Sunday, December 6, 2015
Mom and I were at the hospital several times a week. I was on a first name basis with the lab staff, and I knew the coffee and cookie schedule in the waiting room. The hospital was like a second home for awhile there...Mom and I even got to the point where we could find some levity in our situation. Her experimental treatment was beginning to work, and the scans showed her Cancer slowing in growth. I'll never forget the sparkle of hope in her eye when she asked her oncologist early that December, "Will I be able to play Santa one more year?" Time: you just don't realize how overwhelming such a gift can be until "tomorrow" is no longer assumed. We were going to make it a Christmas to top all Christmases.
To add to the dichotomy, I was learning to accept end of my marriage and work through the hurt and bitterness that was left in my heart at its sudden end. In the way that it ended, unexpected for me, it induced strong feelings of grief. It was as if my spouse and life partner had died. Meanwhile, I was trying to put myself out there...meet new people and find myself again. I signed up for an online dating account to find companionship...I wanted an occasional evening of socialization...conversation in a coffee shop...maybe I would even find a friend. I had no expectations of permanency with anyone I met, I just needed to get out of my own head and away from death now and again. You see, by this time, I had decided that I wanted to live, and I wanted to love life. There were some very dark days in there, and I am profoundly grateful to have had my mother to pull me up from the abyss.
I had an online dating account for a whopping three weeks. That's how long it took for Nick and I to find one another. That's not entirely true...more accurately, that's how long it took us to connect. Part of the registration process for an online dating profile requires you to specify who you are looking to meet. I get the logic of that, but I know from my time on this earth that the best things in my life have been "off plan" so to speak. We don't always know what we want, so we outline what we think we should want. I was 24 at the time, and I think the age range I provided capped at 30.
Nick was 33 at the time and saw my profile soon after I registered. Yet, he never reached out because he didn't think he was what I wanted. Meanwhile, I could see that there was this guy who kept looking at my profile...I liked the person his profile painted, and he seemed kind, but obviously he wasn't interested in me or he would have reached out. So we played cat and mouse online for a few weeks until one of us finally broke the cycle (hint: it wasn't me). It was Christmas day 2005 when Nick contacted me the first time. Our first meeting and date was New Years Day, 2006.
I certainly wasn't in a good place to start a serious relationship. I just wanted a friend now and then. Sometimes though, if you're lucky, you meet a person who fills all the empty places inside of you and warms away all the cold. I still don't know who would sign up to begin dating someone in my position...my life was shrouded in darkness then. He didn't know me...barely at all really...but he wanted to be the person I could lean on as I said goodbye to the best woman I'd ever know.
You see, Mom got that one last Christmas, but time was running out. It didn't matter what the tests showed, we all just knew.
I never would have imagined that I would become whole again. I never thought I would enjoy another Christmas ever again...how could I? She was the joy, she was the spirit. I just got to be along for the ride all those years (or so I thought). It turns out that I was apprenticing all that time to carry on the spirit after she left...but it's at this time more than any other that it doesn't feel like she left at all. She's in every ornament I hang, every memory a Christmas carol triggers, every tradition I uphold. It's trite, but there really is magic this time of year...warmth that transcends differences, self interest, and even the divide between this life and the next.
Sunday, May 24, 2015
With the exception of last year, the year I have given the working title of The Living Death, Nick and I have had a longstanding tradition to welcome the unofficial start of summer enthusiastically with a day of biking, a day of hiking, and a day of kayaking (in no particular order). We refer to it as the trifecta, and it's as much a reason to jumpstart our out-of-shape cold weather bodies as it is to embrace the reasons we still live in the midwest despite the long bite of winter.
This year, it doesn't appear that the forecast will allow three dry days to complete the trifecta, but we hit kayaking and hiking with a vengeance while the sun was in session. We both used vacation time on Friday to squeeze in an extra day without rain. We were out on the water just after 9:00 on Friday morning for a smooth, soul-freeing paddle along Mirror Lake.
We had the lake mostly to ourselves until the afternoon matured, and weekend visitors arrived in the Wisconsin Dells area to begin their long weekends. Those hours of solitude were the definition of perfection, but the weight of underused upper body muscles made itself known on the last stretch of our established path as we fought the current rolling toward the dam where we turned around. (We'll save portaging over the dam for a time when the arms don't feel so noodly as we approach.)
