DIY: Perfectly Flawed

This is my brain on home shows:





Boredom and desperate need for a home refresh finally pushed me to make over my lifeless, decades old wood dining table and chairs–replete with dings, scratches and in some cases, major gouging.

We’ve since added to its misery but tried to make amends years ago with new chair re-upholstery. Nothing doing. Didn’t make my heart sing. But with real life encroaching on personal time, my furniture (and the rest of the décor) never made my triage list.

Finally though, enough was enough. I decided to commit to re-staining the tabletop. I reasoned the top was so damaged that if I goofed it wouldn’t make much difference. I had nothing to lose.

So for months I pored over Do It Yourself Internet sites and scoured local libraries for DIY info, techniques and lots and lots of pep talk. And all I wanted to do was stain the dang thing.

After wading through scads of instruction and rejecting the more elaborate procedures, I compiled my own basic action plan which I knew I’d be most likely to carry out.

I’ll skip the part about how I have no work area and we had to live in a construction zone for weeks. I just ignored the ‘when will you be done?’ questions.

I’m happy to report the tabletop turned out nicely (see above photo)–better than expected. But I couldn’t stop there. Now I had to fully update the table and chairs as well.

After much additional research I decided on chalk paint (not to be confused with chalk board paint), a type of paint that results in an antique-y, shabby-chic effect. What drew me to this paint was not only the ultimate look but the swear-up-and-down-claim by chalk paint advocates that this paint can be used directly on the piece with little to no prep, such as sanding or stripping the prior finish.

Well, yes and no. Some items would need prep some would not. I eventually learned to use a shellac product that can help block the old sheen from bleeding through.

This would be the end of my post if my purpose were simply to summarize why I did this redo.

But there’s more. Though I applied two to three coats for full coverage of the chairs, I immediately observed the chalk paint self-distressing and self-aging, showing flaws as it dried. The more I saw this, the more coats I used. I wasn’t sure I was happy with what I was seeing but there was no turning back.

Somewhere around the third chair I had an epiphany. Oh, I get it—it’s supposed to show flaws. That’s part of the character. It tells a story. And it’s OK.

I think it’s interesting to note that the distressed, imperfect finish is highly desirable to many—even deliberately sought after. Furniture treated with this particular paint is not pristine or flawless but real, with all its imperfections.

I appreciate, too, how forgiving the paint was. If closely examined, one could see a number of paint malfunctions like a dried drip here or there or a tiny spot I may have missed. Ha. It’s all part of the charm. And most of us won’t be looking too closely.

I’d bet you’d be hard pressed to see any flaws in the “after” picture above. Taken from a distance, the whole package looks pretty darn good.

Admittedly, painting with chalk paint is an odd way to find life parallels but it’s as good as any other experience we might use to freshen up our ideals, allow our imperfections and find ways to gloss over others’ flaws*.

Not too shabby.

*Not at all costs: know when an item or relationship is unsalvageable.

X, S


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Brother’s Keeper

*Dylan’s mom stood in the doorway of the shiva house, looking out on a grey, stormy day, the weather most likely in precise alignment with the torment inside her. For a moment, I didn’t realize it was she. We hadn’t seen each other for about fifteen years. Her hair was different then, shorter, curlier. We met at an intensive therapeutic program for our then-preschool-age sons. I asked where the family was taking visitors.

 “I’m the mom.” ‘It’s me.” She said pointing to herself.  


Last week, Dylan, age twenty and a college junior, made the tragically irreparable decision to take his life. No words adequately express the level of devastation and sorrow his family, friends and community are going through.

In many ways, he was a success story. Dylan, despite his Aspergers** diagnosis, (an autistic spectrum disorder seriously impacting social skills) soared in his mainstream classes, worked as a camp counselor, went snowboarding and rock climbing. He also fearlessly tried his hand at skydiving. He was fiercely loved by his parents and three brothers who never hesitated over the years to provide the help he needed.

Dylan may have mastered some significant aspects of his difficulties like academia and driving a car. However, he was all too aware of the serious social challenges preventing him from grasping the last rung on the ladder of achievements–the possibility of being accepted, to not be different and be like everyone else. That coveted lifeline promised to pull him up, making him level with the rest of the world. But Dylan found it elusive. The rung would always be just a bit out of his reach. He was so close.

