Breathe

I don’t remember my first trip to the San Juan Islands. As kids we loved riding the Washington State Ferries, so I’m sure my family took the ferry to Friday Harbor as a day trip. The islands became a destination for me after I met Spouse.  Spouse’s friend Ed had access to his 26-foot family boat and they would do fishing trips around Puget Sound, off of Port Townsend, and through the San Juan Islands. The islands hooked spouse and he easily reeled me in as well.

The San Juan Islands, clustered between northwest Washington and British Columbia’s Vancouver Island, experienced some notoriety as disputed territory between the U.S. and Britain. In the 1850’s, a skirmish involving the shooting of a rogue pig resulted in a significant military build-up on both sides, even threatening  war, but the smooth talking of General Winfield Scott quieted the need for shooting. The military presence remained strong for almost 30 more years, until the issue of ownership, settled by Kaiser Wilhelm I of Germany, kept the islands as part of what would become Washington State. The seclusion and myriad bays, coves, and difficult-to-navigate channels of the islands made passage through them a favorite route for smugglers, bootleggers, and many other ill-sorted folk. These days the islands are rife with vacationers, second-home owners, retirees, city escapees, and my favorite: small farms & small bakeries, fishers, potters, builders & craftspeople, all usually living simply so they can live & work among these magical islands.

Throughout our many years together, Spouse and I have boated to and around the islands, we’ve camped on several of them, we stayed at B&B’s, and we’ve taken day trips. We’ve fished, hiked, explored, skipped rocks, cooked, ate, birded, rode scooters, read and relaxed. The hour + ferry ride from Anacortes to Friday Harbor alters time. The further the dock recedes into the wake, the more of everyday sloughs off. Experts at the micro-vacation, when Jr was still backpackable size we’d ferry to Orcas for the day so we could hike around Mountain Lake, returning home late. People thought we were nuts, but little trips like this would refresh us, feeling, upon our arrival home, that we’d been gone for weeks.

As time flies, my last visit was early September.  This trip was my choice; no theme parks or huge hotels, just hilly land & the watery straits. I booked the trip in early April when suffocating under the weight of  busy. Too many classes, too many recipes, too much paperwork & schoolwork & research to do. I couldn’t find time for my soul: writing, reading Buechner or Fisher or , walking somewhere other than my neighborhood, being outside, just being, enough. A dear friend had suggested that I do those “me” things first, before I start the busy of the day. I did try but my tangential self couldn’t maintain this pattern to develop into a new habit. (I am still working on this transition!) So I planned a few-day escape.

Turtleback Mountain

We’d stay in an Airbnb-small, charming, private, boasting a L2 EV charger on Orcas Island. There’d be no swimming pool or the usual attractions, so Spouse & JR planned an afternoon of charter fishing. I’d get that time COMPLETELY to myself. I was giddy. As our trip approached, the Washington weather had taken an ugly turn: we were living with constant stagnant air, polluted by forest fires in southern Canada and eastern Washington. The reports included the San Juans but because of all that affects flow, it was on the cusp. We wouldn’t have great views but wouldn’t have visible ash dotting our car either.

The trip was everything I needed it to be. We hiked and explored, though no fish caught, I spent time reading & writing. I found beautiful bread, we gobbled up host-caught Dungeness Crab, enjoyed the soaking tub and/or outdoor shower. We experienced what I think to be the biggest gamut of restaurants: rock & roll blaring super chatty sole proprietor Mexicanish lunch to a farm-to-table outdoor pizza dinner, which while delicious had a high level of  (hipster?) pretension: on deciding what would be a good fit for Jr, we asked for clarification regarding the pizza described as having “tomato, fresh cheese and herbs”. Though they were very specific noting items that came with a “hen’s egg”,  taken aback, the server explained our choice meant red sauce, mozzarella & basil. Geesh. Whatever. I laughed about it and do wish them success. Restaurants have a tough go with such seasonal fluxes of customers.

There was a time when Spouse & I thought we’d move to the islands. Specifically Stuart. I was still elementary teaching and the lure of the then operational one-room school was strong. But as often happens, the path we were walking took a bend away from those plans. While they may return in the future, for now it is enough to visit and how lucky for us that we can. As a benediction, I wish you all a place, close enough to reach when needed, where you can let the regular everyday fall away, let the busy stop, let the chatter silence, for a bit. We’ll all be better, more whole, for it.

