard wood on the floors and warm wood cabinets in the kitchen with granite counters.  Not my choice but still lovely.  And even though there were glaring issues that needed to be fixed…like a missing bathroom upstairs ( the three bedrooms shared the master) we were ok with it.



You know how it is when you tour an open house. You immediately think of all the changes you could do to make it yours.

The seller’s best friend was showing us the home and she was outgoing and chatty, telling us about the close-knit neighbors and all their block parties and wine tasting and general friendliness. As Michael sat on the floor petting the seller’s old Lab, she showed us photos of her pretty, blonde daughters who were the same age as my boys. And we found out all about their schools and jobs.

Does it sound perfect? Pretty much. Plus our realtor had assured us that our price was right on.

So… a happy ending right?


Actually our realtor did reassure us about the price. But the seller had evidently had a change of heart because we were WAY off and so was the deal.



But…not forever.

Three weeks later Mr. M got a text message from this homeowner. In the interim we had parted ways with our realtor (we had no written agreement with him) and decided to pursue a home on our own and the short version is, she was willing to negotiate her home with us.

Hooray again. Sort of..because by this time we’re cautious. But we agreed on a price and she proceeded with the termite and home inspections, tentatively setting the closing date to mid July.

However,  in-between a few positive text messages (she preferred texting to phone) we got scant information. Her messages were vague and confusing even though she was a realtor herself.

So even though our boys were loving the fact that this house was walking distance to the ocean…Mr. M and I were getting nervous.

Finally she sent us a reassuring text telling us to expect the contract the next day. But the next day it never came. And at that point, we knew.


The following day when I sent her a text message (this texting was feeling very odd) her response was immediate. She was sorry to have wasted our time but she just couldn’t sell after all. Her son was upset about moving and with the divorce, she felt like it was too much for him.

When I showed Mr. M the phone screen I don’t think we said anything for a whole minute. Were we discouraged? For sure. Confused by the way it played out…definitely.

At this point this deal had stretched over weeks, an infinite amount of time when you’re waiting on a house. And this was also our third failed offer, I felt impatient and discouraged.

But the worst part?  We were back to square one with no new houses on the market.

Only… you won’t believe what happened next.

shauna quote




As a favor to anyone still reading this long, blathering post I’ll cut to the chase.

We are officially in escrow right now on an entirely different house…

and guess what?

It has a charming Dutch door.

I know, isn’t life fascinating?





I’m sharing this post with friends: 




Friday, May 23, 2014

thought for the day….




thank you to all the readers who continue to stop by and leave me such genuine, thoughtful comments..I cannot tell you how much I value your insights.

If you haven’t heard from me it is because I am busy trying to piece together our new surroundings right now… which includes getting our internet up and running. I hope to visit you all shortly.

Happy Weekend fellow Queenies!



Saturday, May 17, 2014

when life gets crazy….4 things




Today my computer goes dark and our service won’t be back up until next Wednesday.

Did I mention this?

The owner of our current place would like to move his sons into this space, so this weekend we’re  transferring all of our belongings into another condo he recently purchased. As I write this, all the utilities are scheduled to be turned off and boxes will be loaded shortly.

Meanwhile our house hunting has become a slow drip affair as we basically wait for a home to come on the market in the neighborhoods we like.

Then, following our move this weekend, we will need to help Michael, who has to be out of his college apartment next week before he heads to Georgia to compete in his big rowing event. And two weeks later, we’ll help Patrick relocate from his place in San Luis Obispo.

Are you still with me? Because I realize this is starting to sound like a really bad reality show. But yes, it is all happening, and I’m pretty sure we’ll look back later at this period and think, “Wow! how did we get through all that?”

All these changes have made me stop and realize. Yes, feeling uprooted has been hard. Being without a home has also made me aware how much my house allows me to express my creative energies, which has been another big loss.

So I’ve had to find other ways to express myself.



Can you relate to having a lot going on right now?

Because today I thought I’d share four positive things I’m doing right now to make this transition  work for me.

1. Getting physical.

Well, I did it.

I finished my 30 day yoga challenge and I’m still going strong. And honestly, I can’t emphasize enough how much this experience has helped me stay positive. When I initially signed up at the local hot yoga studio, I was interested in building a strong body, but I never expected the intangible changes that would happen within. The breathing, the intentional focus on the present moment, the transformative effects of the heat…not only do all these help me re-focus on my body in a healthy way, but I feel the calming effects too.



If you’re interested, you can read how the practice of yoga actually changes the brain’s reactions to stress HERE. 

