transition labors

My cousin Sherry pointed out recently that, at this point in our renovation project, reminding me (as she did) that it’ll all be worth it in the end is like reminding a woman in transition labor that it’ll all be worth it.

I understand the implication — it ain’t gonna help — but Sherry was wrong. It helped.

* * * * *

I remember Nick’s transition labor really clearly, because I elected not to use any painkillers. I had an epidural with Jesse because I didn’t know any better. It created a disconnect between me and my body that I didn’t like. I couldn’t really feel the contractions, so I didn’t have an intuitive sense of when or how hard to push. It was very mechanical and medical. Not at all the right thing for a control freak like me.

Anthony and I decided together to skip the epidural with Nick. We had to induce, so it was freight train labor for a few hours. I sat on the doctor’s stool for most of my contractions, with Anthony standing next to me. I wrapped my arms around his waist, rested my head on his ribs and breathed quietly, Bradley-style. Sometimes I wandered here and there. Since I was attached to an IV bag of Pitocin, Anthony would fuss with strings and things on the wheelie contraption that held the Pitocin bag, and he’d help me wander. On and on it went, with an increase in the Pitocin dose every half hour.

It was all pretty bearable, until something really, really bad started happening. “I think I need to poop,” I told Anthony.

Anthony shook his head patiently. “No. You don’t.”

“I really, really think I need to poop. I need to poop now. I need to poop RIGHT NOW.”

Anthony looked at me, still mild. After a long pause, he said, “Ok.” He fussed with the wheelie thing, and we went to the bathroom. I sat on the toilet. I got right back up. My crotch felt so wrong.

“I don’t need to poop.”

“I know.”

Days later, Anthony told me he realized then that I was in transition labor. I asked him how he knew.

“Because you were panicking. The book said you would panic.”

Literacy: don’t get pregnant without it.

After the aborted poop trip, I spent the next 20 or 30 minutes cursing intermittently. Have I mentioned this before here? Not loudly, and not at Anthony. I was standing. Each time a contraction hit, I bent over at the waist and held onto Anthony’s hand and a table while the nurse rubbed my back, and I muttered a chant quietly as I took slow, calming breaths. “ohfuck ohfuck ohfuck ohfuck ohfuck ohfuck ohfuck.” Deep breath in. “Ohfuck ohfuck ohfuck ohfuck ohfuck ohfuck ohfuck.” During the intervals between contractions, I apologized profusely for my language.

I remember telling Anthony at some point, “I don’t think I can do this for an hour.” He answered with a shake of his head. “You won’t have to.”

The nurse chimed in. “It’s too late to give you anything to help, honey.”

By the time the doctor got to our delivery room and extra nurses started fussing about with I-don’t-know-what, I was done cursing and was on to a new repeating line. “I gotta push. I gotta push. I gotta push now.”

Doc looked at me and shrugged, a mix of sarcasm and humor. “So get on the table and push.”

I climbed up on the table myself. Anthony lent me a hand. I found the lever to adjust the back of the delivery table. “How upright can i make this go before you want me to stop?”

The doctor looked at me with a stink eye and spoke in a dry voice. “Well at some point, I’m going to have trouble catching the baby.”

It took 3 contractions. The first one, I was still too shaky and winded from climbing onto the table, getting my legs up into those humiliating stirrups, and adjusting the table back. I was also distracted because I wanted to yell “RING OF FIRE! RING OF FIRE!” but I was trying hard not to say it out loud, because when I was pushing Jesse out I told some jokes and laughed — an excellent sign of nerves — and then Anthony barked at me to stop laughing and concentrate on what I was doing. So I didn’t yell out “RING OF FIRE!” in Nick’s delivery room, even though I thought it would be really funny. (Except for the ring of fire I was actually experiencing. That wasn’t funny.) I didn’t want to irritate Anthony again, and I thought he was right that I should concentrate better. So I kept quiet. Which took much of the mental effort I should have put into pushing issues.

Right, so that was the first contraction. The second, I popped Nick’s head and gave myself a stage 500 perineal tear. All those squats really paid off. The third contraction, Nick’s shoulders hit fresh air and I was pretty much done with my work. Except for the placenta, and ew, TMI. I walked out of that delivery room, pushing Nick’s crib thing — what do you call them? I can’t remember what they’re called. AH! Bassinet. I pushed the bassinet to the recovery room myself. It felt good to walk out on my own, with my man beside me. They should have just let me carry the baby.

* * * * *

Jesse is going through a sort of transition labor. The Citalopram seems to be working. Her mood has improved remarkably, and she seems to be more clear-headed and resilient. But clear-headedness means she can better understand how messed up she’s been and still is. She’s exhausted after months of trying to control herself. She doesn’t know what’s happening in her mind. She’s out of energy. She’s panicking, just as we can all sense that she’s about to make some big breakthroughs.

Saying Jesse has “poor self-esteem” sounds trite, but sometimes it’s easier for me to think of it that way. It’s a euphemism in my mind for “self-loathing” and “destructive self-hate,” both of which are more apt to make me cry. Just yesterday, the school guidance counselor called me to touch base. Someone had asked Jesse what she thought might be a good thing to do if she’s having trouble controlling her urges to say inappropriate things. The idea was to have Jesse come up with some of her own strategies.

Jesse answered. “Just kill me.”

Jesse’s therapist and psychiatrist independently insist that she doesn’t meet the criteria for a Tourette’s diagnosis. It isn’t tics that get her, but rather obsessive, perseverative thinking. OCD. And of course, anxiety. Anxiety disorders are a messy, messy business. The symptoms and behaviors overlap with, and are related to, stuff that happens with OCD and ADHD. So when a child has severe anxiety, it’s very hard to determine if there are also other issues in play.

It’s a mess when you’re full of random, inchoate fear. It takes a long time to sort it all out.

I decided to explore the OCD thing with Jesse, because she seems to feel uncontrollable urges to do some pretty stupid stuff — grab kids inappropriately, say inappropriate words (these days mostly “penis penis penis”), that sort of thing. She describes it as a burning feeling that rises up in her throat as she tries to stop herself, until she can’t fight it anymore. My ignorant, uninformed mind says “Tourette’s” to that, but the experts are saying OCD. I’m listening.

A pretty typical OCD scenario involves a person who feels she has to do something in order to avoid a really bad consequence. Like… “Unless I touch the floor at 20 minutes past the hour, my mommy will be hit by a car and die.” So I asked Jesse one day, “What do you think will happen if you don’t do those things your body tells you to do?”

Jesse was pensive and glum. She sat quietly and then muttered, almost inaudibly, “I won’t be myself anymore.”

It took me a second to register it, and then here’s what I wanted to say. “Well THAT’S fucked up, Jesse. Why you gotta be so deep and intense and all? Why can’t you just be normal OCD?”

I don’t remember what I actually said, because I was aching all over. There are so many hairline fractures in my heart; what’s another one. But I’ve thought about it a lot since then. A LOT. Like, obsessively. I can’t stop spinning it in my mind. I keep wondering what it feels like, to think you have to do certain things that you know will alienate you, direct disapproval your way, ignite disappointment, leave you friendless and lonely, make you miss out on fun activities — or else you won’t be you anymore. That is so messed up. I eventually asked some more questions, and it became clear that Jesse thinks her rage and anger and strange behavior are inexorably linked to her creativity, her imagination, her individuality and uniqueness.

That is some crazy, heavy shit.

Dr. Abrams suggested we treat it just like you treat any OCD behavior. Directly. It’s very strange, but we’re trying. This weekend, Jesse woke up not angry. That’s still unusual, but an increasingly common phenomenon. I reminded her not to be angry. Don’t hurt people. Be kind and gentle. She did it for a while, and she also got on the computer and wrote this poem, inspired by the t-shirt she was wearing:

When in Doubt

When in doubt dance it out!
When in doubt to the nearest water to the stream just dance it out.
When in doubt fly as far as ever to the place which is just right next to your journey.
When in doubt you are who you are to the nearest peaceful island.