Advertisements

Transition

When Jr was little, I would lament that I’d just get used to his sleeping or eating schedule and he’d change, have new desires or requirements. Just as I’d adjust to this new, have my life working around his, he’d change. As children grow and develop they change. They need more or less food, more or less sleep, more or less touch. They may be very independent for a time, then flip to being needy, needy of closeness, nearness, knowing we were always right there. I’m a planner, and not always very, um, flexible with change. Perhaps if I had been more aware, more awake I would have anticipated his changes more readily, subtle though the transitions were. Regardless, we’re here now. Here with our teen.

My boy is now taller than me, taller than Spouse, taller than his grandparents, not quite as tall as his uncle or 2 cousins, but steadily growing. He is aware of his own needs: when he’s hungry he eats, when his teeth feel gross he brushes, when he runs out of clothes he drags the dirties to the laundry, he showers, he eventually sleeps, he gets fresh air. Quite often his schedule of need doesn’t coincide with what I think his schedule SHOULD be and this is where I get to learn, again, to relax, let go of expectation,  and trust him. There are times when I step in to remind him that tomorrow has an early start, that people will be over so he might want to get the clothes off his floor, that we are going to do math today and sooner is better than later. There are still too many times, though, when I give in to my view of things; I rant, rave, then apologize, again. I wish that wasn’t true. It shames me, but when I, as we say at the Dojo “fall down 7 times” I “get up 8”. I’ve written about positive apology before and I most likely will again cause I get lots of practice doing it. “I’m sorry Buddy. That’s not the kind of mama I want to be.” He sees me trying, he sees me fail, he sees me get up and keep going.

More than ever, this is when I want to have open eyes with my son. In a blink he’ll be man-aged. I want to imprint on my heart, more than it already is, his sweetness, his quirky humor, the conversations we have about life & love, about movies & videos & games & books, often the same conversations on repeat.  I want to see him as his person is, not just how I perceive him from a mother’s vantage. He’s neat. I really like him.

I’m still trying to forge some kind of so-called “work-life balance.” Is that really a thing that can be had? I get sucked into my work, all-consumed with planning, testing, writing, researching, hours in the kitchen or at the computer, often yielding results that don’t at all suit his particular tastes. I need an interjection, a mild sort of shoulder shake to remind me to stop, check-in, what’s he doing? is he having fun? does he need me but isn’t asking cause he knows I’m busy? am I too busy for him? I don’t want to be too busy for him. No job is worth that so let my words here guide my actions this evening, tomorrow morning, throughout the week. I will check in because I still get to, before change arrives again.

Today

I wasn’t planning to write. I don’t know what I would write but I read something. I read something about being alive, being here, right now, in this moment. Part of being alive, for me, is writing: it’s where I remember, where I feel, where I unfold. Unfolding is slow, sometimes painstakingly slow. Something I  haven’t allowed myself. Ancient Peoples set up physical remembrances: a pile of stones here, a carved tree there, each commemorating a significance, something they and the others shouldn’t forget. Today, I pile these words, on this page, my remembrance. When I pass by I’ll remember: Unfold.

Fear

I have a thing with fear. Its been with me from the earliest memory. I wasn’t overly shy, afraid of people. Most days I wasn’t scared of going to school, of riding the bus. I wasn’t afraid when we were occasionally left with a sitter. My early fear was of the dark. Though I shared a room with my sister, her unconscious presence wasn’t enough to bring comfort from a bad dream. The darkness of room and imagination held me, keeping me from running across the hall to my parents, to safety. Fear trapped sound in my throat, so I’d whisper “Mom”. Then again, a little louder “Mom”. Then spoken “MOM”, then loud enough to wake: “MOM!” She always came running. She always brought peace and a prayer, assurance that all was okay, that I was safe and cared for.

As I grew, fear changed. Given the worldview of my upbringing, the darkness of evil joined with the darkness of night, a fear combination that proved potent. I learned to say my own prayers to keep this alliance at bay, to keep it hovering away of arms reach. Morning always brought relief; the first bits of dawn meant I had survived, again. These fears didn’t usually follow me through the day. Only once, after watching a show with cousins, a show prohibited at our house due to violence I suppose, was I tormented. I had become the protagonist stalked by the villain, in this case a werewolf, catching glimpses of a tail, knowing it was just over there,waiting to pounce. I couldn’t share this fear because I had been “wrong” to watch the show in the first place. Fear of parental disapproval proved stronger than any relief I might gain, so this one lasted a while. Fear of parental disapproval. My next major fear phase.