When we decided to call it a day, we worked like a well-oiled machine to pack up the boats. It felt good to work in tandem so naturally, like this is who we are—an active couple who likes spending time together...and it is. The seamlessness of our actions was so automatic that I didn't appreciate it until an older couple who parked near the boat launch remarked upon how easy we made it look to transition from paddling to travel-ready.
I felt fine on Saturday. I felt alive. I felt happy. Endorphins are so yummy...I can't believe I forgot the high. Saturday was to be the last pleasant day of the long weekend, so we planned a morning hike at one of my favorite places in Wisconsin: Devil's Lake.
In typical extremist Laura fashion, I picked the hardest trail to begin and agreed that we should take the harder of the two trails on the other side of the lake to get back to the car. According to my Fitbit, the first part of the first trail was the equivalent of climbing the stairs of 45 floors without rest—basically a long, continuous, boulder staircase straight to the top of the cliff. By the time we finished the paths on both sides of the lake, Fitbit had me clocked in at 113 floors.
I was proud to have accomplished such a feat because it had been years since we completed a challenging trail on both sides of the lake. By the second side, my right hip (the wonkier of the two) was definitely protesting movement, but I talked her into sticking it out (mainly because we had no choice if we wanted to get back to the car).
The photo of myself at the top of this post was taken before we left the house that morning...fresh-faced and happy. I used to feel like that every weekend, because every weekend meant a new adventure. I want to become fit enough to recapture that spirit. My mom used to have a plaque at her desk (at work) that read, "If it is to be, it is up to me." It's a statement that has stuck with me through some of my tougher times. I decided to put it in play through this journey; I've even added it to the site header.
Today, it's difficult to interpret the results of my enthusiasm. Difficult because, while I am in increased pain, I can't know why. Today is also rainy, and though it's cliché, my [arthritic] lower body joints become real jerks every time it rains. I'm still navigating physical activity on the D-L, so I will have to pay attention and listen to my body (when I figure out what it's trying to tell me).
I dearly hope I don't have to take two steps back after taking such a thrilling step forward this weekend. For the sake of the trifecta, I would love some dry time tomorrow to take the bikes for a spin, but the forced break might be a kindness to a mind that has decided to push through whatever pain may come. For now, I'll post an old photo to help me remember where I want to be again.
Monday, January 26, 2015
I tried really hard not to pay today with the price of my tears. Then the weight of memory—and worse, the ache of what I could have shared with you the past nine years—came to rest upon my heart. Your absence still hurts as if it were the first day, when I could barely find the breath to figure out how to go on. Oh how I miss you.
If I can share one thing from the past nine years with you, it's this: I listened. I remember every lesson you ever gave me, and I am a profoundly better person for it. I see life through your lens.
I am grateful for everything.
You gave me that. You gave me the riches of appreciation, and every day seems grander and more magnificent than the last. My heart would likely drown in the flood of joy if only you were here to share it all with me. Maybe that's why you had to go.
I will forever think of you as my blessing...the greatest gift that any child, any little girl, could ever imagine. We will be kindred spirits always...a thief like death could never take that away from me...us.
But I confess that on days like January the 26th, I lose myself in the void of your absence...and I wish for any other reality to be true as long as I'm still somewhere with you.
Sunday, November 30, 2014
Look at the pretty new window seat and storage bench! Our trim carpenter Jeff reminds me so much of my father...it's very refreshing in a lot of ways, but mostly because I just know that he's extremely capable and wants more than anything for us to love the end product. Whenever Nick and I stop by while he's there, he'll stop what he's doing to chat. We feel a little awkward about that because we don't mean to be disruptive—but he just loves people. He'd rather take time to visit and work late than get done early. I have to say that everyone who has worked on our home has been extremely friendly and personable, but some have made more of an impression than others.
