our house is a very very very fine house

Last year, right before Evangeline was born, I wrote a post in praise of the Pioneer Woman blog.  Nine months pregnant in the dead middle of winter, with the Steelers in the playoffs, I found myself drawn to many of her more fat-laden meals. Jalapeno peppers stuffed with cream cheese and wrapped in bacon? Sign me up. Roast beef squashed between two pieces of Texas toast, then smothered in provolone cheese? No complaints from this pregnant lady. I probably composed the post I wrote while licking fat off my fingers and patting my belly in full satisfaction.

At the time, it seemed as though whatever question I had, PW could answer. Sometimes it still seems that way – recently I had the best broccoli cheese soup I had ever tasted and I grew a little obsessed with finding the perfect recipe and sure enough, that very day, PW posted one. I haven’t made it yet but I’m still waiting for real winter to show up.

Sometime after I wrote the post and after Evangeline was born S. pointed out an article in the New Yorker profiling PW. It’s a fascinating piece that provided significant insight into how both PW and her husband manage her personal brand. I didn’t find it a particularly surprising article…that she and her husband must have money was obvious, given her style of living…that she makes significant income from her brand didn’t surprise me either. What did take me back – and this will show just how naive I am in the world of blogging – is the fact that the pioneer woman photo shops her photos. This seriously never occurred to me before…that any woman would use photo shop to punch up the pink in her daughter’s cheek, or make the orange of a sunset, well, more orange.

It didn’t bother me that PW and her husband are financially well-off – lots of people have money. It didn’t bother me that she’s probably a bit more business savvy than her blog would lead you to believe – I am probably a bit more business savvy than you would think. But photoshopping her pictures? And, if PW is photoshopping her pictures, are the other mom bloggers I read doing the same thing?

It turns out, yes. It also turns out that I have been living under the proverbial rock for not realizing that the lives these mothers share with us are polished and punched up and selectively chosen to create their own personal brand, whether they realize it or not.

I shouldn’t have a problem with this. More power to any momma who can find the time to photo shop her photos (confession 1 – I haven’t yet printed out a single picture of Evangeline’s first year, for framing or otherwise).  I also don’t tend to be overly critical of the mommy blogging boom that has erupted across the internet in the last decade – again, by any means necessary.  But for some reason the perfecting of photos really gets to me. I think it’s because I doubt how much value this really brings to the table…I mean, does nobody’s kid ever look like this:

(confession 2 – I have two outfits I wear all the time when I’m not at work…either leggings with a long shirt S. calls my “eighties shirt” or jeans with a white fishermen sweater – both are tucked into the  tall green rainboots that I wear all. the. time.)

I guess maybe this whole photoshopping thing makes sense…maybe it means that not everybody is busy perfectly appointing their parlors or whipping up batches of lemon merengue pie…instead they are putting a their ideal persona forward…who they would like to be verses who they really are. I can’t be the only one with a toy corner that looks like this:

Tilt your head to the left…you’ll get the idea. I can’t even get this picture to rotate properly.

I guess if I really had to pinpoint why this semi-fabrication bothers me, it’s probably because I’m envious of the lives put forth in these photographs, but it is an envy that is motivating rather than harmful. The truth is I want to create a beautiful home, a fashionable wardrobe and lovely meals but that kind of domesticity is something I’ve always struggled with.  In my reasonable moments I understand that S. and I have made great strides with our house, from upgrading all of the electric to new windows to a complete redo of Evangeline’s room, and yet I still feel frustrated that the living room isn’t cozy, the dining room isn’t glamorous. Say what you will about the importance of these things in the scheme of life but to me, having a comfortable and nice-looking home is important  – I just can never seem to find the time to prioritize it. In a way I find comfort in the house and mothering blogs I read when the authors seem to have it naturally all together, from finding the right skinney jeans and flats to featuring the latest thing to do with wild mushrooms.  I like the idea that some women out there manage to pull together fashion and house and home and motherhood and wifedom in one glamorous, easy-breezy package, without photoshop.

Yep, I’m naive.

I am embarking on what I am thinking of as a year-long adventure with my house. This is not a resolution but rather a promise I decided to make to myself late last fall. I think one of my downfalls is an unwillingness, at times, to put the work that is necessary for the results I seek. Oh, I don’t do this at work or as a mother or, I don’t think, as a wife – I work very very hard at all of those things. But in terms of having the kind of house I want? I get lazy, sometimes. So I’ve decided to really commit to working on the house and seeing what I am able to achieve, and not leave everything up to S. (something I can be very guilty of at times). I started slow this month – the only goal I set was to get an estimate on air duct cleaning and select a month to have a service come do it – done and done. I managed to push beyond that goal and even went shopping, purchasing a new comforter and sheets and blankets for our bed (those items hadn’t been replaced in at least five years, but I find it difficult to spend money on luxury for S. and me – I can’t say why this is) . The task, even the washing and making up of the bed, wasn’t as loathsome as I thought it would be amd the reward? Well, the reward was a toasty warm and pretty to look at bed in the middle of a house under rehabilitation. Spend money on your beds, people. It’s an incredibly quick win.

