Bannister Blues

29 11 2007

To set the scene: we live in a split-level house.  From the entry way, you can go four steps down into the den, or a steep flight up to the bedrooms.  (Either way you choose you will probably step on a marble and sprain something.)
The steps down into the den, for some unfathomable reason, are made of brick.  (They had some left over?  Didn’t like wood?  Hated the convenience of being able to mop?  Liked skinning the back off their heels when descending too quickly?  Who knows.)  Neal has particularly loathed this set of steps since we moved in.  For one reason- he’s generally the one who skins a quarter-sized hunk of skin off his heel when he hurries.  For another, the steps aren’t steep enough and he frequently cracks his head against the ceiling.
The steps came equipped with what we shall generously refer to as a “banister.”  It was made of iron like an outdoor bannister, and was attached to the steps by bolts embedded in the brick.
It’s a funny thing about brick- when you drill into it it tends to flake like pie crust and shred.  The bolts over the forty years of their life have crushed and pressed and cracked against the brick so they were mostly pretty loose.  The “bannister” (so-called) was also assembled by bolts and wing-nuts that were constantly working themselves loose.
We tried adding mortar to the bolt holes.  We tried shoving tooth-picks into the holes to shim up the bolts.  We tried doing that and adding layers of rubber washers and gluing the nuts on the bolts.
Still, despite repeated thumpings, the children persisted in pushing on, hanging on, sitting on, crawling through, and basically abusing the bannister; and the poor bolts (now in their retirement years) just couldn’t hack it.
It was even odds whether, at any given time, grabbing the bannister while slipping and skinning your heels, would be a good idea or a disaster.
Since we are trying to sell our house, and since having prospective buyers injured by our trick bannister might give a bad flavor to the showing, we determined that we were going to FIX the wretched thing.  Ha, ha, ha!
We made a trip to Lowe’s.  Lowe’s sells two kinds of rail, three kinds of spindles, and one floor attachment kit.  We spent half an hour hobnobbing with a pleasant young man in a red vest, went home to take some measurements, and spent quite a bit of money.
Problem # 1- If you buy the wrong kind of rail and then saw it in half, it is no longer returnable.
Problem #2- Something in the concrete slab near the steps isn’t concrete and ate one of Neal’s newly purchased concrete bits.
Problem #3- Whatever it is isn’t metal, either, because in the next hole it ate the metal bit, too.
Problem #4- It is apparently impossible to drill a hole through a space that already contains a drill bit.
Problem #5- The holes to mount the post can’t be moved more than half an inch in any direction.  Shoot.

My husband is not a man who quits easily.  Having sunk his teeth into a problem, he solves it or dies trying.  So far, he’s solved them all, but this bannister might be the final encounter.
We took an hour or two off to go get dinner, and let the drill (and Neal) cool off a bit.  Came up with several solutions.
Solution #1- Build a brick wall along the edge of the steps to act like a bannister.  Advantage: No drilling- just stick the bricks on with mortar!  Disadvantage: it would have to be so high and so thick it would make both the steps and the den feel claustrophobic.
Solution #2- Mount a floor-to-ceiling post at the bottom of the steps, the major attachment point being the ceiling, and fasten the rails to this.  Advantage: only minor drilling into the front of the step.  Disadvantage: Wife insists it would look really stupid.
Solution #3- Do a brick wall only to the height of the top step, top with a board & run 1×1 spindles up to another board mounted on the ceiling.  Sort of a “fake wall” look.  Advantage: not as claustrophobic as an all-brick wall.  Disadvantage: Husband insists it would look really stupid.
Solution #4- Figure out a way to commit fool-proof arson and move.  Advantage: Emotionally satisfying.  Disadvantage: I just got the Christmas decorations up.
Solution #5 is in progress now.  Neal is drilling holes in the mortar between the bricks and mounting a board against the brick steps.  The post brackets will be screwed into the four holes that successfully drilled (out of nine), and the post will also be attached to the board attached to the steps.
This was more or less sucessful.  More because the post is actually up (Hurrah!) and less because the board he used to attach it to the step is four inches short of the wall.  (What would have been so bad about cutting a board that was actually as wide as the step?  I suppose that’s picky of me.  He does the impossible and I’m complaining about aesthetic details.)  He also had to cut a slot in the back of the post and the saw slipped.  I reckon I can spackle that.  I’m not so sure I can spackle four missing inches of board, though.
The next step is really wierd.  He’s going to drill holes (again in the mortar) on each step.  He’s cutting steel roding into pins to slip in the holes.  The bottom of the spindles will be drilled to seat on the pins, and the tops will be miter-cut to fit the slope of the rail.  Three spindles to a step 4″ from center to center will meet code.  Then there was the argument about whether the top or the bottom of the spindle would be cut.  He wanted to cut the bottom because it is easier to measure a flat cut than a miter.  I though it would look wierd if all the square bases of the round spindles were different heights- kind of snaggle-toothed.  I won.  He bought uniformly square spindles and he’s cutting them at the top.
The bannister we bought (the second time around) is cool- it comes in two pieces with a slot in the bottom that just fits the top of the square spindles.  You screw down into the rail into the top of the spindles, then put the top half of the rail on & fasten it from the bottom.  Smooth.

