Monthly Archives: February 2013

Smack in the middle, like a slice of ham

This showed up in my email inbox yesterday.

Reading this list made me sad. Well, not the entire thing; several of the items made me chuckle, in fact. But looking at some of them, I couldn’t help but think: “Oh, no, what a shame to think this is gone forever.”

Why is it that we get so upset when we hear of creatures like polar bears facing extinction, but things that have been important to our own personal existence can just disappear, never to return, and we don’t give it a second thought?

It goes without saying that each item is values-neutral: neither good nor bad, right nor wrong. But that doesn’t mean each of us won’t see these 50 things — and there are a lot more than 50, as we know — through the lens of our own worldview.

Which makes hard to look at each one and not say either: Yeah, good riddance to that, or, Oh, it’s too bad that’s not a part of our everyday life anymore. We just have our opinions, right?

This may be more true for my generation than the ones above or below us. We remember how things used to be and can compare them to how things are today. So we look at a list like this and maybe get a little nostalgic, remembering how fascinating it was to thumb through the family encyclopedia. On the other hand, we’re thankful not to have to go down to the DMV to register our car.

That’s when I got curious and conducted a little experiment. I went down the list and said “Yep” or “Nope” to each one, and you know what I found out? I was split exactly 50-50 between Things I Don’t Do Anymore and Things I Still Do, Even If Only Sometimes.

Which tells me that I really truly am the Sandwich Generation. Because most of the things on the list are things to which my kids would say “Nope” or “Huh?” But, my parents would most certainly say “Yep” or “Of course, doesn’t everybody?” to almost every single one.

So, for the record, here are some of the ones that made me sad to think are gone forever: 7, 11, 26 (because in my opinion, memorizing phone numbers and other things like poetry and Bible verses is a good idea for brain health. Personal quirk), 28, 34, 41, 45 and 46.

Notice how many of those have some sort of relationship to writing or the written word, and/or the idea of a discrete, tangible thing that you can see or hold, keep and carry. I don’t quite know how to articulate it — paper vs. ether? — but that quality seems significant somehow.

There are others that I suspect are not fully extinct and never will be. Like #38: I try on shoes at the mall all the time. I do that to see what size I am in one brand or another, then I go home and order them on Zappo’s. And #39 is something — well, if you’re female — you can’t get around, because retailers sell lots of clothes with labels that say “Hand Wash Only.” Just maybe not, you know, with one of those washboard thingys.

And #48, hanging laundry on a line, is making something of a comeback these days, what with all the emphasis on living a “green” lifestyle. Not to mention saving on your electricity bill by not using the dryer. And let me attest: getting into bed when you’ve washed your sheets and hung them to dry in the fresh air? Sheer ecstasy.

But as for #47 — I’m never giving up my newspaper. Because that’s where the New York Times Crossword puzzle is, which I do faithfully, every day. In pencil. Call me old school, but some things are just sacred, you know?

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A renovation saga, part II

I’ve been conducting an informal survey of various friends who have undertaken renovation, remodeling, and/or home building projects. Fairly consistently, most have had their projects spurred by one teeny, tiny thing that mushroomed into an enormous — or at least, large — undertaking that went on to utterly overtake and dominate their very lives.

In other words, hardly anyone sets out to do The Big Build, right off the bat, from the get-go. Usually it’s just some little problem to be solved, a mere trip to the hardware store — and the next thing you know, your world is spinning out of control and you’re up to your ears in contractors, subcontractors, and building permits.

One friend whom I surveyed at brunch on Sunday said that their project began as a little landscaping issue that needed to be addressed. Which turned into demolishing the existing cottage and building a 4,000+ square foot, absolutely stunning, completely custom home.

So that made our little leaky pipe look like small potatoes.

Our particular saga began when I was showering one day and noticed the water ponding around my feet, taking its sweet time going down the drain. When The Coach got home from work, I asked him, “Have you noticed the shower drain’s been a bit slow lately?” He allowed as it had, and went downstairs to fetch his miracle drain unclogging product.

First mistake.

