Sunday, October 28, 2007

HTT, how do I tell Mom I no longer want her furniture without looking like an ingrate?

Dear HTT,

Years ago my mother gave me a bunch of really nice furniture that was actually the stuff I grew up with in our family's home. It's really nice, walnut veneered, solid REAL furniture -- a large dining room table and chairs, some desks and night stands, and several occasional tables. She even paid to have the pieces refinished for me. It has been fabulous having the furniture, and I am so grateful to have had it.

But, as my decorating taste has evolved over recent years, I find that the furniture just doesn't "work" for me any more. I have plenty of other family hand-me-down dolls, pictures, and various tchotchkes that I have been able to box up in the attic, hoping that someday I'll have a space for them. But, the furniture -- not so easy to shove into a box and stow it away.

I don't want to appear unappreciative, HTT. But I need to figure out how to talk to Mom about my feelings without coming across as an ungrateful brat. She's a great parent in every way, and I wouldn't purposely hurt her feelings for anything in the world. Can you help me figure this out? How can I have the home and furnishings that I want without making my mother feel bad? Or, should I just suck it up and live with the furniture until my mother's gone to the great beyond?

Daughter in Distress

Dear Daughter,

Technically, when someone gives us a gift, it becomes ours to do with as we please. But, sure, you don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. You quietly exchange the polka CD from Uncle Joe for the newest from Iron and Wine. The giant, feather-covered hair clip your sister-in-law made in her crafting circle? You strategically place it on your dresser before she visits, suggesting that you’d just used it the day before. Nana’s sweatshirt covered with holiday-themed embroidery? Wear it only when you visit your grandmother.

As you point out, however, you can’t just whip out your mother’s dining room table the day before her visit and stow it away once she leaves. So honesty’s the best policy. Unlike the hair clip example, you actually used to like the furniture and got years of good use out of it before your decorating aesthetic evolved. So tell your mother how grateful you are that she gave you the furniture and about how you enjoyed it all this time. But explain that your taste has changed and that you have the opportunity to buy some new furniture that now suits you better. Offer to return the furniture to her, and take responsibility for moving it back.

Chances are, your mother will understand. She’s probably redecorated her home several times over the years (like, after she gave you the walnut-veneered furniture you’re currently feeling guilty about), so surely she’ll empathize with your desire for something new.

Good luck!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

HTT, how do I overcome restoration envy?

Dear HTT,

Several years ago, my husband and I moved into an older neighborhood filled with bungalows and Victorians. Our house was in a state of mild disrepair---not falling down, but definitely in need of some pretty major repairs involving plumbing and foundation, as well as a bunch of updates. We’ve been working on it in waves since we moved in, and it’s starting to come along.

So, what’s the problem? Well, in a word, jealousy. Since a lot of people in this neighborhood are in the same boat and doing a lot of work to their homes, neighbors frequently tour each others’ houses to see what progress has been made, offer tips, suggest handymen, etc. And every time I go on one of these informal tours, I get envious over how nice their places look! It’s not like our house is a tar paper shack or anything, but we’ve spent most of our money on repairs that don’t show (aforementioned plumbing and foundation) and, even if we hadn’t, there’s no way we could afford stainless steel appliances and granite countertops.

How do I stop from comparing our cute little house to all these others, that look like they just walked out of American Bungalow magazine?

Green with Envy

Dear Green,

When I told a friend about this question, she laughed and said, “Do you think you have any frame of reference, any experience to draw on to answer that letter?” She was kidding.

I, too, live in an older bungalow, and I’ve sunk a mint into foundation, porch repair, and plumbing. I’ve bitched and moaned to friends and family about how I could have overhauled my entire kitchen or built a screen porch for what I’ve spent on these boring repairs. Up next at my place? Knocking down a non-functioning chimney no longer even attached to a fireplace, and patching the roof where the chimney now stands. Try highlighting that when you’re showing friends around your house! Not quite the same impact as, “And then, we installed this gorgeous claw-footed tub and period Craftsman-style lighting.”

So, yes, I know just where you’re coming from.

There was a time, not long ago, when middle class people were happy to have a decent, affordable home in which to live and maybe raise a family. Sure, people wanted a house they liked, a house that more or less reflected their sense of style. But these homes were practical places, where toasters rested just as easily on a Formica countertop as they do on granite. Where plain, white (or maybe avocado) refrigerators kept food just as fresh as stainless steel does. Where a fiberglass tub got you just as clean as a 100-year-old enamel-covered metal claw-footed tub. At some point, though, we all went a little crazy. Blame it on HGTV, or Martha Stewart, or Architectural Digest, or American Bungalow, or Restoration Hardware or their ilk. Our idea of what a home should be was transformed from a comfortable sanctuary to a showpiece. Some of us started to feel like we just weren’t trying hard enough if our homes didn’t have glass-fronted kitchen cabinets, or expensive period fixtures, or gleaming refinished hardwood floors.

