Because I Needed to Fix ONE Damn Thing

There’s paint on my fingernails. Some of it’s nail polish. Some of it’s wall paint.

Abby came home from college for Spring Break. She left warm, sunny Hawaii where her friends spent the week on the beach in teeny, tiny swimsuits getting perfect tan lines, for cold, rainy Oregon and her mommy and daddy. I told her she’s doing college and Spring Break wrong. But kids these days; they never listen.

“LET’S GO GET OUR NAILS DONE,” she said, Spring Break Day 1.

“OMG! YES. YES, LET’S GO GET OUR NAILS DONE RIGHT NOW,” I said back, which I’ve never previously said to her — never in her whole life — because it costs $25 to get ONE PERSON’S NAILS DONE ONE TIME, whereas an ENTIRE BOTTLE of nail polish is $3.99 at the grocery store, OR, if you insist on being fancy, $8.99 with a $2 off coupon.

But Abby knows exactly when her mommy is a sucker — Spring Break Day 1, man — because even if she’s doing college and Spring Break wrong, I’ve at least taught her the life skill called How to Manipulate Your Mama So She Does Whatever You Want, Always. And so, I sit here typing with manicured nails, but also hands dotted with wall paint because I’m why we can’t have nice things.

“Tracy and I got fake nails today,” I wrote in my 5th grade journal after we snuck to the store and squandered our allowance on press-on nails, “but then we dug up a gopher hole, so they fell off.” My 43-year-old hands are, in other words, exactly like my 10-year-old hands. I tried to look like a grown-up, friends. I tried real hard.

I painted my bedroom this week.

It wasn’t part of the plan, I have 36 other priorities right now, my teenage man-child with special needs is having a rough go of it lately, but, suddenly, nothing felt as important as painting, rearranging and redecorating my bedroom. Not one thing.

Instead of mock myself for it, though, I’ll tell you — and myself — a more gentle truth: I needed to control something in a world that feels out of control. I needed to make something pretty in a world that seems ugly. I needed sanctuary as our church falls apart. I needed a sanctuary to sit in. I needed to find sanctuary in the ethereal sense. And, while there’s a very, very small, logical part of me that understands painting my room ultimately provides no substantial fix, there’s a much larger part that is soothed by fixing something. Anything. One goddamn thing. Even — especially — if that thing is where I lay my head at night.

More soon, friends. I’ve been trying to wrap my fragile, fabulous, fearful, fierce brain around what to say about the world these days and how to navigate it. I’m almost there. Stay tuned.

With love, as always,




P.S. Here’s what I’ve done to the room so far…

I forgot to take “before” photos, so these are mid-way pics… in the middle of cleaning and reorganizing pre-painting and moving furniture.



We’ve switched where the bed and desk are located. Thus,



P.P.S. I DID think about making the bed for you — it’s adorable with all the different Bohemian-feel linens which are a combo of stuff we already had, like that weird and fabulous 1960’s quilt from my great aunt, and the throw pillows you can see on the dresser, and the other linens like the blue and white bedspread I scored from Goodwill — but, honest to God, our bed is only made 0.0001% of the time so making it for you felt too much like lying. So we’re going with “it’s the thought that counts.” I thought about making the bed, so it counts, yes? Yes. This is why we’re friends.

P.P.P.S. The Nolen’s Booksellers sign was Greg’s score at the recent sale in Portland of all the prop pieces from the Grimm TV series. Seems fitting to put with Aden’s werewolf self-portrait and our twins’ zombie pic.

P.P.P.P.S. The desk wall isn’t done.

I’m considering doing a word mural on the wall with what has become my theme…

There is MAGIC in the MESS,
and GRACE in the GRIME
and WONDER in the WILD
of this LIFE lived OFF-COURSE
from what was, once, a perfectly good plan.

It seems like the perfect place for such a reminder. I’m just not sure how to execute that idea. Thoughts??

P.P.P.P.P.S. I have a beginner’s writing retreat coming up in May at the Oregon Coast! I’d love to hang out with you there. You can find all the info here: Writing 101. Please do consider coming! And contact me if you have any questions. <3

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21 responses to “Because I Needed to Fix ONE Damn Thing”

  1. Well, I will just repeat what everyone else says. You need a sanctuary, a special safe place, where you can just breathe. There is nothing trivial about making a soothing retreat for yourself. I was brought up to make my bed each day and I always have – it’s just a habit. Honestly, it doesn’t take long and when you walk in to your bedroom it just looks so much more soothing. Give it a whirl – it will take less time than you imagine.
    Love the quilt. English Paper Piecing has always scared me! All those tiny hexagons and hand sewing.
    Sorry about the nails but you were really doing it for the mummy-daughter bonding activity anyway. You got to teach her about self-care by making your bedroom lovely.

  2. I didn’t used to like word walls, but I LOVE the idea for that. I think that’s an important reminder – our perfectly good plans have gone awry so often I am nearly phobic of making any plans whatsoever.

    Love the quilt – it’s absolutely stunning.

    I bet you’re looking at the room and the window and the desk wall and wondering how things could have ever been set up differently in there – it looks like a sanctuary now, and Mama – we all need a safe place.

