Cutting Corners

We were on a roll. Seriously. Work actually cranked along on *Saturday* this past weekend. Normally, even when Tim thinks he’s going to get work done on Saturday, it doesn’t happen. The house gets cleaned, but that usually seems to take center stage, and the other “work” ends up getting justifiably tossed to the side until Monday.  But this past Saturday morning? Life was good.

I began fantasizing about bringing in the sink and its lovely, 1930’s-vintage-inspired polished chrome legs; the faucet; the shower head; the towel/grab bars and robe hooks from their (still cold, despite the fact that it’s April 9th, dammit) temporary holding pen out in the garage. I learned a long time ago, though, not to break into the boxes that cradle them, quiet and shiny and unblemished by hard water stains, to swoon at their classic beauty and dream of them in their quotidian functionality, because, well. . . As close as this feels to being done, I just knew from experience that any number of unforeseen delays could await, and what felt like another week or two of effort might stretch impossibly into the future.

We’re through more than half of the tiling of the walls of our really-not-very-big hall bathroom. Yet, not really half the effort. Maybe a quarter. Because facing us this week is the dreaded outside corner. This is one of the reasons, 2+ years ago, we spent a lot of money on a pretty-darned-good tile saw (with full water table), knowing we’d have to be cutting a fair number of 45-degree mitered corners on finicky stone tiles that are brittle and chippy and just hanging around in their stupid little 30-pound boxes, waiting to ruin your day when you cut them at any angle other than 90-degrees.

So picture the possible corners of the walls in a room. Most, blessedly, are “inside corners.” These are what you think of when you think of a corner in a room. Someplace you need to find a big plant, or a special piece of furniture to fill so it doesn’t look empty. Occasionally though, especially in a bathroom, you have an “outside corner.” Think of a corner on the outside of your house or building. It’s the opposite 90-degrees from the corners on the inside of the rooms in your house, right?

The inside corners are relatively easy for tiling. No special, angled cuts. You just run the tiles to one corner, then, on the perpendicular wall, run the tiles out from that same corner, butting the end of one against the flat surface of its corner-partner. Yeah, you might have to cut them to fit properly, and if you have a great tile guy (as I’m blessed to have), he’s thought the layout out ahead of time, so that the cuts for the end pieces at one end of the wall are the same length as the cuts for the end pieces at the other end of the wall. (If you pay attention, you’ll be surprised at how often this isn’t the case, and the end pieces aren’t even from one end to the next. Most normal people wouldn’t notice it. But I am now among the cursed – I mean blessed – who do).

The outside corners, though, are another matter entirely. They require, if you’re going to do it in style, 45-degree, mitered cuts where those corner tiles meet, and an even, straight line, right up the full corner of the wall. On an inside corner, you can fudge, just a little, with grout. With an outside mitered corner, though, there’s little room for error, and the weight of the world hangs in the balance (Because you never notice an outside corner. Unless it’s not straight). There are only so many pieces of stone waiting in those boxes. There are only so many opportunities for a wobble of the blade or a tiny change in density to cause a chip and send an entire tile (or at least half a tile) to the scrap pile.

We spent over an hour (and I do mean *we* – it was both of us out there in the cold, 41-degree drizzle and flying micro-bits of wet stone dust) yesterday, speculating on, then testing, a variety of techniques to quickly stabilize the blade at the beginning of a cut to prevent a slight, but irredeemable curve at the top or bottom of a given tile, which would render it perfectly useless. We were like two mad scientists, carefully noting the effect of each alteration we’d introduce, until finally, we hit upon a successful combination of variables and I beat a shivering, damp retreat into the warm house, feeling beyond grateful that it was him, and not me, who was going to have to be out there, doing this another 50-or-so times.

After much discussion and consideration this morning in the unrelenting, misty April chill, we concluded that it was best to do the two cuts for each side of the mitered corner of a given row of tiles first, then install the rest of the tiles in that row, out to each respective end. And all-in-all, it was a reasonably successful day, cutting corners, and laying in 7 respectable, hard-earned courses. It’ll look like hell until all the thinset dries and gets cleaned off tomorrow, but progress is progress, and, maybe symbolically, before sunset this evening, the clouds were starting to break and blue sky peeked through, hopefully a metaphor for tomorrow.

dry-fit bathroom corner
Morning Dry-Fit
Afternoon progress 1
Afternoon Progress 1
Afternoon progress 2
Afternoon Progress 2

Bathroom Update, and A Trail of Rubber Gloves

Some weeks I’m never sure what I’m going to write about until the last minute. Sometimes I don’t feel like there’s much of a story at all, but then, I look around. Today (Tuesday), I began my inspiration by taking a couple of photos of the progress on the main hall bathroom, which is the last major indoor project of this renovation (after 9 years, that’s saying a LOT). The tiling of the walls has begun, having finished the “field” tiling on the floor last week, so we’re definitely making progress. I give Tim a lot of grief for how long this is taking, but (shhhhhhh. . . ) considering some of the stuff this poor guy is struggling with physiologically, I’m really OK with it.

