Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Gift of Proximity

 A little more than one year ago my husband and I traveled to Washington for a job interview with Microsoft. While at the airport waiting for our flight, we received a call from our realtor with an offer on our house. So, we looked at houses in King County and Bainbridge Island and found one we loved on the island: Remodelers paradise.

We bought it and moved up here on faith that a job for Kevin would come. The months have passed and a job has not yet materialized, but we have finally completed the writers’ retreat I envisioned:

A studio apartment with a great desk and a full kitchen where writers and would-be writers can get away from the distractions of everyday life and enjoy the space and place for creativity to flourish. (If you want to know more about staying here, visit my website.)

writers' retreat Ikea kitchen

writers' retreat suite
garden outside the writers' retreat

Now I have the privilege of seeing my long-commuting husband in our house all day every day, wearing pajamas until noon while he applies for employment online. I prepare our meals and afternoon nibbles on special plates, announcing, “Happy hour snacks are ready.”

And we are happy at five or six p.m. to six together in the dining room (or in the lovely summer and September weather on our rooftop deck) breaking from the tasks we’ve been pursuing around the house and yard, separately and together.

snacking on the rooftop deck

We are happy to eat cheese and gluten-free crackers, apples, and raspberries from our garden, pistachios, and maybe a glass of Washington wine, unoaked.  We talk about the weather and how rain and temperatures will affect our projects, whether we’ll work indoors or out, whether we can paint or not.

Part of me delights in Kevin’s unemployment and is reluctant to return him to the workforce, although he is certainly working hard on retrofitting our home. I am thankful for each project he can complete that’s not tacked on to a fifty or sixty-hour workweek.

At some point we will feel the financial pressure of unemployment as if a Rottweiler were standing on our chests. Right now it feels like (because it literally is) our seven-pound Bengal cat.

The only thing missing from our lives are good friends in close proximity.

We’re acquainted with a few neighbors, I know some women from the local writing community, and Kevin is in touch with his former coworkers and family, but there’s no one here who knows us well.

I remember that the other times I moved it took me two or three years to feel as though I’d developed roots in my new community. I am an introvert, mindful to extend myself, but I spend most of my time at home, remodeling the house and writing.

I’m thankful that Facebook and cell phones have made my transition easier than before. I also have appreciated praying with my prayer partner of nearly twenty years on the phone almost every week since I moved, sharing my life via crackly headsets.

I have learned to be content with my own company, and I haven’t been lonely, but sometimes I miss being with someone who truly knows me, a soul friend, if not an old friend.

So it comes as an incredible blessing and unmerited gift to find that my prayer partner and her husband will be moving to this region in less than two weeks, relocating in December, as I did last year, to Puget Sound.

Her husband has recently retired and they planned to leave California for a state without personal income tax. They thought it would be Nevada, but instead it will be Washington.

Soon, I will be able to drive thirty-five minutes through forests and fields, catching glimpses of seagulls and the sound, and arrive at her door.

How sweet and sacred it will be to pray side-by-side holding hands after months of uncomfortable earpieces and cellular static. What a treasure it will be to be physically present to this dear one who has sat and walked and listened and talked and prayed through every major event and decision in my life (and I in hers) for nearly two decades.
My prayer partner and I at Point White Dock on Bainbridge Island in February 

I never anticipated that we might be reunited, that instead of filling each other in on what is happening in our lives, we will be creating and exploring this region we will now both call home together, discovering where we fit in and how we can contribute to the physical, social, and spiritual environments we will inhabit.

That we will be able to praise, party, and pray together in person is nothing short of astounding. God’s grace is abundant everywhere and endless. As we ease toward Advent, I anticipate the new life that will be birthed. I celebrate this manifestation.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

A Sweaty Gift

My husband ordered us a Christmas gift, something to soothe our tired muscles after long days of remodeling: an infrared sauna.

I’m completely on board with the concept: romantic evenings with the two of us in our cedar box, the light therapy wheel causing our skin to glow red, yellow, blue, while we listen to a Jim Brickman playlist on the built-in MP3 speakers, chatting while we sweat out impurities.

No running outside in the rain to climb into a hot tub to find the heater broken and mold circulating through the jets. Unlike a traditional sauna, no worries about steam burns or shorting coils.

This is paradise in a cube measuring just 53 by 53 inches and requiring just one dedicated 20-amp circuit. It could easily fit in our house. Where? The basement.
All I had to do was move everything we’d stored and then seal the masonry walls. My husband would run the wiring.

Sure, we could do that—after we finished trimming the den walls and tiling a hearth, and rewiring, putting up sheetrock and painting the downstairs office that we have stripped down to the studs—all in order to have carpet installed. Carpet we ordered back in July, carpet sitting in a warehouse with helpful employees who call us every few weeks to find out when they can schedule our install.

The underground wall of the office sealed with masonry paint

If we worked hard we’d be ready for both carpet and sauna in January.

The trouble is we were so excited by our vision of relaxing and the sale price at Home Depot that my husband clicked the order button and the sauna is on a truck right now. For the interim my husband suggested we set it up in the spare bedroom upstairs, a room we use as his closet, the station for cat food and litter box, a room already full with a twin bed and assorted extra furniture.

I didn’t want to rearrange everything in that bedroom, and I suspected the chance of relocating the sauna to the basement once it was in use was slim. So I began clearing out the basement, hauling the shelves and the boxes they held into our laundry room. 

Once the basement was cleared I thought I ought to paint the cement wall with masonry paint, like I did in the office last week: A moisture barrier is always a good idea.

