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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.

Map this memory

You know how the olfactory sense is said to be the most powerful of the senses when it comes to evoking memory? I think most of us wouldn’t argue with that, but you know what I’ve discovered is also good at evoking memory? Google Maps.

Huh, you’re thinking; that is the weirdest thing I’ve ever heard. But try this little experiment: go on  Google Maps, or Google Earth, and type in the address of the home you lived in when you were 11. Or that of your grandparents. When you get there, click on Street View, and look at the house (assuming there is one). Now, notice the memories that start flooding back?

I use Google Maps all the time for memory jogging. I use other things too; this is because I live in constant fear of forgetting. What was that cop drama on TV recently about a woman who wasn’t able to forget anything that had happened to her, ever? Oh, yeah: Unforgettable. (Funny how I forgot that — ha ha.) Anyway, I don’t have that particular gift or superpower — curse is probably more like it — but I often wish I did. Losing one’s memories just seems more tragic to me than losing one’s sight or hearing or arms or legs.

Just after Christmas I received a long let-me-get-you-all-caught-up letter from a friend who had recently moved from the Midwest to St. Augustine, Florida. It so happens I have been to St. Augustine, exactly once, 19 years ago. So I took my friend’s address and plugged it into Google Maps, and boom: there came all the memories. Memories of streets and buildings and weather; even certain people’s names and faces, which I hadn’t heard or seen in all those years since then.

This morning I got Google Maps to show me the address of a house I once lived in, in California. When I looked at the front door of that house, the memories were so strong I almost couldn’t bear it; I had to get up from the computer and go do something else. So, most of the time I like using Google Maps to jog my memory; sometimes it’s not such a positive experience.

Mostly I need all the help I can get remembering and keeping my fear of forgetting at bay. So I’ve got these tools. One of my resolutions for 2013 is to really get started writing the memoir that’s been floating around in my head as a mere idea for several years. Like many such projects, the hardest part of it is just … starting. But now I know I can open Google Maps, give my memory a little nudge, and off we’ll go.

The (mixed) message of the season

I just did something really, really hard.

It was hard because I knew I would be hurting someone’s feelings, and I so didn’t want to do that. But it had to be done, and it couldn’t be done by anyone else but me, and so I took a deep breath, screwed up my courage, and made the call.

This is the sort of thing where you think to yourself, once it’s over, you’ll feel better for having done it. Only I don’t. If anything, I feel worse.

Sometimes Christmas is so not the most wonderful time of the year. I mean, obviously there’s a lot to love about it, but at the same time there’s so much about it that’s very, very difficult.

The thing is, this whole month, and the whole Christmas season is, as best as I can see, just one big fat mixed message.

And that message is: Be generous, but also be selfish. Or, put another way: this is the time to be good and kind and giving to others, especially your loved ones. But be sure to be good and kind and giving to yourself.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: When the stresses of the season get to be too much for you, cut back, let go, don’t feel you have to do it all. Adjust your expectations. Something you get used to hearing every year about this time, isn’t it?

Right. But you know what? I don’t exist in some kind of vacuum; the fact is, I’m not the only one with expectations. And to the extent that my expectations involve other people in my little world, or theirs involve me, the butterfly effect of that adjustment can be massive.

So, here we are. In the interest of being good and kind and giving to myself, I just made a big mess out of my relationship with someone close to me. Which is sort of the opposite of what one hopes to be achieving this time of year.

Now I need to spend a little time sitting and thinking about how I can put things right with her again. At the moment I don’t know what that will look like, but it’s one Christmas gift I know I need to give.

How about you? Ever found yourself balancing on the fence between what you know you need to do for someone else and what you need to do for yourself?


I wonder if my tendency toward slowness* is some kind of personality trait. You know, like that Myers-Briggs business: introversion-extraversion, sensing-intuition, thinking-feeling, judging-perceiving. Because I feel like in there somewhere there ought to be a dichotomy of people who learn/act/react/process quickly, and those who do so slowly.

I myself have never done anything, big or small, quickly. If it weren’t for externally imposed deadlines, I’d probably still be in college. So when a whole bunch of stuff happens in a very short period of time, virtually all at once, it tends to knock me for a loop, as I try my hardest to process it all, and am still going at it after everyone else has moved on.

Processing is, shall we say, a challenge for slowpokes like me. As are, apparently, commas.

Anyway, that’s why the week of November 1st through the 7th, being as eventful as it was, left me feeling nothing so much as bamboozled for over a week now.

Let’s review, shall we? In the big world:

  • Superstorm Sandy hit the East Coast;
  • There was this big election.

In my much smaller world:

  • The Coach’s team won the state championship;
  • Our boy’s girlfriend flew to Asia for a month;
  • Our boy moved out of his detestable apartment and back in with us.

Emotionally, for me, that’s kind of a lot to process in a week’s time. So to save myself from being completely overwhelmed I’ve slowed myself down (even more than usual) and just put my energy into some reading, and a little writing.

