Friday, December 31, 2010

Christmas 2010

The first thing Phil did after we got home from our Christmas celebrations was vacuum the studio. Phil’s been asking for a Dyson since we got married and this year all his wildest dreams came true. The old-fashioned Hoover Elite wasn’t good enough for him—something about the canister and bag reminding him of his childhood vacuuming chores.

The first thing I did when I got home was go into a semi-panic about the clutter from the Christmas loot. But after 2-3 days of rearranging, shifting, and throwing out old stuff, the house is back to normal and I’m sad. The traces of Christmas are starting to blend in with the rest of my house. We received such wonderful gifts. Jessica gave us two plants that sit on top shelves and will one day cascade. Terri gave us new bathroom towels, which inspired Phil to go buy towel hangers, a soap dispenser, toilet paper holder, new shower curtain, and a $5 mirror that looks like it’s from a fun house. My tea basket is full to the brim with teas that Jacob, Thorpé, Mommy, and Mom (my new name for Gretchen) got me.

After Phil had nothing left to vacuum, which was pretty quick, he played with his new GPS from Jacob. I lit the apple-scented candles from Thorpé and tried to think of a good place to put all the candy that Phil stuffed in my stocking. Maybe I’ll just leave it in my stocking hanging on the spiral staircase. We’ll purchase year-round rock-climbing passes with the ten-day Rock City passes that Terri gave us, and the cash from Grandpa Stevens and Grandma Taylor.

This year I was particularly proud of several handmade gifts that I gave: off-roading T-shirts for my dad and hand-dipped candles for my grandma. I also fabricated some craftsman style address numbers for Phil. These things are about $40 apiece online, so I made them myself out of wood.We’ll watch 3:10 to Yuma, thanks to Heather and Jeff; pull out Junipers at GHFC with the mega-loppers from Mom and Dad. And then visit the spa in my new workout suit. We are blessed beyond measure.
It was a different Christmas, slower, sweeter. Daddy was alive and that made the day extra special. He wasn’t his usual commanding-self, but he still sat in the captain’s chair and divvied out the gifts. There were tears, mostly from my mom at every other gift she received from an Aunt who believes in her technical savvy and my dad who loves her. And more tears from all of us when Thorpé gave us her good-bye speech and letters with personalized thank you’s. The last gift my dad opened was a pair of pants, the same kind of pants that were cut off him when search and rescue arrived after the ATV accident. So many thoughtful gifts opened in warm-living rooms… but now it’s all over.

“Sigh.” School starts next week.

Friday, November 26, 2010


Around the Taylor living room fire, we counted up the points for the day. Without a doubt Thorpe got the most. She made the turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, salad dressing, and sweet potatoes. She swept the kitchen, served mulled cider, and employed Hiromi—when the grad student came out of her room for air. Thorpe also directed the clean up. (But technically all Thorpe’s points belong to me because she is my servant. I like to let her feel like she’s earned a little here and there for herself. But if she ever tries to cash in her points, she’ll discover the truth.)

Grandma Taylor and Teri’s scores closely followed Thorpe’s. They provided the green bean casserole, ham, pickles, rolls, bubbly drinks, breakfast bacon, tea, salad, olives, and pumpkin pie. Grandma Taylor also gets points for directing the after dinner Yoga exercises and for sticking around until 7ish when we ate at 4:30. Phil got a point because he’s my husband, and Papi got a point for leading us in a round of thankful prayer.

The rest of the scores aren’t worth mentioning, except perhaps the two funny points Jacob got for making clean up a comical experience for all who were involved. I only know from hearsay. I was practicing Spanish with Mama Grace and Papi while the kitchen work was taking place.

Thus sits the final scores for Thanksgiving 2010 at the Taylor’s when the patriarch and matriarch were eating Cheereos in a Denver hospital. My Mom’s points probably add up to twice Thorpe’s, considering all that she’s organized in the last week and a half. But we don’t have an actual point-count on that yet. My guess is it’ll be somewhere in the high fifties, what with flights, hotels, paperwork, phone calls, and hospitals.

I hear that Finn Fincher got half a point for being an exceptionally good baby while his parents assisted my mom, but who’s counting half-points? And of course it would be useless to count my Dad’s points because crashing an ATV put him too far in the negative to make up over a period of 12 days.

Now I’d like to add up the Fincher points, but if I ask my Mom, she’ll assign all her points to the Finchers, and if I ask the Finchers, they’ll assign all their points to my Mom. Then it’s nothing but work, work, work all the time.

