Our cat, Emmaline, passed away recently. She went peacefully, in my arms. This, I am sure, was one of her favorite places to be.

In the beginning, I didn’t want cats. My wife liked them; she’d had several while growing up. I, meanwhile, grew up in a house with parents who disliked cats, in part due to my mom’s extreme allergies to them. More than once, we had to leave people’s homes early or not even attend at all, due to her allergies. Throughout my first 25 years, the animal companions in my life included dogs, cockatiels, parakeets, love birds, fish, fiddler crabs, lizards, mice, and even an ant farm…but no cats.

So I whined to Jennifer that I was allergic to cats, too. Being at my parents-in-laws’ house led to sneezing and a stuffed up nose, and I didn’t want that to happen in my own house.

I’m not even sure why I acquiesced. When my coworker told me her two cats had each given birth to a small litter of kittens (3 in one litter, 2 in another) only a day apart…I figured we might as well go take a look at them – a gift, I figured, for Jennifer’s efforts in helping me get through college. Jennifer immediately fell in love with the long haired, rambunctious kitten that was bigger than his litter mates and was, at the time, named Pudge. I admit, he was a handsome devil (we even gave him the middle name “Dickens”), but he looked like a big, walking allergen. I, instead, liked the short-haired plain-looking cat who was curled up on the seat of a riding lawnmower. I picked her up, flipped her onto her back, and pet her tummy. Then I set her down, but she walked up to my ankle, rubbed against my pant leg and purred. I picked her up again. “Are you my kitty?” I asked. I tried to persuade Jennifer toward this cat – named Baby Wonder on account of her having already survived a very severe eye infection – but it’s pretty much impossible to persuade Jennifer of anything. “Maybe we can get both,” I said, completely flummoxed that those words were coming out of my mouth.

Three weeks later, on September 29, 2002, my coworker brought Pudge and Baby Wonder over to our townhome. Pudge scampered right back out the door and I had to run after him. Baby Wonder just kind of sat there in the foyer until her half-brother scooted up the steps. She followed suit, and they spent most of the day hiding under the couch, until Pudge came out for a look around. That evening, Baby Wonder came and sat on my lap. “Jennifer,” I said, “there’s a kitty on me.” Jennifer offered to take the little allergen off me, but I said it was probably fine if she just sat there. I scratched her head carefully, with one finger.

And sat there she did. Every evening, watching movies, she sat on me, and her brother sat on Jennifer. In time, we renamed them Oliver and Emmaline and, in time, they grew into two large cats. Sometimes they sat on us, sometimes they sat on each other, sometimes they sat in front of the fireplace, sometimes they sat on each other in front of the fireplace, and sometimes they lounged on the floor, slowly inching their way across the carpet to track the sunlight across the room. Oliver was calm, unfazed, and moved around the house slowly. Emmaline was finnicky, intense, and more prone to meow in protest over being moved or handled. We gave Oliver a deep, dopey man’s voice, and we gave Emmaline the voice of a snippy middle-aged lady. Oliver, in short, was a Rastafarian, and Emmaline was a Born-Again Christian. We could never prove this, of course, but they seemed to have the requisite personalities.Both 2

We tried to be responsible pet owners. We had them fixed, microchipped, and vaccinated. We didn’t declaw them. Instead, a friend helped me construct a scratching post for them that included wood, cecil rope, and carpeting. When they were too big for that scratching post, we purchased one even taller than me, paying the cashier at the pet store extra money to deliver it to our home. Oliver always sat on the top of the post, and Emmaline sat on the next level down.

Both 4 Both 5

We made a point of fawning over them every time we came home, too. So often, I’ve heard people joke that cats don’t care about their owners, and I’ve seen stuff online that insinuates that cats – in opposition to dogs – couldn’t care less if you lived or died. But we greeted our cats enthusiastically, petting them, picking them up, even walking over to the scratching post and pretending to scratch with them. This encouraged them to greet us, and I loved coming home to two cats – and then some kids – eagerly awaiting me. 10_06_06[1]This followed (with variying degrees) throughout their lives and, even as recently as last week, Emmaline met Owen and me at the door when we came home. In the midst of taking off our boots and jackets, I reminded Owen, “say hi to your kitty, she’s happy to see you!”