2. Doing something you’ve always wanted to do 

Do you dream of publishing your own book?  I know bloggers that write with the hope of being discovered by a publisher, of having their writing acknowledged by a larger audience. When our house hunting got tougher, I decided to funnel all my edgy tension into something I’ve always wanted to do. Take a writing course with an author I admire. And it’s the single biggest reason I haven’t been blogging lately. I’m loving this class.

What is something you’ve always wanted to try?

Adding something new to our lives gets us out of our comfort zone and keeps us growing, especially during an otherwise tough time. My online writing course fits perfectly into my schedule and THIS recommended book has already changed my entire thought process on story-telling.

(If you want to be a published writer, you have to read this book!)


3. Dreamy escapism 

I totally believe this. Are you ready?

Here it is: there is no situation too stressful, that a good dose of Jane Austen won’t cure. I don’t know how many times I have seen this movie, but I swear, it works every time.

My favorite obsessively watched movie: Pride and Prejudice !!!



(Ahhh..that scene in the rain is a heart-thumper!)

When you’re going through a stressful time, allow time for simple pleasures. Reading, gardening, and activities that allow us to lose track of time are the kind that replenish us. And when we’re taking care of ourselves, we have more to give others.

 Do you have a favorite movie you can watch over and over again?

4. Cultivating empathy

I have this old, deeply engrained desire to connect with sad people. It’s a long story, but I’m sure it’s at least partially responsible for my chosen profession. And recently I was telling Patrick about THIS blog that I follow, and his reaction didn’t surprise me when I showed him a picture from a recent post.

He immediately winced  and said,  “Oh, God Mom, that’s tough. That’s SO hard to hear about.”

I go to this blog because I admire and care about this young mother. Sometimes I leave a comment and sometimes I just check in, to see how she’s doing. But I’m always deeply moved by her posts. And when I offer a  prayer for her, I like to believe she experiences it as a little dose of strength.

There are some people that blow me away with their courage and break my heart at the same time.

Just enough to remind me

that there is nothing going on in my little life that I should be complaining about.



If you’re new here, this blog is where I share my humble perspective just in case it might help someone. But I also love to hear your ideas.

Tell me. How do you stay sane during turbulent times?






Thursday, May 8, 2014

thoughts on the “perfect” Mother’s Day gift




Mother’s Day is around the corner and I have a confession.

I am the worst--more boring--mama when it comes to creating a gift list for my boys. It’s not that I don’t have a running list of luxurious little wants in the back of my mind. I love bouquets of fluffy peonies as much as you. And pedicures, back massages, gift certificates to my favorite boutique, the latest best-selling novel…all these are certain to make me smile.

But truthfully, as I get older I see all those as things I can easily buy myself, so it begs the question. Hmmm…what is really precious to me these days?

What can’t be so easily purchased?

For me the answer has always been Time.

Time together.

When the boys were younger, on Mother’s Day I would have them join me in my garden where they, alongside their Dad, would sweat under the blue sky, lugging heavy bags of bark and working next to me in the dirt planting rainbow colored flowers. Afterwards, we would shower and head to a nice restaurant, their favorite part of the “giving.”  Did they grumble? Of course. And needless to say, they preferred Father’s Day much more because it was completely devoid of work. But the gardening was always followed by a hearty meal and long, lingering conversations.

And looking back, I think this ‘gardening’ gift to me reinforced the idea that real generosity is giving freely, not only when it feels good to you.




Today I thought I’d share one of my favorite Mother’s Day gifts because it’s an idea you might want to use too.

I originally read about it from THIS friend and when I mentioned the concept to my husband, he kindly adapted it for my Mother’s Day last year.

At first glance it simply looks like a list of 17 chosen questions for your child to answer. But I view these scribbled thoughts differently; I see these as a window into my child’s mind, a chance to step back and see them as separate, distinct people from us.

In the end, I think this is real love. To see them for who they are. To value them no matter. To be fascinated at their complexity. And to remain incredibly interested at whom they are becoming. How they see the world in which they live.

And yes, even us.

Are you curious to hear what your child thinks makes you happy? Sad?

. Here are the questions Jim gave to our boys and had them answer in private, separate from each other. Feel free to borrow and adapt for your own kids. Remember, Patrick was 20 and Michael was 18 when they answered these.











Granted, it’s a “slice of life” picture. And while it looks pretty lovely-dovey, you can see I’ve been accused of nagging (#13), and  also those Huffington Post references happened because HP  had recently linked to a post of mine.

But this snapshot of what’s happening in the moment is meaningful to me. I find these brief, idiosyncratic answers to be the real gems that I will savor long after my flowers wilt and my chocolate truffles are eaten. They are gifts of the heart, my favorite kind.

Oh, and one more thing.

When it comes to Mother’s Day I’ve learned that there will be good years and tougher ones depending on what’s happening with our kids. But keeping our expectations in check really makes a difference. Whatever is happening with your family, I hope you feel appreciated and special.

