Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Never Make Plans

I had this great plan to come in here on this day and write some ...thing. I don't even know what, exactly, just some ..thing. But now it's today and I only have one thing, one tale, one story. And so I will tell it.

The first day of spring was March 21 that year. I didn't actually know this that morning when I got out of bed at 5:30 or 6, after announcing that I was in labor. I was to learn it in the form of a card of congratulations that came much later in the day. My labor was, at first, not to be believed by most, and in retrospect I can't really blame the people involved...they had reason to assume otherwise.

This was nothing like the first time. The first time the intensity of "real" contractions had taken me by surprise in spite of my endless readings of Spiritual Midwifery and Childbirth Without Fear, my relentless breathing practice and my harping to those around me that birth was PERFECTLY NATURAL and women had been doing it for THOUSANDS OF YEARS. I had become very emotional very quickly, right down to calling my mother to sob " hurts!" into her ear at 2am...she was the person on duty at the answering service that early morning, and although I wanted to be big and brave and know-it-all, I knew nothing, and I sobbed that into the phone. But I learned. And for some reason the second time around everything fell into place. It's not that it didn't hurt. I think it did. But it was manageable. Just relax, breathe; everything has an end point. You will not be in labor forever. This is the last time you will have that contraction. It will not come again. Be in it, then let it go. Metaphor for life, really.

Making my way downstairs quietly so as not to wake the sleeping toddler in the next room, I began my day as I always did. I started laundry. I considered that I could be away for a day at least, and so began making a quiche which could serve as breakfast, lunch and dinner for the people I was leaving on their own. I called my sister. I called my mother. I called my midwife. To all of them I calmly related that I was in labor and that my contractions were about 3 minutes apart. I am not sure any of them believed, but they mobilized anyway.

It was amazing, that labor. This, I knew, was what it was meant to be. Alone and peaceful, folding laundry and grating cheese between contractions, rolling out pastry...taking a small (and later regrettable) bite of bacon, sipping some water; I was like some other-worldly earth mother. Peaceful and graceful, I walked from room to room, taking one contraction at a time, enjoying the solitude with this little person inside me, knowing that this was to be our last few hours as one entity. A boy, they had said, based on heart rate. Most likely a boy. I wanted a girl. But a boy would save a fortune on clothes. And I had a name either way. It no longer mattered to me what you were. The who, on the other hand, was crucial. And that I wanted very much to learn.

It had not been a picture perfect pregnancy. We had moved early on, and I had done my usual moving in "thing" - attacked the house and the boxes and the appliances with bleach and vigor. I had moved the fridge, mopped the whole house, put the fridge back, and unpacked any number of boxes. Somewhere between the fridge and the hardwood floors I felt a twinge, and then another. Suddenly it dawned on me that pregnancy isn't a guarantee, and I became terrified for the little life inside me. A visit to the midwife showed that I had reason to be - I was 2 cm dilated and partially effaced. Bedrest. With a toddler.

I've never been good at sitting still. I think I lasted three days. I began to move cautiously - no heavy lifting, no pushing of appliances. I sat in Daniel's high chair to prepare meals at the kitchen counter. Not a lot of heavy cleaning got done. I carried grocery bags one at a time instead of losing myself up like a pack mule. The baby stuck with me; forgiveness offered for my ingratitude and heavy lifting. And I became a territorial, primal monster on the inside. When my grandmother "helpfully" and callously remarked that miscarriage was nature's way of fixing a mistake, I almost killed her. I am sure we did not speak for some time. And for the record, she doted on the eventual baby with greater zeal than I usually witnessed in her, so I sense she spoke with forked tongue - but then she's an Avery and they have that habit. Cruel to be kind was generally the order of their day. But not in my world, not on that topic. No. Not that baby. The mistake wasn't the baby. The mistake was the obsessive mother scrubbing a house from top to bottom in the first trimester. Why should the kid pay?

So here we were, all those threats of danger, and exactly one day before the calculated due date, right on schedule and with no more fuss than a walk to the park that baby was about to appear.

I remember the moment things changed in labor and my contractions moved to a minute or so apart. I would have been more than happy to stay right where I was, have the baby, get back to the quiche with it tied to my chest like the good primal animal I was. But midwives at home are not covered by insurance, and midwives in the hospital are. So we went.

I had no contractions from home to the hospital, about a 5 minute drive. On arrival, a gust of ice-cold -15F air rushed up to meet me when I opened the car door, rectifying that situation in a hurry. That was a "bad one", and I walked into the hospital more acutely aware than ever that I despise the cold.

Back then the hospital was in disarray for renovation, and the entrance door for all patients had changed to the ER side of the building. Not knowing where to go I signed in as directed and joined a host of others waiting for admission for various things - the ER, surgery, labs and radiology all in one giant space with temporary cubicles set up. Pre-HIPPA, you just wrote your name on a sheet of paper and waited to be called. Not the best triage system. People around me suggested that I tell "them" I was in labor...but "they" were busy and I didn't want to "make a fuss". Finally a woman near us walked up and said, pointing, "She's in labor...and her contractions are almost a minute apart. You should take her ahead of us." My name was taken, a call was made "upstairs", and a nurse in pink scrubs pushing a wheelchair appeared as if by magic. She introduced herself and asked me to get in the chair. I declined. No. No wheels. Pregnancy, labor, delivery - it isn't a handicap. It's a stage of life. It's bringing a new life. Thousands of years women have done this job. And the vast majority of those have been women laboring in a field somewhere, or out gathering firewood or berries, delivering a baby, tying the cord with whatever came to hand, cutting it with an unsterile object, and going back to work with the newborn tied to their chest. And we survive. It is what we are made to do.