Wanting to please parents is an evolutionary given. Small children can’t survive on their own. They need the food, shelter, love and comfort that caregivers (hopefully) bring. Displeasing the caregiver might mean rejection, ejection from the group, the tribe, the sanctuary. Rejection would mean death. My parents were very loving and would be horrified if any thought their care to be conditional of good behavior. As a rational adult I know this was not the case, but children don’t rationally know, they feel. They don’t hear the words, they feel the words, they feel the tone, they literally absorb the facial expressions. Wanting to keep everything happy or return things to happy as quickly as possible, are the furrows of secret, of little lies, of omissions. Ground that therapists plow through later in life.

By college, I learned there were things I just wasn’t to share with my parents. As I worked toward my emancipation to adulthood, trying out my own views, my own thoughts, I learned hard that it was easier to not share than to sit through a discussion I didn’t want to have. A one-sided discussion of why this view or that thought was flawed. Years later I would know these discussions, and the many that would follow, grew from the insecurities of my folks, insecurities that followed me, not giving me tools for discussions of my own, discussions with other thoughts and views. I still hate the feeling of disagreement, the feeling deep in my core, of frustration from unmet minds, minds that will never meet. I don’t really know how to live with that, to be ok with that. I have typically lived in avoidance, not necessarily avoiding the people, but always avoiding the subject or the difference, finding only common ground or pretending when there is none. This alone is the lack I regret most.

By ultimate Grace I have a partner who can live in disagreement, who can share time with people, who can discuss anything without having to “be on the same page”. Spouse is easy-going, affable. He can put others at ease, drawing them out, finding out who they are, what do they think, how do they feel. He can ever so nicely include his own held thoughts or not, it doesn’t matter to him. He knows who he is, he likes who he is, and he is ok with others not being him. I continue to learn from his life, from him. I can talk about anything without rejection and no, we don’t always agree. This characteristic of him has to be one of the reasons we are happily together.

Some years ago, a longtime friend died in a car crash. This person was noble, upright, a hard worker, a provider, a loving husband and father. The driver of the car who hit him collapsed at the wheel, not from alcohol but from some freak health condition. In broad daylight the oncoming vehicle swerved into the wrong lane, at highway speed, on a corner, and my friend had nowhere to go. He tried to avoid and saved his passenger but was himself hit full-on.  This event crashed me. All of my fears collided. Standing in my room, alone, leaning on the windowsill, I cried, no, I wept. Deep, wracking sobs convulsed my torso, lungs heaving, throat gasping because if this could happen to my dear friends, it could happen to me-I could lose Spouse. I would be alone. Good behavior didn’t matter. Daylight or night, it didn’t matter.

Regardless of what you believe about metaphysics, about God, whether just electrical impulses of the brain or a being outside of ourselves, a being who interacts, a being who might care for, even love humans, I believe the latter. During this highly charged emotional moment, I experienced a deep peace that I would be ok. I wouldn’t be alone. I would survive. I was strong. It wasn’t at all from a place that this being would do things for me, would magically make everything ok; it was that he or she would be there, in it, with me. This isn’t a post on The Existence of God. Nor is it a post on all that could be written, could be said about the atrocities, the despair, the seeming abandonment of those who believe, at the hand of others who also say they believe. If there is a God why does this happen? Where is God in all of this shit? For me she’s just here. He’s next to me. I listen for whispers, feel for nudges. Rogue brain impulses? Could be. Does it matter? No. I am still often afraid but I remember this and it lifts.

Fear isn’t all bad. Fear is for survival. If I’m walking alone and feel fear hit my gut, I pay attention and go another way. This fear is like intuition. As a planner, someone who wants to know what to expect, I feel fear when I’m trying a new thing, going to a new place. This fear causes me to be more alive: Feel the Fear & Do It Anyway. However, unchecked or manipulated, these mild forms of fear become tools of hate and control.

