Monday, July 30, 2007

Home Improvement - Chapter Two

Although it's been awhile since I last posted an entry, don't think for a moment that my renovation project is complete and I've given up blogging to rest on my laurels in a newly decorated kitchen. In fact, unlike the weekend projects on HGTV, my kitchen redo has taken on a life of its own.

Don't tell anyone, but I suspect the Project Manager (ME) is in way over her head. Like I have mentioned before, on TV the workers come in, do the job and leave. They are always smiling and high fiving each other like they have found a cure for cancer, rather than applied a few coats of paint. Before starting my own project I thought this was a little bit of overkill. Now that I know what is involved in "applying a few coats of paint" I have a whole new respect for painters. In my opinion they earn their high fives!

I have learned that painting is a lot more involved than just picking out a color and slapping it on the wall. It is clear to me after spending the last 72 hours with paint roller in hand, that the HGTV film editor has obviously left a great deal of the home decorating footage on the cutting room floor. Before the TV show host paints a person's wall with a color akin to puce but tantalyzingly named something like "Island Envy," there had to have been several people behind the scenes making lots of serious decisions. For example:

Picking the color. Have you ever gone to a paint store and counted the number of paint chip cards? I think they've got even the biggest box of Crayola crayons beat. While standing in Sherwin Williams trying to choose between Buttercup, Sequin and Alchemy [alchemy... is that a color?] I couldn't help but overhear [okay, I stopped what I was doing to watch and listen] a couple who were choosing a particular shade of red.

He: Walks right in a certain I-know-how-to-paint-so-don't-think-you-can-pull-the-drop-cloth-over-my-eyes swagger, and heads directly to the gourmet color choices.

She: Walks in, with less authority, but armed with a swatch of paisley/floral fabric with several shades of red and purple and burgundy and fuscia.
He: Wants to methodically go through the entire color wheel before settling on a color.
She: Goes directly to the red section of the wall and picks one. "I like this one."

He: Looking incredulous asks, "What about this one? or this one? Where are the purples? Let's look down there at the pinks. What number was that color?

ME: Number? Who knew the delightfully named colors have their own number?

She: "I think this one will work."

He: Asks a few more questions of the paint salesman about spreadability, longevity and warranty.

She: Asks, "Is it easy to clean up?"

He: "Oh look, dear," pulling the wife's original color choice out of the bunch like it was a golden egg, "I think this is a perfect match."

She: Looks at me with a sly smile and says, "we've been married for 30 years," as if that explains their communication style and ability to work together.
ME: My convivial personality makes a color choice - Convivial Yellow. If it turns out looking puce instead of yellow, I have no one to blame but myself.

The next question I have about those TV shows is how do the people doing the painting, whether professional or the do-it-yourselfer, manage to stay paint free? Thinking this would be true of my helper and I, you can see we failed to don appropriate coveralls.
I took full advantage of my sister's offer to help, thinking we could knock out the paint part of the project in no time flat. [What I hadn't figured into the equation was the time it would take for the HAZMAT operations - sanding, cleaning, and priming. This actually tripled the operation time. I'm way beyond the two-day window. I have also learned that "priming" is actually just a fancy name for saying, "if you want your real paint to stick to the wall, you have to paint every surface twice;" once with a base coat (AKA primer) and once with the paint of choice, ie color, flat, satin, or glossy finish. FYI: Priming is also the messier version of the two.]
Jean took one side of the kitchen, I took the other. Because of our height differences, we might have worked faster and easier if I had taken the high road (standing on a stool to reach the ceiling) and she the low (crawling on her knees at the baseboards) but we didn't figure that one out til we were almost finished. Live and learn!
I also had the help of a curious kitten. As I worked on one end of a long tunnel of open cabinets, the Girl Cat supervised from the other end. Supervised might not be correct word; walking across the wet paint trying to shake the sticky pigment from her paws would better explain her kind of help.
As you can see from these few pictures our Adventure in Paintland was a messy one. The paint seemed to go wherever it felt like. When Jean cocked her head back to paint underneath a shelf and put her ponytail into the paint, she called it a day.
It was at this point that I realized the TV shows have masculine advertising sponsors like Home Depot or Bellawood Flooring which help them pay their bills. But what they really need is the sponsorship of a store like Body and Bath Works. This wonderful store has made a fortune selling sweet smelling soaps, body lotions and skin care products for the last few years. It is a veritable gold mine of things that make a girl feel and smell divine.

