spring cleaning

 

Around this time last year we started pulling up wall-to-wall carpet in our bedrooms and trashing our house. Not long after, we fell into the bottomless pit of home renovations: the walls of our house came crumbling down, and my daughter’s emotional wellness was shattered like thin glass in a tornado.

The renovation journey was painful. The carpentry sub, who made a good first impression, eventually turned that into a permanently very bad impression. It took most of the fun out of things and made me not want to think about it too much (which is why I still owe you a final update on the project, dear reader). The labors we took on to make up for the carpenter’s alleged overruns, along with the work we had always planned to do ourselves, overwhelmed us. By the time we were done with our part, some time in late December or early January, my hands had been practically flayed. I’m hoping that someday many of the nerves will re-grow back down to my fingertips. In the mean time, if you need a pan taken out of a hot oven and don’t have a mitt, give me a call. I can probably bare-hand it with nary a squeak.

Even with the bulk of the renovation completed, I still labor under the crushing and currently-uninspiring weight of our tiny-things punch list. Which is to say, I am doing nothing. Nuuh. Thing. The house is still a mess as we try to figure out where we want to put stuff away. Our practical furniture is trashed and needs to be re-upholstered. We need to do a lot of touch-up painting and wood finishing (I claim to be waiting for warmer weather). I need to build some shelves and drawers in new closets so we can store things efficiently. We don’t have bed frames or window coverings. And I can’t find my sewing needles — the pin cushion is simply missing. Where did it go? I’ve been hunting for a tiny wormhole in the basement, but so far no luck.

Add to this the downward spiral of Jesse’s mental condition, and the times are right for me to sink into annoying and useless bouts of self-pity. More on all that in the days ahead. Meanwhile:

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We all have our crosses to bear. Or at least, smallish lake-tossed tree stumps.

* * * * * * *

The important thing right now is this: spring is hitting Wisconsin, bringing with it many opportunities for shallow life metaphors masquerading as deep insights, moral allegories that boot you nothing, and falsely optimistic ideation. Spring limps into town around here: one day it’s 60 degrees, the next day it’s below freezing. Wisconsin Spring has a mood disorder. Look, let me show you:

March 23. Christmas roses opening first blooms. Snow-free.IMG_1497.jpg

March 25, two days later. Snow. Sledding. Snowman.IMG_1616.jpg

March 28, three days gone. Snow gone. No coat. Feels like early spring.IMG_1521.JPG

April 2nd. Snow storm.IMG_1544.JPG

April 3, ONE DAY has passed. Snow gone. Confused males still present.IMG_1549.JPG

April 8. Christmas roses now inundated in… snow.IMG_1610.jpg

April 16. Shorts and tees. 85 degrees. Sunscreen. Carnival rides.IMG_1678.jpg

Sorry. I’m misleading you. That last picture was taken after we fled to California.

* * * * * * *

As the snow melts, we typically see signs of winter’s death, even as life digs out anew.  I find that I look for the dead things now, though I don’t rightly know why. No doubt something to do with endings and new beginnings and other inspiring or depressing metaphors, take your pick.

We found this lonely little skull along a hike a few weeks ago, during one of the first warm spells. We’re not sure what kind of animal it was. The molars suggest a plant eater, but the longer jaw might be suggestive of an omnivore, the kids argued.IMG_1548IMG_1547

And we came across this wee critter. Mole? Vole? Don’t know. Dead? Definitely.

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It looked fresh, but we couldn’t be sure. It might simply have been frozen under a bunch of snow until the night before.

* * * * * * *

We’ve spent the last few weeks weeding and clearing things out in the yard. The garlic mustard is having a banner year. We never had time to weed last spring and summer — a really critical and ongoing task when you don’t spray pesticides and herbicides — so it looked like our woods have been carpet-bombed with that blasted plant. Getting it out of a half acre of woods was as bad as knitting a XXL Irish fisherman’s sweater. It’s enough to make you search on Amazon for flame throwers.

Still, our overlooked gardens didn’t seem to mind their abandonment.

The hellebores don’t give one flying shit if we take care of them. They bloom profusely, spread seed like rabbits spread poop pellets, and ask only that I cut away dead leaves in the spring so that they can look prettier when those flowers poke up.

Look at what those snow-bound Christmas roses look like now.IMG_1800

This patch of hellebores was nothing more than 3-inch tall seedlings just a couple years ago.

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I never get tired of these little beauties.IMG_1504IMG_1561

The siberian squill has gone bonkers in the woods, creating a blue haze that confuses my eye.