When I stepped off the elevator my midwife was there to greet me. I was so happy to see her face. Midwives rotate. My least favorite had just gone off call. My most favorite had just come on. It could not have been more perfect. We walked down the hall and into my favorite room - The Big One With The Double Bed. No sterile hospital space, no bed that breaks down into something other, like a creepy medicalized Transformer. Just a regular bed.

A brief check showed that I was not just in labor, I was past transition and heading for home. My contractions, which had slowed during all the fuss of moving from home to hospital, and the weirdness of sitting in a crowded admissions area trying not to breathe "too loudly", bounced back to a minute or so apart. I still had my earth mother face...each contraction coming on, being acknowledged and ridden out, and then let go. Textbook. Exactly like I knew it could be. Exactly like I knew it SHOULD be. Not quite an hour later I watched in fascination as my belly lifted with a contraction and seemed to bear down, pushing without any help from me.

"Did that feel push-y?" asked Anne from her comfortable rocking chair opposite me. "Yes, a little" I responded. Endorphins are a wonderful thing.

She came to my side and checked - yes. 10cm. Time to let this baby out. Time to see that face. Time to meet that person. Let the bonding begin.

Left lateral Sims position, a brief series of controlled, perfect, panting pushes and I heard a voice say "Do you want to feel your babies head?"


One more push and the head was born. A brief moment to catch my breath, and shoulders next - big shoulders, too - that was memorable, although the pain immediately forgotten.

"It's a bouncing baby....GIRL!?"

Reaching down, I lifted the blueish squirming animal up to my face. Slowly, giant brown eyes opened in the little round face, covered in vernix and creased from a lifetime spent in water, and blinked up at me. And down I fell into them. Hello. Where have you been all my life? I'm your mother. And that won't ever change.

Lots would come after - both immediately and not - and more will come, some good, some bad, some indifferent. Some passionate, some angry, some cold and hurtful, some gentle and warm.

I have thought a lot in the last couple of years about whether or not, all things taken into account, I would do it again - either time. In my lower moments I question my sanity in choosing motherhood. I mean, really, you could smash your head on brick walls until you are bloody and the pain wouldn't come close. But neither would the joy.

In the final analysis here is where I stand: a thing, once done, cannot be undone. It can, however, be accepted for what it is, and, like contractions, moved past and forgotten - retaining the good, releasing the less than good. Hold onto the good, let go of everything that isn't. Hold onto the love, let go of everything that isn't.

And so... Happy Birthday, Girl. Whatever you are to yourself you remain one of the best things I have ever done in my life.

Friday, March 09, 2018

Chameleons and Other Creatures

I don't even know where to start this because I think it plans to be more self-revelatory than I have been in a long time.

I've been so boxed off from myself for so long...probably since I was a very small person, and certainly since around 2008 or so. And I can blame menopause, thyroid, deaths, births, marriages and divorces...but I think that is what we call life.

There are so very many things that I would do so very differently if I had a do-over.

We will start there. I am sorry. So very sorry for more things than I can put on 'paper', and if you are reading this my darling little porcupine, a fair amount of that is directed at you. My shrink informed me that I am "very self aware", and although I do reside in denial as much as possible, I am aware of things I did, stories I told, choices I made, words I chose, paths I took that were not for your betterment, or my own. I had this narrow restricted view of life, and now everything is so much more open. Dad would love this shit. (Dadism #1 - "Discretion is the better part of valor")

I've undergone and am undergoing this crazy process spiritually, politically, emotionally. Will I ever be less than my freaky self? Not likely. Have I changed deeply and in ways that you wouldn't recognize? Probably. Definitely. Part of that is simple self-discovery. Most of my life, and there's been half of it gone already, have been spent in chameleon mode - being who someone else thought I should be, or at a minimum trying to be who someone else thought I should be. The 'who' varied, but the need to make everything perfect, control everything, make everything right (be good, do penance, be better, be perfect) probably begins with - sorry, Pris - my mother. (Again, of course, because mothers are always at fault, which is sad but true - they spend more time with us than anyone, and their issues are projected onto us, even if, like me, you try to make it so that doesn't happen!). Growing up on eggshells, the scars of which many of us now bear, alters who you are at a very fundamental level. For some, there is a giving in. For others there is a strong and consistent resistance even in the face of apparent yielding, a deep knowledge that you are not what people think you are and not what you're being conditioned to be. Like a plant kept in the dark, but watered and fed. Pale and weak and unhealthy, but by God it knows there is sun someplace, and it will just hold the hell on until it gets there. It made me a crappy role model. (Dadism #2 - "I am I. Not who my mother was. Not who my father was. I am I.")

Sun has a way of getting in through the cracks. The more cracks, the more sun. More cracks, more sun. And if you get shattered. Well. It hurts and you bleed, and then the sun hits you explosively and you begin to grow. That's me. Plant, in the dark. Watered and fed, sparsely. Waiting for the light. Afraid of it, because it's going to hurt, but wanting it anyway.

Slam all the doors, close all the windows, do what you will. Be a turtle, a porcupine, a chameleon hiding in the underbrush. The light will get in regardless. Then you can either ignore it or stare at it until your eyeballs burn up or...just let it shine. In my life I have done all that.

I have always thought I needed something for which to exist. Something to save, take care of and fix. I also believed that I had to be "good". And by good I mean perfect. And by perfect I mean "someone else's vision of perfection". Well, when all the things you think you exist for are gone, and you have nothing really left, you start to get up close and personal with who you actually are. I think for many of us, the "less damaged" (lucky? blessed? oh you fools be grateful!), this happens when we are young. For those of us stunted by the dark closet, it takes longer. Some never get there. (Dadism #3, adapted version - "You can make good men better. I am not sure what you can do about the rest.") For me, it took what feels like a really long time.