The events of this week have sickened me. This entire presidential election cycle has been atrocious. Flagrant manipulation by those in power, abandoning those they claim to support;  by those wanting power, feeding off masses, people tired, frustrated, afraid. Fear lashes out. Fear corrupts clear thought. Fear causes withdrawal from conversation, from interaction, from relationship. Fear brings hate & pain & death. For many I know it feels as though fear has won. It hasn’t and we get to prove it.

We can be brave.

  • Respond to the whisper or nudge to talk to that person, to give to that group, to write that letter, to make that phone call.
  • If you feel in danger, watch faces, listen for who you can turn to, we will be there.

 

We can think clearly.

  • Find the sources that help, that will give good direction, good ideas, that empower you for good.
  • Hide people or unlike pages on Facebook that cause unhelpful turmoil in your soul.
  • Find the good, support the good, speak the good.

 

We can connect.

  • Find people or a person to be with. Just be. Don’t debate, don’t complain, just be.
  • Share gratitude
  • Offer a listening ear or a shoulder for crying, but know your own limits.
  • Work to make acquaintances or friends outside of your usual set of norms. Be open to different.

 

When you start to feel afraid, go outside, breathe deep, and ask for clear thinking, ask for bravery, and above all, ask for love. Love wins.

Remember

The ship had already begun shifting course. For such large, cumbersome vehicles, phrases like “turn on a dime”, “tight turning radius”, or even “quick turn” are the stuff of dreams and fantasy. Change occurs in a matter of degrees, movement barely noticeable to an untrained eye, but with time, north becomes south, east, or west. Eighteen months in the making, the event marked by today merely confirmed and sealed the direction our lives had already started taking.

Finished with the first round of remodeling, the garden established, chickens cooped, occupations well in hand, we felt ready. Hoop after hoop were presented and cleared: paperwork, classwork, bloodwork, casework(ers). Pictures, bios, heartstrings, doubt. How do you know? How do you decide? At the point of giving up, in October of that year, an email with image attached came through. It was him. I sat stunned and breathless, nerves on end, knowing, however you do, doubtless: it was him. I also knew that this photo was only the beginning. Our yes would bring more hoops, each one more critical, culminating in the decision of a State committee, a committee charged with choosing one from three.

As winners, more paperwork & caseworkers, 3-ring binders of why, had to be trawled before we could consider meeting. I watched as we drove to the tidy home in the south sound neighborhood, watched as we walked sidewalk to door, watched as my hand stretched to shake the other. Empathetic, shy, feeling every inch of the awkward, we met our child-to-be at home with the only family he had ever known during his as yet short, sweet, little life. We were expected to play and interact  with this child, someone else’s child, someone else who selflessly loved, cared for, and attached to this child, knowing he wasn’t to stay. This selflessness a gift greater than the child himself.  The first day of a 2-week whirlwind courtship that led to moving in together, housemates for 9 months. I thought I was ready. I had read the books. I was still reading the books. Baby gates, plug covers, hooded bath towels, and crib; menus, work from home, nap time, bath time, and play. Set.

In time, however, I began to unravel. All that was me, that had been me, things I believed about parenting, people, cooking & food, about faith & family, about happiness & joy, began to shift. This new life connected to mine: the bright set of eyes, the strong little body, the complexity of mind, the heart, joy, laughter, will,  took me apart.  Over time I had lived less and existed more. Life, disappointment, deferred dreams can do that. It’s easy to become usual and dull. Face to face with this vibrant life, a life I was to love and guide, woke me up. Who was I? What did I want to do and be? What did I want this child to see in me? Beautifully, there are always 2nd chances, always chances for change. Over and over it’s this relationship that illuminates what to change, what to hone, what to discard, in me.

So it’s on this day, the day when the last of the paperwork was completed, when the judge gave her consent, I know I am blessed & lucky. I know I’ve been given a treasure to help and to hold,  on loan for only a short time. I take time to remember, to feel it all: the joy, the awkward, the grief, the hugs, laughter, self-stretching, love. Grateful always, it’s now time for pie.

Moment

I chose to be busy this summer. All that sounded SO exciting in April is now all around me, making me tired.

