grumpy about the construction project (stairs are done)

Anthony and I have officially finished the stairs. I put down two coats of polyurethane yesterday. Today I did a little finish sanding to smooth the surface, and then I put down the third coat. It turned out pretty good. I didn’t sand very carefully, because we want the stairs not to be as slick as the pro job. The kids keep running into the future new kitchen and biting the dust, their feet flying out from under them — much to their shock and my entertainment. I don’t want that to happen on the stairs.

Here’s what the stairs look like right now (a little blurry of course. I’ve had issues with my iPhone camera for a few months.)


And now I step back a couple feet and to the right, so you can sneak a look up the stairs. I can’t take any pics of the hallway upstairs right now, because that would ruin the wet finish I just put down, duh.


So instead I’ll back up a few more paces to the right. Aw shit. Now you can see the mess of sanding and staining gear at the bottom of the stairs. I wonder when I’ll get around to cleaning that up.


Maybe I’ll back up a few more paces into the living room so I can take a pic where you don’t see that mess anymore.

Shit shit shit.

Now you can see even more mess, and the as-yet-unfinished entryway into future kitchen, and the bits of patched drywall, and the vanity that needs to get upstairs to the future parents’ bathroom.


Maybe I can back up a few more paces, even further into the living room, and get a more picturesque look at everything.

Shit shit shittedy shit.


Totally wretched mess of crap – the tile that hasn’t been laid yet, the ugly light fixture that hasn’t been replaced yet, the boxes of uninstalled light fixtures. Maybe if I turn to my left.



Wretched, wretched mess of random furniture and junk, all pulled away from the walls because we were patching the holes from insulation, several weeks ago, and never got around to moving everything back. I wonder what used to be in that red bowl on the sofa, and how long ago?

My iPhone has it right. Everything is really blurry around here.

But at least the stairs are done.

things I did today (still grumpy about the construction project)

Woke up at 6:30 am on a Sunday to the sound of these words being whispered directly into my ear. “Mommy. Is it good morning time? I’m hungry. Let’s go get bagels.”

Went to Brueggers STAT with Nick to eat bagels for breakfast. Nick only eats the insides torn into small pieces, with a dab of cream cheese on each piece. I do all the work. Good times, good times. At least I got to sneak an egg, since Jesse wasn’t around.

Answered the phone when it rang, while we were sitting at Brueggers. It was Jesse, sounding a little morose. “Mommy, Daddy is still asleep and I’m hungry. What should I do?” I suggested she wake Dad up. “I tried, and he said something, but he won’t wake up.” I told her to make herself some toast and get something to drink. I could feel her mood brightening through the phone. “Oh! Okay!”  When I got home half an hour later, she was happy and Dad was awake.

Wiped off the dark stain we put on our staircase risers yesterday. We made a stupid amateur mistake and put it on too thick and didn’t wipe it off, and it didn’t soak in. I woke up worrying about it and confirmed my fears with some googling and deep memory. No way to finish that tacky mess properly. So we pulled out the mineral spirits and wiped it all off to start over. Sigh. At least an hour putting that stain on yesterday, wasted.

Painted primer on the storm window I’m repairing. Half the bottom sash was rotted out, so about a week ago I dug out the too-soft stuff and impregnated the remaining wood with some sort of liquid hardener. Then I used a magical two-part epoxy that you knead together for a while, and then it acts like clay. I shoved and shaped it onto the existing wood to rebuild the missing wood. It’s ugly as all get-out, but it’s for a second floor window and no one will ever notice after it’s painted.

Grouted the baseboard tiles in the powder room. This required me to mix up only about two cups of grout, and you would think it’s a quickie job, but grouting is too messy to go fast, ever. Since I was doing tiny little joints spaced six inches apart, I filled each joint with my finger instead of using a grout float, and it was just a pain in the ass. And even though I only used 12 ounces of grout, I still went through two big buckets of water to clean off all the excess and dropped grout, and then I had to come back an hour later to rub off the grout haze with cheesecloth. Yeesh. I should have just used some pre-finished fake wood baseboards instead of tile.

Went to Ace Hardware, where they know me very well thanks to my almost-daily visits. They smile and say hi when I walk through the door, but I also think they cringe a little. “What can we help you with today?” I bought some paint, and a gel stain to try again on the stairs, tack cloth, mineral spirits, a new paint brush for putting down polyurethane, brads to attach the kick boards to our kitchen cabinets, a tiny drill bit to pre-drill for those brads, and other stuff I can’t remember.  Supply needs are endless in home improvement work.

Re-stained the staircase risers. I used some sort of dark gel stain this time instead of the runny stuff, maybe a mahogany tone. It was redder than I had anticipated but it turned out well. I guess.

Painted the second coat on the exterior of the sashes for our new kitchen window. I was reminded that double hung windows are the 8th wonder of the world. Whoever came up with that idea deserves a Nobel Prize in something.

Painted a cheap hutch we ordered on-line. This is the picture we saw on-line, and it was described as “celadon green.”


Isn’t that a fun color? It’s exactly the right dimensions for a spot in our new kitchen/dining area, under where the microwave will go. We plan to use it as a sort of coffee and breakfast nook, where we’ll keep the kettle and toaster. We decided the color would bring a nice lively pop of youthful allen-wrench-furniture kitsch into an otherwise grown-up modern kitchen.

Here’s what it actually looked like when it arrived:


Not even close to the same color; just another drab piece. Yawwwwn. Return it and look for something else? I decided on another route to allow for more instant gratification. I got the folks at Ace to match the color in the on-line photo. Easy-peasy. It’ll take a few coats, but I’ll make that cheap hutch a pale tacky green soon enough.

Did touch-up painting on a handful of spots around the exterior of the house. This required me to move a 24-foot extension ladder around, which is always really fun. Even when it’s not extended, it’s very tall compared to my 5-foot frame, so it tends to move me around as much as I move it. Good core work.

