The Lion, The Witch, and The Entryway Bench

It has been a week, folks. A week that started with me reciting, “Kelly and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day,” on Monday morning and feels like it may never end.

I’m transitioning out of two of my jobs and back into just the one full time original job. Which, I guess in this awful land of grown ups, just means that I get more work to do. If someone could do the math on that and let me know how it makes any sense at all, that would be great.

We’re also in the throes of a monster furniture build. Good friends contributed pretty heavily to our electronics collection (i.e. Xbox) so when they mentioned they wanted an entry way bench, we were all like, “Tradesies?”

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This project has raised the bar – for our tool collection, our skill set, our patience, and our tolerance for working after work. Between Mr. Rathroy’s creative vision (and extreme talent) and my organizational brainpower, we created a design, calendared our deliverables, delegated actions, and went full-bore into the business of building. And it has been no joke.

Our evenings are filled with sawdust and power tools. And with 8:30 p.m. dinners and bedtimes that are way too late for us. And since Mr. Rathroy’s techniques often lead to artisan joints and precision routing that can only be done by one person, I support however I can.

Router Sawdust

I man the shop-vac. I round corners with the hand-sander (and they are smooth corners, let me tell you). I pick up all the things that he throws down throughout the house after his office job because he needs to get to work in the garage as quickly as possible. And I cook. And oh sweet Jesus do I hate defaulting to that stereotype.

Hand Sanding

Because I’ve had a more flexible schedule, I usually take it upon myself to plan the menu and do the shopping. And I’m usually head chef when it comes time to cook, but I always know that Mr. Rathroy will help anytime (and has been known to kick me out of the kitchen completely for throwing a tantrum about how much I hate being stuck in the kitchen). But with my sub-par woodworking skills, and a quickly approaching deadline, it’s clear that my service to our marital partnership is needed elsewhere. And I made it up until tonight.

Routing

Tonight, I ordered pizza. And while it soothed my rage toward our stovetop, it did not remove the dark cloud brooding over my head. The dark cloud that made me snap at Mr. Rathroy and loose patience with Piper. The dark cloud that has been hovering over my optimism and makes me resent this bench, our tiny garage, and even my husband’s work-ethic because they’re all taking away the relaxation time with Mr. Rathroy that I so look forward to each day. They’re all the reason that I only get to see my husband through clouds of sawdust and the reason we can’t have a conversation because his mind is too pre-occupied with the details of his design. It’s the bench’s fault that the pizza was so expensive and that my dog barks at the mailman and that I’m still tired when I wake up in the morning. Right? RIGHT?!

The Hustle

I wish I could blame this project, but I know that’s not a real solution. We chose to take this on, just like we always choose the most challenging of all the options. We bought an old house. We got married in the forest during wildfire season. We honeymooned in one of the harshest places in the world. And it just is not always sunshine and butterflies. Sometimes it’s tense, scary, infuriating and unbelievably frustrating. Sometimes I have meltdowns and sometimes Mr. Rathroy gets tired of dealing with them. And sometimes, he finds me stress eating spoonfuls of Nutella before bed.

But after each adventure is over, we’re immediately looking for the next one, and I don’t think it’s because we’re gluttons for punishment. I think it’s because we love to learn, love to create, love to challenge ourselves, and love to strengthen our relationship through working together. Most of the time, we laugh at our stupid mistakes, we dance when a good song comes on, we find the fun in the work we’re doing together. The sunshine and butterflies might not always be obvious, but you can create them if you try.

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Malawi Is…Home

We just celebrated the first Christmas of our marriage. It was full of family, twinkling lights, food, and new traditions. It was perfect.

It also included a decent amount of home improvement projects (shocking, I know). From a new fence to replacing a broken door to building a table out of 100 year old farm fence posts, we kept ourselves quite busy with house projects this holiday season. And the more we improve our current home, the more I grow nostalgic for the first home we shared in Malawi.

It was Mr. Rathroy’s home for two years, but for the time that I was there he let me take half ownership (he’s such a good sharer). I can’t imagine what it was like for him to walk away from that house, that village, that country after all he had experienced there. I still miss it and my experiences are hardly a fraction.