I spoke to a realtor this evening who is going to try to help us find a rental.  She asked if we had to have a “perfect” home.  I told her we actually liked odd an unusual homes & liked fixing them up.  Which is true.  It’s a good division of labor.  I think up projects, nag Neal until he does them, and criticize his methods.  He does all the work, injures himself, tries not to cuss, and puts the tools away (eventually).  Then I write sarcastic blogs about the whole process.
Does anyone know a good family & marriage counselor they can recommend?


Word Surge

28 11 2007

Oh, people!  I have found a website that knows more words than I do!  Check out

It’s a vocabulary game site (free, online) that claims to donate 10 grains of rice to impoverished countries for every word you get right.  My current high score is vocabulary level 49.  Think you can beat me?  Hah!

I’m going to get Neal a T-shirt that says “Uxorious Man” on it.

I knew crepitate, but missed pleonasm, oast, rogatory, natant, acarus, and volule.  Whew.  I think THEY got the wrong definition for incubus, but whatever.  It’s still cool.

Rules I forgot to make:

28 11 2007

I remembered the important ones: look before you cross, wash before you eat, don’t hit, don’t bite, don’t walk downstairs with a pillowcase over your head, don’t spit, don’t cuss, and don’t look at me like that!

But here are a few I never thought to add to the list until they happened:

1- Don’t saw the basketball in half.
2- Don’t kiss the turtle on the lips.
3- Don’t put your mouth on the exhaust pipes of the cars in the parking lot.
4- Don’t stick your arms up to the elbow in them, either.
5- Don’t kick the chickens.
6- Don’t put Silly Putty in your hair and pretend it’s “earmuffs.”
7-Don’t put two baby chicks at the top of the slide and bonk them to make them try to fly and the winner hits the ground first.
8- Don’t put sticks in our guest’s gas tank.
9- Don’t stick your feet in the serving dish of macaroni and cheese just because I told you not to put your hand in!
10- Don’t ride the cat.
11- The piano is not a bank- don’t drop coins between the keys.
12- Don’t suck on the toilet plunger.
13- Don’t spraypaint the bushes silver.
14- Don’t throw scissors at your brother.
15- Don’t spray wasps nests with the hose.
16- Don’t use the hose as a drill and drill it twelve feet down into the sand until it becomes permanently imbedded in the lawn, either.
17- Don’t fill the dryer exhaust vent with water from the hose.
18- Don’t bend down and drink the water out of puddles in the parking lot.
19- Don’t swing on the pull cord of the ceiling fan.
20- Don’t get in the bathtub with your pajamas on.
21- Don’t go outside and climb trees in just your underwear and coat, I don’t care how long the coat is!

 If we could all follow these simple rules, just think how much easier life would be.

To quote one of my relatives, “They’re not bad kids, they’re just really busy!”