I chose 2 to 3 days each week to guide groups of 8 to 15 year olds, making foods from Syria or Brazil or foods from the Southwest or East Coast of this country. On another 1 to 2 days each week, groups of 7 to 9 year olds and I imagine we’re making foods at a campsite, using much foil, wielding tongs, eating with fingers. Further still, I added groups to my own Tiny Kitchen, making Empanadas, Enchiladas, and Ice Cream Treats. Five menus, five timelines, five class flows rotating the days of the week, wild card additions, plus planning & testing for Fall & Winter & Random Classes that will be in between.

Though my brain pegs full, I am still Mother, Laundress, Accountant, Chauffeur, Gardener, Wife, and Cook. I am the Finder, the Organizer, the Cleaner, the Buyer, all of which must go on, positions I didn’t think would need temporary assistance, but I broke. Sort of. Saturday night.

If you’ve read Beatrice Potter, you might be familiar with The Tale of Mrs. Tittlemouse. The protagonist is a busy creature, obsessed with footprint-free floors, bee-free rooms, and guests who are careful not to leave a soggy signature. Saturday I chose not to be that Mouse. In very indelicate fashion, I made proclamations to my family, the details of which aren’t Need To Know. Saturday ended and Sunday began, a better day, mostly.

Then there was this morning. Sunny, quiet, alone at the patio table, listening to the sprinkler’s spitting rhythms, watching the chickens forage, shelling the just-discovered-in-the-produce-drawer garden peas, waiting to remove the oven’s bread.

Peace. Center. Calm. Beauty.

This morning I saw what, for me, cannot be disregarded or abandoned. This is what puts me back together, what makes me happy, what gives me something to give. This space outside, the repetition of movement & sound, the green & blue & gold, it lifted everything, even giving space for words to circle and gather. How fortunate am I to be and breathe, to have this luxury, this peace.

I will continue my summer. Continue with the busy-I love what I do! But I will make time on the patio, give myself early morning moments, moments before the day gets warm, before the chickens get chatty, just me and the light, the trees, the sky and my garden.

image

Flurry

I’ve lived in one since Christmas. I’m still living in one, but this morning, for any number of unknown reasons, the noisy crowds of Busy Brain were quiet.  Maybe because I tend to the tangential, it’s difficult to push pressing thoughts aside, to heel them into submission; instead, they pull madly at the leash, yipping & barking until my attention is unmercifully theirs. But this morning I’m here.

These last 3 months have been full. We’ve gutted and begun to refit the kitchen. Not finished but very usable, I proceeded to start daytime cooking classes in it, each week sharing, Carol Merrill-style, each new addition. The classes have been kids & cake, soup & breadsticks, many moving parts, non-stop chatter, lots & lots of dishes. This week our class will have a dishwasher, the First World mechanical sort, a supplement, or augmentation perhaps, to my mom, my mom who wanted to be my assistant.

For Christmas, I gave my folks a cooking class, a hands-on Winter Soups & Salads class. They went on a Tuesday evening, worked with an instructor and other students they didn’t know, producing some tasty, tasty food. My dad thrilled to finally know the proper way to hold a chefs knife. They were able to experience what I do for work: the black coated-instructor, the purple-aproned assistants, the trays of mise en place, the cutting boards, the cooking, and all those dishes. On the heels of this, my mom became my assistant here.

The first week, as there was none in the kitchen, she ferried each and every dish downstairs to the laundry sink, washing, racking, stacking when dry. She took home the dinner- & silverware to run through her dishwasher, along with the bar towels & aprons to her laundry. On rising next day, she felt the burn of those stairs. Thankfully, we’ve had a convenient sink since, something to never take lightly.

Each week, she arrives early, helps me set up what needs to be. She greets the students, gets them name-tagged & aproned, and ensures each knows the hand washing routine. She whisks away the dirty bowls & spatulas, packs up the ingredients we’re done with, helps this one or that get the cake batter into the muffin cup. She doesn’t stop until my dad arrives with the insulated carafe of coffee and we sit down to sample the day’s offering. Where this seemingly wasn’t enough, she decided to take home any ironing that needed doing, each week pressing Spouse’s shirts better than I ever can (or care to), returning them, the closet magically filling as if the work of Storybook Elves.

