RSS

Monthly Archives: February 2019

My life as a house remodel

Today it’s taking more of an effort to enter into the moments, feel the hope, the tingling of possibilities. Walking down to the coffee shop, I only half-notice, then recollect, small gatherings of starlings clicking and writing in the maples above the sidewalk, then two brown wrens conversing, tails bent up and twitching as they shifted between twigs of the only shrub in a block of mowed lawns, the beautiful Salish Sea, in unnameable tones of bluegreen and grey lapping in, and along the way, periodic views of the light reflected off sand bottom punctuated by flat rocks and waving seaweed. Dogs joyfully wagging and sniffing, eagerly running down to the beach under the gray sky. Now I sit facing the window that looks back the way I came, wondering why I was not really present to the moments. Yet people, people are almost too present to  me. I came here to be an anonymous part of a gathering, with the possibility of seeing an acquaintance always welcome, though not likely. I came with the expectation of pleasure, in the freedom to just go somewhere on the spur of the moment wot  the health and time to do so.

But the feeling now is that nothing, nothing will develop from this, that it’s just a thing to do for a break, and I used to need breaks a lot, from my busy household, from the conflicts that sometimes arose there. And later, just to habituate myself to getting out again, no longer needed as a caregiver.  But it’s not a break I need anymore; I need to rebuild. This is not the same life I inhabited before, and I don’t know exactly what to make of it. And build I shall. I am grateful to have access to an abundance of materials, but not sure how to define the space and boundaries, scope out the project, which things to stockpile, how to lay out the work schedule and list of deliverables. Which parts of my past and current life to carefully extract, save, and re-purpose, and which to crack apart with a sledgehammer, pry away with a crowbar and cart away to be reduced to basic elements.

I become aware that two (three? more?) otters have just appeared in the water at the end of the dock and are undulating right to the shore, climbing up the rocks, and no one has seen them yet. It’s a dog, arriving with its owners above on the trail, who gives the signal, and they humans realize something is up, and soon see the curious, whiskered faces of the otters and share in the excitement, holding back the dog with a firm hold. Why are the otters so bold, suddenly, to come all the way onto shore?

The coffee shop is crowded; people are feeling a coming spring now that the Arctic air flow has gone whither it will. The baristas are maxed out and not making very good lattes–no foam; mine has developed a skin, but one must adapt. It’s not the quality of the brew that attracts me here, and I know many people would avoid it for the additional reason of their apparent lack of inclusiveness, as expressed by their refusal to carry a full diversity of free publications. As if, by limiting diversity of viewpoints in cafe owners, one is affirming diversity. I feel the location is worth it. Plus it has the right number of spots always open to stay and write without feeling one is depriving new customers.

Today I wondered if I should be keeping receipts, as I have to define a new direction of the corporation I now run, dormant after the end of my husband’s years as a software consultant. If I fire up my writing and editing as a business, I could claim 50% of meals expenses. I am far from earning anything that way, though I did earn a little in years past.

I continue to watch the scene outside. The otters have swum away, but a small flock of sparrows that nest in the rafters of the shop–apparently legally now, as someone seems to have shamed the cafe owners into removing the metal spines that formerly discouraged them–are squabbling. It’s quite a hierarchical and competitive assembly, but there is peace enough that one male is splaying out his short little wings and preening. Another looks like she has a down feather stuck in her mouth, as she works her beak to try to drop it, then suddenly flies up to the rafters, pulling the gazes of the three approaching walkers, to place it in one of the nests.

