All posts in: Life

I Went Away.

A month ago, I took a trip. I’m super duper extra #blessed to come from a family who loves to travel. They aren’t really the types to voluntarily take a long road trip or bop somewhere for a weekend—they like a Big Trip. I grew up with stories like that one time, in 1984, when my grandparents took their three kids and spouses to still-Apartheid South Africa. My father fell extremely ill, so the rest of the family decided to go on safari and leave him and my mother back at the hotel—which sounds fine enough, except that the hotel was really a collection of tents outdoors. Evidently, the wild baboon population had learned to pillage the campsite for food as soon as the tourists left, and so, as the rest of the family watched giraffes graze on acacia trees and lions drink from the watering hole and the beauty of nature unfold before their eyes, my mother sat quivering back at camp, hoping to avoid being torn limb from limb by wild apes. My dad, useless and feverish inside the tent, missed the whole thing. This is just how the Kanters unwind as a group.

So several years ago, my dad got it in his mind that The Next Big Trip would be a relaxing little mid-winter jaunt down to the continent of Antarctica. You know the one, at the bottom of the planet? Where people do not generally go because it’s very hard to get to and very cold and there are no beaches? That’s the one. That’s where I went. It was fucking unreal.

In case you’re curious, here are the basic strokes: we all flew to Santiago, Chile, where we were for a couple of days. Then we flew to Ushuaia, Argentina, which is the southernmost city in the world, and then boarded a ship called Orion. The ship is basically a co-production of National Geographic and a tourism company called Linblad Expeditions, designed to hold about 100 passengers and 60 crew members. They call it an “expedition cruise,” which is essentially their way of describing a situation in which you’re exploring, kind of, while also being very comfortable and having all your needs constantly met. Once boarded and safety-briefed, you begin to sail—a term, I learned, that does not actually require the use of sails to be accurate. You sail for about two days, much of it through an area where the Atlantic and the Pacific collide to form a notoriously rough area of ocean called Drake Passage. A lot of people get seasick. I did not, because I’m better than everyone else.

Once near the Antarctic Peninsula, the waters calm and everything looks insane. Like, am-I-on-a-different-planet-level-insane. Cool blue water and icebergs and crisp allergen-free air and the occasional sea bird trailing the ship. This is where the expedition part of the cruise comes in, because weather changes rapidly and ice conditions are constantly in flux, so the captain and expedition leaders are constantly forming and re-forming an itinerary until the sail back to Ushuaia. While in/around the peninsula, they aim to get you off the boat twice a day for about 3 hours each time (these are the expeditions), and the rest of the time is taken up by eating, sleeping, attending lectures, enjoying the ship’s bar, and sailing to the next place. Sometimes you encounter whales along the way.

Truth be told, I almost never want to hear about other peoples vacations, and this is not a travel blog, so I feel inclined to stop talking about it now. I got to go do an amazing thing. I feel really lucky about it. I wasn’t allowed to touch the animals. I was allowed to touch the ice. I learned a lot, and I love my family.

Altogether, we were away for three weeks. Which went quickly, but still seemed like an insane amount of time to be, like, a grown-up but not responsible for anything. To detach from normal life and experience something so…unlike normal life. So even though it was more physically/mentally involved than, say, 3 weeks on a beach, it did give me some time to just…pause. And think. And take stock.

Get ready, I have a lot of feelings.

I am not a person who naturally does that. I’m more of a busy-body, going about life with an urgency and focus reserved only for whatever is calling out the loudest for attention. Of course, the quieter things don’t just disappear. More often, they fester and grow somewhere just outside my line of sight, lurking off in the periphery.

Maybe this is why taking breaks usually feels stressful for me: it means pausing whatever is currently holding my attention, stepping back, and surveying the bigger picture. It means looking at that stuff in the periphery. Confronting the stuff that’s been flying under the radar. To me, that’s fucking terrifying. Overwhelming. It makes me feel absolutely horrible.

I’m not actually convinced that it needs to be this way, or that it will be forever, but it has for a while. And I’m not just trying to whine—it’s just me, telling you, that I’m recognizing a problem, which in turn effects this blog, and I’m working on it. And maybe some of this rings true for you, too, and maybe we can work on it together.

A few weeks ago on December 31, I was scrolling through a few photos on my iPhone when that “On this Day” feature popped up. I tapped on “On This Day: December 31, 2016”—New Year’s Eve, exactly one year prior. I had taken exactly one photo, of my friend’s front door when we arrived for her New Year’s party. The wreath from Christmas was still hanging up between the panels, and underneath was a black bumper sticker with white text reading, simply, FUCK 2016. I remember walking up to that door, laughing a little, and thinking something along the lines of “amen to that.

I also remember thinking the same thing about 2015. And maybe 2014, too, although some distance has made it more difficult to pinpoint exactly why. I know I felt that way about 2017, though—in a really big way—which quickly made me concerned that just maybe some of this feeling could be attributed to the common denominator of those years of my life: me.

Well, shit.

2017 was a rough ride. I am so not trying to play Misery Poker here. I’m well aware that there are enormous swaths of the population who have it a whole hell of a lot worse than I do. My life is actually pretty terrific, especially through the lens of blogs and instagrams and whatnot. So let’s dispense with that, for a sec.

I can take you through it, kind of. Donald Trump was sworn in as President of the United States. That sentence alone. What a thing to be playing out, like some sticky fog that’s in and around and over and under everything. It’s such a dark, horrible, oppressive, depressing and inescapable feeling/backdrop/preoccupation/threat. Many of you can probably relate. Some other stuff went awry, too. A big project I thought I’d be developing kind of vanished. Renovation plans I’d made for my house, derailed. Plans I’d made for bluestone cottage, still unfinished. A future opportunity that fell through at the eleventh hour. This other small job I ended up taking that turned unexpectedly large. A project we didn’t get to before the weather turned. The attempt to wean off my anti-depressants (why, Daniel, why?). I over-committed. I got distracted. My dog died. I messed up with my blog. I let people down. I still don’t have a kitchen. Anxiety won.