The reading has been interesting: whatever I’ve picked up has really struck a chord with me. I’m in about the middle of Gretchen Rubin’s Happier at Home, and I’ve been inspired to put into practice a lot of the elements she found to be successful toward that goal, being happier at home. One that I got a kick out of yesterday was “suffer for 15 minutes.” Kind of describes my feeling about certain chores I’ve put off doing.

I’ve also been doing a study in Daniel 6, and discovering what it is to be a person of integrity at work. Which in this day and age kind of bleeds over into things like social media: if that’s not a personal challenge — being a person of integrity on Facebook — I don’t know what is.

But the writing has been such a hot mess that I have spared you, my imaginary reader, the inevitable pain to your eyeballs of posting any of it. It seemed like, even in just a week, I forgot how to blog and had to figure it out all over again.

Not that this post is any indication of my having done that. But I felt compelled to offer up some sort of explanation for my absence. So I’m chalking it up to needing a little more time to, you know, process.

* I don’t know what to call this. Am I a late bloomer? A slow learner? A tortoise? This will take me a while to figure out. Duh.

30 days of … nothing in particular

Today is Day 1 of my blog series, 30 Days of Plum Slogging Her Way Through November.

Just kidding. I’d never subject you, much less me, to something that painful.

Having finished up what for me was kind of a major project, posting something here every day, I’m not all that eager to take on a similar assignment.

Not that I haven’t loved these past 31 days; they’ve been great. But I’m kind of wiped out. And ready for something new.

In truth, I don’t need to look far. There are all sorts of things, right under my nose, that I could and probably should give my attention to.

Fun things like: cleaning my house. Shampooing the carpet. Getting rid of all the old Disney movie VHS tapes that we are never going to watch again, because my children are grown adults. And we don’t even own a VHS player any more.

Here’s a partial list of things I want/need to do in November:

1. Move out of my daughter’s bedroom. For the past four or five months I’ve been using our girl’s bedroom as my writing space. I love it. I’ve got her old desk covered with my laptop and all my papers and books and stuff; I even use the bed as a staging area for some of the stuff I use when I’m writing. Like old photo albums and various notebooks. But she’s coming home for Thanksgiving and later Christmas, and I suppose she’s expecting to sleep in her room.

2. In light of item 1 there, I have to figure out a new writing space. This may be tricky. Our boy’s room is not an option because I think he’ll be moving out of his detestable apartment and back in with us in the next couple weeks. There aren’t many other options, unless I carve out a space in our office/attic area. Which means I’ll need to …

3. … clean out the attic. Oh, boy. Really, really not looking forward to that. That’ll be a multi-day project for sure. Maybe even multi-week. Ugh.

4. Read a book. Or two. I am a bookworm by nature, but it feels like forever since I sat down and read something for the fun of it. There are three or four books on my nightstand that I’m partway through, and another couple arrived from Amazon the other day, so I’ve got plenty to keep me busy in that department.

5. Catch up on my TV shows on the DVR or iPad. Because I feel like I’ve missed a bunch of really good ones since the fall TV season started a month or so ago, and I hate that feeling of being behind. I’ve heard good things about Call the Midwife; maybe I’ll start there.

6. Go shopping. Which I suppose is timely, because now that Halloween is behind us, Christmas shopping season begins in earnest, right? Like I need an excuse to go to the mall. But it feels like I haven’t been there in ages and I can hear my stores all calling me, like sirens luring me to them and causing me to shipwreck on their island.

7. Get ready for Thanksgiving. Oh, I just love this holiday on so many levels, and it gives me a little thrill to start planning the menu and the decorations and all the little details. The Thanksgiving issue of Bon Appetit magazine arrived in my mailbox yesterday, and I was ready to drop everything right then and there and start cooking.

8. Do stuff with The Coach. As of tomorrow, his season is officially over, freeing up his afternoons and weekends for stuff like paddling and surfing and yoga. Which means we need to find a good yoga class, so I’m adding that to the list.

I thought I could come up with more than eight things, and I probably can, but I think I should cut it off there. Especially since I ought to go get some work done in the attic.


I am a city girl, therefore lacking much firsthand knowledge of things having to do with farming, ranching, livestock, agriculture and so forth. But I have done a little bit of studying on the subject, particularly when it comes to sheep.

That is to say, I’ve been going to church long enough to have heard a couple or ten sermons reminding me that we humans have more in common with our counterparts of the ovine persuasion than we’d care to admit. And recently I got to see how true that really is.

One of the highlights of my mainland vacation earlier this summer was our two-day road trip from Oregon to Colorado. Not long after we crossed over the state line from Utah into Colorado, we came upon this scene: a rather large flock of sheep on the highway. Or rather, on the highway itself as well as on either side of the highway. They were more or less all going in the same direction, albeit not very quickly, and grazing as they went. As best as we could make out, there was only one hapless shepherd on horseback for all those noisy mamas and babies. There was also another horse without a rider, but way behind the rest of the group, so not of much help. And maybe half a dozen to eight sheepdogs in the midst of everything.