This particular product is not a snake, not a plunger, not some caustic liquid you pour down the drain. In a way, it’s all of the above. I’m not altogether sure how it works exactly, but there’s this pressurized canister that you place over the drain, then a kind of plunger thingy that thrusts whatever is in the canister down into the pipe. I think the idea is sort of a controlled explosion.

Which, as ideas go, with respect to almost-50-year-old galvanized pipes in the upper floor of a two-story home, is probably not a good one.

And in our particular case — very, very bad.

But at the time, we were all, hooray, the drain’s not slow anymore! and that was all that really mattered.

Until the next morning, when I finished showering. As I stepped out of the shower, I heard water running somewhere. Nearby. That’s odd, I thought; it’s not raining and the sprinklers in the front yard had already gone through their cycle earlier that morning. So who had turned on the water, since I was alone in the house?

I wrapped up in a towel and headed downstairs to explore. And immediately discovered the deluge in the living room.

Torrents of water were gushing in sheets down through the ceiling.

Wait; let me repeat that: Torrents of water. Through the ceiling. In sheets.

Coming down on the chair-and-a-half, down on the ottoman, down on the coffee table, down on the oriental rug and our lovely Australian brushbox hardwood floor.

I couldn’t think what to do first: move the furniture, grab as many buckets as I could, mop up with towels, collapse into sobs of helplessness, make an incoherent phone call to The Coach at work. So I just multi-tasked and did it all at the same time.

Clad in nothing but a towel.

After 30 minutes or so, the water had slowed to a trickle; just some drops here and there. At the same time, my state of shock had worn off and — now fully clothed — I was able to (slightly more) rationally assess the situation.

But all I could come up with was that we wouldn’t be showering in the master bathroom for a long, long time. (Perhaps my shock hadn’t completely worn off.)

This not being the first water-related disaster in our experience, we have a father-son plumber team practically on speed dial, so we summoned them (not really; we asked them ever so nicely) to the house to give us their own more accurate and professional assessment.

Which basically amounted to: “You won’t be showering in the master bathroom for a long, long time.”

So that was last July. In the meantime, we’ve pondered the problem from various angles — should we get at the broken drain pipe from above, by tearing out the bathroom floor, or from below, by tearing out the living room ceiling? — and with the help of other experts beyond our plumber buddies. Experts like our architect friend Mike, who is like a kid in FAO Schwartz at Christmas time, gleefully imagining all the possible ways to tweak this and redo that.

And he’s a magician at getting what he wants. Once we decided we had to go through the bathroom floor, it was just a short step further to extend the whole tearing-out business into the adjoining dressing area, then the closets, then, oh, what the heck, why not the master bedroom? I mean, as long as we’re tearing stuff out and putting it back together, why not just put it back together in ten times better shape than we started?

Oy. Or as we say in the islands, auwē.

So that’s how we now find ourselves fully immersed in noise, dust and floor plans; picking out granite, tile, wood, lighting and closet configurations. (And for yours truly, more red wine, please.) We’ve got another six to eight weeks until conclusion, while we “camp” in our girl’s bedroom down the hall. It’s quite the adventure.

But thankfully not as much of one as water gushing through the living room ceiling.

Random thoughts for Friday

1. Tonight The Coach and I are going out for dinner at a nice restaurant for Valentine’s Day. Yeah, we know it was yesterday; the flowers have already begun to wilt and the chocolates melt. But you know what? This way works for us. For one thing, yesterday was a school night. Kind of hard for teachers to go out for Date Night when they know they’ll be waking up, as usual, the next morning at 5:00. Plus, when you’ve been married 27 years, you have quite a few Valentine’s Days under your belt and so it’s okay to let them go by with just a card and a kiss on the actual day. Also, unless you started planning shortly after New Year’s, do you know how hard it is to get a reservation anywhere on February 14th? At our age and stage, let the kids have ’em; we’ll just settle for the next day, after the crowds subside.