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with any of these things. I, myself, salivate over Frank Lloyd Wright / Charles Rennie MacIntosh styled anything. If people can afford to have their floors refinished, or have the moxie to do it themselves, right on! Get granite, go for stainless. But if these updates just aren't in your budget now, if you’re spending your money on keeping your house standing, don’t despair. Here are a few tips:

  • For god’s sake stop watching remodeling shows on HGTV. They only make you feel badly about your skills and your home. Those shows where the homeowners supposedly do all the work, remodel their entire house in a month for a couple thousand bucks? That’s pure trickery, my friend. There are tons of skilled workers and designers buzzing around off camera.
  • Cancel your subscription to American Bungalow and recycle, without first reading, all your home furnishing catalogues until you actually need to purchase something.
  • Walk through your house with your husband and discuss every feature you like about it. When you show friends around, don’t apologize for anything or point out all the negatives.
  • This sounds silly, but ask a good friend to “admire” the work you have done. For example, when my foundation work was completed, several friends gushed about how they had never seen a more level house or straighter porch columns. I actually felt a little burst of pride!
  • Finally, be grateful. You own a cute home that was within your means, and you live in a funky neighborhood that you love.

Maybe I’ll run into you at Home Depot one of these days!


Wednesday, October 10, 2007

HTT, in the middle of an argument, my boyfriend asked me if it was "that time of the month"!

Dear HTT,

I need your help. In the midst of an argument, my boyfriend committed a cardinal sin. This is a man who is normally very kind, supportive, and understanding. This *event* might have been a minor lapse in judgment. However, I'm still pretty steamed over it -- so I need your help to figure out, objectively, if I am overreacting!

OK -- here was the situation. He and I started to have a disagreement about something that he felt was trivial. The fact that he thought the issue was trivial caused this disagreement to blow up into a full ARGUMENT. At this point in the argument, I'm feeling really frustrated that he appeared to have a complete lack of regard for something that I felt was very important. So, we go 'round and 'round... things are getting really heated... he still thinks this whole thing is ridiculous... when he says, "What time of the month is it?" OHHHHH let me tell you, I was NOT amused. I flew off the handle. What started as frustration because he wasn't giving as much care to an issue that *I* felt was important - became anger that he overtly stated that I was irrational for even feeling upset in the first place. Like I said, he's normally very kind and supportive. What he said really shocked me. Is he secretly a real jerk?

Am I overreacting? What should I do?


Not Laughing

Dear Not Laughing,

At first, this line of questioning struck me as extremely sexist. If a woman and a man disagree about something, what makes it o.k. to assume the only cause of the disagreement is the woman’s hormonal state? Why can’t it simply be because the man is wrong? I mean, having a period is not the same as having a botched lobotomy. And I don’t know any women who, when arguing with a man, say something like, “Oh you just can’t think straight because you’re still distraught over your failure to achieve an erection last night.” Or, “honey, your sensitivity about your ever-growing bald spot is really clouding your judgment.”

But then, to be fair, I’m also willing to admit that some of us (and by “us” I mean some of womankind in general…certainly not me) do become a little emotional, a little hair-trigger-tempered when Aunt Dot comes to town.

So, for the sake of argument, let’s even say your hormones did rear their heads that day. Still, even if your boyfriend guessed correctly, did he actually gain anything by smugly mentioning it? Clearly not; you became more enraged.

So, guys, a tip from me to you: pulling the “is it THAT time of the month?” card will never help you win an argument. I’ll bet that no woman in the history of menstruation has ever, when confronted with that question in the middle of a heated discussion, responded, “Gee, you’re right honey, I’m just being totally irrational because my hormones are screwing with my head and my entire torso is wracked with cramps. Don’t even bother paying attention to my opinions for another four days.”

Now, men, if the woman in your life does suffer from mood swings when her period rolls around, and if you choose to track her cycle clandestinely for your own well being (or, better yet, to avoid arguments and to remember to bring home chocolate and red wine), feel free to do so. But mention it at your peril. And remember, just because we’re crabby doesn’t mean we’re wrong.

Yours truly,

Tuesday, October 2, 2007


So, I worked at Wendy's for about three months while I was in high school. It was a pretty terrible job in all the ways you'd imagine. But my store manager had a special humiliation lined up just for me: every Saturday, I had to dress up as Wendy and hand out balloons. When I asked why no one else ever had to don the itchy, yarn Wendy's wig and put on her pinafore, the manager said, "You're the only white girl working here. Does Wendy look black to you?" Well, he had a point. But still!

Anyway, on the way to Atlanta a few weeks ago, my friend and I stopped at Wendy's for lunch, and I got to relive a few fond memories of my Wendy's days: