Category Archives: Life in our house

The To-Do List

Generally, I need to put the thing that must get done first on the list of things to do. It is not this post or making progress on the short story that I am writing or the book in progress that wants to be something other than what I first had in mind. At the moment, it is not even the podcast. The list from yesterday reads:

  • Caulk (stairway)
  • Clean up dining room, kitchen
  • Pick up house
  • Wash walls (stairway)
  • Finish prepping woodwork
  • Take down plastic
  • Clean kitchen walls

I did not get to all of these things and keeping up with a commitment to post here daily (mostly) wasn’t even on the list. By the end of the day, which ended really late last night, I collapsed.

I’ve let the lettuce go to seed, partly because I don’t have enough time to do everything there is to do and partly because I love the way the grassy pods look. It’s full of red headed birds, finches of some kind? I wanted to show the cat the dove that was walking around the upper deck where there is a floor-to-ceiling screen where she likes to sit, but figured that the bird wouldn’t stick around for it.

Our street gets a ridiculous number of delivery trucks every day. Every Amazon truck that pulls up to a house stirs up a low-level anxiety. It doesn’t seem like we can possibly be serious about addressing global warming if we are going to have toilet paper delivered to every individual household. The cheese stands alone as convenience is vehemently defended. Convenience will be the end of us. Whenever I think of convenience, I see the guy in Idiocracy who never had to get up from his chair to shit. In the meantime, try to find a decent choice of fabric or a belt that will last longer than a week or a sturdy rake at a brick-and-mortar shop.

It feels like it is going to rain.

Okay. If I can get the prep done in the kitchen so that I’m ready to paint, then other things can fall into place – the pan rack that I made, the baskets for onions and potatoes… I want to see how my sheep (a print I bought at the farmers market in Boise) will look above the door. I want to see that color. Hopefully it’s right this time.

I want my dining room back. No sooner did I finish it did it become the staging area for other projects.

It is not a short story or a podcast episode. But refinishing the shelves in the dining room built-in cabinets is a form of expression too. All of this is an expression of something. And just like writing a short story, at least for me, it is not easy. Not one bit.

Why Paint Jobs are Bigger than you Think

10. Another trip to the hardware store for the rollers that you forgot the first 50 times you were there.

9. Realizing that you picked the wrong color after you’ve finished the job.

8. Caulking the gaps between the wood molding and the wall.

7. Taping the area to be caulked as to get a clean line.

6. Cleaning up the paint spatters left by the previous painter from ten years ago, something you had never noticed until now that you’re looking at the walls up close with a magnifying glass and a headlamp.

5. Painting the thing next to the thing you just painted because it now looks dingy next to a fresh paint job.

4. Preventing a mess by putting down drop cloths, sealing off areas to be sanded…

3. Cleaning up the mess!

2. Painting.

1. Beer!

I’m plugging away at a few projects. Every day I think, today is the day! Time to paint! Nope! This morning I was taping plastic around and area to be sanded. I figured out this trick when I painted the dining room. You’re supposed to do things in the right order and that will save you some headaches. I tried to do that. But inevitably there would be a step backwards either because I just had to learn something the hard way or because I messed up something. There would be some repair I missed. So I would have to fill in a hole… now I have to do a little sanding… now I have to wipe things down… again. So I finally figured out that I could form a bag around the small area on the wall to be sanded. There’s a little more to it than that, but it essentially contains the mess. Anyway, this morning I was taping a bag to the wall for this purpose. Brian gets up. He needs to get passed me, as I am in the middle of the stairway. He tells me that I’ll be glad to know that while I’ve been industrious this morning, Senator Amy Klobuchar is “speaking truth to power.” We both had a laugh. Someone needs to tell her that she is the power. Has she ever been at a rally where people are shouting stuff like that? Those people aren’t going to vote for her. Not now. Not in 2020.

What will you remember about today?

What will I remember about the July 4, 2019?

I always think I will remember.

You mention a book I should read. Oh, I’ll remember that!

The name of your dog.

Your name!

A joke.

I always think I will remember.

What will I remember about today?

Without my notes?

I’ll need my notes:

1. I woke up before Brian and this essentially makes every day like Christmas Day where you can’t wait for everyone to wake up. Except instead of opening presents, there is breakfast, or a walk or something I have to tell him the minute he opens his eyes. But I don’t. I want to. But I try to give the man a minute.

2. So at 6 a.m. or so, I put another coat of paint on the radiator in the kitchen and listened to a podcast called 1001 Short Stories. This paint job required a lot of preparation. You can learn a lot about life by working on your house like this. I’ll return to this later.

3. Eventually Brian gets up and we go out for breakfast after the usual routine of feeding the cat, cleaning her box, etc.

4. We go for a ride. The Prius compliments Brian for not using the AC. The breeze feels good. I feel happy.

5. I wait in the car while Brian gets a few grocery items. Doing this same thing a little while ago, I got an idea for a movie that would be filmed from the POV of the passenger seat looking into the side mirror. When I went to Boston with Mary Jane last month, I waited in the valet area while she checked into the Westin Hotel. Again, looking into the side mirror at the action behind me… there is a movie here.

6. Brian notes that the yard needs some attention and wants to do some weeding before it rains. I like to imagine that he enjoys tapping into his inner farmer but he doesn’t admit it. He’s just doing what needs to be done.

7. I need to make a chalk line so that I can eventually install a handrail for the stairs. Brian helps me by holding one end of the line. It takes us a few tries, but eventually, we get it. I drill holes where the brackets will go. I think I found the studs. It seems like it. I hope so. It can be hard to tell with these plaster walls.

8. I continue to prepare the stairway for painting.

9. The back door where I am working upstairs is open. I can smell food cooking on grills around the neighborhood. I am reminded of my first night at the dormitory at the U of M – Morris. My dad who drove me there has left. My roommate – a person I have yet to meet – has not arrived yet. Outside I can hear people laughing, roving around campus is groups.

10. Brian is in and out. It starts to rain. It stops. He weeds in between.

11. Brian comes in from the yard covered in dirt. To the shower!

12. Brian lays on the bed. I sit in the chair by the window. The cat is passed out on her new favorite spot on the floor facing the door. Life is good.

13. Brian starts the grill. I wish that you could be here to join us.

14. I figured I better not fall off the wagon on day two…

15. Brian asks me how much corn on the cob I want to eat. He brings the package upstairs to show me how big they are. One.

16. Let’s eat.

17. Post.

18. Edit.

19. Brian watches the Red Sox lose.

20. I work on my short story.

Reach Out and Read Videos that Were Never Made

I’ve been working on this blog post on and off for a few months now. Not this post, another one. Something more serious. It has been taking more time than I would have expected. Maybe it’s too serious. What was once just a passing observation about election meddling had become a point I wanted to make, which could have been done in a sentence or two. But it kept demanding more until it went from being almost finished to a pile of Christmas tree lights that needed to be untangled. It’s a jumbled mess and not so fun to face at the moment. But that’s probably less because of its disorderly state and more because of the subject. Current affairs can certainly be a downer. It’s also possible that this piece is never going to be any good and I know it. It could be that too.

In the meantime, Two People and a Cat stagnates as it has done many other times. So I thought I would dive in without too much fuss. I’ve been meaning to share a video that has given us a laugh here at the house. Perhaps all will be lost in the translation and you will not see the humor in it. Funny is a tricky thing.

Here’s some background. A while ago I produced a video for Reach Out and Read Minnesota (ROR – I still think it’s unfortunate that they didn’t go with the obvious ROAR acronym that would have lent itself to the cutest mascot ever!). This is a program where pediatricians promote reading to kids at an early age by distributing free books. It’s a cool deal and it was a fun project to do. However, I never did make the video I wanted to make. I made what I called the “straight” version. Before I tried anything too crazy, I thought it best to at least deliver something that didn’t wildly deviate from the expected. I sensed, perhaps wrongly, that there wasn’t an appetite for anything but the straight version. There definitely wasn’t time to discuss alternatives. In the end, the finished product was received well at an annual fundraiser. The board was appropriately appreciative. As for those other ideas I wanted to try once the real project was done? I never got around to them.

Text: Read to your Children Every Day with red flowers in the background.

However, I did sketch out some of the ideas. Brian and I also shot part of an idea. This is the video that I am sharing here. I wanted to see how certain things would look. Again, these are test shots. They are rough and incomplete. But of course that’s what makes the video so funny to me.

As for the ideas for additional videos, my memory will have to serve here as those notes are long gone by now. But first, I should explain a couple of things about ROR-MN.

  1. During regular checkups – well child visits – pediatricians give books to the kids and encourage parents to read to their children. Doing this helps with brain development at a critical time in the child’s life.
  2. The barriers to entry are low. All pre-school patients of a participating clinic get books. No one has to qualify, fill out an application or otherwise prove neediness. Everyone is equal.
  3. It’s convenient for families because the program is attached to existing routines.
  4. The pediatrician is not only a trusted authority, but the right one to deliver an important message about reading to your kids starting at an early age.

The videos would be 30 seconds or less, making them ideal to share on social media. Each would illustrate a feature of ROR as mentioned above. Videos would start with a situation and finish with a voiceover and then cut to the logo/website followed by footage from a doctor’s visit then fade to black.

ROR Video Idea #1: Delivering Books like Candy at A Parade

Scene: Nice day. Neighborhood. Kids playing soccer. Sprinkler. Dog. A few doors down a man is mowing the lawn. From the distance we can hear someone yelling something. A man driving a car slowly rolls by as he is yelling over a megaphone, “Read to your kids! Read…” He is throwing books out the car window, as if throwing candy from a parade float. Close-up: Book lands in a puddle. A kid’s feet are in the shot. Pan from feet to face that looks confused. Close-up: A curtain moves from within a house as if an adult is checking to see what the commotion is. Close-up: Dog. Wide: Kids stop playing to face car. They’re confused. Voiceover: There are better ways to distribute free books and encourage parents to read to their kids every day. Cut: ROR logo. Voiceover: Reach Out and Read Minnesota. Medium: Doctor giving book to child in exam room. Voiceover: Pediatrician prescribed books for preschoolers.

So here are some of those test shots:

I love this clip. On the one hand, I have this guy who’s up for anything. What? You want me to drive around the neighborhood screaming like an idiot? Sure. No problem. On the other hand, instead of backing up a few feet so I could do another take, he drives around the block. Every time. Come on, buddy! I love this clip because we had a lot of fun making this. How lucky am I to have somebody who’s that game? At one point a neighbor gave Brian a thumbs-up as if to agree with the message while politely ignoring the tactics of the messenger. For some reason, the fact that Brian is driving a loaner from the repair shop is also funny to us. What I remember about that car is that on the passenger side in the front, it didn’t have a full armrest on the left. It seemed like a weird corner to cut.

ROR Video Idea #2: Signing up for Programs can be a Hassle

Scene: Elementary school playground. Mother with baby strapped to her is running through an obstacle course/playground equipment. Or maybe she has a toddler or both. She has her hands full. Close-Up: Clock to suggest time is running out. Various shots: Woman slides down the slide with child. At the bottom of the slide there is a woman in a suit sitting at an office desk. The desk has a sign on it that says “Register for Reading Program Here”. Timer goes off. The mother is too late to sign up. Voiceover: It shouldn’t be hard to give your child a fair chance to succeed. Cut: ROR logo. Voiceover: Reach Out and Read Minnesota. Medium: Doctor giving book to child in exam room. Voiceover: No signing up required.

ROR Video Idea #3: Parenting Advice from Biker Dude

Scene: Bike path. A father is jogging in the park with a small child in a stroller, one of those big ones people use when jogging. The child is engrossed in an iPad or similar device. A biker dude who passes the two notices that the child is looking at the device. He stops the father and shares some information about the benefits of reading books over using electronic devices. He also warns of the hazards of too much screen time. Father is clearly annoyed. Various Close-ups: park, birds, other kids, dogs, flowers… Child is oblivious as he continues to watch a video. Voiceover: Nobody wants parenting advice from biker dude. Cut: ROR logo. Voiceover: Reach Out and Read Minnesota. Medium: Doctor giving book to child in exam room. Voiceover: Pediatrician prescribed books for preschoolers and real help for their parents.

ROR Video Idea #4: Boot Camp for Parents

This was one of my favorite ones, but I can’t remember exactly how it went. There was a rhythm to it that I’ve lost in my attempt here to get it on the page. But I don’t want to take the time to work it. So as with all of these, it’s just the general idea I’m trying to convey.

Scene: Something that resembles a military boot camp. Parents are lined up. They’re all holding the same children’s book open in front of them. Staring forward. A drill sergeant approaches one of them and screams: “What does a cow say?” Parent replies in boot camp fashion, “Moo!” Sergeant: “What does a cow say?” Parent: “Moo!” Sergeant: “What color is that dog, Smith?” Smith: “Brown!” Sergeant: “What color is the sky?” Smith: “Blue.” Sergeant: “How many birds do you see?” Smith: “Three.” Sergeant: “Count ‘em!” All parents: “One! Two! Three!” Voiceover: There has to be a better way. Cut: ROR logo. Voiceover: Reach Out and Read Minnesota. Medium: Doctor giving book to child in exam room. Voiceover: We help parents get the most out of reading time with their kids.

ROR Video Idea #5: Police Officer Distributing Books

Scene: Cars on interstate. Family in a car is pulled over by a police officer who noticed a “baby on board” sign. Officer questions them about their children’s reading routines: Do you read to your children every day? How about at bedtime? Parents are confused but answer questions. Officers goes back to his squad car as if he is going to write a ticket. Instead he comes back with some books for the kids. The parents are completely confused but relieved they didn’t get a ticket. Voiceover: The best ideas can be poorly executed. Cut: ROR logo. Voiceover: Reach Out and Read Minnesota. Medium: Doctor giving book to child. Voiceover: Doctors providing age-appropriate books to pre-school kids and giving trusted advice to parents.

[Note: The idea here was to highlight one of the strengths of ROR: information is given to parents by a trusted authority, as opposed to the biker dude in the above scenario. However, any authority will not do. This is not intended to be a negative comment about the police. Instead, it’s about the right authority in this situation. As for the authority of the elementary school teacher, ROR is able to reach children before they’re old enough for kindergarten, during a critical time for brain development. A different video could be made to emphasize that point. ]

ROR Video Idea #6: Helping Kids Prepare for Kindergarten

See note above.

ROR Video Idea #7: The grocery store

This is similar to the biker dude above, except it happens in a grocery store. A stranger gives unsolicited advice to parent and the parent is either annoyed or hurt by it. There’s probably a fine line between poking fun at this type of advice and discouraging people/strangers from lending a helpful hand when they can see that it’s needed.

In trouble with the law?

Brian and I were in downtown Minneapolis taking a walk and along the way I was photographing buildings. In one case, a security guard told me to stop. He assured me that if I continued to take pictures of privately owned buildings, other security guards would approach me as he did. He said that I was on private property, standing in the green space outside of the building, and as such I needed to get permission to take pictures of the building. I asked him if Google asked for permission to take photos of the building for its maps. With a straight face, he told me that they had. Last year a similar thing happened. Two security guards told me that the skyways were private property and that photography was prohibited. I can’t take a picture of Brian with the background of the city behind him from a skyway? No, according to these guys. Even after joining us in singing “Happy Birthday” to my sister over the phone, they wouldn’t allow it.

As I understand this article, this is off base, but I’ll need to learn more. I’m particularly interested in this:

You can take photos any place that’s open to the public, whether or not it’s private property. A mall, for example, is open to the public. So are most office buildings (at least the lobbies). You don’t need permission; if you have permission to enter, you have permission to shoot.

And this…

Note that the limits have nothing to do with where you are when you take the shots; it’s all about the subject’s expectation of privacy. You can be on private property (a mall or office-building lobby), or even be trespassing and still legally take pictures. Whether you can be someplace and whether you can take pictures are two completely separate issues.

Wouldn’t skyways fall under this definition of “private space that’s open to the public?” Wouldn’t the green space outside of a building that is open to the public fall under this definition? Legal or not, I’m baffled by the objection to photographing buildings, especially from the outside. I could guess at a motivation. My mind goes to the fear of getting sued. There must be more to it.

Moreover, if I did nothing wrong, don’t the actions of the security guard amount to harassment? Shouldn’t there be a penalty for making up laws to get people to do what you want them to do? Had I known that I was not breaking any laws, what would have been my options in any case? Argue with the guy? Refuse to stop taking pictures on principle?

Had I been taking pictures with a smart phone, I doubt I would have raised concerns. In fact, it wasn’t that long ago that I took numerous pictures of advertisements at the Mall of America*. The Mall of America, for crying out loud. No one said a word about it. But take out a real camera on a quiet Sunday afternoon and suddenly the security guards are enforcing phantom laws. Apparently, we can take pictures anywhere we like as long as our camera is attached to a selfie stick.

In the age of surveillance where not even our email is presumed to be private and where there is a security camera on every street corner, who’s getting whipped up over an amateur photographer taking an interest in the architecture of her city? I think it comes down to who has the power.

On the upside, that day I did meet a photographer along the way (this was before the security guard incident, so there wasn’t a chance to get his take). He asked me if I got this building, that building, this bridge or that one. He was full of encouragement and didn’t think to warn me that I might be breaking the law. I wouldn’t have been surprised to learn he teaches photography or that I had been talking to a famous photographer. I regret that I didn’t directly ask. I would have liked to talk to him again.

Here are some pictures I took. I’d like to get better at this. Right now I’m just trying to figure out where the buttons on my camera are.

DSC_0155.Brian
[Leaving the house. Brian being a good sport.]

DSC_0163.Road
[This new housing development caught my attention in Northeast Minneapolis.]

DSC_0166.WireFence
[Mixing the old with the new.]

DSC_0169.weights
[They incorporated a lot of rusty relics on the grounds, but I’m not sure what any of it is.]

DSC_0173.Roses
[Flowers on a wire fence. In this case, I’m focused on the building with the number “513” behind them.”]

DSC_0173.Roses_002
[This time I’m focused on the fence.]

DSC_0173.Roses_004
[Flowers, wire fence with grain storage in the background.]

DSC_0176.Roses_004
[More of the same but different.]

DSC_0179,BlackAndWhite
[I have no idea what this structure is. The black and white and the straight against the curved caught my attention. I also like the tufts of yellow in a line in the background.]

DSC_0180.ViewFromBottom
[A view from the bottom of a tower. Greens in rusty planter. Sky.]

DSC_0181.ViewFromBottom_002
[A view from the bottom where there are sticky things on the ground. I think they are berries of some kind.]