Avoidance and anxiety go hand in hand, I guess. At least for me they do. I’m attracted to motivational statements like “nothing will make you feel better except doing the work” because I know they’re true and I also know they are counter to how I act when I encounter anxiety. A lifetime of it (and several years of its sleepy, somehow even less fun companion, depression) taught me to avoid anxiety in order to make life more manageable. This is not unanimously a terrible strategy: if snakes make you anxious, avoiding snakes is not such a bad way to live? There are plenty of other valuable things you can spend your time dealing with than the thing that you don’t like. If you never hold a snake, does it really matter?

The strategy becomes intensely problematic when pretty much everything makes you anxious. Like little tiny things and also really big things. Hello, my name is Daniel Kanter. I have not been doing great, thank you for asking. I’m trying to be better.

Take, for instance: this past summer, I started working on a house for a couple of clients. I haven’t talked about it here. I wanted to, but client gigs are fast-paced and draining and don’t leave a lot of time for blogging—that is true. But that doesn’t mean there’s literally no time—I also wasn’t making it. After spending 8 hours a day working on a renovation, it’s difficult to then want to spend several more hours thinking about it, writing about it, editing photos of it…and so I didn’t. I didn’t write about anything else, either. For a few weeks this felt good.

Some handy self-deception quickly took hold. I wasn’t being a lousy blogger, I was just taking a step back from blogging. Because I’ve been blogging for 7+ years and I can take a few weeks if I want to. Nobody would notice, probably. The story I told myself was that I just wanted to focus on the work, without the distraction of a broader group actively commenting on something in progress. I told myself I didn’t want to be influenced by what I thought readers would want or expect to see (which is puzzling, because I don’t really think I am normally? this isn’t an actual concern of mine?) and just focus on doing right by the house and the clients. I told myself that blog readerships create a certain kind of pressure—whether the content-creator is aware of it or not—to keep doing the thing that’s gotten them recognition or did well on Pinterest or whatever in the past. This, I told myself, is why it can seem like a lot of bloggers show a stunning lack of diversity in their creative output, and I did not want to fall into that trap by prioritizing the constant need to be sharing whatever I was doing over just doing the best job I could at the thing that I was doing.

I’m not even saying that these thoughts/feelings/theories are incorrect. But I am recognizing them for what they mostly were: justifications. I was vastly underachieving at something that’s important to me, so I created noble-sounding reasons to avoid feeling that failure-anxiety. That doesn’t work for very long.

And so, the anxiety-avoidance cycle. It’s a self-sustaining system that never fails to compound. I didn’t just not blog. I pretty much pretended that I didn’t even have a blog. Like I didn’t even know what blogs were! I focused on “the work” (of playing contractor for a relatively short-term freelance project), and whenever I thought about writing a blog post, anxiety told me that I’d first have to sign into WordPress, and then I’d be confronted with the comments I’d missed—at this point, there might be somebody asking if I was OK, or dead, or stopped blogging entirely, or accusing me of only posting because of X, Y, or Z, or even just telling me they missed my posts—and any of those things would make me feel worse. So I didn’t look. Instagram became anxiety-provoking, too. Other blogs. E-mail. Texts.

It’s almost like the longer you avoid something, the scarier it becomes. FANCY THAT.

This anxiety-avoidance-anxiety loop told me that all of you must hate me. That I had been letting everyone down, and even if/when I did write a blog post, or even post a picture to instagram, it would be met with anger and resentment for having disappeared, or something. Or something—because as much as I can try to explain the specific fears behind anxiety, it’s never just one thing or one bad outcome. It’s all of them. And then, what do you even do? Like, I can’t not post for a few months and then just come back with some whatever post about whatevers-town. It should be awesome. Creating something that you feel confident will be universally viewed as awesome by a reader that already hates you is, you guessed it, anxiety-provoking primarily because it’s probably impossible. So I kept…not doing it. I actually waited until a blogger friend was in town, handed them my phone, rattled off my password, and asked them to moderate months of missed comments for me. I couldn’t face it. Having given it some thought, that’s…crazy. But it’s kind of how I’ve been about stuff.

When Linus died, I knew I had to tell you. It took me a few weeks. Part of that was because I was very sad, and grieving, and not really in the headspace to sit down and write a eulogy, but another part of it was the anxiety-avoidance thing. The loop that actually had me convinced that even on that post I was likely to receive a barrage of guilt and shame for being a shitty blogger, and I couldn’t deal with it on top of mourning my dead dog. Of course, you didn’t do that.

You never have. If legitimate fears need to be backed up by evidence or past experience, this fear is not legitimate. None of my fears about blogging—or most things that make me anxious, really—are all that legitimate. But that’s not how fears born of anxiety work. They’re not rational but they are persistent. They’re exhausting.

I hate this thing—this anxiety surrounding blogging and you. It’s not just a problem with blogging—it’s a problem in other areas of my life, too, in many cases for longer than this—but blogging? That’s new. I’ve always liked blogging I think because it felt separate from the anxieties of everyday life, like a relief from it, not an addition to it. So this thing where I can’t even sign into WordPress to check comments? It’s extremely unpleasant. And ultimately counter-productive, if the goal is to not feel like shit. Avoiding the thing that’s making me anxious is not helping. It’s making it worse.

In other words, I need to Stop That. Here and elsewhere in my life.

Reflecting on this past year, and the few preceding it, have me feeling a certain urgency to not feel this way in another 12 months. Also 9 months after that, when I’ll be 30. I don’t want to still be in this place, where anxiety still wins and everything feels like it has one or many loose ends to tie. So I’m, like, consciously trying to change my approach to things? I’m trying to take control of this situation. Make it better. It’s not just going to happen.

