I was looking at my journal the other day, and noticed that for New Year’s resolutions for 2012, I had just crossed out 2011 and put the new year. In 2013, I could have done the same, with only one item crossed out.

I am not where I thought I would be. It started with thinking about the remodel, but then it spread. I was going to have the front of the house totally done by now, and the foundation work and yard, too. I was going to be a lawyer by 28. I was going to be thinner by now. I was going to have a plan for retirement that didn’t involve prayer and lottery tickets. I was going to be successful in ways I couldn’t quite define but definitely haven’t achieved.

In short, there was an end point that keeps moving. I think it always does. I think it always will. Just when I have a solid project plan for the front of the house, the plumbing leaks in the back. Just when I think I know what happiness looks like, life throws a curve. I am not the first to say it: the journey is the thing.

I look around the house and see all the little things I have done. I didn’t do the big foundation repair, but the trim in my new office is perfect. I haven’t redone the bathroom, but the back porch is such an improvement, and was good for neighbor relations as well. What was the driveway and shoddy lawn is becoming a beautiful garden with winding paths and plantings, and makes me happy every time I walk in the gate. The slightly sagging….no, no, that isn’t the point. I have done a lot. Just not everything.

I didn’t become a lawyer; I let go of that long before even applying to law schools.  I have waffled amongst a number of careers. I am divorced. I am not at any personal or professional pinnacle. But I am in the midst of the biggest and most important challenge: learning to be gentle with myself. Learning that not doing everything on time and perfect can be fine. Great, in fact. I am learning to accept help, even ask for it once in awhile, and to be genuinely grateful for what I have and have accomplished; meeting myself and my relationships in the here and now.

I looked back at the resolution list and found under my life goals: “Balance”.  In 2014, I will cross out the year and keep going on the list. The same list, for the most part. Because it is about the journey, inching along toward the unattainable, celebrating the progress and acknowledging and moving past the setbacks. And, hey, I finished the window trim. Who knows what could happen next?



Choosing my battles

If you are keeping tabs on me, you already know I have been slashing and parrying with my trim-challenged windows for some time. (You also probably need to get out more, but if you insist on continuing, I am thrilled to have you).  Anyway, last weekend my attempt to adjust for the uneven and unforgiving window frames was driven back by tendonitis and a smoking reciprocating saw.  I retreated to lick my wounds, vowing to return to the fight for a finished living space in my home.

I say “home”, but lately the term applies very loosely. Really, it is a storage area surrounded by a construction zone. The entry has rolled rugs, a tool caddy, and boxed items I didn’t want to put in the garage. The living room is a dusty expanse of bare fir floors. In one corner is the place exercise equipment goes to die.  The dining room, already too narrow for the round table I brought with me, is reduced to a narrow isle by the bookcases which are pushed under the window.

I am not a slob: the kitchen sink and counters are clean, and the bathroom fairly sparkles (except for the places where the tub’s finish has recently begun to bubble off). But once you exit that little haven, the back hallway frightens with a giant pile of unlaundered clothes and bedding. Shelves hold random pairings: a fabric flower and borax, peat moss and winter scarves. There are dust masks every where, it seems, dangling off cabinet knobs and tossed in with keys that may or may not fit a lock I can access.

The worst was my bedroom. I had shoved two living room chairs into the space. That worked okay until I added my unpacked luggage from business trips, a plastic bin of summer clothes, a deflated pilates ball, and topped the dresser with laundry, refugees from the side of the closet whose door was off the tracks. Saturday morning I looked around and thought: ENOUGH!

My mind has been cluttered lately, and I realized it is partly a result of my space. In college, the first step to writing a big term paper was to clean my desk. Similarly, the answer to peace of mind in this midlife lull seemed to be one clear spot in this crooked little dwelling.

After four or five hours of vacuuming, moving, folding, and scrubbing, the closet doors are functional, the dresser is mostly clear, and the space where the chairs were crammed awaits assembly of a new desk. The bed is moved to allow for exercise space, and it feels like a new room.