As with any approaching new year, I’ve been reflecting on the past – trying to remember lessons learned, laughter felt, and love shared – so that I can make the incoming year the best one yet. Malawi was such a short period of time in my life, but it changed everything. So, I’m finally adding another episode to the neglected Malawi Is… page.

Malawi, just like Mr. Rathroy, is Home.

Ironically enough, our current house is probably only slightly larger than our Malawian one.

Ironically enough, our current house is probably only slightly larger than our Malawian one.

Sharing a twin bed takes talent. And mosquito nets make you feel invincible.

Sharing a twin bed takes talent. And mosquito nets make you feel invincible.

Clean dishes drying outside.

Clean dishes drying outside.

Wringing out the excess and hoping they dry before they mold in the humidity.

Wringing out the excess and hoping they dry before they mold in the humidity.

The Grass is Always Greener in Nowhereville

I have always wanted to live in the middle of nowhere. Mr. Rathroy has been cooly dismissing my half-laid plans to put down roots in Nowhereville, Wyoming for quite some time now. There’s just something about the country life speaks to my heart. It’s quiet. It’s challenging. It usually excludes road rage and time sheets and hipsters. The idea of it excites the pioneer in me.

I’m sure that this desire for elbow room comes from the same place that makes me a grumpy gus when I get home from camping – a lack of passionate direction in my “adult” lifestyle. I feel my time, my enthusiasm, my youth slipping away inside my cubicle and there’s really no better fix for me than spending time in the great wide outdoors.

Even in the vastness of the wilderness, I feel a sense of place and peace that I’ve never felt inside the walls of my own home. Nature reminds me that I cannot control the world, that my struggle for perfection is unnecessary, and that I am a piece of something so much bigger than I could ever imagine. The perspective is addicting. And I gotta have it.

As it turns out, some of my very good friends have grappled with this same seemingly broken link between their civilized lives and their sense of place in the world. Two of them saw it as a big enough rift in their happiness that they uprooted themselves, left their previous careers, and moved onto the family farm to get a daily dose of the outdoors.

And since I don’t have my own family farm, they invite me to theirs to grow wedding flowers, to attend baby showers, and to do things like this:

Farm Fun 1

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Sarah J graduated from the California Farm Academy and promptly began making plans for her own vegetable production on the family alfalfa farm. While gearing up for growing vegetables full time, she works for the family as a ranch hand and let us come up for a weekend of outdoor play time.

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Farm Fun 2

I got more satisfaction out of starting a water line engine than any daily e-mail drudgery could ever hope to provide.

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Of course, I understand that the pioneer lifestyle comes with plenty of drudgery itself, but after a weekend like that, Mr. Rathroy better shield up for the next big onslaught of Nowhereville discussions…

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*More amazing photos of our trip to Beckwourth, California are up at Russell Conroy Photography. Now you can daydream about being a pioneer too!*

Old McDonald

As I mentioned in the “Save the Dates” post, we are very blessed to have such talented and generous friends. Not only has it saved us money in this ridiculous wedding industry, but it warms our hearts to know that the details of our wedding have been created by people that we love.

One of these friends just so happens to live on a farm. She also happens to have florist experience. And she loves me (and Russ too) enough to grow our flowers from seed and turn them into wedding centerpieces and bouquets.

One of the perks of this arrangement (as if those mentioned above weren’t enough), is that we get to help grow our flowers too! So, this past weekend, we strapped on our work boots and off to the farm we went!

If we were going to grow flowers from seed, we would need some serious preparations for the somewhat unpredictable spring. On the agenda – build a hay bale cold frame and a few raised beds.

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Russ was hoping he would get to use a hay pick and he was a pro! After the chauffeured ride back to the yard, we unloaded and rolled hay bales into place. For anyone that has never physically moved a hay bale, they’re about as heavy as I am. You learn to put your body weight behind it.

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Topped with an old sliding glass door or window, and you have yourself a cold frame! Hay bales are excellent insulators and this cold frame will be like a mini greenhouse for the baby flowers.