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Even our Virginia bluebells are thriving. A few years ago, I was out weeding before they bloomed, and I concluded they were a weed. Anthony stopped me after about 20 vigorous minutes, but I had already decimated the naturalized population. This year they’re making a comeback on their own.IMG_1807

Our daffodils are lasting a long time this year, and even these broad purple leafed thingies, whose names I can never remember, are coming in steady and strong.

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Our newest front garden, still young and changeable as we fill in gaps, helps the house look like something out of the Hobbit at the right moments. The magnolia this year has glowing white blooms, and even the youngest hellebores have made a good show.

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Bleeding hearts we thought were dead had simply moved themselves a foot or two up the loose rock retaining wall, sprouting unexpectedly in new spots. Still alive, just migrating. I wonder where they think they’re going?

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Behind the little blue/white volunteer flowers that remain unnamed to me, you can make out the browning leaves and tiny green flowerets of two mature hellebores foetidus, aka “stinking bear’s foot.”  These friends are the children of a pricey specimen that died some years ago. I was sad but let it go and decided the climate must not be right. A couple years after it kicked the bucket, I found two tiny familiar-looking seedlings along the dirt path. I couldn’t believe it. I moved them to a warm spot on a whim and, miraculously, they survived to become these messy beauties.

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Our garden is full of volunteers, like these little young hellebores in the foreground of this shot, which have seeded themselves along our rock walls. I don’t really want them there, but I don’t have the heart to move them. They’ve worked so hard all on their own, and even made pretty flowers for us. They’ve earned the right to stay. Namaste, I say to them, as I bow with respect.IMG_1816

The only real eyesore in our backyard is the zone around where the construction work happened, including a lot of digging for the new foundation. It’s just a ton of fill dirt.

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But even here, if you set your eye to something other than bare wood, bad dirt, dead rocks, and exposed insulation foam, you see life finding a way out.IMG_1813IMG_1814.jpg

And while all these early spring blooms light things up, out front next to our decrepit front light pole, the butterfly garden and raspberry patch await the warmer months.IMG_1796.jpg

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Spring gardening is the best kind of spring cleaning. Weeding, digging up garbage, staring at a pretty plant here that made it, rooting around for evidence of a well-loved plant there that didn’t make it, wandering in the woods wondering what little surprises I might find to transplant somewhere I can enjoy them better, anticipating what will come up in the days ahead — it all leaves me blank and happy for a time, filled with small wonders and empty of the worries that stalk my days. In those moments, I understand better what Jesse’s doing when she heads out into our woods and wanders around slowly, staring up into the trees and down around her feet. She’s discovering a small peace.

You’re probably waiting for me to say something meaningful and metaphorical about how gardening and nature is like parenting, and plants are like kids, and pests and weeds are like mental illness, and the sun is like hope, and blah blah blah.

Nope. I just wanted to show off our gardens, which need no anthropomorphizing to be meaningful. Make your own metaphors if you must; and if you must, you may as well do it in a garden.

 

 

 

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Grumpy about the construction project (F#**ing trim)

I’m installing trim today. A lot of wood is stained and sliced via the table saw to the correct widths. All I have to do right now is cut side casings to length and nail them in place.

It took me over an hour to install just three pieces today. The first piece went in easy. The second piece, I cut wrong. Too short. A wasted plank. I got it right on the second try. The third piece, I needed to notch out some wood on the trim to make space for the little thingy that the doorknob latch thingy goes into. I think you know what I’m talking about, right?

This would not be necessary if we were using standard trim, but no, we’re making it ourselves to meet our own personal ego specs. In order to do this, we had to buy one of those worksite table saws. All my life I’ve wanted a table saw, except for right now. I don’t want a table saw right now because I’ve used a lot of cutting power tools recently and, frankly, they frighten me. We got the table saw anyway, and I actually used it, despite the story our babysitter told us about some man who cut off the tips of all his fingers on a table saw min her parents’ basement.

We ripped plank after plank over the weekend. During most of the work, I was filled with a steely mix of terror and courage which kept my hands from shaking too much. I took many deep breaths, which helped keep the panicky feeling at bay.

“Steely” might be an exaggeration. Maybe a softer metal alloy is a better metaphor.

On the up side, the way I felt at the end of each day — emotionally and physically exhausted despite very little physically demanding labor — was a good reminder of what Jesse feels like most days because of her anxiety. She really is steely. Raw fear will wipe you out.