Then she found a piece of paper and drew a picture of a “flower girl” — a girl with an unfurled flower for a body. Next with a few added strokes she turned it into a girl who got trapped in a genie bottle. It was a lovely, loose pencil sketch.

I remembered to say it: Jesse, you controlled yourself this morning. You haven’t attacked anyone or anything. You’re still drawing and writing. You’re still creating and imagining. You’re still you.

She didn’t say anything, but I know she heard me. I could see her staring into blank space, thinking.

Jesse asked to go out to breakfast with just me on Sunday morning. She said, “I decided that’s my mental illness right now: I need my mommy.”

You could press me to death under large rocks and it still wouldn’t match the weight of those words in my life. But instead of bearing down on me, they lifted me up and gave me hope. Because Jesse knows she needs me; and I guess that means she knows she can need me.

We had a delightful breakfast together. We went to a restaurant we used to visit every Sunday morning when Jesse was a toddler, before Nick was born. We chatted about how Jesse used to slay the patrons and staff with her cuteness and giggles. We went back in time to a place where another equally real Jesse used to live — still challenging, still intense, but somehow more joyful and present in the world that exists outside the space between her ears. I nattered at Jesse about it. You are everything you’ve ever done and experienced. You are more that what you do today. You are still redefining yourself, and I hope you never stop. You are always YOU, no matter what you do. Jesse nestled in my arms and made me feed her pieces of pancake, like when she was a toddler. It was strange and peaceful.

We’re in transition labor together again, Jesse and me, only this time I don’t have an epidural to blind me to what’s happening. The pain is intense, excruciating, almost unbearable. But we have no choice. We have to continue the journey. We have Anthony and Nick beside us, patient and gentle. And I can still carry my baby when she needs me.

That’s what all the squats are for.

* * * * *

Our home renovation is in its last throes as well. I’m panicking about that too, even as the end looms, and I have many transition labors to accomplish so that we can have our house back.

Drywall was installed last week. Two guys put in every piece of drywall in a mudroom, kitchen, eating area, two bedrooms and a bathroom, in less than 9 hours. I was blown away.


Then Greg, the drywall expert, spent 5 days taping and bedding all the joints and making everything smooth and pretty, and then priming all the new drywall. He got to wear stilts, and he did a beautiful job.


He left our new spaces blinding white and ready to paint.



While Greg worked over the drywall, a gentle soul named Marcel painted the outside of our house.


While Marcel and Greg did their thing, I pieced up some old floor boards onto plywood and roughed out a plank table that’ll sit under the window in our kitchen.


After cabinets are in, we’ll put the final cuts on that slab, adhere some quality hardwood laminate along the edge, and pour a self-leveling epoxy over it as a finish. It should survive whatever abuse the children heap on it.

We painted the kitchen area.


We finished repairing the ten million holes made to blow in insulation in existing walls.

I’m almost done making a new cover for the laundry chute opening.

We’re installing kitchen cabinets ourselves.  Prep work (with spawn stretching):


A few cabinets in place:

IMG_0687 IMG_0693

We just need to finish getting those cabinets in, and then the counter guy and the flooring guy can get busy. And then I need to tile the master bathroom and mudroom. Also we need to install some interior closet doors, and we’re doing all the wood trim ourselves. There’s more painting left to do in the bedrooms. And lots of other little things.

It won’t be long now, but I have a lot of labors to get through. I’m panicking for sure. But I keep reminding myself: it’s transition labor. It’s just a thing that happens as the end comes near. There’s nothing anyone can give me to help ease the pain now, but if I can wait it out, it’ll all turn out right.

Or at least, right enough.

depressed again, naturally.

Once in a while the threads that keep me airborne break and I crash into the muck of depression. It’s happening again, and I always spend way too much time in these episodes pondering whether it’s really situational or just me, because I know I could be handling it better.

* * * * *

Jesse has taken her version of Carlin’s seven-dirty-words routine to school. “FUCKSHITPENISASS!” Her classmates are startled and a little scared, her teacher reports. Jesse ends up in the counselor’s office alone to do her work most days.

The words sit inside Jesse like an ever-present, vomitous bile. She told her teacher, “I feel like I need to say the words, and if I don’t, it turns into a burning feeling in my throat that gets worse and worse, until I have to say them.”

We still don’t have an official diagnosis of anything except anxiety; but if that doesn’t sound like a plain case of Tourette’s syndrome, I don’t know what does. Maybe it’s time to push the shrink for a formal diagnosis, so we can get a game plan on with the school. People worry about the stigma of a diagnosis, but what could be more stigmatizing that being the classroom’s resident freak show, even if the syndrome remains unnamed?

The outbursts are confusing and humiliating for Jesse. I started telling the teacher about Jesse’s alienation and friendless state. I couldn’t get all the words out, because the tears would have come out too. I didn’t feel like crying. I’ve already been crying too much lately.

Jesse has barricaded herself behind a fortress of anger and hostility. She doesn’t cry for emotions anymore, just physical pain and rage. She’s mean to all of us, even the dog. We keep hunting for chinks; Citalopram is definitely opening some cracks, but it’s slow going. A couple days ago, Jesse told me, “I’m not easy to break on the outside, mommy. But inside, I’m real easy to break.” I stuck my finger in the chink as hard and fast as I could. I asked her to break easy on the outside, to let us see her hurting so we can help her.

Jesse thinks her creativity is linked to her rage. Anthony and I chided her. Creative people are vulnerable and open, not cruel and closed up. True human insight comes from that softness, buttressed by the courage to speak — not from anger and cruelty.

* * * * *

Jesse likes to threaten to kill us all these days. “I hate you. I’m gonna kill you! I hate you! I hate you! I wish you were dead!”

A few nights ago I couldn’t take it anymore, the incessant rant of threats, death wishes, weird cussing and sexual references. It was too much. I stood next to Jesse, who was holding a block of wood she took off the top of the newel post for our basement stairs. “Just do it, Jesse. End my misery. Kill me. You can use that block to do it. Just brain me. Hit me in the head, over and over again. I’m begging you.”

She stared at me in shock. “What??”

“You heard me,” I answered. “Do it. Stop making noise. If you want to kill me, do it. Me and daddy. Just get it over with. Stop being a bully and making threats. Just get on with it.”

Anthony stood next to me. Kill us. Then we’ll be dead like you want. You’ll have exactly what you want.

In that moment, I meant it. I felt peaceful about it. I was ready to take the blows. I was ready to make the final sacrifice. Maybe it would teach her a final lesson.

Jesse ran upstairs and sobbed on the sofa. I didn’t understand her reaction.

* * * * *

My heart breaks and breaks and breaks for Jesse, even as my own rage breaks the dam I build every morning as I plan out how I’ll survive another day of her verbal and physical abuse. I keep waiting for relief, and I weep every day as I wait. I try to do it in private places where no one will see me. No one likes a cry baby. But once in a while I can’t stop it. Nick thinks it’s all his fault, amplifying my guilt; his soft brown eyes brim with tears as he hugs me and asks me to stop. Jesse tells me coldly to stop being a cry baby, but she can’t hide the startled sadness that lurks behind her huge green eyes.

Last week Nick’s teacher, Mrs. R, told me an anecdote. The kids were supposed to be drawing something they think about a lot. Nick was having trouble getting started. Mrs. R asked him what he was thinking about. “I’m thinking about how my mommy cries a lot when she’s sad, and sometimes I cry too because she is crying.” Mrs. R answered Nick cheerfully, “Oh! How about trains! You like trains! Or dragons! Draw dragons!”