I remember holding Emmaline in my arms – she let me, and only me, lay her on her back while I rubber her belly and her neck. She absolutely wouldn’t let anyone else to this but, for some reason, she was fine with me doing it. She didn’t just tolerate it, she loved it; she began purring before I even began petting her.

When we moved from our townhome, I fretted that our cats would be upset with the change, but Jennifer assured me that they would like the bigger area and the large window in the living room. WindowWhen, the next year, we brought Owen home from the hospital, the first thing we videotaped was the cats’ reaction to this new resident. I tried to pay attention to the cats every night after our new baby went to sleep, and I felt positively terrible when we realized we’d have to keep the cats’ food and water dishes in the basement lest a crawling boy find and eat their food. But, in time, the cats came to love Owen, too.

When Owen was 14-months old, we ventured to Rochester for our final attendance at a religious convention and, despite dealing with a cranky toddler, an anxious wife, and all my doubts and concerns about theology and friendships, the one thing that I felt completely terrible about that night we got back home was that I had accidentally locked Oliver in a room for those four days. It was the room we kept our four pet birds in, and so I closed the door to ensure the cats stayed out. Despite the fact that the only food in the room were living birds, Oliver never touched them. I think he was happy we never went to another convention after that. I remember holding both of them throughout the long nights when Jennifer and I talked endlessly about leaving our religion in favor of reality – the cats, I knew, would likely be the only two friends, among dozens, that wouldn’t abandon us once we annoucned we were following our consciences.

When we moved again, I again worried about the cats. In an apartment, we wouldn’t have room for them – I didn’t even know where to put the litter box (it ended up in the entryway closet, and I hated it there). Alas, the apartment afforded the cats an opportunity to be outside – we had a deck up there on the third story, and they both went out and laid in the sun.

When Oliver’s quality of life was no more, Jennifer took him in to the vet late one night. I stayed home – awake, in the living room – with a sleeping boy in the bedroom. Emmaline sat on my lap and we consoled each other. The next morning, we discovered Emmaline, for the first time, sleeping on Owen’s bed (a spot previously owned exclusively by Oliver). She soon started hanging out on the top rung of the scratching post, too.

When Jennifer was pregnant for the second time, Emmaline took a liking to Jennifer’s lap, wrapping her paws around the growing belly, and we joked that Emmaline was excited for the new “kittens” and that she was willing to help Jennifer find a nice warm place under the sink on some newspaper where she could deliver the litter.Emmaline in box

We moved again, and this time our lone cat had the biggest house yet. Once Isla graduated to her own bed, Emmaline seemed to split her time between sleeping on Owen’s bed, and sleeping on Emmaline’s bed. We once again had a fireplace, and she loved it. Jennifer was pregnant once again, and Emmaline loved that, too. During the final minutes before Emmett’s birth, I ran downstairs, found my kitty slumbering on the top rung of the scratching post, and snapped her picture. That way, a few weeks later, I was able to tell Jennifer, this is what our cat was doing while you were birthing a baby.

Through all of this, we tried to keep the cats as part of our family. So many times I know pets get pushed aside when children come, but we worked to keep them as our companions. We included them in family pictures, and Owen and Isla consistently counted Emmaline as one of the girls in our family. While most of my coworkers have pictures hanging up at their desks of either their pets (if they are childless) or their kids, I have both.

Here's the spot on my wall at work where a picture of my cats has been hanging for years.

Here’s the spot on my wall at work where a picture of my cats has been hanging for years.

When I submitted bios for essays I had published, I made sure to list Emmaline as a member of the family (my bio in the back of the current issue of The Saint Paul Almanac reads, in part, “James lives in St. Paul with his wife, children, and cat…”).

Emmett just started noticing Emmaline. He flapped his arms and stared at her intently whenever she walked through the room. “There’s the kitty!” we’d say, and he’d get even more excited.

The other night, Emmaline was too weak to climb down the scratching post. I carried her to her food dish, but she wasn’t interested. I carried her to her litter box, and she managed to go for the first time in 12 hours. The she cried at the stairwell, so I brought her upstairs and held her. She climbed out of my lap and hobbled to the fireplace. I grabbed a pillow and blanket and laid down beside her, reaching into her bed to pet her. Later, we took her picture alone, and one with Owen and Isla. Then she hobbled back downstairs, and I watched her carefully, fully expecting her to topple over.


