Prickly vs. Squishy

31 08 2007

T minus two days. 

Signed the papers to list the house.  Having periodic spasms of worry.  What if the house sells before he has a job?  Where will we live?  In a hotel?  How much does a hotel cost with four kids?  What if the house doesn’t sell and he doesn’t get a job?  Will we be reduced to EATING THE CHICKENS!!!!   Aaagh!

Too much painting.  High on the fumes.  When I lay down, the house seems to circle around my head.  Taking the morning off to go to Greenfield Lake tomorrow.   Both the little boys would only fall asleep clutching me, one on each side like bookends.  I received the definite impression that I haven’t been spending enough time with them lately. 

Here’s something funny for you- Michael has become obsessed with certain private portions of his anatomy.  He knows what one part is for- after all, he uses it every day!  It’s the other bit that bothers him.  He keeps asking me, “What is this FOR, mommy?”  He and I have been having discussions about what we call “baby seed” and what his body will do when he grows up.  Michael has arrived at some conclusions:

1) He is going to grow up to be a mommy.  “So I have more Patricks,” he says patting his tummy, “Bigger, bigger like you!”  No argument will convince him otherwise.  He is firmly convinced he gets a choice about the matter.

2) In order to do this he needs a “wife.”  He wanted to know if he could have mine, and was very impatient when I didn’t understand.  “Off your hand!” he demanded, pointing to my wedding ring.  I suppose I should be grateful he’s gotten half the point!

3) You need more than one person to have a baby.  He was counting on his fingers this evening, “Donal, Brenna, Patrick and me… we have lots and lots of Patricks!”  Last night, when I was explaining that he needed to grow up to have a baby, he told me very seriously, “When I get bigger bigger like you , you and I have a baby, mommy.”

4) A belly button is not enough.  I was trying to explain to him that his body needed to change into a grown-up man before babies became an option.  I was pointing out Neal’s beard stubble, hairy chest, and furry tummy to him.  “You have to have furry and prickly, and be a big big man to have a baby,” I said. 
       He thought about this for a while.  Then he put his hands on my face and said rather sternly, “You not prickly!  You have a baby!”  
       I could tell he thought he was shooting holes in my logic.  So I put his hands on, um… a part of my body traditional to females, and said, “No, I’m not prickly, I’m squishy.” 
       He squished me thoughtfully for a minute, then turned away.  He looked very downcast and said,  “All I have is a belly button.”

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Firstborn

31 08 2007

Under a quivering canopy of leaves,
Lulled by the low-hummed melody of bees,
On a clean blanket upholstered by green grass
The end of my childhood has come to pass.
You sweet baby, so fragile, so small-
So terribly innocent of anything at all!
Your hands splay and spasm, your legs pull in,
My universe upends at the tremble in your chin.
Your face turns groping, your tiny mouth seeks,
Your warm lips brush moist on the curve of my cheek.
So hungry, so thirsty, quite consumed by need!
Then tippling and nodding with satiate greed.
How could a Mother be made in my place
By this wee sleekit morsel, smallest scrap of our race?
Bemused, I hardly can tell what I’ve become,
Delirious in love, drowning in sun,
Drowsing then waking all along afternoon
to kiss you my sun, my starshine, my moon.





The Long, excruciating story of the $1000 bathtub

26 08 2007

      House countdown: T minus eight days…  We list before Labor Day.  I will be dead of exhaustion by then.

      On the plus side, I just had a nice soaky bath in my new, barely been used, one thousand dollar bathtub!  Of all the things I can’t take with me, the bathtub is the one I most regret.
       There’s a story behind the bathtub, of course.  The old bathtub was a white-enameled steel tub that was used in the Pleisocene era to bathe baby Pteradactyls that were born to unwed mothers.  It passed down through the generations, briefly figuring as an ostrich chick incubator on the Ark, and eventually was installed in this house as a conversation starter.  And boy did it start some conversations! 
      Like, “What on earth is that streaky orange stuff all over the tub?”  Answer: Potassium. 
      “Can’t you get it off?”  Ans: Yes, with a muratic acid cleaner purchased from a Janitorial supply store, unless I don’t clean it for a while, in which case I have to spray it with a high-acid urinal cleaner that emits poisonous gasses and greenish smoke.  
       “What on earth happened to your grout?”  Ans: See answer to question #2, etc…
       When the bathroom toilet line broke and began dripping through the downstairs ceiling, we realized that we would have to remove the ancient lead sewage pipe and replace it with PVC.  Thus beginning…

THE LONG EXCRUCIATING STORY OF THE $1000 BATHTUB!