I tell you… no regard for the scorekeeper.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Wires and Fractions

Tonight Phil and I watched the airplanes as we constructed a frame for our bathroom mirror. The cumulous had the weatherman telling us it would rain, but we didn’t feel a drop. The planes however were unusually low. They wove in and out of the clouds as we watched. Phil and I felt like we were whale watching in Baja, except we gazed up for a glimpse of a 747’s belly.

The weather was perfect for being outside: sunny and blustery. But we spent the morning indoors trying to figure out how to move a light switch and plug over 5 inches. The original switch/plug location was directly under our off-centered bathroom light, which is next on the list to move. Our plan is to hide the old light hole with our mirror frame. But this meant we had to move the old switch/plug over 5 inches.

We had a pretty good idea how to do this, but when I pulled off the light/plug cover, I found madness. I drew a detailed diagram and called my dad before trying to do anything else. He made sense of it and helped Phil and I perform the transplant. The blank cover over the old switch/plug bulges with all the wires jammed into it.

After the operation we enjoyed the gorgeous weather. With grocery bags in hand we walked Beverly, Alta, Hadley, Greenleaf, and Camilla picking up trash as we went. Phil has wanted to take a trash-walk for a while. Today he remembered to bring a bag. Candy wrappers from Halloween were the top item, closely followed by cups, straws, and little pieces of fabric. We also found shreds of a pink feather boa, a goblin glove, and half a toy motorcycle. We should do that more often.

After the walk we read some Louis L’Amour. Kurt Plubell’s report on L’Amour at book club got Phil and I started. L’Amour’s books are full of sword fights, narrow escapes, and manly-manness. I enjoy a good man book; they give me ideas on how to keep my Junior High boy’s engaged in my Math lessons. My most recent ideas caused one student to exclaim: “Ah! My Math teacher keeps a knife in her desk!”

It was true. For one week I kept a knife and cutting board in my desk for a demonstration on decimals. Last week I brought Phil’s ratchet set, Allen wrenches, and drill bits to explain comparing fractions.

While I hate having to teach fractions and decimals—why didn’t these kids learn this in sixth grade—, these topics are perfect for visual aids. Later we’ll measure objects around the classroom with IKEA measuring tapes. Then we’ll taste test cookies that the students create after dividing the ingredients in half.

After making the frame for our bathroom mirror today, I think I’ll ask our principle if I can bring a Mitre box and saw to school. Building their own frames will be an excellent fraction lesson.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Pros and Cons of 336

If fall comes in the form of rain streaks across my window, I’ll welcome it. But if it just brings shorter days, annoying students, and sore throats, never mind! Give me summer or give me death!

Too bad I can’t stop the seasons. We’ve got rain. The ants know it. But I’m willing to put up with them if I can listen to the pattering outside. Phil has put up with the ants marvelously well, but only because he imagines the ants taking our poison to their queen and feeding it to their un-hatched babies.

We keep the raisins and nuts in Ziplocs in our cupboards. The honey and syrup are in the fridge. That’s the problem with living in a converted laundry room. The ants can’t tell that this is a house.

We’ve lived in 336 square feet for a year now, and here are my complaints.
-We’re always tracking dirt into the house.
-If Phil’s watching clips online, I have to too.
-We can’t have more than two people over for dinner.
-I’m afraid that an alley mugger will break into our office/living/dining room window and steal my computer.
-We’ve had yellow rope on our bedroom floor for 365 days—the yellow rope is a temporary trap door opener until we finish it.

-We’ve no carpet to sink my toes into or sit on while doing a project.
-If one countertop is cluttered, the whole house is cluttered.
-The kitchen is really a one-man kitchen.
-If it’s above the second shelf, I have to climb onto the counter, desk, or couch to reach it.
-If I’m cooking, the whole house smells like it.
-If Phil has a friend over or if I have a friend over, the other spouse can’t go into the other room.
-It’s impossible to pass each other on the stairs.
-We can smell the garbage in the alley on trash days.
-I have to crawl over Philip to get out of the bed.
-We can hear our tenants through the bathroom wall and I’m sure they can hear us too.
Okay. Okay. It’s not that bad. But naturally I’ve thought of all the bad things first. So on to the good to balance out all the complaints:
-The kitchen is perfect; I take it out of the fridge, wash it, chop it, and cook it without taking more than two steps.