2. But I’m going to ask our waiter how many proposals happened last night. Assuming young men are still into that sort of thing. I really have no idea, but from what I hear, it seems like men of what used to be known as marriageable age are either putting off the whole proposal/getting married thing or just forgoing it altogether. Which you can understand, given that they have, at that age, bigger fish to fry. Like getting a good job — or any job. In order to pay off their mountains of student loan debt. Then, when they’ve got all that more or less under control, you think they’re going to want to take it on all over again, with a big Say Yes to the Dress-type wedding? Not hardly.

3. Our boy falls into that “marriageable age” category, and is actually seeing someone who could potentially be a spouse, so I suppose I have a close-range view of that whole phenomenon. At 25, he’s in no hurry whatsoever to take that step; doesn’t feel ready for it all, and says so. By comparison, his grandfather, at age 25, had already been married for two years and had a baby. So there you go. Times change.

4. And anyway, I’m not ready to be a grandmother — although I could handle mother-in-law, I suppose — so this works out fine for all parties. Although it’s Kupuna [Grandparents] Day today for the kindergartners at The Coach’s school, and he’s having to fill in for a couple of the little ones’ absent grandparents. So I guess he’s getting some practice at it.

5. Speaking of our boy, it’s a good thing he does have a job with benefits, because he’s about to go in for minor surgery on his foot, next Tuesday. He seems pretty relaxed about the whole thing, which is quite a relief because his tendency is to be somewhat, shall we say, dramatic about anything involving needles in his personal space. I went with him the other day for his pre-op medical clearance appointment, and when the nurse suggested he get a flu shot as long as he was there, you’d have thought she’d just asked him to donate a kidney. Wimp.

6. One of my New Year’s Resolutions has to do with a better — maybe the word is regular — job with my housekeeping chores. It would be great, I thought, to hire someone to come every other week or so. But that’s not exactly in the budget, so then I had the brilliant idea of “hiring” myself to do it. I mark on my calendar the days the “cleaning lady” is supposed to be here, then I set aside those days to do all the things a real cleaning lady would do. If I had one, that is. So far this has worked exactly … once. I totally skipped it this week, but in my defense (I can’t believe I’m “defending” myself over this. So lame.), what with all the construction going on, what would be the point?

7. I’ve had it in mind to post more regularly about life in my Hawaii, as I did last October. Little ideas for topics pop into my head from time to time, but as you can see, I haven’t gotten around to it yet. (Is it just me or does this whole post seem like it has way too many run-on sentences with commas sprayed everywhere like so much, um, fertilizer? If so, sorry.) Anyway, one of my ideas came from a sort of field trip The Coach and I took to a farm last weekend. I took a bunch of pictures to show what a Hawaiian farm looks like, and how it differs from farms elsewhere. So in lieu — or in advance — of a whole post, here’s a couple shots of the crop, taro (kalo, in Hawaiian):

Taro is grown in muddy-water rice paddy type plots known as lo`i. The one on the left has been recently planted; the one on the right is more mature but not yet ready to harvest. And yes, it’s raining.

Here’s what a taro plant looks like up close. In the Hawaiian diet, the whole plant is used, from the root, which is where poi comes from, to the leaves.

Just like Lewis & Clark, only traveling from the other direction

This is Part I of the story of our “move” later this year. I can’t fit the whole thing into one post, so it’ll have To Be Continued…

We all know Horace Greeley’s counsel: “Go West, young man.” Ever the contrarian (as well as neither young nor a man), I am turning that on its head, and going East.

The other day as I was scribbling some memoir-ish thoughts about how I made the decision to move back to Hawaii from California three-score years ago, my memories were filled with the usual Hawaii imagery: sea, sand, sunsets, palm trees — and how they all combined to persuade me that leaving the mainland then was best for my twenty-something self.

That turned out to be a very good decision, because two years later I met a guy who also was born and raised here, went to California for college, then moved back home. We fell in love (Happy Valentine’s Day, Honey!), got married, and were perfectly content with the idea of living happily ever after here on our little island in the middle of the Pacific.

Not that there’s anything wrong with the mainland. Some of my best friends live there.

But sometimes circumstances — in our case, an opportunity plus a certain fatigue — combine to persuade you to go back the other way, which is how we will later this year be heading off to Oregon.

