Monday, September 27, 2010

Random Reason to Rejoice #4

Curbside recycling pickup.

It seems a funny cause for rejoicing, but what a gift! It makes being virtuous so easy.

In the town where we previously resided, we had to both sort and drop off our recyclables. Since it's probably genetically impossible for me not to organize anything that I have to keep, the sorting requirement meant that I had to acquire and have space for multiple containers for the various categories of recyclables. The dropping off requirement meant that I had to find time to go down to the center and drop the recyclables into the appropriate doors, which were located outside. Not so convenient when it's cold, hot, or wet. At least they had a roof over the drop off area. And I didn't really mind. I figured that having a recycling center at all was an accomplishment for a small town.

Then we moved here. I was surprised and delighted to find that not only did they offer curbside recycling pickup, but they also furnished the container, customized with our address, for free and did not require sorting. Who wouldn't recycle when it's this easy?

Bless my small town for letting me be virtuous and lazy at the same time!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

What I Did On My Vacation

Warning: This post contains no graphic material of any kind.* Proceed at your own visual risk.

*Because the author was too busy having fun to remember to take the camera
or even to plug in the camera batteries for charging. She apologizes.

After the thrill of our housewarming party--my social debut, as it were--we began a week of vacation. Or, as I like to call it, our annual honeymoon. We've been taking our leave of the routine in September for a few years now. It's a great time for a holiday. The official vacation season for everyone else is over, so attractions and lodgings are less crowded and sometimes less expensive. Temperatures are usually more comfortable. Plus, we smugly feel as if we're some of the few out wandering and enjoying ourselves instead of having to work. Please don't disillusion us with reminders about the retired, etc.

To be more accurate, we had a bona fide Stay-cation. We've already been staying close to home for these last few years and only being gone through the week. No undone laundry and exhaustion when you haul yourself straight back to work that way. But this year, having chosen to spend our money on the new barn...I mean, house...instead, we really stayed put. As in, at the house. We took some day trips, but slept in our own bed each night.

In the weeks before annual honeymoon time, I had been jotting down things we could do without leaving our area. It was surprising how many ways I came up with to pleasantly while away leisure hours no more than an hour away. Here's my list. (Settle down, class.)

  1. Visit a pumpkin farm

  2. Browse in our local bookstore (for which we had a coupon, too)

  3. Visit the nearest small city for a dose of what small towns don't offer

  4. Visit an apple orchard

  5. Drive down that road whose destination we've always wondered about

  6. Have lunch at the local country market

  7. Check out the Covered Bridge Museum in our own little downtown

  8. Visit the church where our neighbor pastors

  9. More antiquing (I'm officially hooked)
We knocked out all the items on our list but one. Our intended orchard was closed both times we drove down there. Disappointing. But there were the bonuses. Who knew that the tiny local airport had an F-4 Phantom jet parked there for display? We didn't until Monday. We just drove up there to see how the airport looked because we had the time to satisfy our curiosity. The man working there seemed happy to tell us all kinds of things about the plane, how it came to be there (connections count once again), and flying in general.

That enthusiasm is one of the delights about visiting small towns on our travels. Dedicated caretakers of historical sights and earnest business owners are so eager to share with visitors about their town and its story. And when we listen, we find out all over again that every burg and every person has a heck of a story, hidden away below the greater cultural hoopla. We love finding them. Especially as tourists in our own home towns, so to speak.

Here at the end of the week, I can say that it was a relaxing way to do les vacances. But in the middle of the week, we were encountering the pitfalls of an at home vacation. Since we weren't going out of town, I didn't do up all the laundry early in order to get through the week. Thus Wednesday found me doing the wash so that we wouldn't run out of clean underwear. That chore was un-fun enough. Then the dryer began to make a horrible sound and, worse yet, to overheat. That situation was entirely too real world for a vacation week. Enough clothes got dry without frying to go on with our pretend life, so I put on my Denial hat and went back to enjoying myself. Needless to say, one of the items I added to my To Do list for the coming week was "Find dryer repair person." I'm willing to deal with it now that I'm not on vacation.