Next week I have four days in a row off.  The living room is demanding attention, taunting me with its bare windows and splintery floor. But when it is time to apply the band-aids and declare the battle at an end, I will retreat to my newly arranged bedroom, close the door, and forget that just outside is a tub that needs resurfaced.

Mission Impossible 4: DIY Protocol

My project list was nothing fresh this weekend: Finish the Window Trim, the weekend project that has become a saga of blog posts and may yet expand to include therapy sessions.

My mission was to compensate  for the fact that the oldest (of three) window frames isn’t plumb, and at the top extends past the wallboard.  I can’t easily explain the idea I was attempting: it would take a labeled picture at least. And it wouldn’t matter, because it didn’t work.

The first setback was the realization that the rasp I purchased to grate away some wood was still in the trunk of The Guy’s car. And The Guy was in Las Vegas. Unwilling to spend another $16 on a second rasp, I figured the cutting wheel on my Dremel might suffice. A few passes into the job I smelled something. Was the Dremel getting hot? A thin curl of smoke alerted me that what I smelled was, in fact the ancient dry wood scorching. So much for the Dremel.

Also, so much for my idea: besides the very eminent danger of catching my house on fire, a little more exploration showed a new problem for which my fix didn’t account. Foiled!

A couple hours later I had burned through two reciprocating saw blades, my arms ached, and I was just under 1/2 way finished with the wood removal on the first window. It was past dinnertime.  Defeated, I followed in the footsteps of such adventurous notables as Hemmingway and James Bond and headed for a bar, where I soothed my stone-tight shoulders with a Sazerac and pretended to read while eavesdropping on drunken hipsters.

Maybe next weekend.

Tom Silva Didn’t Mention That

If you have read my prior posts, you will know that I have been grappling with trimming out my not-so-recently installed living room windows. Having posted my shame, I have been determined to finish the project and post the stunning results.

It began well: The Guy offered to help, and I had watched a This Old House video that filled me with confidence. I have a fondness for Tom Silva that borders on worship, and he had shown me the light. With a scribe, my compound miter saw, and a little “elbow grease” I could totally do this.

When I set about measuring my own actual windows, my confidence evaporated. My windows looked nothing like the tidy mock-up in the picture. I was looking at three generations of window frames: the original, the frame for the hideous aluminum insets in the 70’s, then the new wood inset I had installed.

The new window was not flush with either the wall nor the old frame. The old frame was not square. Or plumb.  All versions I created with my cheap pine mock-up boards left a 1/2 inch gap created by the difference in inset between old and new frame. Furthermore, my sill would not be fit  into a recess- which meant it had very little support underneath.

This is what I was up against:

After (I am ashamed to admit) a complete wallowing breakdown where I cast myself as old and helpless and forever living in a partial remodel, I rallied. With the help and moral support of The Guy,  I studied the pictures in a Trim book, measured, and made a plan that included buying a couple random trim pieces to test a solutions to The Gap.

The Guy showed Mother Theresa level patience and kindness at the big box store as I re-figured and second-guessed myself and waffled on options; I did eventually actually buy some hemlock trim. Once home,  we cut sample pieces of the possible gap-fillers. One didn’t end up looking like filler, but like a nice detail around the window. Things were looking up.

I re-watched Tom and figured out how to scribe the sill. Using my jigsaw, I cut the penciled lines and was thrilled like a kid at Christmas when it fit neatly to the wall and window.  The additional piece I bought for under the sill as support also worked and looked like it belonged.

Just when it looked like this task was a one after-nooner, I got to the top of the first window and found that I had another unseemly gap: when you look up, you see an uncovered space behind the trim. The new window is plumb, but the 100+ year old wall is not, so the top of the window is recessed deeper than the bottom.

After much head scratching and a trip to Mr. Plywood, I have a solution. Now I need a new dose of motivation and a free weekend day. Oh – and a rasp. Tom Silva definitely didn’t mention that.