I want to get back to having fun—with life, with my house, with my work, and with this blog. I miss sharing. Not sharing doesn’t make me feel good; I know this now.

So since I’ve been home, I’ve been trying to get into some new shit. I started going to acupuncture. We’ll see. I made haircut appointments for myself every month for the next year. I did a huge purge of digital clutter and reclaimed 170 gigabytes of hard drive space and avoided the need for a new computer. I’ve been aggressively getting the house in order. I began posting to Instagram again. I started a book club where all we do is indulge our secret fascination with self-help books by reading self-help books (//hoping we get something out of it no lie). I’ve been cooking more of my own food (my makeshift situation would be funny if it hadn’t lasted so long and was therefore so embarrassing/upsetting) and trying to take better care of my body. I’ve been working on creating boundaries at work and trying really hard to stop comparing myself to the success of others. I’ve been making goals and outlining plans and trying to give myself some goddamn tools to succeed. And I’m writing this blog post, and that’s something.

So that’s where I’m at. They’re steps forward. I’m trying, and I’ll keep trying. It’s good to see you.

I hope your 2018 is off to a good start. I’m excited to make this one better.

Life
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My Buddy.

Back in March, Linus went through a rough patch that landed us, late one night, at the emergency vet’s office. The situation didn’t look promising. In discussing treatment with the doctor, there were a lot of qualifiers—“if he even makes it through the night” or “if we can administer his medication”—that kind of thing. Before departing, the vet warned me of the “difficult decision” I would likely be faced with in the morning, if nature hadn’t run its course. It was devastating. I was a disaster.

For me, grief tends to take one of two forms. There’s the more typical version: a lot of crying, wallowing in general despair, foggily moving through the motions of everyday life when loss is all you can really think about. And then there’s the arguably more productive kind, wherein I distract myself with some large but detailed task in order to fleetingly create the illusion that something in this terrible fucking situation is within my control and that things may, eventually, return to normal. On this night I gravitated toward the latter. I’d recently read the majority of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo—a 200+ page self-help volume that could (ironically, perhaps) easily be condensed to a set of bullet points in a pamphlet. Kondo’s book promises a better life if you can train yourself to abide by the simple principle of keeping only that which “sparks joy” and disposing of, literally, anything else. This is a person who threw her hammer into the trash but found that a cast iron skillet worked just as effectively for driving nails into the wall if she felt compelled to hang up a picture—so maybe take it with a grain of salt. Nonetheless, with Crisis Zone emotions coursing through me, I started in on my entire wardrobe. That’s how I found myself months later getting dressed for a wedding, only for a vague recollection of donating my joyless suit pants to surface. Grief messes you up.

He did make it through the night. In Brooklyn there were emergency vet offices that remained open 24 hours a day, but no such option exists here—meaning that for real round-the-clock care, you have to transfer back and forth between the vet that’s open during the day and the vet that’s open at night. We did this for a few days. Having dealt with my clothing, I moved onto my books.

His situation hadn’t improved, medical options beyond his normal regimen of pills had been exhausted, and the doctors felt that there was nothing left to be done. And that if I wasn’t ready to make that Tough Decision, I should consider taking him home for one last night—where, they warned, he was likely to pass on his own accord. So that’s what I did. I wasn’t ready, not remotely. And in spite of his condition—unable to stand or walk and exhibiting no appetite—something inside me felt that he wasn’t, either. Maybe he’d turn a corner. And so I bundled my roughly 15 year old dog in my sweatshirt, hoping for just a little more time.

Within 24 hours, Linus stood up. He walked around a little, and started to accept food in the form of boiled chicken breast and rice. He wasn’t keen on returning to his regular food, so in the ensuing days and weeks and—to the shock and awe of the staff at the animal hospital—months, he gained back the weight he’d lost on an increasingly elaborate diet of chicken and rice and raw beef tripe and human baby food and the occasional can of sardines. Long ago, I’d made a simple pact with this dog: as long as he wanted to stick around, I would do whatever it took to take care of him. Which, honestly, is a helpful thing to remind yourself of when handling raw beef trip first thing in the morning.

We needed more time, and we got it. Remember how I said this was back in March? That’s March 2016. A year and a half ago.

Linus stumbled into my life at the ripe age of around 10 (I’m taking for granted that you’ve read everything I’ve ever written, which is maybe unrealistic, so here’s that whole story) back in 2012.  The gist of the story is this: a tiny dog in horrible condition was mid-capture by Brooklyn police; a woman interrupted the encounter because she believed the dog lived on my block; I happened to pass this woman while she was trying to return the dog home; the dog didn’t live there after all; she couldn’t keep the dog; I volunteered to take care of the situation; I did so by eventually deciding to keep the dog. That night, I sat with him on the bathroom floor in my Brooklyn apartment and, for seven hours, worked to free his little body from what looked like years of matted fur and filth. Looking back later, this struck me as a bad idea on a number of levels. Imagine it: being taken off the streets by a strange person, brought to a strange place, and being subjected to hours of what was surely uncomfortable and painful grooming and bathing at the hands of that strange person. He should have bit me, and I couldn’t have blamed him. He should have cowered in fear and confusion. He could have given me rabies, or infested the apartment with fleas or bedbugs. But he didn’t do any of those things—instead I remember his patience and seeming understanding of what I was trying to accomplish. I remember him starting to lick me with this determined fervor, like he was trying to return the favor. When I nicked his paper-thin skin, he yelped once and licked my face, as though he knew it was an accident and forgave me immediately. After it was over and time for bed, we tried to confine him to the kitchen for the night but instead he stood by the door and barked until I let him into the bedroom. All he wanted was to be close.