Mrs. R, whose own teenage son struggles with a mood disorder and behavioral challenges, wasn’t chastising me but just letting me know, keeping me in the loop. Still, it was a crushing moment.

* * * * *

There was no school yesterday. Our district doesn’t have school on Yom Kippur. They call it a “fall break day,” but everyone with half a brain knows it’s for the Jewish new year. I took the kids apple-picking. It was a disaster, of course, devolving into whining from Nick and abuse from Jesse. As we tried to drive away after filling two bags with apples, I had to pull over and kick Jesse out of the car. I called Anthony and ended up sobbing uncontrollably as Jesse sat on the grass next to the road. Unexpected words flowed out of my baby-bawling mouth, giving shape to how low I’ve come.

I can’t remember the last time I had real fun with my kids. I can’t remember the last time I was happy. I have no hope that anything will change. I haven’t had a break from on-site parenthood in TEN YEARS. I live in this filthy shithole of a house, working seven days a week on this and that, waiting and waiting for our renovation project to push forward more quickly, but it’s only going to go slower and slower because I have to do more work myself to make up for budget overruns.

Snot ran out of my nose and tears poured onto the steering wheel as I blathered at Anthony. He was silent on the other end until I dried up. “I’m sorry, Carla,” he answered simply and quietly. “I know it’s been hard for you. Jesse is impossible.” I could hear his heart breaking for me, and it made me feel selfish and self-absorbed.

I think we have to give the dog away so she can be in a place where she’s not afraid of the kids. I love her and will miss her so much. I hate it.

A person came to my house Tuesday, trapped me in a room where I was trying to avoid him, forced a conversation on me that I had told him several times I didn’t want to have, harangued me and yelled at me and insulted me. It was aggressive, bullying behavior. I reacted like a trapped mongoose, because what else could I do? It was truly the most awful human encounter I’ve had since I quit lawyering. I was only thankful that Anthony wasn’t here to witness it. He doesn’t like to see me feeling threatened and I’m not sure what he would have done.

Jesse was right when she said we were being greedy by doing this home improvement project. My misery is a simple karmic justice for my greed.

* * * * *

There have been moments of light, but right now they feel to me more like the trick your eyes play on you when you’re in pitch blackness. The light isn’t real. I can’t even fake up hope today.

But I like Yom Kippur. I like what it’s about; I like the idea that you can seek new beginnings, again and again. Christians like to think they own the market on principles of repentance and forgiveness, but they forget that those very ideals grew out of Jewish traditions. And it seems to me a lot of modern Christians leave out an important aspect of these ideas: you should seek forgiveness not only from God, but from the people you’ve wronged. You should atone not just in prayer and between you and God, but in life here on this earth.

I read a little Yom Kippur poem yesterday.

To those I may have wronged, I ask forgiveness.
To those I may have helped, I wish I had done more.
To those I neglected to help, I ask for understanding.
To those who helped me, I sincerely thank you.

Nice ideas. I read them and started crying as I thought about Jesse and Nick who have only me to be their mother, who deserve better than I’m giving them these days. I re-imagined the poem in my own image, as I prayed to my children.

For all the wrongs I’ve committed against you, I beg hopelessly for your forgiveness. Someday. When you’re older.
For the times I actually managed to help you, I wish I had done more. And better.
For the countless times I neglected to help, I ask for understanding. Someday. When you’re older.
For the times you helped me, lifted me up, and threw me a lifeline. I sincerely thank you. You shouldn’t have to do that for me. You’re children.

* * * * *

Will my children ever forgive me?

grumpy about bad jokes (okay, not really)

I put out a call on Facebook for jokes last night or today. I don’t know which, I’m losing track of time. Life is such a wreck here in my world, what with the interminable construction project and Jesse’s ongoing mental health struggles.

I’ve put out the call before, when I’ve been really down. Give me some jokes! I ask my friends. They always deliver. Laughing at inane silliness is a great cure-all for superficial, first-world depressive episodes. Almost as good as a walk in a wilderness. Also I can always call my brother Mark and ask him to do Rodney Dangerfield impersonations for me. Sometimes he just breaks into them anyway, impromptu.

Which is kind of weird, really, when you think about it too long? But that’s why I adore Mark.

Anyway, here are the jokes peeps posted on Facebook for me, that made me giggle and lightened my heart today. Some of them are inappropriate and not PC. Some of them have made the rounds more than once. Maybe you’ve seen them before, maybe you saw them on my Facebook feed, but here they are anyway so that I don’t lose them. I’ll come back to this post the next time I’m feeling put out and find myself a little less grumpy about the world — not just because the jokes are silly, but because I love that my friends took a moment to put them up for me.

* * * *

Why did the hipster burn his tongue when he sipped his coffee?
Because he didn’t want to wait for it to be cool.

* * * *

A husband and wife are trying to set up a new password for their computer. The husband puts, “Mypenis,” and the wife falls on the ground laughing because on the screen it says, “Error. Not long enough.”

* * * *

A lawyer and a Blonde are seated next to each other on a flight from Los Angeles to New York. The lawyer asks if she would like to play a fun game. The Blonde, tired, just wants to take a nap, so she politely declines and rolls over to the window to catch a few winks. The lawyer persists and explains that the game is easy and a lot of fun. He says, “I ask you a question, and if you don’t know the answer, you pay me five dollars, and vice versa.” Again, she declines and tries to get some sleep. The lawyer, now agitated, says, “Okay, if you don’t know the answer, you pay me $5, and if I don’t know the answer, I will pay you $500.” This catches the Blonde’s attention and, figuring there will be no end to this torment, agrees to the game. The lawyer asks the first question, “What’s the distance from the earth to the moon?” The Blonde doesn’t say a word, reaches into her purse, pulls out a $5.00 bill, and hands it to the lawyer. “Okay,” says the lawyer, “your turn.” She asks, “What goes up a hill with three legs and comes down with four legs?” The lawyer, puzzled, takes out his laptop computer and searches all his references … no answer. Frustrated, he sends e-mails to all his friends and co-workers but to no avail. After an hour, he wakes the Blonde and hands her $500. The Blonde thanks him and turns back to get some more sleep. The lawyer, who is more than a little miffed, stirs the Blonde and asks, “Well, what’s the answer?” Without a word, the Blonde reaches into her purse, hands the lawyer $5, and goes back to sleep.

* * * *

What do you call a midget clairvoyant who escapes from prison?
A small medium at large.

* * * *

Three contractors are bidding to fix a broken fence at the White House. One is a woman, another is black, and the third is hispanic. All three go with a White House official to examine the fence. The black contractor takes out a tape measure and does some measuring, then works some figures with a pencil. “Well,” he says, “I figure the job will run about $900. $400 for materials, $400 for my crew, and $100 profit for me.” The hispanic contractor also does some measuring and figuring, then says, “I can do this job for $700. $300 for materials, $300 for my crew, and $100 profit for me.” The female contractor doesn’t measure or figure, but leans over to the White House official and whispers, “$2,700.” The official, incredulous, says, “You didn’t even measure like the other guys! How did you come up with such a high figure?” She whispers back, “$1000 for me, $1000 for you, and we hire the Mexican to fix the fence.”

* * * *

A painting contractor was speaking with a woman about her job. In the first room she said she would like a pale blue. The contractor wrote this down and went to the window, opened it, and yelled out “GREEN SIDE UP!”
In the second room she told the painter she would like it painted in a soft yellow. He wrote this on his pad, walked to the window, opened it, and yelled “GREEN SIDE UP!” The lady was somewhat curious but she said nothing.
In the third room she said she would like it painted a warm rose color. The painter wrote this down, walked to the window, opened it and yelled “GREEN SIDE UP!”
The lady asked him, “Why do you keep yelling ‘green side up’?”
“I’m sorry,” came the reply. “But I have a crew of blondes laying sod across the street.”