And that was a wrap on my Sunday punch list. I feel like such a Jacqueline-of-all-trades these days. I’ll keep punching tomorrow.

grumpy about the construction project (WE WILL NEVER BE DONE)

With Thanksgiving just a month away, it’s essential that this project wind itself down fast. Things are happening, but we still have a ton of work to do. Anthony and I are doing most of the finish work, and I’m not sure how we’ll get it done in four weeks.

(moment of silence)

I just gagged a little after thinking about the calendar. No worries, I’m fine now. Panic attack under control.

But some things are actually happening. I think the last time I posted a note about the renovation, we were installing kitchen cabinets. That’s pretty much done (except for baseboards and trim, and of course trim is an infinite loop process involving trim, and then the trim to trim out the trim, and then the trim to trim out the trim on the trim, and so on, until everything is finally finished in about a decade, at which point you rip out all the trim for the next redo).

The floors are almost all done. The pros did the kitchen and bedrooms; Anthony and I are doing the hallway and stairs. The pros do it better in a technical sense, but the floors that Anthony and I are working on display more character (i.e., flaws). It’s all good.

Nick’s bedroom before:


And after. Take note of the still ratty hallway flooring in the forefront to have a good idea of what the floors looked like. I’m thrilled that we were able to keep the original flooring.


Formerly Jesse’s room:


Now our future parents’ bedroom. This room grew a lot because of the extension, so they put in new flooring.


Remember the carpeted hallway and stairs?


We ripped that carpet out some time in the antebellum era and lived with this sort of skanky look forever. Not as blurry in real life, but close.


Then Anthony decided to engage in a traditional kowtow-sanding ritual.


we sanded everything down.


And then did a two-tone stain with dark risers.


It still needs to be varnished, and then it won’t be so, um, unattractive. The head on the newel post came with the house. Have I mentioned that I suggested taking a sawzall to her neck when we first saw the house? I was wrong-headed, of course. She’s creepy looking, but the kids don’t mind her at all and I think she’s supposed to be some sort of sea-faring good luck gnome. And anyway, I’m not really sure what’s more creepy — newel post gnome or the stick figures in the background, which my kids apparently drew on the cork calendar.


Remember my old kitchen? All these shots are from almost the same angle and location.






I’m really pleased with the kitchen floors, which are light-colored and have an airy feel. Also, thanks to the sub-floor planks being covered up, construction debris will no longer fall through the cracks into our laundry room in the basement. That’s been going on since July, and it’s one of the things that has sucked the most through the life of this project, because for several months that basement space served as our sole bathroom, kitchen sink, and laundry room. I can’t exaggerate how depressing it was to head into that room at the end of each work day and find a layer of wood chips, nails, and dust on every surface, including our toothbrushes when I forgot to move them to a safe zone. The kids would walk in there and scream. Nick would go outside into the woods to pee. He preferred tics and mosquitos to the filth.

But that was then, and this is now. Lovely lovely.

On the corridor to the basement, we were able to keep a tread edge of original white oak. The flooring guy and I agreed mutually to stain it dark as an accent, and I really like the way it turned out.


We’re still waiting on the kitchen door. Some sort of particle board door is temporarily installed. It floats in the air like a tease, like an unrequited hope, like an unfinished dream, like a, like a… Got it. Like a deconstructed floating cloud of irony.


Our appliances have been delivered. But they’re not hooked up. The range hood was delivered today, but they couldn’t install it because the HVAC guys hadn’t cut a vent hole. So our excitement over having appliances in the house is muted.

Next week, hypothetically, many critical things will happen:

The foundation guy will come re-grade the ground around Ironic Floating Door, and then the carpenter will put in some steps so we can exit the kitchen door without a parachute.

Maybe, just maybe, that fricking particle board door will be replaced with the correct door, which has windows and such. It would be nice if that happens before Wisconsin freezes over, so that I can actually prime and paint it before next spring, and save an expensive door from a raw winter existence.

The counter guy will install counters and the dining bar. Won’t that be something?

The plumber will set up all our appliances with gas lines, water lines, and whatever other lines he thinks we need to hear. Also I think he might be able to install some fixtures.

The electrician will get some finish electrical work in. Pendants! Ceiling fixtures! Outlets!

The HVAC guys will come and do HVAC things. Dryer and shower vents in the basement. A hole in the kitchen wall for the range vent. Other stuff I haven’t thought of, I presume.

The DIY guys (that’s Anthony and me) will get busy in the next week and beyond. We have four weeks to finish the hallway and stairs, finish up our powder room floors, install four sets of closet doors, trim out and finish 7 new windows and 8 new doors, finish and install our home-made table top for the kitchen desk, tile the master bathroom and mudroom, finish and install baseboards all over the place, put down vinyl square flooring in the basement laundry room, make drywall repairs down there, regrade the front porch slab so water doesn’t drain back to the house foundation, retrofit the former built-in china cabinet into a new “built-in” location, and a random assortment of touching-up tasks.

Probably not gonna happen. Maybe I’ll take tomorrow off.

grumpy about mental illness (PBS Nature Fail)

Jesse has OCD. Jesse has OCD. Jesse has OCD. Jesse has OCD.

I’ve been obsessed with this idea lately.

It could be that I’m experiencing unwanted, intrusive thoughts. More likely, it’s because she actually has OCD and I’m her mother and I’m just starting to comprehend how malicious and destructive this chronic disorder can be. We have a lot of work to do in the years ahead.

So here’s what I’m coming to understand about OCD. It is not OCPD (which I now pronounce oh-see-PEEE-dee). Obsessive compulsive personality disorder is what many of us actually think of when we think “OCD.” This is the one where the person is really rigid. OCPD typically involves an unwillingness to give up responsibility to others (because you’re the only one who can do things the right way) and a sense of righteousness about how you’re right about everything. OCPD peeps are fixated with rules and moral codes; they’re perfectionists and cheap hoarders.

