Zen (for real) and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

(*** Language Alert***)

Did you know that dust can trigger a smoke alarm? I didn’t. Until today, that is.

It seemed that it might be a relatively quiet day of hanging sheetrock and getting started on the taping and waterproofing of the joints in the main floor hall bathroom. But, there was one more (please, God, let it just be one more) dirty, dusty job to be done, and I, like the mother of several children who keeps forgetting the excruciating pain of childbirth, once again underestimated the minefield of potential issues that could be encountered. (Not that there was anything to be done to change it, even if I had estimated the issues correctly. Sometimes continued ignorance is better).

Tim began the day as his optimistic Dr. Jekyll-self, filling me in on his objectives, which is always a welcome mental breakfast for my inner project manager. As he talked me through his plan, he realized that before he could start the taping and the floor, he first needed to tackle the doorway to rip it out and make the opening larger. This is because one of the truly annoying elements of the old hall bathroom was the tiny door & doorway, which featured a regular hinged door operating in an opening that was far too narrow for anyone I know to pass through it without somehow coming into contact with it – not terribly surprising given the limitations of the dimensions of the room, but it has to be addressed. We’ll be replacing the hinged door with a sliding barn door, which will be a first, though a better solution in this situation than a pocket door.

After establishing George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass album as the musical backdrop for his preparation and morning travails, a placid, upbeat Dr. Jekyll-Tim got to work hanging the remaining sheetrock. Once that job was done, the door-ectomy commenced, heralded by the all-too-familiar noise and vibration of the Sawzall. 5 – 10 minutes of tooth-chattering tremors later, thinking (fairly reasonably if you ask me) he’d cut through all the critical connective structure, he started trying to pull the door frame/jamb out. Something unseen was holding it in place, and, right on cue to assist in the unexpectedly larger effort, Mr. Hyde announced his arrival, spitting expletives.

I had a call at 10:10, and it was about 10:00, so, I took *my* cue, heeding my “decision-tree” lesson from the other day. While the Sawzall resumed its job, I quietly packed my gear, and crept upstairs to our son Owen’s room (which is uncharacteristically clean in Owen’s absence while he’s finishing his freshman year away at college; and with its desk and position in the house relative to this bathroom project, it therefore makes an excellent surrogate-office for me). A few minutes later (thankfully before the call started), amid the cacophonous duet of the Sawzall and Mr. Hyde’s curses, I was jolted out of my (Owen’s) desk chair by the piercing beeps and digitized monotone warning of “FIRE . . . FIRE” blasting from every smoke detector in the house, including the one that was 12’ away from me on Owen’s ceiling.

Mr. Hyde registered his displeasure (the one on the 7’ 4” ceiling of the rather small downstairs hall outside the bathroom was about 4’ from his ears) by loudly asking-not-asking me over the beeps and dire warnings to come downstairs and help him “cover this fucking thing up with some Saran Wrap or something.” I hurried down the stairs to oblige, asking what happened as I carefully pulled back the dust-infused drop cloth hanging in the doorway between the dining room and the hallway. I had my own question wordlessly answered by the heavy plaster-dust haze that hung in the air. Hmmph! Who knew dust would set off a smoke detector?

I peered surreptitiously around, looking for flames (just in case – you never can be too cautious), then being no more willing to endure that sound than he was, I dashed to the kitchen, retrieved the roll of Press ‘n Seal, and inhaled deeply before ducking back under the drop cloth to hand it to him while holding my breath (to avoid a later side-effect I imagined might turn my lungs into a solid mass of plaster. Work with me on this – it *could* happen. Right?) Meanwhile, he *was* wearing his protective mask with the particulate filters, and I noted to myself as he reached up to cover the smoke detector with the sticky wrap, that his breathing sounded like what would happen if Darth Vader and Mr. Hyde had a baby, accelerated as it was by his aggravation, and further amplified by the mask. I silently buried that observation in that moment, however, waiting quietly while he cocooned the smoke detector, then took the (now spent) box of Press ‘n Seal back to the kitchen.

I re-ascended the stairs thinking the plastic wrap would do the trick, and settled in for my call, which took place without further interruption, though Mr. Hyde, with the timing of a practiced performer, stuck around for just about the call’s exact duration, thankfully muffled by several walls, a floor, a ceiling, and the cellulose insulation between them that had protected us during the 5 winters we had spent without any other insulation above us.