-We have a huge sink and a dishwasher, so the counters are rarely cluttered with dirty dishes.
-I don’t feel bad about getting rid of ugly decorations, unneeded gadgets, and rarely used clothes; we certainly don’t have extra storage space for them.
-Phil and I are never more than a holler away from each other.
-Our laundry chute is most ingenious.
-The lights alone heat up the whole house.
-It stays pretty cool in the summer, except 113-degree weather.
-I sweep and scour and I’m done cleaning.
-Phil knows where most everything goes.
-My desk faces the window, so I can watch the trees moving in the wind.
-We have multiple blank walls just waiting for the right picture.
-We have space for all we need.
-Every feature of our studio has a story.
-We have three big windows in our bedroom that send in great breezes (except on trash day).
-One tenant or another is always home in case I get attacked.
-We don’t have to pay our mortgage!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Do You Know The Author?

I think I might be writing about this pre-maturely. If this doesn’t work out, I’ve got to blame myself. If it does, God has demonstrated his faithfulness.

A little over a month ago I wrote the following conversation in my story between two characters: King Austin and Master Downing. Downing has just returned from a potentially life threatening adventure, which has led to the very best of situations.

“How did you know?” Austin started.

“Know what?”

“Know that any of this was going to happen: that you’d make it back safely, that Noom would choose to fight for us? How’d you know?”

Downing shook his head. “I didn’t.”

“You didn’t?” Austin stopped pacing. “You mean you just gave yourself up to the thieves without knowing if they’d kill you or not?”


This was too much for Austin. It didn’t make any sense. Was Downing just that reckless? “But you could’ve died!”


Austin threw his hands up. “Master Downing, you don’t make any sense! I saw you giving yourself up to those thieves like you weren’t afraid of what might happen.”

“I’m not.”

“Why? How can you be like this?”

“Austin, after so many years I’ve come to know the author’s tone, and it is a good story. I am not afraid.” He spoke evenly and firmly.

A day shy of a month ago our front house tenant gave us her 30-day notice. Oh God, I thought. Here we go again. Every day the house isn’t rented, we have to pull money out of our savings: money that we’re trying to set aside for property taxes and fixing our rickety foundation.

Nine months ago we had to go through the same situation. That was painful. Both our front house and our back apartment were vacant. I watched our savings draining rapidly for two months before we found tenants. I wasn’t very trusting or pleased with God through those two months, but he stayed with us. Our tax return replenished what we’d lost and twice as much.

So here I was again. Similar scenario. Same characters. Same God. Was it providential that my God had made me write that scene in my story only days before the 30-day notice? Was it God reminding me of what I’ve learned before letting me try again?

I tend to get angry with God in these kinds of circumstances. I wonder why God doesn’t act now! Why doesn’t he calm my nerves? Why can’t I be nonchalant? Why can’t I just let it go and trust?
This time it was different. When the 30-day e-mail popped up, I paused. Oh God. Here we go again. You’ve shown me what you can do. I know you are trustworthy and you make all things good. May I not be afraid.

28 days went by without our receiving a single application. People called. People took applications home, but no one filled them out and said, “Yes, I want it.” Our old renters moved out four days early so the house is empty.

Yesterday, on day 28 I got our first bite: a family on their way to California needed a place ASAP. They were actually calling me from the road. The place they’d planned on living was raising the rents and they liked the look of our house on Craig’s list. Within 10 hours they were in California, Phil showed them the house while I was at choir practice, and they filled out an application.

Today we signed papers. They’re moving in as I write this. I have the first check in my hand. Today is day 29. Tomorrow, day 30, would’ve been the day that we started to lose money.

Need I say more? I know the author and it is a beautiful story.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Sight to the Blind

My Irish Breakfast tea tasted like Lawry’s Taco Seasoning the morning we came back from our vacation. The tea and the seasonings were zip locked together during the fumigation. The apple jelly’s top wasn’t on all the way, and it dripped down my loose-leaf Oolong bags and pooled on the bottom of the plastic sacks; and the bottle of picnic-sized balsamic vinegar leaked black dots on my spice jars.

The burning-red Kangaroo Paws that I’d planted below the freshly painted staircase don’t look like they’re going to make it. Their leaves are half crispy; their flowers, all faded. The Boston Ivy is a stubby bush again; all its fingers that had crept over the ugly wall outside our studio door are chopped. The furniture was sprinkled with dust; dust bunnies rolled over the laminate flooring upstairs.

I guess nothing can be good after coming back from a vacation like that. Nothing at all.
Phil and I have been suffering from post-vacation blues. I want to see the mountains again. I want to hear the sea lions barking from the backyard, smell the pines and the salty ocean, and see deer on an afternoon stroll. Dear God come back now!