Or at least that’s what I’ve read. So basically, it’s one of those “asshole” disorders. With my apologies to anyone I know who has been diagnosed with OCPD. I’m not judging, by the way. I’ve also recently been diagnosed with OCPD. A couple days ago, Anthony diagnosed me. He is a doctor, though I’m not sure that a Ph.D. in the dismal science translates to skills in interpreting mental maladies.

Anyway, OCPD isn’t Jesse. OCD is. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is an anxiety disorder, not a personality disorder. I’m not sure I grasp the difference fully, but whatever. What matters to me is that Jesse suffers from intrusive, unwanted thoughts that she can’t control, and they don’t have a lot to do with reality. She’s the opposite of a control freak. They seem to have everything to do with fear. She gets temporary relief from these horrifying intrusive thoughts by doing compulsive things. I’ve complained before that I don’t think Jesse is “normal” OCD, but it seems like she might actually be. The main obsessive thoughts that seem to haunt her right now — killing her loved ones, sexuality (more specifically, perverse thoughts about penises) — are apparently common obsessions for OCD peeps. And, like many folks suffering from OCD, she’s fully aware that they are thoughts that shouldn’t be there, which is pretty devastating when you think about it for too long.

Take everything I say with an enormous grain of salt, by the way. I’m not yet well-educated about OCD. I’m working on it.

Meanwhile, we’re coping best we can with Jesse’s penis-and-murder obsessions. I don’t feel like waxing on right now about the changes we’re making, but I can say that they’re helping. Some schedule modifications at school, some new parenting strategies, yadda yadda. Jesse’s heading in the right direction. She’s coming back to us.

As part of these changes, we settled down the last few evenings to watch PBS Nature episodes before bed. That’s usually peaceful stuff. Sometimes animals face hardship, sometimes they die, but you know, it’s nature. We watched an episode about elephants. It seemed to be mostly about these two humans trying to get close to elephants to take pics, and also about how elephants frequently visit the remains of dead elephants and do a sort of remembrance ritual. And then suddenly in the middle of the episode OH MY GOD THEY’RE HAVING SEX AND THERE’S A GIGANTIC ELEPHANT PENIS.

I winced and begged the universe for mercy. Fortunately, Jesse was drowsing and tuned out, so she didn’t notice. I said nothing.

Then over the next couple days we watched a two-part episode about orphan animals, and that was more like it. Innocent little babies trying to survive, wonderful human animal rescuers saving their lives. Yay!

Tonight we put on another innocent episode, “Big Birds Can’t Fly.” What could go wrong? Fifteen minutes in, the topic of courtship came up; and then the narrator, with his suave English accent, started talking about penises. Most birds don’t have penises. Evolution didn’t allow them to have them because they’re too heavy. But ostriches and other flightless birds can have them. Penis penis penis. On and on it went, including discourse on how ostriches enlarge their penises. It was like a bad joke. Jesse cried out in terror. “Mommy! They’re talking about penises.

I was snuggling with Nick. “I’m sorry, honey. Penises happen. It’s okay for them to talk about it here.”

“But MOM. They’re talking about PENISES.”

It was really too late to do anything about it.  I suggested she just hang in there because they would move on to another topic soon but then OH MY GOD THEY’RE HAVING SEX AND THERE’S A GIGANTIC OSTRICH PENIS.

It was truly shocking and cringe-worthy. Jesse was completely overwhelmed. Even Nick was mortified.

Jesse cowered under the sheets. I knew her obsession was in full swing between her ears. There was a penis party going on in there.

I’ve made a scale for Jesse, like the one-to-ten pain scales. I call it the penis scale. Every day when I pick Jesse up from school (two hours early), I ask her. On a scale of one to ten, one being you never thought about penises and ten being “penises, all penises, and nothing but penises”…. how was your day? She thinks a moment and gives me an answer, and then we move on. Enough said.

(How is a person to survive without laughing at the things that hurt the most?)

Jesse’s had a great week so far. But tonight was a ten-penis night. Thanks for nothing, PBS Nature.

grumpy about the construction project (thank heavens for ugly light fixtures)

After the kids went to sleep last night, Anthony and I spent two intense hours hunting light fixtures on the internet. What a great way to spend our precious private hours together.

Finding the right light fixture is as hard as finding a Petosky stone on the shores of Lake Michigan. The problem with light fixtures is that they are so capable of being ugly and strange. And also, it always passes that whatever Anthony and I are in the mood for is out of vogue. Right now, we want cobalt blue, like a hardcore blue:


Very clean and simple, a hard pop of color. Simple glass cobalt fixtures were a dime a dozen ten or fifteen years ago, but nowadays anything that’s sturdy and solid is a little more fancy, and the colors tend to be soft and variegated.



Screen Shot 2015-10-20 at 11.19.15 PM

Oh well. We ended up getting the last one for our kitchen; I call it “amoeba” blue. In person, it looks a lot prettier.

We hunted ad nauseum for a full dining room chandelier that had handsome blue glass. In desperation, we finally did a yahoo search, “cobalt blue chandelier.” The images that came up were troubling.

Screen Shot 2015-10-20 at 11.05.06 PM

Is it possible to fit more ugly into one screen? Look at that Medusa head at the bottom right. Is Chihuly cringing or clapping?

I know lighting is a very personal thing, and there’s no accounting for taste. I know that’s  true for me too. But I hope, desperately, that we can agree that the following items are wrong on many levels.

* * * *

This one is on sale. For $54,700.

Does that do $54K worth of anything for you? To me it looks like they clothed the fixture in snake skin and gargoyles. Creepy.

Not to worry. You can save money and get this less creepy one for just $44,200.

They throw in the umbrella for free, because after paying for the fixture you won’t be able to afford a roof over your dining room.

