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Before you think this is just another new-homeowner blog wherein I needlessly detail all the minutiae of our latest home-improvement project, and then make you seethe with jealously as you drool over pictures of recessed lighting, exposed beams, sparkling appliances, and gleaming woodwork, rest assured you will never have to see those pictures; our home will always be a mess. 

However, in our can-do, suburban spirit, we will always keep trying.  After all, how American can we truly be unless we are continually remodeling our home? 

For a while, it was a matter of putting out fires.  The drain was stopped up, so we had 3 real plumbers and Mr. Apron with a coat hanger make various attempts until we could finally wash our hands while leaving the water on.  The roof leaked, so we misguidedly replaced the windows (at the advice of a roofer who clearly had enough work elsewhere), then fixed the actual roof itself.  The 30-year-old oven scorched my precious cupcakes, so we had it hauled to the curb.  Our new built-in microwave was just the icing on the cake.  Sometimes when I enter the kitchen, I can’t believe that modern piece of appliancery is ours to keep. The giant air-conditioner that is responsible for making 2/3 of the first floor habitable all summer (well, this year, from April till mid-September) was just making a whole lot of noise, so we had that bastard replaced, too.  And on it goes.  However, none of our improvements have been strictly our choice, as in, “What do you want to tackle next?”  They’ve simply been old-house things that have up and died and demanded our attention.  And with the exception of the bright red backsplash I picked out to go behind the stove, none have been aesthetic, merely functional, practical, comfortable. 

Until now.  I chanced to mention to my parents that (one day) I’d really like to dig up our kitchen floor and lay down something beautiful and modern, as opposed to the vomit-colored cobble-stone design vinyl sheeting that was somehow impossible to keep clean besides.  The very week I spent up at my parents’ house, Mr. Apron became inspired to mop that stupid floor, after multiple failed attempts to Swiffer it, both wet and dry.  The week after he mopped it shiny clean, my father descended upon our house.  Ostensibly, he was there to celebrate Rosh Hashanah with us, but, after we returned from services, he was at once examining our kitchen floor as if a surgeon deciding the best way to remove a malignant tumor.  Before we knew it, he had changed his clothes, taken tools out of his car, and ripped up a corner of our floor. 

Just to see what was there, you see.  Just to peek and measure and investigate.  Under the vinyl sheeting, he found a layer of ¼” plywood.  And under that, he found vintage red and yellow linoleum.  Real linoleum, in 9” tiles, which probably means they were original to the house, which dates them to c. 1928.  For a moment I considered the appeal of the vintage tiles.  I considered the ease of just leaving them there.  I considered the incredible coincidence of the color scheme we had picked out for the final product – red and yellow.  We’ve been collecting red-handled kitchen gadgets from the 1950s; we’ve had the walls painted lemon meringue; we have a red vintage enamel-top table with red vinyl-covered chairs.  We have curtains in green, red and yellow fabric from the 1940s sporting all manner of kitchen gadgets. 

Alas; it was not meant to be.  The tile was in poor shape due to the tacks used to hold the plywood layer down, which had left thousands of neat little holes in the linoleum.  I thought, too, of resale.  Though I’ve sworn I’m never moving again, I do try to think of the mass aesthetic or practical appeal of the home improvements we do.  While I might adore the quaint appeal of the original 1928 red and yellow floor (without holes), someone else (who otherwise adores our home and wants to engage in a frenzied bidding war) might look down her nose disapprovingly at the “vintage” (read: “old”) flooring. 

Plus, my dad had already begun ripping up the lino, leaving us fewer choices in the matter.  Under that was solid wood floor.  Not the type you find in televised remodeling project homes, where they discover Mercer tile in the fireplace under layers of paint, and solid gold switch plates.  No, the type that is the sub-floor.  At least, there’s nothing beneath a subfloor. 

Not being able to turn back and pretend we didn’t know what lay beneath our feet, Mr. Apron and I dug in.  Dad left, giving us homework until the next time he visited: measure the floor, buy whatever flooring you want, and Rip. Up. Everything. 

Initially, I was petrified, but now that a corner had already been peeled back and dug up, it seemed the task had already begun, and that we had to move forward.  Even though it wasn’t pretty, and wouldn’t be a one-day project, we had a task ahead of us. 

I came home one night from work or tutoring, or my basket weaving course at night school, and found the refrigerator in the middle of the floor, and my husband of almost 4 years sitting in the space where the refrigerator used to be.  He was hard at work ripping up flooring.  The next day he tore out an 8 ft x 4ft chunk of flooring (vinyl + plywood together) in one He-Man-like gesture.  I think Mr. Apron has bought into the home improvement spirit.  He’s certainly turned up his doing dial.

Now, this story doesn’t have an ending yet.  Our cork flooring, which was surprisingly hard to track down, isn’t scheduled to arrive until Sunday.  After last weekend’s Adventure in Sanding, Dad will be back to help install this weekend.  It may actually get done, but that’s kind of not the point.  

I could just wait until this is all finished, put up my pretty pictures, and drone on and on about the Dali pattern in our Lisbon cork, how it’s naturally mold-resistant and eco-friendly, blah, blah, blah.  But I’m not gonna.