The moment that I found myself balancing the checkbook while fretting about the broken dryer on my vacation, I called a halt to that unacceptable boundary blurring and retreated to the deck with a book. On Thursday, we were back out the door, running away to fun. That was more like it. And so the week ended well, with long conversations about dreams and goals for the real life we're preparing to re-enter. We're almost ready to be our old selves again.

At first it seemed a little odd to me that I was so eagerly anticipating our vacation this year, when I knew that we had next to no money and no charming B&B stay awaiting us. But that's not the best part of vacation anyway. It's really the mental escape that's so alluring. For a week, I drop all my usual concerns and requirements and just seek to savor. We wander and adventure, enjoying each others company free of the daily demands. And of course there's the sleeping til we naturally wake. That treat is almost a vacation in itself.

On balance, I still might prefer to go away in future years. A more complete boundary between Everyday and Play Days would be easier and clearer, with no chance that I'll again find myself doing something as quotidienne as hanging light fixtures and moving clothes on my vacation. But then again, being at home with all our accoutrements handy meant that we had the right shoes for long morning walks, and we didn't have to find a cat sitter.

What I learned from my Stay-cation is that vacation is more a state of mind than a geographic relocation. The latter just helps the former. Now if I learn to hang out the "She's on vacation" sign (I hope you pictured with me Forest Gump's mama there, just for fun) more regularly, I might be a much happier person. And then my sweet husband would be, too!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Life Begins With a Party

On Friday, we did a tremendous, long awaited thing: we hosted a party at our home, a housewarming for our little barn.

I realize that, in the grand scheme of the universe, one little party isn't huge, but it was to me. I've always admired the hostesses, while always being the guest. I'm a good one--easy to please and grateful. But I wanted to be able to pull off the gift to others that is the food, the hospitality, the company. Making it to hostess was my glass ceiling.

The roadblock between me and my desire that I owned was lack of confidence. I never felt capable of planning and executing the food, which I dearly wanted to be good at but feared I was not. After my years in culinary school, I'm over that. A lot of tasty success, if you're not the next wunderkind, can be had with research, strategy, and instruction following. Those, and a little trust in yourself.

One barrier wasn't my own personal limitation. Our previous house was only 1,000 square feet and chopped up into eight rooms. Not the ideal venue for a large group. Here at the barn, we have 1,500 square feet. That's not much more, but most of it is a very open main floor. We found out Friday that 40 people can be in here at one time and not suffer attacks of claustrophobia. This place just works. Perhaps that's why we were led here.

Three of my friends who were also invited guests offered help, but I insisted that I would do it all by myself. Not because I wanted to show off, but to validate and put to use my two and 3/4 years of culinary school training. This was exactly the kind of the thing I had studied and practiced to be able to do. I was ready.

I took it easy on myself, choosing simple dishes:
  • Spiced nuts
  • Cream cheese and pepper jellies
  • Cheese wafers
  • Salsa and tortilla chips
  • Chocolate revel bars
  • Coconut bars

All of the items were as easy to make as possible, because it's never as easy as you think it will be. (That last few minutes of go-Go-GO? Apparently unavoidable.) The spiced nuts and cheese wafer dough I was able to make ahead, eliminating some work the day of the party. The cream cheese/pepper jelly/cracker combo had only to be set out, and let me use the homemade pepper jelly that was a gift from one of the chefs at the restaurant where I interned. That left baking the bars as the only real cooking to be done--and the only tricky part: the coconut bars had to go back in the oven for more cooking so that they would hold together when cut. (Faithful instruction following must be tempered by your own sound judgment and present experience sometimes.) The salsa I threw in at the last minute to use up the seven tomatoes lying on my windowsill.

And of course the most heavily consumed and/or most praised foods were the easiest. The crowd ate the heck out of the cream cheese concoction, and two guests wanted the recipe for the salsa. Ain't life funny? I've never made salsa in my life. I used a recipe off the internet for ratios of the ingredients I wanted to use. It was a total throw-together, and they loved it and ate it all. Yard-fresh tomatoes probably helped there.

A few roses brought in from the yard graced the food and dining tables (about which I must share soon). It was high time I did that, too. I've always been a late bloomer.

