Saturday, April 24, 2010

My Grand Obsession

I haven't been writing much lately because I've been in the throes of an obsession--with our house plans. The delays in getting further refined versions of the plan drove me to desperate measures: I got out the graph paper and tried to draw it myself. For hours. In the middle of the night when I couldn't sleep. Yes, I have had it bad. Still do actually. Don't ask me what I did today.

I love planning anything, but this house is special. I have never had a nice, complete home, the kind with well hung walls and intentional furniture. I've somehow ended up with a life of make do and free and grand visions that never quite got realized. I'm determined that this house will be different. Of course, there will be a bank involved, and they're sticklers on that done part. And if we can afford a turn-key builder, it might even reach done the relatively easy way. But that remains to be seen. I may be the crazed general contractor sometime this summer, even though my friends who've built advise against it. (I'm praying for builders who need work.)

This obsession is a lot like being in love. Thoughts of the house are my mind's busy wallpaper, constantly sparkling and shifting as new problems and inspirations appear in the imaginary space. I visualize over and over again what I'd like to see when I walk in my front door. I see myself kneading bread on a generous counter top in my sunny kitchen. The house dominates my thoughts and conversation so much that even my indulgent husband is starting to get a certain bemused smile when I come around yet again to my latest idea.

But I do go on with regular life. I bathe, and eat, get my chores done. I'm not clinical or anything. It's just so fascinating and fun! When it's not frustrating.

All my failed attempts have taught me great admiration for architects. This three dimensional manipulation of space, trying to achieve a graceful inner and outer balance of masses and windows and gables, is not so simple. I have cut out templates of our desired spaces and pushed them around on the desktop until I gave up in despair (briefly), especially when I got to the 3D geometry of the upper half story. I've checked out books from the library. I've asked for divine guidance and searched the online plan catalogs all over again, trying to figure out just how these designers
elegantly pack living space into the kind of small house we need to build. When I've really felt blocked, I've researched topics that I know will be decision points later, like windows and water heaters.

All those details and possibilities, however mundane, are hugely exciting to me. I feel a constant happy tension, like the expectation of Christmas Eve when I was a child. Or, yes, the passionate desire of being in love. Like both of those states, the longing and promise are thrilling but interfere with important things like sleep. I am so consumed that when D told me over the phone that he had picked up new plan versions, my delight was beyond words. I couldn't think of normal things to say in response. I just felt like squealing with pure eagerness. I couldn't wait to get my hands and eyes on them.

Imagine my disappointment when I got home and saw many things about the drawings that were nothing like what I had expected. Then imagine my husband's disappointment that I was disappointed. D is so un-picky and ready for something to be happening, that he would probably build anything I would agree to live in. But I'm not so easy going about my dream house.

The perhaps crazy truth is that I want this house like I've wanted few other things in my life. And like those other good things toward which I've been compelled (marriage, motherhood, culinary school), this adventure is both exhilarating and exhausting, charming and challenging, beguiling and vexing--all at the same time. And isn't that just like early love?

My patience probably isn't helped by living with my in-laws. We are all as good about it as we can be, but two different families under one roof is not easy. That's just the way that is. And now the warm weather has come--building weather--
and the parents-in-law are beginning to verbally prod. There is enough pressure that the husband has uncharacteristically put his foot down: if we don't have some kind of time line in place by June, we are moving out. No more waiting around nicely. So I made an appointment with the draftsman and his computer program last Wednesday, during which we ironed out quite a few issues, including the upstairs room arrangement that had so disappointed me in the latest drawings.

And guess what? My obsession paid off in just a little vindication. Even though my 10th grade advanced geometry teacher told me too late that I didn't belong in that class, apparently I'm not so dumb. My laboriously conceived upstairs proposal worked--and more gracefully, in my opinion. Other ideas of mine were starting to look good, too, but we ran out of time. Since
sitting down together with the CAD program will speed this project up appreciably, I targeted the next appointment before leaving. I 'm bird doggin' it now. C'est l'amour fou!

Now you five dear followers know what grand folly has captured me. After months of mostly keeping it to myself, I have decided to write about my roller coaster journey both because it's so great a part of my little life right now and also because sharing my experience might help someone else. One of the houses that has most inspired me came from a blog where a woman did just that. I really need to thank her.

And that isn't all that's moving into my life. If I can manage to keep my focus on writing instead know...I'll elaborate on my other adventures later.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Rolling in Clover

When you have the time to look closely,
you see an amazing world right at your feet.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The View, Staked

This past Saturday, the dream of our new home became a tiny bit more real. We met with the surveyor to flag the boundaries of our little acre of paradise to be. There are now stakes in the ground saying that something's happening here, something goes here--a little home with a big view, the one over which we want to see the sun rise every morning for the rest of our lives.

That's the big sweep, the real feeling of which is hard to convey with just two dimensions and few camera skills. Tighter shots capture the layers of hills and trees and barns in the distance.

Still, you'd just have to be there to fully appreciate the aah factor. And we're not just imagining it.

When the surveyor climbed out of his vehicle, he said that he really wished he hadn't seen this place, then declared that there was no prettier place in all of Kentucky. I don't know about that, but I do know that the other people we've taken back there have been totally in accord with our desire to live in just this beautiful spot. We're dreamers, but we're not crazy.

Today when I got home from the office and the gas station and the grocery store, all of which took a little longer than I wanted, I sat on the porch swing out back all by myself, just looking out at green grass and letting the peace seep into my bones. I feel utterly joyful at the thought that someday soon we'll have our own green field to gaze upon. After hectic, tiring days, we'll bump down the gravel road to our little farmhouse where the world can't have us any more and sit with the land that is one long exhale.

