If you grew up in the ‘burbs, this Tumblr will speak to your soul

mcmansion 3
Pic: McMansion Hell

People, I am beside myself.

As y’all know, I work in operations at a design studio. Usually the things my coworkers share on our #random Slack channel are technology related (and thus completely over my head) or super played out memes I’ve already seen during the 90% of my life that I spend on social media.

But when the glory that is McMansionHell.com hit the thread I was truly floored and given no choice but to share it with literally everyone I know. McMansions (n.) can best be described as the gaudy, humongous, oft cheaply¬†constructed and illogically designed homes built around the turn of the millennium for the now defunct “Upper Middle Class” to feign opulence to their surrounding suburban neighbors. As the blog beautifully puts it, they are the ‚Äúknockoff bags of architecture.‚ÄĚ

When the bubble burst, many of these homes were either repossessed or put up for sale by their recession-hit owners. McMansion Hell is a blog that takes photos of the worst of these monstrosities from real estate websites like Zillow, and explains in perfect comedic tone the blatant architectural failures of each room in the home. The writer, Kate, is originally from North Carolina (right?) and really knows what she’s talking about, presumably in part because these thangs are ALL OVER THE FREAKIN’ PLACE in our home state.

As someone who lived in a McMansion for the whole of my teenage years‚Äďand returned for the holidays up until¬†a few¬†months ago when my combined family finally split up and flipped that thing to the highest bidder‚Äďthis blog speaks to my deepest embarrassments and confusion about the world in which I came of age, and about the people who conceived of it.

mcmansionhell2
Pic: McMansion Hell

My mother and father divorced when I was 4, and if you count each of their respective residences, I lived in a total of 8 homes before graduating high school. Since each¬†household was supported by a single-parent breadwinner, it’s safe to say that the first 7 of them were…comfortable. Even nice, in the way middle class subdivisions were in the 90s, before everything started dropping into foreclosure like flies. Not really boastful or flashy, but a nice, safe¬†place for kids to grow up.

From ‚Äė94 to ‚Äė99, my mother, two of my brothers and I lived in a nice little neighborhood called Lake Moor in Garner, North Carolina. Garner wasn’t exactly a town known for its wealth per capita, but Lake Moor was one of the nicer spots in the area. It was the kind of place where, at least it seemed, you could let your kids roam around on bikes unsupervised, down the paved trails in the woods to throw rocks in Lake Benson, never giving it a second thought that they‚Äôd be kidnapped or hit by a truck. There was even a community¬†pool with a vending machine that sold BRISK Iced Tea for $0.60 a can and playground that only left you with splinters 90% of the time. Luxury, indeed. ¬†

screen-shot-2016-09-28-at-10-34-24-pm

^See, fairly normal suburban whatever-house. There used to be a third tree in that patch¬†but it fell during hurricane Fran. I remember because the next day when I was¬†climbing on it a yellow jacket stung the back of my leg. But this isn’t about Fran¬†this is about a house that I remember being much bigger than this! Turns out I was just smaller than I am now! Science is crazy.

My favorite thing as a child¬†was to play pretend, specifically as a princess. ¬†As many of you know, I still do this today and it can be very annoying. But as a kid, it was quite cute. I had a canopy bed and all white furniture with brass plated¬†detailing typical of a 90s girl‚Äôs room. I’d tap around¬†the foyer of our house¬†in my shiny black Sunday shoes and polyester slips believing I was Cinderella or whomever I wanted to embody that day. My mother’s taste in furniture was grand and traditional, dark cherry woods that, when I slid the fingers of my white gloves across them, made me feel like Anastasia. Outside, I‚Äôd play with my dog in the overgrown cattails by the pond and talk to myself, like the tomboy alter ego of any fairy tale protagonist. But inside, I would put on a toy tiara and sneak into my mom‚Äôs china cabinet to play with her silver. We didn‚Äôt live in a McMansion just yet, but the details were there. The aspiration was there. To me, it always felt like pretend. And I guess it was supposed to.¬†