After a quick hydration break complete with tea, ginger ale, sparkly water, fresh lemon juice and simple syrup (all homemade), we were ready to start on the raised beds.

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Farmer Carina is the master of repurposing. We used old melon bins and a book shelf for the frames. After moving them into position, it was time to fill. Our farmer florist did all of the research on how to best grow baby flowers, so she just pointed to different piles around the farm and we pitchforked it into wheelbarrows to fill the beds.

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Chicken poo off the floor of the chicken coop

Compost from a pile made two years ago containing remains from a chicken slaughter and hay (completely decomposed so it just looked like warm dirt!)

Dirt from the melon field that now housed a herd of cows, calves, and a giant bull that was not too excited to see us in his field

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The things we’ve done for these flowers already…

After loads upon loads of dirt and compost, a snack of homemade hummus, and a few hours of solid manual labor, we had a finished product.

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Farmer Carina even cooked us a big, farm lunch and showed off her started succulent garden for the wedding. Apparently to grow a succulent, all you need is the leaf/petal from another succulent. Place it on top of the soil and spritz it with water once a day. Viola!

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If there is anything better than a day spent outdoors with your favorite people, I haven’t found it yet. We got a little dirty, survived a bull stand-off, created something awesome, and spent quality time together. Our friends are truly incredible and we will owe our entire wedding to them! I can’t wait for the first sprouts to pop up and watch them become our sea of home grown wedding wildflowers!

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We couldn’t leave without having a farm photo shoot…

Tidy Tuesday

I know we’re getting a little carried away with the alliteration, but it’s just so fun! My week is now defined with playful little half rhymes like Fancy Friday, Piper the Piglet, Sleepy Sunday, and my personal favorite, Russell the Muscle (because he’s so buff).

Here he is removing our gross, old sink.

Here he is removing our gross, old sink.

And here he is working on our dirt bike trailer that he built...

And here he is working on our dirt bike trailer that he built…

I’m declaring this the first weekly installment of “Tidy Tuesday” because I’m obsessed with being organized. I truly believe that your living environment is correlated to your mental state – chicken or the egg style. Tidy Tuesday will be a weekly ping on your clutter radar with tips or stories (or really whatever I want to write since it’s my blog) that will hopefully help you harness your inner clean freak and clear up that mind of yours a little too.

Now that we own a super cute (and very tiny) house, it’s even more important to me to stay organized and uncluttered so that we don’t end up hating our space or each other. To initiate Tidy Tuesday, here is a list of my top 3 clutter pet peeves:

1. Mail – the mail comes through the door and falls all over the floor, then it gets tossed onto our mini dining room table, and then it sits until someone has the mental capacity to open and deal with it. Until I hang a mail rack in the entryway (which is a high priority), the mail will be the first thing I deal with when I come home. Nobody move until I’ve sorted, recycled, and filed the daily mail.

2. Shoes – they fly off your feet and land directly in someone’s walking path. We don’t have a lot of unused floor space, and a men’s size 12 shoe is about the same size as our pit bull (and even more in the way). Therefore, we have no less than four hanging shoe organizers in our closets. I placed the most commonly worn shoes in the entryway closet – put them on right before you leave, take them off and put them away right when you come home.

3. Dishes – with our amazing new sink, we can dirty every dish we own and they’ll fit in there with room to spare. Problem is, they stay dirty. They’re off the counter so it’s semi “out of sight, out of mind” until you realize that you can’t fill up the dog’s water dish due to the teeming pile of food-ware blocking the faucet. The cherry on top is that our dishwasher is broken, so it’s hand wash or no wash. Tip: hand wash as soon as you’re done using it. It’s a pain at first because you’re probably tired of the kitchen after cooking, but I promise you’ll get more tired of eating cereal with a spatula if you don’t wash that silverware.

What’s your clutter nightmare?

We’re in the process of transitioning to a new desk that Russ is building from scratch – no drawers, no shelves. Stay tuned for updates on this next organizational challenge.

The Elusive Cardigan Combo

It’s happened. At the most financially inopportune time – I’ve come down with the shopping bug.