The sun is just breaking through, the caffeine is taking the edge off my dullness, and soon the post-church crowd will be here. I have some ideas from this session: since I’m planning a remodel of my house, currently at the design and semi-wild-ass estimation stage, I could use the process as a metaphor, learning from the proven efficient, effective, and articulated project development process of the design-build firm to do my life remodel. Older dwelling, adequate until now with plenty of creativity and compromise, the site of many struggles, joys, comforts, and even a legacy, needs reworking. Define needs and and wants, prioritize, budget, redesign, order materials, with a focus on local, low-impact, underutilized, restored components. Invest in a reasonable stock of beautiful new or lightly used elements that enhance value and utility and will stand the test of time. Order materials, do demolition myself  with the aid of a few skilled friends and family; identify hidden flaws of structure and systems, integrate repairs and upgrades into plan and budget; schedule contractors for phase one. And, with the otters and sparrows, take risks, be curious, but make sure the lining of the nest is insulated, even if from down fallen from my own breast..

 

Tags: , , ,

Winter dinners

I had a dinner idea for tonight, based on a vague memory of something delicious my friends next door cooked a few weeks ago when I invited myself and a few neighbors over to their place to be wined and dined. Well, it happened that way in the end, though I started out just inviting my geologist neighbor and a few other women nearby experiencing a bitterly cold weather snap to share a glass of wine at one of our houses. So the geologist professor and her biologist professor mate, their daughters, and a woman from a few houses down came together for a delicious dinner, with cider and wine. Turned out the professors weren’t well acquainted with the other woman, so that was cool that they all learned more about her, mainly her journey dealing with breast cancer.

I drank wine with the geologist while the biologist cooked, and we sat in the cozy glow of excellent company and food for several hours before bundling up again to walk home in the frosty dark. I am so fortunate to have such neighbors. Later she invited me to her book club, so I’m getting out a lot more than I used to.

I was hosting my kids–three out of the four not having disowned me and still finding family time enjoyable. This time we did it adult-style, with all helping chop, set, wash, mix and set out the food. No more me having the entire meal ready and them showing up just in time to eat, and me being ready for a nap already after all the fuss (unaccustomed, as I don’t cook every day and eat a lot of the same things). The meal did have pasta and smoked salmon like the previous one, but was otherwise completely different, as I left out the capers and added sauteed onions, garlic and sweet peppers, threw in some seasonings and stirred in cream and Parmesan. It turned out to be delicious.

Afterward my youngest son did most of the cleanup–he surprises me daily (sometimes more than once–also today he walked down to the store and along with his own purchases, had bought me my favorite chocolate bar). Then he brought out the Apples to Apples and we spend another nice hour, everyone making an effort to be amiable and not indulge in irritating habitual quirks or take offense at anything. Again, adult style.

My oldest son mentioned he listened to Lydia McCauley a lot lately, so we pulled her up on the audio and relaxed into “The Beauty of the Earth,” all three kids agreeing that it brought back happy memories of waking up to those songs and her other albums when they were kids. I hadn’t realized the impact of that. But come to think of it, I had the same exquisite awakenings as a kid when my dad would play classical music records on Saturday mornings. She being local, we decided to see if we could catch a performance together soon. Then I saw my youngest off to his early bedtime, and my two oldest to their cars with some leftovers, their mail, and my love.

 

Tags:

Uppin’ my game

Ups and downs the last few days, possibly because of certain cycles that have been allowed to express themselves naturally again–I’m not used to it! Currently just tired, glad I will sleep even better than usual tonight, even without a soak. I am very grateful for a good sleep life, love the feeling of sinking away into that dark comfort, even as I sleepily marvel at how it just happens without effort. There are some things that self awareness, intelligence, and conscious mental effort just cannot do for our well-being, and so the more ancient circuitry is allowed, must be allowed, to take over each night.

