Student loan debt 0

This is not a back yard update. Although unlike in years past I have not given up. Oh no. Things are happening! Things involving concrete and fencing and hammers. Things that are making me happy.

No, this post is to commemorate a special occasion.


That’s right! Yesterday — 10 days before my 31st birthday — I finally finished paying for college.

I had been chugging along for many years, rounding up my monthly minimum payment to the nearest $50 and telling myself that the extra couple bucks would speed the process up. It didn’t really matter how true this was — I didn’t have the resources to do much of anything else. But as the years rolled on, I started to land better jobs, and some freelance clients, and finally one day in the summer of 2013 I had a conversation with a good friend who was tackling her loans pretty aggressively. “Should I be doing the same?” I wondered. “How long will this take me if I don’t double down?”



And that settled it. I was not waiting for TWENTY TWENTY-FOUR to roll around.

I have a lot of feelings about student loan debt. I feel proud, but also very lucky — lucky to have supportive parents, lucky my car didn’t die in the last few years, lucky to have found work in a creative field, lucky to have avoided massive unforseen medical expenses. Lucky to have been born when I was, and not right now, because I do not know what this chart will look like for kids attending college in 2033.

Because when you’re 18, you never see this chart. When I decided as a freshman in college that I hated my affordable, state-sponsored school, and I would “figure out” how to pay for private school*, I did not visualized this chart. I did not see myself at 30, still paying for classes I took as a teenager.

So I suppose that’s why I’m posting it. This post is part congratulatory, part cautionary, and part appreciatory. You can survive private art school. But it’s hard. And you’d better make a couple of friends who can light a fire under your butt afterwards.

*My parents still paid for a lot of the last 3 school years. Real talk. My debt could have been twice as bad. Thanks, you two.

Project Back Yard: Day 1

If you’ve visited my house recently but you didn’t get a back yard tour, there’s a reason for that.

Yeah. Whoops?

Okay, story time. For the first two or three years I lived here, I used my “yard.” I grew snap peas, herbs, tomatoes, peppers, lettuce — the usual urban container gardening nonsense. I had an outdoor loveseat. I had a table and chairs and a tiny little barbecue. I had wildflowers growing in old paint buckets. I had cuteness.

I also had no idea what I was doing, but it was fun.

Then came the plagues.

My back yard is under unrelenting assault from three separate menaces: flies, pigeons, and mosquitoes. The flies are plentiful because this neighborhood is pretty dense with dogs, and most of the backyards are used as places for Fido to, err, unload. And sometimes the neighbors aren’t quick with the clean-up. In particularly egregious cases (ahem, house directly across the alley from me), the clean-up seems to happen once per season.

For a while I bought fly traps. Watching them fill up until they reached complete black opaqueness was a satisfying, disgusting, and somewhat pointless endeavor.

And then there are the mosquitoes. The Asian tiger variety, to be exact. These things breed practically anywhere and will laugh tiny, evil laughs through their little banded appendages at your citronella candles and Whole Foods DEET-free lotions and plastic traps full of mystery bait. All of which I have bought.

Think you’re going to go outside to water those adorable herbs? WRONG. The tigers know you’re coming. They’ve sensed it before you’ve even opened the door. If — IF — you make it to the hose, all you’ll be able to do is dance in circles, spraying water around you wildly as you curse whatever demented creator dreamed up the Asian tiger mosquito.

But we haven’t even talked about the pigeons. Holy piles of birdshit, the pigeons.

It started with just a few specimens. They worked their way under a crack in the siding above my neighbor’s back door. They bred. I went outside yesterday, and I’m pretty sure there were 20 pigeons angrily rolling their whooooooos at me.

I keep them off my windowsills with bird spikes, but there’s no keeping them off the power lines between houses. There they lounge, covering the floor of my breezeway with a material that one would hope never to smell on the breeze passing through one’s living room.