It’s normal for kids to¬†idolize those who have more than they do. Adults, too. And to the untrained eye, bigger + crazier + vague references to lavishness of yore¬†= wealth. On summer days, my brother Winston and I used to rollerblade down to the neighborhood‚Äôs one local McMansion, which at the time we just referred to as ‚ÄúThe Mansion,‚ÄĚ and we‚Äôd gawk at how official it looked. To us, it was basically the White House. Who lived there, we wondered? They must be famous! Remember, this house was in Garner, North Carolina. Probably not a half mile from our own. No…looking back, I don‚Äôt think anyone ‚Äúfamous‚ÄĚ lived there. We were young.

screen-shot-2016-09-28-at-10-39-22-pm

^McMansion AF,¬†you guys! For some reason I remember there being a gate at the beginning of this driveway but that would be¬†literally nuts, wouldn’t it? Also, please look at the¬†mailbox. And that gigantic dormer. And the spacing of the windows. And the chimney! And the fact that there are TWO FUCKING FRONT DOORS! This is the house that I wanted to live in at age 7. As you can probably guess, there is nothing on either side of my family that qualifies as “old money.”

Not long after that, my mom remarried.¬†Winston and I were sitting in the den of our between-houses rental home when our mom and stepfather-to-be showed us a mockup of the house they were having built. A house big enough for two of my mom’s kids and four of his and the two of them and the dog to all live together in the middle of Cary, North Carolina. It was…a certified McMansh. Or as I yelped excitedly upon seeing the drawings: “A MANSION???!” My mom shushed me, smirking. I mean it would be wrong to brag, of course. But clearly I was about the become the rich-bitch princess I had always deserved to be. I was ten years old.

screen-shot-2016-09-28-at-10-54-36-pm
The house I lived in from age 10 to age 17

I can’t really sum up what it was like to live here because all my memories are biased due to a) the fact that the ages¬†10-17 are some of the most complicated and traumatizing years of your life EVEN when you have a traditional nuclear family and no mental illness and b) I most certainly did not have a traditional nuclear family or a sound emotional state. But we did¬†have 6 bedrooms, a¬†three-car garage, a¬†trampoline in the back, a big deck, and a¬†massive interior which was either full of strangers or completely empty, cold and echoing. My room was enormous by any¬†standard, which was great for retreating from the world to journal and make collages and, in the later years, to do drugs. I¬†didn’t drive until I was almost out of high school, and I spent up to¬†that time¬†annoyed I didn’t live downtown with the other cool kids in their smaller, historic bungalows that better fit my ~super indie hipster aesthetic~. Things were uneven here and there, and after a while, started falling apart.

But I do think it was beautiful, and my mom loved it. She adored it, honestly, at times as though it were¬†one of her children. I think it was a symbol for her steadfast belief that we¬†really could have the perfect life. That our family, even though it was a weirdo wonky mess most of the time, did all belong together under this big-ass roof. “If you build it, happiness will come,” you know? Or maybe it was a “the bigger the house, the closer to God,” sort of thing. I’m kidding.

FullSizeRender (2)
Some McMansion Hell-inspired art I made based on my own experience. Do u get it?

I do have some good memories of this place.¬†The pantry, for one, which was roughly the size of my entire current apartment and always stocked with snacks; the way you could be on one end of the house hooking up with your teenage boyfriend and your parents couldn’t hear on account of being a half a mile away in their bedroom; the fact that my mom was queen of the castle, so when I was there, she was taking care of me.¬†It was something comforting to return to when I was in college and living in houses that were quite¬†literally falling to the ground. I hated the suburbs, sure, but I loved how¬†you could see the stars in the sky, walk around in the middle of the night safely, jump a fence to a¬†pool and the worst that would happen is a soccer¬†mom would furrow her¬†eyebrows at you through a glass-brick window.