My favorite person to work with, hands down, has been the person who designed our cabinetry. What's that you say? Oh yes, we have cabinets now! In more rooms than we don't actually (now that I think about it). Leland took very good care of us, and he was so extremely pleasant to work with. He actually has a background in psychology and told me that having couples therapy skills has proven very beneficial for his line of work with spouses building homes. He was a fantastic mediator (though I would like to believe that we weren't all that hard to work with for any of our vendors) and seemed totally invested in creating our dream. When the trim carpenter had questions about the cabinets delivered, it was Leland who came out personally to review the delivery and take measurements.
He's seriously the awesomest ever. I almost want to put cabinets in the rest of the rooms just to work with him some more...going over board? Perhaps.
The trim carpenter also installed all the locks on the house, so we are now secure enough for really expensive things to be delivered. You know, expensive things like light fixtures. Seeing all of the beautiful light fixtures we selected stacked in the office was...underwhelming. Depressing is a better-fit for what I felt when I saw how little space $6,000 actually fills. The money all goes poof so quickly...it's unreal. It all still feels worth it though. My home is my center, my grounding...where else should our money go but toward our foundation (in every meaning of the word I suppose)?
I could go on more about this, but really where one spends their earnings is a very personal decision. Neither one of us is independently wealthy, but we take pride in our strong work ethic and the quality of our work. Not becoming a parent in my 20s (as I had originally assumed would happen) altered my path through life. I've decided that I cannot write my own story—nobody can. All we can do is start a new chapter and see how it plays out. I finally feel like I am personally accomplishing something in my life, and being financially strong enough to build a home is only a small part of that...anyway: I thought my stream of consciousness tendencies were limited to pencil and paper, but not so the case here.
We are in the final stretch...twelve days to go. In the next week, all trim should be finished and painting should be touched up. The mason, Rocky (*snicker* - c'mon, what are the odds?), should be out to finish the fireplace, and the front porch railing will come to life. Oh, and let's not forget that expensive pile of cardboard. The electrician should be out in the next few days to assemble and install the light fixtures. I want to see a couple of those chandeliers REALLY, REALLY BAD!
Sunday, November 16, 2014
There has been so much visible progress in the last week, I'm not even sure which pun to go with for the title!
Well, since I'm struggling where to start, let's go through the week!
26 days to go.
Sunday, November 9, 2014
When your day is long
And the night, the night is yours alone
When you're sure you've had enough
Of this life, well hang on
Don't let yourself go
'Cause everybody cries
And everybody hurts...sometimes.
—"Everybody Hurts" by R.E.M.
I've had a hard day. Really, I've had a hard week, but today just took the cake. If I had to make a bet (and I dislike gambling), I'd put my money on the wintry front headed our way. I have had some big decisions to think through at work, I've been worried because Sophie's sick, and then there's the house. I'm doing my best to stay upright and look like nothing is wrong through the haze of narcotics...but I'm worn out.
A friend at work gave me PowerStrips to try over the weekend to see if they would help. If anything, they made yesterday miserable because I let the pain get out of control hoping that the strip would be able to replace the controlled substances that I've been prescribed for breakthrough pain. Wishful thinking, I'd say, to believe that I could replace a lion with a caterpillar and no one would be any the wiser. Once I accepted that I needed narcotics, I couldn't get an upper hand over the pain; I eventually took muscle relaxers to knock myself out. Today, a cloud of Bengay surrounds me everywhere I go.
I wasn't expecting to have to go anywhere (wanting to lick my wounds in private, naturally), so I loaded up on medication. Then Nick tells me that he needs to clean gutters for someone before the snow arrives. Great, have fun, I thought. He didn't expect anyone to be at the house, so he needed someone to spot him, to be there in case he fell from the roof. Okay, I guess that's a good reason to bring me out of private wound-licking.
Later, we were chastised for not spending enough time with someone. While it cut me deeply because I feel like I'm just barely keeping my head above water as it is, I am reminded of something Mom always used to say: "Everybody has a story." We all have needs, and sometimes those needs aren't met. Everybody does hurt sometimes, be it emotional or physical, and for many different reasons. I don't think we ever mean to hurt the people we love, but it happens just the same. The important thing to remember is that we need to step outside of our own sagas now and then to appreciate what is happening around us.
I know this is a crappy post so far, no sunshine or roses to be found. I think some house updates are in order!