  3. One damned thing. My love, I get it. I’d love to hear about how you navigate (or don’t) the impact of your special needs child on his siblings. I have a younger daughter who frequently has her sister in tears, even to the point of saying she wants to die. I’m so overwhelmed.

    • Keep asking and pushing for help for your family and, especially, for you. Talk to the school. Talk to your doctor about all of you. Find out what help might be available. Find a support group who might be able to point you in the right directions. It is so unfair that parents have to fight for help when they are already under so much to deal with, when people should be rushing to help you, but it seems to be how life is. Good luck.

  4. It’s very, very sanctuary. I love it. Especially that quilt, oh my! I DO make my bed, EVERY SINGLE DAY, no matter how hurried I am, exactly because I need to control that one thing. And our bedroom is at the top of the stairs, so as I ascend I can behold the beauty and control that I’ve mastered.
    Much love and prayers to you and your family as you face trials of all kinds. Count it all joy. Muah.

  5. While you could probably somehow put the words up yourself, unless you find someone willing, I’d look to etsy for someone who will make you a custom peel-and-stick quote. There are plenty of people on etsy who will do it. Then you can move the quote around, whenever you need it to be somewhere else. Plus, 10 minutes (or 1 hour) on etsy beats having to be super-creative….
    The months that I finished my dissertation, I redecorated our main living space (2 rooms connected to the kitchen), from walls to floor to furniture. It was ridiculous. But, like you, I needed to control something. I’m glad I’m not alone.

  6. I love all your bed linens! I can totally understand the inclination to want to control just one thing. I do that with cleaning all the time.

    This totally cracked me up: “Tracy and I got fake nails today,” I wrote in my 5th grade journal after we snuck to the store and squandered our allowance on press-on nails, “but then we dug up a gopher hole, so they fell off.” My 43-year-old hands are, in other words, exactly like my 10-year-old hands. I tried to look like a grown-up, friends. I tried real hard.”
    This is why, for my wedding, I got my nails done just before the ceremony. I ALWAYS mess them up immediately.

  7. I think the quilt is beautiful! Also, I love you for not having a headboard for your bed. Sometimes I feel very unfancy and non-grownup because there we still are, just a mattress hanging out on a frame, after 17 years of marriage. Priorities, am I right?

  8. I totally understand taking control where you can, redecorating is my favorite way to be in a zone of denial about our helplessness. Last week my sweet 4 yr. old niece Bryn was killed in a terrible car accident, so of course I had to lay new vinyl in my bathroom floor at 6pm on Sunday night.

  9. You know, I totally get the whole “need to control something” feeling. My college sophomore was home this past week; we may finally be making headway with her significant anxiety disorder. My oldest was home for the week from her current TX base of operation (she refuses to call it “home”). My second eldest is looking forward to her wedding in May. The reason I mention her is because she was my perfect storm of mental health mishigas, and now she’s blissfully happy. While no two mental health challenges are the same, as someone who was ten years in the trenches with my darling, we may have finally arrived on “the other side.” I wanted to give you some encouragement- survival is possible, peace with one’s psychological wellbeing is possible, climbing out of the trench with our child, fists raised in victory, is possible. In the meantime, paint away.

    Oh, by the way, I love your word mural idea, but I kind of like it ending after “off course.”
    There is MAGIC in the MESS,
    and GRACE in the GRIME
    and WONDER in the WILD
    of this LIFE lived OFF-COURSE
    from what was, once, a perfectly good plan.

    I learned a long time ago that there isn’t a “perfect plan.” The “perfection” comes in wading in, amongst, and through the grace, grime and wonder surrounded by, supported by and lifted up by God’s grace as well as with the love of family and friends.

  10. If you have access to an old overhead projector, you can turn your quote into a transparency and project it on the wall. Then go over it in pencil, maybe? Then paint it in.

    • Good idea, you can buy mini projectors at Hobby Lobby now, I’ve used it to paint a mural on a nursery wall.

  11. I think quilts are an excellent way to add color. Bohemian is exactly the word.

    I’m gearing up to paint my bedroom, too. It was supposed to get done this weekend, but… yeah. So at least the floor is clean now (and under the bed, too) and the clean laundry all folded so we can move the furniture it was piled on away from the wall. I ordered a new bedframe because the old one and the old boxspring are probably beyond help. Soon (this weekend? I hope) it will be much purpler!

  12. love it all!
    I think you may be able to order vinyl stickers that are cut in lovely lettering so you can do the words. Perfect.
    And I love your basket for the throw cushions. Ours just live on the floor permanently 😉

  13. Oh, and regarding the wall mural – Tamara Brand’s daughter Erica is really good with chalk board art and lettering (she’s in ARCHITECT school after all). She might be willing to do the painting for you (maybe for pay? I don’t know). Just an idea.

  14. The Grandmother’s Flower Garden quilt was the first thing I noticed (of course). I love it! We painted and put new flooring in our bedroom recently too – and I gave myself permission to update linens, and I LOVE it. Sometimes a little control goes a long way.

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