Unlike the all-purpose washcloth of my mother's era, my skin cleaning instrument of choice from BBW is an oversized, brightly colored net ball that resembles a Brillo Pad. It comes with its own hanger so it can drip dry, instead of getting that stinky-needs-to-be-washed smell. It has just enough scrathiness to scrub off stuck on paint and clean dirt-encrusted fingernails, yet is soft enough to leave one's top layer of skin intact.

Just so I'm not accused of being too much of a feminist, I think it would behoove BBW to come up with a unisex line of products with a kinder and gentler name than "Lava." Perhaps they could call a pumice filled soap something like Volcanic Vanilla, or Pineapple Polish. I expect all manner of do-it-yourselfers would flock to the mall in various stages of paint coverage to buy these cleaner uppers.
This brings me to another idea I've had while lost in painting reverie. It seems like no matter how well prepared I think I am when tackling a maintenance project, I always forget something. Huge home improvement stores thrive on this aspect of the amateur artisan. Like eating just one potato chip, it's impossible for me to walk into Lowes and buy just one thing. In fact, I've learned that a five minute walk-in and walk-out trip usually turns into an hour's stroll through the whole store. So why not a home delivery service?

Picture it ... You are stuck on the top of a ladder. You realize you need masking tape, a can opener, or second can of Kilz. Wouldn't it be easier to call Home Depot and have them deliver your needed items, instead of stopping the momentum and going to the store yourself? Sure it might cost a little more for the service, but look how much you'll save if not perusing the plumbing aisles! Hmmmm, maybe Home Depot and Pizza Hut could go in together! Oh well, so much for my marketing ideas. I've gotta get back to work.

Covered in paint, but feeling productive, just call Merry Me

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

What they don't tell you on HGTV

Chapter One:

A few months ago I decided our kitchen needed an updated appearance. Dad didn't like the word "modernization." His school of thought is this - if something works, why change it? And I have to admit this kitchen has served this family well for 45 years. It is, however, a little tired looking. The paint is peeling off the ceiling; the cabinets show all three coats of paint they've worn over the years - yellow, green and brown. And even though I am a fan of Clorox Clean-Up for most household messes, the grime that has built up UNDER the floor cabinets, is, well, disgusting and doesn't speak well for the person in charge of cleaning.
So, remembering the early days of my marriage when my husband would go on an extended deployment and I would spend my time and his money redecorating, I didn't think twice about tackling the job. And, hey, I watch every "re-do" store on TV. Those projects are usually completed in two days and come in under budget. "I can do this," I told myself, as well as doubting Jack and questioning Luther.

My first indication that I might be in over my head was the fact that I could not even un-screw the cabinet hinges. Seems that three coats and forty years of paint held those puppies in place as if they were wooly mammoths going for a drink at the La Brea tar pits.
A heat gun was suggested, and being a woman of innovation if nothing else, I resorted to my trusty blow dryer. It worked good enough to loosen the paint in the screw slot and eventually I was able to get the door off the wall (with a little hammer help from my trusty assistant). Let's see, four screws on each hinge; two hinges on each door; forty doors. "Hmmmm," I thought to myself, "this is going to take a lot longer than a weekend."