      In order to remove the pipe, we had to take up the toilet and bust up the tile floor.  It then became necessary to remove the wall in large pices in both the up and downstairs bath.  (The pipe in question was a T-shape, with the long top of the T extending about three feet up and down the wall.)  Unfortunately, the wall of the upstair bath was TILED in tile that matched the floor and tub enclosure.  Much of the tile had to be broken to be removed.
       We quickly discovered that they no longer make tile matching the tile installed in our bath in 1965.  (Ha ha ha ha… I can’t believe you even asked that question!  Of course not…)  So the entire wall surround and floor had to be ripped out.  At this point we’re asking ourselves, wouldn’t this be a great time to just re-do the entire bathroom?  I mean, why preserve the streaky orange tub just for sentimental reasons?
      The tub, in order to be removed, had to be sawed in three sections over the course of one very long, very loud day.
      Then there was the day Neal accidentally sawed through the hot water supply pipe and flooded the insulation layer under the subflooring.
      (Did I mention that every bit of the tile in the bathroom had to be knocked down with hammers and carted downstairs to huge rubbish piles in my garage by whining children?)
      Sawing through the iron sewage pipe burnt out five reciprocating saw blades, took six hours, and sounded like someone slowly feeding a cat tail first into an electric pencil sharpener.  The plumber holding the saw also slipped and sawed a big slit in Neal’s closet wall.
     
        Finally, all the demolition was done and it was time to begin re-building our bathroom!  (Do not forget that for the entire duration of this project we were relying solely on a very UNreliable toilet in a downstairs bathroom that was missing a good deal of its walls and ceiling, and was for a good part of the time entirely without a sink.  I lost my hair dryer early on in the first week and haven’t looked right since.)
      One of the early tasks in the rebuilding process was to order a new bathtub.  The first place I went was Lowe’s.  Most of what they display (I never actually got to speak to a SALESPERSON of course) are tub surrounds (def- the stuff that surrounds the tub- i.e. tile with grout that turns orange from potassium stains or large panels of fiberglass or other materials.) made of VIKREL.  I called the VIKREL people and asked, “Will VIKREL, the new wonder material that is revolutionizing bathing in America, stand up to being cleaned with a muratic acid cleaner?”  It turns out that VIKREL should only be cleaned with a mild solution of white vineagar and water on alternate Tuesdays and installed somewhere sheltered from direct sunlight.  Oh well.
      My search for the perfect bathtub continued.   After my bad experience in Lowes (waiting for an hour and a half to speak to someone while pulling my pre-schooler out of the display jacuzzi, off display toilets, out of display cabinets, and off the faucet wall which he was climbing like a rock wall only without belay) I eschewed Home Depot.  One bath fitting showcase took one look at our four kids, shoved a bunch of pamphlets in my hand, and showed us the door claiming that all their salespeople were in a seminar.  On a Saturday, the biggest sales day of the week.  Yeah… right.  Maybe we should have dressed better and made sure all the kids were wearing shoes?
      Ferguson Plumbing was the coolest place we went.  It had a corner with coloring books and toys for patiently waiting kids, but my kids were much more interested in the luxury spa bathtub display.  The large rectangular tub had a pump that caused the extra deep water to constantly overflow in a 360 degree waterfall over the edge into a catch basin.  The huge tub of steaming, clear, fragrant water was too much for my little tadpoles.  It was only by holding Patrick upside down and kneeling on Michael that I restrained them until a saleswoman could be found.  She was mercifully brief: “We don’t carry break-down surrounds for remodelling.  Try Longley!”  The look she gave me plainly said, “And hurry!”
      As I was dragging the children out the door, she did give me a bit of valuable advice about the orange water problem.  “You don’t want fiberglass,” she said.  “If your water is as bad as you say, the fiberglass would absorb the color and be orange in about three months.  My advice would be to buy a high-grade acrylic breakdown unit, like the ones they sell at Longley.”
      The lady at Longley had the great good sense to turn the show room T.V. on to Nick Jr. as soon as we trooped in the door.  And for the first time in our quest, she acted like she knew what we were talking about!  In about twenty minutes I had several print-outs in my hand of different three-piece acrylic units.  They are hard cast in three sections made to stack and snap together.  The bottom section is the tub, the middle section is most of the wall (built in soap dish!), and the top section is the ceiling.  Minimum price- $1195.00    Yikes!  BUT she guaranteed I could clean them with anything I wanted, short of a brillo pad.  Any kind of cleaner, but no scratching.

