Monthly Archives: February 2015

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It wasn’t long ago that I promised myself to post regularly on Mondays, but, you know: the new Monday is Tuesday lunch break. And, also, we moved on Thursday (the coldest night of the year) and a friend came to town on Friday and then this weekend we painted pictures of our pets (or, you know, made art) and ate omelettes at the Farmer’s Market and quaffed 1800s-style beer and listened to the fantastic jazz music from the local magnet arts school and tried to persuade another friend to adopt a worried-looking pitbull named Arielle.

So, basically: chaos and fun and fun in chaos and chaos in fun. And that is how Monday became Tuesday.

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Now, about the Big Move. We’ve moved a lot in less than two years in Dayton. All the way from Texas to Old House, Old House to a neighbor’s apartment, neighbor’s apartment to upstairs at New House, upstairs at New House to downstairs at New House, downstairs at New House to upstairs at New House, and—finally, this last week—from New House into Oldest House. I don’t know if you caught that, but in one year we moved three times within one building. It’s been a period of unmerited-optimism-meets-gloriously-poor-timing. It’s been exhausting. It’s been liberating. It’s been a little excessive (and this is coming from someone who move twelve times over a ten year period in her pre-Dayton life). It’s why, when the woman at the credit card company needs my address so that she can verify my identity, I answer like this:

“Hmm,” I say. “Ummm,” I say. She waits. “Hmm.”

But now I know where I live. We are in our home, as long as we are in Dayton. We still don’t have all our belongings with us (that will be Move 2.0, once we get the floors in upstairs) and it is still an unsettled living-space that wouldn’t fit most people’s definitions of home. But it is home. I feel it.

And in the midst of this weekend’s busyness, Kyle made progress on bringing it one step closer to being a finished house. One of the upstairs rooms was left forever-marked by a border hung halfway (like a room with a belt!) and so we decided to add some chair rail molding to cover the lines. The other option would’ve been to skim-coat the plaster, but the room is kind of formal (or will be, once a saw isn’t in the middle of it and it has a real floor) and we thought the wide baseboard and the fireplace would take to the molding:

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So far, so good. I have a dream of picture-frame detailing, but since that dream is more specifically Kyle hanging said picture-frame detailing and since he isn’t that into it: it’s a project for another day. Which is fine. I’ve got other dreams. (Run, Kyle, run.)

So it’s been a good first few days in our new place. And I’m glad that those first few days coincided with an old friend’s visit. Unlike the credit card company, I don’t need an address to verify my identity. I love houses, but it’s the people around me that help me remember who I am. So even if our home is hectic, that’s okay. Maybe Oldest House can’t fit all of our furniture yet, but it can accommodate friends as we chat on the couch and flowers from the husband and a few magnificent animal portraits, too. It’s not at all perfect. And it’s exactly what it needs to be.

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A sweet friend of mine, who also lives a military lifestyle, said: whoever said absence makes the heart grow fonder, they just didn’t know what they were talking about. Absence makes the heart exhausted and absence makes the heart forgetful and absence makes the heart worried and if absence still does make the heart fonder, it doesn’t always rise to the top of that grand mish-mash of emotions. Which makes sense, because your heart is your heart. It might like your person, but what it needs is your survival. It’s in your heart’s greater interest that you learn to appreciate distance, instead of yearning for a person gone.

So I’ve learned to love my space while Kyle has been away the last few months. In that quietness I’ve painted (just walls—not fun things) and I’ve written. I’ve drank cocktails with friends and made myself gourmet pizzas and taken dance classes. I have, perhaps most importantly, left delicious leftovers in the fridge and have found them when I’ve reopened said fridge! I’ve also had a lot of time to think about how the pieces of my life fit together and what pieces need to look different or be different. That’s been good, too. (Unless you ask people around me, who may/may not be tired of my pronouncements that I must do ___ or cannot do ___ because I have laser-like clarity about ___. Laser-like! Extra annoying.)

But as of this Friday, Kyle is back. He’s unpacking boxes in the kitchen at Oldest House and putting new light bulbs in the light fixtures I insisted were broken (and they were, if burnt out light bulbs count as broken) and waking up before me to take the dog out and to make oatmeal and coffee. And, okay, maybe I mentioned the night before that I thought it would be great to make banana pancakes together in the morning and then walk to the local coffee shop, but: close enough! Oatmeal makes the heart grow fonder. Freckled faces make the heart grow fonder. Red roses shoved in a thermos bottle make the heart grow fonder. Watching the man you love pet the dog you love makes the heart grow fonder. Absence: it has nothing on presence. I love that he is home.