What’s most important about this project is that my dad heard my hopeful dreaming of new flooring, and decided to do something about it.  He’s not one to be afraid of failure on a project.  He’s not one to be intimidated by having never installed click-lock floating floors before.  He’s not afraid of delving into the unknown beneath the shiny vomit tile.  And that’s what I’m grateful for.  Who knows how many years we might have had to wait to love our kitchen floor? Who knows how many wasted hours I might have spent researching floor installation before taking a pry-bar to the floor itself?  I’m grateful for my dad’s support in this project.  I don’t feel like we’re taking advantage of his can-do spirit or his man-power.  After all, he made us tear up the floor ourselves, till our backs were aching and our fingers numb from ripping out tacks with vise grips.  After all, it was my husband who hauled 380 pounds of trash formerly known as flooring to the dump and flung it all into the abyss (Side note: genuine linoleum tile is a heavy motherfucker.  DENSE, y’all.)  We are doing most of the physical labor ourselves.  Were it not for my dad’s initiative, his support, and our blind faith in his know-how, we would never have even begun the project.  And for that I am already grateful, even as we traipse over foul-smelling backer paper of our unfinished sub-floor while waiting for the glorious cork tiles to come in.  It’s going to be beautiful.  Make no mistake, I may gloat. 

But first I’ll thank the Academy, and my father.

When Mr. Apron and I arrived home from rehearsal tonight, it was like a treasure hunt.  My father is spending the night before heading home tomorrow.  We’re hoping he can help us (i.e., do it all himself) hang up the cabinet that’s been earmarked for holding DVDs for a year now.  My dad made me this cabinet for my 8th birthday, when I asked for a simple shelf to hold my books.  He drafted and created a beautiful cabinet precisely the right depth for the paperback books I was voraciously devouring.  He asked a friend to sketch the arches that frame the top and bottom of the cabinet, and he cut and routered them himself.  And then presented it to me for my birthday.  Years later, of course, we would like to hang it in our first home, and wouldn’t you know! The depth of a paperback Babysitters’ Club book is the same as a DVD of “The Royal Tenenbaums”. 

So Daddie is visiting briefly, spending the night, and we left him at home this evening while we went to rehearsal.  Upon returning, the game began.  What myriad things has he upended?  What is amiss, awry, askew?  You see, my father is the quintessential absent-minded professor.  Clinically, we can call it ADD.  I handed him the Tupperware of leftovers, stating, “Can you throw this in the fridge?”  Well, we stand there talking, and he, paying no mind to the container in his hand, sets the pasta on the counter.  So any hope of specific instructions being heeded is a crapshoot.  You have to get his undivided attention for any and all tasks.  I understand my mother’s frustration at feeling she has to constantly clean up after him and the things he just doesn’t notice. 

We entered our house at 10:06pm.  No sign of Daddie.  Must be asleep after a late night last night and a long drive today.  Found the heat cranked up to near 70 degrees.  Found a drinking glass had migrated upstairs to the bathroom.  Found the ceiling fan spinning manically in the kitchen.  Found the basement door ajar.  Found a sock of his in the dryer.  I can address each of these mysteries, and follow his path through our home.

Behold, my forensic musings:

He actually not only flipped his laundry to the dryer, but also retrieved it 40 minutes later.  This is progress from Mr. Apron’s and my usual neglect of clean clothing for 17 hours.  The lone sock simply escaped his cursory glance into the dark recesses of the dryer.  The basement door he did try to close, but clicked the lock before it was latched.  Upon leaving the kitchen he reached up to turn off the light by its cord instead of at the wall switch, and turned on the fan.  Then he grabbed a drinking glass and marched upstairs to bed.  But not before finding the thermostat and cranking it up to compensate for his complete lack of body fat.  My father is 5’6” and weighs maybe 130lbs.  Maybe.  And so we have Daddie’s trail accounted for.

But the one thing I did ask him to do – remove his shoes to keep the salt and muck off the floors – he did do.  Even Daddie, in his absent-minded stumbling through our house, can do what I need him to, if I only bother to ask. 

Too often at my parents’ house, the assumptions rule the roost.  While some people might see us loading the dishwasher and assume that dishes after a meal automatically go there, others might not.  Some might see a pile of shoes by the door and courteously remove their own.  Others just tromp on through, oblivious.  My mother often finds herself trailing after us, correcting, fixing, muttering, but rarely states an expectation outright.  With occasional guests, maybe this is okay, but they’ve had several foreign exchange students who are remembered not for their cultural contributions to the family, but for their lack of courtesy, not because they were inherently rude people, but because expectations were not laid down explicitly from the beginning.  No one said to Jonathan, “When you need soap for your shower, just ask me.”  (Don’t steal my daughter’s expensive facial soap.) No one said to Daniel, “You’re out quite a few nights each week.  We’d like to have you home more.”  (Instead of just stewing as he stayed out night after night).  No one said to Manuel, “If you’d like to have a party, go ahead (or don’t!), but please note we don’t allow food in the living room.”

I remember as a small child, showing the house to prospective house sitters or nannies.  As a little hostess, I made sure to tell them always to put their pillows and shoes in the closet each morning, lest Amy the fox terrier/whippet mix chew the aforementioned to shreds.  You have to tell people from the outset, lest you set them up for failure.  And ruined leather.  Mom’s one attempt has been an unending series of reminder notes taped to walls, doors, shelves signed “The Management” that always left my friends wondering if I lived in a boarding house

My sister and husband and I stayed up till 3am last night, chatting away as if we were all still silly undergrads.  We cried, we laughed.  We talked about everything, from our parents’ marriage to our relationships with our mom and the piles of crap/gifts she’s always bearing; to what demographic would watch the reality show starring our family, and whether it would be a prime-time sit-com, or a late-night reality show.  Or an A&E special.  Shudder.  She complained my mother hadn’t removed her shoes when she came into my sister’s apartment, despite the pile of boots by the door.  We all agreed how important it is to tell guests in your home (or children, or spouses) what you need them to do.