Who I am and what I believe is who I have always been. Who that is, is NOT who I appeared to be, or the beliefs I gave lip service to. There was always a war and a rebellion inside. Again, this goes back to the need to Be Perfect. Get It Right. Don't Make Me Hit You Again. For some people, there isn't enough love. There isn't enough proof. There isn't enough loyalty. There isn't enough of anything. When you grow up with someone like that as your primary caregiver - or even as a loud screaming nagging voice that you have to visit on weekends (just as an example), it causes you to believe that you must, must, must always try harder, be better, do more, prove this, prove that...but the bar always moves, because their needs are never met, and you always end up feeling worthless and like a failure because you just didn't get it exactly right AGAIN, no matter how hard you tried, no matter how much you wanted to that time. Example:

You have so much natural talent. You are so beautiful. (That girl is better than you. You could be better than her if you tried harder. She looks so pretty and thin.)

I love you more. (No, I love YOU more) No, I love YOU MORE! (OK, you win, you love me more.) If you REALLY loved me, you wouldn't give up so easily!!

Now let's say your other caregiver just wants things to be peaceful, and hopes that by not protesting, not making waves and not making a fuss things will go better for you. The unintended but unfortunately subliminally heard message is "...because you are great, and amazing, and I love you, but you are not worth the fight and the fuss, so let's just keep things quiet and hope it dies down, ok?"

I didn't realize that until recently. That's unfixable. Just pure "Oh, shit, I didn't see that, I am so sorry." But now...instead of endless self-torment...there is just forgiveness, awareness, and acceptance. I cannot undo anyone's past. Not even my own. The thing is what it is. And it doesn't have any...barbs anymore. It's neutralized. Seeing it from this place changes everything. And that brings us to Dadism #4 - "Time heals all wounds and wounds all heels". I always saw myself as both the heel and the wounded. I don't see either now, really. I am not a horrible person, and instead of that being lip service, it's now knowledge. And where the deep gashes were there are scars that are beginning to fade the more the sun pours in on them.

All along the path to this new and evolving place there were a series of wholly unhealthy diversions into territory in which I did not belong, but believed I deserved to be stuck in. It was all holes I put myself in, and clung to because I thought they would protect me or save me or keep me from Being Bad. All untrue. And nobody could get me out of that except me. (Dadism #5: "Charity (love) begins at home.")

So where, and who, am I now? Not really sure. Different. But not. Sit down with me and we can discuss the finer points and my answers will either shock you, or make you smile and say "Yeah. I know. I was wondering when you'd figure that out."

Some months ago I posted this thing on the facebooks that said "What if everything you ever believed wasn't true?" At the time I thought I understood what I was saying. Turns out I am only just beginning to understand what I meant. And probably never will know for sure.

But I do know this: If it doesn't look like love, it isn't for me. I like who I always was. And I am walking away from who I wasn't - no grudge, no guilt, no shame. Work in progress. Unfinished.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Of Little Consequence

That's what this post is. Unless you want to know how the summer is going so far, in which case, read on!
Part of why we moved down here was this "quality of life" concept thingy. We are mostly selfish humans who want more freedom, more adventures, more of the things we seem to have missed by being Responsible Adults for most of our lives. 
We recently took a 48 hour trip to Myrtle Beach, which turned out to be a sort of a mistake, so we moved north to Oak Island Beach - a significant improvement! Myrtle was like Hampton, only worse.  Oak Island was peaceful and beautiful. It was a nice get away, and served to remind me of just how much I really love living at the beach. I think sometimes I miss Plymouth more than Northfield, if I miss the north at all - and that's pretty debatable most days.
I entered a yoga challenge in an attempt to win five free classes at my favorite studio....and I WON! I think Gene's image really put me over the top...
I call it "Comfortable Seated Pose with Husband Making Giggles Happen". Basically you had to do a pose a day, copying the "host" of the challenge. I was pretty honest in my images. Like for side crow? There's a great series of images of me falling into the sand at Oak Island. Honesty is the best policy. Yoga, like life, is a journey. Not a destination. I am a long way from side crow, and man did I prove it.
We discovered Mount Mitchell, the highest point on the eastern seaboard, and the Blue Ridge Parkway...not that we didn't know they were there before, but we made a closer inspection.
Looks more like home than anything we've seen, but then you get up around 6,600 feet and suddenly everything looks bigger.
 Gene drives my Prius like it's Gran Prix season on route 80 coming down from the parkway. 
Mount Mitchell summit hike.
We did this on Mother's Day. It was a lovely drive. The summit hike is 2 miles one way from the ranger station...we got there too late to do the whole thing, but we went a ways out and scoped it out, and really want to go back. We ate lunch at the restaurant there; delicious locally sourced trout dinner, which we split. 
We also went to Pilot Mountain SP and Mount Airy... I don't remember when. The mountain is a cone that no one is "allowed" to climb...kind of a bummer because if you're into it I bet it's fun.
 Pilot Mountain
 Perimeter hike
Opie's Candy!
Mount Airy is apparently where The Andy Griffith Show was filmed. We were there on Sunday which was probably a mistake because pretty much everything was locked up tight. But we saw a few landmarks and had a short walk. That was before we headed to Pilot Mountain. Again we were too late in the day to do the 2.5 mile hike there...but we got to scope it out and want to go back. Hiking is harder with Yoshi...we can't take him, or are not always sure if we can, and don't want to leave him forever with no food or walk. Dogs are...complicated. 
Most recently we went to Charlotte Motor Speedway to watch the Nascar Camping World Truck Race. Yes, we are trying to touch our inner redneck. 
 We even have ear protection.
We got to see the cup series qualifying....that's cars, with names you might recognize, like Earnhardt (in the 88 car above! YAY!) and Busch (Like Kyle, BOO!) and Jimmie Johnson.
Speaking of, there's Jimmie Johnson in the Lowes 48 up there. The race they were qualifying for runs tonight....we won't be there, but I bet a whole lot of people will!
And this is the number 7 Toyota Tundra driven by Brett Moffit who looks to be about twelve, but I am assured is actually a grown up, mostly.
Here he is, being interviewed before qualifying. Also pictured is Jen (she's the one with the coffee) Hebert, who is my cousin Kathy's daughter. She (Kathy, not Jen) died of lung cancer a few months after Dad...which is how he wanted it. He did not want her to die first, because although he suspected she was dying he wanted to pretend she wasn't going to. He was very successful in this. Jen does PR for Red Horse Racing, so we get to be fancy at races, and get into the pits, and see drivers up close, and all sorts of fun stuff like that. Jen spoils us, and we do not protest. Dad would be so jealous. In fact last night I wanted to call him so bad I could taste it. 
Today we went to the Race City Festival here in Mooresville, which has almost nothing to do with racing, in spite of this whole town being driven (no pun intended) by the sport. Tomorrow we are going to a Got to Be NC festival in Raleigh...I think it's like a fair. Yay, FAIR! 