The taping/mudding process is ridiculously long! I mean, I get it...a coat of plaster has to dry completely before it can be sanded and before additional coats can be applied...but still! I can't remember if we stopped by the house on Monday, but I know mudding was underway when we stopped by on Tuesday, and it was still happening yesterday (Saturday) when we stopped by to see if a light fixture fit in a space. In any event, texturing and paint should happen soon.
What else...hmm. Siding is done on three sides of the house, and the platform for the screened porch has been built. The siding is a lot darker than I was anticipating, but I actually like how much it pops with the white trim. As a cost saving measure, we agreed to a siding in what we were told was similar to a color in a less expensive brand than the color we liked best. We thought we were getting a creamy mocha but got milk chocolate instead. Oh well, at least it's still chocolate, right?
Speaking of the screened porch, we also decided on the color of the Trex product that will be used throughout the porch: a multi-tone color called Tiki Torch. I'm not sure when the material will be delivered, but I am excited to see the porch come together. I believe the expected accumulated snow has been downgraded in our area, but I had hoped that we would have seen the screen porch complete before any of that silly white stuff tickled the ground just the same.
Last but not least, the garage floor and front porch were poured on Thursday! They will need to come back to pour the driveway, sidewalk to the front door, and some stairs yet, but it's exciting to see these pieces done! We are supposed to get locks on the doors in the next week, and our light fixtures are scheduled to be delivered in just over a week (I am very excited to see those installed).
Sunday, November 2, 2014
Last Wednesday, we stopped by the house to find boxes of siding had been opened. The boxes had been stacked in front of the house several days by that point, and seeing them suddenly open was seriously like being in second grade and watching the chicks hatch from the eggs in the incubator. Nick led the way to the back of the house as our relaxed gate became bouncy: MUST FIND THE SIDING! And we did find it, and it was awesome (even though it was only a tiny bit)!
I thought that for sure, the siding would be finished by the end of the week! But. No. Either I am guilty of gross oversimplification (possible, likely), or there have been delays that I don't understand (possible too, likely too).By the end of the day on Thursday, two-thirds of the back were sided. By the end of the day on Friday, the northern side was finished. Workers were out on Saturday morning, and by the end of the day, the southern side was finished. Going into this week, we have 1/3 of the back and 100% of the front of the house left to complete...so, [knocks on wood] I hope to have pictures of a fully-sided house by this time next week!
All drywall was hung when we stopped by on Wednesday, and it's amazing how much difference a little drywall makes! I've been staring at studded walls for a very long time now, but the rooms all seemed so different with the drywall. Much like the siding (see "possible, likely" notes), I had assumed that with drywall all hung at the end of Wednesday, that left two full days to at least start mudding the seams. In my mind, this was perfect because the materials would have all weekend to dry, meaning that wall texturing and painting could move up on the schedule. Take off your PM hat, Laura: this isn't your project to manage (it's just so hard to keep out of it). Nothing else happened on the interior after Wednesday. So, pin a rose on your nose, Laura.
After months of carrying buckets of details around with me everywhere I went, months of worrying that I wouldn't make selections or contact vendors quickly enough, months of stressing over pretty much everything in my life...here I am with nothing to do. I started thinking about towels and other linens that I need to buy tonight, but my husband scolded me—Why wouldn't you wait until the after-Thanksgiving sales!? Because, Nicholas. Because I...well...because if...because...okay FINE: YOU'RE RIGHT. Man, that was hard to type.
Saturday, November 1, 2014
(This picture is from June, so don't be thinking we're negligent parents for letting our ward walk around without a proper coat in the steadily-falling, late-autumn temperatures!)
Sophie, Sophie, Sophie. You all know by now that she has Nick and me completely whipped, and we all but worship her. (Okay.
She lived with her grandma Joan, Nick's mom, for a few months (enough time for her to put Joan under her spell too, I think), because we were worried how she would be with other cats in residence—our subterranean loft living arrangement came with three cats already included. I was trying to be unselfish with the situation; I wanted the best for Sophie even though I missed her like crazy. Upon returning home from a week of travel (for work) in 2013, Nick surprised me by reuniting our little family. Sophie was back with us, and I don't think she stopped purring for more than a couple minutes that first night.