‘Tis the Season

So the dialogue (in my head, with my own bad self) could go two ways:

Scrooge Dialogue:

“It is the end of the year, I am behind on my savings goal, and my house is not as far as I hoped either. A very expensive foundation project awaits. I have no furniture for the partially finished living room. (Okay, I have a pink chair for the partially finished living room). My entire yard needs composted and planted since I tore out all the concrete and diseased, ill-placed rose bushes.  The truck needs back brakes, and Nova needs her vaccinations. I won’t do much. I don’t need to spend money on a holiday I don’t really celebrate, in the religious sense. ”

Bob Cratchett Dialogue:

“I am one lucky woman. I have my own house, filled with loving furry housemates (and one temporary human one). It isn’t glamourous, but it is cozy, and improving, and the mortgage is low. The foundation isn’t urgent: the house has stood for 120-some years just fine. Why buy perfect furniture or landscape with anything dear when 150 lbs of dog will tear through any minute?  I have wonderful, caring, supportive people in my life. I should embrace the true meaning of the season, and give, give, give.

Bob always wins. I am essentially a glass-half-full kinda woman. If that lands me in poverty in my dotage, well, you can say you told me so. Whomever you are. Though that is kind of rude, really. But then I probably won’t be able to hear you by then anyway. Medicare doesn’t cover hearing aids.
But I digress. Gratitude wins, giving wins. I picked four people off the company giving tree, two kids and two adults. The first kid was the heartbreaker for me: 4 years old and wants bedding for a twin bed. She is getting a lovely set of sheets with lavender and violet flowers,  a lavender blanket, and new pillow. For a the adults, a nice set of bath towels and a blender. Not the cheap one, no, but a good quality blender that will last.  Finally, out of character, I bought a monster truck for the second child. Hey, that was what was on her list. It makes noise, awful noise, and I included extra batteries. I sort of hope her adults have some bad karma to work off; that way I can imagine that them listening to the awful honking and digital engine roar is helping balance the universe, rather than just slowly driving a struggling parent or guardian insane.

By the time I lugged my packages out, I could barely carry it all. It took great control not to say “ho,ho,ho!” as I passed the security guard on my way out.

[Deity of your choosing] bless us, every one!

Unboxing the Past

Since I moved into the Pink Palace roughly two years ago, my garage has been filled with boxes. Most of them came directly from the basement of the house I  rented for the first year after my divorce, unopened there or here.

Packing for the end-of-marriage moving day was done in a hurry, amidst the worst emotional turmoil of my adult life. Usually a well-organized, careful packer (a mover once complimented me) I just threw things into whatever box was handy. I didn’t clean or cull, just dumped anything in the house that I had defined as “mine” into a container, shoved them into the u-haul, and that was that.

In the following year I acquired some used furniture, new bedding, and rugs for the hardwood floors. I opened most of the kitchen boxes and a few books, but the rest stayed in the basement, awaiting a “permanent” home. Once I had one, I dumped the boxes in the garage and set about remodeling. I did one garage cleanout, but still didn’t have enough emotional distance to really dig into the boxes from 10 years of marriage.

Today dawned gorgeously: sunny and brisk, with leaves drifting from trees and a forecast for a rare dry day. Inspiration took hold, and I plowed through box after box.  Photo of the pricey cherry dining set I left with the ex? Gone. Little gifts I have no use for but saved for sentiment? Gone. Old boxes of pens and pencils, toys my godsons long ago outgrew, books I bought but never read? Gone, gone, gone.

When I came across a wedding photo or momento of my ex-husband, I smiled at the captured good memories and paused to hope he is happy. And meant it.

I found three calculators, two bike bells (neither ever installed), a huge  box of gauze bandages I can’t for the life of me account for, my favorite childhood ragdoll, and bungee cords. Lots of bungee cords. Large, small, red, blue, orange.  Apparently my life has required a lot of flexible tie-downs over time. Seems right.

I left kites on the steps of a neighbor with kids, and Dr. Seuss books on the porch rocker another uses with her infant. I put out a “free” pile of design magazines, complete with the magazine holder, and was pleased it disappeared in under an hour.  I donated old bifold doors and light fixtures to the Re-building center, and clothes, bedding, dishes, and toys to Goodwill.