Anyway, the notch: first I tried the router because it already had this little chamfer bit in the chuck. (I just like saying “chuck” and “chamfer bit” in the same sentence. There’s a little chamfer bit in my router chuck, baby, you wanna stop by?) That didn’t really work despite a lot of fiddling and testing, so then I got out the good old hammer and chisel and had at it. Success, though it looks like a beaver sharpened its teeth on our casing now. Then I installed that bloody piece of wood but I forgot to stain the now-bare wood that was exposed by the notching, so I had to grab a little rag and try to shove some stain in there in the little space between the casing and that little doorknob latch thingy.

Don’t tell Anthony; maybe he won’t notice.

Things got a little better after these initial pains, so I’m working along smoothly now, except I got hungry so I’m eating lunch as I type this.

So far I’ve used the miter saw, nail gun and pancake compressor, and router. I’ll probably have to throw one or more power sanders into the mix at some point, and that will just complete me.

Done eating. Back to work.

 

grumpy about the construction project (dreams)

I haven’t posted recently about the construction project, or about anything for that matter. I haven’t had a day off in weeks and my body is weary, but my hands have taken the worst beating. My fingers are arthritic from all the manual labors, and the skin on my fingertips is flayed and cracked from tiling (mark my words, cutting and laying glass mosaics is bitter work). So typing literally hurts.

In addition to random tasks like trimming kitchen cabinets and cleaning up debris and feeding my children (most of the time), I’ve been doing a lot of tiling recently. If I ever tell you I plan to lay 200 square feet of two-by-six-inch subway tile on walls, in a brick pattern, slap me silly and then institutionalize me, because I’ve done it twice now and it’s as endless and insane a task as knitting a sweater for the Statue of Liberty.  If I ever tell you I want to lay glass mosaics that are “paper fronted” instead of “mesh backed,” go on and slap me silly again. I have been tormented by our beautiful, miserable tile choices.

Here’s the good news. We have a kitchen again. Our plumbing and electrical work is almost done. I have pictures. But I’ll tell you about all that later. Right now I need to tell you about the dream I had last night:

I live in a cave system, along with other people who appear to be part of my village. Heavy rains are falling. I peer out a hole in the cave in which I’m sheltering, and I watch the torrential waters fall. Suddenly I know a giant tidal wave is coming! It races at me and breaks through the hole in the cave! But it isn’t water. It’s a mass of tiny green mosaic tiles cresting in a wave over me. It crashes down and crushes me. I wonder if I’ll die from the weight of it, if I’ll suffocate under it. But I manage to push my way up through it and catch air.

I wake up in a cold sweat.

And that’s how the construction project is going.

 

vignettes from a grumpy day

Bob the Plumber and his side-kick Dylan arrive early today to do as much work as they can for our renovation. They can’t install the sink or dishwasher, because the counters aren’t in yet (why? why??). But there’s plenty else to do, and Bob swears that the horrendous nerve pain in his cracked molar isn’t going to stop him.

Nick, who hasn’t left for school yet, greets Bob cheerfully. As Bob gives our dog Madeline a scratch on the ear, Nick announces loudly and helpfully, “SHE’S A GIRL.” Thanks to Nick’s cute underdeveloped palate, it actually sounds like “she’s a go-wool.”

Bob takes note of this news politely. “Oh, is she?”

“Yeah,” answers Nick. He starts up a game on his iPad and his thumbs get busy as he stares unblinking at the screen. “Mommy doesn’t like to have boy dogs because you can always see their penises.”

I try not to be too embarrassed by this disclosure. Bob handles it diplomatically.

(It’s not the visual, by the way. It’s the dry humping I can’t tolerate.)

* * * * * *

I was planning to install the last sheets of a waterproof membrane in the future parents’ bathroom while the kids are at school, but Bob has to turn the water off for a while. What a shame that I can’t do this particularly grueling task today. The blisters and scrapes on my hands will have to wait a day.

All I can do is sit and plan the tile layout in said bathroom. This is brutal and brain-twisting work, I tell you. Bob pops down an hour into my mental contortions, looking somewhat happy. He talks with his jaw clenched, like he’s Clint Eastwood in High Plains Drifter. “Ah j’st hud the t’uth pulled.”

Unbeknownst to me, for the past half hour Bob’s been at the dentist having his tooth pulled out. He’s back to work now, numb jaw and all. Meanwhile, I’ve accomplished nothing. I feel terribly inadequate.