I’m looking forward to documenting the work I do on the house in this space, and I’ve decided to make this promise – whatever I am able to do in terms of creating a better home for my family, I will write about it here. And the photos won’t be photoshopped or altered or made to look like something they aren’t – they will just reflect the life we live in Pittsburgh, good bedding, bad flooring and all.










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13 Responses to our house is a very very very fine house

  1. Amanda says:

    An important thing to remember is that none of the photoshop Mommy bloggers have full time jobs outside the home. I really doubt any woman that does would ever be able to compete in terms of polished, glossy online presentation. (Mormon mommy blogs are one of my guilty pleasures…have you seen the rockstar diaries? I feel exhausted just looking at it thinking of the energy it must take)

  2. shoreacres says:

    Just a couple of notes from the “things ain’t always what they seem” department.
    Some people photoshop pictures, but there are a whole lot of women out there photoshopping their lives. I lived in Salt Lake City for a year. I knew many Mormon women. Whatever their mommy-blogs look like, there are other realities that aren’t so nice: depression, anxiety and suicide. One of the most critical support networks in town was for abused Mormon women who wanted out of their marriages, knowing they would be ostracized and cut off from their children. From the outside, everything looked perfect for those women. From the inside, not so much. It may be better now – I hope it is. And of course the same dynamic holds true in many, many communities.

    And Amanda’s right about having the time – and money – to create those perfect worlds. I don’t have a baby, but for the last five years, when I was taking care of mom and working full time – good grief. Never mind photoshopping pictures – just managing to get a post up on a regular basis was an unbelievable chore. If I’d been married, too? It would have been impossible.

    I still like the old saying – “You can have it all. You just can’t have it all at the same time.” Feels true to me. 😉

  3. Laura says:

    I could have written this post myself! And it took me the longest time as well to realize – even after having bought my first DSLR – that the photos I was getting straight out of my camera, no matter how hard I tried or studied or practiced, would never be as “stunning” as the ones other photographers posted, because *big surprise* they were Photoshopping theirs. And I guess you might say I’m even more naive, because I *use* Photoshop on a regular basis for my digital art stuff. It just never occurred to me, that with all the natural beauty in the world, that people would have to fake it instead.

    If it’s any comfort to you, I *very* rarely Photoshop my own photos. Like others said, who has the time for that? I only ever would if I had a photo that came out especially bad (poor lighting, or wonky white balance, for example) but would otherwise be a perfectly good photo. In that case, I’d rather try to salvage it with Photoshop than delete it.

    I have a similar New Year’s resolution in regards to my home. Our trap is that, for the past two years, we haven’t been sure we wanted to stay here. But since we aren’t sure where we want to be anyway, we might as well settle in and make the most of it for now. We desperately need to declutter and decorate.

  4. Amy says:

    For the record, I tell people you have the most comfortable couch of all the couches I get paid to sit on. (;

  5. Charlotte says:

    I think it’s important to remember that ‘easy-breezy’ takes a shedload of effort, third-party support and money to happen. No-one with easy-breezy is achieving it alone. While I hear you that having a lovely home means a lot to you (it does to me too), it’s the love inside the home that gives it the warmth and beauty that makes friends and family return. And I believe you have a shedload of that, Courtney.

  6. smithereens says:

    Thanks for your post! Yes, I too believed that photos were natural too for quite a long time (PW does allude to lenses and photo techniques a lot). I love to read that type of mommy blogs (even mormon moms) as a sort of eye candy, an aspirational window on a perfect planet, a page of a glossy magazine. It really helps for me that I do in fact live on another… well, continent, so that everything those mommies speak of is very exotic to me.
    Hurray for these new bed stuff! And I do look forward to watch your unedited pictures of your home improvement projects, don’t worry about perfection.

  7. Pete says:

    Love the pictures of Evangeline and her toys. And congrats on any posting that gets done (and any home-improvement too)! If I were a daddy blogger I wouldn’t photoshop but clicking on ‘colour correct’ only takes a moment so I’d do that. I agree with the comment that it is the photo-shopped lives which are more worrying.