DSC_0182.WhereDidBrianGo
[Where is Brian? #1]

DSC_0183.WhereDidBrianGo_002
[Where is Brian? #2]

DSC_0184.WhereDidBrianGo_003
[Where is Brian? #3]

DSC_0185.BricksAndSky
[Bricks and sky. #1]

DSC_0186.BricksAndSky_002
[Bricks and sky. #2]

DSC_0194.Brian
[Brian has posed for a million pictures in this spot.]

DSC_0209.Brian
[A million and one.]

DSC_0210.Brian
[Two.]

DSC_0217.Brian
[Friends.]

DSC_0226.Building
[Building on building.]

DSC_0228.art_deco
[I am in this picture too.]
The building is a gem we discovered one winter walking the skyways. We tried out the funky furniture in the lobby and freely wandered throughout the spaces that were open to the public. No one tried to shoo us away until I showed up with a camera. I wasn’t even inside the building.

DSC_0229.art_deco
[Last year’s discovery. Yummy lobby.]

DSC_0230.art_deco
[This is art deco, right?]

DSC_0231.art_deco
[Is that marble?]

DSC_0232.Brian_art_deco
[The scene of the crime.]

DSC_0233.LaSalle
[LaSalle #1]

DSC_0234.Lasalle
[LaSalle #2]

DSC_0235.LaSalle
[LaSalle #3]

DSC_0236.Brian
[On the steps of a sad kind of place.]

* After producing the first episode of QuOTeD, the Question of the Day Podcast where I asked “What does it mean to be grounded”, I started to notice how certain advertisements aimed to counter groundedness. So I took a picture of a bunch of them at the Mall of America.

Photographing a Lamp

Today Brian and I stopped in at Classic Retro @ Pete’s in Saint Paul. I was looking for some possible candidates for wall lighting in the kitchen and found a mid-century table tulip lamp instead. Lamps are a weakness. I used the lamp as a subject as I experimented with my camera. The room where I’m shooting is green. The lamp has red fiberglass shades. The tulip leaves are red on the outside and whitish on the inside. The only light comes from the lamp, which has two 75 watt LED bulbs.

dsc_0474-lamp

[F/4, 1/60 sec, ISO 100]

This was the first picture. I’m not sure why the settings were what they were. A few more bad photos followed. Then I watched this video to get a baseline.

dsc_0486-lamp

[F/22, 1/2 sec, ISO 400]

dsc_0498-lamp

[F/22, 2.5 sec, ISO 100]

We’re starting to see that the wall is green. That’s something.

dsc_0499-lamp

[F/16, 2.5 sec, ISO 100]

dsc_0531-lamp

[F/16, 1 sec, ISO 100]

dsc_0532-lamp

[F/16, 1 sec, ISO 100]

dsc_0533-lamp

[F/16, .77 sec, ISO 100]

dsc_0534-lamp

[F/16, .62 sec, ISO 100]

dsc_0535-lamp

[F/16, 1/2 sec, ISO 100]

dsc_0538-lamp

[F/16, .62 sec, ISO 100]

dsc_0545-lamp

[F/16, 1/3 sec, ISO 100]

dsc_0546-lamp

[F/16, 1/4 sec, ISO 100]

So I thought these were generally getting better. Then I realized I had paid no attention to the white balance setting. When I took video classes at MTN, I remember the instructor stressing setting the white balance. I always think of him whenever I see a video where the subject might have an unflattering bluish skin tone. So, I checked my Nikon D3300 for Dummies and made some adjustments. Given that there were no pre-sets for LEDs, I made a guess to get an idea of the effect. I’ll have to look more closely at the instructions to learn how to set the white balance with direct measurement (i.e., using white card stock). As far as I can see, adjusting the white balance brought the green wall closer to its natural color.

dsc_0549-lamp

[F/16, 1/3 sec, ISO 100]

dsc_0550-lamp

[F/16, 1/3 sec, ISO 100]

dsc_0556-lamp

[F/22, 1.6 sec, ISO 100]

dsc_0559-lamp

[F/22, 1.6 sec, ISO 100]

dsc_0570-lamp

[F/22, 1/2 sec, ISO 200]

In the end, I think some of the pictures are pretty cool. But I’m not sure any of them really capture how cool the lamp is. I’ll have to keep practicing. Plus, once I start taking pictures in RAW (right now I’m mainly sticking to JPEG), I should have some post production options that might help bring these to life. For now, I’m just trying to get my head around the basics!

So much for the “fun” part

The next step will be to paint the insides of these built-in bookshelves with a color that will show the contents better.