* * * * * *

I drive over to Glen Hills middle school to pick Jesse up. She’s currently on a shortened schedule to help manage her anxiety and OCD. She can’t make it through a full day yet without unraveling. No no no, that’s not the right metaphor. Not yarn. That’s too soft. She’s more of a shrapnel bomb. She can’t make it through full school days without shrapneling.

Most days when I get Jesse, we head straight home and she finishes her schoolwork here. We cover whatever material she’s missing in the afternoon, she does her reading and math and homework. Sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it’s bitter. But before we get started, Jesse usually comes in for a long embrace. Sometimes it’s before we even make it out of the school house. She sits on my lap or stands next to me as I kneel or sit. She wraps her scrawny and strong arms around my neck and leans in. We hold each other tight for long minutes. She’s still so little that when my arms wrap her body, my hands reach around as far as my opposite shoulders. I could just as well be hugging myself. I don’t know what Jesse’s thinking, and I don’t ask. I know she’s still and silent; this is a rare and precious state for her, so I don’t like to interrupt it. I don’t know what I’m thinking either, as I bury my face in her hair and kiss her. Sometimes I’m filled with simple love (whatever that four-letter word means to me today), and sometimes with a longing for an easier path through life for her, and sometimes with a simple sadness that her school hours are so hard for her.

Anyway, I pick her up today as usual. I beat Jesse to the exit area, so I slump in a chair and wait. My eyes happen to land on a large sign welcoming visitors to the middle school. But my sight is blurry and tired, and my contact lenses are dirty, and what I read is “WELCOME TO GENITALS!”

Ew. Jesse’s penis obsession is definitely rubbing off on me. The good news is, I read the sign wrong.

* * * * * *

I take Jesse to Starbucks for a vanilla bean cream frappucino, her favorite treat obsession these days. I’ve tasted it and I’m totally repelled. It’s sugar, with sugar added, and then topped with sugar and whipped cream.

But it’s what she loves, and she came out of school with a smile and a pretty good attitude, so I think she deserves it on a Monday. She settles down into a bar chair and slurps away. I stand next to her leaning on the bar, waiting patiently for her to enjoy her treat. I realize suddenly that her face is weirdly close to mine and she’s inspecting the bottom half of my face.

“Why are you looking at me like that? Are you looking at the scratch?” (Jesse gave me a wicked scratch on my jaw a couple days ago while she was jumping on me from behind.)

“No. I’m looking at your face. You look like a nice grandma.”

Nice. “Why? Because I’m old?”

“No!” Jesse exclaims cheerfully. She pulls her chin back to make a double chin and talks with narrow pursed lips in a low tone, as if she’s imitating… me. “It’s because you’re all blubby.”

I hug Jesse from behind and squeeze, and also I burp directly in her ear. “Do I burp like a grandma?”

“Yes, like a strong grandma!”

At least I have that.

* * * * * *

Jesse and I head over to pick up Nick from elementary school. He comes out smothered in his own cheerful smile. You would never, ever guess that at last week’s school conference, his teacher told me he cries a lot in class. He seems to have a lot of anxiety and has very little self-confidence, especially about learning letters and sounds. He gets hung up and really worried about tests. He gets down on himself about doing badly. He’s being placed in a reading intervention group.

Nick is in kindergarten so I’m not too worried about the reading thing yet. I’m more worried about his mood, given our family histories. I need to get on that and pay some serious attention to him, help him get over his fear of learning to read, do some extra tutoring with him. But with what spare time?? I’m spending every free moment trying to finish up my part on this fucking renovation. In 4 to 6 weeks, I keep telling myself, in 4 to 6 weeks.

Until then, I keep mulling over a sweet moment Nick and I shared a couple days ago, as we sat on the stairs to the basement. He straddled my lap and held my cheeks gently with his not-tiny-for-much-longer hands. I said I was sorry for being so busy and not being able to do as much stuff with him as I should. He replied, “You’re right mommy. You do a lot, but you don’t do enough for me lately.”

But those worries are blown straight out of my mind when Nick walks out of school. He is pure sunshine. He loudly and methodically hands me all his crap the second he steps out the school doors. “THIS is my school work. You have to bring it back tomorrow. THIS is something else I have to bring back. THIS is my lunch box.” He smiles at me disarmingly and decides to keep his backpack on. I don’t even get a hug as he races off to the playground.