I'm touched that we have so many good friends who will travel half an hour from their homes to warm ours with their caring presence, and I'm thrilled that we now have the means--and I the personhood--to share this unique and quirky little place with others. Which really means sharing myself--without shame and with joy.

At one moment during the party, when the house was full and noisy and happy, I felt as if I was just a little more who I've always wanted to be. It's just a party, but it's also part of the divine instruction for my life. What that means, I don't know. I go on what I do know: I loved every minute of planning, executing, and enjoying this party; and I am oh so eager to begin food events for small groups. Ideas are a-popping. (Apple dinner? Early fall doughnut fry maybe?) It's happening just as I always wished it would, at apparently the appropriate time.

Again I say that this wonderful (for me) news seems like no big deal in the big picture. But we never know how the little things we do affect or inspire others. My sweet host and hostess friends probably never knew how much their hospitality spoke to me or shaped me. I may never know how my "instructions" are meant to impact the lives of others. That part isn't in my hands. The important success is to follow the inner light and love, so that I will not be the dropped stitch that someone else needs in their life tapestry.

I'm grateful that it's time for me to be more me, but my real prayer is that my tiny flowering may bless others as I have been blessed.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Random Reason to Rejoice #3

Those glorious periods at the beginning and end of summer when there is no need for either artificial heating or cooling.

No barrier is required between inside and out.We leave the windows open all night, admitting the lovely nocturnal coolness and the unending bug chorus. Sometimes we can even leave them open all day. The breezes blow all the way through our little barn, making the sheer white curtains dance, while the cat lounges on the window sills.

Here's to those brief and precious times marking the turning of seasons. Thanks for the pleasant pauses in our battle with the elements in this part of the world.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Yeah, We Meant To Do That

Ever worked on a house and encountered surprises along the way? The photo above is the After shot of one of ours. I'm not a good enough blogger to have the Before shot, but I do have the story.

Shortly after we moved into our barn/house, I knew that the upstairs bathroom would be a priority for minor improvement. The room was not only wrapped entirely in wood (ceilings, walls, and floor, oh my!) but was also basically devoid of storage in the crucial area around the sink. Actually, there was a shelf (more wood) perched above the (also wood) mirror screwed to the wall, creating a place to stash one's daily products, but who wants to look at a lineup of floss and deodorants all the time? And sometimes retrieving the toothpaste from its high perch brought something else down on my head. This situation was not my idea of efficient or attractive. I had to come up with a solution for this problem area in order to make everyday grooming less annoying.

The obvious solution to part of the problem was a medicine cabinet. Since the existing mirror was simply screwed to the wall, I bought a flush mount cabinet to keep things simple. No worries about trying to create an opening in the wall when who knew what pipes or wires might be back there. Simple job, right? Unscrew one, screw the other up, and done. You already know that it wasn't that simple.

When we unscrewed the mirror and removed it, we found, to our surprise (but really I should have known), that there was an opening there after all. The mirror had a thick back on it, which some previous owner had recessed. Of course, the opening was nowhere near the same size as our cabinet, but it didn't matter anyway. There was also a black plastic pipe, probably a plumbing vent, dead center in the opening.
A recessed cabinet was still out of the question.

I briefly entertained the option of just screwing that mirror right back up onto the wall and figuring out some sort of storage to hang on the slivers of wall on either side of the mirror. But I really wanted a medicine cabinet, and I liked the one that I had bought (at $10.00 off!). We decided to just go for it and figure out something decorative to cover the part of the hole that would be visible below the cabinet.

We got her mounted, and I took off with the necessary measurements to the local antique stores to see what I could find to fill the gap. But here was the other problem: it had to cost as little money as possible. We had just paid almost $500.00 to finally install the gas line for which I'd been waiting for two months and had over $200.00 worth of glass coming for another project (more about that later). We needed a cheap and creative solution indeed.

I considered some pictures and trays priced at $15.00 to $30.00. But when I found a basket of old door panels for $4.75, I knew that I had found my answer. They were cheap, charmingly distressed, and just big enough. With a little something applied to it (a row of old keys? something decoupaged? wording?), it would be perfect.