Mr. Apron’s theatre professor told him that he needed to learn to “ask for what you want, in a non-judgmental way” and let people deal with their own emotional fallout.  I think she was talking about bigger things, like, “I need to have alone time with my vibrator every Sunday night” or “I would like you to be home more evenings during the week,” but it applies to simple things as well, like, “Can you please fold the towels like this?  When you fold them like that, I end up refolding them anyway.” 

When Daddie and my brother (also with the absent-minded tendency, except with a bent towards not having a clue about other people’s feelings) moved me into my first apartment, they stuck around for a few days to “help”.  “Helping” included locking me in the house while they took all the keys to the locksmith.  “Helping” included constantly leaving all the cupboard doors open for me to whack my head on and using paper towels at an alarming rate.  And expecting to be congratulated for their “help”.  So I ran around slamming cupboard doors angrily and hiding the other rolls of paper towels, frantically searching for cloth hand towels.  Stupid, stupid little things.  But my first space all to myself, and I was pissed off. 

The end result: I came off as a hysterical female obsessed with bullshit, and they never had a clue what they did wrong.  Maybe it would have taken a couple of repetitions in a calm, impassive voice, but they might have figured it out.  If only I had asked for what I needed. 

Here’s what I’d say if Daddie weren’t packing up tomorrow and heading back to become my mother’s responsibility again: 

  • Please turn the kitchen light off using this switch on the wall. 
  • Please keep the thermostat at 60 degrees.  If you want another blanket, they’re on this shelf in the basement. 
  • I keep paper cups in the bathroom closet right here.  Please use them when you’re brushing your teeth. 
  • The basement door is a tight fit.  Try to lock it so Finley doesn’t go down there and host sexy parties. 
  • Here’s your sock.  You left it in the dryer.

A while ago, I lamented our horrific attempts at home improvement, including dying phlox, a shelf that forgot how to assemble itself, and “unbreakable” switch plate covers that somehow did not fit the light switches.  I have since uncovered the truth about all 3 things. 

1) The phlox was deluged on a fairly regular basis by dog urine owing to lazy dog owners who shoo the creature out front for his last pee, rather than leash him and take him down to the curb to kill the neighbors’ grass.  He enjoys the phlox. 

2) The shelf had fit together perfectly before.  Then we made each board thicker with two coats of primer/paint.  It no longer fit so nicely.  Our closet-builder friend recommended that we take the tedious step of sanding when the boards’ “swelling” (my first hope was bloating due to the shelf having its period) didn’t go down.  We sanded.  We grunted.  We dealt soft blows with a hammer on a piece of scrap wood so we didn’t split any more boards.  The shelf is up.  It’s full of books and gorgeous.

3) The fucking switch plates.  When our kitchen was designed/remodeled in 1465, switch plates were a standard size.  When we went to Home Depot and bought brand-new unbreakable vinyl ones in 2009, they were also a standard size.  A bigger standard size — one designed to cover more wall, more mistakes from the painter, more half-assed switch box assemblies.  Thus, the sconce which was not too close to the switch in 1465, is now too close to the switch.  Mr. Apron took some scary-looking wire-cutters to the plate.  And now it “fits”. 

The latest saga again involves — you guessed it — switch plates.  Because we’re gluttons for punishment.  We like to fail at our home improvement attempts, no matter how small. 

The walls in downstairs painted, we decded to replace the ugly granny switch plates with new ones.  Mr. Apron, being the bridge-brained beau that he is, fixated on some ceramic switch plates at Anthropologie we’d seen a while back.  On our next trip there, we scanned the hardware section to no avail.  Disappointed, we traipsed back to the sale section, where I played among the racks, and he scoured the tables of tchotchkes, including books about fashion, French pick-up sticks, hair pins, scarves, and dishtowels.  Guess what he found?  Two double switch plates, in the exact design he’d wanted.  And.  On.  Sale. 

Huzzah!  Took them home only to realize our electrical system had not been updated since the house was built, and our light switches did not fit in the slots.  We don’t have the hundred year old push button switches, nor the modern “decor” rocker switches, nor the boring, usual switches.  What we have looks like the ordinary switch, but is just slightly thicker.  Enough so that it won’t fit through the rectangular slot of our snazzy new Anthro plates. 

The electrician came about something more pressing (I think “fire hazard” was a word the home inspector used), and I begged Mr. Apron to ask him to replace our switches, as trivial as it probably might sound to an electrician.

He did it yesterday. 

Take two.  I came home, and, craving some pride in accomplishment,  immediately went looking for the switch plates.  Only they were nowhere to be found.  Now I’m not the cleanest person in the world, and I’m not so organized (except at work, where the other SLP and I just organized the office supply closet, and it’s freakin’ awesome), but Mr. Apron’s style of cleaning leaves me, ummm, frustrated sometimes.  He cleans out his car by taking a black plastic trash bag, filling it with junk, and stashing it in the trunk of the car, or our garage.  Are you surprised I thought my grandma’s quilt had been the victim of an unmarked trashbag and pitched in a feverish cleaning spree?  House cleaning is also challenging.  Much as I try to bite my tongue and not say, “Where did you put the..?” I am often wondering the same thing. 