Before – Built-in shelves from living room/entrance to dining room

I’ve been listening to Love it or List It as I’ve been working on these shelves. On the show two people, usually a couple, disagree about whether to sell their home or remodel it. In the end they choose between their house that has been updated by a designer and a dream home found by a realtor. My messy shelves remind me of that show. Here’s a tip. Before starting fresh in a new house or even hiring a designer, try dusting off a few things. Put some stuff away!

After

After – Built-in shelves

The dining room is next. On the bottom of the dental molding will be red, like the fireplace. On the top will be “Inviting Ivory”, a buttery yellow, which will carry over into the stairway.

Before

Before – Chicken on shelf

After

After

Before

Before – Tiny train on shelf

After

After


I think that my dad made this little train, but I do not know for sure. I keep meaning to ask him about it. I found it buried in a package. I love it.

So painting and putting the cabinet back together was supposed to be a treat. Instead I was met with frustration that made me want to spit. I knew enough to note certain things when taking the shelves out. But, I didn’t know, for example, to note that four of the 32 clear plastic shelf brackets were different from the rest.

If only I were as sharp as the superhero who changed my tire. Triple A sent her one morning when I woke up to a flat. She was no bigger than me, not big. She had red hair and I think that was key. I think that had something to do with her superhero powers, but I’m not sure. I loved her! I watched her change the tire. Focused. Every bolt had a place. Every step was deliberate. She paid attention. When something didn’t work as expected, she calmly figured it out.

Sometimes I can be like her. Other times I’m defeated by an extra layer of paint.

My house just turned 100 this year. Things aren’t straight. Get a grip. Deal. Deal with it like a superhero. Oh, and enjoy. Love it. I vote “Love it!”

It’s Just Paint

There was a lot of angst over choosing a new wood stove insert. To keep the larger stoves in play, we entertained alterations to the hearth and the height of the mantel; this gave the salesman the idea that I might be a prepper.

“Maximum capacity is a thing with them.” He said.

Worse than being outed as a screwball who believed that a complete economic collapse was possible within my lifetime, ruling nothing out added to the stress of making an expensive purchase that was expected to last forever.

When no one else could, the guy who came out to take the official measurements convinced me that it was possible to go too big. He regretted making the same mistake when he installed a new stove at his cabin on Lake Superior.

“It’s impossible to regulate the heat.” He told me as he sized up my living room. “Once it’s 90 degrees in here, it’s 90 degrees.”

But even after narrowing our choices down to two stoves, I was torn between giving up what I simply preferred and giving up 200 extra square feet in heating capacity. And while the stakes were low — to believe the salesman, we couldn’t go wrong — it was helpful to acknowledge that choosing one thing meant that I could not have the other thing. This is obvious. Nevertheless, noticing the fear, the cause of my indecision, aimed to quell it.

It felt good to put down the deposit and to know that we weren’t doomed to drag things out with false objections and the endless weighing of pros and cons. If we’d be met with buyer’s remorse, it would be a fluke with lessons that needed to be learned from direct experience; it would be life. It wouldn’t be for carelessness that we might somehow end up disappointed. “So enjoy it!” I kept telling myself. To celebrate, we followed a sign and ended up at an odd little place that served breakfast in seven tiny courses.

But still, I can kick myself over something as little as a failed 15-dollar purchase, a tortilla press to be exact. The selection at the mercado in Powderhorn was slim. I settled for a plastic model that had a grip that suited me and somehow seemed sturdier than the metal presses with their loose hinges. Once home, imitating a YouTube video, I promptly cranked down on the handle to achieve the desired paper-thin dough and snapped the sucker off. While it rankled me to be out the cash, chucking the broken press into the trash within hours of buying it seemed criminal, although I wasn’t sure where to place the blame. A mistake so easily corrected, Brian couldn’t be bothered with it. I, on the other hand, hail from the camp of there-ought-to-be-a-law, as in: “There ought to be a law against manufacturing junk!”

I had always been charmed by the fireplace and recall the house blocked out with a few bricks coming into focus for the first time. “Oh, there’s a house.” I said standing there in my socks and down coat. “Cute.” The realtor piped in from where he sat at the head of the dining room table to tell me that no one else had ever noticed it. While I didn’t care that the fireplace had been painted white, others — certain friends, the plumber — were easy to pronounce it an atrocity that spoiled the integrity of the old house. Their revulsion stirred my insecurities.

The fireplace needed to be repaired before we could safely use it.

The fireplace needed to be repaired before we could safely use it.

“We didn’t paint it.” I would say instead of checking my unsolicited critics. “It was that way when we bought the house.”

“Hideous!” the chorus would answer. “You should take it down to the natural brick!”

A quick Internet search suggested that it was unlikely that any of these assholes had ever tried to remove paint from brick. Still, I could imagine that the fireplace might look dingy next to the new stove. I wasn’t sure how, but I suspected that it could be better. So I consulted with a professional colorist.