I didn’t know how much I would grow to love him. I’d always had big goofy dogs, but after getting cleaned up Linus looked like he might have fallen out of some rich lady’s Prada on the Upper East Side. He didn’t chew or fetch or tug or really play at all. At the dog park he just sort of trotted around on his own. And despite what people will argue, teaching a dog that old new tricks is…well, he wasn’t interested, so I didn’t push it.

His joys were simple and small. Occasionally if he was feeling particularly active, he might start humping a throw pillow. He liked shredding (but not really eating) leafy greens like kale and lettuce. Sometimes he could really get going on gnawing a pizza crust—a rawhide for the dentally disadvantaged. But mostly, he just wanted to be close to me—really close—at all times. Even as his faculties dissipated, he somehow maintained the ability to detect my absence and track my whereabouts as soon as I would leave him alone in a room, even if he seemed to be sleeping soundly.  Evidently, this is a common trait with small dogs—to bond really strongly to one person, even in a family setting—but I couldn’t help but feel like he was abnormally fanatical about me. Maybe because the feeling was mutual.

Without question, he was the most good-natured animal I’ve ever known. One thing that always stuck in my mind about the account of his rescue was that allegedly officers were afraid to approach him because they didn’t want to get bit. Because he was showing his teeth and snarling. “He looked mean.” I literally cannot imagine this, because Linus greeted everyone—man, woman, child, dog, cat, rabbit, etc.—the same way: eyes bright, head upright on his stocky little shoulders, ears alert, scraggly little tail wagging in this circular helicopter motion that pretty much defines that phrase “I can’t even.” Exquisite cuteness aside, I think this is what I most love and cherish about Linus. That thing, right there—that approach to the world—that even now I have a hard time articulating.

I never got to know what the first decade of Linus’s life looked like, and I highly doubt I ever will. All I know is what I can surmise from the condition he was in when he found me, which remains hard to think about. That somehow my little man ended up that way. That someone allowed him to. It’s the kind of shit that can fuck someone up—human or animal. That can make the world seem scary, or threatening. That can make people seem bad and untrustworthy. That can make the task of survival feel like an extended exercise in fear and reclusion and anger. It seems to me that it takes a certain rare and resilient kind of character to bounce back from that. To move on from it all with love and kindness and the ability to trust when experience has taught you the opposite. I think that’s called grace. I think that’s strength. And bravery. I think that’s being a total badass. I never thought a 12 pound dog could show me that.

As anyone who’s reached this point with a pet can likely attest, caring for a geriatric dog can be challenging, particularly when the health issues begin accumulating. Due to his background, we’ve always had our share of medical challenges—starting with probably never having seen a vet, been vaccinated, neutered, trained to live in a house or eat dog food; the list goes on. His teeth were so badly rotted that nearly half of them came out during his first cleaning. His first night off the street, Max and I quickly noticed a muffled, huffy kind of cough that we feared might be contagious to Mekko, but learned was actually symptomatic of a collapsing trachea—a condition evidently common among small dogs. “Imagine your throat is like a camping tent,” I remember the doctor telling me, “and then all of a sudden the poles collapse. That’s more or less what’s happening.” Great.

Shortly thereafter, a heart murmur was detected, and then congestive heart failure entered the picture with an attending handful of prescription medications designed to keep his ventricles pumping and fluid from building up in his lungs. His liver and kidneys began to struggle—difficult to treat because those medications would interact poorly with the ones for his heart. At some point, any advances we’d managed to make with potty training went out the window, and the composition of my trash can became about 50% used diapers (or, more specifically, an unbelievably absorbent female incontinence product called Poise Pads that I bought by the hundreds, which happen to be the perfect size to line a “tinkle belt” made for dogs). Gradually he lost the great majority of his hearing, reacting only to very loud sounds. His sight, too: the left eye was declared worthless, while the right seemed able to detect changes in light and the movement of large shapes. He began to have a difficult time with his right front paw—arthritis, perhaps. He lost a few more teeth. The doctor thought he might have emphysema. At home, I wondered if he was afflicted by canine dementia, since he seemed unable to recall why—other than sunbathing—we spent time outside at various points in the day.

I realize to some people this all might sound crazy. Like I’m a Crazy McCrazy dog person who couldn’t accept what was plainly obvious. And at various times, I struggled with this—because I don’t see myself as a Crazy McCrazy dog person who would prioritize my own selfishness over the suffering of an animal. Quality of life is a hard thing to evaluate, particularly when the one living that life can’t speak for themselves. But he really did still seem like a happy dog, content to live out his golden years with his ten pills a day and his diapers and his collection of plush beds scattered around the house.

There are people who adopt elderly dogs on purpose, which I find exceedingly admirable. At 22, I know I wasn’t one of those people, and at 28, I’m still not sure that I am, though I wouldn’t dismiss the idea out of hand. If you’re a dog person, I probably don’t have to tell you what terrific companions old dogs can make. But the inconvenient and surprisingly taboo fundamental truth about adopting an older dog almost goes without saying : the more time that’s behind them, the less they’re likely to have ahead. So in taking responsibility for that life, you’re also sort of immediately confronted with the inevitability of death. Which, of course, could apply to all living things, but I think is much easier to ignore when you take home a puppy instead. I realize this probably sounds miserable—to live constantly with this sort of unpredictable specter of death, looming ahead at a distance that feels impossible to gauge. But I think in some ways it’s the opposite. You’re forced to face the thought of it, and as a result it becomes less scary. Less threatening. Another part of being alive. Time is precious and beautiful because of its limited quantity. Because it runs out.

Blunt as it might sound, I sort of hoped but also fully expected Linus would someday die in his sleep. It just seemed to fit with the order of things: this dog that slyly worked his way into my life, who followed his own rules and never seemed interested in observing mine. Who could bark endlessly—never, not once, out of fear or aggression, but because he wanted something and “no” did not register as an acceptable answer. Linus’s way or the highway. I always had this idea that I didn’t really own him, that he wasn’t really my dog. He had this whole past that belonged only to him. He might live in my home and accept my care and affections, but he’d still never really be mine. The idea of choosing to end his life for him seemed, for a long time, like an impossibility. It just didn’t fit.