I was feeling somewhat incompetent at the end of Wednesday, having felt I fumbled my way through my Chemistry and Geometry classes, unable to organize my thoughts well or provide activities sufficiently engaging. These students are very patient, however, and did not attempt to kick me while I was down. Then today some others said some very nice things to me, unsolicited, and I felt supported from several other quarters as well, at school and at home. As for the fumbling, I resolved to spend a season working the extra hours it takes to get a better handle on my Chemistry plans, to integrate some more simple labs, and on the Geometry curriculum–we’re getting bogged down in multiple-step coordinate proofs that I think in the big scheme are not so crucial; maybe just the grappling and exposure, and general approach is the thing for now and I should keep the ball rolling into the next unit. I have a handful of students who came in weeks or months after the year started and are somewhat in the swing of things, and now three more who came with learning under their belt from a different school, but in a different order. So I’m trying to address gaps and general struggles with the material, and inspire students who are not putting in much effort to use the resources they have on their non-campus days (or not, as long as they accept the results).

I also want to take some time to integrate some of the great trainings and shared resources I’ve received to enhance my professional practice, such as project based learning, collaboration protocols, and student empowerment and ownership in the learning process. For example, I have a 3D periodic table project mostly planned, and have been implementing a new process in Algebra 1 where students receive brief group instruction, practice at their “learning edge” (partly self-paced) and use answer keys to check their work, and are encouraged to teach and learn from each other, earning 100% on any skills they both demonstrate on paper and teach to someone through a tip sheet, video, or peer tutoring session. Each student has a “to do” list in their table team folder which they check daily for individualized tasks, including skills quizzes which they complete and return to the folders for grading. They are also learning to write me notes there, such as “Ms __, I really don’t get this yet and will come for help at tutoring.” I then go through each one before the next lesson and see what was accomplished, grade quizzes, write notes about any problem areas, and add new tasks or assign quiz corrections. The quizzes are graded as homework because they reflect the practice they’ve done, without me checking, except now and then for accountability, how much. Then when all 5 to 7 quizzes in a unit have been completed to the best of their ability, they do a practice test, a sheet or problems showing their work, and, if judged ready (or out of time due to being irresponsible), they do the final test on that unit. There are even students who, unable to keep up the pace despite lots of effort, are allowed to progress at their own pace, so that, even though they realize that they may not yet be able to pass the course, they are making progress and could start several units ahead of the crowd the next year as they continue. I’d like to figure out a way to apply the same principles to Geometry and Algebra 2, so that I can focus more on effective teaching and equipping, and less on grading every little thing.

So, weekend rest first, then I’ll do some extra lesson and unit planning. I know I’ll be tempted to avoid that part, so I’ll fill my mind with the exciting vision I just described. I really do get into the groove and love what I’m doing once I get started. I’ve tried to keep from bringing work home this year, and for the first time since I started contract teaching in 2015, I regularly leave all my work at school each evening and weekends. This will just be a bit of extra weekend work and an hour or so longer after classes to get me back in my game, then I’ll reclaim my margin again. Because hard work that produces results is what makes rest and personal time so enjoyable, and I do want to have a clear conscience as I read with my feel up on the hearth, write for hours at the coffee shop, or soak in the hot tub under a full moon.

 

 
1 Comment

Posted by on February 22, 2019 in Education, Places & Experiences

 

Tags: , ,

Thoughts as I warm my feet before the fire

The socks are SmartWool, a from a pack of six pairs, now worn and mismatched, as they are comfortable in all weathers and don’t cause sweaty feet even if I wear them all day inside my sneakers or shoes. Most have lost a mate to heel wear, and then to repurposing as white board erasers.  “That’s a sock!” a student will say.” “A sock! That’s grosse, it’s an eraser, silly!” I rarely wear boots, even in cool weather–not even cute leather ones that would go well with the short skirts and tights I like to wear; my feet get too hot. Today I wore sneakers to work, and still had to remove my shoes to cool my feet off after lunch. It was during my planning time, so no one was there to see me, except there was then an earthquake drill. We evacuated to the gym, and I brought my sneakers, and because I had no students, I decided to rescue one of my classroom plants too, being the color one flashes at the end of the evacuation to show all’s well. All the little children lined up–it was a junior academy day, and smiled or looked curious at my plant. Not much of a plant, really, just a leaf stem that my fifth grade class got to grow a few roots when we were investigating asexual reproduction in plants. Some of the others we propagated are much more lush. This one a high school girl named Herb. Also in the class are Chris, the Christmas cactus, Flora, rescued from my daughter’s room and so grateful to be cured from a ferret mauling that she raised a delicate white rod covered with white florets. Palmer is the one that looked a little palm-ish, and there’s a spider plant on top of the supply cabinet beside the cow skull that wears cat-eye glasses. The plant wears them, that is. The cow’s eye sockets have fake eyeballs.