Undaunted, I moved the unhinged door to the garage - my work area. I have never stripped paint from anything before. Iwas lured into thinking it would not be difficult by the "Works in 5 minutes" advertisement on the can of stripper. FIVE MINUTES! I can tell you this, the gel like stuff I simply painted on did cut through the paint - one coat - in just a few minutes. But did I mention there were several coats of paint? "Hmmmmm," I thought to myself, "this is going to take a lot longer than five minutes."

Then I unearthed Jack's fancy dancy "mouse" sander from his suitcase full of power tools. This case is not quite the well-stocked and beautifully organized tool trailer that drives up to the appointed job on the TV show, but it is a treasure trove of sanders, drills, electric screwdrivers. The sander fits into the palm of you hand, is pointed at one end to get into small corners and vibrates harder than a Holiday Inn's Magic Fingers bed. After awhile my hand felt as if it was about to fly off my wrist and flap around the room, but the paint was coming off so I felt encouraged. That would be the same paint that is supposed to have easily peeled off in just minutes.
At the point where I thought the wood was almost as smooth as a baby's butt, and the menfolk thought it still needed some work and my hand let out a vibrating scream, "enough already," I gave up. I cried "Uncle!" I called a kitchen tune-up man. Brad Rogers ... my hero!

I traded elbow grease for a wee bit of frustrating compromise. My modis operandi has always been, think it, buy it, do it. I am not a planner by nature; I like to work at my own pace, which I've discovered (admitted?) is kind of manic. Once there was a significant check to be written for work done, Dad slowed me down by expecting to be cut in on the decision making. It makes sense, but proved difficult for me. I was looking for a fresh, new kitchen, not an opportunity for self-improvement. [Unless it's one of those organizing shows where a professional goes into a room that looks like a tornado blew through it and makes the maker of that mess analyze what/why to keep, I have never thought of HGTV programming as life-altering therapy. ]
Decisions have been made. Colors and styles have been picked. The downpayment has been paid. And I have just two and a half weeks to peel, clean, sand and paint. Did I mention cleaning out all the cabinets AND keep the kitchen operating in full measure? "Hmmmm," I said to myself, "don't the homeowners get to go on vacation during their television renovation?"

I spent last night in quiet reflection. I discovered I could lift a corner of the shelf paper my mother had applied 40+ years ago by using a single edged razor blade. Orange and yellow and green flowered contact paper. It was a tribute not only to the stickiness of the paper, but to the talent of a determined, but diminutive lady. For hours I scraped and peeled and I couldn't help but think of my mother and how hard it must have been for her to get that paper to lay smoothly, without wrinkles or sticking to itself, on the top shelves of cabinets that were well over her head. Did she do this project in the quiet of the day when her brood was at school? What did she do with the pots and pans and cereal boxes and tupperware containers as she worked (I have no memory of grocery bags lining the living room walls, like they do now.)? Was she looking down from her heavenly perch and rejoicing that the old paper was being replaced, or was she dismayed by my ripping and peeling thinking I was being a score or two premature in the paper removal?

Even though I am now considered this home's "kitchen maven", I am well aware of the woman who once ruled its roost. What they don't tell you on HGTV when they are renovating a well-worn space, is that the walls can talk. That ghosts of the room's prior inhabitants watch over you as you do the work. The good news is I find it comforting, somehow, to have my mom with me on this project.
To be continued ...
Wish me luck,
Merry ME

Friday, July 20, 2007

Ode to Caht

I've heard people say they don't like cats. I've even met a few. Mostly those people are men who think of felines as some kind of fru-fru girly thing, obviously never getting the cat/human connection. I don't think I could ever really trust or like a person who professed a disdain for soft furry things that meow and purr and walk circles around your ankles at dinner time.