We insisted the kids say goodnight to Emmaline before going to bed. “She’s probably not going to make it until the morning,” we told them. Owen insisted we have Emmett say goodnight to her, too, so when Emmett inevitably woke up hours after going to bed, we brought a sleepy, cranky baby downstairs to see Emmaline once more. I held Isla up to the top of the scratching post, and Jennifer encouraged her to say anything she felt important to say. “Kitties and hearts,” Isla said as she gently stroked Emmaline’s dehydrated, tired back. We all cried. Owen pet her, too. He said very little; he was too upset to speak. Then we went upstairs. Then Isla wanted to go downstairs one more time. So we did. We all cried again.

An hour later, after all three kids were alseep in bed, Jennifer and I wrapped up thin, arthritic Emmaline in her carrier, complete with two hot water bottles, a towel, and two blankets to keep her warm in the -20 degree night.

I held Emmaline (on her back, of course) in the comfort room at the vet for about 20 minutes. Then I called in the vet. We spoke for a few minutes, but then the vet realized she’d forgotten something, so she left the room. In that brief time, Emmaline and I made eye contact, and I said, “Are you my kitty? You’re my kitty, aren’t you? You’re a good girl. I love you.”

The vet returned and sat down next to me. I continued to hold Emmaline and, less than five minutes later, I was – for the first time since March 1, 1986 – a human without an animal companion.


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Property 13

Here’s the latest offering from Zimmerscope Filmlets:

I created the film for a college class at Hamline University during this recent fall semester. The assignment called for demonstrating how images create meaning. Basically, we could do just about anything for the project except writing a standard paper. Most students made Powerpoint Presentations or storyboards. Four of us created short films. Mine is titled Property 13, and if you decide to watch it, be sure to stay tuned after the credits for an outtakes reel (I did not include the outtakes when I turned it in to my professor, but I appended it onto the ending for your viewing pleasure).

If the filmlet seems outside my norm, or if there are odd bits in it that don’t seem to make sense, just know that these things are included in the film due to my efforts to meet the assignment’s criteria.

See, with this project, I intended to demonstrate three primary ways in which visual imagery creates meaning.

First, I wanted to demonstrate that a film can land in the horror genre using very little horrific imagery. Hardly any frame of my filmlet is truly horrific; instead, many visuals simply create unease or creepiness.

Second, my project demonstrates how visual media can create meaning by lying to the viewers. This is done in two ways: by editing the film together so that viewers connect images that, in reality, are untrue; and by suggesting actions that appear off-screen. For example, just as there really is not a large industrial complex under the shack in Cabin in the Woods, my film lies to viewers by editing images so that Zelda’s home appears to have a fireplace, and so that Orville appears to have an office in a skyscraper. And just as many horror films imply some of their horrific elements, my film demonstrates that lying on film can cause viewers to create images in their minds more horrific than what is depicted. Specifically, no one is shown being murdered, but viewers will (I believe) claim that my film includes three murders.

Third, many films we viewed in class included camera movements, angles, and zooms that were not essential to the story, but that increased tension and disorientation. Most notable was the opening scene of Halloween. The Shining and Blair Witch likewise included extensive camera movements. So I attempt to create meaning by including camera movements that, while not necessary, lend an aura of horror to the film. I tried to demonstrate unusual camera movements and angles that create a violation of the boundaries we experience in real-life and in non-horror cinema. Property 13, then, also disrupts our expectations for the narrative by violating how we normally expect to view people and events.

Finally, I attempted to include several tropes that pervade to the horror genre. This includes: foreshadowing, humor, religious iconography, coldness, disruption of the body, excessive – or even campy – imagery, the suggestion of a history and repetition of the horrors, an affirmation of conservative mores (specifically: hanky-panky leads to punishment), and a slide whistle.

I received an A on the project, with my professor saying (in part):

“A ridiculously fun, ambitious film project — full of moments I enjoyed, maybe most particularly the stroking of the mannequin head.  It was clear you were having fun, but as clearly you know your way around techniques and with an incisive wit can enact and parody and amplify those techniques to tease out how and why they work.  The film was really just a delight.  The moustache after 20 days (and hours and …) was a nice touch, too.”

