Ahh! It’s nearly here. Subscribe to Chelsea Processing!

Hi loyal readers!

As many of you know, I’m moving my writing to a new blog, Chelsea Processing, which I will officially launch later this week (yay/eek!).

After giving it a lot of thought, I’ve decided not to migrate my Cute Girl With a Banjo content over to the new site. Truthfully, I need a fresh start. It doesn’t feel right combining the two projects. It’s time for me to let CGWB rest.

The good news is, all of this site’s content will be sticking around for the foreseeable future.

For those who would like to continue following my writing (plus get exclusive content and freebies!) please join my mailing list here.

Note to WordPress followers: you will be migrated over to Chelsea Processing this week. New posts should show up in your RSS feed. However, because I’m moving to a self-hosted WordPress site, you will no longer receive emails when I publish posts. If you’d like to receive emails and other exclusives from me, please sign up here.

Thank you for supporting Cute Girl With a Banjo. I’ve grown and learned so much through the experience of writing this blog. I feel an immense sadness that it must come to an end, yet I know it’s time.

I hope to see you all at Chelsea Processing. Much love.


The 7 stages of moving

Stage one: Create a brilliant plan and set a budget


Relax. It’s all in the plan!

First, you make a plan. Not just any plan, but a Donald Trump-level plan — AKA the greatest plan in the world! This move is going to be different than your last move, because you were so ignorant back then. Now, you have your shit together. Now, you have 12 moves under your belt. You’ve learned! So this time, things will be easier. You talk yourself in circles figuring out every last detail, and spend way too much time convincing yourself that moving over a period of 2 weeks will definitely be easier than doing it in one shot. You won’t be stressed out, you tell yourself, because you’ll have so much time. SO. MUCH TIME. Luxurious time! You dismiss the nagging thought that dragging your move out might prolong your stress rather than relieve it. Your plan will surely save you!

Stage two: Make a pact with partner/roommate


“I totally promise never to snap at you.”

Before you really start packing, you take your partner’s (or roommate’s!) face in your hands and you promise not to turn on them. “Let’s not let the stress get to us!” you say. “Let’s make sure we make time for one another. Let’s try to have fun with this.” At this point, you still naively believe in your perfect plan, and that everything will go smoothly. You are gushing with excitement for your new life and are still a few weeks out from being buried in boxes. Being kind to one another through all of this seems somehow feasible. You have your priorities in order and your ducks in a row. Continue reading

Moving has set my brain on fire (in a good way!)


Moving got me like

I’m moving this week. So as you can imagine, I’ve been kind of freaking out. Ok, so I’m only moving about three blocks away from my current house. But still! Moving is a lot. Especially if you are a person with anxiety and being in a state of upheaval causes you to temporarily lose your damn mind. There is so much to keep track of; so much to remember. As a side note, I have no idea how military families do this like all the time (RESPECT!). But of course, I digress.

The reason we decided to move was to downsize significantly. Or current house, which I’ve written about before, is both huge and crazy. The rooms are gigantic and some of them have a single purpose (like the music room, or the bar room). When I left NYC to move to the Jersey Shore, I wanted ALL. OF. THE. SPACE. But once Dave and I had to actually clean all of the space, it didn’t seem so glamorous and attractive anymore. I do love having a place where I can entertain large groups of friends in the summer. Many of my people inevitably want to escape their insane city lives for a weekend of easy living at the beach come June. But for the other 42-ish weekends of the year, when it’s mostly only Dave and I, we’re usually just wandering around in these gigantic rooms, wondering how we’re going to get the house under control.

Yes, “under control” is the phrase we typically use. And that’s to say nothing of actually getting ahead. There is no getting ahead when you live in a giant, hundred-year-old house that has a mind of its own. You simply trail from behind and try to put out fires as you go (the metaphorical kind of fires, of course… we’re not pyromaniacs or anything). There are about a million projects I would very much like to do, but it’s impossible to find time for them when we spend so much time just catching up on the chores.


Me on the morning of cleaning day.

When Dave first mentioned wanting to move because our current place was too much work, I scoffed: “You obviously have amnesia about how terrible moving is. Cleaning this house for the rest of our lives might actually be easier.” He dropped it, but the seed was planted.  Continue reading

How a Trip to IKEA Reconnected Me to My Mother

Let’s start by rewinding a few years:

The year is 2012. I’m 26 years old, it’s a cool spring night, and I’m impatiently waiting in front of Union Station in New Haven for my mother to pick me up. She’s about ten minutes late and I’m fuming, like only a spoiled daughter could.

As if I haven’t been through enough already! I think, grimacing at the memory of weaving my way through a crowded, rush hour packed Grand Central Station with weekend bags in tow (If you’ve never experienced this, it’s like the ultimate game of frogger, except not only will you get run over — you’ll also get yelled at for not getting out of the way fast enough. Just one of NYC’s many charms!). As if that wasn’t enough,  I’d also sat for 1 hour and 40 minutes on a slow crawling, standing-room-only Metro North train that somehow managed to smell of porta-potty, even though I wasn’t in a bathroom car.

My mother pulls up in her Jeep and immediately launches into an excuse for being late — something about the return line at Target.