[My brother Ted was obsessed with dumb blond jokes for a couple years. I’m not sure what to make of them, but I realize it’s  an iconic thing. I guess you could just replace the word “blond” with “some dumbass.”]

* * * *

A couple of New Jersey hunters are out in the woods when one falls to the ground. He doesn’t seem to be breathing, his eyes rolled back in his head. The other guy whips out his cell phone and calls 911. He gasps to the operator,”My friend is dead! What can I do?”
The operator, in a calm soothing voice says:”Just take it easy. I can help. First, let’s make sure he’s dead.”
There is a silence, then a shot is heard. The guy’s voice comes back on the line. He says:”OK, now what?”

* * * *

So, Trump walks into a bar. . . wait, that’s not at all funny.

* * * *

What do you get when you cross an insomniac, an agnostic and a dyslexic?
Someone who lies awake all night wondering if there really is a dog.

[Anthony, who usually doesn’t laugh at jokes, says he actually gets this one.]

* * * *

A Frenchman walks into a bar with a parrot on his shoulder, and the bartender says, “Wow, that’s really neat. Where’d you get him?”
The parrot says, “Oh, I got him in France. There’s millions of ’em over there.”

* * * *

A guy runs into a doctor’s office and says “Doctor, please help me. I think I’m a moth!”
The doctor says, “But I’m an internist. You clearly need a psychiatrist. Why did you come to see me?”
The guy says, “I had to come in here. Your light was on.”

[The person who posted this must know Jesse and Anthony well.]

* * * *
Jeb Bush, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are on a plane that’s about to crash, but there are only three parachutes.
The first passenger yells, “I’m Jeb Bush, let the big dog eat! I can’t afford to die.” He takes the first parachute and jumps.
The second passenger, Trump, runs screaming, “I’m the smartest man in the world and the next president of America!” He grabs the second parachute and jumps.
The third passenger, Clinton, says to Sanders, “Take the last parachute.”
Sanders answers, “It’s okay, Hillary, there’s a parachute for both of us. The world’s smartest man just took my backpack.”

* * * *

A grandmother is walking with her little grandson on the beach when a huge wave rolls up and sweeps the boy out to sea. She is distraught, falls on her knees and cries out to God, “Please, Lord, save my little grandson! He’s so precious to me! Please, please bring him back to me! I’ll do anything!”
A few minutes later, she is still wailing when the boy washes up onto the beach, coughing and wet but very much alive and well. She is overjoyed, hugs him tightly, and looking up to the heavens, she says, “He had a hat?”

* * * *

Two guys out walking their dogs come upon a bar. They really want to go in for a drink but know they can’t take the dogs in with them. The one guy says, “I’ve got an idea! We’ll put on dark sunglasses and say these are our service dogs.” They agree this is brilliant and the first guy puts on his glasses and walks into the bar.
The bartender looks up and says, “Excuse me, no dogs allowed in here.”
The guy responds, “But this is my service dog.”
The bartender eyes the lab/shepherd mix, notices the dark glasses, and asks the guy what he’s drinking.
The second guy puts on his sunglasses and walks in. The bartender says, “Hey, no dogs in here!”
The second guy says, “It’s my service dog.”
The bartender is incredulous and says “A chihuahua? No way!”
The second guy says “What?! They gave me a chihuahua?!!”

* * * *

What do you get when you cross a penis and a potato?
A dictator.

* * * *

What do you call a cow that’s just had a baby?

* * * *

I thought I saw an eye doctor on an Alaskan island, but it turned out to be an optical Aleutian.
 * * * *
No matter how much you push the envelope, it’ll still be stationery.
 * * * *
Atheism is a non-prophet organization.
 * * * *
When cannibals ate a missionary, they got a taste of religion.

* * * *

And a couple peeps posted up images.

Check out the creepy mannequin head scarecrows.

And this silliness.

And for some reason I’m reminded of something a friend posted on my birthday, which told me she understands what goes on in my mind.

It seems to me tonight that not giving a shit, at least in the right ways, is the root of happiness. Sometimes the world wraps itself around my neck and makes me forget this simple truth.

Thank you, my friends, for the gift of some laughs and giggles. A little love goes such a long way. Maybe people don’t suck.

Less grumpy about the construction project

Well then. The day has passed and I’m feeling less pissy. 

Part of it is just acceptance, like accepting the sharp pebble in your shoe because you’re running from a fire and can’t stop to pick the pebble out. Best to avoid being burned to ash than worry about the pebble that’s tearing a bitterly painful hole in your flesh.

I’m not sure that metaphor works. Does it work? 


Part of it is deciding to do some work ourselves to cut costs. It’s a simple trade off that eases budget pressure and gives me some mental relief, but it’s not pain-free. The considerable time we’ll spend doing additional work is time we can’t spend doing stuff with and for the kids; but at least we might be able to afford some Christmas gifts for them. 

Part of it is just venting. Here, to a few friends, to Anthony, to the thin air as I drive from here to there. Venting always makes me feel better when I’m full of emotional gas. 

Probably another metaphor that doesn’t work. 

Part of it is just adjusting expectations of what peeps are capable of, including myself of course. No one likes to accept responsibility, take a hit and apologize for screwing something up. It takes maturity and courage, and confidence – not hubris, but awareness that admitting a screw up and seeking a compromise doesn’t mean you suck.

Jesse struggles with this at extreme levels, but maybe it’s just part of the universal human condition, something we all contend with to one degree or another. 

Part of it is just choosing a moral path in my own estimation of things. If someone has to be stiffed, do I want to be the stiffer or the stiffee? I’ll take the latter, thank you, if those are my only options. I’ll feel better about myself and have no regrets. I’ll wipe my hands of it and carry no burden in my mind. 

Which is all surprisingly metaphysical for someone grumpy and simple like me. 

I’ll tell you what it actually probably is. The painter and drywall guy worked hard long days today without goofing off. I finished building a tabletop and did some plastering and painting myself. I made some solid plans for installing cabinets ourselves next week. There was actual progress. Having work actually happen, instead of just talking about it, makes everything a little more palatable. 

Grumpy about the construction project (and bleak. Bleak and grumpy)

I’ve been pretty down for the past couple weeks about our project. Things have just slowed down and slowed down. It feels like the peeps who are supposed to get things finished are moving on to other projects and disregarding the need to close out our job. Finishing something up is always the hardest thing. I guess I expected professionals to do it better than me.

Our kitchen door still isn’t in. It was supposed to go in a couple weeks ago. Instead of the door, we’re staring at the back side of siding. A kitchen window still hasn’t been replaced. I don’t know why. I’ve asked several times. The last time I asked, I got a shoulder shrug and an innocent stare in response. Literally.

It doesn’t leave you with the warm-and-fuzzies.

Now I’m hearing a bunch of whining about not being paid, and threats to not do any more work, and lectures about how “the industry” works, and blah blah blah and money money money. This is a financed project. Everyone knew it going in. This is not a surprise to anyone. The only thing that’s a little shocking is the fact that getting money out of our construction escrow funds at Wells Fargo is a slow and sticky process, as bad as pouring cold molasses out of a jar. It’s mind-numbing.

We’re over budget, of course. But not for pretties and fun things; for basic work. You sort of expect bidding on basic work to not be so far off, but I guess you never know. Once contractors have you by the figurative construction balls, you’re trapped like a mouse in a maze. You have to pay. And how much work would I have to do to figure out if all the invoicing is accurate and fair? How would I know if the guys billed me for time that they were sitting around chatting with me and eating the pizza I bought for them? I guess I could argue about it and see where we get, but if Anthony and I even discuss it in front of Jesse, she gets really agitated and worried. And it stresses me out too. So we try to take those cues and remember that it’ll all work out eventually. I guess.