Not that there isn’t friction in re-learning living together. Needless to say, the dog that has tried to follow every man in military uniform home the last few months is exuberantly pleased the man is back. Needless to say, the cat that has enjoyed luxuriating on a half (okay, maybe more like 2/3rds) of the bed is moderately pleased the man is back.

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And, also, we have big decisions to make. We’ve hired someone to take on the structural work at hollowed-out Old House, forty something pages of detailed notes that look like this:

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And in light of the imminent structural work, we have more decisions to make. One decision that’s been taken off the table: straightening the house. We are packed too closely between neighbors to bring in the equipment we need, and also, we don’t really feel like taking off the roof. So all of this work and money to straighten the house is now just work and money to lock the house into (slanty, safe) place.

I’ve run the numbers, and our crooked Old House just doesn’t make sense to live in, or to immediately sell as a single-family. It only makes financial sense as a rental. Ideally as a double, which is why we’ll be speaking to zoning next week.But that is so different from what we were working for, that it’s hard for us, or at least me, to divorce ourselves from that vision of Old House. It’s harder, I think, because there is too much proximity. We’ve lived around the corner from it, and that vision has lived inside of us, for well over a year now.

But numbers. Numbers are good for distance.

And distance is good for some things.

Last week Mango disappeared. He is an indoor-outdoor cat, but that little Texan doesn’t do cold, and I knew when I couldn’t find him that something was wrong. I searched for days and then took a morning off of work, printed off $50 worth of posters, and plastered the neighborhood with photos of his face. There is nothing like running into a coworker when you are wandering your neighborhood in penguin-print pajama pants and paint-splattered boots and plaintively calling Mango!

The same weekend Mango disappeared, Godiva decided she could no longer do stairs. I spent a day carrying my 50 pound dog up and down the stairs, until my back told me to quit it. Then I discovered whipped cream, with all of its stair-conquering deliciousness. Then, because in our current chaotic living we have one dog bowl and a stack of vintage plates, I discovered whipped cream served on china.

My husband said: this seems to be escalating rather quickly.

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The whole week was a mess. But the good news is that the vet put Godiva on painkillers and steroids that seem to be helping. And also, after hours in the cold hanging posters, I changed into my work clothes and forlornly stood by my car and called for Mango one final time. And just stood there, because that’s what being forlorn is. Which meant I was still standing there when Mango called back.

I figured out he was in my neighbor’s garage. Because rumor has it that women can lift cars off of children in times of duress, I thought, no worries! I’ll just tear this garage door open.

Or not.

So instead I called my neighbor. Who, it turns out, had left town a few days ago, and who had unwittingly locked Mango in his impenetrable two story brick-fortress of a garage. And who was still out of town, but who advised me on how I could get in, which involved a ladder, and kicking off my boots so that I could better climb said ladder, and a crowbar that, okay, I didn’t need at all but had picked up just in case, because I was gonna get Mango out.

And I did. Then I happily spent an hour tearing down all of the posters, while Mango devoured several cans of cat food and lolled in the sudden sunshine.

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So this is all to say: I haven’t done a thing on the houses this week. Sometimes you have to show up for the things you love. Sometimes that is easy, and sometimes it is hard. While I’ve been wrapped up in the animal-saga, I have friends and family raising young children and caring for sick family members. And, usually, the world doesn’t shove other demands aside to give us time for those that need us. And, unfortunately, it isn’t like the moment we are needed we suddenly become better or stronger or more graceful than we’ve been. But if we can be there—clumsy and confused and maybe even wearing penguin-print pajamas—it’s enough, I think.

So, in order to celebrate the fact that this week was a fiasco and that I was mostly running around like a crazy person, but that this was also the week I was able to be what I needed to be for those critters that I love, I share this photo montage of countertops gone wrong. Which I was going to fix and finish this week, and which I didn’t.

Meet the original counters:

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Meet my counters after a coat of Ardex feather finish:
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It was fun slathering the Ardex on. Then came the sanding. I had read other bloggers’ accounts of hours spent sanding and mountains of dust, so I decided to go my own way. I hooked up my electric sander to the vaccuum and had the work done in an hour–with hardly any mess.