I just came back to this blog and discovered I never posted this ... it is from a year ago, May 2017, and I think it deserves to be posted. A lot has changed since then, both in Mooresville and in me. But this was a time. 

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

A Thing I Am Apparently Over

Little things have been bothering me lately in bigger ways. I am not sure why this is. I suspect that as I emerge from this hollow space called "grief" and begin to look around me the little things start to seem big again. This no doubt will benefit the rest of humanity - no longer will I glare at people relaying normal life problems at me while sullenly thinking "Really? THIS is upsetting you? ARE YOUR PARENTS ALIVE??" Suddenly I want to vent, and about something so petty, so inane... and you seem to like to read me, so I will vent here.

I am really sick and tired of online store stalking. Not me stalking them, but THEM stalking ME. WHAT IS UP WITH THIS? The first time I saw targeted ads in my right hand sidebar while using Gmail, I felt ill. Big brother, reading my emails and pointing me to websites selling bee supplies or yarn. It just wasn't ok - my paranoid self freaked right out and said it was walking away from the internet for good. But I made the trade because after all we are an information tech society, and more and more the internet and online shopping have become de riguer and blah blah blah. Fine. I use Amazon like it's my local mall. I don't like going to the mall. Given where I live now, I don't like going shopping period, except maybe for groceries, and then only to the Walmart Neighborhood Market that I could walk to if I chose. I liked the concept of online shopping, but the practice has become ...well, let me back up.

When I was a child we shopped very locally, right in downtown Greenfield, most of the time. The overwhelming majority of what we needed could be obtained in, at most, a half-day-long shopping trip that had us home well before supper. Furniture, paper goods, food (even the exotic things like yogurt and bagels!), the occasional trip to Kentucky Fried Chicken to eat chicken out of a paper bucket and mashed potatoes from a spork while my mother noshed on fried fish wrapped in fake newspaper - it was all right there. If we needed dance- or skate-wear that usually required a separate adventurous trip to downtown Springfield, where it was still safe enough that I could be sent from The Shoe Box to fetch my mother a Coke and a pack of Marlboro's from a tiny nearby market hocking newspapers, magazines, and candy along with it's short list of preferred beverages and tobacco products. This would change over time, and eventually that walk would be removed from my 'allowed activity' list - the little market went out of business, no doubt destroyed by a culture more and more focused on one-stop destination shopping, and Springfield became a less safe place to roam. Why buy your Coke at the little market down the block, then walk a block for your produce, and another half a block for your meat when you can just get in your car (or take the bus) and drive to a shopping center where everything is laid out neatly for you in one handy stop - and cheaper, too! But I digress. For my riding boots and helmet, it was Northampton. But otherwise, everything we needed to live, from back to school clothes, to the ridiculous Polly Flinders dresses that no one else had to wear to my Brownie uniform, to the hideous caricature of tomatoes tucked in a white plastic tray in cello wrap and even the occasional very fresh lobster, were all handily available in one town, a mere fifteen minute drive from home. Thirty years before that, you probably wouldn't have had to leave Northfield for your needs - and if it wasn't available at Fred A. Irish's store you probably didn't need it.

During those shopping trips to Greenfield we would stop in at the stores that dotted Main Street like sparkly jewels to my childish eyes - each one a treasure chest of adventure, filled with unique sights and smells, each holding different merchandise and a plethora of opportunity to lose myself in clothing racks or restrooms. At McClelland's there were parakeets like a rainbow in cages, and tanks full of inexpensive tropical fish, and a deliciously creaky old wooden floor. At Ann August, where we certainly couldn't afford to buy anything, we could stop and visit my grandmother. From Peggy Parker to Goodnow's to Wilson's...and if I was lucky to Brown's Toy Store...and maybe a stop at The Corner Cupboard for a grilled tuna and cheese and a Coke from the fountain, Greenfield had it all. We would find whatever was on the list - knee socks, t-shirts, and probably at least one turtle neck as my mother attempted every year to shove me, resisting, into one of the miserable things. It was small. It was provincial. And it was home. At Wilson's Department Store, and here is where this gets back to my point (I promise) we were generally stalked by one or more sales ladies. They created an overall feeling of discomfort, and it was here that I would do my best to disappear into the racks of ladies dresses and pretend I was in a fairy home, surrounded by brightly colored wall-hangings, with the outside world full of those disapproving eyes partially hidden behind horn-rimmed bi-focal glasses far, far away. I never have been able to determine if this stalking behavior was to prevent shoplifting, or because they really put the 'sale' in saleslady, but there they were - around every corner; continually hovering and in general making the whole experience uncomfortable with their intrusive presence. "Can I help? Can I help this other way? What if I help by doing this?" One never entered Wilson's without feeling extremely..."helped".