This has been a tough month for cats in our family. First of all Oliver, Shannon's friend and understanding partner, had to be euthanised. A big and kind of icky word for one of the hardest things a person can do. Next, Wendy's Lou Pucci took a nose dive out of his window perch several stories above the ground, but thankfully not so far from the balcony below that he couldn't land on all 4 feet - albeit, a rough landing. There have been Lou sightings since his Flying Wallenda escape. I still believe, he's smart enough to know a good thing when he had it. It might take awhile, but I bet Lou shows up at someone's doorstep, and when the door opens and the greeter says something like, "oh look, a little kitty cat," he'll walk right in, tail held high, and act like he'd just been out for a Sunday stroll. That's the way of cats, they don't like to admit mistakes like falling out of a window, anymore than a human.

Today, my sweetie, Jack, decided it was time to say goodbye to his travel partner, watch cat, confidant, sleeping buddy and best furry friend. In the past few months Caht had lost enough weight (a mere 6 pounds - down from a fighting weight of 22) and muscle mass that he barely resembled his old self. One might wonder why the fateful decision hadn't been made weeks ago. His thyroid condition took its toll on Caht's body, and we were pretty sure he could no longer hear. But he still ate, peed, and pooped with regularity. He could also attack a chicken bone with youthful zeal. The cat also had the unique ability to find something green to nibble on, even if he knew it was going to make him throw-up. (Okay, I admit, the throwing up and yoga-style cleaning of one's private parts are not the best of a cat's loving characteristics.)

There were signs, however, that things had changed. He could no longer hold his tale in a dignified up postition. One of our new kitties walked up to him this morning, actually got nose to nose, and instead of letting loose one of his stored up prehistoric sabertooth growls to let her know who was who, he stood there, let her smell then walked off. I think I saw him shrug his shoulders as if to say, "kids... no respect!" Even one of Caht's favorite treats, a handful of cosmiccatnip, no longer interested him. Let's face it, he was old and tired. His days were all about eating and finding a comfortable place to sleep. (The resemblance to my father's daily actions, is not lost on me.)

The first time I met Caht, he wasn't exactly in his prime, but he was still a feisty thing. He was perched in the windshield of Jack's motorhome. This was his Watch Cat guard post during the day while Jack was gone. As soon as Jack would drive up, he'd spring into action and the two would greet each other at the front door. It's still a question in my mind whether Caht considered this a changing of the guard, or if he thought this would be his chance to make quick get away. The cat was nothing if not a Houdini-esque escape artist. If Jack had a guest, i.e. me, Caht's welcome was more of a what-do-you-want-and-how-long-are-you-going-to-be-hear hiss, than a glad-to-meet-you hello. Clearly he was not glad to meet newcomers. He looked forward to his Jack-time and didn't like sharing it with interlopers, i.e. me.

Jack would have to tell the story of how the two met; how they lived, worked and traveled. He's got 17 years of stories to remember and tell. However, I think the one that best describes their relationship was the one where the dominance of the Alpha cat was established:

Jack traveled in a motorhome for a couple of years with Caht as his co-pilot and navigator. On this particular occasion, they had spent a weekend camping at a local beach/park. Caht had a cage he liked to sit in which gave him a sense of being outside yet kept him confined; he knew, however, it was not the same as being free to wonder and sniff and commune with other four-legged creatures. He was always looking for an avenue of escape. His eyes and ears were always tuned into the sound of a door opening but not closing tight.

On this occasion he did escape. And yes he did give Jack the impression that since he was "free at last" he wasn't coming back anytime soon. Herein began the battle of wills - man vs beast, parental knowledge vs teenage smarts, instinct vs sanity. Who was going to win? From Jack's telling, it was a toss-up for about 24 hours. Tired of chasing the frisky feline and angry about having to, Jack made the decision to pack up and get ready to leave. If the cat showed up fine, if he didn't fine. He spoke his plan to the bushes and sand dunes. He rattled the gas tank and pots as he closed up the motorhome getting ready for the homeward voyage. No sign of Caht or evidence that the wayward tomcat (albeit one without the tomcat equipment) even heard the plan.