When I got home with my $5.03 (after tax) problem solver, my husband and I began a Google image search to decide what to put on it. We settled on the Burma-Shave logo for three reasons. 1)
A grooming product logo seemed appropriate for a bathroom. 2) It's a little masculine, which makes the man who used to have to share a bedroom with pink walls and a flowered duvet happy. 3) It's also romantically meaningful to me. When we were courting, Dave once left me paper Burma-Shave signs in my house as a surprise. Clearly, it was the winner.

So Dave dug out his stored acrylic paints and not much later at all we hung up our sign with Command adhesive strips, so there would be no (well, no more) visible screws or worries about splitting the wood. The soft white background color, along with the bright white of the new medicine cabinet, certainly helped brighten up the woodsiness, while the black text was a welcome grounding note. Mostly we were relieved and pleased that our "oops" was covered for cheap in a way that didn't look too bad and added decoration to the room.

I don't know if our little project would win the approval of the Country Living design staff, but at least it's not hideous, and I can get my toothbrush out without fear of a head injury. I call that Progress.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A Floral Reunion

My first instinct upon seeing the upstairs bathroom tub was to paint over the cutsie purple pansies with their yellow throats and overly bright green leaves. The treatment was a little precious for my taste, more Gatlinburg or Branson than Country Living.

Then the mother-in-law and a friend gushed that I just couldn't, and I thought of the work that some unknown soul put into them...and I weakened. I had plenty of other challenges to keep me busy for a while anyway, so I put the decision in the mental percolator and set about unpacking.

But buried in our boxes I found something that made me change my mind about obliterating the pansies--for now. That anonymous folksy artist wasn't the only person who's painted amateurish pansies. That's right, I did, way back in 1991 when I lived in Oregon with an artist for a best buddy who helped me experiment with water colors, among other things. Mine weren't very good either. (OK, so they're not good at all. Watercolors are seriously tricky, people.) Mine were, however, basically the exact same colors, leaves included.

What kind of weird kismet is it that they should match like that? I don't artistically like either my own or the tub's flowers, but I just have to leave them together for at least a while. It's as if they're long lost relatives. Besides, there are lots of tissue boxes with purple on them once you look, and it gives me a place to put my purple bottles that I picked up at Big Lots years ago for 89 cents each and a dish of purple rocks that I bought in St Louis on a trip with my son--the kinds of things that you hold onto without knowing why, until one day you move into a funky house with purple pansies on the tub.

Then again, I'm not sure how much purple I want to introduce into the room nor how long I can live with a flowery tub when my personal aesthetic usually runs toward a simple "paint it white" cottage/beach house/farmhouse look, but for now it just seems meant to be. I'll Let the twin daughters of different mothers bond for a bit while we tackle other projects and I ponder the big question raised by this quirky barn/house: Which wins--my taste or the history? Stay tuned.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

How Do I Love Thee? Part 2

I've related the fateful meeting and courtship. I've shared photos of some of this house's charms. Now, let's continue the story to the part where it gets real.

As usual, first I fell in love, seeing all the sparkly attributes and the amazing things in common. The circumstances were magical. We seemed made for each other. I felt, when I walked into this house, as if I already knew it. You've heard it all before, and probably experienced it, too. Then we moved in and, like newlyweds, we encountered some bumps in the road.

First let me state that, as stressful as moving is all by itself, it was worse for me this time. I finished twelve weeks of an internship that was the culmination of 33 months of culinary school, with a considerable commute each way, on June 25. We began moving in on June 28. On top of that, living with the in-laws had been a constant strain for seven months. To say that I was stressed out was to put it mildly. It would be three weeks after we began moving in before my stress-induced chest pain and heart palpitations would subside. I was deeply hoping to settle into my Country Living dream-home-come-true and live happily ever after.

It didn't quite work out that way. Almost on the day we began moving in, the air conditioning condensation drain backed up into the basement. Then I noticed for the first time that there were no central heating and cooling vents on the upper half story. (Apparently we missed that in all the romance.) I also noticed that the "flooring" in our bedroom wasn't proper flooring at all, just contractor grade pine boards top-nailed to the floor, some with lumber yard stamps visible. Then the first big storm blew through, and I heard a truly disturbing dripping sound. The roof was leaking around the no-longer-used wood stove pipe. All this while we were surrounded by boxes and trying to eat with only a microwave for cooking. The honeymoon was abruptly over, and all the warts were visible.