Still not working for you? Try this beauty for just $16,000. It is named “Invisible” and is described in the sales pitch as follows: “Just…wow. A deconstructed floating cloud of irony, the Castor Invisible Chandelier must of been conjured up within the framework of an overwrought fever dream. Discerningly assembled from hundreds of burnt out light bulbs – with no deference given to type, base or light source – Invisible ‘organizes’ the discarded lamps around energy-efficient LEDs that are discreetly tucked away within the unconventional diffuser.”


Just wow indeed. “A deconstructed floating cloud of irony” is what I think happens when you mix electricians with over-worked designers and weak writers. They must “of” been taking hallucinogens. But really, dear reader, you already know what I think of when I imagine a deconstructed floating cloud of irony:  gas. Post-cabbage.

* * * *

Miss your mommy and need some deep connection to your infant days? Hang a giant yellow nipple from your ceiling. Sixteen-inch-wide trove of mammary memories.


There’s a fair amount of BDSM-ish lighting available. Build your own star chamber dining room, add proper medieval mood lighting. Because who wouldn’t want to be reminded of the inquisition while settling down to a Sunday dinner with the family?

14006_8+4+4  65007-5

* * * *

I think these are from some sort of Disney-esque collection. First, the crown Angelina Jolie wore in “Malificent.” Or so I imagine.


Next, the medallion from the top of Cinderella’s magical coach.


Too busy, you say? Not to worry, I can out-busy that.


BAM. Isn’t that a lovely, lovely fixture? It has so much to say to guests about you.

* * * *

So does this one. Since one of Jesse’s obsessions involves what happens to people and animals when they are hanged, this seems perfect. I can hang several of these pendants in her room to help her face her obsessions dead on.


* * * *

I call this one “exploding pineapple reference, aka tropical mess.” I don’t know how to keep something like this clean, except with a tiny vacuum hose and a little forced air canister. Or a maid service, which I would undoubtedly be able to afford if I could afford this hideous chandelier.


* * * *

When I look at this next one, I think of the New Year’s Eve ball in Times Square. The crystal cage really ought to move up and down the shaft randomly. I wonder if it could house a couple hamsters.


* * * *

Feeling the need for some nature and plants but don’t feel like going outside or watering something? No worries. These chandeliers can bring nature to you.

A robin made something just like this one in our back yard last summer, so I’m not sure I could justify paying hundreds of dollars for it.


No words, really.





Dude! That same twig is hanging in my dining room! I better go change it out:


Want to spend hundreds of dollars on two-dimensional cut-outs done by a kid? Go for it.


The great thing about the bird fixture is that when you eye it on the on-line retailer selling it, you also get this outline depiction of how big it is.


Very helpful. I can’t imagine eating at a table under a bird. It teaches all the wrong lessons: someday my kids might apply them and decide to eat under a real bird. NEVER eat under a bird. Birds shit all the time. You will end up eating bird shit, and if you have food that’s sauced you might not even notice.

* * * *

These became deformed somehow. It appears the lighting companies still want to sell them.



* * * *

And finally, my favorites.

Stick thing. Because why wouldn’t you encase bulbs in a massive stack of white-painted twigs? Nick made one of these last week in kindergarten. I didn’t know he could sell it for hundreds of dollars.


Baton chandelier. Yes. Batons. I cannot wrap my head around this one.


I like this next one because it can be and do many things. First, it can be your chandelier. Then, if you ever break your neck, you can screw it onto you head as the locking vice for the brace, and it’ll also double as a head lamp. And you can walk around with stiff legs and your arms out, pretending to be a Frankenstein-style monster. This is a versatile fixture.


Grand prize goes to the lighting manufacturer who finally found a way to up-cycle used blood-draw vials. uu567549

* * * *

As for us, we’re keeping it simple. I think we’ve settled on this blue dish.


It’s sixteen inches wide, so it’s bigger than it looks. Yes, there is a boob-and-nipple-ish feel to it, but I think it’s less obvious and the blue color will distract from anatomical connections. And I can buy it on Amazon, free shipping. Sold.

grumpy about social media disclosure lists

I’m torn between grumpy and entertained whenever I see one of those list drills that invite you to share random — and sometimes pitiful — bits of personal information with your on-line friends. And strangers, total strangers. And also marketers and manufacturers and retailers. And the US government. Chinese spies. Because why wouldn’t you want that all out there? Why wouldn’t you want the whole world to know what you’re thinking about and how your mind works? What kind of crazy person shares all kinds of deeply personal and probably humiliating information in public places?

I did a list earlier this year that was sort of like a scavenger hunt in my mind. “Every answer must start with the first letter of your name.” Fun times, fun times.

I recently ran across a new list, an A-to-Z list. Way, way more tricky than first-letter-of-my-name, I thought at first, but then I realized I don’t have to actually come up with words starting with each letter of the alphabet so it’s just a gimmick. Still, here I sit, engaging in Extreme Avoidance and dreaming about a kitchen with actual appliances.

Anthony has just one home improvement dream. His whole life, he’s never lived in a house, apartment, or dump with a refrigerator that dispenses ice or water. It’s all he wants out of this entire project. So we are getting a refrigerator that has a water/ice dispenser built into the door. I think after it’s installed, Anthony will stand in front of that fridge and drink glass after glass of iced water until he pukes. Fortunately, the fridge will be right next to the door to the back yard, so he can just turn to his left and pull open the door before he blows.

I give the kids two months before they break the water and ice dispenser, thus dashing Daddy’s dreams once more.

Still procrastinating. I better do this A-to-Z thing.

A- Age: What crazy-ass ads am I going to see in my Facebook feed and on yahoo, based on my age? What do I want to see…? Huh. I’m 14. Again.

B- Biggest Fear: Losing a digit, limb, or large amount of blood to a power tool. That would Blow.