And of course,¬†once I moved to New York,¬†our¬†McMansion¬†became my post-ironic luxury. Every time I would visit I’d take photos of myself in my mom‚Äôs spa-like bathroom, walk around in her terry cloth robe sipping champagne, bask in the sun in an adirondack¬†chair and worry about absolutely¬†nothing. That‚Äôs what the suburbs are good for – while they may not be an entirely accurate representation of your reality, if in fact you are in the market for a comfortable delusion, they are always there for you. At 23, living in a rat infested building and making $300 a week, I loved going home again to play pretend.

The house sold back in April when the Bradys came un-bunched.¬†But I don‚Äôt miss it. It was too much, like a lot of things that were going on¬†at the time. And now a new young family lives there and my mom lives in a lovely house not too far away. But looking at the photos of it,¬†I have to say I am overwhelmed with nostalgia. On Google street view you can see our old cars in the driveway, and for a second it really got to me.¬†I don’t miss the house really, or the neighborhood, or most of the family. I guess part of me just misses the safety of having a home base at all. Misses not knowing the truth: that you can’t go back to the past, that everything disappears eventually, that some things weren‚Äôt made to last in the first place.

ANYWAY, the blog is funny as shit, and I am basically in love with Kate and her taste level/depth of knowledge/dry-as-heck wit. Apparently we’re from the same place and all, so unless she‚Äôs like 75, we MUST have some mutual friends. If you know her, introduce me, so we can get married ironically on the steps¬†of a McMansion.

McMansion Hell1
McMansionHell.com

 

 

 

Disaster Chef: If I Made A Damn Pumpkin Pie Then You Definitely Can Too

Mom Blogger Pie

As some of you know, I low-key aspire to be a Mom Blogger and frequently exhibit traits of this particular breed of human (besides, you know, having human kids)  Рsometimes ironically, sometimes not.

After spending the years from 2006 to 2013 drinking my weight in malt liquor, missing my alarm in the morning, ignoring my goals, messing around with drugs, encouraging my own body dysmorphia, smoking, willfully participating in shitty relationships, and eating beans out of cans, I DISCOVERED, as it turns out, that I actually need, enjoy, and thrive on the following things:

  • A¬†clean home with some nice items¬†in it
  • Food that doesn’t come¬†from the bodega
  • A full time job with benefits
  • A solid relationship with a person who also has a¬†good¬†job and a very minimal¬†set of issues
  • Getting 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night
  • Doing things that are healthy for my spirit, such as ignoring¬†the haters, having a¬†positive body image, focusing on my dreams & using my time wisely.
  • Enjoying substantial quantities of top to second-from-top shelf vodka only one or two days a week.

Now, I am not¬†saying I regret the past, nor am I trying to tell anyone how to live. I am¬†a sex-positive person who respects personal choice and unique lifestyles and bucking the status quo when you feel like it. I’ve definitely made some questionable decisions in the name of exploring myself, my needs, and this crazy-ass world we live in. I encourage anyone to do the same.

That being said,¬†I also feel like much of my early twenties¬†were spent saying to myself “Why am I putting myself in these¬†situations? How do I stop feeling this way? Poor me, and also, I am the worst,” when what I really should have done was break up with whoever-the-fuck, get off the internet, and get a damn job.

I think some people were surprised when I started adjusting my priorities. Maybe it was a letdown, because I wasn’t going out and peeing between parked cars with them every night. But there were a few things motivating me. The first is, I had found a respectful, funny, trustworthy,¬†unaggressive, and down-to-earth man who loved me. And after dating every¬†make and model of loser imaginable, I was not about to¬†fuck that up with bad decisions. The second is that I was getting older, and past a certain age it’s hard to make messy look cute. I’ve talked about this before. I never was the kind of person who could stay out until 4am, still make it to work the next day and NOT want to throw myself out of a ten-story window. I was just like, “I want to be happy and stop feeling guilty all the time for being fucking irresponsible.” So I’ve been working on this for the last year or so.