After that scare in March 2016, it seemed apparent that our time left together might be very short.  He’d go through a few difficult days, and then he’d bounce back, and part of me began to believe that maybe he really would outlive us all. But the other part of me—the part more acquainted with reality—recognized that the time we had left, at this point, was borrowed, and I had to accept that it would soon come to a close. That he’d no longer be here. I think he fought for so long to make sure I was ready to handle that. That I’d be OK.

About a month ago, Linus’s slow decline seemed to speed up rapidly. It started out essentially the same as episodes we’d weathered before, but this time just felt different. I can’t really explain it. We went to the vet, who calmly and quietly confirmed what I already knew. It still hits you hard, to hear it. It’s still shocking to be presented the option of either doing it right there and then or waiting. I realized I’d spent more time trying to ready myself for the time after this—going home to one dog, filling one food bowl, being alone on the sofa while I wrote or watched TV—than the moment that precipitates it. The one where you have to say goodbye, the one that I hadn’t anticipated because I still expected to find him one bright morning, lifeless in his bed, gone on his own time. And again, I found myself unprepared.

There’s a Yiddish phrase that translates to “the way it begins is the way it ends,” and maybe the reason I deluded myself into expecting a different ending to this story originates from my misreading of the beginning. We decided to go home. The doctor could come to the house the next day. I held him all night and into the next morning, which turned into one of those perfectly crisp but sunny fall days where you’re warm as long as you stay out of the shade. We bundled up and sat in the sun for a while, and he seemed content. It’s weird, trying to fill that time when there’s an actual countdown. It feels really fast and really slow at the same time.

The doctor arrived. Mekko settled into a chair across the room. I held him close to me, and it ended the way it began—with him in my arms, safe, and granting me all the trust in the world that whatever I was doing was the right thing.

Choosing this conclusion wasn’t a punishment, I realize now. It was a privilege—one that he extended my way the night he walked into my life and chose to trust me. Chose to love me. Chose to be my dog.

Being your person was one of the great honors of my life, my handsome little man. I miss you more than words, and I’ll love you forever.

Life
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I Did a Thing! Talking about DIY at the New England Home Show.

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You know what feels fancy and scary at the same time? At least for me? When someone from HGTV Magazine gets in touch to ask if you’d be interested in speaking…at a home show…to actual people…on the broad subject of DIY. Like, who the hell am I? Going places? Making presentations? Talking into a microphone? Wearing clothes that aren’t covered in paint and sawdust? Excuse me, nice PR lady. I think you have me confused with someone else.

But apparently she did not, and evidently neither did the folks from HGTV Magazine, nor the folks from TD Bank who also sponsored this shindig which they have termed the TD Bank Rolling Renovation. Basically what they do is set up a cute booth out of this groovy converted shipping container thing that they’ve been driving all over the country and having different people (like me!) speak out of. When such people (like me!) aren’t gabbing about stuff, the very friendly folks at TD Bank are on deck to explain how they can help finance big and small renovation projects with a home equity line of credit, which is a good thing to know about if you’re into this renovation stuff (like me!).

It wasn’t until after I’d agreed to do it that they mentioned that other speakers had included actual TV folk from HGTV and these bloggers named John and Sherry and then I excused myself to go have diarrhea in my pants.

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ANYWAY! In case you have never been to a home show which I had not prior to this, they’re actually fun! There are lots and lots of people and lots and lots of companies representing lots and lots of things. After my presentations and meet-and-greets, I walked the show and ended up getting quite the education about some composite siding products, innovative advancements in cedar shake technology, and I may have been convinced to purchase this miracle doormat that promises to keep my floors less filthy. Home shows are good opportunities to find out about local companies that provide services you might be in need of, as well as talk to representatives who really know their stuff about the products they’re there to promote. Everyone working the event is super thrilled to talk to anybody who will listen, so they are literally beyond happy to answer questions and tell you all the things you want to know.

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The TD Bank Rolling Renovation booth was OBVIOUSLY the most fun place to be for various reasons:

  1. I was there, so duh.
  2. You could win money just by spinning a wheel. Just spinning the wheel was fun even if you didn’t win, which I did not, but they did let me have a free pen and a teeny tiny tape measure which was almost as good.
  3. Inside the booth, you could get tips on renovating, financing options, AND enter to win MORE money by playing a jaunty game on those iPads. I like games. I like money. I like renovating. I like learning how to be less house-poor. Win-win-win-win.

So YEAH! I did the whole dress-like-a-human-and-talk-into-a-microphone-in-a-strange-place-about-a-thing-I-kind-of-know-about and it actually went well! They even asked me to take my dog and pony show on the road with them and do it again in April, so I guess I didn’t totally screw it up. Here’s a handy list of where the Rolling Renovation is headed next, in case you want to check it out! Good times!

This post is in partnership with TD Bank and HGTV Magazine!

Year in Review + What’s Up Next

I guess maybe it’s customary to do a “year in review” post at the end of the year in question, but I didn’t do that. So first off, Happy New Year, folks! We’re only a few days into 2016 but I have a good feeling about this one.

So, 2015…oh, 2015.

2015 was a difficult year. It was a year of major life changes: some good, some bad, some where the jury’s still out. It was a year where I had to learn to let go of all sorts of things—my longest-term and most serious relationship, for starters, New York City as my home (even if only part-time), and the Brooklyn apartment that so influenced so much of what I’m doing now. The broadest theme of 2015 was maybe letting go of control—which at various points of time included relationships, my house, my professional life, my time and how it got spent, the plans I’d made when reality just didn’t agree. There was so much uncertainty, so many oh shit! moments, so much time feeling unable to decipher between sinking and swimming. It was the kind of year that had to be ridden out, because no other options presented.