“It’s all right.” I say. “I just want to get home and see the dogs.” I decide not to lay into her, because she seems so bubbly and I don’t want to ruin the hour-long car ride ahead of us.

“Okay, we just have to make a quick stop at IKEA first,” she says nonchalantly.

I let out the ultimate groan.

“What?!” She asks innocently, full well knowing I am about 30 seconds away from a night-ruining meltdown.

“There is NO SUCH THING as a quick trip to IKEA!” I complain. “They make you walk through their entire stupid ‘showroom’ AKA a mile-long elaborate maze of cheaply produced particleboard furniture with strategically placed displays of $1 junk to keep you in there for hours and hours. There’s a cafeteria, for crying out loud! I don’t trust stores with cafeterias. They’re trying to trap you!”

“It’ll just take a second!” She says in her teasing voice. She apparently came into this interaction knowing I would be pissed, and she is now refusing to lower herself to my level, lest she let me ruin a perfectly good trip to her beloved IKEA. “I’ll buy you chicken fingers.” A peace offering.

“ABSOLUTELY NOT! I will not waste precious chicken fingers calories on IKEA!” I blurt out grumpily. But my blood sugar and patience are running low, so I know that I really have no choice.


This about sums the majority of my trips to IKEA. I would kick and scream, and my mother would soothe. I would vow never to go back. She’d always find a way to trick me into it (like holding me hostage, needing a ride home).

My mother had an inexplicable love of IKEA which knew no bounds. Okay, I guess it wasn’t inexplicable. She loved decorating, and IKEA kept her design ideas within reach. She was not a rich woman, but she could make a room look luxurious and modern for under $1000. She would start by looking for inspiration from HGTV or high end magazines like New York Spaces, and then look for some key pieces that could be substituted out at IKEA to save money. The rest could be pieced together through discount retailers (like Home Goods or Target) and one or two investment pieces would be purchased at her other go-to design retailers like CB2, Pottery Barn, Macy’s, West Elm or Pier 1.

She was very talented, and very passionate about design. I perpetually teased about her hobby, but also utilized her skills endlessly — not only for my own decorating projects, but also for my friends’. Her decorating advice alone has left her missed by many.

So, when I moved to a giant old fixer-upper house at the beach, I felt her absence with every decorating decision I made. Some, I made in spite of her (example: she was not a fan of string lights… which are present in nearly every room in my house), and others I made inspired by her. Some projects, I felt I couldn’t even touch without her advice.

“I wish I could channel Nance,” I’d complain to my friends. “I feel so lost! It’s too much!”

This sentiment felt exceedingly more prominent as I decided to tackle my backyard. The space was strangely shaped, had noticeable and ugly damage from Sandy, and was overrun with birds and squirrels, because nobody had really been taking care of it or spending time out there.

photo 1 (2)

BEFORE: A hunk of dirty cement in need of some TLC.

My mother could always see the potential in a space, which happens to be my biggest struggle. I have good taste, and a knack for mixing patterns and decorating styles, but I have a really hard time envisioning the potential of an undesirable space. I called in for backup and consulted with Bonnie and my father. They both agreed something could be done — the patio could be salvaged, and shared their ideas.

I spent weeks researching ideas and searching for the lowest prices on each piece I needed. I used to outsource this arduous task to my mother, so doing it myself made my appreciation for her hard work as a designer grow with each passing day.

When it came time to actually go purchase the stuff, the dread came. Dave and I dragged our feet on trekking to IKEA with everything we could muster — no excuse was too insignificant to convince us to put it off. But finally, we could make excuses no more; a beautiful Saturday with no plans was ahead, so we put on our big kid pants and took the plunge.

As we walked through the doors to the Elizabeth, NJ IKEA, I felt a wave of nostalgia wash over me. The smells, the sights, the colors, the setup — it was all there, just like I remembered it. Only, this time I didn’t hate it. I felt something. Something I haven’t felt since May of 2013.

I felt my mother.

I am not a spiritual person. Though many people told me my mother would guide me, speak to me, or be present in my life, I did not believe a single one of them. I know myself, I thought, and it ain’t gonna happen. And I wouldn’t say being in IKEA was really like any of those things. It was more like… I felt connected to her spirit.

For the first time since her death, I didn’t picture her in my mind’s eye as an agitated corpse of a human in the hospital, without proper cognitive function, struggling to fight despite having no hope. I remembered her as a full human — a person who loved this crazy warehouse and their suspiciously cheap swedish meatballs.

I could almost see her pointing things out to me and driving Dave nuts with her longwinded exploration of every room and every idea in her head (don’t worry, I took over that part for her).

She was, in a sense, with me.

Maybe it’s because I’ve lost nearly every place that connected me to her, or maybe it was the spirit of doing a weekend decorating project. Perhaps it’s just that time has passed, and I am finally healing from the trauma of her horrific death. Whatever the reason, it was a surprisingly calming experience, especially after I had expended so much energy dreading it.