But not forever; only for about four months. So not exactly a move, per se. But kind of.

The opportunity happened because our girl, a junior in a lovely liberal arts college in Oregon, is volleyball player like her dad. She was recruited out of high school by a coach who is also an old friend of ours, a guy who grew up here. For the past three years, he has been dropping hints to The Coach to come up there and be his assistant.

All that time The Coach has had his own team to be responsible for, so it was easy to brush off all the hint-dropping. But the fact is, coaching high school girls has gotten a little less fun every year. No doubt about it, his team has done consistently well, he loves his players, and they love him back. However.

The parents. Oh, those parents.

Parents of student athletes these days can be, you know, you’ve heard all the stories … nightmarish. A couple years ago The Coach started to feel a little like Rick in The Walking Dead: a survivor surrounded by flesh-eating zombies. At one point he had to say, that’s it; no more parents in the gym, watching practices and questioning the goings-on therein.

While possibly trying to eat some poor coach’s brains.

Of course not every parent is that way, but still, it’s a wonder anyone signs on to coach any high school sport anymore. After 30 years, The Coach knew that he had seen it all and done it all — at the high school level — and why not just step away from it before total burnout set in? So the hint-dropping began to have its desired effect and the idea of coaching our girl in her senior season took root.

But how to make that happen? Because actually coaching is just a part-time gig for him: his full-time, i.e., “real,” job is teaching P.E. to young elementary students. Which, as you might imagine, keeps him plenty busy. Ever tried keeping up with, much less instructing, two dozen six- and seven-year-olds on a playground for 35 minutes straight, six times a day? I rest my case.

So, to sum up: 30 years of coaching teenagers plus the same 30 years of teaching little kids, equals oh man, am I tired and in need of a break.

As in, a sabbatical. But not a sabbatical to coach volleyball, exactly. In order for him to get approval to do this, he has to be studying something or working on a project that he can show is going to make his teaching, when he comes back from the sabbatical, ever so much better.

The project he came up with, proposed, and will be working on while coaching our girl and her team in Oregon, is pretty cool. But it’s a story — with pictures! — for another day. So stay tuned.

A renovation saga, part I

So, let’s get caught up, shall we?

Last week I mentioned our little renovation project, in which our entire master bedroom and bathroom will be redone over the course of the next two months. Maybe three. Demolition started last Monday, but was preceded by a week — the last two and a half days of which were particularly frantic — of moving every single thing out of our bedroom, bathroom and closets and into, well, elsewhere.

This induced in me no small amount of panic. It has been over 13 years since I moved from one house to another, and my memories of moving are not altogether pleasant. First you come to terms with just how much stuff* you have. Which can be, frankly, horrifying. Then you decide which of the stuff* you are taking with you, and which you are getting rid of. Smart people get rid of most of the stuff* — it makes sense; less to have to move — but either way, you still have to deal with all of that … stuff*.

So this project is like moving, albeit on a much smaller scale. But still stressful in its own way. Not as bad as re-doing a kitchen, maybe, so that’s one positive thing. I don’t think I’d have the testicular fortitude to re-do a kitchen at my age, but we’ll see how this goes.

Where was I? Right; moving.

The first (and biggest) thing we decided to move was our bed, which is this sizable sleigh-style thing we had a designer friend acquire for us some years ago. From France. Ooh la la. Luckily our girl is away at school so we get to live in her bedroom — The Coach calls it “camping” — while ours is stripped clean to the bones, er, studs, and then put back together. So we moved her bed out to the garage, took apart the big French number, toted the pieces down the hall, and reassembled it.

Which is kind of a funny, full-circle thing, because years ago when my husband was a boy, this was his room. Yes, for the last 13 years we have lived in the house my parents-in-law built 50 years ago. My in-laws are still living, which might explain why we’ve never done much in the way of changing things to the house since we’ve lived here. Because, you know, sometimes it sort of seems like it’s still “their” house.