In his eulogy, his dad expressed sadness that most people focused on his Aspergers rather than his good heart.

Dylan continuously strove to understand social nuance and the mechanics of appropriate conversation. He eagerly tried to learn how to do better. Dylan hoped for friends of his own who would genuinely want to include and appreciate him; to call him because they wanted to catch a movie—not because they were using him to get a ride. He wanted to know what having a girlfriend was like. He yearned for romance and intimacy.

His heart was worn down over time, his dad’s words continued. Dylan worked hard for peer inclusion but got too little in return.

The family, however, is determined not to allow their son’s death to be in vain. They challenge others to include the person who is alone on a Saturday night or the one sitting by him or herself in the cafeteria or social gathering.–‘the one who may lower your social status.’

To say kindness is difficult is counterintuitive. But kindness should not be confused with weakness. In fact insensitivity, selfishness and cruelty is the easy out, impulsively calling forth our most base reaction. Self-control, empathy and compassion are strengths to be nurtured.

It takes soulful effort to fight through personal discomfort and reach out. Brush off social stigma and rediscover common decency. Say hi. Smile—elemental respect everyone deserves. It is so simple. Dignity is a most fundamental right and human need. Humiliation and hurt are powerful emotions that can lead to despair.

Dylan’s family wants people to know that we can set the example. His brothers always included him with their friends and everyone was all the richer for it.

Lack of systemic supports coupled with status-conscious youth set a most tragic stage for Dylan’s final act. The first tragedy was society’s failure to respond.

If that rung was half an inch away, it was a million miles. Let us not dismiss the ability we have to help close that gap for others.

May his memory be a blessing.

X, S

From National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide call 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You’ll be connected to a skilled, trained counselor at a crisis center in your area, anytime 24/7.

*Name changed

**Adults with Asperger’s have suicidal thoughts at about ten times the rate of the general population: 17% to 66%


 (I’m plagued by everything from tragedies in the news to the more every-day life-stresses.  I’ve written the following as an expression of  frustration and hope)

What’s plaguing you?

You know, those crumbs stuck in the recesses of your mind sitting there, slowly rotting,  threatening to infect your better self.

Pharoah, the wicked King of Egypt, just doesn’t get it. It takes no less than ten seriously nasty plagues before finally grasping the concept of change (and even then he was quick to fall back on his old ways).

Pharoah’s actions are the epitome of  Einstein’s well-known definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.  His hardened heart not only harmed others but his loved ones as well.

Consider how often we are guilty of hardening our own hearts because we hurt, are insecure, angry, jaded, fearful and weary. The red flag waves.

We too must learn the same lesson repeatedly before it sinks in. Are we listening to what our lives tell us again and again? Do we heed the signs hidden or glaring? Do we exercise our empathic muscle when we interact with others?

Many times, mental cobwebs cloud those messages and hinder our objectivity. The status-quo may obscure the path to any possible change. One fundamental reason we flounder and stumble: we lack the skills to make even a small step toward redirection. We simply don’t know how. We’re stuck.

According to the Passover story, the enslaved make a break for it and grab the one opportunity they have for freedom. Squandering it could cost them their lives. The yeast may not rise but they themselves would–to the challenge presented.

Luckily, we don’t have to move as fast.  However, the decision to rid ourselves of crumbs, literal or metaphorical, should be made. The journey may be never-ending.  We are a work in progress.



Out With the Old, In With the You

I’m not the biggest fan of suburban life but perks like no-sweat parking and more living space are undeniable.  The yard sale too, the quintessential suburban event, is another.  I brake for them–and any thrift-type store–in my line of vision.

Proving evolution hasn’t killed the thrill of the hunt,  I’ve put to good use dozens of finds like brand-new, never-opened office supplies or the adorable end table repurposed to hold bathroom towels.  Discovering secondhand items I wouldn’t have considered purchasing retail generates creative opportunities I wouldn’t have ever taken.

When I first began thrifting years ago, the concept was fraught with stigma (socially acceptable terms were ‘antique’ or ‘vintage’).  Now not so much.  With our growing sensitivity toward recycling, thinking “green,”  being crafty and a desire to pare down, secondhand stores have become trendy.

But still: Why pick through someone’s past?  Glimpsing briefly into others’ lives I witness a condensed timeline.  What did they hold dear?  Which milestones defined their lives?  Why do they want to dispose of these markers?  Are they ready?