So, after tearing the house apart yesterday, from top to bottom, looking every place we could have logically stashed the switch plates, Mr. Apron finally uncovered them.  In the kitchen.  In a bag.  Stashed in the dog food cupboard.  Because company was  coming 2 weeks ago, and he needed to hide our clutter. 

Take three: installation.  I located 4 cast off screws from the former switch plate and dropped them into the new plate.  They fell right through.  That’s right, folks; the heads were too small because artsy fartsy Anthropologie switch plates have non-standard sized holes.  Off to the hardware store.

ACE hardware was inexplicable closed at 5:25pm Monday.  True Value is not really a hardware store any more because they used to be 3 different variety stores, and now they’re condensed into one store that simultaneously carries everything and nothing.  Not a loose screw to be found — just packets of useless hardware we couldn’t try out on our switch plate.

Sears hardware did not want to sell us anything.  Though they had a nice hardware aisle with tons of metal thingies, there was not a soul to help us.  Two ladies staffed the register, and no one else was to be found.   After failing to find a screw with the same circumference and a larger head on our own, we meandered through the deseted aisles, perusing gas ranges, air conditioners, caulk, and small children mouthing hardware bits.  Finally, I spied an employee. 

“Quick!  There’s one!  Get him!”  I whispered to Mr. Apron.

Johnny Hardware had about as much luck as we did on our own finding our Perfect Screw.  I took frequent breaks to disappear from the insanity as he kept opening drawer after drawer.  Finally, there was a breakthrough.  Johnny Hardware suggested using our existing screws (or ones with a slightly longer shank) with washers to keep their little heads from falling through the holes. 

By the time we finished with Mr. Hardware and tried to check out, we’d discovered both check-out bitches had disappeared, leaving a growing line of confonded would-be customers.  I swear, the store doesn’t want to sell us things. 

We  finally returned home around 7pm with 8 screws and 8 washers, and a motion detector flood light kit for our next hopeful project.  Installation pretty much sucked because the plates are extra thick and — have I mentioned? — non standard.  I could see Mr. Apron’s fist curl as we kept dropping screws under the radiator and struggling for some decent light to see by.  Finally, they were in.   And beautiful.  They really do match the colors of the room. 

But our success is not without reservation.  The one by the door is such a tight fit that it now requires Arnold Schwarzenegger to flip the switch.  One day we’ll take it off and sand it down.  For now, we’ll suffer, suffer in success or a job that took entirely too much of our collective energy and money.

Mr. Apron and I accomplished two fantastical feats this weekend. Yes, we assembled the shelves, and completely emptied 18 boxes of books. A half dozen more have been relegated to the basement, as neither of us care to think about grad school notes right now, but the shelves are up! And they look great. We’ve established a little reading nook in the living room. After all that hard work yesterday, we’re still married, so we thought we’d tackle something else…

Gardening is not our strong suit, but the previous owners left us with some stumps from greenery formerly known as hedges. I had heard that stump removal was impossible to do, and prohibitively expensive to get someone else to do. Nevertheless, Mr. Apron posted this blog today.  Since he’s such an excellent writer, and since many of you have come my way from his blog, I thought I’d send you back today.  No need to redundantly write about our efforts. 

I tell you this much.  In the words of my beloved husband:

“Something very positive was done today, and it wasn’t just the beautification of our little patch of the world. Today’s hard work proved to my wife that we are, on occasion, capable of achievements that may seem daunting, if not next to impossible.”

Maybe the light-switch cover evaded us.  Maybe the shelves challenged us to a do-over.  And maybe the poison ivy will be our nemisis for years to come.  But we can do some things together, even hard things.

Today, we tackle The Shelf again.  Last time’s effort was a spectacular and abyssmal Fail.  Mr. Apron split the end grain of the wood trying to hammer a shelf into its slot on the vertical pieces.  The wood was swollen or water-logged or PMSing and seemed to have grown since the last assembly.  But this time, armed with wait time (it’s been a while since we painted the shelves) and sand paper, we shall redeem ourselves.

Why are these shelves so important?  They’re holding up everything, and I don’t just mean that literally.  Sure, seven foot tall by five foot wide shelving holds the bulk of our reading materials, but there’s more to this story.  The books I speak of are currently housed in 40-odd boxes in our spare room.  Which we cannot use as a spare room because it’s full of liquor boxes of books.  We’d love to get the painters to come in and paint our bedroom (with its new closet!!!) as well as the office.  While they were great downstairs at moving and covering our “valuables” (thrift-store, curbside, and Ikea furniture), I doubt they’d love to begin the office in its current state.  My boxes and piles of craft stuff are everywhere, balancing precariously on a dresser here, a filing cabinet there, shoved under my crafting desk and threatening to overtake my sewing machine.  The final destination of all this crap is a bevy of shelves we’ll install on a free wall in the office above my crafting zone.  It’ll be awesome.  But, we have to strip (or pay someone to strip) the wall paper, and then paint (or pay someone to paint) before we start screwing in the shelf standards.  So it’s a Catch-22.  Can’t paint until we clear out the shit.  Can’t store the shit till we paint. 

As a temporary solution, we thought we could move much of the crap into the spare room so the painters can attack the office, but remember what’s in the spare room?  Ah, yes, the boxes of books.  This one shelving unit is preventing us from a) having overnight guests (not that we have those kinds of friends anyway…), b) painting the office or our bedroom, c) becoming exponentially more organized, and thus crafting more, and d) having a baby (which we will install in the aforementioned spare room). 