Back to this afternoon, I somehow decided that the way our yard looks, just beyond the front porch, might also be a part of the story. So I took a shot of the chaos out there.

Front yard tile setup_4-2-19
Clutter off the Front Porch

And then, I noticed it: a trail of discarded black rubber gloves. Everywhere. Around the front porch and the saw tables out front. (Yes, that’s plural – tableS. There’s the chop saw. The tile saw. The table saw. He has more, but those are the only 3, besides the roving Sawzall, which doesn’t require a table, that are presently in active daily use.) The bathroom itself. The hallway. The dining room, which happens to sit between the front door and the bathroom under renovation, so it qualifies as a key part of the “clutter zone.”

Glove trail 2_4-2-19
Clutter (and Dead Gloves) in the Hallway
Glove trail 3_4-2-19
Dead Gloves off the Front Porch (Do you see all 4?)
Glove trail 4_4-2-19
Dead Gloves off the Side of the Front Porch

I know why there are discarded rubber gloves everywhere, but the visual of it struck me. He bought a huge box of them to protect his hands, wrists, and fingers, which are really sensitive due to ongoing battles with eczema and the long-term effects of topical steroid use (which is a whole other discussion, clearly, but which he quit using more than 2 years ago, though they’re still exacting a painful residual toll on his body). But, because he’s Tim, he has a near-pathological incapacity to clean up after himself unless one of the following conditions is true: A) it’s Saturday, and therefore, it’s time to clean the house; B) it’s a different day of the week, but some sort of entertaining will be going on. I never provide him with fewer than 3 days’ notice for such events, by the way; or C) he’s procrastinating doing some part of a project that’s stressing him out, i.e., last week’s post about yard work in lieu of tile work. Sometimes this will result in random cleaning projects: the garage, the attic, laundry, the yard; sometimes a neighbor’s project; anything but confronting whatever imaginary boogeyman is lurking.

It’s a tradeoff of project productivity here: if there’s an insane mess, in the house or in the front yard, it’s highly likely that we’re making excellent progress on the current renovation sub-project. And, like an adolescent whose mind is perpetually scattered in other directions, he peels off the gloves at the end of a particular session, drops them, and there they remain. Until A. or B. This week, probably not C. But you never know.

And that’s the way it is.

Field tile bathroom floor2 _3-29-19.jpeg
Floor Field Tile in Bathroom (Shower area)
Field tile bathroom floor _3-29-19
Floor Field Tile
Hall Bath
Tiling on Rear Wall in Progress (Window Trim Shown is a Placeholder for the Real Stuff)
Hall Bath
Side Shower Wall Tiling in Progress

The Call of the Wild

It’s spring in New England – at least astronomically, if not always corroborated by meteorological evidence. The warmer days bring us out into the yard to re-do everything we did 5 times in the fall: namely, leaf cleanup. Again. In our yard, this is a large, labor-intensive, time-consuming task, because we have no fewer than 100 oak trees on and around the property, many of which desperately clutch their brown, crispy leaves through most, if not the entire winter, dropping them, stealthily, a few at a time, leaving us by late March or early April wondering how they find their way so efficiently back into our once pristine, leaf-free landscape.

This provides us (i.e. Tim) with no shortage of distracting side-projects to waylay the elephant-in-the-hallway effort going on in the bathroom. Gratefully, nothing disastrous has yet befallen us, despite the nightmarish specter that once loomed (as of 1 – 2 weeks ago) over the proper pitching of the shower floor, or the painstaking additional tile layout efforts I conceived by insisting that I wanted a black border around the entire floor perimeter. I have taken heat that most ceramics couldn’t withstand over that choice, even though I told him that if it was really going to be so impossible (as his early protests would have had me believe), he could just skip it and lay the “field” tile right up to the walls. He hasn’t yet declared defeat at the border, though, so I think this may yet work out as I’d envisioned.