By the way, did you know there are two kinds of sheep dogs? There are the herding dogs, whose job it is to keep the sheep all together and going where they’re supposed to go. Then there are the guarding dogs, whose job it is to defend the flock from predators. The herders won’t really do the guardians’ job, and vice versa, so I imagine a flock of any size might need both kinds, don’t you think?

Anyway, despite the fact that nobody in the group was moving with much alacrity — and thus our car crept along behind at slower than walking pace, so I hopped out to shoot some pictures — it was a little chaotic. The poor shepherd had to keep going from one side of the road to the other, trying to get the grazers on one shoulder to move along, then he’d have to ride over to the shoulder to shoo that bunch out of the sage.

Goodness, or maybe Mercy

Meanwhile the dogs must have been in the sheepdog union or something; they saw me get out of the car and decided they were on their break. I’d always heard that sheepdogs are intensely single-minded and driven to work; these guys looked like they’d take any excuse to loaf a bit. So three or four of the doggies and I made friends while the shepherd shot me dirty looks from up on his horse, for distracting his employees.

Through it all, the sheep kept more or less on their sheep-y way. In any sermon on Psalm 23, the pastor is likely to point out that sheep are not the most intelligent members of the animal kingdom, which is his roundabout way of saying that’s how we look to God. And I’m not disagreeing with that; left to our own devices, we bipeds will stumble our way through life, at best, and at worst make a total mess of things. If it weren’t for the Good Shepherd making us lie down in green pastures and leading us beside still waters, let’s face it, we’d be wandering around forever in the sage brush, bleating for help. Also, imagine what would become of us if our guardian (or herding) angels, Goodness and Mercy, didn’t follow us all the days of our lives.

Eventually we got out in front of the flock and were on our way at normal highway speed. As we passed the last of the flock, my heart went out to that poor shepherd, working so hard by himself out there in the middle of nowhere, trying to get all those bleating slowpokes to their destination, wherever that was.

Then, I offered up a little prayer of thanks: for the opportunity to see a Bible lesson played out in real life, but especially for God’s patience with me, a humble member of his flock. Baa.

It’s not you; it’s me

For the past 13 years, I’ve been going every four or five weeks to get a manicure and pedicure. Sorry; I mean a mani-pedi. That sounds way cooler, doesn’t it?

My manicurist’s name is Jenny and for a manicurist, she is rather elegant. She wears her hair in a neat Hillary Clinton-like bob with a headband. The earrings and necklaces she wears are of traditional gemstones like rubies and aquamarines. Over her cashmere sweaters she always wears a long, black salon apron, about which she fastens a fashionable belt with a rhinestone buckle.

Every time —every time, for 13 years — when I come in and sit down at her little table, she looks down at my hands and says the exact same things. “Ohh, nails so dry-uh!” [translation: my goodness, your nails seem dry] “You nails have lidges [ridges]; you low brood fresher [blood pressure]?” You all the time sooo hard work; dishy-washy, creaning, creaning.” And I allow as to yes, all that is true of me, and then she gets to work.

Jenny is a very, very good manicurist. She’s extremely thorough (my appointment runs about an hour and forty-five minutes), uses only the best quality products, and has a commitment to cleanliness without equal. So while these things give me a great deal of trust and confidence in her, at the same time they make her quite a bit more expensive than others in her profession. My regular visits to her probably add up to somewhere north of $1,000 dollars a year, tips included.

So you can imagine why, in this economy, I might be tempted to want to go elsewhere — somewhere a little less pricey — for this particular service. Or maybe scale back a bit: just get the pedicure, perhaps, and skip the manicure (I do a lot with my hands, as she has noted, and the manicure rarely stays good for longer than 3 or 4 days, tops).

But my problem is, I don’t know how to break up with my manicurist. We’ve been together for 13 years, after all; we know each other pretty well and things are pretty comfortable. But one of us is not so happy anymore, and kind of wants, well, out.

But the other one is not making it easy. Each time as we are finishing up my appointment, she gets out her book and sweetly tells me when I’ll be coming back. “So, next month, you come Priday, Sepetembah seven. One o’clock?” And, assertive as I am, I answer, “No! It’s too expensive! I love the pedicure but the manicure’s just going to chip off in three days and it’s a waste of good money to even have one! I can’t afford this anymore!”

Not really. That only happens in my head. In real life, I don’t say anything at all except, “Okay,” then write out a check and enter the appointment date in my calendar. Then I drive home and imagine all sorts of scenarios in which I tell Jenny things like, “I think we should see other people manicurists. Well, I should.” Or, “Really, it’s not you; it’s me.” Or, harshest of all: “I’m just not that into you. Your manicures, that is. And how much it’s costing me.”

One of these days I’m going to have to come up with a way to really do this. A more likely scenario is I’ll just keep going back every month until she decides to retire. Because in any breakup, nobody ever wants to be the one who’s doing the dumping.