The alley trash-diggers, our tenants’ riotous laughter at the T.V., and this tiny home with windows that aren’t big enough doesn’t make for a happy homecoming. I’m alone now, but every day of our vacation I spent with family.

We drove over the Tioga Pass, into Yosemite where we stayed for 4 nights with the Coxes, Stevens, and Deharts, then we drove across to Monterey and stayed with Ed and Barb Dickenson (My Grandpa Taylor’s cousins) and Terri for two nights.

We ate home cooked meals almost every evening, breakfasted at the Ahwahnee Lodge, stared into the fire listening to family jokes, tasted the soda springs water, felt the mist of Yosemite falls on our faces, soaked our feet in the chilly glacier melt, biked through Pebble Beach Golf Course, watched a whale breech off the coast, toured the Aquarium 30 minutes before it opened, and drank tea by the Dickenson’s fireplace.

And Half Dome.

I’ve not forgotten Half Dome: that 15-hour leisure stroll up misty rock-stairwells, alongside gushing tributaries, and under the beating sun. My shoulders have just begun to peel and my ankles are still numb from where I deadened the nerves from tightening my boots too tight. Tom Cox was our patient guide who never ran out of topics of conversations, and Kirk Stevens set the pace, taking one step at a time.

I don’t see how I can talk about this hike. I can share the facts: we started at 6 am, took breaks every other switchback, ascended the cables in an hour. I felt queasy holding my camera over the edge for a picture; the Mahogany Smoked Beef Jerky hit the spot; my contacts went blurry until I washed them with saliva; one by one we ran out of water; twilight fell; we biked back in the dark; the Deharts kept dinner hot for us; the line for the women’s shower was ridiculous at 9:30 pm, and Gretchen bought us T-shirts the next day.
But how can I tell you about the goal itself?

You see, before the dome I talked with God. However, the trouble with praying about Half Dome was having prayed for humility several months ago. How could I ask God to give me humility and then in the next breath, give me Half Dome? I was afraid God would honor my request for humility over my request for Half Dome.

I imagined how God would do it: a sprained ankle, altitude sickness, or maybe we’d all have to turn back like Kurt Plubell did when his daughter couldn’t make it. I imagined God toying with his torture devices, wondering which one he might use. Because humiliation gains humility right? That makes sense.

I still don’t understand what happened. We made it. We all clung to the cables together and told jokes and solved riddles as we waited for someone further up the cables to move. Phil and I clung to the outside of the cables to move the line along a little faster.

There were pauses enough to snap some photos. And at the top we celebrated that we all made it together: all four of us! Kirk called Grandpa Stevens. I ate an apple that Phil had carried in his camel pak for me. We rested, but weren’t restful knowing we still had to descend and it was about 2pm.

The trek down was a blur and not just because the sun was setting and we were tired, but because my contacts started to dry out and everything went into a fog. When we were 9/10ths of the way down I tried the old spit trick and I felt like the blind man that Jesus healed. The trees, rocks, and falls had a form. I could see! That sight was more glorious than the view at the top of Half Dome.

I think I’m saying something profound, but my mind is running circles around it. What did you do God? How have you opened my eyes? What was glorious? I think I need to think on it some more.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

I Know How It Ends

     “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42)

     “Poor boy! How little you know about things! Mr. Coleman’s lost all his money, and your father has nothing to do, and we shall have nothing to eat by and by.”
     “Are you sure mother?”
     “Sure of what?”
     “Sure that we shall have nothing to eat.”
     “No thank Heaven! I’m not sure of it. I hope not.”
     “Then I can’t understand it, mother. There’s a piece of gingerbread in the basket, I know.”
    “O you little bird! You have no more sense than a sparrow that picks what it wants, and never thinks of the winter and the frost and the snow.”
     “Ah—yes—I see. But the birds get through the winter, don’t they?”
     “Some of them fall dead on the ground.”
     “They must die some time. They wouldn’t like to be birds always. Would you, mother?”
    “What a child it is!” thought his mother, but she said nothing…and was silent for a good while. I cannot tell whether Diamond knew what she was thinking, but I think I know. She had heard something at church the day before, which came back upon her—something like this, that she hadn’t to eat for tomorrow as well as for today; and that what was not wanted couldn’t be missed. So instead of saying anything more, she stretched out her hand for the basket, and she and Diamond had their dinner.
At the Back of the North Wind by George MacDonald

“The story has already been written. I know how it ends.”