I painted the bottom half of our home’s exterior over the weekend and discovered that two kitchen windows that were installed  as part of this renovation have the worst caulking job ever where the wood trim meets the window. Nick could have done a better job – gaps everywhere, and the caulk wasn’t pushed into the joints as it should be. I’m going to have to cut that caulk out and start over unless I want those windows to rot out in a year. Will anyone apologize to me for that, or for the laundry chute door that got destroyed and tossed even though it wasn’t supposed  to, or all the little things? Actually correcting the mistakes was what I hoped would happen, because doesn’t that seem like what should happen? But at this point, I’d settle for even an apology and an acknowledgment of any mistakes, because not even that seems to be coming.

I guess I could ask the contractor to fix the poor workmanship on the caulking, but how would I know that he’s not charging me time and materials again for that? Apparently this is a time-and-materials kind of thing, and how would I ever know if he’s double charging? We’ve blown the budget without knowing it until after the fact, and now I’m scratching my head to figure out how to cut corners. Maybe I’ll have plywood countertops in the kitchen instead of granite? Vinyl flooring instead of wood?

And god forbid I should ask for some information, so that I can figure out just these sorts of things: how much money do I have left to put in pretties? You ask for information, and contractors lose their shit. Why does transparency upset the construction industry so much? Is it cultural, or is something hiding back there? Why not just give me information regarding how my money is being spent, so I can make informed decisions? I’m not trying to rip anyone off. When someone hints that this is what I have in mind – not paying for work that’s actually been done – just because I’ve asked for information, I get really, really irate. I’m no deadbeat. But that reaction makes me think of things like the figurative mirror (I believe you tend to see in others what you know is in yourself) or a skunk smelling itself first. Then my thoughts start racing and I end up nowhere good.

First world problems, I know. It’s a bad sign when I’m reduced to a string of rhetorical questions.

Grumpy about the construction project (take your dog shit home with you)

At least one dog walker has been leaving giant bags of dog shit in our dumpster. Unless I retrieve the bag, that means the shit will sit there for weeks and weeks until this project is finally done. So I have to reach into that nasty dumpster, full of all manner of construction waste, workers’ fast food garbage, and festering rain water, and pull the bag out to put in my regular garbage can. 

Let me send this open letter to any person who would throw a bag of their own dog’s shit into a dumpster in front of someone else’s home: 

Dear dog-shit-dumping neighbor,

ASSHOLE MOVE. Does this really need to be explained to you? Of course not. You know what you’re doing is wrong, because you only do it when no one is looking. Being a sneaky asshole is no better than being a bold and brazen asshole. 

Please knock on my door the next time you fling your dog’s shit into my dumpster. We can chat and share a beer or two. Then I can oblige your shit-swapping habits and come take a dump in your front yard. 

Sincerely yours, etc.

I shouldn’t have had to put up this sign. It probably won’t make a difference anyway. 


grumpy about the construction project (combat crawling toward the finish)

The reality is, not much work has been happening around here. Not nothing, but close to it for the past couple weeks. There were a lot of blank hours that could have been filled with the hum of various contractors doing stuff. I know it happens, but when you’re living in a trashy, filthy dump like we are for now, you just want things to move along.

* * * * * *

Drywall was supposed to be installed this week, starting Monday.

Instead of boards being attached to walls Monday, which is what I thought “starting” would mean, Greg the Drywall Guy came by to do a board count. The properly-counted drywall was supposed to be delivered Tuesday, so then “rocking” could begin Tuesday afternoon.

I thought it was called “hanging drywall,” but apparently they call it “rocking” now. It’s done by… go on then, you can guess… ROCKERS. Rockers rock the walls.

I really want to see what rockers look like. Long hair? Face paint? Spandex pants and groupie T’s? Big tongues?

I’m learning that drywalling is a bifurcated profession. There are the rockers and there are the bedders. The rockers rock, the bedders bed aka tape-and-mud. The latter guys are the high skill element of the trade – they apply tape to joints and do all that fancy mud work that makes not-flat walls look flat. It’s an art, in my opinion. Greg-the-D-Guy does the bedding, but he subs out the rocking.

Tuesday came but drywall didn’t. The truck broke down.

I’ve heard that one before.

Wednesday came and the drywall was delivered. Most of it, anyway. But no rockers. They were maybe going to make it in the afternoon.

Heard that one too.

They didn’t make it.

Thursday (today) came. They would definitely be here. In the afternoon. They weren’t.

Two guys showed up in the evening, two hours later than Greg anticipated. They had gotten lost, after stopping for a meal.

Heard that one too.

The rockers (I’m disappointed to report that they looked like ordinary men; no face paint) walked around the house with Greg and he showed them what they’d be doing. They were going to work until 7 pm and then come back tomorrow afternoon and Saturday. Greg left, and the guys promptly went into the garage and started texting on their phones and doing nothing. By the time we left for a quick dinner out with the kids (since they were going to be rocking the house), they were out by their car texting. When we got back 30 minutes later… they were gone. No rocking happened.

Apparently they were texting their boss, Greg’s sub, because they decided they weren’t being paid enough.

I’ve been promised a crew Friday morning, starting at 6:30 a.m., to get the job done.

Heard it. I do not believe it. Even if it actually happens, I will assume at this point that I’m hallucinating.

This is Greg.


I already like Greg for several reasons. One, he wears a shirt that says “Greg.” This keeps me from calling him “Gary,” which I seem to be wont to do. I’m so bad with names. Two, he’s cheerful and optimistic. Yesterday he encouraged me to be those things too, right when I needed to hear it. Three, even though things weren’t ROCKING around the house, he spent quite a bit of time here setting things up, fussing over where and how the boards were organized by the delivery guys, and getting some uniquely-shaped patch pieces installed. He seems to want things just so. Very maternal. Four, he says he wears stilts when he muds the ceilings, and he might let me give them a try. Greg seems alright.

In the photo above (if I were still lawyer, some stupid partner would have edited that to say “the above photo,” so thank goodness I’m not a lawyer anymore), Greg is talking to Erick Kurber, the Carpenter Guy. Remember Erick, the guy on the roof? Mr. Aristotle who invites you to put more “K” in your home? Gary — sorry, Greg (good thing about that t-shirt, I hope Greg doesn’t think it’s weird that I keep looking shiftily at his right pectoral) passed on this question that Erick was asking him: “Ask Carla if she’s having a cardiac arrest because the drywalling hasn’t started.”

Or something along those lines. I think Erick is mocking me.

And who wouldn’t mock me, what with all those parentheticals. JEEZ. It must be my head cold, and also the oil-based primer I put on some exterior trim and siding today. It’s making me loopy.

* * * * * *

While the drywall wasn’t getting done this week, at least insulation happened. Yes yes, I’m finally admitting it. That wasn’t a giant woodpecker that made all those holes in my walls, and it wasn’t a snake sneaking into the house. That was the insulation being blown into the wall cavities.

Today John the Mason came by and did the brickwork for the front of our house. Remember this elevation?


That space covered in Tyvek wrap is where brick went today. I sat in a chair nearby John and took pictures and watched him work for a good half hour throughout the day. He claims he doesn’t mind. I took videos and photos. It is an incredible art, what talented master masons do. John is a third-generation mason, and if you spend time with him, you can just sense that the craft is in his bones. He laid the entire wall with the help of a little level (which, as far as I can tell, he barely used) and a string. He didn’t need anything except his instinct to make the bricks plumb and level, and he placed them with careful attention to appearance and balanced tone.