Best of all, she has adapted well to life with other cats. She is actually quite chummy with a couple of them, leading Nick to continually paraphrase Shawshank Redemption: "...thick as thieves, them two are!" Now it presents a new problem for us since language continues to be a barrier, meaning that Sophie cannot tell us herself: should we get her a companion when we move? Will she now be lonely only having dopey humans (who leave her alone all day long) available for socializing?
We've been waffling for months. I know people who bring home new cats and it disrupts the peace in the household with the existing animal(s). Lord knows we melt and make mewling sounds when we see kittens, but we need to make sure that if we adopt another cat that it is for Sophie, not us. She's our baby, after all!
Meanwhile, I've got rescued Maine Coons on my radar...my love for the "gentle giants" of the cat world has only grown since knowing and loving our Sophie. Stay tuned for the developing story, I suppose...I'm pretty sure I can make out the writing on the wall though.
Thursday, October 30, 2014
So, we move in six weeks. SIX WEEKS. That seems so close yet so far away at the same time!
I've been having a happier experience with the house than I was last week at this time. I am the liaison with our builder's project manager for the most part. I'm not sure if I was designated for the role or it just came to me naturally because it was the best fit—either way, it's working for Nick and me even though it stresses me out at times. I am a project manager professionally, so organizing large projects and communicating with different personalities has become a learned skill.
Last week, we walked into a newly insulated house that wasn't water-sealed before the afternoon rain came through. Now, I'm not exactly educated in the trades, but I am a handyman's daughter—and armed with common sense at the very least. I would hope that anyone would see an issue with standing water caught in the ceiling mesh and pooled on the floor inches away from the new insulation.
Now, lest you think I'm just a hothead (I'm anything but), this wasn't the first instance of ball-dropping (or perceived ball-dropping) that we've observed from our site project manager. It was just one more thing to add to the list. Negative messages require a certain finesse, and I usually need some time to mull over my approach. I spent the night stewing with Nick (who was even more worked up about it than I was). By morning, I had my calm back and my message planned. By midday I had a lot of promises, and I saw follow-through over the next several days.
A coworker of mine is acquaintances with someone who lives just down the road from our house. It gave me a chuckle today when she relayed his [snoopy] observations: "It was the weirdest thing...they installed insulation before shingles! Then one day an army of people came in and shingled the roof in one day!" Even though I was humored, we'll have to be wary of that neighbor...he seems to keep his eye on things. I bet I'm going to have to stop dressing like a chicken and clucking at Sophie. Drats.
Back on schedule, and back on countdown...let's do this!
Wednesday, October 8, 2014
Continued from I see the light!
Shall we go upstairs then?
Very similar to the foyer light from the earlier post, we ordered a larger version (that wasn't on display, so you have a stock photo to imagine the majesty) to hang over the stair landing between the first and second floor. It has 9 lights instead of six and an extra tier of crystals. There is also a third size available that is smaller than the two we ordered, but we didn't have a space that called for that size.
We have a couple fun pieces upstairs, but we also tried to keep it toned down so it doesn't end up looking gaudy. The two crystal chandeliers should be the focal point anyway...and they provide the requisite amount of sparkle for any home of mine! In the laundry room, we are doing something fun with the floor (yes, yes...I need to post about flooring, I know) involving two wood tones, so I wanted a light that would compliment that design.
It's in the photo above, but it's not prominent (partly because it's not illuminated). As my buddy Michael, our all-things-light-fixtures-guru said, "It's girly, just not too girly." You can see a better photo to the left...I'm excited to see how it will look with floor. After all, it's a laundry room. When is there ever excitement in the laundry room? NEVER. The answer is never...unless you get jazzy with floors and lighting. Just to seal the deal, lighting-dude-extraordinaire Jeremy plugged the light in for us to get the full effect (photo to the right).
Simple glass with antique copper brackets will light the hallway leading to the guest rooms and the guest bath. This was also a chance for us to save some money because the tally has becoming astronomical. I really liked the simplicity of the design for this fixture, and that it was one of the more economical was just a bonus in my book.