This is usually an annual occurrence for me, which makes my bank account lucky, but also makes my closet stay full of clothes that I bought my sophomore year of college. I think it’s happened this time because I can feel autumn coming. Each morning it gets closer and makes me daydream about sweaters and boots and scarves.

I’m not great at dressing as an adult, but I’m especially terrible at dressing for summer. I have a drawer full of $7 Target tank tops (one in every color) that I throw on with a pair of flip-flops and call it good. Very rarely do my summer outfits get more complicated than that. I’d like to blame it on the fact that for four years after I graduated college and technically became an adult, I spent all summer in a dirty T-shirt and muddy boots for work.

Yes, this was really my job. That’s me inside the cage.

Those four years when other girls my age were learning how to match a blouse with a pinstriped trouser, I spent trying to prove to the “Good Old Boys” that I could hold my own in a mucky wetland. On the one hand, I can pull off camo, which I believe is a rare talent, and on the other, I’m now stuck in Target tank-top town.

Blending in…

I can spend hours pinning and re-pinning cardigan-belt-nude pump combo outfits and when I finally convince myself to go shopping and build a quasi-adult wardrobe, I end up in American Eagle with the other 14 year olds trying on capri pants…I’ve been fashionably stunted and the only cure is retail therapy.

So, I’ve taken action. My sister is in charge of forcing me into flowy blouses and skinny jeans. I’ve set up a scarf tutorial with the bf so I can learn how to wear them in other ways besides dangling on either side of my neck. I even practice new ways to do my hair and have recently, for the first time in my life, curled and pinned my hair to wear in public twice. If that’s not progress, I don’t know what is.

One day I’ll be able to wear a pencil skirt and blouse without looking like an awkward flight attendant, or shorts with heels without the hooker-esque impressions. But for now, I’ll just will the clouds to roll in a little early this year and take solace in a few months of long sweaters, tall boots, and my newly learned scarf tying skill.

And Dirt Don’t Hurt

And Dirt Don’t Hurt

The other day, Russ criticized my kitchen sponge. He asked if I had a new one because I use my sponges until they’re, “like nothing,” and then told me that my dishes are dirtier after having been washed by it.

The discussion was short, and in the end, the sponge stayed, but it did make me reminisce about the health code violations that don’t exist in Malawi.

Cooking is often done about 1 foot off the ground, if not directly in the dirt. And clean dishes? Yeah right.

French toast anyone?

Lago and Brian washing dishes in the back yard.

Dish rack. Yes, those are sticks. Sticks that ants often climb to get to the "clean" dishes.

One time I saw Russ peel a hard-boiled egg and lick the dipping salt off the palm of his hand during an 8 hour ride on a public Malawian bus. I also distinctly remember providing a foot rub or two and then cooking a meal after “washing” my hands in a weak stream of borehole water.

The borehole.

And even though laundry meant scrubbing our clothes with a bar of soap and our own two hands, they were still irreparably dirty, but it felt so good to put on a “fresh” shirt after sweating all day.

If we were lucky, the neighbor, Agogo, would bring clothes pins so the clean clothes didn't fall to the ground with every gust of wind.

Now let’s discuss “showering.” Showering is in quotes here because in order to take a bafa (shower), you have to first sweep the dirt, termites, and ants off the floor of the mud hut with the thatched roof. Then, you had to disrobe with only a thin piece of cloth blowing in the wind as your door, and pour water all over yourself while praying that you don’t swing a body part too wide and dislodge any creepy crawlies from the surrounding walls or roof.

The famed backyard bafa.

Luckily, Russ and I are both of the belief that a little dirt never hurt anyone. I once saw my little sister eat a whole, live garden snail and she turned out alright, so don’t be surprised if you ever see my future kid eat a handful of dirt and I don’t freak out. The more I think about it, the more I realize that if I didn’t have a friendly relationship with dirt, I never would have survived Malawi.

And while I stand by my belief that a little dirt is okay, I did fall into a compulsive bathroom bleaching session that made my bathroom pretty close to godliness the other night. And even though I realized that the sponge I use to scrub the sink I spit into is in better shape than the one that scrubs my dishes, I think I’ll leave it in the kitchen anyway just to remember a little piece of Malawi.