     They arrived in two weeks.  The first snag was that they didn’t fit in the garage, and the delivery man said that he could not, under any conditions, open the packaging and move the sections into the garage.  I threw a cat fit in the driveway, cried and pleaded, and he finally broke down and moved them for me.  (Don’t you hate women who cry to get their way?) 
      On their next visit, the plumbers measured them and promptly announced that they wouldn’t fit through the bathroom doorway.  When, in tears again, I murmured sadly,”I only thought about whether it would fit the tub enclosure, I never thought about the door way…”  the man replied callously, “Most people don’t.”  He gave me the card for a contractor who could widen the doorway and left.
       I called the contractor about six times in the next two weeks.  He never returned my calls.  Finally, in desperation, Neal went up with a saw and a hammer and he WIDENED that doorway.  And it stayed widened, too!
       So, then we got the plumbers back in there again.  Their first thought was that the doorway wasn’t wide enough.  When I had proved, mathematically, that it indeed was wide enough, he condescended to come down to the garage and look at my beautiful bath tub.  He stared at it like it was a snake.  He looks at it and says, “Sorry lady, we don’t install that kind of tub.”  He walked upstairs and started packing up his tools.
      “What!” I cried, hung between starting some kind of conniption fit or bursting into tears again.  “What do you mean you don’t install this kind of tub?  Did you or did you not measure it just last week?  Why didn’t you tell me then that you didn’t install it?”
      “That kind of tub is made to be built in as part of a new house.  You can’t put it in as a renovation.”
      “It was sold to me as a break-down model specifically FOR renovations!  If they were installing it in new construction it wouldn’t come in three pieces!” 
      My devastating logic rendered him momentarily speechless.  He looked at the ceiling.  He looked at his shoes.  Finally he said, “Well, let me call someone.  Do you have the installation instructions on the blasted thing?” 
      Of course, the tub didn’t come with instructions.  Ha, ha, ha!  How silly of you to ask!  I spent the next thirty minutes calling Longley, getting someone on the phone who knew something about installation (harder than it sounds), and working through a service website on my slow computer.  Finally, I drug back into the bathroom and announced dolefully, “They’re going to mail me the installation instructions tomorrow.”
      “‘S Ok,” he said, “We’ve got her plumbed in.”  And indeed they did!  I was thrilled.  “Now, don’t get excited,” he said.  “It ain’t stable.  Floor’s crooked.  We’re going to pull her out, and then what you’ve got to do is shim the floor up level.  I bet your husband can do that.  And then we’ll come on back and install her.”
        I must have looked rather nonplussed by this announcement because he looked at the floor and he looked at the ceiling again.  Then he said, “Well, maybe we could just stick something under there now.  Let me work on it.”
      I went downstairs to take about four tylenol and call my husband to whine for a while.  When I came back upstairs they were trying to put the middle section on upside down and without the connecting pieces in place.  When we got that little bobble straightened out, he climbed in the tub full of grit and nails with his big old work boots.  I could hear the scratching and scraping like fingernails on a chalk board.  I RAN and grabbed a blanket off one of the beds.  ANYTHING!  Does the man not realize he’s walking on a thousand dollar bathtub?  I frantically gestured for them to get out and spread the woven blanket for their feet.  He looked at me like I was the last nut on my family tree, but he stepped back in the tub on the blanket.
       “Now about right here is where I’m going to put in the shower,” he said, drawing a big X high on the wall, about six inches lower than the ceiling.  “Your husband’s a tall man, and we want the shower to be high enough for him.” 
      “Ummm… Are you sure you’ve measured this right?” I asked timidly.  “You see, it’s a three piece unit with a false ceiling.  Is the X low enough that it will let the shower head be mounted under the ceiling?”
       I swear I saw all the blood drain from his face.  The X was obviously NOT high enough.  I think at that point he surrendered to the tub.  He got out and began packing up again.  “I tell you what, you have your husband install that #%##^@  thing, and call us and we’ll install the shower head when you’re done.  But I tell you now, it can’t be done.  That thing’s got to be built in as new construction, and I’m not messing with it any more.”
      “But wouldn’t it be easier to plumb the shower head NOW, rather than rip open the wall of the linen closet?” I asked desperately.  “I’ll run right down and measure it myself!”
      “Maybe, but I ain’t doing it.”  He declared.  He picked up his tool box and stuffed his bandanna in his back pocket.  “What you should have got was one of those fiberglass panel surrounds they sell at Lowe’s.  Cost you sixty bucks, and I could have put it up in twenty minutes.  Do it all the time.  Bye now ma’am.”