Shortly after my call wrapped up, the All Things Must Pass album gave way to the Concert for Bangladesh, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde were making alternate appearances at about 1-minute intervals as Tim continued the grueling effort of removing all traces of the former door jamb:

*Sound of Sawzall* with shouted (sometimes sung, angrily, in place of song lyrics) “FUUUUUUUUUCK!” (or a variant, i.e., “FUCK YOU, YOU FUCKING FUUUUUCK!) . . .

Silence (after the Sawzall was dropped to the floor with a clunk) followed by happy-sounding whistling or actual singing to “Wah-Wah” or another tune from the album . . .

*Sound of Sawzall* with fuck-laced insults hurled at all surrounding inanimate objects . . .

Over the course of the next hour amid an unending tit-for-tat between The Sound of Sawzall and The Sound of Silence/Singing, it became evident that our clever little Press ‘n Seal remedy was ineffective, with the smoke detector launching into its shrieking serenade, not one, not two, but *three* more times as the door frame was finally dismembered, each instance jerking me rudely out of my concentration.

Very shortly into one of the “silence” moments, after one particularly thunderous interlude by Mr. Hyde and his Sawzall Band, there was a knock at the door, answered by an oh-so-brief “come in!” harmony as Dr. Jekyll overlapped his angry alter-ego and reasserted himself as the dominant personality. Mere seconds after any passerby of sound mind would have seriously considered a call to 911 for domestic assault, Dr. Jekyll-Tim was amicably chatting away with our neighbor Paul, who popped over, perhaps in response to a text from Tim seeking input on planning for the sliding barn door, as if this were the most normal segue in the world.

And around here, I suppose it is.

Welcome to Fire Over Fifty!

Just like me, this site is a work in progress. If you’re a new visitor, here’s a little guidance:

You might want to begin with the first 2 posts, which you can access first here and then here – they provide a bit of the back-story and my objectives for this blog.

If you’re on a mobile device or tablet, you probably see a “menu” link above, which you can click for a listing of the site pages. If you’re on a larger screen, you should see page links across the top of the page.

I’ll be continuing to add content to the various pages over time, and if you’re drawn to one set of content over the others, you can always click on the category at the bottom of the post to see all the posts in that category.

Parenting the Parents, Part III. The Move. And the Aftermath.

Actually, we were beyond relieved that they’d decided so easily to move – it would be so much better to have them closer, to get them set up with doctors who would be more aligned with what they needed, to actually get my dad diagnosed (we still had nothing that was in any way definitive), and to be able to keep a closer eye on them. Within 6 weeks (by Mother’s Day) the condo was theirs, and we’d begun the emotionally draining process of getting them ready to move, which we targeted for late June. Dad was easy – he just rolled along with everything – but it was bumpier with mom, who’d never been very easygoing to begin with. It all finally came together though, and in the meantime, we were able to start lining up doctors for dad here (to give credit where it’s due, “we” was mostly my sister, who has a background in the medical field, and blessedly, offered to take all of that on).

Within a couple of weeks of moving in, Dad had seen a new PCP, had several tests performed, and finally had a clear diagnosis: vascular dementia. He was scheduled to meet with a neurologist who specialized in dementia and Alzheimers and also with a Geriatric Psychiatrist, though the appointment with the neurologist wasn’t until early October, and the appointment with the Geriatric Psych was 3 long months away.

I had been genuinely surprised at how much mom seemed to like the condo while we were getting ready to move them in. The layout, I will acknowledge, was perfect, and the woman who’d owned it previously (or her spouse, or both?) had clearly had some mobility issues, as evidenced by the well-placed grab-bars and the stair-glide chairs leading up BOTH the main staircase and down to the (finished, 1000 square foot) basement. However, mom had a pretty good eye for interior decorating, and there were a LOT of things that I figured she’d hate, and want to change: paint colors, the horrible pinkish Corian kitchen countertops and stock white cabinets, the contractor’s grade faucets and mostly heinous, cheap light fixtures.

At first, these things didn’t seem to bother her, but it didn’t take long before her inability to handle the stress of all the change started leaking out in her annoyance over any number of little issues: how the refrigerator doors would sometimes pop open when you closed one side or the other (it’s one of those “French door” models with the freezer at the bottom. Ironically, it was the exact same kind as she had in her previous kitchen but that was the stainless steel version, and this was the white one). How the freezer drawer sometimes didn’t close all the way. Something with the dishwasher. The oven controls glitching out. How you had to move the handle on the kitchen faucet *just* right to get it to totally turn off. They’d bought a home warranty when they got the place, and we used it. The appliance guy came out. Fixed whatever was wrong with the dishwasher. Turned around the basket in the freezer, which was in backwards and preventing the drawer from closing properly. But man, with every new issue, I’d get an angry phone call, and serious attitude. Everything was shit. She hated this place. She wished she were just dead.