Last night I experienced this thing that I despise - the thing that makes me feel like I am 7, hanging around on the inside of the large circular racks upstairs at Wilson's, avoiding my mother and those ever-present saleslady eyes, and amusing myself while she shopped for her fancy Barbizon peignoirs, or was being wrangled by the 'helpful' crew of salesladies into a girdle that appeared tasked well beyond it's abilities. I was once again stalked by 'helpful' salespersons - this time in the form of an email, another damned email in the relentless, endless stream of the things that flows into my inbox from every blessed retailer or service provider with whom I have ever done business... "Melissa! Have you forgotten something?". And in the email was the usual link, which took me immediately back to the shopping cart I had abandoned about a half an hour before.

Yes...I did forget something. I forgot to unsubscribe, close my account, run away from your "store". I forgot to NEVER shop with you again, Jockey, Sierra Trading, Uniform Advantage, et al. I forgot how much I loathe feeling stalked and watched and hovered over; made to feel as if I am a bad consumer because I didn't complete checking out - as if by not buying your stuff I have taken the bread right from your very open, wide, gaping mouth.

It happens all the time. My innocent 'window shopping', thanks to cookies and tracking, turns into a full-on sales assault; one with an air of desperation that makes me feel twitchy in my skin. Do you really need me to buy that one bra so very badly? Will my failure to buy those two scrub tops and coordinating bottoms in a color I don't yet have and don't really need break you this month?

We have been on a vaguely minimalist path for a while now, and as a result purchasing is more a rarity than a common occurrence. Sometimes I "window shop" to amuse myself, and usually - now as in the 90's when I trawled catalogs with a pen - circling things I would buy if I could but never did because we couldn't afford it - I do not buy. But I shop. I amuse my eyes with sparkly jewels in the form of fancy undies, or a new coat when mine is perfectly fine, or a pair of shoes when my closet space is currently full. If you let me wander and roam, and make me feel comfortable and welcome, then when I need a new bra, or a new coat, or scrubs, I will be back. But if you stalk me to my inbox, adding yet another damned miserable email to the endless stream that I delete daily, you become more annoying background noise, and like the mosquito you are, I will slap at you, and eliminate you if I can. I will unsubscribe, and if that fails I will mark you spam, and when I need that bra I will likely just order one from Amazon - who has sense enough to leave me mostly alone (although I do find the recommendations annoying, at least they don't stalk me all the way to my inbox!).

The young folks don't get it, having grown up in a world where privacy is an antiquated notion from the past. Or maybe they do get it, some of them. Maybe these movements toward minimizing, downsizing, tiny-house-lifestyle, living from and with the land...maybe they are a sign that deep within some of us still lie the desire for freedom and privacy. I live in hope. And I delete. Constantly.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Dear Jacinda - The Kitchen Post

I can't believe I haven't done this. When you mentioned wanting to see more updates, I didn't realize just how long it had been. You missed it all, man. It's been forever. So here's some images to amuse you, and update you on the craziness we put ourselves and this little house through last fall.
This is what we started with. To the right you can see the studs of the wall that divided the dining room from the living room and kitchen. I discovered after pulling all the sheetrock off that the wall was indeed load-bearing. The consequence is a 22' long beam in my attic that cost a tidy sum, but was well worth the investment.
 I think this may be the first time Gene has ever demo-ed a kitchen on his own. I had taken the wall down, the carpet was all up, but I was working a lot and he hadn't started work yet, so he got the brunt of the kitchen demo. My favorite moment was when he announced to me that removing old built in cabinets was "a big pain in the ass". Yes, dear. Yes it well I know it.