I sat in the basement, waiting for Kevin to finish drilling holes for wiring in the office. I watched him through the support posts on the wall stripped of its sheetrock. Watching him through the slatted openings, I thought about how lovely it would be to take out the posts and make one big room.

He finished and looked at me.

“I’m thinking,” I said.

“About what?” he asked.

“Tearing out the wall.” Something in me delights in demolition.

The cleared basement and chair where I had my brilliant idea!

Kevin jokes that I will do anything to get out of painting. But of course, I still sealed the masonry. And I will paint: After he firs out the basement. After he moves the bathroom wall into the basement a few feet to install a bathtub. (We’re abandoning the hideous shower. It will become a coat closet).

But I won’t need to paint the wall that’s coming down in our new master bedroom.

Yes, a real master bedroom with an attached master bathroom! A master bedroom that won’t feel claustrophobic with our king-sized bed. A master bedroom with enough closet space to keep his and hers clothes in the same room.

It was not part of our original vision for the house, and that I think is one of the reasons I’m so enamored with the idea.

We were going to leave the bedrooms as is because we couldn’t think of a good way to make a master bedroom on the main floor. But here we are, thinking outside the floor-plan and wall-box, taking a non-room and incorporating it into the house to make room for our sauna (essentially a box).

One thing leads to another: re-rewiring, figuring out plugs, lights, closets (there aren’t any downstairs right now), paint, and wondering what to do about the carpet, since we didn’t order enough for this extra room and the dye lots might not match, and so on.

This wall is coming down and new master bedroom will rise here.

I write this while the second coat of masonry paint dries and my husband is unloading his truck after a Home Depot trip returning items we don’t need and buying others for this new project. He says he thought of the idea first, and even mentioned it to me, and that I dismissed it. Which is probably true.

I know this about myself: I’m much more excited about and compliant with ideas that are my own. So, if it wasn’t mine, my mind made it so. That way my heart and energy can follow. 

The sauna is in transit an inspirational and sweaty gift that has already changed my life.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Walls Are Merely a Suggestion

 Most of us live in houses we didn’t design. We rent or buy or inherit the places we inhabit and have a desire to make them feel like home, to somehow reflect our personalities.

When we’re first on our own in apartments furnished courtesy of parent’s basements and Goodwill, this personalization is limited to throw pillows, matted prints, potted plants—and if our landlords allow, a colorful coat of paint.

Later, if we’re fortunate enough to buy (or borrow with a mortgage) a home, we work within its walls. We house-hunt with graph paper and a tape measure, plotting room dimensions and gridding in our beds, couches, and dining sets. We make sure our things will fit, and if not, we decide what to sell and buy new.

We may replace linoleum with bamboo, laminate countertops with granite, strip wallpaper, repaint, and install new carpet, but almost always, we fit ourselves to the house, not the other way around. We are confined by the floor plan.

It’s been radically freeing to think of the walls in my new home as merely a suggestion. My husband and I decided that anything inside the existing footprint is subject to negotiation.

Just last week, we tore several walls in the basement down to the studs, and seeing things opened up, I got to thinking: What if we didn’t even try to repair the hideous shower? What if we moved the sink and installed a new tub/shower kit in the bathroom instead?

And the shower alcove, my husband said, could be turned into a storage closet. It wouldn’t even have to be part of the bathroom. It could open onto the hallway.  We’d have a coat closet.

And this summer, when we wanted to remove a necessary loadbearing wall that separated our kitchen from the dining room and our water view, he built temporary walls while he reinforced the support beam, and made our vision reality.

I always knew Kevin had this skill-set: After our wedding, he built a spice rack and kitchen shelves for the glass jars I stored our bulk foods in. He installed a skylight in our dark kitchen, and wired up a garbage disposal.

I painted rooms and sewed things I couldn’t afford to buy: tent-repair and seat covers for my car. I was proud of the results, but the activities were work and I wasn’t particularly skilled or fufilled undertaking them.

I appreciated the outcome of my husband’s projects—and so did his sisters, brothers, and mother as he made many repairs at their homes—but I didn’t understand that working this way for him was profoundly creative and joyful.

I didn’t understand when he arrived home two hours late from remodeling at a relative’s house apologizing that he’d lost complete track of time how that was even possible. Wasn’t he—like I would’ve been—counting the minutes until he finished and could pack up?

Now I get it. This last year has shown me. Building for my husband is what writing is for me: An act of creativity that can demand all your focus and attention, that can suck you in for hours as you configure and re-configure, arrange and rearrange, gladly examine minutia, revise, edit, tear up everything you’ve done, and start over repeatedly until you get it right, or at least closer to the vision in your mind’s eye.

Finally after years of reluctance, I’m entering this world he loves. And it’s only fair, since I’ve asked Kevin to read my rough drafts and attend poetry readings with me for years.

My husband is teaching me the names of tools and how to use them. I’m not strong, coordinated, or practiced, and it shows in my work, slow and amateurish—not unlike my first efforts at poetry and short stories.

Kevin, on the other hand learned to use a hammer when he was three, a lifetime of practice and dedication to this craft (even when it took a backseat to his career and family obligations) under his tool-belt.

Sharing crowbars, stepladders, and Pandora radio stations, we spend our days visioning and re-visioning this house and the life we are creating here, taking our two main characters, placing them in this setting, tearing down walls, building up others, job-hunting, waiting, and writing.

Anything can happen next, and when it does, it might—like our walls—merely be a suggestion accompanied by the tagline: Feel free to edit.