C- Current Time: Well I can’t answer this rightly, can I. The category isn’t specific enough. The current time as I type? When I publish this post? When you, dear reader, read it? Where I’m located? 100 longitudinal lines to the west? Or does the category maker have something else in mind — not the human construct displayed on clock faces, but some sort of socio-political statement? It’s currently time to ADMIT GLOBAL WARMING IS REAL. It’s currently time to GET DONALD TRUMP OUT OF THE PRESIDENTIAL RACE. I Can’t answer this one.

D- Drink you last had: I think this is getting at alcoholic beverages, but I’m not sure. If it means liquid beverage, wouldn’t the category maker say “last thing you drank?” Ah, but then that would mess up the “D” start. Does coffee count? Is it “a drink”? I think not. Drat. (Tequila. I’ll say tequila.)

E- Easiest Person to talk to: Everyone. I’m good with everyone. Or no one. Either way is good.

F- Favorite Song: Almost anything by PJ Harvey. Or maybe Zepp. I don’t know. What kind of stupid category is this? How can a person just have one favorite song? Anyone who just has one favorite song needs to branch out a little. I refuse to answer this one. Fail.

G- Ghosts, are they real: Of course not. Gah. And anyway, I’m not afraid of them.

H- Hometown: This is always really hard for me. I was in Seoul, Korea from 0 to 10, and then Stockton, Calfiornia from 10 to 18. I left for college and never came back to live in Stockton, though my mom and a brother still live there.  Who knows? I guess it’s Stockton, because that’s where my High School Homies are from.

I- In love with: My own Id. You didn’t know that already?

J- Jealous Of: Contented people who exist within the 25th to 75th percentiles. Just… Why?

K- Killed Someone? What the fuck? What kind of question is that? Is there more than one option for answering this on-line?? NO, just no. No, I’ve never killed anyone. oh-K?

L- Last time you cried? Now. Right now. Left eye only.

M- Middle Name: Now this is one of those questions that might be what this entire category thing is all about. I hypothesize that the category maker is actually a debt collection agency. it wants to find out middle names of peeps so that it can determine if you’re the one it’s looking for. Wait, new hypothesis. Category maker is a consortium of hackers looking for possible passwords. Anyway, my middle name is Mary. No, it’s Mango. No, it’s Marmaduke. And my favorite song is Madonna’s Material Girl.

N- Number of Siblings: In my world this is actually a somewhat complex question. I grew up with three brothers in the house, but I actually have FIVE brothers and ONE sister. It’s good to be in a place in my head where I’m comfortable acknowledging that reality.  It’s New.

O- One Wish: I want an Owl. That is all.

P- Person who you last called: Peter Piper. What, you think I’m going to tell category maker who I’m calling these days?

Q- Question you’re always asked: “What’s that smell?” (Quiet now.)

R – Reason to smile: This one is stumping me right now. Really.

S- Song last sang: One I made up. Does that count? It had to do with something Nick was whining about. Silliness.

T- Time you woke up: I’ve never woken up, not really, not in a deep metaphysical sense. I know it’s time, but my spiritual alarm clock hasn’t gone off yet. Or maybe I’ve never been asleep. It’s like that U2 song that always irritated me. “I’m WIDE AWAAAAAKE!  I’m WIDE AWAAAAKE!” bellows Bono. And then, just in case you didn’t understand: “I’m not sleeeeeping.” Thanks for the clarification, Bono Buddy.  This list is really starting to Test me.

U- Underwear Color: Seriously, TMI. Hold on, let me check. Burnt Umber.

V- Vacation Destination: Where I’ve been or where I want to go? Impossibly vague category. Frankly, any location where I’m not surrounded by minors would feel like Valhalla right now.

W- Worst Habit: Picking my nose and putting my boogers in my armpits. Oh come on. This should be under “H” for habit, not “W.” It’s so jimmied to fit here. This is the stupidest list ever. Wait. I’ve got it. My worst habit is probably micro-editing.

X- X-Rays you’ve had: Only of my Xyphoid process. It felt so good. Kind of pervie, really.

Y- Your favorite food: This is just like the favorite song thing. How can a person only have one favorite food? Saltine crackers. That’s it. Yes.

Z- Zodiac Sign: I think the zodiac is total silliness. I’ve focused magical energy in my family on Santa and fairies. As for this category, I’ve got Zip. I’ll make up my own sign: Raging Ferret. Perfectly captures my personality traits and height.

So anyway, copy these categories into your Facebook feed and answer them, in order to prove once and for all that you are my true forever friend and not just a parasitic presence in my already-sorry life.

95% of you won’t, and I have no idea why the other 5% would.

grumpy about happify

It’s time once again to see if I can claw my way out of grumpy space and into someplace better. Recently I haven’t been successful pursuing happiness for no reason, despite best-selling author Marci Shimoff’s assurances that I should be able to do that. I’m still struggling with grumpy, and even depression and anxiety.

Maybe it’s because our house has been a shambles for 6 months as a result of our renovation project, and my body is starting to tire from all the manual labors and my fingers are bending sideways from arthritis and I’m sick of the filth. I don’t want the PODS unit in my front yard anymore. It feels exactly the same as having a wheel-less car up on blocks out there, and small rodents are making homes under it. Maybe it’s because we sent the dog to the babysitter for a month and my son cries every day for missing her, and I miss her too. Maybe it’s because my daughter is in a tailspin because of her anxiety disorder and flaring OCD. Maybe it’s because the intrusive, obsessive thoughts she can’t get out of her mind right now involve penises and sexuality and cutting her family up with knives, which is extremely disturbing and a terrible affliction for her. Maybe it’s because she got suspended from school for a day after standing up suddenly in a math class and screaming out compulsively that she wants to have sex with all the boys.

(Meditative pause)

Nah. That’s probably not it.

More likely it’s because I don’t work at one of the Fortune 500 companies where Marci the chicken soup lady does seminars and plies her trade, selling happiness for 20 bucks a pop, corporate discount included.