The takeaway lesson here, the gestalt, the final message: we cannot procreate until we successfully assemble this shelving unit.  Got it?  There’s a lot riding on those shelves.  Wish us (and our future offspring) luck.

Mr. Apron is upset at me for getting so down on our home improvement attempts, but I keep seeing failure.

1) We dropped $80 at a garden center to buy some plantings to make the bare flower beds look a little prettier.  The phlox have since died a pitiful death of dog urine because we let Finley take his final pee right on top of them.  But in good news, the 3 tomato plants are yielding about 3-5 grape tomatoes a day, which Mr. Apron is enjoying as a little snack.  Grade: B.  And now we have poison ivy.  Trying to irradicate it has taken out a nice chunk of our front pachysandra.  Adjusted grade: B-

2) We dropped $50 in painting supplies at Home Depot to finish a set of bookshelves my father built for me in my first apartment.  He gave us unpainted wood mixed with boards leftover from another project, and we decided to paint them to match our new wall paint, so they’d look built-in, or at least as though they belonged.  We slaved away for 2 weekends in the stuffy humid garage, priming — squeezing every last drop of primer out of that can — and painting.  The color looked great.  The boards first stuck to the plastic drop cloths.  Then, in an impulse to assemble them when they were dry to the touch, we discovered they no longer fit together.  Either they’d swelled (swollen?) too much in the humidity, or the paint was still wet and the boards had absorbed water from it, or they were menstruating and bloated.  They just wouldn’t go together.  Mr. Apron took a hammer to them, to try to shove them together.  Since we did not have a rubber mallet, he cushioned the blows with a dishtowel.  And split the end-grain of the board.  Later, our closet-maker, Bob, tells us to cushion the board with a scrap piece of wood.  Never, he cautioned, hit the end of the board by itself.   Oops.  The half-assed assembly job is still sitting in the living room, like some great orange albatross.  Grade: C-

3) Switch-plate covers.  Simple, right?  Unscrew the old, put on the new.  We didn’t have old ones in the kitchen.   Somewhere in between unwallpaper and panting the room, they disappeared.  I guess they were probably junk, anyway, being wallpapered to match the walls.  So we bought new ones.  The kitchen light-switch/outlet is right near a little wall sconce that plugs into that outlet.  Its mounting bracket is so near, in fact, that it interferes with the screwing in of the new switch plate.  We decided to cut it, and discovered we’d purchased “unbreakable nylon”.  Kitchen scissors can’t even begin to try.  We can’t even install a $.44 switchplate.  Grade: D. 

I know we’ll have success with some things, like the tomatoes.  And we’ll find pride in home ownership and in fixing things ourselves, eventually.  I know I shouldn’t be so down on us, especially when it makes Mr. Apron sad.  It just feels like we’re thwarted everywhere we turn, in each new project, no matter how paltry or simple; no matter ho many times we’ve assembled those shelves in the past years (3?), or how stupid it is that our kitchen was designed in 1980 so the switchplate doesn’t fit the sconce 3 inches away.

I think I”ll give myself a break from brain surgery blogging for today.  Too much intensity might threaten my readership and burn me out on writing about it.  So today you get a peek into our weekend of home ownership duties.

Saturday Bob came over to build our closet.  He stayed pretty much all day till 5:30, with a brief break so he could run to a funeral.  He’s not quite done yet, but what we have now definitely is emerging as closet-like.  There’s 7 ft of railing where previously there was none.  There’s framing and some drywall and I even hung up 2 garments to make sure they’d fit in there.  We didn’t go “standard” depth because of issues of where to fit my gezunta Ikea dresser and making sure we had enough room between the closet corner and the bed to pass without turning sideways.  I got a little scared when I saw that the railing wasn’t centered depth-wise, and had to make sure a hanger would fit in there.  Thankfully, it does.  Bob will come back and finish all that stuff he knows how to do.  Then I can finish my Nova documentary, “A Closet is Born”.

This morning, having procured our ritual Sunday morning bagel sandwich breakfasts, we put on long sleeves, pants, socks, shitty shoes, and rubber gloves and proceeded to attack the poison ivy in the front yard.  Our neighbor saw us, gasped, came running out and asked, “Do you know that’s…?”  “Poison Ivy.  Yes, we know.  That’s why we’re dressed like this,” we said as we held up our gloved hands.  She ran into her house and came back out with some scary looking pesticide spray she had from last year when she used it on our yard.  Our previous owner, Mildred, was 95, or somewhereabouts, so I’m guessing our neighbor did much of the home maintenance for her.  Hence, she attacked the poison ivy for Mildred, chemically. 

I had hoped to be green, and use the chemical-free gloved-hands answer I’d found on the internet, but I’d also hoped Mr. Apron and I would be able to clip our hedges with the manual clippers.  While that was a rousing success the first time, the freaking hedges were sporting new radical sprouts within two weeks, causing Mr. Apron to give a sigh of relief and comment he would be borrowing his father’s electric clippers from now on.  I try to do the right thing by our planet, but it doesn’t always work out that way.  And today, we looked at each other, then looked back at our neighbor, and told her we’d be happy to try her spray.  As we came back from the dog walk this evening, Mr. Apron happily pointed our some already wilting ivy.  I couldn’t help but put on a menacing glare and challenge the plant to “Die, motherfucker”.  I hope it does. 