A good-sized handful of kids and their parents, a combination of moms and dads, tend to stay after school to play on good-weather days. The kids get along well, and it’s an easy chance to socialize and get some fresh air after being cooped up in classrooms all day. Nick has so much fun. He makes friends easily; he’s kind and inclusive. He’s just a cool little guy. Jesse struggles this year with playground time. She’s either going hog-wild OCD on penis talk or sitting somewhere by herself being morose. Today, she sees a classmate from middle school who’s come with an older family member to shoot hoops. They greet each other shyly, and then Jesse promptly starts to lift her shirt in one of her OCD maneuvers. At least she doesn’t ask to have sex with him. But other than this blip, she seems to have fun. She plays with several kids and runs around. She’s pretty normal today. It’s kind of weird, I think to myself.

* * * * * *

After dinner, Nick fires up a Power Rangers episode on his iPad mini. I hate all 400 Power Ranger series equally. They are the stupidest shows ever made. They suck so bad, and the plots are even worse than the acting.

But I don’t do anything about it. I should be playing alphabet games with Nick. I should be playing board games with Jesse. We should be doing jumping jacks and interactive play, followed by sun salutations and meditation moments, and then gratitude sharing. Instead my kids are watching Power-Bad TV on the iPad and sharing rainbow sherbet straight out of the tub.

At least they’re using spoons. And they’re getting along in close quarters. Nick isn’t screaming at Jesse, and Jesse isn’t kicking, clawing, or choking Nick. No one is putting anyone down. In fact, they’re being downright delightful together.  I’ve been waiting for days like these for a long time.

Jesse strolls over to me. She sits in my lap and I hold her like a toddler I’m nursing to sleep, her legs slung to one side of me and her neck in the crook of my arm. I love these sweet moments with my children. She leans in and looks lovingly into my eyes as she squeezes my meaty upper arm. “I need your warm blub to warm me up.”

* * * * * *

After warming up on my blub, Jesse segues smoothly into the title of her new “personal narrative,” which is a thing they do at school. Her latest is called “The One and Only Free Heart,” she tells me.

“That sounds really neat. What’s it about?”

Jesse giggles. “I don’t know yet. I only wrote the title.” I can practically see her brain whirring as she spins out a tale between her ears. I realize suddenly that I haven’t heard Jesse mention penises but twice this entire afternoon. Penises are nowhere to be seen as she dreams about the story she’ll tell.

I think that’s worth being grateful for, even if I am a sorry, disgruntled excuse for a mom these days.

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.

Before:

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Progress:

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After:

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Pretty cool.

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.

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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):

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A few cabinets in place:

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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.

grumpy about the construction project (random thoughts)

The electrician and plumber have been busy. Things are happening that I don’t understand. Like this:

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Isn’t that beautiful plumbing? What is that copper doing? I don’t know. That’s why I’m paying someone else to do it.

Electrical wires and boxes are popping up all over the house. PVC pipes too. All over the place. At the end of each day Anthony and I go around sweeping up all the wood chips and peering curiously at new mechanical things.

Also the carpentry guys are still busy at it on the exterior. The roof is on. The siding is almost all on. Doors are going in.

But I still don’t have a kitchen. Or running water anywhere except in the basement. Someday soon, they keep promising me, someday soon. I assume someday also includes gutters and brick. I’m optimistic.

Meanwhile…

I have tool belt envy.

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As I took these photos, the guys remarked sagely on who has the best belt. I guess it’s a thing.

Erick Kurber the Karpenter Kaptain has a huge trailer he tows behind a huge truck every day, to bring all sorts of tools and stuff to the site. I have truck envy and trailer envy and tool envy, as well as tool belt envy, but I didn’t take a good collection of photos to show you all the jealousy-inpsiring implements showing up at my house. But here are a few highlights.

What IS it? I don’t rightly know… But I want one. Even the steel-framed sawhorses look fine fine fine.

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What is that little orange thing peeking from below the wood shelf in the totally cool and awesome trailer? Mobile table saw? Tiny planer? No idea. Want one.

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Erick did something inside the trailer that I consider to be very Martha Stewart: PVC pipes hung from the roof to hold things.  Awesome. Want.

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As I was stalking Erick’s trailer to take these photos, I noticed the print on the trailer doors.

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How can you not LOVE a contractor who quotes Aristotle on his truck?? ARISTOTLE, I tell you.

So much makes sense now. Just the other day, I heard Erick intoning as he stood on the roof. “For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them!””

I thought at first he was giving Dan a lecture. He continued. “You will never do anything in this world without courage. It is the greatest quality of the mind next to honor.”