Removing the white paint on the fireplace was not an option.

The white fireplace with the insert that we would replace with something more efficient.

Staring up at the fireplace that by now was covered with a gray primer, I asked Brian if he missed the white and he admitted that he kind of did.

Gray primer on white bricks.

Gray primer on white bricks.

The following week, I called Brian to warn him that his living room was starting to feel like the lobby of a McDonald’s. But he saw promise and favored sticking to the plan.

I was starting to feel uncertain about this!

The consultant suggested that we highlight the decorative house on the fireplace. It’s rare according to everyone who has seen it. People often ask if we did it, but it’s original.

I'm told that the house on the fireplace is rare. People often ask if we did it, but it's original.

We were happy with the results.

When my mom saw our new red fireplace, she was reminded of the cardboard one we used to set up at Christmas time when I was a kid. Here I am posing in front of it with our dog Rusty. Notice the stockings. There are seven. Seven? Six kids. Mom and Dad. Eight! I count eight!

Rusty was a good dog.

Rusty was a good dog.

And then came the walls. After finishing one side of the room with “Balmy”, a color from Sherwin Williams, I would swear that I loved it and would marvel at how beautifully it showed the woodwork. Then I couldn’t tell or sometimes I just felt like I was in someone else’s house and I wasn’t sure I liked that so much.

The blue is supposed to set off the wood.

The blue is supposed to set off the wood.

Hey, lady! It’s just paint!

I know.

And then I noticed a cup of ice in a photo, one of the before shots.

I was taking a picture of the couch, but it's the cup of ice that caught my attention.

I was taking a before shot of the wall, but it’s the cup of ice that caught my attention.

The photo was a haunting reminder of a time when I couldn’t be without my cup of ice. It reminds me of how Brian would wait for me to fish out the last cube before getting out of the car, patient no matter the weather and regardless of the thing that needed doing. After years of a crawling decline, so slow that it would redefine normal, I found out that my addiction was a common symptom of chronic anemia. So seeing that cup of ice reminds me of a time when I couldn’t carry a load of laundry up two flights without losing my breath. I thought I was out of shape. I thought it was age. It reminds me of the lawn mowers that hummed outside my window. “You can’t do that!” They taunted. It reminds me of being torn over invitations, only to have my skipping rare gatherings affirmed by yet another ruined pair of pants. Getting to the bottom of the problem was scary and full of decision points that can put the biggest of choices into perspective let alone the color of paint.

Realizing that “it’s just paint” isn’t necessarily going to make me a more decisive person overnight. But as a second-guesser, an apologizer and worrier, I am starting to see the value of determining the gravity of a decision before applying a blanket worst-case scenario and giving my emotional well-being over to the whims of a tyrant. For example, I recall having a tough time proceeding with repairing a window because I was afraid that I’d break the glass. I mentioned this to a friend who asked, “What’s the worst that could happen?”

I’ll break it!

“Say, you break it. You’ll take some measurements and buy a replacement piece.” He made it sound so simple. I had been stuck for no reason. Sometimes this is clear. Sometimes it isn’t.

Even if I couldn’t bare to lose the antique glass with its imperfections that soften the southern light, casting wavy shadows on the walls and floors, it wouldn’t be impossible to harvest it from salvage shops or even from the alleys next to trash bins or from the random curb side. Sheets of college ruled paper hastily yanked from spiral notebooks are routinely slapped on these masterpieces with two dabs of masking tape; a semi-dry Sharpee barely manages: FREE!!!

Here's the couch with the new color.

Here’s the couch with the new wall color.

I used the comics for this decoupage project.

One of my favorite treats after painting a room is choosing outlet covers. In this case, I found a spot for a goofy decoupage experiment where I used the Sunday comics.

As I start to put the furniture back into place, I like the blue more and more.

As I start to put the furniture back into place, I like the blue more and more.

The next step will be to paint the insides of these built-in bookshelves.

The next step will be to paint the insides of these built-in bookshelves. Behind the shelves you see the dining room, which will also be painted. I can’t wait!

I'll use a dark blue on the interior and the same camel/napery color from the fireplace for the shelves.

I’ll use a dark blue on the interior and the same camel/napery color from the fireplace for the shelves.

The new color should show off the objects better

The new color should show off the objects better.

Painting the Basement – Part 2

Painting the Basement – Part 1

Update: November 29, 2015

Bookshelf Progress

One of my favorite Thanksgiving Day holidays would have been the time my friend Jackie came over to my apartment to help me assemble a dresser-armoire unit that I had bought at a garage sale. The white laminated particle board furniture came with a matching dresser that had sticky glides and a lingerie chest that had the same problem. There were no directions. No diagrams. Just various pieces strapped together with blue painters tape, a stack of drawers and a Ziploc bag full of hardware and a hex key. Putting this thing together with one person holding something steady and the other tightening screws was comforting. How many friendships have been fortified by the quiet assembling of things?