 He proceeded with the demo and we eventually were down to nothing. The plan was to sheetrock the entire space; living, dining and kitchen, including the ceiling. I wanted to save as much of the old crown and baseboard as possible, not so much for money but because there isn't anything wrong with it. Why throw it away? The contractor was pretty sure I was nuts, but I really didn't care. In the end, all the crown and baseboard is original with a few small exceptions. I just primed and painted it all after pulling all the nails. 
 This is into the living room from the dining room - you can see on the floor where the old wall and closet were. 
 From the pictures above, to this...still in progress, but that partial wall/bookshelf with the pillars is about where the old closet was. The near edge of the gray rug would have been the original wall the divided the kitchen and dining room. 
Another view of the bookcase things - I wanted to create an "entry" feel, which I accomplished beautifully, I think. The remaining closet on the left is perfect for jackets, etc. The pillars and bookcases are now painted white to match the trim and cabinets. The flooring is "luxury vinyl", which was a cost saving decision. If the entire space had been hardwood, I would have made different choices. Because it was mixed old vinyl over plywood and hardwood, it was more cost effective to just go over it with the vinyl and save the money for other things, like granite on my island.
Kitchen almost done. Lights are not in yet, and the backsplash isn't up. But you get the feel. We still need to paint the interior doors white. 
I will put some more photos of it "done" at the end. But now an update on what we do with our spare time...Gene went on that roller coaster, repeatedly. It is called Fury 325 and I love it. It's huge and fast. It's about 45 minutes from here at Carowinds. We also went to Dollywood and rode the coasters there, including a new one that may have ruined me for all other coasters.
 I work sometimes, when not wearing glasses with lights on them. Honest, I really do work. 
Jen and I went horseback riding in Tennessee, and then I dragged Gene and made him go too a few weeks later. It was fun. Very pretty scenery. I like Tennessee a lot. Jen and I had planned to go to the beach, but Hurricane Matthew changed the plan. Mountains, beach, whatever.
 We went to Florida (as usual) but without seeing Mickey Mouse not even ONE time, and ate insanely fresh strawberries from a roadside place. It was amazing. We also were advised to visit a place called "Robert Is Here", which we did - and ended up eating some of the most intriguing fresh tropical fruit I have ever experienced. Highly recommend. We sat outside watching chickens while slurping down smoothies made from crazy things. Very fun.
Everglades visit - we took a boat tour into the 10,000 Islands, and the dolphins followed us around and jumped in the boat wake. At one point the whole pod was there, including a baby shepherded by two adults. It was really cool.
I think this is from the keys. We drove all the way down to Key West, and then drove back to Key Largo where we were staying. This isn't a thing I would probably repeat.
We took selfies. This was snorkeling somewhere...maybe? Or maybe just a swim. We stopped at a bunch of beaches up the west coast, because instead of flying back we drove home. We swam and snorkeled wherever it was possible. I loved the beaches, particularly Venice. I did not like Naples much. Entirely too chi-chi for me. 
When I sent you the text about the place we had dinner at in Everglades City that you would love?  This is it, Camellia Street Grill. Lights on strings, a dance floor to the left out of the frame, lots of bare feet and beer and stone crabs caught that morning. They have a wonderful salad with fresh herbs, and just generally are the sort of laid back image I have of old Florida, before the Damn Tourists Showed Up and Ruined It.
 This was also in the Everglades; a board walk through a jungle, surrounded by wildlife. Snakes, gators, birds. It was picturesque and slightly intimidating. I was happy to be on the boardwalk. We did see tons of gators lying on the bank of a channel beside route 41 between Miami and Everglades City, and a couple of large things draped in trees that I suspect were pythons. They weren't gators, and weren't birds, but they were something big and drape-y. 
Quilt 1: Started for my father, but the lady wasn't going to get it back to me "in time" back there, so it sat until now. Now it is done and has no home, but there it is. 
Quilt 2: Jelly Roll Race quilt made with a jelly roll I got for free somewhere. We like this one and will probably keep it.
The quilt that made me hate quilting. I started this when we lived on Jewett Road I think, and it sat forever unfinished. I finally just threw a back on it and had it finished on a long arm here, and sent it away to Texas to a good home. The good news is that I like quilting again. 
The finished kitchen. Granite on the island, the legs we got for $1 a piece at the ReStore. There is a prep sink in the island, which is right close to the fridge for easy prep. The "big" sink is under the window, and is a single-bowl 32" long, quite deep one. I was really frustrated by not being able to fit my half sheet pan easily into the sink, because we use it fairly often.
Quartz countertops on the perimeter. Kitchen backsplash tile is ceramic wood-look planks intended for flooring. I love them. Plus they cost me less and 1/4 of what a wall tile would have cost. We got these at a discount place in Charlotte. I LOVE this tile SO MUCH. It echoes the floor, and gives some interest without being overwhelming or pigeonholed to a color. 
 There used to be a wall there, separating these two spaces. Crazy. 
And there. Wall-be-gone! Dining room into living room, everything open and light now. It was SO dark at the back of the house before, but now light penetrates everything.
And last one - the living room. We kept the built in, which houses the TV perfectly. The picture over the fireplace is a poster of a picture I took in Plymouth mounted on canvas and framed. Loved the picture and it its perfectly. 
So that's it, that's the nutshell update! Lots of other things going on, but mostly just working and being in this place, which we like...but we're open to more change in the future if we feel led to wander again. I like NC, but the road is always open and seems to be calling! 

And a note for Sally...yes, we are right down the road from you, and have been to Troutman a few times! I am starting a new job in Statesville, so I am up and down 77 through there more often now. Small world! :) 