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And then. Buoyed by my unexpected sanding success, I decided I could probably do better with the topcoat. Most bloggers said they were annoyed by the oil blotches and acid stains that seem to mark even the toughest sealers, and so I thought: I’m just going to oil the counters from the get-go!

Friends, do not try this.

It’s hard to capture the blotchy disaster of the counters in photos. But it’s okay. I’ll fix them. It’s not the biggest challenge. And it’s definitely not the most important.

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The woman who meets me in front of Old House seems disappointed. “I was supposed to meet Kyle,” she says.

“Yes,” I explain. “That’s my husband.” I look at her, a pretty moon face with wrinkles around pale blue eyes, blondish hair pulled back in a ponytail. “You don’t look like Robert,” I say.

It turns out Robert has retired. His hauling business is now hers, though it still bears his name. She is the boss now, she says. So we go into Old House and talk about tearing out the rest of the plaster and cleaning out the accumulated mess.

“Don’t you worry,” she says. “This is a good house in a good place. I’m seeing the potential.”

“Uh-huh,” I say. I appreciate stretching things in the direction of positivity, what those in real estate call puffing. I mean, sometimes I demand it: I am the woman who let go of the dog trainer because he described our girl in unflattering terms, when what I really wanted to hear was absolutely beautiful and perhaps a little badly behaved. There are times, when someone comes to you in need (see: renovating, see: dogs who bark too much) that puffing is necessary and kind. But even I think she is pushing it a bit far.

Still, her boys get to work. The plaster starts coming down, coal dust blooming in the air and settling over everything. Meanwhile, we begin emptying out Old House. Paint cans and millions of paint samples go, followed by piles of warped wood. Not-Robert lifts up a soot-covered hat, touches it. She decides we can keep it, because she doesn’t want to get me in trouble with the pale-skinned husband. She looks at the mini-fridge that was supposed to be part of our mini-kitchen during renovations, says she can find it a home. I offer up that maybe she can find the old creaky dresser and corner cabinet homes, too.

“Mm,” she says. “Yeah. That’s junk. That’s what we get rid of.”

Not-Robert knows when it’s not time to puff.

I trust your judgment, I tell her. Get rid of anything that isn’t useful or valuable. And so the place gets cleared out, piece by piece, and it is lovely having someone else decide what goes and what stays. I picture a world where we rest our problems at each other’s feet. The United States tackles Greece’s bailout woes, while Greece gets our cantankerous government on track again, or something like that. All of it so much easier when we tackle problems that aren’t ours, without the history and emotion that makes decision-making messy.

The problem that I solve for Not-Robert’s team is simple. “This is dirty work,” I say to her boys, remembering the weeks Kyle and I spent scrubbing charcoal off our skin.

“We need it,” they say.

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An excellent card from an excellent aunt.

Towards the end of the week the project is nearly done, but they still haven’t tackled the room where I found Milt Finch’s signature. I almost don’t say it, because I have given myself, fully, to Not-Robert’s cool, methodical weeding through the mess that is Old House.  But I can’t help myself.

“Look,” I say, “don’t, like, worry about it. But see that, that’s the spot where the guy who put the plaster up back in the day signed his name. So if it happens to come down in one piece, it would be awesome if you could set it aside.”

Not-Robert looks at me. I know exactly what she is thinking. But she doesn’t tell me it’s junk. She also doesn’t puff and tell me it’s a treasure.

“Uh-huh,” she says. Nudging me out the door.

And when I come back there is nothing left: all of the plaster, including the piece that Milt signed, dust on the floor. This isn’t Milt’s house anymore. It is Not-Milt.

Because life is full of excellent metaphors: it can be hard to see progress through the dust.

Because life is full of excellent metaphors: it can be hard to see progress through the dust.

When there is less dust, the rooms more or less look like this.

When there is less dust, the rooms more or less look like this.

If you can't see through the window of the upstairs bedroom at the front of your house while standing in your downstairs kitchen in the back of the house, you just aren't doing it right.

If you can’t see through the window of the upstairs bedroom at the front of your house while standing in your downstairs kitchen in the back of the house, you just aren’t doing it right.

New start.

New start.

But in some ways we always live in our history. I think that is something Not-Robert, she of the business that bears someone else’s name, probably knows. Because when I look at the possessions her boys loaded into the garage–the small pile of belongings that survived her ruthless, magnificant cull–I find this scrap of wood that Kyle uncovered months ago, and which I had forgotten about, nested carefully on top:

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