Last week was mostly dedicated to shower drain installation, floor-pitching, and stressing out over floor pitching (which, if it’s done properly, will ensure that the water from the shower will flow down into the drain; if done incorrectly, the water will just stand, or worse, flow out and across the rest of the bathroom floor – not the desired outcome). Lo and behold, when we hauled the hose through the front door and dining room and into the bathroom on Saturday morning for our first pitch test, it performed pretty much as it was supposed to, inching us ever-closer to the dreaded, hideous task of tile layout, which is turning out, thus far, to not be quite so hideous. (FYI: I just knocked on wood).

Yesterday and part of this morning were expended putting the final layer of waterproof membrane on the floor and 2” up the walls, followed by the near-ceremonial setting up of the tile saw and its accompanying water table today. When I returned from an appointment mid-afternoon, 1/3 of the field tiles for the floor were laid out in their future homes and I started getting excited.

Regardless of the fact that this week is only supposed to get warmer with each successive day, the call of the wild (a.k.a, the yard) won out over the call of the floor this afternoon, so I’m in the familiar position of reining in my galloping excitement once again as I listen to the melodious strains of the leaf blower. At least the yard will look nice when I get back from my networking dinner later tonight.

Stupid Oak Tree
The Stupid Oak Tree in my Backyard, leaves still intact, 3/26/19

Zen and Managing “Type A” Expectations, a.k.a, “Pele’s World”

I’ve felt for quite a few years that I had conquered my “type A” personality: as I consider it, probably not surprisingly, I think I’ve felt that way for about as long as this house project has been going on (go figure!). For fun, let’s call my “type A” personality “Pele” after the Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes and fire. Mind you, reducing Pele’s influence was never a conscious goal for me, but it turns out that controlling, if not truly conquering her was a necessary evolution.

For approximately half of my adult life, Pele ruled. She had to, really. I was the breadwinner, so her fire was crucial. However, being married to someone with ADHD, and later, discovering that both of my children were also simultaneously gifted and cursed with it, caused me to slowly realize that I needed to cultivate patience, and, in effect, do something to manage her, or her demanding nature would be the undoing of everything I was supposed to be working for.

Enter yoga. I started practicing back in about 2003. I had tried it many times prior to that, always giving up in utter frustration when things got uncomfortable, which usually happened about 5 – 7 minutes into any attempt. Yet, something in me (maybe Pele herself and her unquenchable need to overcome failure? Maybe some deep-seated, but unconscious self-awareness?) kept coming back to it, despite my rather abysmal track record. In partial hindsight, though, I believe yoga might be the thing I’ve done in my life that has been the most beneficial, and the most life-altering.

Wait a minute – isn’t today’s post supposed to be about house stuff? Why am I writing about this? Mainly, it’s because the current bathroom project has taken *so* much longer than I originally anticipated, for a host of extremely valid reasons. Valid or not, it’s testing me, or rather, it’s testing my ability to manage Pele, so she’s today’s muse.

You see, my Pele struggles on a near-daily basis with the validity of the reasons this effort has been so protracted, despite clear evidence to the contrary. Frankly, if I were to have given Pele her voice every time she flared up inside me, I’m about 98% certain that the entire house project would have been abandoned along the way, as would my marriage (which, for those new to this, happens to be to my contractor, Tim, though the marriage happened long before the 9+ year renovation project).

So back to yoga for a moment: the evolution of my entire practice has been a microcosm of this larger house project. I noted above that my earlier fails with this previously unreachable art were about my frustration when things got uncomfortable. Well, guess what? This project has been a 9+ year series of uncomfortable moments, interspersed with triumphs, interspersed with sometimes seemingly interminable periods of inactivity – those are the toughest for Pele.

I was finally able to trick myself into sticking with yoga when I serendipitously stumbled upon a particular yoga DVD, in a style of practice that Pele could handle. As a result, over time, my strength, and especially, my flexibility, improved and I arrived at a place where I actually craved certain moves (a.k.a, positions) that used to reduce me to angry tears. I guided myself into types of practice I would never have been able to manage when I began – ones that required true patience and focus and the ability to discern between genuine pain and the discomfort of pushing boundaries. I discovered that my flexibility (or lack thereof) and discomfort were far more mental than physical.

Thankfully, I was coming to that point at around the time that we were kicking off the house project in earnest. I had learned how to breathe, which might sound stupid, but in the realm of yoga, breath and *awareness* of breath are the keys to centering yourself amidst trials of all kinds. At first it was a subtle shift that happened in my body, but eventually, it became an almost magical ability with which I could turn a challenge into the sometimes gentle rain, and other times, the fire hose I needed to turn on Pele to douse her inferno.