He chatted with me as he worked. He talked about life, his family, his brothers, his work; and he taught me a little about his craft — how the bricks are laid and tied to the stud wall, how the mortar is mixed and handled, how to get it to stay on the trowel instead of fall off, why you leave a small gap between the wall and the masonry, on and on. I felt honored to sit and soak in some of his experience and wisdom.

Here’s John in his element.


The string thing. Somehow that little wood jig attaches to the grid and it lays the level line that John eyes for the next three or four courses of brick.


Here’s a view of the metal ties that provide a safety anchor to the stud wall in the mortar joint.



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Look at how straight that wall of brick is. Eyes and hands is all it took. Beautiful.

Tool envy. Want. I don’t know what I would do with it, but I want a mini-mortar-mixer now. I want to pull it behind my car and use the car line when I pick up the kids. The way some people feel, all proud and showing off when they pull up in their Mercedes (Mercedeses?) and BMWs? That’s how I would feel about having this thing behind my station wagon.


And the finished product.



Nick trotted over and inspected it, just moments after John finished cleaning up. “WHY ARE THE LINES A DIFFERENT COLOR THAN WHAT IS ALREADY HERE?”

Already a critic. That’s my boy.


Insulation work was supposed to happen yesterday and today as part of our construction project. Something about increasing the insulation in existing parts of the house so we don’t have arctic drafts in the winter.

But I don’t think the insulators showed up. I came home and discovered instead that some sort of woodpecker, presumably something prehistoric and of Jurassic size, had attacked walls all over our house.

In the front entry room.


The living room.

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The powder room that I just painted last week.


The stairwell to the basement.


The stairwell to upstairs. I didn’t get a shot until after I had patched the NINE holes in this particular little stretch.


And more. Closets, bedroom walls, living areas all over the house. This particular woodpecker left perfectly round, two-inch holes. I know it’s an animal and not a crafty human because the holes are not in straight lines but rather have a certain random quality to them. This will make it even more fun to patch the holes, including plastering and sanding them 400 times each until it’s no longer obvious that a bunch of holes were made in the walls. Given my horrendous drywall plastering skills, I should be done with this patch job some time in 2017.

I also spotted a large snake trying to sneak into the house. I saw part of it near this truck, and I followed it.


Across the yard…

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Behind the PODs container (sneaky snake)…


Through our little front garden…


Over the little fence and into the house.


Where it rounded the corner and headed up the stairwell, disappearing somewhere upstairs.


It was a semi-transparent beast and something was rattling swiftly through it, so depending on which end was in the house, it was either vomiting or pooping. I never found out, because I ran back out of the house after seeing it this far.

Sigh. I don’t know what is going on around here, but I have noticed this evening that the house is quite comfortable, albeit completely filthy.

Some guys came by this afternoon and stacked bricks in anticipation of masonry work tomorrow. Isn’t that neat and orderly?


It actually took me quite a while to take this placid picture. Some ANIMAL kept photo-bombing my shots.

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There are a lot of beasts around these days.

grumpy about the construction project (random update)

It’s been more than two weeks since I posted something about our renovation. At this point, we are truly overwhelmed and numb. The kids started school a couple weeks ago, and I think Jesse quite nicely captured all of our moods when she posed for her dad’s camera as she headed off to her first day:


Nick, on the other hand, remains indifferent to the current reality of our lives. In fact, he seems pretty indifferent to reality in general. It’s great to be six and remarkably well-adjusted.


Here’s a seriatim update on what’s going on with our house.

I know, I know, WTF language is that? It’s lawyereeze. If you look it up, dictionaries will tell you it means something like “in a series” or “in order.” But when I was growing up in the trade, lawyers used it in briefs to mean “in no particular order,” so seriatim is a really, really short way of telling the court this: I have a bunch of stuff I want to tell you, and I’m going to do it like a random list because I didn’t have time to organize it well, or at least none of the points are related so I can’t really organize it at all, and I used a fancy Latin word to say all that so please forgive me and get over it.

In other words, don’t expect me to be witty or to have a point here, peeps. I’m just passing on information randomly as it comes to mind. And also photos.

Right, so here’s what’s going on.

* * * * * *

We passed some inspections. That’s a good thing. Electrical, HVAC, insulation, some other stuff I can’t remember.

When you pass an inspection, the inspector leaves a green tag somewhere in the house. We stick them in random locations around the house, like these three that are attached to the kitchen door.


But the insulation guy handed me the “approved” sticker instead of tagging something, and I knew exactly where it belonged.


Because my body has enough insulation these days to exceed all modern building code standards by an unhealthy margin (though I don’t know if building codes allow the use of blubber in lieu of fiberglass batting). That’s Kristi behind me. I don’t usually do selfies, but passing an insulation inspection calls for one. Doesn’t she have a great smile? That woman is so upbeat it drives me crazy.

I’ll make her grumpy yet.

* * * * * *

We’re refurbishing our powder room. I used to call it a toilet or half-bath, but everyone in the TRADE calls it a “powder room” so I’m going with the flow. It wasn’t really supposed to be part of the job, but the flooring in the whole area needed to come out, and that meant the toilet and vanity needed to come out, and then since the plumbing was accessible… you know how those dominos tumble. But we’re doing most of the work ourselves because it wasn’t part of the original project and we’re cheap.

You’d think I could take a before photo of this little room. But no. That would require planning.

Here’s the after effects. Drywall patch where the plumber ripped into the wall to update the lines.


That is not drywall mud stained with my blood sweat and tears. It’s just pink until it dries. I cut the little holes for the plumbing perfectly.  PERFECTLY, I tell you. I could not make that happen again in a million years.

And that plywood on the floor you see, I put that in for the tile underlayment, and then here’s a shot after we put in the backer board and waterproofing and crack isolation membrane (please, no butt crack jokes):


I have no idea why it’s out of focus but it’s too late to do anything about it.

Then we tiled. Anthony had this lark of an idea involving a yin-yang, so we went with it. We installed one-inch hexagonal mosaics, and we just pulled out a few of the white tiles in appropriate spots.

I like this shadow-look, right after we did that, with the blue crack isolation membrane showing through.


Then after we inserted the black tiles and the baseboard trim pieces it looked like this.


And then we put a bolder yellow paint on the walls and installed baseboard trim tiles and grouted.


Once the toilet and pedestal sink are in, you will be able to sit on the shitter and speak your universal ohm in whatever way you please as you stare at that yin-yang, and then you can stand on the yin-yang as you wash your hands, breathing in your inner peace since you have just flushed away your impurities.

Anthony has the best ideas.

There are some minor technical difficulties involving the tolerances around the edges, because this is an old not-level little room, and I couldn’t get the hex tiles close enough out to the edges for the baseboard tiles to cover because they’re not thick enough, so now we’ve had to order some black quarter-round tiles to install like trim around the base. Nothing is easy in a renovation.

* * * * * *

Bob the Plumber did a bunch of plumbing and Mike the Electrician did a bunch of electrical work. Bob really likes clean angles for plumbing, and I have to say, I am all for it. Look at this work of art around the utility sink and its exposed cinderblock wall.


Look at how beautiful that is, how he works his way around the other mechanicals with beautiful lines and spacing. It looks like part of a circuit board.

Do you see the electrical lines to the left in that frame? Here’s a better shot.


Oooooh Mike, Mike, Mike. You gotta do better than that to keep up with Bob the Perfectionist Plumber.

I’m not being fair. Mike’s going to clean that all up when the finish electrical work is done and he hooks all that spaghetti to the circuit panel. Mike is just as fastidious as Bob. I’ve gotten a lot of lectures and information from those two guys, and I don’t mind at all. I like more information better than less, and it’s nice to have contractors who actually deign to tell me what’s going on instead of patronizing me.

Even if most of the time I have no idea what they’re saying, so I just nod and say, “uh huh, uh huh,” as though I have a clue.