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I’ve Read 1,000 Books

Last night  – Sunday, 10/12/14 – included a landmark moment for me: I added the 1,000th title to my list of books that I’ve read.

I’ve kept this list since 1989 – starting with a list on paper in a school notebook while in Junior High.

Of course, I’ve read well over a thousand books, probably more than two thousand books, really, but I’ve placed some stipulations on the entries. Here’s the history of my list…

When I was in 8th grade, I decided I should keep a list of every book I’d read. This would help me keep track of series I might wish to read, and it would allow me to avoid duplicates. And it would be fun – oh, so much fun to maintain a list!

I began by listing all the books I had recently read. Then I added in books I had read in years past. For example, my teacher had read the whole class The Secret of NIMH back in fifth grade, so I added that. I decided to count books that were read to me, and even books that I had listened to via audio cassette (and, later, CD). I also decided that I had to read the entire book in order for it to count – not just big chunks of it as in the case of several reference books I owned and school books I carried around during the year. The only exceptions I made were that I could skip the Acknowledgements, Endnotes, and Index sections of a book, if I so chose. Essentially, I had to read all the parts that were meant to be read by the general reader – and thus it now pains me greatly to give up on a book I’ve started (but, yeah, sometimes I gotta cut my losses), and I purposely read portions of a book I sometimes don’t even want to, just so I can add the book to my list (an obsession that plays a part in my book, which, by the way, is on my list).

I also listed the number of pages each book had. Of course, sometimes a book has a varying number of pages depending on the edition, or if it’s hardcover or paperback, but I just went with the number of pages in the edition I read. Naturally, this meant counting some pages that were entirely blank, and often times it meant including an index, but I figured this was balanced out by reading the pages that often weren’t part of the numbering (e.g., the Roman numeraled pages that begin many books, or the photographic plate pages inside some books).

At first, I divided my list into two sections: Fiction and Nonfiction. I’ve since cut this up into five sections: Adult Fiction, Adult Nonfiction, Juvenile Fiction, Juvenile Nonfiction, and Poetry.

My initial list included several hundred books, dating back to when I was 5 years old (in 1980).

But then I realized something: Some of the books were almost too easy – easier than some non-books that were much longer. For example, at that time (1989), my sister owned several Dr. Seuss books, and many board books. Those board books often had only a single word on each page, and a grand total of only 6 pages. Some had fewer words in them than this sentence. I had read them all, many times. But it hardly seemed fair to count them. Conversely, I had read several booklets that were 32 (or more) pages long. Should I count them?

So I made three executive decisions:

First, no book shall be counted unless it has at least 32 pages. (I later upped this to 40.)

Second, no book shall be counted if it is geared toward babies or little kids. So, the Captain Underpants books (for the 8-12 crowd) are just fine, but PD Eastman’s excellent Are You My Mother? Sorry…it’s too simple to count.

Third, nothing shall be added to the list unless it is considered a book. So, booklets, pamphlets, brochures, magazines (even lengthy National Geographics), blogs, and newspapers were all out.

This of course, greatly diminished the number of entries on my list. In fact, I pared down the list only about 80 books on it, with a quarter of those being from 1989 alone. It was then that I made a goal of bringing my total up to 100. No problem. I accomplished that by the end of 1990 (it helped that I retroactively added in books that I had forgotten about previously).

So then I thought: Hey, let’s aim for 1,000! 

Just for fun, here are some stats about the 1,000 books…

*The year in which I read the most books was 2012 (75 books). The year with the fewest entries is 1980 (2 books). I’ve read an average of 29 books per year, including this year.

*Alphabetically, the first book on the list is “A” is for Alibi (by Sue Grafton), and the last book is Zoo: The Modern Ark (by Jack Page).

*I’ve read 35 books with titles beginning with a number. If these are included alphabetically, then the first book on the list is The 3rd and Possibly the Best 637 Best Things Anybody Ever Said, by Robert Bryne.

*I’ve read more books with titles beginning with the letter S than any other letter (102 books), followed by A (69), then B (64). The least-represented letter is X (4 books), followed by Q and Z, tied at 5 books each. Interestingly (to me, at least), in 2012, I read at least one book for each letter of the alphabet.