I know it’s my own fault, because I haven’t replaced my cup of morning coffee with a cup of connection. My chakras are obviously out of balance and in need of an adjustment. I’ve been in touch with my grumpy chakras, not my love chakras or my happiness chakras.

The all-knowing Universe has seen my need. The Big U secretly friended me on Facebook and presented me with a link to the website for HAPPIFY. Numerous times. I investigated (aka I mouse-clicked and random-googled), and I quickly learned from Happify that “worrying is a waste of [my] intelligence.”

Good advice. I’ll try not to worry about the fact that “happify” is annoyingly NOT A REAL WORD. It’s a noun that’s been gussied up to masquerade as a verb, along the lines of… liquify. Or stupefy.

Okay, okay, I can accept that. To happify: to make someone happy. To stupefy: to make someone stupid. Totally get it.

I suppose the next question is inevitable. Which will be done to me if I enter the world of Happify?

According to Happify, “It’s an exciting time for those who want to overcome negative thoughts, worries, and everyday stress. Happify has turned a decade’s worth of research into a series of activities and games that train your brain and build skills for lasting happiness. That’s our mission. Discover what our personalized tracks can do for you. They are effective and measurable.”

I mean, look at these numbers.

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Hold on a minute. I’m tucking my unmitigated cynicism away for a bit as I go on a hunt for my personalized happify track.

* * * * * * *

I believe the way it works is, you do stuff for free a little bit until you’re hooked, and then you can pay a monthly fee to have access to all new levels of happifying activities.

Isn’t it fascinating how “free” and “fee” are so similar when they roll off the tongue? Just throw in a little growl, and you can make such a big difference.

Here’s the important point: this shit is science-based and measurable. In case that isn’t enough to grab you, it is also important to the Happify people that you know that they’ve been featured in The New York Times, Forbes, Today, The New Yorker, AND World 3.0 with Katie Couric.  Whoa.

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Yes, yes! I’m ready to train for happiness! I’m so ready to elevate my optimism, be fearless, conquer negative thoughts, fix relationship friction and re-pattern stress!

Wow, that’s asking a lot. I gotta do all that to be happy? I definitely need help.

I’m joining Happify.

I have to do a starter questionnaire. The first question sets me off.

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“Everyone’s different.” That’s deep. NOT. I do feel that I’m female, and this is consistent with my current body parts. But let me explain the answer I selected. When I read “none of the above,” I look above. Because this shit is science based, so I expect the materials to be precise. But there is nothing there. There is no option above to select. And I am not nothing, nor do I have any of “the above” in my gender that I know of. So this seems like the correct answer. I think it’s a trick question.

Anyway, now that I’m IN, Happify says  I can WIN happiness!

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Happiness is winnable! I never knew! I didn’t know happiness came from a competition. I thought it was something more… cooperative and peaceable.

This is a whole new paradigm for me. No wonder I haven’t been finding happiness. Other people are winning it instead of me.

* * * * * *

I’ve finished my deeply insightful, 6-question, multiple-choice questionnaire, and so Happify has offered me a track.

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Happify nailed it. I’m starting my free track.

* * * * * *

Happify takes me to a menu of sorts and instructs me to “start depositing positive emotions in [my] bank.” I have just 10 days to earn gold. Damn. Performance pressure right up front.

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This money analogy is just as confusing to me as the winning thing. Happiness is about wealth? I should connect happiness in my life to images of money? I’ve been so off-base on this happiness thing, no wonder I’m grumpy all the time. Normally I would be skeptical and cynical about this, but since Happify is based on solid science, I’m going along with it. I sooo need to find some happy.

I start with the first option offered. “Uplift.” What might this be? I feel a sense of anticipation as I prepare to conquer my negative thoughts.

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I read the instructions. Aha. It’s a game. Pick out and focus on the positive words. Happy air balloons. Got it. I click start.

The game consists of air balloons floating about on the screen with ephemeral words appearing and disappearing on them. I have to click on the balloon before the positive word disappears, and then the balloon “launches” away and I get points. If I click on a balloon bearing a negative word, I get dinged and lose points.  I rub my hands together in anticipation and work on peppy thoughts. Sorry, happy thoughts, happify, not peppify. Happiness coming right at me. Soon. Getting rid of my negativity, right here right now. With the air balloons.

I start clicking away. “Cozy.” “Comfort.” “Love.” Gosh, those words don’t last for very long on the balloons before they disappear. GAH! I almost caught “success” but right when I was clicking it, the word disappeared and was replaced by “honk.” Minus 20 points for “Honk”? WTF?? F&*ing game, who comes up with this shit. I start noticing the negative words. “Hoax, clutter, mold.” I see “muddy” and click on it. Minus 20 points.

Wait just a honking minute! “Muddy” is a negative word? What the hell is wrong with mud? Mud is good! Mud, dirt, nature, gardening, lots of positive associations. Good, right??

Nooooo, science-based happy gaming says it’s bad, BAD. And there are balloons everywhere now! They’ve filled the screen in a giant balloon mess. I have to concentrate, but I can’t stop thinking about “muddy” and how off base that is, so I just click on every goddam balloon I can reach and “-20” keeps showing up all over the screen so I can’t read any of the F*$&ing words anyway.

Game over.

I suck, and now I’m all stressed out.

But Happify isn’t done with me yet. It gives me power ups to improve my performance. Screen Shot 2015-10-09 at 9.18.58 PM Screen Shot 2015-10-09 at 9.18.25 PM

But you know what, that doesn’t make me any happier. Why do I need to UNLOCK power ups? Why couldn’t I chill out and have a best case beacon up front?

I take a deep breath and try again. It goes pretty much the same.

This game sucks. It has decidedly not reduced my negative thinking.

* * * * * *

I decide to try the next game. Maybe this is like exercise. The balloon game was a first round, and I feel shitty the way your body gets sore after you start a new exercise regime. But the next game will make me happier.