And that you remember, it’s never too late to begin anew. To say “I was wrong.”

or  “Hey, I may be flawed, but boy I love you.”

Or to simply be patient. And know that “this too shall pass.”

Mothering is not for the faint of heart, that’s for sure.



mason jar filled with pink peonies


Tell me…

what is your favorite Mother’s Day gift?





..I’m linking up this post here:




Wednesday, April 30, 2014

this post is dedicated to you…


This post is for every mother who has sat next to her child’s hospital bed, sick with worry and praying that their surgery will be successful.

It’s a post for all those mothers and fathers who have spent sleepless nights inside a cramped, semi-dark hospital room tending to their child after surgery. Vigilant and alert. Measuring the days by the number of pain pills that were needed. While watching their child’s heartbeat move like a slow steady, gasp beneath the translucent skin stretched across their chest.

This post for all those young, self-conscious boys who dream of having a normal looking chest.



During his freshman year in high school, my youngest son announced to us that he wanted to have surgery to repair his indented chest, a condition called Pectus Excavatum.



Even though we knew he had inherited this condition (my Dad has a less severe case), we always considered it more of a small, idiosyncratic trait than a physical problem.

Not only were we surprised to learn that our 15 year old had already done his research on the types of surgical procedures available to remedy his condition. We were shocked when we accompanied him to the specialist and watched him remove his shirt.

Up to that point, we had no idea that the hollow space in his chest had continued to deepen throughout puberty, and that his physical endurance and breathing were now being compromised on the playing field.

Somehow we had never questioned the fact that we never saw him shirtless. We missed the subtle ways that he had kept his chest hidden from view. And his self-conscious feelings tucked inside.


On our vacation with family friends, Michael was already beginning to ‘hide’ his chest.

To make a long story short, Michael elected to undergo what is considered to be one of the most painful childhood surgeries there is, the month before his sophomore year in high school.

Because the surgery required that he have a bar inside his chest for a year, it meant giving up his soccer and lacrosse sports and most important, it meant missing out on the precious high school experiences that accompany team sports, the camaraderie with team-mates, the sense of belonging, and the overflow of extracurricular activities.

If your child plays team sports you know the social world that comes along with it. And as a mother, I privately ached for him.

When he left the hospital he had 119 pounds on his weakened, six foot frame and as it turns out, during his next two years of rehab I became his partner in recovery. We spent endless hours sitting together in waiting rooms. We drove back and forth to doctor appointments, seeking second opinions for an unexpected complication. Together, we peeked over the doctor’s scale hoping for weight gain. And we counted off the days and weeks before the doctor gave his ok for Michael’s return to weight lifting.

When Michael finally began his relentless trips to the gym, he told us later that he had lost so much muscle; he would need to lower the weights even after the women were done using the machines


Eventually, like so many new beginnings, he found his way into rowing by pure necessity. He needed a new non-contact sport and the Sacramento State Aquatic Center was right next to our home.

As luck would have it, he fell in love with an endurance sport that would slowly build his body and his confidence. Parents of rowers know all about the grueling, daily work-outs and the necessity of a strong body.

Fast forward a few years.


Last weekend we picked up Patrick from school and went to watch Michael’s boat row at the Western Intercollegiate Rowing Association Championships. His boat has had an incredibly successful year, consistently beating their college competition and was ranked #1 entering this Regatta.

However, in the final race they came in second place.

Although they qualified for the Nationals next month, by the looks on their faces and by their own expectations there was nothing to celebrate. It was considered a disappointing loss.


But afterwards, when I watched Michael standing over the boat discussing the race with his team-mates, my focus wasn’t simply on this single race, as big and as important as it was.

Perhaps mothers have a unique perspective in times like these. But I find it impossible not to see faint images from the past superimposed over his big body and to remember where we’ve come from. Embedded in my warm, fuzzy memories are also those worried, sick feelings from the hospital days. Those memories of a fragile body and clothes that hung from a skinny frame. And missed parties and games.

So even though Michael’s body may have healed… my mother’s heart will never be the same.

I will never forget those dark times and I’m glad I won’t. Because it keeps me grateful for the most ordinary moments. Like the joy of watching my son gliding across the water on a sun-drenched day with a body that is strong and healthy.

I see his determination and his work ethic and yes, I now realize that something powerful and good came out of all those difficult months.

But don’t misunderstand, I’m not implying that everything’s “perfect.” Because that’s not real life.

Real life (and real courage) is about keeping up our hope day-to day.

If you are struggling in some way, or if you have a child that is hobbling along though a tough time, I hope you find hope in this post. It’s dedicated to you.










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