Sturm und Drang

23 11 2007

I think I woke up on the wrong side of the bed.  Actually, I woke up sandwiched between two little boys.  Michael was warming his feet on my thigh, and Patrick was combing his fingers through my snarled hair.  This is what always happens when it gets suddenly cold during the night, because the little boys aren’t going to wake up and try to pull a blanket over themselves!  Of course not!  They trot down the hall and crawl into mommy’s nice warm bed and snuggle under the down comforter and put their cold feet on mommy’s back.  Wouldn’t you?
But I didn’t mind the cold or the small people packed around me like bubble wrap.  I woke up in gloom today.  It’s Thanksgiving holidays- I had a lovely time at the Mathew’s yesterday, and I’m driving to see my mother and my sister today.  Elizabeth is going to help us make quilted pillows, which will be fun. But I’m depressed.
I think I’m depressed because I typed in that book list last night.  I can’t imagine EVER writing that many books.  I’ve started too late.  I’m nearly thirty five, and this morning thirty five feel like thirty seven feels like forty and there’s half my life over and I haven’t really written a thing.
I am obsessed with the idea of adopting.  I keep trying to find a home with enough bedrooms and doors.  (Open floor plans were not meant for homes with six children.  If you have six kids, you need to be able to separate people who are getting on other people’s nerves as much as possible.  And forget the lovely cathedral ceilings, what I need is another bedroom!)  I finally found a floor plan that I absolutely love & that doesn’t seem appallingly expensive to build (expensive, but not appallingly so).  My in-laws pointed out that there’s no bedroom on the first floor for people who are finding it increasingly hard to climb stairs.  And that is a real problem.  I spent a lot of time last night looking up handi-cap elevators and different kind of lifts on the internet last night.  $10,000 is seeming pretty unreachable.  So the house plan is no good, and I’m in a funk.
Even if it was good, building would take so long!  I was hoping that within a year of moving we could apply for home visits & stuff.  The process takes about a year, so that’s already two years, and the kids are growing so fast…  If I added a year or two to build I would be 38 and Neal would be 52!
I have not found anything I’m really charmed with in the new town.  All the houses are too small, too expensive, in the wrong area, or really inconveniently designed.  I’m struggling with disappointment.  I finally fought out a prayer yesterday & told God that I was grateful for the job… but I was sad about losing my dream of a really interesting and beautiful house.  I really wanted, well, I wanted something amazing!  Instead I’ll probably have to live in a rented modular home for months looking for something acceptable.  A two bedroom modular home.  (Neal doesn’t want to rent a three BR when we don’t know how long it will be until we join him.)  With kids crawling all over me and no privacy and no peace and no time to write.
The alternative, of course, is that I’ll be stuck here for months waiting on the house to sell and handling this bunch of hooligans all by myself.  Which is not easy when you have kids who stay up till midnight and kids that get up at seven and never a moment alone without putting them all in time out!
(I just had to go down and clean up the mess where Patrick dumped a bowl of Cornflakes and milk all over the floor, wall, and heating vent.)  Even when Neal is here and I lock myself in my room to write I feel so guilty.  They pound on the door and cry for me.  They watch too much TV, and Neal shouts at them, and everyone cries and is unhappy, and they beg me to come and kiss them goodnight over and over and over…
I know this won’t last- I know they will grow up and it will seem very fast.  Some days I tell myself it’s better just to concentrate on the kids now and not worry about writing.  Other days I tell myself that other mothers work and that they won’t actually perish from grief if I take two hours every evening to write.  Then again, I tell that I could be perfectly happy just being a mother for the next eight years, but most of the time I know I’m lying.
The sensible thing would be to give up the idea of adopting and realize that I have enough kids to deal with now, but when have I EVER been sensible?  For two years I have been trying to let it go, to cut it out of my heart.  Actually, longer than that.  I started praying to God to let me adopt right after Brenna was born.  Two “no’s” and two babies later, I’m still at it.  The definition of pig-headed persistance.
Neal is moving to a great job where he will be the center of their SAP team.  Donal is moving to a really good scout council & the YMCA swim team.  Brenna’s destiny is waiting at the In His Steps Christian dance studio.  But what will there be for me?  A house?  A writer’s group?  A friend?
I have so little faith.  Lord, I have so little faith!  But twice now we have bought houses that turned out to have major, major problems and were extremely difficult to sell when we needed to.  And I am afraid.  Please forgive me, and help me get out of this funk and face a six hour drive with four cranky kids to grandma’s.