My mom is a flurry. I’ve learned how to work from her. I first learned to cook & bake from her. I channel her when I need to “grub out” the aluminum tracking of the windows, or the grout of the bathroom floor. We even use the term  Harness the Power for how effective she is: when something needs doing, she was always the team top pick. I think she has always held a list of what needed to get done on any given day, and has been able to check off each item when completed. I’ve only glimpsed occasional wandering: like the time she was readying her living/kitchen/dining rooms for a baby shower and ended up repainting her bedroom closet doors. She saw the irony but was still happy to have a fresh lift in her room.

With all the busy, my mom likes to sit down for coffee. She gives great hugs. And I know without doubt that she loves me. My earliest memories of mom being still are when she read to us (my favorite: The Secret Garden) and when I knew she had been praying: the right side of her face pressed onto her bed leaving a telltale imprint. Think what you may, believe what you do, but my parent’s have always tried, doing the best they could for who they were/are at any given time, to live a true faith. I’ve never doubted that. And though our theologies haven’t always aligned, I have always been buoyed, remembering that chenille-print cheek from waybackwhen, to the Right Now, wherein both my parents pray for the All Of Us every day.

This morning, before I leash Pup for a brisk walk, before we head out into the lion-like weather of this mid-March, I will enjoy these warm waters of memory, these few moments of word-flowing-through-fingertip. I won’t lament the I Don’t Do This Enough, this has been respite. Maybe there will be a sooner rather than later return to this pool. I don’t know. What I do know? I am blessed. I am lucky. I am loved. I wish the same for you.

Expectation

I suppose most people live with some level of some expectation. On Tuesday, people with weekday jobs most likely expect to be at work on Wednesday. Those who left their car in the garage one day, expect it to be there the next. People who live near me expect to have electricity, clean drinking water, streets to drive on, basic accoutrements of a mid-size town, in an economically thriving part of the U.S.

I suppose there are those so enlightened that upon waking each morning they truly give thanks for another day. People who expect nothing past the Right Now, who when falling asleep don’t know if they’ll wake up and are okay with that. Maybe I’d find people like this among the Contemplatives, but for now I don’t know any. I had a political science professor in college who lived a grateful life, but his gratitude stemmed from negative expectation. An immigrant who escaped China’s Cultural Revolution, Jesse Chang was grateful for two particular things: 1) “Thomas Jefferson, I am so indebted to that man”, and 2)”That the B-1 Bombers have not come”. I imagine he was grateful for many other things, but these he repeated in every class, usually at the start of each class. Each day, he expected the nuclear war of the early 1980s to begin, and each day so very grateful that it did not.

Expectation is tricky. I expect the overpass not to collapse, therefore I can drive over it. I expect the air quality to be breathable, so I go outside without a mask. I expect the elevator cable not to snap so I use it instead of climbing 10 flights of stairs. However, when I expect Junior to always do what I think he should, when I expect Spouse to telepathically know what my emotional needs are, when I expect to be noticed or included or whatever, things go bad, quickly. Gratitude softens expectation, and can make life better, quickly. If I begin to express thanks on the other side of the overpass, not for avoiding certain death, but because the overpass made my commute easier, my day lightens. If I express thanks for fresh, breathable air, for living where I get to enjoy what some never do, my heart lightens. If I give thanks for Junior’s clothes and Lego’s and action figures and papers strewn over the floor because they’re HIS and he’s in my life-my world changes.

There is much more that could be said of expectation: positive or negative, high or low, unrealistic & unexpressed. I don’t need to delve any deeper. For today, I’m accepting that I will continue to expect things. I’ll expect the car to be charged, that Junior will wear his Gi to karate, that the stock on the stove will finish cooking. I choose, today, to temper these, and all the other expectations, with gratitude. Additionally, I will work to accept Junior’s style of room keeping, and keep communicating with Spouse. I hope to choose this all again tomorrow.

Old & New

A post on New Year’s Eve. Cliché? Probably. Nonetheless, I am posting deliberately since I won’t have this chance again. Tomorrow is all the new and I am grateful for all the old. This year that flew by, the one where we just communed with Saguaro, just celebrated Junior’s birthday and my parent’s turning 80, just recovered from a sweltering summer, just taught that Minestrone & Breadsticks class, just put the last of the raspberries and green beans into the freezer. All the events intermixed with morning espresso & evening dishwashing, loads of laundry & hours at an office, park days & play dates & projects; mixed together as one yet still distinct, colors intact not blended. Stopping for a moment to reflect may be cliché but I think it’s the best part of being alive.