Huh. Maybe this was a pep talk because the guys were getting nervous on the roof? That surprised me, because I had already noted that Talon has established his own gravitational field which allows him to stand at unexpected angles.

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Still Erick continued. “Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”

I couldn’t stand it anymore. I ran out to the front lawn in my bare feet and yelled up at him. “Hey Erick, What the F&*%$?? Enough already! Can you cut it with the pompous lecture??”

Erick looked down at me, his nail gun held firm and high. “There is no great genius without a mixture of madness, Carla.”

* * * * * * *

We live in Wisconsin. Conversations like that don’t happen in Wisconsin, do they?

No. They don’t. I made that shit up. (Well, Aristotle made up the stuff inside the quotation marks.)

Here’s the other line on Erick’s trailer door.

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Get it? Erick Kurber? Kurber Construction? Get it?

That’s more like it, and it’s even better than Aristotle. As an American immigrant to Wisconsin, I believe I can safely say that this logo line reflects something unique and wonderful in a Wisconsin-grown personality. It’s dry, understated, sensible, witty, and a little goofy in an English sort of way.

I think I like it here in Wisconsin.

grumpy about the construction project (sweaty with equity)

I woke up this morning prepared to do paint battle on a bunch of cedar clapboard siding. We had priced out having someone else do the exterior painting on the addition, because I don’t actually want to climb up to the peak of a tall two-story house with a can of paint. Call me crazy, but I’m worried about falling.

But the estimate came back at about $2500. Ouch. We can save a lot by doing as much of it ourselves as possible. So this weekend we’re priming siding and putting a first rough coat of paint on before it goes up. Our guys do work right, so when they nail those boards on they’ll wipe each and every nail head with some sort of solvent (napalm? naphtha?) that keeps the nail from making paint colors bleed. Then they’ll caulk things and do whatever other magic they do, and then the second coat of paint will go on. That’s when we’ll probably hire the painter to come do whatever parts we’re too scared to do. Up high.

The day started out badly as I set out to prime. I headed out the basement door into the back yard and walked around and up the hill to the front of the house. Now my shoes were dirty and my goal was to avoid going in the basement again, because I just shampooed the carpet in there last night. I opened the garage door and wandered around in the garage, organizing my thoughts on what I needed to do, and then I realized I needed to get upstairs in the house to find my work gloves. I walked back out of the garage and tried the kitchen door. Locked. I tried the fancy main front door. Locked. Shit shit shit. Anthony had already left with the kids on an adventure, so I didn’t have anyone to let me in.  I headed back around to the basement door and wiped my feet carefully on the entry rug, and then I tip-toed across the blasted carpet and up the stairs to the main floor. I found my gloves. I headed through the house to the kitchen door. As I walked through the kitchen, I noticed the gaping opening into the garage, where a door will shortly be installed.

Old habits die hard. Our house hasn’t had an entrance from the garage directly into the house. It does now. I just need to remember that new reality. Sigh.

Finding space to lay out a bunch of siding is a head scratcher. I ended up using the old cream city brick we saved during demolition to set up little blocks to hold up siding pieces off the grass in the back yard. I carried a lot of bricks from here to there. Also I had to lug the siding from the garage, where it was stacked, to the back yard. Lug lug lug. Then paint paint paint in various positions – squatting, bending over, on one knee, on two knees, on my ass. I worked almost non-stop from about 10 until 5:30 or so. I almost finished priming both sides of 50-odd boards, ranging from 12 to 20 feet in length. I’ll finish priming tomorrow morning and then put on the rough coat of finish latex in the afternoon.

I’m not used to this sort of work. As I recuperate this evening, my tired right hand, which held the paint brush, is struggling to lift this margarita to my lips. Ugh. (I’ll just move that glass over to the left side of the keyboard; all better.) Oddly, my left leg (but not my right) is cramping from calf to hip. My lower back is aching all over. 48 years of experience on this earth are speaking to me through my aching body.

Bah. I don’t want to do this anymore. It’s boring and no fun. I think I’ll just leave the siding where it is and let the lawn grow over it. The Tyvec wrap on the house looks just fine.

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grumpy about the construction project (futile gestures)

The project has slowed down for the past week or two because of delays with getting our utility company to approve and accomplish work it needs to do to upgrade our electrical service to 200 amps. Every day for the past week I’ve heard the sound of what I thought was my teeth grinding. But it turns out it was the sound of a monopolist utility’s bureaucratic machinery doing its thing.