IMG_6595

The start of every Childless Mom Lifestyle: getting your first pair of Uggs

This is one¬†of the reasons I love being a domestic goddess from time to time. Just like in high school when that girl Rebecca¬†told people she was shocked we got into the same college because she thought I was dumb (don’t think I forgot),¬†I take pleasure in doing things well that are¬†not expected of me, or that I don’t expect of myself. A self-fulfilling prophecy will get you every time. I also like providing nourishment for others and cultivating a comfortable environment for the people I love, having grown to¬†understand the significance of those things in my own life.

So that’s¬†where the pie comes in.

You see, I’ve been in the dating game for about ten years, and¬†out of all twenty of my boyfriends I think maybe three of their moms have actually liked me. It’s just always been this way. I guess I took a couple¬†virginities when I was younger and I was¬†never¬†churchy or blonde, but I wasn’t a bad person, so I don’t know what their damage was specifically. But they sure had damage. In tenth grade one mother actually¬†referred to¬†me as “the spawn of Satan.” I was fifteen – I hadn’t even done anything awesome yet! High school was rough for me.

Given my past experience, when my¬†adorable current boyfriend invited me to his parents’ house for Thanksgiving I was pretty nervous. I’ve never been to a guy’s family home for a major holiday before, and I wanted to make a good impression. A GREAT impression. The kind of impression that makes them happy that I live with their son. I’m not a master chef, but I do have some basic skills and the even the ability to improvise from time to time. Last year around Christmas I brought over a card and some homemade body scrub (which was kind of a flop but they were nice about it) and these Oreo cheesecake cookies I made from a recipe I found on Pinterest. Those were divine (I’m the kind of person who says divine now)¬†so I decided to go back to the source.

If you haven’t accepted it already,¬†Pinterest is the shit. It just is. It’s my guidebook for¬†cleaning my act up. Even though they DO have some heinous DIY shabby chic country sorority bullshit on there, I also feel like I’m in control over my home, my body and my mind when I’m on that app. It makes adult life possible for a ne’er do well, and you can imagine how useful that is for me.

Follow me on Pinterest here! Screen Shot 2015-12-16 at 12.42.04 PM

So naturally, I turned to Pinterest when it came time to prep for Thanksgiving. I knew I wanted to make a pumpkin pie, because it’s not Thanksgiving without one. And I’m all about doing holidays right. Plus, it’s a southern staple, so I figured it would be a nice addition to their Long Island spread.

I’m not sure why I decided I needed to make the pie “from scratch,” since I’ve never done that before in my life. I was raised in a household where store-bought pie crust and filling from a can is quite fancy enough. Hell, a pre-made¬†pie would be just fine. And James’ parents aren’t snooty either. I guess it was just one of those situations where I was being a teacher’s pet (his mom is a teacher,¬†no pun intended though) doing extra credit even when I already had an easy A. Plus, holidays are just ridiculously important to me. I’m the girl you’ll find frantically buying packs of hot dogs on the 4th of July, dragging my friends to Central Park on a cloudy Memorial Day or flipping out about a serious lack of margarita mix on Cinco de Mayo. To put it simply, I need to chill.

Regardless, there I was in the Union Square Whole Foods two days before Thanksgiving, zigzagging between rich hipsters and trying to find nutmeg. Of course there was none, presumably because every damn Thanksgiving recipe calls for it, so I settled for this thing called “Pumpkin Pie Spice,” a combination of nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger and allspice. I picked up a pie pumpkin, threw it in my tote and prayed that that day¬†was not the day that I finally get pushed down the stairs boarding the L train, because it would have been a shame to squash that gourd (do you even see what I did there?)

I had already made a crust the night before. It was a graham cracker crust, so not made from “scratch” per se, however, it did not start out as a crust and then it became one, so I happily gave myself credit.

Making a graham cracker crust is super easy. You take 10 graham crackers (usually how many they include in a pack), crush them up, and mix it with 6 tablespoons of melted butter and 1/3 cup of sugar.