I keep as many plants in the room as possible for their aesthetic, because there are no windows in my classroom and it gets stuffy, the carbon dioxide level rising all day (from about 300 to 1300 ppm–we measured), and the plants grow better there than in my house because of the fluorescent light and extra CO2. Every time I find an acceptable pot at the second hand store I visit most weeks on the way home, I start another piece of vine or rooted cutting. I’m thinking of starting a plant for each student who comes in as a freshman and handing it over, much grown, when they graduate.

I sit with my feet on the hearth each morning as I eat breakfast, and each evening after work. I grew up doing that by a real wood fire, and it feels right, even through this is a gas fire. The tiles get warm, and one can spread out chilled fingers to restore feeling after a mail box run or snow shoveling session. The thermostat is set to 23 degrees Celsius, so my feet get cyclically overheated and I slide them to the side periodically. It’s the only heater working these days, the main furnace having died, though there are space heaters, and I use an electric pad to warm my bed before I slide my feet under the sheets.

At the hearth I sit in a chair I got for $10 at our local recycled building supplies store, refinished and reupholstered in beautiful wavy striped warm tones. The seat is pretty grimy after hard use, but if I can’t get it clean, I can use the extra fabric I bought and re-reupholster it. The best spot to sit basically blocks the circulation in the room for walking. That’s one of the design improvements I’m working on for the house remodel. I want there to be cozy space for two or three right up by the fire if wanted. I will probably also go with an efficient wood stove, with gas for another room, probably in the new upstairs studio. My current gas insert is almost at the end of its useful life too, and is only working because a friend of my brother-in-law did him, and especially me, the immense favor of hunting down and patching on a part that gave the igniter a few months more of utility. It would have cost over $900, but the charge was waived out of kindness. I’m a widow, yes, but my brother in law is the most amazing finesser I have ever seen, and makes people want to do him kindnesses. Even though I know this, he can still get me to give him more of my summer beet harvest than I should. He’s been very kind as well to us, in his deep grief at losing his twin brother so young. They were fraternal, in many ways opposite, but very close.

As I eat, or drink tea or my own mixed concoction of juice and soda (some of the juice is from my berries), sometimes plain and sometimes with a dash of vodka or wine, I look at the flames, read and think. I just finished The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton. Not finding much interest an very many Christian topics, I was surprised at how it captivated me, so I read it in about a week. I thought about one of my Catholic friends, who is particularly alive and devoted to her faith, and who has had many masses said for us, especially during my husband’s illness. She would be pleased that I enjoyed the book. I thought of my Jewish friend too, as the liturgies and spirituality seemed very similar, to my Protestant eyes at least. The former invited me to hear mass at her church, and my husband went for healing prayer and discussion with her priest. The latter invited me to shul a few times. Both types of services were very meaningful, especially the sense of community, the chanting and music, but I did not see to allowing their call to penetrate very far. I am in fallow state as far as religion is concerned, though the reasons are complex, and have nothing to do with my husband’s death due to cancer. As I’ve written before, for me that is not a reason to lose one’s faith.