It didn’t help that she was having to pretty much act as full-time caretaker for my dad. He’d been having issues with incontinence for quite some time (not unusual with certain types of dementia), so Depends were a routine item on the shopping list, but there were accidents sometimes, and she’d act as if he were doing it on purpose. Same with the issues with the mail. Why she persisted in handing it to him, despite the results, and me reminding her, every time something would go missing, to Stop. Handing. Him. The. Mail, I don’t know. I had set up a folder for her to put bills and statements when they came in, and I’d come over a few times a week to sort through them. Yet still, she’d hand him stuff sometimes. Part of me thinks she did it knowing there would be issues, but that it would give her another place to channel her anger and frustration.

The visit to the Geriatric Psychiatrist couldn’t get here soon enough.

Sustainable Kitchens?

When I left my corporate job last year, in addition to knowing I needed the time and flexibility to take care of my parents, my one big desire was to launch a business that focused on helping healthcare institutions make the shift in their foodservice operations toward more local sourcing and healthier and more “sustainable” back-to-scratch food preparation (more on the rather loaded word “sustainable” later).

Life, though, has a way of telling you when your focus needs to be somewhere other than where you think you want it, and with everything else I’ve had on my plate (haha) in the past few months, I have to admit that I haven’t been able to spend as much time on pursuing that big desire as I had imagined I would. This makes me feel more than a little sheepish, considering it’s nearly all I talked about for weeks in the advent of, and after I left my job, and I had a bunch of people cheerleading for me. I hope I haven’t lost everyone yet. . .

I did set several goals for myself to attain around this before the end of March, though, and this week I’ve been able to re-focus on them and do a few things to get me back on track. Next week, there will be more. In the same way I committed to myself to getting the first draft of my book completed (done), and getting this blog going (done, if messy), and completing an advanced 13-week investing course (almost done), and getting my parents’ former house cleaned out and sold (done), and getting my grandmother’s house through probate she passed away in October), cleaned out and sold (almost done – closing should be in the next 2 weeks), I can now commit to getting back on the path with this.

Meanwhile, though, let me catch you up to where I *am.* Once I left my job, I dove into research around hospitals and healthcare systems and healthier, more “sustainable,” more local food initiatives. I was beyond excited when I came across a chef named Justin Johnson, based in Wisconsin, who first, had been someone named in one of dozens of case studies I’d read, having transformed the foodservice operations of a hospital in Wisconsin. Then, after he had that hospital’s revamped program up and running successfully, he decided to take what he’d developed there, and build a company around it, with a repeatable “toolkit” that could be applied to any foodservice operation. He called it Sustainable|Kitchens (which I’m going to abbreviate as “SK”). Their model provides the structure to first fully assess a current operation, then, based upon the findings of that assessment, create, and if desired, assist the organization in successfully implementing, a plan to shift the operation to one that sources locally; migrate preparation approaches to “back-to-scratch;” and, in so doing, create a more sustainable operation. (SK, by the way, isn’t just focused on healthcare – they can do what they do for any institution with a foodservice operation).

Now for a word on “sustainability,” the definition of which, for many, focuses on activities that consume less than their output provides back to the environment. Before I connected with Justin, I was one of probably millions of people (maybe you’re one of them, too) who just assumed that making “sustainability”-related changes in operations would be more expensive to organizations who chose to do it than what they’d been doing before. I had been steeling myself for the case that would have to be made to convince organizations that, in spite of this, it was worth it to take the plunge anyway: that the health benefits to patients and staff, the opportunities to engage the community, the great P.R. possibilities, would balance and mitigate any increase in cost. Plus, as one administrator I spoke with during my research told me, it would just feel good, because “it’s the right thing to do.”

To Justin, though, the word “sustainable” *must* include a financial element as well (to be fair, I’m sure he’s not the only one). In other words, making this kind of change has to have positive financial impact, or it will always be in the crosshairs of future “cost-cutting” initiatives, which are a constant concern for healthcare (and most other organizations). Mind? Blown. I mean, duh – of course, as a person who worked for the better part of my corporate career helping clients do things that made them more cost-effective, this made perfect sense, but I hadn’t heard much of it in the world of sustainable food practices.

What Justin and SK had developed was sound. It was proven with multiple organizations over several years, and it was, above all, exciting. I changed my plan, scrapping the idea of creating something on my own, and offered to help him and SK expand their reach here in the Northeast. And for the next month, barring any unforeseen crises, that is going to be my primary focus.