Mostly because of my stressed out state and my own high-drama tendencies, I was livid. This was supposed to be my Country Living dream house, a gift from God to begin to make up for all sorts of previous domestic deficiencies, the house that maybe wouldn't need more done than I would ever have money to do, the place that I might actually get to decorate and not just keep barely maintained! I was pretty sure that Country Living dream houses did not have leaking roofs!! And wasn't this what I had paid hundreds of dollars in inspection fees to avoid? We did try to be smart, even though we were in love and eager to be united with our very own home.

Part of me knew that I was over reacting. Nothing is perfect, after all. These were just problems to solve. In fact, the inspectors had noted that the flashing around the former wood stove pipe would need to be redone. I just needed to calm down, and surely it would get better.

But every time it stormed--and storm season had apparently decided to begin--that dripping made me furious. At least it was going into the pipe and not the house, but I was deeply affronted that it was happening at all. Yes, I'm that pathetic.

But it gets better. It took me two weeks or so to find anyone who would work on the roof. When that nice man and his assistant took a look at the job, the new flashing diagnosis we expected became a recommendation to remove the wood stove pipe and replace an entire sheet of the metal roofing, since that was the only way to ensure that it wouldn't leak again. And, oh by the way, there was no guttering on the deck roof and the house roof guttering on one side was too short, leaving a corner dangerously exposed to the water coursing down it. The job had now ballooned to an estimate of $1400.00 to $1800.00, which was most of the chunk of money we hadn't had to spend on closing costs and that I had hoped to use to buy furniture. I tried resolutely to maintain my usual position in these circumstances: I was grateful that at least we had the money to do what needed to be done.

But of course the problem wasn't solved then. Two weeks of waiting were required for the new metal to be ordered and shipped, during which I prayed that it wouldn't rain too much.

Not that it was that bad. There weren't torrents of rain pouring into our house. There were just drips into the capped wood stove pipe when it truly stormed. Not a big deal to ANYONE BUT ME!

Adding to the big deal was my lack of success in finding anyone to fix the AC drain problem or to install a gas line from our meter to the cook top of my now installed dual fuel range. But at least I now had a microwave, a crock pot, and an oven. I did a lot of roasting during one of the hottest summers in years. But hey, we had central air! (Well, downstairs.)

When friends would ask me "Are you loving it?" it was all I could do not to wail "No!" There were moments when I swore that I would never buy another "charming" house again. I would find the safest, most boring ranch house in the county, and never have to deal with such disappointments again!

Then my husband would remind me that there is no such thing as a perfect house and detail some of the "problems" his parents have had to solve over the years in the house that they built brand new. I've had friends myself who went through similar travails after a love purchase, and it's all good now. I also reread one of my books that I just "happened to find" (I think not), in which I was reminded by a successful decorator that no house is perfect but needs our love anyway. So I went on unpacking and situating and antiquing...and it did get better.

The AC drain problem was at least diagnosed, if not completely fixed. The plumber hasn't yet returned to replace the busted pipe out in the yard that was the source of the problem, but the basement is dry. My gas line was finally run by the last company in the phone book that I called, so I have full culinary faculties now. And we've done more antiquing (another dream of mine), finding affordable items to solve most of our furnishing woes. Only four visibly cheap items and one stack of boxes left to replace with more intentional choices.

While I don't think Country Living's editors will be emailing me any time soon, I still have hope that we can get our little barn/house looking mostly like we meant to do that by the time I start paying the student loan piper in December and figuring out what to do in the next phase of my life. The traumatic adjustment phase is over, and, yes, I'm loving it now--for just what it is and for what it will become as we experiment and play and love it up. And that's real love.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Random Reason to Rejoice #2

Morning sunlight on dewy fox tail grasses.

I've always loved these. Now I'm privileged to see them each morning that I get to walk. Sometimes I just have to pause and run my hand along one to feel it's delightful fuzziness. Even when I leave them unmolested, I enjoy the way they end in graceful droops that top the field with curves rather than the usual spikiness. They're soft in all the best ways.