*I’ve read three books titled, simply, Mars, making it the most popular title on the list.

*I’ve read 17 books with titles that begin with the word “How,” 3 with “Who,” 5 with “What,” 3 with “Where,” 4 with “When,” and 18 with “Why.”

*The shrotest titled book on the list is C D B ! The longest titled book is Noisy Outlaws, Unfriendly Blobs, and Some Other Things That Aren’t as Scary, Maybe, Depending on How You Feel About Lost Lands, Stray Cellphones, Creatures from the Sky, Parents Who Disappear in Peru, a Man Named Lars Farf, and One Other Story We Couldn’t Quite Finish, So Maybe You Could Help Us Out.

*Some books were read in a single day, but the record for longest time to read a book is held by the book Human (at least five years).

*The list consists of 73.8% nonfiction, 25.9% fiction, and 0.3% poetry. Among the nonfiction books, History is probably the most well-represented topic, accounting for at least 75 books on the list, not including biographies

*There are four books on the list with forty pages, tying them as the shortest. The longest book on the list is the New World Translation of The Holy Bible, clocking in at 1,660 pages. The only other books on the list with more than 1,000 pages are The Count of Monte Cristo (1,104 pages) and The Lord of the Rings (1,232 pages). There are 19 books on the list with more than 600 pages.

*The books on my list average just over 230 pages, with an exact total of 230,132 pages.

*Most of the books on the list I’ve only read once, but I’ve read at least 79 of them twice or more. The book I’ve read most often is My Book of Bible Stories, which I used to listen to via audio cassette every night when going to bed. Once, I even made a goal of reading the book once a week for a month, so I’d conservatively estimate I’ve read it 100 times. At one time, I had the book memorized.

*I’ve listened to 75 of the books via audio recording.

*51 of the books are on the list because they were assigned to me in a class, stretching all the way back to a couple of Boxcar Children books my teacher read to the class in first grade – over 30 years ago! – up to Horror, which I just finished for a senior undergrad class at Hamline two weeks ago (and which happens to be book #999 on my list).

*Ron Roy has authored more books on my list than any other person (30 books). The only other authors with 8 or more books on my list are: Beverly Cleary, Arthur Conan Doyle, David Feldman, Dav Pilkey, J.K. Rowling, Brian K. Vaughan, and Laura Ingalls Wilder.

*The 1,000th book I added is Insects, a book my daughter bought for me assuming I’d like it (I did! – Thanks, Isla!).

I was going to list and discus my favorite books, and maybe even my least favorites…but I think I’ll save that for another post.

I’ve attached the Excel file with the master list, and with secondary lists breaking down the master list by topic, first letter of title, and year read. Download it and have a look, if you’d like: Books I’ve Read.

Now that I’m done reading, I think I’ll take up a new hobby. Maybe needlework.

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Don’t Buy Stuff for My Kids

Okay, everyone, I get it: You want to let my kids know that you love/like/tolerate them, and since it’s Christmas/it’s Easter/it’s Halloween/it’s their birthday/you haven’t seen them in a while/you just won the lottery, you figured you’d buy them a gift.

…And this gift takes on the form of a tangible item. And not a disposable tangible item, like a bag of M&Ms or a bottle of bubbles…no, a permanent, tangible item.

Let me tell you the story of the big ball.

Back in March of 2008, my wife, my son, and I were invited to a mini-party at a local arcade along with some relatives. One family member kindly bought Owen a large bouncy ball. Very large. Like, 18 inches in diameter. This was very kind of her, especially since she hadn’t seen Owen in months, and she knew he liked balls.

But guess what?

Exactly one week later, we were moving out of our house and into an apartment and, unbeknownst to my kindly relative, I had been frantically trying to get rid of stuff in anticipation of moving somewhere with no yard, no garage, and half the square footage. It’s true: I had sold our desk. I sold our dining room table. I gave my brother-in-law several tools. I took a trunkload of clothes to the goodwill. And I even planned to get rid of one large shelf by simply leaving it in the house on the day we exited for the last time. So I told my wife, essentially, that while I appreciated the gesture of the new ball, it simply wasn’t welcome in our new residence. As it took up over one square foot of floor space, I didn’t see how we’d have room for it in our <900 square foot apartment.