Get a peek here into how SK’s magic works, and see if you think it’s as exciting as I do. If you do, I’d love to hear from you!  https://www.sustainable-kitchens.com/change-food

Bon appetit!!

Zen (and Rage), As the Pipe Wrench Turns

You’d think that after almost 9 years of this, I’d be used to the aggravations that are just a part of the price of admission when you’re remodeling something. And for the most part, I think I really am: I can deal with the dust, and the crazily loud and 4.5 on-the-richter-scale vibrations of the sawzall chewing away at studs and joists. I can skate blithely through the unexpected discovery of water-damaged, rotting structural members (though why, with a house that was built in the 1950’s, it should be unexpected, is probably quite silly). I’m getting better at figuring out how to (inhale, annnnnnd,) exhale my way through my frustration when I’m perfectly ready to make plumbing fixture, lighting, and tile selections and my contractor/husband Tim insists that it’s too soon, even though the demolition is done and he’s ready to start plumbing and electrical work, so we need to know what the fixtures are going to be so the rough-in work can go in the right spots. Whatever.

So, it’s actually mildly surprising to me that I still haven’t “yogi-minded” my way around one thing: Tim’s lack of patience and outsized temper when things don’t go smoothly. Take the past 2 days for example: he’s been working on plumbing, which isn’t anything new to him. Plumbing was one of the first trades he learned decades ago. However, and I say this with nothing but love and respect and the knowledge that I would never *actually* throw those imagined daggers at him: he is sometimes tragically disorganized. This is often the major factor that ends up sending him over the edge of seeming sanity and into a screaming, cursing stratosphere of apoplexy. It’s really, really hard not to go there with him.

I mean, I *get* it. Anger is sometimes therapeutic. I’m actually a fairly accomplished practitioner of it myself. Maybe I haven’t developed the proper coping mechanism because I was out of the house working for so much of his earlier toil on this renovation, so I just wasn’t buffeted and bounced around by it as often as I am now that my office just happens to share an adjoining wall with the bathroom being remodeled. But for Pete’s sake. Things are going to go wrong. I know this. How on earth does the guy who’s been doing this stuff for 40 years NOT know this, and how has he not learned to employ mitigation strategies?

Starting, for example, with organizing his stuff, and Just. Keeping it. Organized. I name that because here’s how the scenes usually go down: something goes a little sideways, let’s say, he needs to re-do a plumbing joint to change it from a 90-degree to a 45-degree angle. He’s not happy about having to torch the existing joint to liquefy the solder and pull it apart. I’ll give him that. Then, for whatever crazy reason, the joint’s a little stubborn and he can’t get it separated. The frustration builds. He starts yelling and cursing. He storms out, looking for a different wrench. He comes back with one that isn’t right for the job, which he discovers through another barrage of yelling and cursing. He goes back for another one. The fury builds and the f-bombs fly. He shout-asks me to come in to help, which I’m happy to do if it will make this stop. I torch the joint while he pulls. After more cursing and force, it flies apart and one end of the newly separated joint springs out and burns my finger, but I’m fine and grateful that at least it’s done. I go back into my office thinking the worst is over.

Then, before he or the pipe have had enough time to cool down, he starts looking for the 45-degree joint, which, if he has one, is in a box with all his other miscellaneous plumbing fittings and supplies. Just a box. Not a box with smaller boxes or divided sections into which one could group similar small parts, but a box where everything is swimming around together, and, as Karma would have it, very definitely conspiring and abetting the disappearance of the sought-after 45-degree joint. More foul words and threats against humanity are unleashed like a mythic Hydra as he loudly dumps the entire contents of the box onto the floor and starts wildly sifting through it as if he’s a member of the bomb squad looking for wire cutters and there are 20 seconds left until detonation. With clear malice aforethought, that evil little piece of copper eludes him.

So many of these meltdowns would never get traction if things were in places where he knew they’d be, and he could find them when he needed them. The right wrench. The 45-degree joint (which, about 10 minutes later, materialized, in a clear plastic bag, in plain sight, on the floor onto which it and its brethren had been dumped). And while he’s coming unglued, 9 feet away through the wall between my office and the bathroom, it’s REALLY HARD for me to concentrate and get anything done. I do what feels like an appreciable job of “keeping calm and carrying on,” until I don’t.