It's actually a bit of a story that brought these lights to the hallway: Michael originally talked us into a different fixture to line the space (there are three fixtures total). I have been comfortable with my decisions throughout the entire selection process, but we also try to take feedback from the vendors who do this stuff for a living. I was feeling odd that we really hadn't listened to Michael's directions a whole lot during the lighting selection (I've just always had definite ideas what it would look like I guess), and I admit that I began to doubt myself. When the special order items were ordered on Monday, it was discovered that the lights we selected were on back-order with current estimations for them to be back in stock by late November. I wasn't willing to gamble with that timeline, and I was secretly glad at the "excuse" to go back to these simpler lights for the hallway. Silly Laura...you don't need an excuse: it's your house.
The original lights for the hallway matched the lights going in the two guest rooms. The fixture sitting atop the box is what we selected for those rooms. It is definitely a transitional piece, mixing the traditional and modern styles that we like (sorry I don't have a better photo). I think the coordinating lights in the hallway would have looked fine, but the lighter use of metal in the other fixtures feels right to me.
One last room before we get to the master suite: the guest bathroom. There was a little drama over this room recently: the wrong shower/tub surround was delivered. When we stopped by yesterday, the correct unit has since been delivered—PRESTO-CHANGO: surround switched. So in terms of drama, we're obviously not doing too badly. The only thing of "slight" concern is that we can't remember if we've ordered a kitchen sink from anyone. We've thought of everything but the kitchen sink...how cliché. But anyway...GUEST BATH.
I have square sinks going in the bathrooms upstairs, so we carried those angles into the vanity lights. The guest bath has a sort of a mini anteroom with the sink and vanity. The "real" bathroom action takes place beyond this vestibule and will have a fan/light combination for lighting. We selected a four-light fixture for this space even though my preference is three because the space seemed too large for just three lights. I still might think about a counter-top lamp if it seems too dim, but I'm hoping that it will be soft and glow-y and perfect without. Michael really had my style pegged by the end of our appointment, and I think he knew before asking if I would like something.
The other half of the second story is the master suite. We have our bedroom, a little sitting area, then a back hallway that leads to the walk-in closet and master bath. The bedroom has a tray ceiling that we are wiring to light the perimeter for a little ambiance. In addition, we have can lights in each of the four corners and a small ceiling fan (without a light) in the center of the tray for a little air circulation.
I think one of my favorite places in the whole house is going to be the little sitting area off the master bedroom. The sunrise reaches in from the left and dusk tucks us in from the right. I'm a little in love if it isn't obvious. (Nick's obviously attracted to that space too, as you can see by the picture.) As was the struggle throughout the light fixture selection process, I wanted to choose something as beautiful as the natural parts of the house—the natural light, the conservancy—yet fixtures that did not detract from their perfection.
I referred to this drum, semi-flush mount light as the "Frank Lloyd Wright-y one" during the visit. Even though that isn't anywhere close to the name, Nick and Michael knew exactly which one I was talking about (so obviously my name was better that the actual, more generic name). More oil-rubbed bronze contrasted with white (do you notice a theme?), but with a little dab of interesting thrown in.
We have recessed can lights through the back hallway (two or three I believe). In the master closet, we have the same style fixture as the main hallway on the second floor (just the next size larger). That's right...there are two larger lights in there...because the closet is huge. I am ruined for all other closets now, just so you know. I'm tickled when someone (such as a vendor) walks through the framed house and mistakes the closet for a bedroom.
Right. Onto the master bathroom then. We have two light/fan combination units in this space: one in the center of the room for the shower and freestanding tub; and one in the little alcove (with a pocket door) where we tucked away the toilet. The vanity has two square sinks separated by an appliance garage in a dark wood stain. To bring out the angles of the sinks and also the dark wood (and to match EVERY OTHER FIXTURE IN THE ENTIRE HOUSE), we chose the fixture to the right in the oil-rubbed bronze finish.
And...that's it. Those are the lights...we took a seat after deciding on the last one...in part because it's difficult for me to stand that long without getting off my feet, and in part because I was sweaty just thinking about the mounting total. Michael came back to us with the scribbles he captured throughout our three hours chatting and choosing lights. Our budget was blown to smithereens, but we've been able to cover our overs with savings—our "overs" stockpile has been depleted now, so it's a good thing that the selection process is all but over. Now we wait to see if it all comes together as smoothly as we imagine and as enchanting as I dream.
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