This one is called “negative knockout.” Awesome, because images of boxing, one of the most violent sports on earth, is super uplifting and happifying. I start with “the battle at stormy meadows.” More excellent, positive imagery: war. What better way to solve problems? I have to select 5 negative words from a sort of screen mess of negative words. Then when I start the game, the words are on signs being held by little monster-ish creatures. I lob happy things at them to knock them (and the negative words) out.

I apparently choose guilt, fear, unease, insult, and bitterness. After a round or two, I realize this game is a shameless knock-off of Angry Birds, only there’s less of a parabolic feel to the flight path. It’s frustrating.

When I win a round (I knock over all the negative ninnies), I get this happy shiny message.

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I knocked out my worries! Yay! I’m no longer filled with guilt, fear, unease, insult, and bitterness! But then I get to harder levels. Each time I fail to knock out the bad’ns, a moody grayness creeps westward over the screen.

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GAH!  I have to knock those fuckers out — SHIT SHIT SHIT I LOST THE ROUND!! I’m trapped in a dead, barren wasteland without meaning or color.

This is still not making me feel happier.

* * * * * *

I decide to give Happify’s opening track one last try. I click on a third option.

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Let me just say — though I know it’s not a happifying thought — that I think a fancy web page that’s trying to sell crap to me should be able to spell the word “Thanks” out correctly, with all the correct letters. What, their web creators were working on a smart phone and couldn’t be bothered to type the whole word?

But I digress. I need to focus on today’s victories. I try my best. Honest.

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And then I click “happify it!” I wait for something amazing to happen. Nothing happens. This is just a log entry. A chance for Happify to collect data about me.  Well now they’ve done it. They’ve collected data about the shit going on in my life.

* * * * * *

It’s good to know that someone’s out there, putting together a bunch of happiness games to help people feel better. We need more of that sort of altruism in this world. I’m obviously not the right market — my brain must not be wired up right for these games to be working in their intended way — but there must be really awesome people behind this quest to happify the world.

I decide to read about them.

The CEO and co-founder is a guy named Tomer Ben-Kiki. Seriously, with a name like that how can you not be a happy fellow? He likes to scuba-dive. He’s a start-up guy.

The president is Ofer Leidner.

Who named these people?

Ofer would like to help people “dance their faces off.”

That is kind of creepy.

The chief scientist is actually named “Acacia Parks.” Doesn’t that sound fake too?

After perusing the peeps running Happify, one thing becomes abundantly clear. These folks like to start tech companies and make money. They’ve done it in a variety of subject areas. They are in it for money. Happify may be selling happiness to you, but its motivation is profit. You figure the odds that it offers a true path to happiness.

* * * * * *

Is being grumpy the same as being negative and not happy? I have to think about this.

(20 seconds later)

No, grumpy isn’t the same as negative and unhappy, in my grumpy opinion. It’s rare that I get in a mood like this, but let me get on the grumpy soap box for a second and do some preaching, because I’ve been pretty depressed lately, and I know a lot of loving people are really worried about (and rooting for) me and mine.

I do think it’s possible to be in a depressive episode, or trapped in a terrible situation, and “happy” at the same time. Not singing-in-the-rain happy, but deeply contented at the core of things. Settled and satisfied — the sort of feeling that leads a person to say things like, “I’m pretty blessed.” That sort of happy can anchor you through the bad times and keep you from disappearing.

There’s my real conceit. Despite all my whining and bitching and moaning, despite my self-loathing and guilt, I actually feel really blessed. I am incredibly happy at the root of things. I was born into a loving (albeit insane) family. I lucked into love with an amazing man I can’t possibly deserve. My children are… well, they’re children. What can I say.

Okay, okay, I can say that they’re spectacular human beings. All our flaws together amount to nothing, next to the love we have for each other.

It really worries me that there are so many disembodied solutions being offered for personal happiness and emotional wellness. People who mass-market happiness don’t care about any particular individual buying their products; they don’t know any of us little people. They have their own best interests at heart — the almighty buckaroos they’re searching for or the massive infantile ego they need to feed — and they’re selling little more than a superficial, pretty package.

I say, if you want to find a happier you, look local. Find a friend, a therapist, a family member — someone who looks at you, sees you, hears your story — and have that person help you find a way forward. Or find something to do locally to enrich your life — charitable work, gardening, volunteer tutoring, exercise, anything that’s about you and your relationship with what’s nearby. Don’t waste your time on useless mantras written by people who’ve never met you, don’t know you, and don’t give a rat’s ass about you (with my apologies to the much-maligned-yet-highly-loving-and-intelligent rat).

And don’t believe it when they tell you you’re going to find happiness at the end of some journey.  If you’re waiting to find your way there, you’re fucked. You’ll never arrive. There’s no terminus. If we have to use this stupid travel metaphor, then let’s get it right at least. Happiness is the road, and it’s covered in potholes, bad drivers, and roadkill. Stay the course. Make fun of the things that piss you off, including yourself. Laugh and yell at the losers, including yourself. Cry if you have to. I know I have been a lot lately. And let yourself suck sometimes. Go on then. Just suck at everything. And when you’re done, pick up the pieces, wipe the bile off the front of your shirt, and get a move on. There are probably people depending on you, so get out there and take care of them instead of playing ridiculous games on sites like Happify.

grumpy about the construction project (kitchen cabinets)

We finished installing kitchen cabinets. It took Anthony and me just over a week, working well shy of full days. Not bad.

We’ve installed cabinets before in two houses and three spaces. It’s actually a lot of fun, in the same way walking barefoot across a wilderness beach covered in sharp pebbles is fun. You know what I mean. It’s great to be doing it, it’s great to be where you want to be and to see something lovely; but also there is pain.