Some authors are safe. I know by the writing and the tone that things will be okay. Brian Jacques may let a creature die here or there, but I know the weasels will lose and the mice will win in the end. I knew that Harry Potter would triumph over Voltemort even when the story told me that he couldn’t do this without sacrificing himself. Even in Jean Valjean’s death, there is beauty in the masterpiece. There is redemption in the priest’s final words in The Scarlet Letter.

These writers have a particular tone to their work. There’s something rhythmic and comforting about the way they put words, and I find myself trusting the author with my emotions. I fall in love with the characters, and I will mourn for them as I would a friend, if they die, but I don’t stop trusting the author. I know these kinds of authors. Things will be all right in the end.

Why can’t the analogy work for real life just as easily? I know the author. I know how the story ends. Why am I stuck here in the details? Why do I keep doing tomorrow’s work today?

How easy, I thought, it was to believe God when I was younger? I had nothing to worry about, but— what did I worry about when I was young? Who knows? I don’t think I worried about anything. Oh, wait! No. I worried about the dark void under my bed. I worried about the eyes that might appear at the dark window. I worried about getting lost. I worried about the dog when Daddy punished him.

But now my world is larger. I have house payments and binders for each bank account and plants to water and food in the refrigerator, and computer updates, and bricks to replace, and flooring to tape off, and outlets to change, and other’s finances to keep straight, and reimbursements to make, and counters to clear, and pictures to transfer, and school is coming, and hurry, and birthday’s too, and lists, lists, lists. Is my God not great enough for all the details? Has my God grown as I have grown like Aslan did for Lucy in Prince Caspian? But there are so many things to remember, to remember, to remember.

I take all the worries of this month and rest them on today’s thoughts, so that my mind is like a swarm of bees and I can’t think and feel as I ought, as I would if I lay all these things on a being who is big enough to support them, big enough to swallow them in his greatness.

“But if I don’t who will?” I ask.

Haven’t we answered this question already?

“But I’ll fight to keep them. I’ll fight to have them until I’ve had a sore throat for over a month and I have only enough energy each day to work until noon.”

Is that how you wish to be taught?

“I can go to the doctor. He’ll tell me its allergies or something like that.”

"You better now that you’ve come this far.”

“But Lord, can’t you just heal me? “

It’s much more than that. It’s a day-to-day casting your cares upon me.

“But everything I see: every assignment from my parents, every pestering piece of paper and left out juice bottle and pair of forgotten shoes. It all gives me something to do. I’d need blinders over my eyes not to start these mental lists. I’d only need to see one thing at a time, and that thing to be the one thing that I am doing.”

Do you think that I’m not big enough?

“Of course I don’t, but how will you do it?”

When you trust me from the start.

“But lord, it’s every moment and every instant of every day. With some rest, yes, but not much. This is how you always do it. You just tire me out until I’ve got nothing else, but to turn to you.”

You refuse to give up sooner.

“Oh God. I give up. I give up. I give up. I can’t do it all and you know I can’t. I don’t know how to trust you at every moment at every time of every day, but I know how to do it now. And I don’t want to take on tomorrow’s trusting, today. So, I give you all the worries about worrying, please give me your peace as I go to bed.”

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Divine Comedy

Our back alley is often awake with the clinking of glass bottles and the crunching of aluminum cans, the whack of the closing trashcan lid and the squeak of cartwheels. They say the early bird catches the worm, but in Uptown, the 4 am Hispanic finds the most recyclables, especially on trash days.

I have a new respect for garbage now that I’ve written two articles on waste for my children’s literature course: one about where sewer water goes, the other about landfills. Here’s an interesting fact for you: before the recession, Puente Hills packed 13,000 tons of garbage into its landfill a day. Now, it averaged 7,000 tons of garbage a day.

The head of the Green Waste Department said, “People aren’t throwing away their old furniture anymore just to get new ones. They’re keeping the dented things because they don’t have the money to buy new things.” Now isn’t that the picture of wealthy Americans? We buy, not because we lack, but because the old one is dented. It’s more likely that America is going through a reality check than a recession.

We’re like consuming monsters. And no wonder! From day one we’re brainwashed with commercials. We actually believe that we’re saving by spending, that bigger is better, that we deserve that new car or new outfit or new piece of furniture.

My discover card bill came with an ad that asked, “Who deserves an all out shopping spree more than you?” I wrote: “Children in Haiti,” and returned the ad with my paid bill. For some reason the telemarketer can’t understand that I’m perfectly content without a free trip to Hawaii, cable, or a subscription to Food and Wine.