I am grateful for Spouse and Junior. The life we live is simple and silly, but not necessarily easy.  Over and over I get the chance to extend grace to these people I live with, but usually not before getting really mad. I am continually challenged and stretched as I work to be The Mom I Want to Be, as I work to be aware when I fall short, so I can reconnect with the best gift I was ever given. This gift, this person who is as tall as me, who is loving & kind, who is getting ready for life’s next big leap. Gah! I’m overwhelmed-again.

I am grateful for our space, this place we call home. I am grateful for our families, people we get to see often, people who also help with life lessons. These people who have known us longer than anyone else. The people who are our reason. I am grateful for our friends, little gems plopped onto our path, making life rich. I am grateful for our jobs, that Spouse is willing to give so much time to his, that mine can shape shift around the rest of life, grateful for the people we work with-some easy connections, some not. I am grateful for all that is familiar and cozy and warm.

There will be new here in the coming year. Junior will get taller, projects will get done. The kitchen should get a bit bigger. People in that kitchen will cook or bake things they never have before. There is the potential new that is entirely unknown. We can’t see around corners or very far down the road. Really, we can’t see further than our next footfall. This is scary. Will there be new that’s hard or crushing? Will there be loss or pain? There may be. Sometimes I want to insulate myself from that sort of new-keep my head down, keep my heart wrapped. In order to live, though, I have to allow myself to feel: joy is only joy when there is sorrow.

So, beginning tomorrow we will have dinners, play games, watch movies, celebrate lives & love. We will vacuum floors, hang laundry, grow plants, tend chickens, mow lawns, throw footballs. We will laugh. We will fight. We will connect. May this coming year be the one where we all lived our lives, fully open, fully aware, fully light. Blessings and grace to you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ps. I have no control over these ads.

As Is

We wanted hardwood floors, a fireplace, room for a garden, and overall, character. We wanted a fixer to change how we saw fit. A fixer, by default, I suppose, meant a non-HOA neighborhood, a detail also fine with us. We found such a structure on an almost quarter acre; a very large canvas, or lump of clay, with which to create; not one fireplace but three; hardwoods and character hiding behind the late 60s “upgrades”. Sprinkled throughout the paperwork were the words “As is”. The elderly seller concerned that potential buyers might ask too much in way of pre-sale demands. Our bank did demand that a portion of roof be repaired, and we did hire an inspector to pry, prod, and sniff his way from attic to basement. Even so, Mrs. Carlson struck gold, pulled Lucky 7s, won the lottery when she got us as buyers. Papers signed, she was now free to move east, closer to her children’s lives.

An original 1935 Freeway House lifted from its original foundation, somewhere along the under-construction I-5 corridor, and moved to a new foundation, a full basement no less, prepared for it by the newly weds who bought it. The hardwood floors, double hung windows either side of the fireplace, the dining room nook and enclosed kitchen, the octagonal bathroom floor tile, and the fir siding all made the trip in good condition, only the lathe & plaster suffered some dings and cracks. The newlyweds, unfortunately, didn’t survive. The house sold 2 years later, as part of divorce proceedings. Change moved in with the Carlson’s.

We like to think that the changes began from necessity: instead of 2 people living with a 2 bed, 1 bath, full basement, there were now 2 adults and 4 kids. We imagine that the Carlson’s worked quickly to dig more basement on the south end of the house, the end facing the lot next door which they also owned. Atop the basement foundation appeared a larger, though never finished, bedroom, a more formal living room, with large picture window facing that undeveloped 2nd lot, and 2 more fireplaces-one upstairs and one down-2 flues sharing the same chimney. Perhaps to avoid repainting the wide plank fir siding, mint green metal siding soon covered the house, with areas of brick added to the front elevation. A new, Soviet-era-sturdy cement entry way emerged, with a fiberglass corrugated roof and ornamental wrought iron vertical supports.