So Jack slowed his pace a little, made some more noise, reminded the cat (and the surf and sea) who his benefactor was and that life as he'd known it was about to come to an end. It was time for him to choose - sand, prickers, and sea creatures, or a warm, cozy window seat where he could watch the world go by. Not to mention the back scratches, Fancy Feast dinners, and fresh water awaiting inside the "Barge." The engine started. It revved upa little and, with a lump in his throat, Jack was determined to leave with or without a roaming cat.

Now please don't think of Jack as some heartless cat abandoner. The thing about cats is you usually can't force them to do things. You have to present them with choices, and let them think that they have made the final decision. This is standard cat behavior. Jack new this and hoped against all conceivable hope that this cat was going to decide what he(Jack) wanted.

And he did!!! As the motorhome began to move, the cat came out of the bushes where he'd most likely been watching the whole showdown. Like two gunslingers facing off on a dusty western road, this duel was about who was quicker on the draw - the man driving the RV or the cat who waited til just the right moment to shoot his best "I'm a cat, and I do things my way" look at the man and melt his heart once again.

So this morning we said goodbye. The man I love so dearly because he is strong and tender at the same time, made the choice to let his friend go to that beach/park in the sky where he could run and sniff and eat grass without puking. It wasn't an easy choice, it never is. But when we adopt an animal we promise to love them the best we can. Sometimes, hard as it is, letting them go is what's best.

We buried Caht in the back yard. Sitting next to his grave, under a scraggly cactus (another of Jack's adoptees) we cried like a babies. I don't think I could have loved Jack more than at that moment. I've heard of people who have found a special connection with dogs, horses, birds, iguanas, pigs, cows, and even an Orca whale. I've cried too many tears to count over the love of a family pet. Nothing, however, comes quite as close to true love as that of a cat who will jump on your bed, walk across your chest, turn his purr motor on and try to lick your chin, even though he's done so everyday for 17 years and been shooed away. Jack never did learn to like cat breath in his face, yet I'm sure it is the feel of a scratchy cat tongue that he will think of when he closes his eyes tonight.

May you rest in Peace, Caht Bear. Run, boy, run! No matter where you go, you'll never be far from our hearts.

Not-so-merry ME

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Long Time No Post

It looks like real life has taken precedence over blogging. I've been caught up in gardening and home decorating. I'll check in when I can, if I haven't cut off a limb (mine, not tree)!

Wissh me luck!
Merry Me

Tuesday, July 3, 2007


I was at the dentist’s office last week. While awaiting my turn I scoped out the surroundings for readable periodicals. Not that I wanted to steal one (see True Confessions post), I just wanted something to take my mind of my itchy gums as I passed the time. My eyes landed on something that looked fairly interesting stuck in between the well-read Family Fun and fishing magazines. It wasn’t exactly new as its publication date was Spring ’07; both the calendar and the outside temperatures told me we were beyond Spring and well into summer. However, this particular magazine’s cover was still in tact and it appeared to have escaped the ravages of rip and run coupon thieves.

As pristine as the magazine was, it was the title alone that piqued my interest. Garden & Gun. How's that for a combination? I'm having a hard time deciding what target audience the publishers are going for. Would it be those steel magnolias who serve up Paula Dean creations in gardens they've planted themselves or Jeff Foxworthy characters who not only know what makes them rednecks but wear the indictment on the ball caps they neglect to take off at the table? My guess is this is a fairly small demographic. Obviously magazine moguls possess a certain degree of pluck and/or strange sense of humor.

The other thing that intrigued me about this magazine was the fact that one of my favorite authors was G&G’s premier cover person. To my amazement, Pat Conroy (The Great Santini, ThePrince of Tides) was standing in a fountain trying to look (but not really pulling it off) like a cross between someone who would handle his 9mm pistol as delicately as he would to his antique roses. His khaki pants were rolled up to his knees, as if he had just happened upon the fountain and felt like jumping in. His Navy blazer, however, was a dead giveaway that this was a posed photo. Still, it worked. I picked up the magazine and began reading.