* * * * * *

Insulation happened. Remember all my bare stud walls, and in particular the gaping opening into the garage?


All better. Insulation is installed in the wall cavities now, and it really made the house feel more closed up and clean. It’s all covered in giant plastic sheets that serve as a vapor barrier. The sheeting covers all the windows and stuff too, so that the drywallers can just go crazy without worrying about getting mud all over things. It makes sense and also it’s kind of weird, like a whole-house condom.

See that misty look over the windows? I thought there was something wrong with my contact lenses and rubbed my eyes for a full 20 seconds before realizing the windows are just covered by the plastic vapor barrier.

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The insulation isn’t the color I expected. I thought it would be pink. Insulator Man told me this is some sort of environmentally friendly stuff, not so much toxins and chemicals. Yay.

* * * * * *

Anthony and I have been doing some rough carpentry.

We replaced some sections of subfloor planking, along our main travel path through the house, which were really cracked and were frightening the children.

Here’s an illustrative spot. Old pieces out.


New pieces in.


This was a remarkably challenging task. I had to use the circular saw, set to the correct depth, to cut the old planking out along a line that was halfway on a joist, but without cutting the joist itself. Since the blade is round, we had to finish the corners of the cuts with chisels. Hypothetically you could wing it with a reciprocating saw, but we don’t have those mad skills. I guess you could use some sort of grinder with a small circular blade, but I don’t have a grinder.

I should really get one.

Then we had to measure and set those angles to cut replacement pieces out of OSB, because it’s too expensive and annoying to get planks that are the correct width, and waste pieces of OSB were lying around from the project so they were “free.” (We’re still paying for it, of course, but you know what I mean.)

We put in the second layer of plywood underlayment in our future master bathroom, to support floor tiles. We had to make some notch cuts in the plywood, which once again raised the issue of how to finish a cut that you make with a circular blade. There’s always this little bit left at the bottom. As I trotted off to get a hand saw, Anthony hollered, “it’s okay, I’ve got it.” And he laid into the plywood with a tree pruning saw.


Sigh. Englishman. So practical and brutal.

But it worked. And how could I get mad at a grown man wearing a shirt covered in glow-in-the-dark paw prints of North American mammals?


My man. I love him so much that it makes no sense at all.

We also studded out a little book cubbie in our future master bedroom —

I hate that word “master” in this context, by the way. it sounds so, so… antebellum. Why not just call it what it is, which is “the homeowners’ bedroom.” Or “the parents’ bathroom.” Why are we still talking about masters?

Right, so a blasted cubbie was supposed to go in an otherwise-lost space between the parents’ bathroom vanity and the kids’ bathroom tub. But twice, the carpenter stuck nails into the water line running into the tub. Ejemplo:


Argh. It may look like an innocent nail, but water just pours out of a nail hole like that. Twice, aka two times, the carpentry crew put nails in that same pipe. So I finally said NEVER MIND and we decided to stud the cubbie out ourselves. We also decided to make it much more shallow, to avoid any possibility of nails or screws from studs or drywall getting anywhere near water pipes. Here’s the space I’m talking about.


See that cavity where the little remnant of insulation is? Whenever I look in that future cubbie, which will have a deep bit of unused space behind it, I think of Edgar Allan Poe and a Cask of Amantillado.

What exactly is behind that little piece of insulation? A carpenter who drove too many nails into my pipes…?


Creepy tense music in the background….

Oh thank goodness. Nothing.


And if I do ever hear anything scratching back there, I can just break the drywall with a taekwondo punch (accompanied by a mighty loud KIYAP) and set whatever is in there free. Brick masonry would be much harder to deal with.

* * * * * *

The shower pan is in for our parents’ bathroom. I like to lay tile and do underlayment and such, but pouring a custom shower pan is beyond my pay grade. You need mad, mad skills to do something like that. Joey is Kristi’s tile guy, and he agreed to pour our shower pan even though we’ll be laying the tile ourselves. Joey’s a firefighter in real life, but for fun he does tiling.

Here’s Joey, posing with Talon from the carpentry crew:


Look how perfectly their baseball hat brims are broken in. That’s the kind of commitment I like to see in contractors who do work on my house.

So here’s what the mud looks like that becomes the shower pan. It’s got the texture of… buttermilk biscuit dough, after you cut in the butter but before you add the liquid. That was not what I expected.


Then Joey got in there and did stuff that involved pushing the crumbly mud here and there, and packing and screeding, and dropping little plops of the crumbs in spots that weren’t perfect, the way a pastry chef might plop a bit of flour as he worked a puff pastry dough out to size.


Mad, mad skills. Here’s the finished product.


One tile-ready shower pan, slanted to drain just so. Anthony and I installed the wonderboard on the walls, which is why that part looks messy instead of professional.

* * * * * *

Tools are always a thing. My Makita cordless power drill died about a week ago, so I had to get a new one. I’m a Makita girl, but that Makita drill really didn’t hold up too well. A good power drill should last more than 10 years, most of which are dormant. I went back to Dewalt so now I have a Dewalt 12-volt drill with those new little batteries. Much lighter. I could have gotten a 20-volt, but I already have a corded Milwaukee keyed-half-inch-chuck drill, so I didn’t need that much power.

I know, I know. I’M A TOOL DORK. Would you ever have guessed?

So here’s my latest Home Depot story. I finally caved in last month and bought a jigsaw. I’m not a jigsaw fan. I think of jigsaws as Girl Saws. They’re lighter, and they’re offered up in TV shows as an easier alternative to more powerful and effective tools. Screw that. I say, Girls, go for POWER. But a jigsaw has its place in the pantheon of cutting devices, so I finally took the plunge. I went to Home Depot, because I don’t know why, and found a good-looking Makita. It turns out, my new Makita jigsaw requires a B-SHANK blade. But Home Depot doesn’t carry B-SHANK blades. Typical. Home Depot sells a power tool, but doesn’t sell the replacement blades that would allow you to ACTUALLY USE THE TOOL.

I hate Home Depot.

* * * * * *

In all the swirling commotion, we decided to go ahead and repaint and spruce up our one original full bathroom, which in future will be the kids’ bathroom. Like much of the house, it was some shade of tan. Actually, the tiles in there are sort of flesh-tone which I find extremely unappealing. This is what it looked like before, after the towel rack fell off.


My iPhone actually captured the colors pretty well in this pic. isn’t it hideous? Oh and by the way, do you see the location of the air vent right behind the toilet? Word of advice to all future designers and builders: never, ever, ever put an air duct in a location where small boys might be potty training. BAD IDEA.

We’re too lazy to rip the tile off in the midst of everything else that’s going on, but I picked a new color for the walls and I spruced up the white trim and cabinetry with a brighter shade of white.



I was mighty pleased with my color choice. I think it’s cheerful and perfect for a kid’s room, but not too tacky. And it’s strong enough to take attention away from the flesh tiles. I’ve now attached a hotel-style shelf and towel rack over the toilet, with plenty of wood bracing installed from the other side of the wall cavity (sorry, no picture).

I asked Anthony what he thought of the color. Actually, I encouraged him to be positive about it. “Isn’t it a great color, Anthony, huh? Huh? Don’t you love it?”

“It’s a lot like one of those loud Korean colors, like from the Korean quilts your mom has.”


I asked Nick what he thought of the new color, as he was taking a bath the day after I painted. He snorted. “Actually, mommy… I didn’t even notice it!”

From boys to men.

* * * * * *

Tomorrow, drywall installation begins. This is huge. All the mechanicals will be covered up. The studs and insulation, the bare unfinished look of a half-baked shed in the woods, the holes and dirty things. We’re rounding the corner. The end of this project isn’t so far away.

Here’s what our new spaces look like tonight.

Downstairs, in our future kitchen and mudroom.