We had dinner on the front porch, making inane comments about how the street’s cars are parked different tonight.  The Pilot that was parked at the corner all week long has moved to the 2nd spot from the corner, but that Passat wagon is still parked backwards because the owners are douche-bags.  Finley sat calmly, tied to the railing until our back-alley neighbor came along, walking her Corgi-mix.  He started to go bat-shit, and I couldn’t imagine why.  He usually barks a little at passing canines, asserting his dominance over our small piece of turf, but this time he was lunging and growling.  Mr. Apron took him inside to cool off.  He whined pitifully from behind the door as we casually sipped our Cokes and swatted mosquitos.  Then we saw Mother. 

Mother is a light-colored calico cat who lives in the back alley.  I think her real name is Miss Grey, but she’s been nicknamed Mother because she, uh, mothered the latest brood of feral cats recently.  The neighbors whose yards she frequents got a pool together to have her fixed, so she’ll be Mother no more.  She hangs around those neighbors houses, I assume, because they feed her.  Her favorite activity, besides playing in the overgrowth of our next-door neighbor’s back yard, is walking Megan, the Corgi-mix.  When our neighbor gets Megan ready for her walk, Mother gets ready, too.  If you watch at just the right time, you’ll see Megan emerge from the side door, and Mother will come trotting along.  She follows at enough of a distance to say, “I’m a cat.  I don’t get taken on walks.  I’m an independent creature.  I shit wherever I please.”  Yet she’s always close enough to be the caboose of the train.  Today she lingered on our neighbor’s lawn after Megan had passed by, and Finley spotted her through the hedge.  We called to her after we’d shut the dog up, but she remained still, aloof in her feline ways.  “Is this the way you call a cat?” Mr. Apron asked, clucking his tongue and making kissy noises towards the hedge. 

“Yes,” I said, “but there’s a secret of callling cats.” 

“Yeah?  What’s that?” he inquired.

“They don’t come when you call them.”

Mr. Apron has already written Closet, part un, in which we tried to bite the bullet and pay some fancy franchised closet organizer company to make the maximum use out of our existing closets.  See, in 1929, they only had 3 dresses, or 2 suits, and 3 pairs of shoes.  If they happened to be clothes horses, and owned 6 dresses plus a fur coat and 7 blouses, they they probably bought an armoir.  We, however, are modern folk.  I also have a fear of large pieces of furniture, specifically entertainment centers and armoires.  We like our closets built in, to hold our 17 spring skirts, 17 summer skirts, and 17 fall/winter skirts.  My man, at least, has nearly 50 dress shirts, including button-collar oxfords and his dressier spead or point collars (and two eyelet collars), as well as some short sleeve dress shirts, many circa 1950-1970.  He owns one pair of jeans, from an ex-girlfriend whose lasting compliment was, “You’ll look handsome when you get some clothes that fit you”.  She made him shell out $68 for a pair of Structure jeans, which he has never worn, but keeps as a reminder of stupid choices he’s made.  He has pants, slacks, “trousers”, instead, in three tiers of fashion.  Tier I are the nicest pants.  They may have creases, pleats, and cuffs.  They’re suitable for all but the most formal affairs.  Tier II are the more casual pants: Dockers, knakis, vintage polyester trousers, linen pants I introduced him to on our honeymoon to Bali, and Tier I pants which may have met unfortunately with a too-hot iron or an overzealous dryer.  Tier III consists of paint pants, moving pants, gardening pants, and set-construction pants.  They usually started life as Tier II’s.  All of these, you understand, must be hung up.  And then we get to the ties.  Mr. Apron used to shell out $50 or more for new brand name, designer label ties.  Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hil, Calvin Klein.  When we met, he had about 30 or so ties, almost all of which fit on a rotating tie rack.  Then I introduced him to TJ Maxx, Marshall’s and the thrift stores, where he discovered he could get 4 or more ties for $50!  So the collection has, needless to say, grown quite a bit, and no longer fits even on the custom serpentine tie rack I made for him.  And while Mr. Apron has many tastes (British comedy, the 3 Stooges, Gilbert & Sullivan, Herbie the Love Bug, Banjo, Finley, me), my mother continues on her endless quest to buy him more and more and more clothing.  She considers it her personal mission to find each and every odd-sized piece of clothing and buy it, to prevent any other man Mr. Apron’s dimensions from buying clothing that fits.  See, he wears a 15″ collar, with 34/35 sleeves.  I learned about these things.  That means he has a skinny minny neck with go go gadget arms.  Hard to find.  And in trousers, he wears a 30/32, which, again, means he has no waist, and legs that stretch to China.  He’s not overall so grotesquely proportioned; there are many men taller and some men skinnier than he.  It’s just that his combination makes buying clothing challenging.  But not so challenging that my mother didn’t help us fill two suitcases and many several boxes with his oceans of clothing. 

I am guiltier than he.  It was I, afterall, who introduced him to discount shopping, encouraging his acquisition, supporting him to buy short-sleeve shirts when he had nothing but his plaid jersey knit polos from 10th grade to wear in the summer.  So it is my fault.  And, being a woman, I have a worse clothing obsession.  It’s difficult when you’re known for your unusual style, and you find yourself wearing the same half-dozen shirts through the late winter because everything else is in boxes.  When shoes go through a 3 pair rotation because I’ve run out of shoe racks and I still have two boxes of shoes unpacked.  My poor darlings.   I miss them so.