Testing my resolve to relinquish the life of a periodical poacher, I carried the magazine with me into the examining room instead of sticking it in my purse to read at a later date. As it turned out this was a wise decision because I had plenty of time to read Conroy's whole article before the dentist popped in and out of my cubicle with the news that my gum distress could be calmed but not cured. Although it was a little distracting to read with the sound of a high speed pneumatic drill whirring in the background, I was sincere in my desire to finish the article and leave the magazine where it belonged. Not to mention the article’s subject was one I’ve been thinking a lot about lately.

Conroy wrote about using his old journals to get ideas for new novels. In the first paragraph, he said, "Whenever I begin to write a new novel, I take an unhurried walk through the various journals I have kept over the years. It grieves me that I have not kept a thousand promises to myself to become a more avid and obsessional journal keeper, but my record is haphazard at best, dispiriting at worst."

Then he added, "over the years I have met a disciplined battalion of writers who would not think about starting a day without making careful notations of their thoughts, joys, passions, and observations of the day before."

I'm not bold enough to put myself in the same company of people Conroy calls writers, but I have been an off and on journaler since high school. My 11th grade English teacher required that we turn in a composition book every six weeks. She didn't care what we wrote about, but she wanted us to get into the habit of putting words on paper on a regular basis. Suffice it to say those days were longer ago than I care to admit, but I suspect the only habits I developed were chugging beer and smoking cigarettes. Most of what happened back then I have a hard time recalling to memory. However, I can distinctly remember the night before the journal was due, going back and filling in all the blank pages. Obviously, self-discipline has never been one of my strong suits.

There were other guides along my life's path who encouraged me to keep a journal. During my years in therapy for clinical depression, my doctors opined the therapeutic value of writing about feelings I couldn't give a clear voice to.

So I wrote and re-wrote. I filled page after page with memories of childhood angst. I spewed out long suppressed and self-destructive anger. I tried to describe a soul-eating misery. I wrote sullen poetry and suicide notes. (For the record, my journals would probably not be the meaty stuff novels are made of.)

Yet, as I read Conroy's article I was reminded of those spiral bound notebooks and wondered what, if any, insight they might give me today, as I try to hone my writing skills. The more I thought about them, the louder their siren song called. Nudged by a new friend, the universe, and a healthy dose of morbid curiosity, I rummaged through an upstairs closet until I found the box I was looking for waaaaay in the back, under some old sleeping bags and a rusty Christmas tree stand. I shudder to think how many cockroaches have feasted on that cardboard smorgasbord.

I spent some time looking through the box of memories. It was filled with photographs, saved birthday cards, and elementary school report cards - the kind of stuff you wonder why you keep, but when you go through it, the memories make the keeping worthwhile. After spending some time in a nostalgic haze, I carried the journals, the objects of my search, downstairs to read at my leisure.

I crawled into my bed and got myself settled in not knowing on what kind of emotional roller coaster ride I was about to embark. As it turned out, what I hoped was going to be meaty, detailed prose that I could turn into a that-was-then-but-this-is-now-autobiography that would get me on the Oprah Book List was really nothing more than a window into a very sad time in my life.

The good news is this. I think I’m done with those particular journals. I think that period of time in my life can be laid to rest. Modern medicine has regulated my brain chemistry. I know where to go and what to do when I feel the blues coming on. I no longer live my life waiting for the worst to happen; and if it does, I’m somehow able to cope with it. Light has penetrated those dark days long enough, and sure enough, for me to know there is another more to life than depression – most of the time!

As for Conroy he says, “The journal is the place I turn to when I feel the pilot light of my imagination turned off.” For me, this blog seems serves the same purpose. I’m not as faithful with my entries as I thought I would be, as I’d like to be, but I think Mrs. Schumann would be proud!

Merry ME