2015 was a humbling year. It was a year in which there was more reacting than initiating, in which I learned a great deal about my limits as a human being—physical limits, emotional limits, intellectual limits, professional limits, limits of time and space, limits of giving and of taking. It was an extended exercise in prioritizing, in learning that doing my best doesn’t always mean pleasing everybody, or even necessarily myself. It was a year in which I had to become comfortable with the word “enough” and proficient in saying “no”—which is usually harder to say to myself than to others.

2015 was an exciting year, too. It was a year of thinking, planning, and in some cases, executing. It was a year of taking opportunities I didn’t anticipate. It was a year of learning, not just new skills and bits of information, but about what I want—and, equally important, don’t want. What I want out of my personal life. My professional life. My house. This blog.  I wouldn’t say I found clarity, but somehow the result of the past year is that all of those things feel at least somewhat less fuzzy. It was a year of great progress and great setbacks, and of trying and trying and trying to embrace that period of work that comes between the “before” and the “after.”

I realize I’m speaking more in abstracts than specifics, but that’s kind of what it feels like—that it was the kind of year that begs to be measured more in feelings than hard data, where I probably learned more about how I respond to things than about the things themselves.

It was busy. Really, really busy, and it felt constantly as though one of the casualties of all that activity was this blog. While this blog does loosely track what’s going on with the various projects in my life, the past year saw a pronounced imbalance between all the stuff I was actually doing and the relatively few things here and there that I had or made the time to write about. And that made me think a lot—about different ways that I can approach blogging, about different content I’m interested in producing, about the parts of doing this that I love and the parts that I don’t. One of the great things about this platform is its malleability, and I want to take greater advantage of that. I’ve been at this for almost 6 years now, and—while I have no intention of stopping in the foreseeable future—I do think it’s high time to shake things up a little.

Basically, we have a lot of catching up to do. I know 2015 wasn’t the most prolific or most Pinterest-worthy year for Manhattan Nest, but if you’ve stuck around, thank you. I have a good feeling this next one will be much better.

So! What’s been going on? What do we have to talk about? What DON’T we have to talk about? Here’s my stab at looking back at 2015, which should give a big sense of where we’re headed, you and me…

brooklynrooftop

See ya, Brooklyn! Apparently I took this picture exactly a year ago from the rooftop of my old apartment building, which I officially vacated a few months later. While I don’t miss paying rent on that apartment, or climbing five floors to get to my front door, or really living in Brooklyn at all, I definitely feel a little pang of longing whenever I think about that place. I couldn’t have asked for a better living situation than I had in my last few years in NYC, really.

In case you’re wondering, I rarely go down to NYC, even though it’s only about two hours away. I think a lot of people assume that living in Kingston was some sort of compromise and that I must bop down to Manhattan or Brooklyn all the time to see and do stuff, but that just isn’t the case! I pretty much only go down to see a few select friends, but mostly I try to stay away. I guess I was just never cut out for all that.

livingroom

I finished renovating the living room in my house almost a year ago! Looking back at the original reveal pictures is so odd—it looks so different now. I did a follow-up post after getting a few months more settled in the room, but we’re long overdue for another one because almost everything has changed again.

olivebridge1

It’s also been almost a year since the first time I walked through Olivebridge Cottage, and about 9 months since work commenced. Considering this was supposed to be an 8 week kitchen renovation and some cosmetic upgrades, suffice to say this project is MUCH, MUCH bigger than what anyone bargained for. You better believe there’s a story there…a lot of story.

mekko

This DOG! Mekko continues to be the most beautiful girl in the world, duh. My baby is turning 6 this month! She’s calmed down a bit since Max and I adopted her, but she’s still such a puppy. Instagram makes it seem like she’s super tame and sleepy, but that’s just because it’s practically the only time she’s still enough to snap a picture of.

pantryprogress

I finished the pantry, which I think also might be due for a little blog visit. Not a ton has changed, but I’ve made some little tweaks here and there. It’s been so nice to have it, though! It’s definitely made me cook more.

Kevinsstudio

I got to visit my friend Kevin Paulsen‘s studio, where he was working on an incredible mural for my other friend’s house. He’s so talented. It’s always such a treat to get a glimpse of the spaces where artists do their work. There’s so much creative energy here in Kingston and so many people producing really amazing work, which is something I’d like to start writing about more! There are also some super inspiring folks doing beautiful renovation work around town, which I’d love to start featuring here and there.

jerseyicecreamco

I met Tara and Percy, the incredible design duo behind Jersey Ice Cream Co. I’ve been such a fan of their work for a few years now, so getting to know them as people has been so great! They’re both gorgeous superhumans with perfect taste who can do everything, so when they asked if I’d like to come out to work with them on a project in Long Island for a few days, I pretty much packed a bag and hopped in the car. They taught me how to do traditional plaster work (verrrrryyyyyy different than skim-coating with joint compound!), and were such gracious hosts even in the midst of a major renovation project. They’re kind of too cool so I’m glad they’re willing to associate with the likes of me.

chairs

I keep buying stuff. Back when I started this blog, I feel like I logged nearly every thrift purchase! I’ve really fallen out of habit on that, but maybe it’d still be fun. In other news, my house has WAY too much stuff in it since I’m storing crap for myself, the Olivebridge house and Bluestone Cottage, so I really need to wrap those projects just so I can get some space back!

marfa

I went to Marfa, Texas with my gal-pal, Anna! We set aside a whole few days to go just to go, which felt very adult of us. Marfa blew me away, by the way—such a cool place. Anna wrote a nice post about our trip if you happen to be curious about a vacation that a couple of strangers took almost a year ago? Whatever floats your boat.