So these closet people came, see?  And the first one tried to convert our future nursery ito a 7’x11′ closet (to keep us from procreating?), as well as try to sell us on closet systems built into every other wall in the house except in our bedroom.  And then when she told us her systems ran from $1,000 to $10,000, we had written her off while she sketched measurements into her folio.  The second guy was on his way out at 5:15 after a 5:00pm appointment.  He fired us, stating simply, that he could spend our money, or we could.  He had no solutions for us, but at least was honest about it.  He told us to hire a handy man to “throw up some drywall and a closet rod.”

And so we did.  Well, we’re trying to.  The first guy we called gave us a estimate of $1600.  We cried all over again, resigning ourselves to curtaining off some garment racks from Bed, Bath, & Beijing.  Then we went looking for another guy.  We asked Mr. Apron’s parents.  “General contractor?  What’s that?”  You know, a handyman.  The guy who fixed your medicine cabinet and shower door.  “Oh.  No.  He asked us not to call him again.”  Dead end.  We asked our grown-up friends who live locally to give us a referral.  And it was then we found out that a friend we already know is a handyman.  Which we didn’t know, because Mr. Apron doesn’t do LinkedIn with him; he just does Gilbert & Sullivan with him.  He’s semi-retired, we think, so he has lots of time, we hope.  All I know is, he showed up on Sunday afternoon with 5 two-by-fours, immediately started, umm, pacing off, our closet space, sawing boards over our carpet with his “ginsu” knife, and screwing boards into the floor.  He quit when his screwdriver’s battery gave out, and we had to leave.  But I think we hired him?  I mean, I guess we did hire him.  He’s giving us the “thespian rate”, which will amount to about $500.  It’s a freaking bargain. 

One mystery he solved was the crackling bulging piece of wall in our bedroom.  He said it was  caused by the bathroom mirror.  Yes, you read that right.  When the previous owners installed a superwide three-way bathroom mirror with a built-in medicine chest, they had to saw through a stud, and remove it.  Meaning that the other side of that wall (our bedroom wall) is not anchored to anything at all.  They didn’t even do a half-ass job of securing it above and below the cabinet.  But our friend said it wasn’t anything structural, it wasn’t in danger of crumbling, and that it would be hidden in the new-to-be closet.  That it was just a bulge; and that’s okay.  Quoth he, rubbing his stomach: “I have a bulge, too.”

Mr. Apron and I have been homeowners since February 18th, when we handed over large amounts of money in exchange for keys and responsibility.  I heard someone joke that when you become a homeowner, you should take $1,000 in $1 bills and staple them to your house, just to get used to spending money on it.  Let me tell you what has required out attention in these short 3 months.

PECO, the gas company, has twice been out to investigate gas odors.  The first time was a legitimate gas leak from the dryer line.  I smelled it when I got home, but figured a) the dog wasn’t dead (heretofore my gauge for home odor strength), and b) I didn’t have a headache from being inside, so I waited for Mr. Apron to get home.  $500 latre,we feel safer.  The second time was a false alarm.  Again, I smelled an odor, and waited for Mr. Apron to come home since the dog was still alive.  PECO guy came, and told us it was just the paint fumes (so much for low-VOC paint) from our new downstairs paint job interacting with the burner in the basement when we activated the flame by turning on the hot water.  All these things about gas-heated homes we are learning.

The bathroom sink is slow.  Clogged perpetually.  Has been since we moved in.  Inspector theorized it’d be “no big deal”.  Well, after Mr.Apron and his father tried unsuccessfully with plungers, “The Bomb” (some product in a can), and regualar Liquid Plumber, Mr. Apron stuck a coat hanger down the pipes, and busted a hole in the J-bend.  Cost: $79, with a lesson not to stick anything else down there.  Plumber said the problem is most likely at the level of the sewer pipe, and that it would require ripping up the tile floor to fix when we’re ready.  Guess what?  We still dealing with a slow drain.  And an intact floor.

The oven, circa 1980, suddenly decided, during a double-batch of chocolate cupcakes, to forget how to maintain 300 degrees F, and instead, keep heating until the smoke alarm went off.  After I tossed 24 charred rocks in the garbage and ran out for more ingredients, I then babysat the oven, turning it off periodically to simulate the pilot light turning on and off in a normally functioning gas oven that knows how to maintain a temperature.  We are now looking at new ovens, and making do with our upper oven (this is old, folks), which works fine, but is quite small and can’t fit a full-size cookie sheet inside.  Cost: projected to be $500-$700.

And today, Mr. Apron was spending far too much time online looking at ebaymotors, so I send him/us out to buy hedgeclippers (cost: $18.95 + tax) and deal with a growing nuisance in the front yard.  It seems like only yesterday they were sweet little shoots promising spring was just around the corner, and now they’re threatening to attack neighbors innocently walking past.  Mr. Apron’s father has electric hedgeclippers, and kept warning us not to do it ourselves, not to exert ourselves, that he’d come over, that they’d do it together.  Well, he hasn’t come yet, and I wanted to prove we were manually strong and could save the environment while strengthening our upper arms and shoulders, so we clipped.  It was fun.  Satisfying, in some way, appealing to our sense of order.  While Mr. Apron clipped, I cleaned up after him (insert sexist husband-wife joke here), and vis-a-vis (insert reverse sexist wife-husband joke here).  While I was waiting for him to make some more refuse, I stepped into the “yard” of pachysandra, intent on pulling some weeds, and I found poison ivy.  Joy of all joys.  And I’m wearing shorts and flip-flops.  So this now requires action, either of a pesticidal variety, or of a manual weed-pulling variety, complete with toxic waste substance isolation gear.  I can’t wait.  We can go buy Round-Up and paint it on the leaves, so it won’t harm the pachysandra which saves us from that other fun chore — mowing the lawn — or we can don rubber gloves, long pants, and long sleeves and pull out the poison ivy all summer long, hoping to make a dent.  I swear, my legs are itching already.  The mind-body connection is a powerful one, eh?