Given the design sense of the time, most of the, perhaps cracked from the move, lathe & plaster walls of the new family room now sat covered in faux wood paneling. You know, the imprinted 4×8 sheets of wallboard veneer? A plastic transition piece covered the seams between veneer sheets, floor to ceiling. The hardwoods worn down by construction and 4 kids, became covered with golden brown medium-pile carpeting. With the new addition, the front entryway moved from the center of the original house to the living room, a door facing the driveway, much more feng shui then a doorway facing the street. The new construction brought “modern” aluminum-framed windows to the living room and new bedroom. With the original house windows so dated, they could have needed replacing, so someone installed louvered or jalousie windows, with storm window and summer screen options.

The now 2nd bedroom sported a new sliding glass door, also aluminum framed, giving access to the backyard via the rickety not-attached-to-the-house “deck”. A door to the new living room replaced what was most likely a window. The original door to the hallway and bathroom remained. The third bedroom, the north-east corner room, painted mustard yellow with white shag carpet, its exterior walls each holding a window, 2 of the 3 double-hung windows left in the house, both so layered with oyster enamel that they could only muster an opening of 8 inches. Hardly the egress required by code. This room contains the “walk-in closet” mentioned in the sales material. A walk-in, after a step-up, two-thirds the size of what most consider a standard size bedroom closet. More 70s updating had adhered loam-brown cork board to 3 of the lathe & plaster walls. Undoubtedly, wall space was needed for posters and calendars and perhaps even strings of beads to hang. Anyone who has ever tried to push-pin lathe & plaster understands the cork board. Carpeting covered the very cool bathroom tile and a vanity sat the distance between doorway and commode. A counter to ceiling mirror filled the wall.

The kitchen was a cave. Kitchen carpet, a darling of the house’s renovation period, all browns and golds, covered the floor. The dark brown veneer cupboards, certified Pay-N-Pak, a long-since defunct precursor to Ace or McLendons, lined the walls. The upper cabinets were small, the space above them closed off with veneer sliders, much like a vintage travel trailer. The range stove was a  smooth-top, probably cutting edge when installed, and the area adjacent boasted a food warmer set into the counter top. The Sear’s manual advised savvy housewives to keep their husband’s dinner warm using this new-age convenience. The room was lit by fluorescent lighting housed in an oversized ceiling fixture, its plexiglass cover yellowed with smoke and grease and insects and time. The counters were a classic laminate, white with gold space-age starbursts and aqua blue outlined boomerangs . This covered the counters and about 10 inches of wall too. The laminated portion of the walls stood out almost a full inch. The end of the room contained a window to the garage, space for a fridge, and the access door to landing, outside, and basement. A pocket door closed all of this from the rest of the house.

There are more details, oh so many more, of what we purchased, but I think I’d lose you. As to the basement, I will just say we tore out walls, covered up black painted cinderblock, acid-stained the main room floor, added walls for a laundry room, shop, and under-stair storage, and put in lighting. All the details, including what we found behind those portions of laminated kitchen wall or that large bathroom mirror, all that we found outside, the full story, can be shared while we tour the house, red wine in hand. What we found funny, beside that Mr. Carlson fancied himself a handyman, was that this house, a stick-frame, wood construction building, wanted to be a mobile home. The louvers, the metal siding, the flimsy black metal porch supports, the corrugated fiberglass all screamed TRAILER PARK. While there is nothing wrong with living in a trailer park, one usually finds the opposite: mobile homes want to look like they are not. We loved this and we hated this and we’re still working to make it less so.

This has been our project for many years. We DIY. I demo. Spouse rebuilds. I clean up. Spouse works full-time in an office so the rebuilding is slow-going. Spouse is a visual thinker. He stares, he thinks, he pictures, he draws on paper, he goes to Home Depot. Some projects get waylaid and are hard to get back to. But each of them, when finished, are amazing. We like our funny house. We like that we don’t owe a ton. While there are things we’d like to have finished, our house is warm & dry. We have indoor plumbing & running water. We have garbage pickup at the street. We have space to garden & play. While we now stare at closer-than-ideal neighbors through those south-facing windows, we have a place to be. Sometimes, as with any older structure, things go wrong. During those times we don’t get to choose the project: the project demands attention. Our recent heavy rains presented one such situation, but we handled it. It was hard and almost terrible, but with the support of our village, by diving in, somehow instinctually knowing what needed to be done, shoulder-to-shoulder though not really speaking, we tackled it. Together. While this place isn’t House Beautiful, it is our beautiful house, the place we make beautiful, together.