The last effort was a scary one: the top of the garage came with large full garbage bags of… something. The house has a peppered history of shady tenants, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. I wrestled my configurable ladder into the long version and climbed up. There were more bags than I expected. Some were translucent, and a mass of greyish stuff showed. “Oh, please don’t be pot, ” I said aloud.

I nabbed the closest and dropped it off the edge. Tufts of fluffy grey matter huffed out a hole as it landed, and I realized it was bl0w-in insulation. But it was used: there were chunks of lathe poking through other bags. (Really it was easier to load it up a ladder to the garage loft than get it to the dump?) Still: not pot, not nasty mildewed clothes, just insulation. .

So, no more ghosts. No wondering what is in the boxes, or left from renters of years past. Only things that I can use, now, in this house and this life. And a whole lot of bungee cords.

Where There’s Smoke…Alarms

This house was built in 1888, so one expects a series of problems, degradation, and mishaps. (Check, check, check.) But the most challenging and annoying part of the Pink Palace has been, without hyperbole, the smoke alarms.

The house was a low-income rental for 20 years prior to me buying it from the community development organization. The ceilings were swiss-cheesed with multiple generations of smoke alarms: hard wired, battery only, ancient, new: a veritable “Smoke Alarms through the Ages!” exhibit.

The very first day I spent in the house, I entered to a sharp beep on a regular interval.  I strolled through my new domain following the sound, which led to the back of the house. There were three likely candidates within three square feet.

I had come prepared. I had batteries. I pulled up the encrusted ladder and changed the  first. The alarm let out an ear-drum splitting scream when I pulled the battery, but seemed pacified by the new one. On cue the chirp repeated. I moved to the second, changed the battery. Still with the chirping.   I moved to the third smoke detector and found it was hard-wired. Opening it to find the battery backup set it off, and I could not make it stop. New battery, reconnected, cover on: nothing stopped the screeching.  In a fit of deafened desperation, I ripped it out. Nerves jangled, I climbed off my ladder with the alarm body trailing severed wires. And: “chirp”.

I craned, I strained, I crouched, I climbed. It was slowly driving me mad. How many places could something hide in a tiny empty house?! A final desperate search discovered it,  shoved into the back top shelf of a cabinet above the water heater, behind a collection of burned-out light bulbs.

I have repeated versions of this process now every few months. I found an alarm on the back porch.  I discovered that two alarms were perfectly positioned to go off every time I open the oven door during baking. There was a smoke detector inexplicably leaning in the outer ledge of a window.

Last night I returned from a late dinner date to two unusually agitated dogs. As I brushed my teeth, something started to work my nerves, too. Slowly I recognized it: a high-pitched keening coming from outside the back door. I flung it open and listened. It was a smoke alarm. “Please” I whispered to the universe. “Please let it be the neighbors house”. But it was clearly coming from my garage. As the dogs leaped and pawed with their muddy feet in the pouring rain, I shoved open the garage door and was deafened by the alarm, not chirping but fully sounding. There was no smoke, no fire, just dizzying noise.

I groped along the wall for the light switch, but first my shin came in contact with the spikey pedal of my housemate’s bicycle. It fell, I staggered, the dogs started barking, and my next door neighbor opened his door and snapped on the porch light. The time was roughly midnight by now, and he called out over the barking to ask if I was responsible for the noise and if it would stop soon.

I found the switch, and after shoving aside boxes and another mystery bicycle, I found the offender lying on the garage floor under garden tools. I have no idea how it got there. It was a 10 year version with no removable battery cover: in fact, it said “Do not open, return for repair or replacement.  Radioactive material inside.”

Ignoring the neighbor mouthing at me mutely from his porch, I calmly carried the caterwauling device inside, wrapped it in foil and a plastic bag, pulled a framing hammer from my tool caddy, and pounded it into shards.  It let out a final distorted wimper of a beep. Hammer in hand, I addressed the family of remaining alarms: “Let that be a lesson for you all!”