  8. Anne Camille says:

    Being past the Mommy age (but thankfully not yet to the grandmommy stage), I don’t have much experience with the type of blog that you are talking about. I have been spending a lot of time looking at photo blogs too and it was a while before I realized that many of the images were achieved by post-processing. e.g., Photoshop. Back in the days of film, special effects could be accomplished too. But, comparing my sunset photos to something that is not one photo but a compilation of 3 photos? No wonder I couldn’t achieve that! I don’t really have problems with it — it is just a different type of thing. I suppose the same goes with keeping one’s house: it can be really depressing to compare apples to oranges when you think you both have apples. Or that you can really make those wonderful gourmet meals on FoodNetwork in 30 minutes with commercial breaks? Or remodel the house in a weekend? It’s so easy to skew our lives when we compare them to something that we don’t have the time or resources to achieve. It’s much better to focus on the simple, like new bedding, and spending time with our families than worrying about providing a perfect house for them.

  9. Emily Barton says:

    I’m committing to my house, too, in 2012 (mine’s nothing that would ever be featured in Better Homes and Gardens, and I don’t even have a baby to distract me). I have never, in my whole adult life, lived in the kind of home I really want, due to never making it a priority, and I want that to change. My first priority is to get it organized (no more attic and basement I’m ashamed to let anyone see) and then I will focus on that thing called “home decor,” which to most people seems to mean more than throwing an old quilt over the chair the cats have clawed to pieces. I might even invest in a home decorator (we’ll see…). If I ever achieve my goals, I promise not to post photoshopped pictures to my blog, not only because I, Ms. Luddite, would have no idea how to do such things, but also because I’d consider such photos to be big. fat. lies.

  10. musingsfromthesofa says:

    I think I like knowing that other people’s lives aren’t perfect, it’s one of the bonding things about blogging! I was literally just sitting here thinking ‘I need a side table, a new armchair (mine’s too big for the room), storage baskets so I can get my clothes out of the suitcases they’ve been in for 3 months, new bookcases, curtains that didn’t come with the rental, water glasses…’ I find it really hard to prioritise that stuff too. And yet I know it makes a difference. Good luck with your project!

  11. ZoesMom says:

    I know how you feel. The first few years with kids make it difficult to get anything but the basics done unless you really plan.

    New bedding really does make a world of difference.

    And your toy corner is NOTHING compared to what ours used to look like.

  12. Courtney says:

    Amanda…mormon mommie blogs? i had no idea they existed! Well, I mean, not NO idea but I never thought of them as a separate entity from mommy blogging. And I just looked up rockstar diaries…um, awesome. Totally putting it on the blogroll just because.

    Shoreacres – on the one hand I know the saying “you can have it all, just not all at the same time is true” but something about it has always bothered me. Hmmm, there might be a post in this at some point down the road…thanks!

    Laura – I think photoshopping to salvage a photo makes perfect sense. I don’t even necessarily think it’s “wrong” or even “weird” that all of these women are photoshopping their pics…I was just astounded. Part of it is the time thing, the other part is that it feels a tiny bit deceitful…which is just so stupid of me!

    Amy – that makes me very very happy indeed!

    Charlotte – what a wonderful compliment…I teared up a bit reading it! I absolutely agree that the love inside the home is what is important…I NEVER felt like the home I grew up in was “less than” but now when I look at pictures I can see how broke my parents were…but all I remember is the love! Still, though, I at least need to organize E’s medical records…

    Smithereens – I know that PW often refers to lenses and I knew her camera was pretty sophisticated…still, the photoshopping surprised me! Your is the second message talking about mormon moms so I am determined to find this/these blogs this afternoon – sort of excited about it!

    Pete – I think that is the most succinct way possible to put it – “photoshopped lives are more worrying” – exactly! And I would color correct too…I’m not even saying I’m above photoshopping – I just don’t have that kind of time! And if I did I would try and be more transparent, I think?

    Anne – too much exposure to the foodnetwork and design television will absolutely make you feel at once horrible and terribly motivated…now that I’ve thought about it I am wondering if all the time I spent at home sick over the holidays with the tv on has somehow “influenced” this current train of thought…hmmm..

    Emily – and we DESERVE the homes we want! I love that you might post some unphotoshopped pics as well – sisters with a mission!

    Musings…that’s the tough part! It is so hard to prioritize but makes such a difference in quality of life! I am going to see how it goes for one year…just one year. You can do anything for a year, right?

    Zoesmom – oh, I feel better about the toy corner, then!

  13. musingsfromthesofa says:

    Courtney – I have banished my suitcases, bought a gorgeous throw to go over the bed, moved a couple of pictures around and my bedroom is literally transformed. I love it, so much so that I came back to bed this morning with a cup of tea so I could enjoy it. Of course, now the sitting room is missing a picture and looks drab, but hey, one step at a time, right? Onwards!

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