So Owen owned that ball for about five days.

And I still feel bad about it.

I’m sentimental. I’m a pack rat. I loathe discarding anything that has any value. And yet, I want to leave a light carbon footprint. Despite having three kids, and a cat, I honestly don’t want a five bedroom house on five acres with a built-in pool and three-car garage that some Americans clearly think is necessary.

So, please, don’t add to the stuff we have in our cozy, charming (“cozy” and “charming” are nice ways of saying “a little smaller than is ideal”) home.

Let me tell you some stuff about our kids…

Owen owns board games that he has never played. He and Isla both have coloring books that they’ve never touched. And they have so many crayons that I could take one away from them every day for a year…and at the end of the year they’d still have more crayons than they could use.

Isla has so many pieces of sidewalk chalk that when she leaves them outside, I don’t put them away. I let them get rained on until they are reduced to a pile of crusty ashes that get washed away by the rain.

Isla also has a lot of dolls. Not as in one-doll-for-every-crayon lot of dolls, but still, a lot of dolls. And I feel like every new doll diminishes the specialness of her existing dolls. When she only had two or three, that was cute – like those were her dolls and she’d keep them through the years. But now there are so many…I don’t even know where they all came from, and with each one, she simply plays with the others that much less.

And while I’m a big fan of books, I’ve repeatedly had to remove duplicates and undesirable texts from their shelves. When Owen was a wee tot, he had three shelves, each about a foot wide, filled with books. Now he has five such shelves. His sister has a 2-foot wide shelf in her room, and in the play room, there are three more feet of book shelves.

The kids have so many dress-up clothes that the bin we keep them in is bulging at the seems. We keep a suitcase of additional dress-up clothes out on our porch. The porch, meanwhile, has become a tertiary closet for their spare toys, and I barely have enough room to step into the porch to retrieve the mail.

And here’s the biggest problem: While Owen doesn’t need any more toys, Isla and Emmett most assuredly don’t need any more toys because they are already receiving the hand-me-downs from their older sibling(s). And don’t tell me that they need their own stuff, because I can assure you that Isla has no qualms – doesn’t even think twice – about playing with toys that were once the sole property of her older brother. Emmett, meanwhile, appears to show no disdain for rattles that were not just removed from their blister packaging within the last day.

Here, maybe some images will help drive the point home. Oh, and before you look at any of these, keep in mind that none of these photos are from their bedrooms, the garage, the yard, the attic, or the aforementioned porch (all of which house copious toys):

Basement 1Let’s start in the basement. Here are two bins – each two feet in diameter – that are filled with toys. There’s just no place else to put these toys.

Basement 2But if I zoom out a little, you can see the bins themselves are insufficient for our surplus-storage area. Look: There’s a box filled with more toys. And a rocking horse. And a bag filled with some Star Wars toy Owen played with for about 10 days. And a foosball table. Yeah, I know, it’s completely shocking that we don’t have another place in the house to store a toy that takes up 6-freakin’-square feet of space…but there you have it. I won’t even show you the large robots, push-cart, or sit-n-spin thing that also take up too much room down in the basement. Just trust me…they’re there.

Toy PileHere’s a toy bin in the kids’ toy room. What’s that, you say? You can’t see the bin? Oh, it’s there – see it? – on the bottom, under an avalanche of toys. The mountain of toys here is so high, that it nearly blocks the mirror hanging on the wall that the kids are supposed to be able to look into when putting on dress-up clothes. When I’ve asked Isla what we should do about it, she suggested raising the mirror.

Art Cabinet

This dining room cabinet is home to our kids’ art supplies.

Art Cabinet 2…Except, if I back up just a little, you’ll see the supplies have now spilled over into the adjacent cabinet.

FrozenAnd here is their DVD cabinet. There are a lot of great movies on this shelf (and Frozen is on there, too), but it’s overflowing. There used to be just two stacks, but now there are four. Those DVDs on the bottom are precariously sitting on the very edge; they often fall when we open the cabinet. Oh – and this isn’t all the DVDs, there’s also a three-ring binder with pages of more DVDs.

Emmett's Toy BinAnd not to be outdone by his older siblings, here’s Emmett’s basket of toys. Notice the basket is filled to overflow; there are even baby toys sitting next to the basket.

Emmett's Drawer…in fact, it’s overflowing so much, that we have to store some of his toys in a drawer in the dining room. This photo shows the drawer open only about halfway, as it is so full the toys block the drawer from opening any farther.

So what to do about all this? Part of me just wants to tell people to just buy my kids experiences (like tickets to a museum) or clothes, but if my kids are anything like me (and I think they are), then I’m sure when they receive tickets to a museum or clothes, they probably just think, “great, this is something my parents would get me anyway.” And they’re right: if no one buys my kids socks, I’ll definitely be sure to buy some for them. And I know that part of the fun of giving kids gifts is seeing their reaction, so buying an experience just leads to delayed reactions. And buying them nothing offers no reaction at all.

So, no, I don’t have a solution. I’m just here drowning in stuff.

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Three Years Here

This week marks the 3-year mark in our current residence. As I’ve done semi-annually since we moved in, I will hereby provide an update on improvements we made to our home in the past six months.

By the way, if you’re interested, here’s the blog post detailing what we did during the six months prior to these most recent six months.




-Refinished the floor.


Yeah, I’m a little sad about this, but we really didn’t make any improvements in her room during the past six months. But we came really close. For one thing, I obught the quarter-round needed to complete the trim. I painted it, too. But at the moment, it’s still sitting in the garage, so I can’t really count this as an improvement yet. Isla’s room still lacks a doorknob, too. I took in the original doorknob to have it refurbished. So…any day now her room will have a doorknob, but right now nothing.


-Replaced smoke alarm


-Installed face cloth holder.


-Replaced one miniblind with honeycomb blind.


-Replaced smoke alarm

-Replaced three miniblinds with honeycomb blinds.

Okay, if you’ve been to my house, you might know that we have four windows in our living room, so admittedly, it’s kind of weird that I only replaced three of the four. But here’s how that happened:

First, I accidentally broke one of the crappy old miniblinds about two weeks before Emmett was due to tbe born. So, for a few days, we had no treatment on that window. Jennifer said something like, “I don’t want to be giving birth in the living room with the window wide open like this,” so I went to the store and purchased the style of honeycomb blind we now have.

Second, a couple of month later, Menard’s was having a sale on window treatments, so I stopped in to buy the other three. But they only had two. So that’s that.


















-Removed gazebo.

Yep, the big thing is finally gone. Now I only own two buildings instead of three.

-Removed the lower portion of our deck.

-Installed planter against deck.

Okay here’s what it looked like in mid-June with the Gazebo and half the deck gone:

Planter 1

Notice how it’s just one big muddy area, the planter I used to have abutted to the lower deck is now dismantled, and the remaining deck is being propped up by retaining wall bricks.

Here we are a couple of weeks later:

Planter 2

Now the deck is being held up properly, with treated-wood beams. I’ve also leveled the ground in front of the deck somewhat and I began installing treated planks on the right side of the deck. This was to form the back side of the planter.

Planter 3

Now you see the planter is starting to take shape. All the planks are installed, and here you can see I am installing the first level of bricks. It’s important to tamp down the ground before placing the bricks in place. No need to waste money on a fancy tamper when there’s a perfectly good 3-and-a-half year old available.

Planter 4
Here’s a close-up of the planks. Notice Isla figured they made a good canvas and penciled in some artwork and her name.

Planter 5Here’s some more progress. Now you can see two rows of bricks are in place, and the third row has begun. Meanwhile, Isla supervises. 

Planter 6

Here’s the finished project. Six rows of bricks. Lanscaping fabric installed, and then a thick layer of mulch.

-Weeded, installed landscaping fabric and mulch to one planter on south side of house.

-Installed brick walkway leading from workshop to driveway.

-Weeded behind garage, installed landscaping fabric, retaining beams, and rocks.

This was a big job, but it was also a lot of fun. Owen and I went behind the garage one morning and hacked, pulled, and hedge-trimmed our way through. Some of the weeds were taller than me, and the resulting brush filled five large yard bags. I forgot to take a before photo, but here’s an after…

Behind Garage

Owen enjoys the fact that he can now cut through this way on his way to his friends’ houses.



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