She is a constant presence in my life – like the molten iron core of our planet – always ready to burst through a fault line that’s weak enough. Lately the fault line is this last bathroom. Aside from the work to be done outside, most of which is more within my direct control, this bathroom is the last horizon of the overall renovation project. Most of the time, the fault line holds, but the tiniest shift (which could be triggered by coffee stains left in the sink with dirty dishes and hardened bits of lunch, one-too-many balled up socks lying around where it shouldn’t be, a dried glob of joint compound in the shape of half a footprint on the entryway carpet as I arrive home from an unexpected appendectomy . . .) can result in an eruption. Sometimes, I just have to let Pele erupt. But most of the time, my Zen, in the form of my yoga mind, appears when I need it, like my very own emotional volunteer fire department. It’s good to know it’s there. 🙂


Zen and . . . Dust.

Everything here – positively *everything* – generates dust. The winter, and the sand, and the various chemical salt compounds everywhere. . . When they dry? They create dust, which we track in every time we leave the house and come back in. Sheet rock compound? Fun when wet. Dust when dry.

This morning  (a bit yesterday, too) “we” battled (Tim physically, me psychologically) with Schluter Kerdi waterproofing membrane, which is adhered to the wall with a special “mud,” which needs to be at just the right consistency, as does Tim’s temperament when he’s troweling it onto the walls above chest height and gravity is doing its tireless job, causing large blobs of it to plop onto the floor and his sleeves and the tops of his shoes. It eventually dries. And chunks of it fall off, gritty and gray, camouflaged against dark floors and patterned carpets, to be trod upon, crushed, and turned to. . . dust.

Today’s special, not-bathroom-related project was the ceiling speakers to complete (I think?!) our surround sound system. Perhaps not shockingly, installing ceiling speakers requires cutting holes in the ceiling, and something about the properties of sheet rock dust allow it to move much more freely on the slightest of air currents in a house than you’d ever imagine.

It didn’t occur to me to shut the ceiling fan off until after the first speaker was done and I was obsessively vacuuming its aftermath off the floor, the baseboard, the dark brown leather couch, the palm tree we’d moved across the room to avoid exactly this effort, the console table with the rough, reclaimed wood top that’s fully 12 feet away, and the kitchen chairs that were acting as ladder stand-ins. Ceiling fans are an excellent dust-dispersion mechanism. We just dusted everything on Saturday. It’s freaking Tuesday.

Also, somehow, it seems to me that the dust from “established” sheet rock (such as that which is part of the living room ceiling, which has been in place for over 2 years) develops a slightly different, stickier molecular structure than the dust that comes from sanding newly-set compound, but that might just be because it’s been a few months since my last encounter with new sheet rock compound dust (a fate which is quickly closing in on me once again). You can’t just vacuum this stuff up. It floats around and adheres to every conceivable surface as if held by a glue with approximately the adhesive property of the back of a sticky note. Not crazy sticky, but enough to cause a nervous tic to develop in your left eyelid after the 5th swipe of the vacuum nozzle leaves a translucent, slightly fuzzy white streak on every surface you thought you’d just cleaned.

Tim, bless his heart, had pulled out one of my old flour-sack kitchen towels, which, in some earlier iteration of its service, had been used to clean up after either a red wine spill or a murder, and had now been relegated to dust rag status. He wet it, wrung it out until he nearly tore a hole in it, and apparently used it to wipe up some dusty surface. I know this because once I realized that I wasn’t going to get off with an easy 5-minute vacuuming sentence, I discovered it, laying in a damp-dry heap on the island countertop. Thinking, “wow, that saves me a step,” I grabbed it and used it to wipe up the dust streaks that were clinging stubbornly to the arm and side of the leather couch. Clearly, it was harboring a universe of wet dust particles that had been magically transformed into a murky slurry, which dried in a few seconds on the leather to a dull, chalky sheen. I took a deep breath, brought it over to the kitchen sink, and rinsed and wrung it out several times until I was sure the dust was gone, then trudged back across the room and tried again, more successfully this time.

Gently, I held my twitching left eyelid closed, exhaled a silent “oooooooohhhhhhhmmmmm,” and spent the next 45 minutes fully consumed by my task, ultimately emerging, victorious, in today’s Battle of Dustville. Bring on the sanding of the bathroom sheetrock. I’m ready.

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.

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).

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 . . .)