Young families change homes and forge ahead to the future while others clean out lifetimes–theirs or those of loved ones. That reality may be the most difficult. We affix our projections and sentiments to inanimate objects. They are tangible reminders of our past, proof of its existence.  To watch a buyer walk away with a child’s prom dress, crib or a well-loved lounge chair is, no doubt, an exercise in letting go.

Unburdening sets in motion a coming to terms with the end of a time we may have treasured or a goal we must admit we won’t reach.  Several years ago, after holding onto them long after any further realistic possibility, I gave away boxes of baby clothes my kids had worn, finally accepting  I would not, once more, be the mother of a newborn.

Then again, tossing isn’t necessarily negative.  Emotional freedom can perhaps be gained from items discarded.  Though the stuff our dreams were once attached to may get the heave-ho, different owners can breathe new life into things no longer of use to us.

Castoff rites are helpful psychological prompts defining a ‘before’ and ‘after.’   The Jewish New Year ritual Tashlich (pronounced TASH-leekh), practiced by some, symbolizes a casting off of our previous year’s misdeeds and offenses by tossing pieces of bread into a body of water.  The release grants us space to reboot, release our regrets, take vows toward personal improvement, forgive others and–what could be most challenging– ourselves.

Outer skin can be easily shed. What we hold in our hearts and minds is not.  Changes, if they happen at all, are slow. The real work is within. Our hopes are to start fresh and make room for new experiences–not new stuff.

Accoutrements are our armor.  Stripping ourselves of our airs and attitudes leaves only who you are at the core.  You were there all along.

X, S



Freeze Frame

“She’s going to leave me” I mournfully declared for weeks to whomever would listen.  My then-four-year-old-daughter had lost her first tooth and I saw the future looming.  Not that I didn’t know it was on its way.  What I didn’t expect was my reaction.

As my youngest, all my daughter’s milestones would be the last I’d experience as a parent.  Just when I’d barely adjust to one of her stages of growth, she’d go ahead and move to the next one.  I wanted to freeze time despite reality.

Is this post different than any other on quick kid growth, flying time and a general longing for turning the clock back?  Probably not.  But I do think frequent discussion of the topic works as a reminder, a figurative pinch to keep us alert and in the moment.

We work hard to keep close a mental snapshot of the most cherished parts of our lives.  We may even wish we could go back for a do-over. Or not.

Oddly, the tension between holding on and letting go cradles our hopes and fears.  Perhaps the pull keeps us balanced.  Life’s inevitabilities are certain.  Our feelings about them aren’t.

We may seize the moment but it passes way too quickly.  We want it back.  The closest we get to ‘freezing time’ is making time to spend time.

My then-four-year-old is now well into her seventeenth year.  Ready or not, the future is here.  Her teeth are marvelous. X, S

And While You’re At It, Check Everything


Earlier this month, Tal Fortgang, a Princeton freshman, wrote an essay in reaction to often hearing his professors (and some fellow students) tell him to “check his privilege,”  a comment frequently used to tell someone that their presumed bias is showing (  

The professors have a point.  So does Fortgang.  Unfortunately, they are talking at cross purposes, never acknowledging the other’s concern.  Professors rightly attempt to raise students’ consciousness by pointing out how fortunate circumstances can affect one’s perspective.  But I think professors are also obligated to keep open the lines of communication on campus and in the classroom.

“Check your privilege,” in essence, constructs a wall that can ironically  prevent us from working toward further understanding.  Opinions or points of discussion–however erroneous they may be–would rarely, if ever, be raised or even valued because past personal history could never be changed.

Isn’t enlightenment a main goal of higher education–an amalgam of ideas, where no one will be shamed into silence for who or what they are?  Once the phrase is uttered, where does the classroom discussion lead?  Is it a launching point for valuable insight and learning?  Or could students become intimidated, shrinking away from opportunities for understanding others?

More fundamentally, we need to ask:  If we all–students and professors included–have our own affected outlook, are we ever able to understand anyone who’s not like us? Why would we try if we’d be knocked down before the conversation has a chance to start? Are institutions of higher learning still able to provide critical thinking skills?

The larger point here is that anything can cloud a person’s perspective. Not just privilege.  Our world view will always be filtered through the prism of our own background and experience.

We all have a bias of some kind to check.   What’s yours?

X, S