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Orange Azalea

Once upon a time I met Corinne, a hospice nurse who's presence with her patients touched me to my core. She lived next to my mother, and she precepted me during a clinical rotation with hospice - my chosen community nursing experience. She was an avid gardener with a green thumb who loved growing the unusual as well as the ordinary. She was an extraordinary nurse and an amazing human being. One time when my mother's side yard flooded and then froze, she grabbed her skates and my kids and their skates, and spent a joyful day in the side yard, slipping and falling and just having fun. 
I watched her during our days together as she navigated end of life issues, financial issues, fear issues, family issues, medication and pain issues with her patients and their families with an amazing level of pure unconditional love and selfless presence. She brought only herself - no judgements, no opinions, just herself. They adored her, rightly, and would tell her their deepest fears without even a glance in my direction - she made them feel so safe, and so secure, that I disappeared from the space, and she was just there with them, holding hands, opening hearts, loving. She was the epitome of nurse to me. 
Then she developed cancer. And many hearts broke and many prayers went up as her friends and family rallied around. I wasn't lucky enough to be that close, but I watched from next door and prayed along with the rest that God would heal her. After some time and treatment, her cancer went into remission. So she made it a priority to LIVE. She and her husband traveled more, to places mostly familiar and nearby. They rode bikes together, adopted a new healthier lifestyle to help keep cancer at bay, and spent lots of time with family and friends. It seemed as if a brush with death had taught her how to live in a way even more open and more giving and move loving than she'd lived before, which felt impossible.
She once tried to grow an orange azalea - not common in Massachusetts. But it didn't do very well in her yard, so she gave it to my mother. I coveted it, and my mother didn't give it the attention it deserved. When my mother lost her house, I stole it from her back yard. It was a scrawny puny thing, but I loved it. 
Then the cancer came back. Again we prayed, and my mother and I made soup, and her friends from hospice moved into her home and stayed by her side and gave to her and her husband what she had given to so very many. And after a long and hard battle, Corinne died, and the orange azalea suddenly took off. I'd moved it it to my house in Bernardston, and it thrived and grew huge. 
When we sold that house, I cried over the azalea. I had actually included it in a list of things we would be taking with us, but time grew short, and no one could be found to help me dig it up. And it needed help by that point. It needed a truck, and a chain, and a group to pull it up. So it stayed behind.
After we moved to West Northfield, our realtor and very dear friend Pam found one, and brought it to me. She wouldn't let me pay for it. I cried as I planted it, because it felt like home. It grew and bloomed and did very well in the back yard right outside the bedroom window. When we left, I had to leave it behind. I didn't think it would do well in a pot in Plymouth for however long our time there lasted, and I didn't know if it would thrive wherever we landed next. It made me very sad. Orange azaleas somehow now mean home.
When we got here and I started to get to know my very beloved neighbors Troy and Wilma, I discovered that Troy and I share a love of flowering shrubs - although he is a genius and an expert with them and I am a novice. Camellias and azaleas are his favorites. My yard is very barren for the time being because the former owners weren't into the whole yard maintenance thing, and Troy will often call me over to see specimens he thinks are worthy of note. 
The other day he called me over to see his newest azalea - only one year old - a native orange azalea; Tangerine Delight, orange with a little lick of yellow on one side, the exact one Corinne tried to grow, that followed me to Bernardston, that Pam found for Northfield, that I once again had to leave behind. I literally choked up when I saw it. I asked where it came from (Asheville) and promised myself I would get one sometime this spring.
Just now there was a knock on my door, and Troy and Wilma were in my front yard. Troy pointed to a big pot between my bigger maple trees, and said "Well, now, where did THAT come from?? Don't you think you should get that thing into the ground?"
It's my orange azalea. It has a few buds coming - things are colder in the mountains and a bit behind here, and it should bloom in a bit once it's planted. And they won't take a penny for it, and Wilma told me about the iris she bought for $3 each, and Troy bragged on his new red azalea that should bloom in a few days - these are from the mountains and are a little behind us down here - and I tried not to cry (unsuccessfully).
I think I must be home.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Game Continues