That Saturday, after a long, hard day of work on the patio with Dave, I stepped back to marvel at what a little elbow grease and a trip to “stupid” IKEA can accomplish.

photo 2 (3)

AFTER: A backyard oasis

I sent a picture to my dad. “You have your mother’s touch. She would be proud.” Through my gratified tears, I thanked him, but couldn’t help but wonder why I felt so emotional about this project. It was just a backyard, after all.

But it wasn’t just a backyard. I had finally felt her. I channeled her. I had applied her lessons and was able to create something glorious out of what was honestly a tarnished space.

Most amazingly, I had enjoyed it.

Sneaky Nance. Through all of her making me watch HGTV, and dragging me through IKEA, and sending me links to consult me on her projects (or sometimes, our projects), and leaving her decorating magazines all over the house, and “hiring” me to put in floors and paint rooms, and always designing me my own space that inspired me and fulfilled my needs… she had slowly indoctrinated me to care about my surroundings, and to take pride in building them myself.

Our last project together just before she passed (my room in NYC) cemented the design-on-a-dime education that she gave me. And I guess it’s time to finally admit it to both myself and the world: I like decorating.

There, I said it.

I am once again reminded that I am my mother’s daughter, and I am amazed that she still has lessons to teach me.

Like: I am not a rich woman, but I can turn a crappy backyard into a beautiful little oasis by the sea for less than $500.

Adventures in Decorating Part I

As some of you might know, I am making over my room. Not only am I replacing the majority of my furniture, but I’m also changing the function of the room. What once was a very traditional grad student bedroom (bed, bureaus, a giant desk and bookshelves), will soon morph into more of a studio apartment. The new design will fit my needs better: somewhere I can both work unhampered and entertain.

Nance (my mother), has naturally been helping me with this project. I say “naturally” because, not only is interior design my mother’s highest passion, but also because I have an incomparable penchant for coming up with amazing project ideas and abandoning them at the first sign of having to do work. Nance helps keep me on track. Well, she tries to anyway.

I imagine it’s difficult for her, what with how I present problems at every possible juncture. To start, I’m straight up lazy and get easily overwhelmed by the task at hand.  I’m also incredibly indecisive and never know what I want. I bark incoherent requests at my mother, such as “I want Brooklyn loft-style with a mix of industrial and whimsical. I also want a hint of English country and plenty of Moroccan (Mixing patterns! Deep colors!). It should definitely have an international feel but be really rooted in New York. AND it should all feel really cohesive. Kthnx!” Yes, seriously. I am THAT annoying and difficult to work with. My poor mother, whom I’m quite sure spends hours each day scouring websites for beautiful, well-priced items for me, is met with super helpful responses like “yeah, I like that but I’m not sure. Maybe.” If the poor woman hadn’t birthed me herself, I’m positive she would have dropped me as a “client” after Day 1.

Although she has been extraordinarily patient with me in every way, my mother has certainly been vocal in her disapproval of what I bring to the table (read: nothing). Nance is not impressed. Thankfully, I’m not impressed with myself either and I’m able to both laugh at myself and apologize profusely for my pathetic behavior. Even more thankfully, my mother found a way around my indecisiveness AND laziness: pillows.


That’s right. Pillows.

Let me explain.

In order to save space and have the room I truly want, I decided to nix the idea of a murphy bed in favor of a convertible sofa. My parents have one that is crazy comfortable which I am in love with, and my mother (again, saint that she is) graciously offered to donate it to my cause. Once I was finally able to get over my insecurity about what people will think about me sleeping on a couch, I happily agreed to take it. When I asked my decorator what she envisioned for the extra space, she said “you could do lots with it – a cafe table and chairs, a reading nook, or a lounge with a low-lying table and floor pillows.

I kid you not, as soon as she mentioned “floor pillows,” my head perked up like Oreo’s does when he hears a box of Wheat Thins being opened in the next room (Oreo was my 14th birthday present – a super appropriately named black and white shih tzu. He is a sassy old gay man with a fondness for wheat, pillows and licking chair legs. More on him later). Since my youth, I have been obsessed with floor lounge areas filled with pillows.

I feel it’s important to mention that I’ve attempted this before. I had a makeshift floor lounge in my room as a preteen. I vividly remember spending hours there, calling this bizarre entertainment hotline where you could play trivia games by pressing buttons and get your horoscope. I imagined my girlfriends all coming over — oh, how we’d yuk it up over prank calls and truth or dare! Maybe we’d even bust out my Ouiji board and light incense like we were in the goddamn Craft! Sadly, in reality none of my friends thought my floor lounge was as cool as I did. It could have been the pink flower latticework ruining the whole “cool” vibe. Or it could have been the fact that NOBODY WANTED TO COME OVER AND CALL A LAME ASS TRIVIA HOTLINE WITH NERDY McDWEEBERSON.


I want to go to there!

Anyway, long story short: I FUCKING LOVE PILLOW FORTS. Like, all I want in this life is ALL. OF. THE. PILLOWS. ALL. OVER. THE. FUCKING. FLOOR. And a tent of richly colored, sheer fabric. And candles. And (lord-willing, now that I’m slightly cooler) my friends sitting around a hand-carved table with me, drinking tea and laughing. Even I will work for that.

Clever Nance, you got me again.