       Well, it took Neal a little more than twenty minutes to install the top piece of the tub and drywall it in.  (And he did it WITHOUT tearing out the window frame, which the plumbers had declared was absolutely necessary.)  It’s up now, but it still doesn’t have a shower head.  We’re working on that.
      The room has only patched subflooring for a floor.  The walls are bare drywall with a big hole for a medicine cabinet, no sink, no toilet, a bare bulb for a light fixture, and heaps of tools on the floor. 
      But it has the three necessary things: a tub (with surround!), hot water, and a door that locks.

 It seemed like the pinnacle of luxury to me!

(As a post script… I called my father-in-law up to tell him how the renovation project was coming.  His sole comment was, “Wouldn’t it have been easier to get one of those fiberglass kits from Lowe’s?”  I think God is definitely developing some self control in me, because I did NOT throw the phone through the wall.)





The spackle queen

19 08 2007

I am up way too late blogging.  Neal is snoring.  The babies are sleeping.  The cat is on the bed upside down with all four feet sprawled in a most undignified manner.  He is drooling on himself, the fat old thing.

 This morning I was very very good.  I stayed up till 1 a.m., then got up early and finished putting the fake stucco pattern on the bathroom walls.  The downstairs bath is ALMOST finished.  So is my supply of caffeinated beverages.  Neal won’t let me buy any more Coke, so the home-improvement jag may be over by tomorrow.  I’ll go back to working on the new story I’m writing.  I now have three fiction projects I’m working on simultaneously!  I need a split personality to get any real work done around here.  Either that, or a LOT more caffeine!

 I can’t wait to be done, I can’t wait to be done, I can’t wait to be done, I can’t wait!

I am tired of painting things and planting things and cleaning things and attempting to be tidy, which does not come naturally to me.  Selling a house is like some kind of long, drawn out cleaning nightmare.  My whole attitude is, “well, if it’s good enough for me, why isn’t it good enough for you?”  I mean, I’ve been living here for two years without ever using a string trimmer on the fence.  And we’re all fine!

Someone keeps stealing all the chocolate ice cream out of the fridge and it isn’t me.  I only eat vanilla.  I must not be the only one who’s stressed by this move.  I keep finding little drips of chocolate across the floor and spoons in the freezer.  Should I be reassured that whichever one of my children is stealing the ice cream at least has enough manners to use the appropriate utensil? 

 I have been listening to Pride and Prejudice (the new movie) over and over and over while I have been stucco-ing the wall.  I love Mr. Darcy’s voice.  Oooh- shivers!  And men look really good in hats.  Why did they stop wearing them?  I would go back to wearing long dresses if they would go back to tail coats and hats.   Neal looks really good with those long mutton-chop side burns you see in Dickens illustrations.  It’s the ruddy Brit in him coming out.  And I’d look great in an Empire waist!

I found this wall texturing project in a magazine at the dentist’s.  You take chemical-set drywall mud and mix up a batch in a small bucket or bowl.  Then you sort of schlorp some up on your hand (it’s better to use cold water, because if the water is warm it looks and feels like a bowl of greyish baby poop) and smear it on the wall.  I’ve been smearing it in little curlicue circles and it looks so good  If you make a mistake, it’s no big deal, because you can sand right over it.  You can do it in any texture or design you can think off, and it dries hard.  You can paint right over it!
          The first batch I made I was afraid to put my hand in.  It says it gets really hot when it sets, so you shouldn’t try to make a cast of any body part you really care about with it.  I thought maybe it had lime or something in it and would burn my skin, but it doesn’t.  It’s really easy to use, and it does a smashing job of covering up a cinder block wall.  Provided you spackle the cracks first.  It’s too soft to fill the deep cracks.

 Anyhow, if you’ve been wondering why I haven’t been writing, that’s why.  I’ve been painting and gardening and spreading drywall mud over two walls of my den and a complete bathroom.  Too much fun for everyone!