I should stop right here and explain that this is always the fatal point in my decision tree. What I *should* do: quietly pack my laptop, notepad, phone, and thermal coffee mug, and slip out the door and down the hill to So-G (our local coffee roaster) for some serenity. What I do instead:  calmly offer a suggestion that perhaps when he’s this crazed, it affects his ability to think clearly. Suddenly, I’m transformed from helpful wife into the object of his fury, and with him now directing his ire straight at me, my own team of Piss-a-trons (who’ve been stealthily organizing in the build-up leading up to now) see their opening, and leap into action, all flaming word-swords and rusty-tipped verbal jabs.

After a brief and very heated exchange, he quiets down for long enough to get through the issue, and without a whole lot of additional drama, it’s done. Just like that. Poof. All fury evaporated. The plumbing parts get tossed back into their magic box to await the next episode of As the Pipe Wrench Turns, with any thought of “how this might be avoided in the future” as nonexistent as fingernails on a snake.

As for me, I can still marvel at his abilities and appreciate what they’ve yielded. As a bonus, I’ve also now galvanized my awareness about that fatal point in my decision tree. Let’s see how I do with that knowledge next time (because as sure as the sun will rise, there *will* be a next time. It might even be tomorrow).

Parenting the Parents, Part II. Getting the Ball Rolling.

Ah, the family meeting. We had to get this started somehow. We broached the subject of my parents moving someplace closer to either my sister (up in VT) or me. I acknowledged that they probably weren’t feeling ready yet, but what was “ready” going to look like? When one of them took a header down the stairs? (Those are the exact words I used, by the way.) They didn’t argue about it (though ultimately, my dad dug in his heels about moving out of state – he’d spent his whole life in CT, dammit, and he wasn’t going to leave now. I think he was mostly worried about being able to watch the UConn Huskies Women’s Basketball games, to which they were – still are – seriously committed. . .). They didn’t quite jump right on the bandwagon, either.

Where they were living wasn’t exactly a place known for having a high concentration of quality healthcare. As fall became winter and winter became spring, I encouraged them to call me if they needed help with anything. This was a difficult thing for them – they’d always been self-sufficient. They never wanted to be the dreaded “burden.” But as the weeks wore on and the phone calls came more frequently, it was becoming increasingly apparent that we needed to accelerate the thinking about moving them because the burden of them not becoming a burden was getting, well, burdensome.

Confusion over bills was becoming routine, as was the need for me to often drop everything to run over there to unravel errors or play forensic accountant. (Despite the fact that dad had been saying, quite plainly, for a few months that he couldn’t really handle the finances anymore, mom continued to hand him the mail whenever it contained a bill or a statement. I still don’t know whether this was just 55+ years of married habit, denial, or a little of both. In any case, habit compelled him to think he had to do something with it when she handed it to him, which often ended with things being misplaced, split apart, or otherwise generally mishandled in some way.)

And. They did everything manually – they wrote checks for every bill, pretty much as soon as it arrived. At some point, however, they had completely stopped keeping a running total in, and balancing, the checkbook. They also had a habit of writing out the checks for their quarterly estimated income tax payments as soon as they came back from their annual tax preparation visit with their accountant (dad had given up doing their taxes probably a decade before). They would then stage the pre-written checks in their desktop organizer and make notes in the calendar for when they should send the payments. They’d log them into the checkbook register, but because they had stopped keeping a running total, no one was keeping track of how much was really available in the checking account. I quickly took that on as a part of my routine duties.

I’ve jumped a little ahead though. It was around then (mid-March) that I had a brainstorm: there was a very nice condo complex just 3 minutes down the hill from me. What if. . .? I bounced the idea off my sister, and in short order, I’d reached out to a realtor I knew who had lived there and whose name was often on For Sale signs in the complex. We wanted a unit where single-floor living was an option. Lo and behold, the (almost) perfect unit was available.

I mentioned the idea casually to my mother, to plant the seed. She said nothing, but didn’t put up an argument. A week later, on Easter, I brought it up as we were driving them to my house for dinner. I had teed up a virtual tour of the place on my laptop, which we showed them after dinner. They seemed more interested than I’d thought they would be. When I brought them home later that afternoon, I reinforced, again, that I knew the idea of moving probably seemed daunting, but if they liked the place (or any place there), they could buy it and we could take our sweet time moving – even if it took 2 years – at least they’d have it. (Of course, in my head, I was screaming, “Move! Now!! Please!!!”). I also reminded them that I knew their long-term objective, when they needed more care, was to have someone living with them, and that was great, but I wasn’t going to let that happen without the ability to check in every day, so to be only 3 minutes away would be awesome. I left them with that thought. Much to my shock and delight, they called me back that same night to tell me they wanted to buy it. I burst into tears of relief.