New Page- Books I want, Christmas list

23 11 2007

I was browsing around and found some antique book sites that are better than Amazon.  I realized that good hardbound copies of some of my favorite authors are available for amounts between $2.00 and $20.00!  Hmmm….  Santa, are you listening?  After all, what do you get a woman who is crazy about books for Christmas?  (Well, sometimes my mother buys me clothes so I’ll stop wandering around in stained t-shirts and jeans with the knees out.)

 I’ve already made a couple lists of what I’m going to GIVE for Christmas, but I think I’ll break with tradition this year (and give my husband a break) and think of something I want.  Hmmm… a puppy?  Neal says I can’t have one until I move.  A tiara?  It would go well with my jeans!
      Seriously, I need a new trowel (Donal ripped the handle off my old one), a new alarm clock (same problem, different part).  I’d like something to play music in my kitchen, preferably that takes CD’s and is water-proof, idiot-proof, baby-proof and that shocks anyone under 18 who touches it.  I don’t have a light-weight jacket and I’d like one that makes me look like I’m involved in espionage, preferably with a big striped British scarf to go with it!  (If you’re trailing someone you take off the scarf and put on a hat and they think you’re a different person.  I read that in a book.) 
       I also need hats, and I need my friends and family to help me.  Once we have insurance again, I HAVE to do something about the cyst on my head.  They’re going to have to shave a patch of my hair, and I need some cool hats to wear while I’m healing & growing my hair back.  I tried to sew myself a hat, but it’s a little too small and it looks kind of stupid.  I really want one of those tweedy Irish Walking hats (the flat kind), but they cost upwards from $50.00.
          I always want good, smooth-writing pens in big packs, spiral-bound notebooks, and any kind of blank card or flowery stationary.  Oh- and a Statler Brother’s Christmas album!  Yeah, that’s wierd, but I can’t help it.  It can’t be any wierder than Garth Brooks wearing a cowboy hat over a bald head and thinking he’s hot.

Hope you all had a happy Thanksgiving and can still fit in your pants!

Poverty of Spirit

21 11 2007


“I know now the form of a servant is a kneeling form.  Consider the things that keep our legs straight.  First there is self-sufficiency.  We need to learn poverty of spirit.”

             – Calvin Miller   “When the Knee Bends”


    I have been used to consider self-sufficiency a virtue.  I don’t like to “bother” other people with my needs.  I feel my personal failures as an acute failure of my God and my life of faith.  My insufficiencies shame me, and I’m always attempting to prove that I don’t have any.
     Before today, I never paid much attention to the first beautitude: “Blessed are the poor in spirit…”   Jesus said the spiritually impoverished are blessed.  What we see as a great lack of determination, fortitude, faith and common sense, Jesus saw as a blessing.  It’s so odd.  Why would he say that?
     The Inuits valued character gifts like honesty, wisdom, courage, and self-control so much that they called people who possesed them “rich,” regardless of their poverty.  Even Solomon wrote in his book of Proverbs, “Get Wisdom at any cost…”   Why would Jesus count a lack of these gifts as a blessing? 
     Perhaps it is because if we are rich in the things of the spirit we become, as Calvin Miller said, self-sufficient.  If we can handle our lives, we don’t need help and we don’t need God.  Already full of good things, we wouldn’t look up for more, and we would miss the best thing of all.
       I have always been ashamed of myself, of my weakness and my lack of self-discipline.  I get depressed easily.  I am easily broken by hard people or cold words.  I become frightened and discouraged when I don’t suceed immediately.  Life, not infrequently, overwhelms me.  I certainly never considered my temperament a blessing.
      But perhaps I am more blessed than I thought, more blessed than the stronger, more confident, more self-assured people I have always envied.  My very weakness drives me into my Father’s arms.  I find shelter in Him because I am so hurt by life.  Because I lack my own strength, I have to lean on His.
      “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” Christ said, “For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  Maybe because we’re the only ones desperate enough to look for it, hurt enough to need it, poor enough to ask.

Donal’s Blog & a little news!

20 11 2007

Hmmm… what could the news be?

 Check out the first entry in Donal’s brand new blog:

You won’t be sorry you did!