basement

This is why we never talk about my basement. BUT! I actually did a TON of work on it in the past year—nothing beautiful, but I don’t know why I never blogged about it. I’m sure there’s at least one person who has a mild, passing, almost-interest in how my tools and crap are organized, so I’ll try to get something together.

kitchen

Oh yeah, I destroyed my kitchen…again. And I’m still putting it back together…again. And I don’t know really why I did this…again…other than to blame post break-up acting out and general idiocy.

backyardbefore

Spring marked the beginning of LOTS AND LOTS OF YARD WORK. I can happily report that this view looks NOTHING like this anymore! We still have some serious ground to cover about the yard, in part because I was still actively working on it until just a couple weeks ago when the weather finally turned, but I think I’m pretty much done back there until spring/summer hits again. I didn’t get as far into the big plans as I’d hoped, but the progress still feels great.

cottontail

I found this baby cottontail rabbit in my yard which I thought needed rescuing because he was so tiny, only for the google machine to tell me that he was probably totally fine (evidently they wean and become independent at a very young age), so I put him back. Good GAWD that thing was cute.

bluestone

YES, I still own Bluestone Cottage, and YES, I’m still working on it, and YES, I’ll start blogging about it again. Frankly the Olivebridge project just completely took over the spring, summer, and fall, and Bluestone became the biggest casualty of that…which sucks and makes me feel like an awful piece of shit failure. The only direction to move is forward, though, and that house will get done and it will be very, very cute, and maybe this serious delay will have some great silver lining when all is said and done. It HAS given me more time to plan and choose materials and gather salvage like a lunatic, so maybe that’s nice?

:/

nola

I got to go to New Orleans for a couple of days in the spring. The only other time I’d gone to NOLA was to work for Habitat for Humanity shortly after hurricane Katrina hit, so seeing the city thriving after the intervening years was really special. The architecture there is SO dreamy, omg.

gardening

I did a couple of gardening posts this year, but I did a lot more planting than I ever actually got around to writing about, which is just dumb! My tan was BANGIN’ after this summer, though. I feel like I lived outside.

garagepainting

I painted a lot of shit black, including my garage and then my new fence! It’s kind of a habit, you could say.

garageinterior

What I stupidly never talked about, though, was all the work that took place on the INSIDE of the garage! It ain’t beautiful, but it is VERY different and leaps and bounds more functional, so we really have to talk about it.

backofhouse1

I tore a roughly 100 square foot room off my house completely, which unintentionally led to a HUGE project that I’m proud to report is now finished!

backofhouseprogress

Seriously, that project was huge. I kind of can’t believe how long it took, but then again I totally can, and I’m really very proud of how much of it I did myself. Sometimes the hardest jobs are the most satisfying!

hudson

Remember summer? I kind of do. I FINALLY went out on the Hudson River for the first time. It was such a blast and so gorgeous. That was a big deal for me—I feel like I’ve been so busy since I moved here that I forget that there’s this whole side of living here that really should be about recreation and enjoying this beautiful place I get to call home. I want to try to do more of that kind of stuff instead of being so wrapped up in projects all the time that I don’t give myself a minute to enjoy stuff.

dogwood

Oh yeah, more yard work. WAY more. I’ll get us caught up before spring hits.

towpound

This right here is part of why I hate driving into NYC. Getting your car out of a Manhattan tow pound has got to be right up there with childbirth and black friday at Wal-Mart in terms of agony.

dirt

Did I mention I did a lot of yard work? Part of that included moving around 60,000 pounds of dirt into my backyard. Boy was that fun.

chimney

I also demo’d this chimney down to the attic floor. It had previously been removed to below the roofline and was somewhat of a structural hazard, but I’m not sure why mid-summer seemed like the best time to tackle this one. It was miserably hot.

coffeetable

I think I should have bought this coffee table. I hate thrift-regret.

doorsixteen

One of my besties, Anna, moved to New Mexico. I helped clear out the house in Newburgh, which was emotional even for me as a long-time reader and admirer of Anna’s home and approach to renovating. We’re still great friends and I’m so happy for her for making such a big decision and making it work. Hopefully this year I’ll to go visit her in her new hometown of Portales!

kitchenfloor

This one time, I sealed and polished my kitchen floor. It looked AWESOME for a few days, and then it went back to being a dusty, filthy mess because keeping anything clean in a house under renovation with a dirt pit backyard is just a losing battle if there ever was one.

aldermanballot

Oh right, I ran for elected office in Kingston city government…like ya do. I lost in the primary, but I’m very glad to have done it and grateful to have met so many amazing people throughout the process and during the campaign. The whole experience made me a more active and knowledgable member of this community, and that’s a nice way to feel after a relatively short amount of time. Have I mentioned I love this town?

hallwaypainting

I STARTED PAINTING MY HALLWAY! Then I stopped. I really want to get this done soon, though—it feels like forever since I checked a big interior project off the list, and this one is basically just paint and a ton of prep work…it should feel like child’s play after dealing with the back of the house for the past several months.

diningcloset

Remember how there’s a little closet in my dining room? I always forget about it too. I didn’t really touch it when I renovated the dining room, but now I want to circle back and get that done. Maybe I already gutted it. It could be super cute, and the storage would be so nice!

upstairskitchen

I demo’d a lot of the room above the kitchen, which also used to be a kitchen. It’s looking VERY different! I can’t wait to really get my hands on it…I don’t think it’ll be a SUPER challenging renovation but it will be a HUGE transformation and I think it’ll be really gorgeous and cozy and great.

brunette

My friends Tracey and Jamie opened a wine bar called Brunette in downtown Kingston, and they did SUCH a good job with the space! They also happen to be super lovely people with great taste in wine (and everything, evidently). It’s exciting times here…I feel like there are so many new restaurants and bars and stores opening up all over the place, and it’s always extra nice when such lovely businesses move into these spaces. I’ve only lived here for about 2.5 years and it’s already changed so much, which is cool to see.