The memory comes to mind because this Thanksgiving my friends Al and Craig and my sister Amy helped me take a huge step forward with making my bookshelf; it is the thing that needs to get done before the anything else can.

Craig and I went over to Al’s workshop where Al showed us how to cut the wood for the support boxes. Then he showed us a couple of different ways we could assemble them.

Amy and Craig assembling the boxes for the bookshelf.

Amy and Craig assembling the boxes for the bookshelf.

Amy and Craig assembled many of the boxes while I made pumpkin black bean soup and cornbread for dinner. The goal was to get them done in time to reclaim the dining room for Thanksgiving the next day.

Quite the team!

Does this make me Charley?

New rule: No pie before the boxes are done!

New rule: No pie before the boxes are done!

It's coming together.

It’s coming together. It was fun reading random titles aloud as I put books on the shelf, Amy crocheted, and Craig and Brian replaced a light switch.

I plan to add another shelf, likely in the spring. For now, I’m thrilled to have emptied several boxes of books that have been taking up floor space. It will help me see the room and figure out what to do next.

I'll sand and shellac the boxes as I have time.

I’ll sand and shellac the boxes as I have time.

I love my bookshelf. I especially love the people who helped me make it. I love sitting in the chair next to it, tucked away where I’m not so easy to find. Once discovered, Brian will say, “You’re staring at your shelf again?”

Yes. Yes I am.

Painting the Basement – Part 1

Medicine Cabinet Storage Tricks

Storing pharmaceuticals.

Office storage solutions for sorting cough drops and Band-Aids?

There was a website I needed to finish. Then there were raspberries to preserve before a quick trip to Rapid City. Oh, and what to do with the tomatoes? I couldn’t get everything done that I like to do before a trip – mainly cleaning the house. I didn’t sit down at 3 o’clock for a break as planned. Instead, I checked things off the list until the garage door shut and we sat in the alley debating whether to take a bucket of worms from my vermiculture system home for the nephews to see. I would have to find another way to be the fun aunt.

It turns out that wrapping kids up in a blanket and swinging them as if they were in a hammock (Hey! We forgot to say

One for the Money
Two for the Show
Three to Get Ready and
Four to Let Go!

)

or dragging them chariot-style across the lawn was probably more fun than red wigglers. Until Sioux Falls, I was certain that I would regret leaving them behind; I never did.

In the alley we also considered our route and made guesses as to which was least likely to be choking with straggling rush hour traffic. We sailed west on I-94 for about a minute and 20 seconds before I hit the breaks. It was stop-and-go until south of the suburbs.

Brian has never understood why thoroughly cleaning the house is part of the ritual of hitting the road and from what I can tell from the comedy channels on my Internet radio, he’s not alone (and neither am I!). While I thought this was about the simple pleasure of coming home to a clean house, I’m just realizing that it’s also about the surprise and the feeling of being cared for. While keeping a clean house is an excellent way to care for yourself (or someone you love*), it can be a grind. The laundry is done until I change my underwear. And by the time I’ve dusted a bobble head (ahem) in one room, a spider has begun reconstruction in the next. There is rarely enough time or the distance to enjoy the results of my labor. But if I change the sheets before getting out of town, when I come home not only will there be fresh linens to enjoy, there will be the perception that someone else made the bed (or vacuumed the staircase, or polished the baseboards, or shined the mirror, or washed the windows)…for me.

And then there are those household organizational tricks that you can keep rediscovering because they maintain themselves. For example, pictured here is another use for a desktop storage container, which has the prestigious honor of having not only been spared the Goodwill pile but of being something I did “find a use for someday.” The open bags of cough drops and the flimsy boxes of Band-Aids and other odds and ends that can clutter up the medicine cabinet were driving me nuts. This was a perfect solution. The clear containers make it easy to see what’s what and the rotating base maximizes the corners of closet shelves without compromising easy access. For better visibility, tear off and date the box covers to use for labeling the containers.

Clear containers lets you see what's inside.

Clear containers let you see what’s inside.

A rotating base maximizes closet corners.

A rotating base maximizes closet corners.

*There are many stories I could tell about helping people clean and getting help cleaning my house. Right now I am thinking of Dawn who had the good sense to make me wash the dishes after my dinner party, a distraction from an upsetting breakup. Late into the night, everyone except for Dawn started to file out. She stayed behind to help with the dishes, which was the last thing I wanted to do. I told her that I would take care of it in the morning; I wanted to go to bed. She would have none of it. In my depressed state, she feared that waking up to a mess would send me over the edge. So, she washed and I dried -or the other way around- until everything was in its place.