Pie Crust 3
Since I don’t have a food processor, I tried to use a regular blender to crush the crackers, which didn’t work very well. When the machine starting smelling like smoke (wtf?) I stopped and crushed the rest with a potato masher. Then I mixed in the butter and sugar (I used brown sugar because it’s what I had and it seemed just as good if not better) and pressed it into the pie plate. You can use something flat like a measuring cup to press down the center, and use your fingers around the sides.
It ended up cute and tasty looking, and I was impressed with myself. Find the full recipe for a graham cracker crust here.
Pie Crust 5
HOW CUTE, right?
Since I was going to bake the pie anyway, I didn’t need to pre-bake the crust. I just put it in the fridge overnight and came back to it the next day.
pumkin2

Having made it home alive after my Whole Foods excursion, I was ready to make my pie goo. Everyone kept telling me this was the most annoying part, the most delicate process and the main reason why nobody likes making pumpkin pies from scratch. But I thought it was pretty straightforward and fun.

I got the full recipe from¬†here. Y’all, I cannot stress the¬†beautiful¬†and sometimes¬†frightening normalcy I am able to witness on¬†these Pinterest-ass blogs. I adore them.

Essentially, you cut the pumpkin in half, and scoop out the seeds and the stringy stuff. Then you place each half on a cookie sheet “flesh-side down,” which I figured out¬†means “round side up” even though I thought flesh and skin were the same thing and that the¬†skin was on the outside…but ANYway…

Then you roast that shit at 325 for an hour. Once it’s done, you’re able to to pull the skin off the outside and just have the pumpkin mush, which you have to mash up really well. This is where I had a problem, because my blender was smelling like smoke, I don’t own a standing mixer or a food processor, soooo I just used a whisk. I whisked so hard n fast, and of course, no matter what it was still a little chunky. But¬†I was like, “Whatever. It’s 10PM and I need to go to bed soon.”

I dumped in the rest of the ingredients, (eggs, milk, brown sugar, pumpkin pie spice) and made the gorgeous barf-colored mixture pictured below.

pumpkin6

mmmm

pumpkin8

Above is what it looked like in the crust before I baked it. A little chunky, sure, but I was already like 80% done making my first pie ever, and it actually looked like a real pie!

So obviously I patted myself on the back way too early, failing to realize that one of the easiest ways to fuck up a baked good as an amateur is by burning it. I put the assembled pie in the oven at 325 and was planning to leave it in for another hour. But somewhere around 45 minutes I started smelling burning crust.

See, this is what I can’t deal with when it comes to ovens. They’re all different and confusing and none of the knobs make any damn sense, and you need to buy a fancy thermometer to actually know what the hell is going on in there. Plus, I’m always just afraid I’m going to fall in and permanently disfigure my face.

You’d think I’d be¬†way too simple and anxious to even survive in a kitchen, but again, there I was,¬†creatively navigating this potential disaster in my own stupid way. I unbent a paperclip to do the “toothpick trick” to¬†figure out if the center of the pie was done. I moved it from bottom rack to top rack to bottom again. I changed the oven temperature. And eventually I just took it out, let it cool and hoped the damn thing would stop jiggling.

The next day, I carried the pie to work on the L train, placed it in the fridge with a big DO NOT EAT sign, then cradled it in my lap on the LIRR (with a can of whipped cream in my purse, of course.)

As it turns out, ¬†James’ mother doesn’t even like pumpkin pie!¬†This was awesome¬†news! But it was a hit with the men of the household, and I fuckin’ loved it too, so that was enough for me. Plus, I think I mentioned once or twice¬†that I MADE IT FROM SCRATCH, so I’m pretty sure I get some points for that with the whole fam.

The next week, as I was roasting the leftover pumpkin seeds, I started imagining myself as a mother, hosting my own family gatherings and feeding pie to my little babies. I had fantasized for about a minute when I smelled the pumpkin seeds starting to burn.

“Yeah,” I thought. “One thing at a time.” And I poured¬†a glass of vodka.

IMG_8372

PS – This is the appropriate pie-to-whipped-cream ratio. Thanks.