wiltwyck

I finally took a walk through one of the gorgeous old cemeteries here, and stumbled upon the headstone of the family who built my house! I have GOT to dedicate more time to learning about the history of my house and the people who lived here. I’m sure there’s more information out there than what I’ve found!

footings

Well, concrete footings for a new foundation is a sight I didn’t know I’d be seeing last year, but 2015 was kind of like that. I DO THIS STUFF NOW.

windows

I think I may be the foremost expert on windows now. Old windows, new construction windows, replacement windows, renovation windows, sash kits, awnings, casements, double-hungs, single-hungs, pictures, true divided lights, simulated divided lights, jamb extensions, j-channels, wood, aluminum, vinyl, insulated, Low-E…it’s enough to drive a person insane. Ask me how I know.

linus

Had a big old scare with my little old dog, Linus, when a routine grooming appointment resulted in emergency surgery, full anesthesia, and ten stitches. Poor thing! He had to wear a soft cone for two weeks while he healed up, which I’m not sure he even really noticed.

linus2

He bounced back just fine, though. And so handsome! I love that dog more than words can express. Best 11 pounds I’ve ever gained.

vbkitchen

I want to work on this house. Maybe, just maybe…

johnson

And this one.

bergermatthews

Also maybe this one? Who the hell knows. New Year, anything could happen!

SO! That’s all I gotta say. This’ll be fun!

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A Personal Update

So…you might have noticed my posting has been a little light around these parts lately. A lot’s been going on. A few friends have come to visit, I’ve been hard at work on a new freelance project, still wrestling with the cottage, projects at my own house—I guess none of that’s so out of the ordinary. What is out of the ordinary? A couple months ago, Max and I decided to break up. And, frankly, it’s been hard on many levels. Personally, of course, but continuing to post here with this at the forefront of my mind has felt…weird. So I took a little time to myself to get my head right, regroup, and recharge. I hope that’s understandable.

I think and hope that it’s fair to say this decision did not come at all lightly, but was about as mutual as such a decision can be. For those of you who are new here, this might not matter to you at all, but for those of you who have been around for a while, you probably have a sense that this is sort of a big deal in my life. Max and I were together for over four years. We had a good ride. Nay, a great ride. In that time, we moved in together in the Brooklyn apartment, we supported each other through several jobs, we adopted two dogs, we travelled, we got engaged, we bought a house. Together, we experienced innumerable “firsts” for both of us, and saw each other through countless fun times, difficult times, and everything in between. I wouldn’t trade those years for the world, and I mean that sincerely.

Not everything is meant to last forever. It’s strange. I don’t think of our relationship as failing—not at all. If you’ll forgive me the cheesy extended analogy, I think of it kind of like a rollercoaster ride. You get on, there’s a steep ascent, and then it all comes rushing at you—the quick turns, the loop de loops, the steep climbs and dramatic falls and all that speed, and then it slows and eventually, it stops. There’s that moment in the middle there where you feel like you could stay on the ride forever—where you might wish it would never end—but it does, and you do the right thing. You unbuckle yourself, get up, and move on. The ride didn’t fail because it stopped. It just ran its course.

You might be able to tell that I have no idea how to do this. Having to do this at all is, admittedly, a little odd: making so public what feels like an intensely personal and intimate matter. I don’t honestly know how our relationship came across from the perspective of a stranger reading this blog (or following our instagrams or twitter accounts or whatever…), but I can assure you that it was good. Max is a wonderful person—possibly the kindest I’ve ever known, smart, funny, charming, handsome, intensely sweet, extraordinarily talented, all of it. He’s the best thing that ever happened to me. In so many ways, I feel like we grew up together. Challenged each other, taught each other, made each other better people. I’ll forever be grateful and honored to have had that. Moving on from being a couple hasn’t been particularly easy, but it hasn’t been bad, either. We care deeply for each other. We’re there for each other. The nature and definition of our relationship has changed, absolutely, but we’re on great terms. We’re approaching this in more or less the same way we tried to approach our relationship: with caring, compassion, mutual respect, and love. There’s no dramatic story behind all of this, no sides to be taken by any of our friends—none of that. It’s all OK.

If you’re one of those people who does care about this post and has made it this far, I’m hoping I can anticipate some questions you might have.

This blog isn’t really going to change. Max is taking over the Brooklyn apartment as his full-time residence, and I’m now a full-time Kingston-ite. At the risk of crossing too many personal lines, the house is more or less mine, and I’m staying in it, which I’m happy to do. It became apparent to me pretty early on after buying the house that I had no real desire to live in NYC any longer—I really feel like I’ve found my home here in Kingston, and in this house, and it’s still my great pleasure to do my best to restore it and really make a life here. I love being a part of this community and while leaving the Brooklyn apartment behind me isn’t easy, I’ll admit that it feels kind of nice to take that responsibility off my plate. It was my home for two solid years (and my kind-of home for two more after buying the house), and I’m happy that it’ll continue to have such a wonderful person living in it. It’s a special place.

The dogs are staying with me. This is a tough one to talk about, because it’s no secret that we adopted both of them together and we both love them so, so much. I think what it comes down to is trying to figure out what’s best for them, and they can have a better life here. They’re more at ease in Kingston and in the house, they have a yard to run around in—it’s just for the best. Max can of course see them whenever he wants, and there’s no debate about that. They’re still his, too, even though we’re not together. We’re figuring it out.

I’m not sure what more there is to say. I’m disabling comments on this post for what I hope are understandable and obvious reasons—this is just one of those things that I don’t really feel compelled to field a lot of input on. If you’re feeling compelled to comment, trust me, I appreciate it.

I hope you’re having a great weekend—I’ll be busy hauling demo debris to the dump, and back on Monday to kick off a new exciting project that’s been in the works. Until then, thank you for reading and I’ll see you very soon.

XO,

D

Life
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