This evening my son asked if I minded if he took the chair so he could wind down before bed with a cup of tea. I yielded the place to him, stood near the fire for a while, then took the couch. I was hoping to chat with him about this and that, but after a few exchanges, he politely asked that we not talk, so he could clear his mind and hopefully then sleep better. I don’t see much of him, just a few minutes in the morning, a few in the evenings before he retires rather early to bed (he is a very early riser). I acquiesced, but then forgot, and as I started to tell him about a funny conversation with a fifth grade student having his mind blown by fraction multiplication, my son, mid-sip, tried to remind me that he didn’t want to converse, and choked on his tea, spitting up a bunch on the floor. He got angry, blamed me, and slammed his door on the way to bed. He came out to apologize, but was still upset and worried that wouldn’t sleep well. He’s troubled in his sleep these last months. Holding in his grief, and distracting himself with podcasts and social computer gaming and role play. He’s a good fellow, and he’ll be okay. He’ll be sixteen in a few months, and could have really used a dad for many years to come. After he left I felt particularly heavy hearted and had a bit of a cry. But I thought of what I’d heard so far of the audiobook I just started, Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. I meditated on just a few of my blessings, and soon felt more peaceful.

Also on the hearth tiles are a few home design books, and several on woodworking I just got from the library. I got distracted from the audiobooks section I was headed for, and now I am inspired to set up my own wood shop, with a custom made workbench and tools storage as my first projects. Right now the garage is a semi-dismantled quasi-bedroom full of bins of fabric, photos, furniture parts, and off season clothing. I have a lot of organizing to do. The shop isn’t a new idea, but it may come about a little earlier than planned. For the house remodel, I plan to do any of the work I can do well, enjoy, and which can bring significant savings, so I’ll want to have everything organized when the time comes. It could be as soon as this fall, but more likely next winter or spring. I might rough in some more shed storage space in the meantime, as well as patch up my little garden shed.

The fireplace is framed with ivory stone tile. This was done about twenty years ago, so it’s surprising how well I remember the installer explaining and showed us how one must lay out the tiles beforehand to plan their arrangement, not just place them any old way. It was important to balance and vary the shade and veins through the granite surfaces, he said. He was our first hired workman. Despite our having done so much work to the house over the past twenty-two years, there have not been many. There was a father and son carpet installation team, a fellow hired to help with some of the more structural concrete work, and when my husband got very busy with work, he consented to a handyman to install window and door trim (until I learned how and he consented to allow me). A local craftsman made and installed a few more cabinet pieces for our expanded kitchen and replaced our interior doors and trim. And a young man repaired our fence after a windstorm. My husband did basically all the rest, with the help of family members and a few friends. he built the mantle, installed all the windows, closed in the car port, poured and finished the front and back steps, patio and driveway, updated lighting and electrical, replaced flooring, knocked down and rebuilt walls, insulated, installed and finished wallboard, added oak flooring to what we had (which I refinished), redid all the plumbing and fixtures (I did the tiling), put on a new roof, felled trees that were too close to the house. A few years ago he leveled about a hundred of feet of fence line and built a six foot cedar fence, putting each panel together by hand. His last job before shifting his focus to healing was to build a base and electrical lines for a new hot tub. After I finish my tea by the fire, I’ll go out there, where I will relax under the stars listen to the wind and the sound of distant traffic. It’s the same effect as a cozy fireplace, except by immersion, and, when one exits and returns to the real world, it has a bracing effect.

 
 

Tags: , ,

Real estate of being

Real estate of being

What is property, that I could have a deed for it,

indeed?

A few square (cubic?) miles of minerals,

just like what’s left of you

in weighty ashes

to be scattered over this property,

over the milestones of our years after you.

With a skin of organic matter,

captured from the air with the power of the sun

and steaming away again in a great cycle,

burning, as you did in your furnace.

It is only numbered coordinates,

vertices on a polygon,

perched on graveled turf sliding downhill

on drifting crust of a continental island

on this spinning ball hurtling through nothing

in a universe expanding.

 

And each atom of each mineral,

Of every carbohydrate and amino acid polymer

is made, we are told,

of mostly nothing

or, more or less precisely,

force fields.

So, I force myself on these fields

and name them mine.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on February 4, 2019 in Arts, Poetry and Music, My poems