A “Food Friday” Foundation

There’s a lot of passion in me for food, and not just because I love to eat, and to cook (especially when I can share what I’ve created with people I care about – ask my neighbors!). For a very ironic reason I won’t go into here, about 15 years ago or so, something happened that started me thinking more consciously about food and its connection to health.

Over the years, spurred by that experience, I’ve read a lot of books: The China Study; many, if not most, by Michael Pollan; and a host of others, from those that address the issues that arise in the body, and even in our DNA, when we eat poorly (i.e. processed foods, refined oils, and sugar), to books about the microbiome. I pay attention to (and read with a critical eye) studies and any articles I see that get into the links between food and health and I am beyond convinced that, just as your car would break down if you continued to give it the wrong kind of fuel, our bodies do just the same. The devil is in defining “the right fuel,” which I don’t actually think is the same for everyone, beyond certain broad guidelines, but the old saying really is undeniable as far as I’m concerned: you are what you eat.

Somewhere along the way, I also became very interested in the impacts of global food production on the climate, and became pretty well convinced that what we eat, and how it’s produced, is one of the biggest things we can focus on and actively consider in our daily choices to if we want to make a positive impact when it comes to climate change.

While I’m at it, climate change. I’m not sure how anyone at this point can deny it’s happening, though I can muster more patience for those who may disagree over what’s causing it. To me, however, regardless of what may or may not be causing it, I fail to understand why we wouldn’t, as a society, want to tackle it as if we CAN do something about it. It could be the economic catalyst that the combustion engine was for the 20th century if we’d just embrace it. We’d come out healthier as a result, with cleaner air, healthier bodies, no reason for continued damage to lands and waters from fossil fuel exploration and production, and lower carbon emissions, which, come on now, certainly wouldn’t hurt. And anyone, anywhere, could hop on the bandwagon and ride (or drive!) it down the highway of a new economy.

I just read a story last night about someone doing something really cool with food production. I found it so inspiring and full of entrepreneurial, yet altruistic spirit, that I have to share it. Forgive the little Microsoft “commercial” in the middle of it – it’s a great example of someone who started as “local” as you can get, but has taken what he learned and is converting it to benefit thousands around the world. Enjoy! https://news.microsoft.com/features/global-garden-how-one-mans-vision-to-feed-his-family-blossomed-into-an-international-effort/?ocid=lock

Cheers for now — Marcia

Project Zen – Writing a Book about our Endless Renovation

I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I’m working on a book about our renovation project. While I’m beyond certain that the form that it’s presently in will NOT be its final form, I’ve just finished my first draft, where my objective was really just to capture the process, mostly chronologically, before working with an editor and probably tearing the whole thing to shreds. In the meantime, I thought it might be fun to share some excerpts of what I’ve written so far. What follows is a portion of the chapter I’ve currently dubbed, ” The Torture of the Architect.”

When Tim and I were married, his younger brother Andy was our Best Man, and I’m reminded, almost daily, of the way he described us and our relationship: “like two raging, bust-butt rivers coming together.” In the now 25+ years we’ve been married, I don’t know that anyone else has captured so well, in so few words, the essence of us, and woe to any poor, faint-of-heart service-provider who happened into our decision-making orbit. This was never more on display than when we started working with our first architect.

I should tell you a couple of more things here to properly set the stage for all that is to follow. I believe in visualization. I can picture things in my mind fairly clearly. I have been known to do vision-boards. I have always ended up eventually getting more or less what I’d been able to picture. I believe that attention yields quality, but I am quick to cut through options to make decisions, probably because I already have a strong sense of what I want firmly etched into my brain. I’m pretty organized. I’m a task-master. I analyze what I want to do and therefore what steps need to get done to do it. I make lists; I check things off; I update my lists. I’m a “clean-as-you-go” kind of person. And I impose it on everyone around me, or there is often hellfire and damnation. I admit it. I can be a nightmare.

Tim is nearly a savant. He knows his craft so well that he can do most things almost automatically. However, he also has ADHD (so do both of our sons – something that has tempered my previously *very* impatient tendencies, and I’m a MUCH better person for it. I swear.) He has a hard time visualizing things, yet he’s a highly visual person. He suffers from analysis-paralysis. He has an exceedingly difficult time pulling the proverbial trigger on most decisions. He, not unlike many, if not most, people with ADHD, lacks organizational and time-management skills. He is allergic to writing things down, which didn’t go so well when Mr. Mom had to fill out the same medical history form for the 4th time when he took one of the boys to the doctor. He makes up for it though, with his amazing skill and his infectious sense of humor.