There are other back yard hazards to be dealt with, too. The pigeon-breeding, dog-poop-collecting family also planted some morning glories what may very well have been two hundred years ago, because that is how long it might take some Nobel-worthy genius to figure out a way to eradicate them. “Morning glories are pretty!” you say. And then you brush by a vine, and this happens.

Except in reverse. And the bugs are mosquitoes. And the bird is you.

The morning glory vines are everywhere, harboring their tiny terrorists.

So for the last year or two, I’ve pretty much ignored the back yard. But now I’m feeling guilty. The concrete floor is deteriorating. One of three mismatched sections of fence is falling down. The back walls of the house really need to be re-sealed (I would take a picture, but there’s currently a surly-looking teenager smoking back there — another back yard hazard). So I’ve decided to invest a little bit of a time and a verrry little bit of money to see if the situation can’t be improved. Here’s the plan:

  • House: caulk the kitchen siding, prime and repaint.
  • Ground: patch the concrete. I think it’s salvageable, and ripping it out for a re-pour isn’t in the budget. I may end up sealing and painting it.
  • Walls: take all the fences down and install one consistent, tall privacy fence. Dad’s probably gonna help with this bit. Having a van, a second pair of hands and some know-how would go a long way here.
  • Everywhere: Even More Pest Control. I’ve ordered some flashy tape that’s supposed to scare birds. We’ll see. And I’ve planted a bunch of smelly lemon eucalyptus and marigolds, which mosquitoes don’t like. Again, we’ll see.

I don’t have much hope for any of this, but it seems like the right thing to do. And when the bugs and birds finally run me outta town, at least the yard will look nice for the next suckers.

Got any other ideas? I’m all ears.



A limb came off one of the street trees near my house during our most recent snow storm. After walking past it few times on my way to the grocery store, I decided to cut a couple of branches off and take them home. The thicker parts were grey, with reddish tips indicating more recent growth — a nice combination of colors to accent my warm-grey living room.

At first I figured I’d put them in a vase, but they were just too cumbersome to walk around. My next thought was to mount them to the wall. A quick glance at my super-low ceilings nixed that idea — not enough space. (But hey, my heating bill is low, too, so I can’t complain.) I had to find a way to tame the tree.

So I came up with this fun little project. Plan C: turn the branches into a 3-D “painting,” without the frame.

I rummaged through some old art supplies and picked a piece of illustration board to use as a size guide. Then I arranged a couple of branches on top, minding the composition the twigs were creating across the rectangle’s field.

With a trusted Sharpie, I marked the places where the branches hit the edges of the board. I then hacked across my Sharpie lines with a jeweler’s saw, mimicking the boundaries of the board.

Now I had a couple of branches cut into a perfect rectangle. And a carpet covered in sawdust.

The tricky part of this project was deciding where to place a few finishing nails so that they might hold the branches to the walls. This involved some guesswork, a lot of fumbling with a measuring tape, and — [sad trombone noise here] — math. I choose some likely locations and marked their x and y coordinates, measuring from the bottom left corner of the board.

Transferring those locations to the wall was annoying, too, but it worked! With a bit of tweaking, I had my very own branch painting.

Extra twigs went here:

Summer migration

Just a quick note before I go — Jack and I are off to Montreal for a long weekend! If you left me a birthday message and I didn’t get back to you, sorry! I do try to do that. I’ll hopefully have internet access at some point, so check back for pictures from up north.

It was a week of firsts. First wedding. First time I was almost late for a wedding. First time I had to stop in the middle of a road to let a tortoise cross, increasing the risk of being late for said wedding. First time witnessing a wedding guest down a whole glass of champagne in one gulp, and then try to sneak behind the bar in order to mix a stronger drink for himself.

First house visited with a realtor. First proof that a house being listed for $50k more than its purchase price last year does not mean that anywhere near $50k worth of renovations were carried out in that time.

First hint that it might be insane for me to consider purchasing a home without air conditioning. Ugh.

Also, Jack took me to the Adventure Aquarium for my birthday, and I took some very blurry photographs. Why won’t those fish sit still?!