Dear Jacinda Again - 
These entries are going to be pretty light on words and heavy on images...or at least for now they will be. We're gonna do it like I just opened an envelope from FotoMat. Remember them? 
So much has happened since last time. I finished the bathroom. We had a hole in that wall under the window, and no art up. So now there's art and the hole is fixed and the towel bar is up. Tell Greg not to look too close. It's up. That's what matters. 
So. Electricians. Yeah. I called a plumber to fix a couple of small things - run a line for the ice maker that Lowe's generously gave me for free with my fridge purchase, and while he was here maybe move the washer fill hoses up from floor level (as in on the floor, no kidding) to a more normal three or four feet up the wall. While he was doing that there was a zzzaaap and some swearing. And then a second ZAAAAP and a lot of swearing. Louder, and with sparks inside and out. He hadn't hit anything; just leaned on a wall, and he got hit pretty good. I asked if my bill would go up - and said I'd provide the electrocution for free if he wanted. So I called electricians. Many, many dollars and many, many days later, I have a new panels inside and out and everything beyond that (super pretty, right? Just what I wanted. Everyone will notice it, I know), and some extra things just for kicks - like ceiling fixtures and outlets that aren't all (yes, all) tied to a wall switch. I am also mostly rewired. The thing that bit the plumber was the 220 to the cooktop. It broke and shorted. But the breaker didn't trip until he hit it a second time, and the old panel was proved to be some older model known for not tripping and causing house fires. A lot of the breakers were melted, there was a ton of corrosion. I won't bore you with the details, but it ate the whole kitchen budget, or enough of it that everything came to a grinding halt. Except that I don't do "halt" well at all as you'll see below.
Violet really loved getting into the cabinets. It was driving me really crazy. Couldn't keep her out. And really I was so sick of looking at my stuff. I like things put away. Between the stuff on the counters from the electricians and plumber needing to get in everything and the darn cat climbing up there it was getting annoying.
Oh! We went for tacos on my birthday! I found this place called Burrito Loco. So, so good. I had these - gringa tacos with pork (because one cannot be a vegetarian when there are these kind of tacos. Just cannot) and fresh lime and cilantro and tomatillo...sigh. SO good. Gene had shrimp tacos which were also AMAZING. Love it there. Remind me to take you.
Gene hung out with the boys which made them very, very happy. I don't play ball right. I don't rough house right. They miss him a lot. And I really enjoyed not walking them for potty time ONCE for DAYS!
I got a birthday present from you - and it totally made me day. So excited about the syrup, the seeds and the picture. The seeds are started along with my cherry tomato seeds from farmer's market cherry tomatoes I got back in Greenfield. Don't know who sold them to me, don't know what they are, just know Gene loves them. Started tomatoes. Before my birthday. Love it here. April. Sad Omie face.
Gene hung the Algot shelving from Ikea in the craft room/office closet. Now we both have room for all the stuff we think we need but totally don't. It's come together. I could work in there if I wasn't all over the rest of the house.
 Dad had a birthday, too, or would have. We celebrated with KFC, just like we did last year with him. We sat and ate in the restaurant and I remembered how he would take me to the one in Keene on the way back to Dublin and we would talk. It was a right thing to do.
And Rusty Nails, because he would want me to. Then I watched the Dayton 500, because he would also approve of that. Since then I have watched three other races. It's not a bad way to pass a few hours; watching cars or trucks turn left while knitting with dogs on my feet.
We went to this place on our last night before Gene left - Lancaster's. It's ... well. I don't need to go again. Tacos, I need. I don't need this. It wasn't bad. But it just wasn't for me.
 Or for Gene...
Love this fixture in the dining room. Love it. So do the neighbors, who all complimented me on it after I left the shades up the first night it was hanging. In case you wondered if the neighbors are in your business, they most certainly are. And it's ok with me. If something is out of place, off, strange, they will be the first to know, and will have no problem asking about it. Feels very safe.
We started getting the cabinet doors on and finished them just before Gene left. Again, Greg should not look. They are up and that's all that matters. I need to sand in spots, do some touch ups, and hang the last few handles. I sort of lost interest in this after Gene left. I got kind of mopey. Kind of.
He will be back in March. But it is hard to do all this separation stuff. It's not who we are. I am sure some shrink would tell me how healthy it is - look, I can live alone, and isn't that great. Well, I already knew I could. And I chose not to, until now. I will be happy when it is May.
The electricians took away all the baseboard heaters that weren't functioning, and I started scraping the mess left behind. Since this they've been tapped and patched where needed and skim coated with joint compound and sanded once. I need to do a couple more coats, and then I can paint and put up baseboard. They left the wiring for the heaters in boxes at the floor. I can cover them with white plates after I put up the baseboard around them, and they will sort of blend in since the baseboard will be white. It's better than blank white plates on the walls, I think. Pulling it all out is complicated because the crawl space under the house is insulated and they all come from down there. This is the best fix for now.
These two guys came and cut a hole for a proper range after the glass cooktop electrocution incident. I really needed an oven that could hold a sheet pan. The wall oven I had is a 24 inch model. Nothing fits in it. Teeny thing. The cooktop had been dead since the plumber got hit. Now there can be cooking. They bartered me the cooktop for half of the work, which worked out well for everyone.
I wanted the ceiling fan in the bathroom replaced, and got one with a light so that you get light in the shower and a new, modern fan that vents to the soffit vent instead of the old one which was venting to....the attic insulation. Tipped right over, face down in the insulation. Because one wants one's shower steam to go into insulation. But I could not find a fan that would fit the old space, so I had to fix the ceiling. 
 See. No fit. Very sad. But that fix Greg can look at, because so far it's going brilliantly.
We lost power. We had tornado warnings and such while the guys were making the space for the range. We never would have known if Neighbor Troy hadn't wandered over and come along to tell me. I battened down, closed the garage, and the storm passed by pretty quickly. The guys finished and left, and about an hour or so later the power went out, and stayed out until after dark. We had some intense wind for about 16 hours.
The power was off long enough that I decided to cast on a sweater (because that's what you do when you have no lights...). It came on later that night, but the wind howled away until morning.
I got miserably bored with the black front door and decided it was time for a change. This is not the's the pre-change!
I fried eggs. Repeatedly. It is true that 'you don't know what you've got till it's gone'. I was SO happy to have a stove again; I could eat fried eggs every day just so I can use the stove.
More ceiling's actually almost done now. I will be glad when there's a light and a cover there. But this fan? Wow. Before it was like there was no fan, just a ceiling based noise-maker, and now the mirror doesn't even get the slightest bit wet, and I take insane long hot showers. Very happy I made this choice, even though it requires more work.
Red door - it's really orange, like a bittersweet crayon (or like the berry). I am debating bringing that color on to the storm door too. Today when I came home from shopping it really felt like I need to bring it out all the way. More will be revealed.
I bought this fabric to cover this chair. The chair was Aunt Blanche's. I need to refinish it and then make covers for the cushions. I had been using it as my porch chair in Plymouth, but now I am undecided. It's feeling heirloom-y now. Maybe it deserves to be inside. It is a perfect sewing and knitting chair in height. My feet actually touch the floor. Unheard of!
 Violet. Found. Yarn. And she loves it. A lot.
Today I was bored and really actually... ok look. I wasn't bored. I was heartbroken. Sad. Crying a lot. Dad's dead. Gene's gone back north. I'm alone. Not alone-alone, but alone. I had a pity party and decided that I needed to DO something about it, so I did. I did something. I grabbed my maul and a wrecking bar and a hammer and a broom and a box of black trash bags.
I stopped here. I said that wall was coming out. I meant it. I only stopped because when you do demo alone you realize that there's clean up. And dogs to walk. And maybe lunch to make. And there isn't anyone to pick up the slack when I decide to remember I am not 25.
I need someone to come and tell me for sure that I am right about what's structural and what's not, and then this puppy is coming DOWN. Down and out. Until the sun went down I could not stop looking over there at the sun pouring in the front window. This is going to be amazing.
And then next week I can make a few trips to the dump and get rid of all this... which down here is pennies a pound. It's crazy. 800 lbs of carpet and padding for al of about $16? Sign me up! If the quantities were smaller, they'd come and get it at the curb. Actually, they may do that now based on some of the piles I've seen outside of people's homes, but it's easier to just load it up and get rid of it rather than carrying it all up to the curb.
That's it for now...more later when there's more to see!