Anyway, we got the French behemoth situated in its new/temporary space, then started emptying out all the closets, cabinets and drawers. This is when the whole too-much-stuff* thing started to get a little overwhelming. And sort of jigsaw puzzle-ish. Because since we’re going to be living our girl’s room for the next two (maybe three) months, we planned to put a fair amount of our stuff* in there. But she has no small amount of stuff* of her own, and where is all that supposed to go?

At that point I realized I’d better be careful not to lose track of where I was moving the ibuprofen, because I could already feel a three-month headache coming on. Being brought on not just by all the stuff* issues, but also by the incessant sawing, hammering and nail-gunning noises emanating from down the hall. Have mercy.

But I must say we’ve adjusted rather well to this new normal. For instance, when we were getting ready to go out to dinner on Saturday night, I went right downstairs into the living room and picked out a pair of shoes from the stack that’s piled behind the sofa. What? Doesn’t everyone keep their shoes in the living room? The Coach has most of his wardrobe on a garment rack downstairs in the TV room; no big deal. We’re nothing if not adaptable.

Next week I’ll tell you how a slow drain led to a construction project in the high five-figures that basically amounts to completely rebuilding one-sixth of a house.

* I’m sure you realize which noun I’m substituting, in my head, when I type the word “stuff.” But this is a family blog, so I’m going to keep it as is.

Back in the saddle again

This horse feels impossible to get back on, but it must be done sometime, I suppose.

The problem is, I seem to have forgotten how to ride. And a horse is not exactly a bicycle, so there’s that.

Some of it feels familiar. The laptop, the coffee, the desk, the dark room. The space in my head that’s empty except for the voice that whispers: “You’ve got nothing to say.”

I sort of don’t, actually. I suppose I could just fill the space with a riff on The Bachelor or Downton Abbey or something. But a lot of bloggers are doing that, so it’s probably better that I pass.

It’s not completely true, either, that I’ve got nothing to say. There are all kinds of things I could go on about. For one, the fact that our master bedroom is utterly demolished at the moment because we’re going to be getting a “new” one. I even have pictures I could post of the holes in the floors, and the one in the back wall where the builders have put up a bridge-like thing to go in and out of what used to be The Coach’s closet.

Or, I could start to talk about the big, albeit temporary, move to the mainland we’re planning to undertake in the fall. There’s an issue that’s been taking up space in my brain lately. I haven’t lived on the mainland for any length of time for the past 32 years, so this will be kind of major. For one thing, I’m going to need real shoes. I don’t even know what kind of shoes people wear on the mainland. I’m sure shoe styles have changed a bit in the past 32 years; that will have to be included in my research.

Do you know I have a contract to sit here and do this? I do. Not that you can tell by my output, which in the past 24 days is nil (I know; I counted) so I’m not exactly doing a very good job at it, but I’m trying. Sort of. Plus my contract is sort of expired; my “mentor” and I need to sign a new one.

Here’s an ironic thing: recently I’ve read two books that have the word “happiness” or “contentment” in their titles, and yet lately I feel farther away from, not closer to, happiness and contentment. But at least my coffee is hot — thanks to the little cup warmer I keep on the right corner of the desk — and rather delicious. It’s local coffee; 10% Kona, is what the label says. Did you know that Kona is the only place in the United States where coffee is grown? Back in 2008 when Obama was elected the Kona coffee growers all got a little, shall we say, assertive, and made it clear what a travesty it would be if Kona coffee — ahem, American coffee — were not exclusively served, all the time, in the White House. Good for them.

Another idea I’ve been struggling to put into actual words is the story of how exactly one year ago, I underwent an emergency appendectomy. Talk about a wild and unexpected ride. It turns out my experience of one’s appendix rupturing in one’s mid-50’s is fairly uncommon. Who knew? Yes, well, that whole episode did have an uncommon feel to it, I must say.

But I’ll have to fill you in on that later. It’s 7:30 a.m. and I can hear that the builders just got here and let themselves into the house through the big hole in the back wall where the closet used to be, so I’m just going to leave us all hanging here, with me more or less on the horse, sort of walking, maybe?

I’ll try to work up to a trot tomorrow. Or next week. Whatever.