Living in a deconstructed shithole is okay when you see work progressing rapidly, but when things slow down, it gets oppressive. Nick and I headed out on an adventure this morning, after eating breakfast in the basement. As we trudged to the car, he held my hand and looked up at me. “How much more days do we have to live like this, mommy?”

He sounded a little depressed. I answered as honestly as I could. “I don’t know, little buddy. A while. Maybe two more months?”

He shook his head in grim resignation and climbed into the car. “That’s a looooong time…”

It has gotten to be a little tough, I guess. We can’t live in these spaces, i.e., most of the house.

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We do have a living room that’s untouched, but it’s open to the larger construction space, and somehow we don’t end up there. This is a pretty good shot of the living space we’re spending most of our indoor time in lately.

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That far wall is full of all the kids’ art supplies. Pile of toys and junk to the left. The little table is usually their art table, but these days it’s where they eat. Yup, that’s a drying rack with our towels on it, next to the sofa.

If you sit on that sofa, you’re staring right at our makeshift kitchen, which still looks like this.

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It’s all a wreck. We’re doing our best to keep it as homey and livable as possible. Anthony even put art on the wall over the sofa.

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We clean best we can every day, but it’s hard to keep up.

The past week there was a fair bit of work in the kitchen and entry area, which is right over the basement bathroom where we do all water-based activities (shower, toilet, sink, laundry). With everything but the original plank subfloor gone, bits of debris fall through the cracks constantly. If we’re lucky, we’re in the bathroom when it happens and that stuff gets right down to our scalps and stays there all day.

Some crazy person installed off-white wall-to-wall plush carpet in the basement before we bought the house. When tradesmen come into the basement, their dirty shoes grind highly visible filth into it. When we cook and eat and drink tea or coffee, every little dripping leaves a filthy stain. After hearing Nick’s indirect complaint this morning, I realized the carpet has become totally disgusting in the last month.

But still we hold on to vestiges of our formerly tidy life. We still wash the dog’s feet when she comes back in from a walk. I don’t know why I bother. Anthony dusts and mops the wood floors diligently each evening to get rid of the day’s work debris. We still avoid shoes in the bedroom. We even shower regularly. They’re all futile gestures, token remembrances of a cleaner, first-world life, one we hope someday will return to us.

The only really visible bit of work done this week, from our living-here perspective, was fresh demolition in the powder room and kitchen entry. Talon and Dan did it earlier this week. It’s really strenuous and difficult work, pulling up what looks like 5 or 6 archived layers of flooring, and it’s noisy and messy. I didn’t think it was that much of a change — just a new small area of the house reduced to bare subfloor planks. But I guess the kids don’t see it that way. Jesse walked in the kitchen door in the afternoon after the work was done. I was still out by the car when I heard her start screaming.

Come to think of it, the guys started demolition work early that same morning. Even as we made breakfast and got our day started in the basement, the ripping, pounding, and reciprocating-sawing were going strong. Bits of wood and plaster showered us gently when we used the bathroom. Jesse walked into the bathroom and came out screaming. “AAAAAAH. I CANNOT GO IN THERE!”

Anthony and I chided her. “It’s just construction dust. You can deal with that.”

“NO I CAN’T, THERE IS GLASS ON THE FLOOR!!”

Huh. Anthony investigated. Sure enough, there was glass everywhere. The glass cover on the cheap light fixture over the toilet had fallen off from the shaking of the demolition. It shattered as it landed, leaving shards of glass on the floor and filling the toilet bowl itself with glass.

Anthony had used the toilet just a few minutes before Jesse walked into the bathroom, and then Nick too. We were fortunate no one was on the can when the cover fell. Unfortunately, Nick doesn’t like to flush this basement toilet, so it was full of his urine. I love Anthony for many reasons, and now I can add a new one: he did the dirty work of reaching into the peepee-filled toilet to pull out the glass shards. It was nasty work, but somebody (other than me) had to do it.

This evening, after a week of suffering and getting by, the filthy carpet finally overwhelmed us. I pulled out the Bissell and shampooed. It’s a hopeless act, really, but it’s Friday night and at least we can enjoy the clean floor for a couple days before the gang-o-workers returns on Monday to trash the joint again.

grumpy about the construction project (it’s all coming now)

Monday morning came and I got to greet the carpentry crew for the first time since we got back from vacation. I missed these guys! Olivia Newton Dan-the-Man, Slammin’ Talon, and Erick the Boss. They were all here today, being easy-going and relaxed as they chugged along.