When he’s in the moment, he’s in the moment. He narrates what he’s doing, not for anyone’s benefit, but just because it helps him think. When he’s not focused on a task, though, he can be a total scatterbrain. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that, in the approximately 9,250 days we’ve been married (as of the moment I’m writing this), he has misplaced, or outright lost: keys, wallets, phones, articles of clothing, and all varieties of tools at least 9,250 times. If he’s not already interested in what you’re saying, then it’s highly likely that even though he appears to have heard you, he hasn’t actually processed what you said. He will quite possibly cut you off mid-sentence and talk over you. There is little “executive oversight” between what happens in his brain and his verbal articulation. I think I coined a phrase somewhere in the earlier stages of this project, when I told someone that they should check to see whether he was wearing his decorative ears or his functional ones. You really can’t take his seeming inattentiveness to you personally. But we’re married. So, stupidly, I often do.

These fundamental differences between us have been pretty much at the crux of every knock-down, drag-out fight we’ve gotten into. And I’m pretty sure they’ve scared the living daylights out of the unlucky service providers with whom we’ve attempted to meet and work together, because we aren’t ones to hold back our opinions of each other in any given moment.

Nevertheless, and without reservation, I trust (and have trusted) him 100% to do the right things as he has done his work here. I think I actually trust him more than he trusts himself. Even if he can’t organize his way out of a broom closet (and I’m looking for a full topographical map . . .)

Time to get rolling, ready or not

“I am a work in progress.” *Thinking* that has begun to feel more and more natural – normal, maybe – over the past several months. I can say it out loud to friends, but writing it feels different, and a little scary. There’s something far larger than a small part of me that feels like, at age 53 (really, almost 54), that shouldn’t be the case though. Guilt? I’m the breadwinner. Shouldn’t I be an expert in *something* by now?

The truth is that I’m good at a few things (being fairly organized; annoying the crap out of my husband when he doesn’t clean up after himself or work consistently enough on a project; advocating for my parents; breaking inertia; cooking; deluding myself into thinking I can carry a tune; self-effacing humor; pricing real estate so that it actually sells). I know I’m really good at handling crises well, not that I want to do that for a living, thank you. So I decided to do a blog, inspired, in part, by a guest blog that a friend asked if I’d like to do last month (you can read that here: https://meetmaple.com/2019/01/18/a-love-letter-from-the-universe/)

When people who haven’t seen me in a while ask me what I’m doing, I’ve been saying that I’m “semi-retired,” because, in reality, that’s what I am. I can’t, nor do I have any desire to, pursue another “job” at this point. I need too much flexibility in my life so I can help my parents, both of whom, it can now be officially said, have dementia. Gratefully, we do have a caretaker helping during weekdays, but coordinating the calendar; scheduling and sitting in on every doctor’s apppointment; taking care of the bills; dropping everything to get there when there’s a fall, a dead battery in something, a leaky faucet or stuck toilet; gathering all the paperwork for annual tax preparation. . . That all adds up to at least a part-time job, and the job is mine.

Meanwhile, I’m working on a book chronicling (I don’t think I’ve ever typed that word before – it looks weird, doesn’t it?) the experience of surviving our genuinely daunting, 8+-year home renovation (which still isn’t done, but damn, we’re close), and, probably as close as I’m going to get to doing anything professional again, trying to help a very cool business whose main presence is now in the midwest, expand here in the northeast. Oh yeah, and continuing to hone my investing skills. And selling off a few pieces of family real estate.

The book has been writing itself in little snippets in my head all along the way (since around 2010), but the process of getting it down “on paper” has been more daunting than I’d ever imagined. For now, I’ve been focusing on just nailing down the chronology and as many of the crazy stories as I can remember (some are impossible to forget!!), as I’m sure once an editor gets their hands on it, we’ll end up totally reorganizing it. I’ll probably share parts of it in this blog, though.

So I talked in my first post about coming up with some sort of schedule, and here’s what I’m thinking:

  1. Mom & Dad Monday – here I’ll share stories of caretaking, things I’ve seen, heard, and am learning along the way;
  2. Hump-Day House Stuff – bits of the book, lessons and resources for energy-efficient building, how to not kill your spouse during a renovation, etc;
  3. Food Friday – my passion. This will probably include everything from recipe and party ideas to musings on the latest studies on the links between health (or disease) and nutrition.

I’m probably NOT going to do 3 posts a week, but for now, I’m trying to get some content together and teed up so there’s at least a fairly regular progression of stuff in all the categories. I hope it will be a place where you find equal parts of fun and helpful info, and maybe this will even become a place where we can all share our stories and learn from each other.

Cheers for now!

Just when I thought. . .