OK, so we'll still have a house and yard to care for, and we plan to have animals and a garden that need tending. If it's our shangri-la, apparently it will be one with mud and sunburn. But here we go because the call must be answered. If this is the courtship phase, so be it. I let myself have it. But marriage can be good, too. I can't wait to get hitched and see what living intimately with land is like.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Symbolism On The Line

Last week I did something that for many years I would have sworn I would never do again, something I thought I had given up over twenty years ago, something I should report to my mother because she probably won't believe it. I hung my laundry out to dry.

Hanging the clothes out and getting them back in was one (or is that two?) of my chores once I had grown tall enough to reach the line. And I hated it. So I complained about it. I resisted it. And I procrastinated. My mother would call from many of her evening shifts at work and ask me if I had brought the clothes in yet, then remind me in that exasperated mother voice to just do it. Once I lied to her, with the rationale that I was going to do it, so it wasn't really a lie. I was busted that time when I never quite got around to it. I don't think I ever lied about it again, but I went right on hating the job and resolving that there would be a clothes dryer in my adult future.

Other than a child's hatred of being made to do work, I had a few other problems with line dried laundry. I disliked
racing the rain, the stiffness of line-dried towels and jeans (not that I wore them, but that's another story), being spooked out if I put off the chore until after dark, and hanging clothes all about the house when it was so cold that they might freeze. But what I really hated about it was that someone might come by and see me while doing it, which would have been mortifying to me.

Getting caught airing my dirty laundry, so to speak, was very likely. In those days, my middle school was three blocks away, my high school another half mile or so past that. And also in those days, more kids walked to and from school--right past my house. People I knew and would have to see again might gawk at me pinning up underwear, for goodness sake. A tender, bookish, self-worthless pre-adolescent or teenager just doesn't need such humiliation.

But my shame was about more than the awkward possibility of my peers seeing my drying panties.
No one else I knew had to hang clothes out, so in my mind, all the civilized, prosperous people, meaning everyone but us, had convenient and private dryers. They had long ago escaped the ancient necessity of hanging clothes outside for all the world to see. They could just pop them in the handy-dandy machine at their leisure, from which they would emerge soft, fluffy, and freshly scented, just like in the commercials on TV. We apparently couldn't afford such tasteful luxury.

And that was the worst sting of it. The clothes dryer was just one more of the many status symbols that we could not afford to buy, so hanging that laundry out was, in my mind, an announcement of our poverty and therefore of my less-than status among my peers, who I was sure had clothes dryers and all the other things I wanted and couldn't have, like my own room, or just my own bed. Our publicly flapping unmentionables were the emblem of a lack which went beyond uncool to shameful. Like the wearing of those clothes, the chore made public what I thought of as the shameful truth: we were poor, which must mean trashy. I mean, if we couldn't afford what other people had, then we were obviously not as good as they were, right?

Because of all my personal stigma, not affording a dryer was not an option once the choice was mine. When I married for the first time and set up housekeeping, as my granny called it, the necessary purchases with our limited funds were a bed, a table and chairs, and a washer and dryer set. Inside drying at one's own house (we won't even discuss the dubious joys of laundromats) was a privilege that was finally mine. It was just what respectable people did, and I was finally respectable.

By now, I have surely made plain the weight of meaning that I dumped on what, objectively speaking, is just some clothes drying outside rather than inside. But, I realized as I was making my new choice last week, we humans do that all the time. We have the power to take almost any object or action and attach most any symbolism we want to it. And the symbolism can and does change at will.

Although my personal inferiority complex magnified the shame, I believe that I was helped out by a real laundry stigma of the past three decades or so. It really was uncool to hang clothes out to dry. It really was more respectable to have a nice washer-dryer set, as matched as salt-and-pepper shakers. Well-fluffed, machine-dried laundry did indeed become the norm. Whether I needed to feel so shamed by it or not, we were behind the times, out of step, a little antiquated.

But everything old becomes new again. The current symbolism for line-drying laundry is now more likely to be about being "green," which is cool, than being poor, which is, alas, still uncool. The public debate about responsible energy use has made outdoor clothes drying more acceptable than it's been in at least thirty years. So I have circled back to a formerly hated chore of my own volition, simply because circumstances and therefore symbolism have changed.

So how was it? The towels and knits were stiffer than out of the dryer, just as I remembered, but they also softened right up when worn or used. I can't say that I detect any of that sun-fresh scent so ironically touted by fabric softeners (something else we never had back in the day), but I did enjoy being out in the sun and breezes. And there's just something about flapping laundry--now--that makes me feel like a contented home body who needs an apron. And those are cool again now, too.

I don't know that I will race the rain or freeze my fingers in cold weather to religiously hang my laundry, but I will definitely use every easily available opportunity here and now where there's already a clothesline. Then we'll install one at our new house. Why not use the free sun and feel homey and virtuous at the same time?

Now I need to call my mother. She's going to love this.

Friday, April 2, 2010

What A Way To Start The Day

If you would celebrate life,
put away the noisemakers
and greet the quiet
with your own.
Pause when she throws
a sudden banquet in the sky.
Catch every crumb of joy
that falls from her table--
a smile, a word, a leaf.
Wait while the shadows deepen
or linger while the light rises,
offering up the one gift
that is everywhere and always
the same and the secret--
your grateful silence.