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Just for fun, a panorama:


And upstairs, in the future parents’ bedroom and bathroom, and one other bedroom.


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Panorama fun.


We’ve lived with these views long enough now that I have trouble imagining how it’ll look all drywalled up. By next week, I won’t have to imagine it. I’ll be a lot less grumpy then.

blips in a life of mental illness

Jesse has been on her meds for almost a month now. Earlier this week, after several weeks of a half-minimum-dose trial, we moved her to a full therapeutic minimum dose. 10 milligrams of Citalopram a day.

I’ve definitely seen a difference. I would describe Jesse as a little more upbeat the last few weeks, less down on herself… though not consistently. I hadn’t thought of her as a child suffering from depression, but I’m adjusting that lens, because she sure seems a lot less depressed now. Hindsight is a grumpy bitch.

Apparently it’s not called depression anymore, by the way. It’s a mood disorder now. A good friend and I were chatting about this and she pointed out that “mood disorder” sounds awful. I think she’s right. I guess I’d rather be just depressed than have a disorder, but there’s no explaining the DSM to a layperson like me.

Whether Jesse has a collection of disorders or not, I look at her in some moments now and I think, “Citalopram is turning her into a sociopath.” She can spend a whole day trying to kick Nick in the head; and then, when I finally run out of patience and say to her at dinnertime, “this has been a totally exhausting day because of your negative behaviors,” here’s what she’s apt to answer.

(Nooooo, she won’t say, “that’s too many commas for one sentence.” Stay on subject with me here, dear reader.)

“But mom. Remember when I woke and for, like, 10 minutes, I was awesome?”

I guess it’s a good thing Jesse can hang onto those positive moments. We’re all still hanging on from moment to moment, as we try to find her in the maze and pull her back to us.

* * * * * * *

Jesse gets really, really angry about her homework one night. She comes at me with a pencil, snarling like a cornered lion, and it’s clear she’s planning to stab me. Time speeds up. Before I rightly know what’s happened, I have Jesse on the floor. I’m down on one knee. One of my hands has her pencil hand pinned behind her back, my other hand is on her neck, and her face is firmly planted on the carpet. I snarl at her. “NEVER. ATTACK. ME. WITH. A. PENCIL.”

She lies limp until I let her go. She comes to me for a hug a few moments later. I don’t want to hug her. I don’t want to touch her. I don’t want to be attacked by her. I don’t want to defend myself against her. She leans on me anyway and I can’t find it in me to push her away again. “Hug me back, mommy. Hug me back. Hug me back.” I can’t stop myself.

* * * * * * *

Jesse has gotten in trouble at school for touching someone inappropriately. The guidance counselor has talked with her about progressive discipline, with the ultimate device being expulsion. I ask her later in the evening about it all. How much does she expect people to tolerate? What does she think will happen if she doesn’t change? She speaks as she lies peacefully on the sofa, her affect somewhere between blank and morose. Her voice is clear and mature, but still with the sing-song timbre of a little child. She sounds almost dreamy as she spins out her fate in her imagination. “Well… I think what’s going to happen is… I’m gonna get expelled. And then I’m gonna become a drug addict and a drug dealer. And then I’ll go to jail for, like, most of my life. Then when I get out of jail, I’ll die and go to hell.”

* * * * * * *

One morning I get fed up with Jesse. She’s been throwing magna tiles at all of us viciously for weeks. She’s hit Nick in the face several times, and those things hurt. Anthony saw her land a shot just near Nick’s eye; a half inch up and he could have been blinded. She hits Nick in the face again on this particular morning, and I lose it. I grab a pile of magna tiles and I start winging her with them. I’m throwing them at her like I might spin a rock to skip it, loosing them with my right hand from my right thigh, thumb up. I corner her as she cowers and cries, and I bellow, “HOW DOES IT FEEL??? HOW DOES IT FEEL TO BE TREATED LIKE YOU TREAT US EVERY SINGLE DAY??” I’m Joan Crawford with the coat hanger, only it’s magna tiles, and I don’t have any makeup and my wardrobe sucks.

I can sense Nick hovering nearby even as I rage; he’s standing right beside me. I hear his little voice almost whimpering. “Mommy, please stop. Mommy, don’t hurt Jesse.” Jesse eventually escapes me and runs outside, screaming as she slams the door. “YOU HATE ME!! YOU HATE ME!!! I’LL RUN AWAY AND NEVER COME BACK!!!”

Little Nick flutters about the room in a minor panic. “Mommy, what if someone steals her, if she runs away?” I assure him she won’t do that, but he stares out the window for a moment. Finally he relaxes. “Whew. She’s still there, mommy. She’s in the back yard. She didn’t run away.”

He’s satisfied now and walks over to me. “Mommy, please don’t hurt Jesse.”

I start to cry. Nick looks at my face and wonders aloud. “Why are you crying, mommy?”

I say what I feel. “You know how sometimes you tell me that you feel like you’re the most hateful child ever? Right now I feel like I’m the most hateful mommy ever.”

As I say the words, my dam breaks and I start bawling. Nick grabs me with all his might. My six-year-old finds me in the maze. He straddles my lap and wraps his arms around me. “You’re not! You’re not the most hateful mommy ever! You’re the most beautiful amazing mommy ever!”

Nick smothers my face in kisses and suddenly realizes he’s crying too. “Mommy look!” he says in wonder. “I’m crying too. Why am I crying too?”

 * * * * * * *

This morning, Nick sneaks Jesse’s Citalopram off her placemat at breakfast, unbeknownst to anyone. He comes up to me and whispers it in my ear, his voice oozing guilt. “Mommy, I ate Jesse’s candy medicine!” I’m stunned and I wonder if he’s making a bad joke. I look on the placemat. Jesse hasn’t come down yet but the medicine is gone.

I turn to Nick. “It’s not candy! It’s her medicine to help her! Are you serious that you ate it??”

Nick starts to cry. “Yeaaah, I weally weally did!” Waaaah. He finally fesses up that he wanted to see how good it tasted. “But it did not taste good at all, Mommy.”

I tell Nick’s kindergarten teacher when I drop him off. She keeps a watchful eye on him through the day and reports that he seems fine. When we snuggle up at bedtime, I ask him. “Did you feel any different today? Did anything seem different, or anything hurt, like your tummy?”

Nick thinks for a moment as he settles down to start drowsing, and then he answers calmly. “The only thing today that was not like aaaalll the other days is that my butt was more tickly.” There’s a perfectly timed pause before he starts giggling.

 * * * * * * *

One of Anthony’s colleagues has a sister who’s a fourth-degree black belt in tae kwon do and a therapist/counselor. She likens anti-anxiety meds to the padded armor we use when we spar in tae kwon do. It helps you fight off the fear, the anxiety, the depression. It makes you stronger and safer.  But it doesn’t take away your power, nor does it take away your responsibility to fight.

I love that analogy. This morning I remember it as I send Jesse off to school. We’ve been chatting a little bit about how Nick is Jesse’s greatest advocate — always on her side, always defending her. I point out that he didn’t just come out that way — he was taught that by Jesse. Before she was this angry little thing we’re living with right now, she was a brilliant big sister, a magical big sister — the one who takes the fall for her little brother so he won’t get in trouble, the one who puts her body between him and the on-coming car.

I remind Jesse that this is who she really is, that we’re waiting for her to come back, that she has the power to change her world and herself, to silence the voices inside her that tell her to be hurtful and unkind. She has to have courage and commitment. She has to be brave and strong. And she has some extra armor now; she has Citalopram. I hold my hands high, like they do at our tae kwon do classes. “PILSUNG!” I bark at her loudly. “YOU, CAN, DO IT!!”  She jumps up again and again to high-ten my hands, to the cadence of the chant. She marches off with Anthony to face her doom.