What’s next, house?  Bring it on!  Water damage?  Another gas scare?  Crumbling retaining wall out back?  Basement stairs falling down? Oh, wait! I forgot my latest blunder.  I put the garage door opener in my pocket one day when we wrre running back and forth to the garage to install our china in our new china cabinet, and Friday night, as we were lamely celebrating the weekend, I washed it.  In the washing machine.  We now can’t get into the garage.  Awesome.  I am so cool.

We’re getting the first floor painted.  When we moved in around February 19th, or 25th, or whenever that whole debaucle came to fruition, the house was in a state of change.  Our mission: to De-Old-Lady-ify the place.  She had lived here for 62 years, so even if she wasn’t an Old Lady when she moved in, she sure was when she picked out all those floral wall papers.  Still, we knew deep down it would be a beautiful House, and an intensely personal Home, if we could just strip away the layers of Bag Balm, hair dressing, and Stanna Stair lift. 

It begins.  The previous owners, perhaps recognizing the non-appeal to modern homebuyers, began to strip the wallpaper in the living room and dining room.  To say it was a hack job would have been kind.  Though we stipulated in our closing papers that those rooms would be “prepped for paint” (i.e., completely free of wallpaper), what we found was the sellers grand-son-in-law (or something like that) scraping away at c. 30 year old paper with a tool essentially no more effective than a spatula.  Which left bits of paper and backing, scads of glue, and huge gouges where crosses and needlepoint used to hang.  No so simple as a DIY job, much as we would have liked to develop that pride in our home by undertaking the painting ourselves. 

But Aaron and his crew came in yesterday morning and turned the place upside-down.  Our belongings are covered in plastic sheeting and painters’ tape.  I walked the dog this afternoon on a luggage strap — his leash was nowhere to be found.  Mr. Apron’s beloved Bluetooth is somewhere between the mounds of what used to be our dining room table set, and what used to be our cozy living room.  I’m just grateful he had the foresight to rescue our stack of unpaid bills from the mantle, or they’d be long buried. 

Yesterday I came home to mounds of plastic sheeting and drop cloths, our walls covered liberally in spackle.  Today, it was a different story altogether.  Despite being warned by Mr. Apron on a 7:16am voicemail not to freak out when I see the wrong color on the dining room walls — it’s just a primer, he calmly soothes — I was still excited to see the changes.  I walked into a different house entirely.  Surely this was not our home!  In place of the scraped “faux-finish” we joked that the sellers had left us, I found our colors.  Maybe they have more coats to put down, or finishing touche to make, but the essence of this idea that had been forming in my brain is now on our walls.  Let me tell you about our colors, if I may.  Prepare to get hungry, as they all (except one) ended up being food-related.

Enter to a living room in a buttery warm yellow.  Turn to face the fireplace, and find an accent wall in “light eggplant” (my terms; I can’t remember the MAB paint names), with an offset fireplace in the same yellow.  The eggplant continues up the stairs, bring a richness to our upstairs hallways that is amazing me.  Go back down now, and into the dining room, where you’ll find a chair rail, separating two colors.  The bottom, where you’d find wainscoting if we were that cool, is a yellow one shade lighter than the living room.  The upper — squee! — is Cherokee Red.  Cherokee Red is a Frank Lloyd Wright color, the one he used liberally at Fallingwater.  It allows me to bring a small piece of architectural inspiration to our otherwise ordinary twin home in a suburb of Philadelphia.  There are no fewer than 5 replicas of our “style” home in the surrounding neighborhood.  But no other, I wager, has Frank Lloyd Wright’s Cherokee Red.  It’s a dark red, full of metallic rust, with insistent orange tones leaking out.  Mr. Apron convinced me to let the painters do the inside of the front door, too, and I suggested we carry the Cherokee Red there, too.  And damn! if that doesn’t look good!  Move back into our little L kitchen, and you’ll find Lemon Meringue (I did remember that MAB name), which I hope will complement our1950s decor, including a candy red dinette set (complete with red vinyl chairs), a kelly green canister set (with red and yellow decals), white with gold-flecked Formica (TM) countertops and backsplash, and authentic 1950s curtains: kelly green with red and yellow cheese graters, whisks, egg beaters, and spoons.  It’s going to be so cool when we put the furnishings back together, assemble a few shelves, and hang some artwork.  You’ll have to come visit!

I was going to vent about work today, about not having enough time to see all the kids because I had a meeting with my supervisor (“just 2 minutes” turned into 45), about her being critical of my report writing, which runs contradictory to the feedback I usually get from her, and having to rewrite the report, which is just another thing I have to do, and a colossal waste of time, as the report is just an exercise I have to do before I become a full and proper speech language pathologist.  But instead, I was struck by the infusion of color and overnight De-Old-Lady-ifiction our home had taken on as I burst through the door, hoping the dog wasn’t overcome by fumes.  And of course he wasn’t — we opted for low-VOC paint.  So overwhelmed was I by the colors, I decided to write about that instead. 

I hope that in the months and years to come, coming Home will mean I’m able to leave my work anxieties, frustrations, and agita at the threshold.  That I’ll really and truly feel as though I’m coming Home.

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July 2020