Back in the dark ages (about 8 years ago), I started a blog when my husband and I launched what we stupidly thought was going to be a 2 – 3 year renovation of our house to turn it from a cute little New England reproduction to a magnificently energy-efficient, “Shingle Style” home. (For clarity’s sake, *he* thought 2 years. I thought 3. ;-))

That endeavor will be one of the topics of this blog. Where the focus of my long-ago (and long-abandoned) blog was simply to chronicle the renovation (which I ended up shifting to Facebook instead), my purpose in including the renovation as a topic this time around has a couple of angles: 1) the obvious one: to share how we did what we did. We followed, as closely as we could, the standards to achieve a “Passive House” level of energy efficiency. We also about doubled the size of the house. That’s a lot of work (!), and a lot of lessons (!!). Did I mention that my husband was the builder, so it was mostly his labor, talent, and neuroses, plus a little project management by me, that got the job done? I aim to provide information, support, and guidance to people who might be considering doing renovation work. 2) Given the duration of this effort, there was a certain level of . . . Zen . . . and, as it turned out, mega-doses of humor and humility, that were required in order to survive the journey. There were also countless lessons in patience, compromise, negotiation, and just plain letting go, and I think (and friends have told me) that I have value to offer in sharing those (even if you aren’t embarking on a renovation!).

Those 8 years have also ushered in an evolution in my life in which I know I’m not alone, and which therefore will be another subject of this blog: I turned 50; my parents’ health declined precipitously; I found myself having to choose between the businessperson/breadwinner I thought I was supposed to be (and which had defined me more than I’d realized) and jumping into the fire of self-directed “breadwinnerdom” (and parent-care) instead. Just when I thought we were done with the house and I was where I wanted to be in my career and looking at my retirement horizon, everything changed. In short, my life has evolved as much as my house has, and where I am right now is exactly NOTHING like where I was 8 years ago.

I’m here to tell you that it’s good, and if you’re in a similar place, or wondering if maybe the wrong things are defining you, I’m going make this a place to hopefully inspire you, as well as give you a bunch of practical stuff to help guide you through your own fires, from taking that terrifying career leap to taking care of your parents.

Last, but not the least topic of this blog: food. Or maybe I should make that “Food” (with a capital “F”). It’s a passion for me, and not just because I like to eat and love to cook. Food is one of the things we have *some* control over in terms of what we put into our bodies (the air we breathe and what we drink being the other 2 significant ones – along with what we put *on* our bodies, which might get touched upon at some point here, too). Food is a major factor in our individual health and well-being. Aside from obvious, immediate allergic reactions when we consume something that disagrees with us, the health impacts of poor food choices lay largely silent over years, and by the time the effects show up in the form of ailments and disease, it’s hard to point at any one thing as the cause (which we love to do in this culture), but the correlations are strong, consistent and clear. When you aggregate consumption of Food, and its necessary precursor, production, over the several billion of us on this planet, Food is also a major factor in public health and environmental health. So I’m going to write and share content about that.

If you like all of the above topics, yippee!! You can tune in to every post! Otherwise, I’m going to work out a rotating schedule so that I’ll have a topic pattern for my posts: house-related stuff on certain days, parent-care stuff on different days, food-related stuff on other days, and hopefully inspiration and laughs to support your journey throughout. I’m going to tap my own experiences, the experience of experts, and that of “fellow fire-walkers.” I’m also planning a vlog to go along with this sometime soon (so I can give you tours, record interviews with experts, and give you a break from reading sometimes).

Finally, a little bit about the name, “Fire Over Fifty.” I wanted to convey a passion for life, especially life in “reboot” mode, and a sense of excitement, rather than dread, when life throws us its curve balls & change-ups (as so many are experiencing at a point where we thought we had the rest of our lives kinda figured out). I also have to admit to my own fantasy/superhero vision of walking through the fire and coming out, unscathed, on the other side (in some kind of cool costume, with the skin elasticity and muscle tone I had 20 years ago. . . Superhero name: “The Fire.” LOL). There’s also little inside story to the word “Fire” for me. My current coach was a former colleague with whom I worked incredibly closely for many years. During one very hot streak in our office’s growth, she told me, half jokingly, that she was going to start calling me “Firemica” instead of “Formica.” She did, and it stuck. Then it got shortened to “Fire,” usually used with an exclamation point when she called or emailed me, e.g.: “Fire! When do we have that call?” So the name has a bit of a layered meaning for me, and I hope this blog comes to be a place that has meaning for you, too.

In-Flight Sunrise: My Fire Over Fifty Metaphor