Today they worked on the roof lines to prepare for roof shingles and probably siding. It was all outside work. I think a lot of homeowners would have gotten to the end of the day today and thought, wtf did you three bozos do all day?? But Anthony and I admired their work for a long time as the sun went down. They did a bunch of trim and moulding work right under the roof eave. They also started putting in a false peaked roofline that masks the flatter shed dormer line of the actual roof, along the new edge of the extension. I had no idea that’s how it was done. I’ll try to find a photo to stick in here tomorrow. It’s very cool.

In my opinion and limited experience, this sort of work is painstaking and brain-draining. You can get to the end of the day and feel like you haven’t accomplished much. It takes time and care to do it well and to make it all fit. It looks like that’s what the Kurber crew is doing.

I also got to see first-hand some of the shop talk that goes down. Erick and I were chatting about some stupid question I had (I’m full of them), when Erick paused for a moment to direct Dan briskly: “Can you get the crown and a five-quarter on your horsies.”

Wow. Just… wow.

Anthony and I have formed a habit of collecting all our questions and thoughts weekly into an ad nauseum email that we send to Kristi-the-designer on Saturday or Sunday. These emails are full of garbage and redundancies, but they seem to have a positive psychological effect on me, so I subject Kristi to them without mercy.

Today she came over to touch base with me post-vacation and to go over my latest email laundry list. Some of it wasn’t as stupid as I anticipated, but mostly it was.

We stepped into the expanded future master bedroom. With the extension to the room, the existing ceiling light is practically abutting the new closet instead of sitting in the middle of the room. I asked Kristi, “will that light be moved?”

Kristi looked at me quietly for a two-second beat. “No,” she answered in a firm, but polite tone.

ASK A STUPID QUESTION…

Of course it’s going to be moved, and it’ll be a proper electrical box to support a ceiling fan even if we don’t want the fan, because that’s what code requires and Kristi actually cares about compliance, and perhaps just as important, she bothers to explain it to me instead of thinking I’m a dumb ass housewife who doesn’t need to know those details.

It’s true. I’m not a dumb ass housewife. But I am saddled with a sorry level of building ignorance, compounded by a tiny bit of knowledge and DIY experience. I’m the classic 21st century American homeowner. I know just enough to ask a lot of questions, but not enough to avoid the inane ones. The good news is, Kristi-the-designer and Erick-the-boss seem to be tolerating me with some equanimity. Superficially, at least. I hope I’m not annoying them too much. Also I hope they give me photographs of construction that went on while I was away. (Kristi? Erick? I know you’re reading this. Please can I have photos? And can you please continue to be as nice to me in the next couple months as you have been so far? My kids are taking me over the edge, and I could use an extra lifeline.)

The next couple weeks should be fun. I think the new electrical main (upgrading to 200-amp service) will get done in the next couple days, depending on whether our utility company, WE Energies, comes through. It’s possible that I will have a serious gripe to air here about WE soon, but I want to get more details from Kristi first. Roof shingles are going on this week. Doors and windows are going in. Closets are being studded out. Electricity, plumbing, insulation, drywall, it’s all on in the next week. The tile guy who’s pouring our shower pan stops in tomorrow to interrogate me and make sure I’m capable of doing an adequate tile job.

The kitchen cabinets arrived tonight at about 7:00 pm, 37 cardboard boxes of varying sizes that are now filling our entire dining room. I don’t know when the cabinets will actually be installed, but having them in the house makes me feel like we’re ready to turn the corner from destruction to creation.

Two guys driving a massive truck carried the massive boxes into the house one at a time. The men were exhausted after a full day of emptying shit out of that truck in houses and apartments from Chicago to Milwaukee. We were their last stop, but still they did a careful and professional job. One of them bumped into dangling old electrical wires in armored cable, and it caused a spark. He squealed like a little girl and cursed creatively. Then he started apologizing to me profusely for the language, which made me laugh and laugh as I begged him to stop apologizing. No one should ever apologize to me about potty mouth, obviously. I was more worried about whether he received an electric shock. The other fellow, a little guy with a strong accent, paused after dropping off a box to ask me, “you look Hispanic?” Nah, I answered, half Korean, but I’ve been mistaken for latino my whole adult life. Close enough. It was all very friendly and a nice way to end the day, and it reminded me that a lot of people making shit wages are working hard every day in one way or another to create a dream home for me. I tipped those guys well. I know they can’t possible be paid a living wage.

For all my bitching and moaning, I am as blessed and spoiled as any person could possibly deserve to be on the entire planet Earth. And I surely don’t deserve it.