Ninety percent of kitchen cabinet installation involves planning and layout, as far as I’m concerned. Here are the main issues I had to contend with as I planned out how to install the cabinets:

  1. Everything has to be level and plumb and square and also you want straight lines. But the space filled by the kitchen includes old house and new addition and a former exterior wall, so nothing is straight, level, plumb or square.
  2. Appliances have tight tolerances. Spaces between cabinets have to be precise. It induces anxiety.
  3. Subfloor adjustments. Our slide-in range has a weird and tight tolerance for how high the countertop can be.
  4. Cluelessness. Just a general problem between my ears that follows me everywhere.

But none of these issues are insurmountable. I made drawings, I took measurements. I read installation guides for the appliances, I read books and watched videos. I conferred with Anthony.

Then one morning I started setting things up, and over the course of days it went something like this (with many, many painstaking details left out):

  1. Take all the drawers and doors off the cabinets. Doors easy: unscrew. Drawers hard: no clue. First try to jiggle drawers off like normal dresser drawers. Fail. Jiggle more. Fail. Jiggle, fail, jiggle, fail, etc. Investigate for several minutes and determine there are strange little bright orange  box gadgets under each side of the drawers, along the end of the runner. Squeeze them and try to pull off drawers. Fail. Pull, fail, pull, fail, etc. Experience sudden inspiration after 20 minutes. Squeeze the orange things and lift. Success.
  2. Mark where all the studs are. Become mesmerized by the sight of Jesse try to find studs in her skull with the electrical stud finder. BEEEEEEP.
  3. Measure and mark widths and locations for each cabinet and appliance on walls. Realize I didn’t include space for filler strips that will allow me to do important things like open the fridge door. Measure and mark again. Realize I screwed up by mis-measuring one of the appliance widths. Measure and mark again. Realize one of the electrical boxes is in the way of a refrigerator panel because I wanted to push the refrigerator just a tad further away from the wall. Measure and mark again. Leave the kitchen and take blood pressure meds. Ponder how long it’ll take to paint over all those superfluous pencil lines.
  4. Attach 1×3 strips to walls as bracing to make it easier to install wall cabinets. Realize I’ve placed them too high. Remove and re-attach 2 inches lower. Realize I’ve placed them too low. Remove and re-attach 1 inch higher. Realize I’ve attached the one to support the cabinet over the fridge in the wrong location, so it’ll impede another cabinet I need to install. Remove and re-attach. Find my iPhone and get on Facebook.
  5. Prepare wall cabinets for installation. Drill holes for electrical lines. Attach wood strips to top to support crown molding. Attach three cabinets that are going side by side together on the floor so we can get them up all at once. Become extremely anxious about what mistakes I’ve made but haven’t discovered yet.
  6. Install wall cabinets, 15 minutes each, thanks to careful prep. On to floor cabinets.
  7. Identify the high point on the floor. Try to use the stinking laser line I bought, which I thought was a laser level with some fancy gyroscopic property that would handily shoot a totally level 360 degree ray of red light around the entire room. But no. It just makes a straight red line of light wherever you point it. Toss it aside in a minor rage and stomp out to garage. Use eyeballs to try to find a straight-ish piece of wood. Settle on an eight-foot 2×4. Move it around the room randomly and stack a long level on top of it to determine that the highest point in the whole kitchen is exactly where my body already told me it was. Roll my eyes and grumble about useless tools.
  8. Use that stupid laser line device after all, to shoot a straight line along the front edge of each cabinet run, which takes all the mystery out of lining up 12 to 16 linear feet of cabinets and appliances and saves me from getting covered with blue chalk from the snap line. Mark that laser line on each side of the kitchen with a  big black marker. Super, super awesome laser tool. Best laser line ever. Pink puffy hearts for the laser line.
  9. Cut strips of 3/4″ plywood and install them as permanent supports for base cabinets, so that when the hardwood floors are installed the cabinets won’t be weirdly low. Start at the high point in the room. Use levels, shims, and random strips of wood to painstakingly create a level strip of plywood running around the wall perimeter of the kitchen, and a second strip 21″ in from the walls, along the laser lines I marked. Super, super fun. NOT.
  10. Install base cabinets. It starts out really great but gets a little loose around the refrigerator build-out. But it works out. Pretty much. I think the refrigerator will fit. No one will notice that thing that went wrong. I hope.

Then we had to put on crown molding and trim. Short version:

  1. Dick around with how to set crown molding into compound miter saw. Trash about 6 feet of crown molding before we figure it out. Damn.
  2. Cut and install crown molding. Every joint is messed up. Stare up at ceiling with stink eye for a long time.
  3. Suddenly remember the tube of colored wood putty that’s been hanging around in the basement. Retrieve. Apply. Crown molding joints look perfect.
  4. There’s a raw wood gap between the crown and cabinet top, because we decided to push crown all the way to ceiling. Suuuuuck. Remember coloring pen that came with cabinets, to hide dinks. Color the gap. It still looks ugly. I have some wood veneer lying around. Cut it, apply it with contact cement. We used to call it rubber cement, and it is still as nasty as I remember it from my childhood. Color the veneer. Not ugly anymore.
  5. Try to cut thin pieces of trim with the miter saw. After cracking out about 8 feet of trim and almost taking my finger off from a shard of wood, recall that thin trim doesn’t work on a humongous power miter saw because  it vibrates too much. Rush to Home Depot (ugh) for a little plastic hand miter box and saw.
  6. Apply trim to trim and then to trim, all over the cabinets, and then caulk ugly spaces with wood putty. Trim makes everything better.

How many tools did it take?

Power: drills and many bits; circular saw; miter saw; jigsaw; belt sander; finish nailer; pancake compressor. If I had a table saw, I would have used it too. I could find no use for the biscuit joiner, which is disappointing.

Manual: No way can I list all that. The whole toolbox. Everything. I used everything.

But I think things turned out okay.









Pretty cool.