Nail polish, Pi, the perils of mascara, and why we run from God

5 08 2007

      I actually have my toenails painted.  Which is wierd.  I don’t think I’ve ever done that before.  I’m totally not into the cult of beauty.  I think at one point in my adolescence I hoped I would turn out gorgeous, but A) I had extraordinarily bad sub-cutaneous acne and B) I spent so much time crying in math class I couldn’t wear makeup. 
      I did all kinds of things in math class (other than math.)  I composed poems about how much I hated math.  Sometimes I turned them in on tests.  My teachers were not amused (but then math teachers so rarely are!)  I decorated my paper edges in lovely designs.  I acted out indian raids where every problem solved was another settler’s house burned down.  I read novels under the edge of my desk.  I discovered a sundial on the tile floor.  I could tell by the edge of the light on the striations in the tile how many more minutes before class was over.  For a couple of years I worked on a complicated system by which you could tell if any number were a male or female number.  (Don’t ask- I’m hoping to patent it.)  And finally, I wrote stories.
       Sadly, none of these things improved my math grade.
       How did we get from toenails to math grades?  Ah, yes…. mascara.  Quite hopeless.  In sixth grade I had a math teacher who believed that if you memorized the formulas there was no need to ask questions.  Therefore he would never answer questions, which drove me berserk.  I still have unanswered questions about sixth grade math:
       What is pi, anyway? 
       Who developed it?
        What is the quadratic equation FOR?  I mean, I don’t want to waste a lot of time memorizing it if I’m never going to use the stupid thing.
        Is there a system for solving those crazy word problems where two people start out in different directions at different speeds and you’re supposed to figure out when and where they meet?  Because I still can’t solve those, and now I have to teach them to my son.
      Since I got yelled at any time I asked a question, and since I couldn’t learn the stuff without asking questions, and since my dad would thrash me if I didn’t learn it, I spent a lot of sixth grade crying.  I discovered that mascara stings, and I gave up on it.  I also gave up on foundation, which doesn’t tolerate crying either, and most other forms of makeup.  

        Good grief, I’m blathering tonight!  Ok, lets wind this sucker down and get to the point: My nails are polished because Adrienne polished them.  We went to a “girls night” at Elizabeth’s house.  (So most of the girls were over thirty- who cares?)  She had all these nice tubs out, and we soaked our feet and talked and scrubbed our feet and talked and did our nails and talked and ate a lot.  It was fun.  I think I missed a lot by not going to slumber parties when I was a teen.  
      Anyhow, as soon as I saw the tubs, it reminded me of Jesus washing the disciple’s feet.  You know, the Amish still practice the sacrament of foot-washing.  We do communion in our church, but not foot washing.  I liked it.  I liked the symbolism of servanthood.  I liked the connection with Christ.  So I washed Adrienne’s feet.  It was fun.  I like giving back rubs and fixing people’s hair & stuff.  It’s pleasant.  It’s sometimes difficult for me to touch people, and doing that sort of thing is a nice way to get around my problems with touch.
      But what really was emotional for me was when Adrienne insisted on painting my toenails in return.  She got down on the floor, which couldn’t have been very comfortable.  She held my foot in her lap, on her nice black pants. Then, very carefully and concientiously, she painted my nails bright red.  I think it was more humbling letting her serve me than serving her.  I wonder if Peter felt that way.  He must have or he wouldn’t have asked Jesus not to wash his feet. 
       God says it is more blessed to give than recieve.  I have found that to be true- I love to give.  I love to serve.  (I’m not always very good at it, but I love it.)  Sometimes it is hard for me to recieve.  To let someone bless me.  To accept help.  It is hard to humble myself and say, “I need you.  I can’t manage alone.  Please help me.” 
       Neal and I struggle in our marriage sometimes because he finds it almost impossible to say, “I want you.  I want to be with you.  I need your help.  I need your company tonight.” 
       It’s so hard to unbend that rod of iron in our spine and let someone else know we’re not perfect, not self-sufficient, not “fine.”  How often does someone say, “How are you?” and we say, “Fine.”  Fine, fine, fine….  What if I’m not fine?  Will you love me less?  What if I’m frightened?  What if I’m lonely?  What if I look around my house and I’m afraid?  What if my faith slips a little bit?  What if my hem shows?  If you get a good look at my mess, what will you think of me?
       Sometimes I think the big question of all time is not, “Is there a god?”  but “If there is a God, will he love me?”  I think we’re so afraid of His rejection, we refuse to believe.  Who, in the middle of their mess and insecurity, really wants to believe in a holy, pure, all-knowing, all-powerful God?
      I know I didn’t.  I think I realized that there was a god when I was sixteen, but I didn’t come to Christ until I was twenty seven.  Where was I for eleven years?  Running.  My friend Lori Hendon’s father was a baptist preacher.  He preached a sermon I attended that said I was a sinner, condemned to hell.  I cried in the service, and my friend thought I was ready for conversion.  In reality, I was very sad.  I had just discovered that there WAS a God, but he was already mad at me!  Oh well.
      I think I thought of God as some great math teacher in the sky, who had graded my test and discovered that I failed.   How could I have ever guessed that he was a God so humble he would be willing to go down on his knees and wash my feet so I would be clean? 
       Although, he might have drawn the line at painting my toenails.