I must ask myself: what is valuable? Do we really need a new fence and gate? It hasn’t fallen apart yet. Do we need to upgrade our windows to double paned? Is it worth it? Couldn’t we use that money for something nobler? Why do we need motors on our garage doors? Most people don’t even have garages!

Phil and I have had many discussions about these things because he’s a designer and I’m more utilitarian. In the goodness, truth, and beauty trinity, Phil’s beauty and I’m truth. He’s grace and I’m clarity. If a job can’t be done to look good, he won’t do it at all. I’d rather not go than be late. Speak so your listeners feel comfortable. Say it like it is. I’m sure God thought putting us two together would be awfully interesting not because we would differ in these areas, but because when we work like a team, the results are marvelous.

His strengths are my weaknesses. And his weaknesses are my strengths. A day of church fellowship groups, meals out with friends, and small talk can reduce me to tears while he positively enjoys it. And stacks of bills and bank statements are his worst nightmare, while my fingers are itching to organize them.

We are alike in creativity, endurance, family values, church doctrine, and collecting—hoarding that is. He collects little trinkets from junkyards, IKEA’s “As-Is” section, plant sales, and websites, while I pack away as much money as I can into our savings accounts. I sometimes think I’m being noble by refusing the nicer conveniences so we can support missionaries or children in Haiti, but really…I just want to save it.

I’ve been doing this since I had a bank account. I rarely spent my money. I just deposited it into savings. In High School my stash grew large enough to loan Jacob money to buy a computer. I have no noble plans to feed the homeless or provide education to girls in Iran. I really just was a big cushion of protection.

Last January when both our units were empty and our savings account was draining, it took every ounce of energy to turn to God each morning and say, “My security is in you, not this account.”
Phil’s form of hoarding is so much more entertaining. He once came home with two green door-panels from a closet set. He said he thought we could do something cool with them in our tiny studio. I don’t remember responding. I probably gave him my blank stare. They sat in our garage for several months and then I insisted we get rid of them. We put them in our back alley, and they were gone that day only to show up again two days later in our neighbor’s garage sale. The scavengers!

What’s comical about our hoarding tendencies is that I relish getting rid of stuff and as Gretchen Stevens said, “Money slips through Phil’s fingers.” Hence, the discussions.

“Why do we need three refrigerators?”

“It’s not that much more to get motors on our garage doors.”

“Are you ever going to use that desk?”

“But look how much cooler these sinks look.”

“Throw it away!”

“Let’s buy it!”

Oh, the divine comedy!

That’s a gift: being able to laugh at these things. I didn’t use to be able to do that. But a little bit of Phil has rubbed off on me in this area. People are so darn funny and I’m one of them.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Craig's List

The mocking birds were busy all-night and so were we, but I don’t think our neighbors heard us as kindly as they did the chirp-chirp, whoop-whoop, and deedoo-deedoo of the mocking birds. Our noises went more like ratt-tatt-tatt, errrrrrr, bang-bang, twang, vroom!

Our four-car garage is becoming a two-car garage so our renters can have a garage space of their own. This is good for them, but tricky for us. We’ve shifted all our household items, unused furniture, and tools to one side of the garage. How in the world did we accumulate so much stuff? I felt the sudden urge to get rid of things, and Philip was kind enough to let items go for unreasonably low prices.

Craig’s list was the mode: a hanging microwave that came with our stove for the front house ($25), our mini-fridge that we took off Luke Shackelford’s hands when he moved out of Jacob’s ($35), a full-sized fridge that Robin and David gave us after we left Beverly ($40), Dale’s childhood book shelves, desk, and nightstand ($50), and the hottest item: our industrial steel roll-up garage door ($20). This last item was probably worth the most and was without a doubt the most interesting to see go. Our ad read like this:

“Full sized 2-car garage door. Spans an 8 foot tall, 16 foot wide opening. I've had several garage door installers tell me this is an expensive garage door. It's called a Porvene Roll-up. Check out their website at It does not have a motor, but it looks like the attachments are there to hook one up. I'm replacing this door with two individual garage doors that look less industrial, so I just want to get rid of it. If you can take it down and haul it away, it's yours for $20.”

The takers were a MacGyver-like character (Ben) and his methodical side-kick (Mike) who contrived and built contraptions to lower the alleged ±900 pound door onto two V-shaped dollies and load it into their truck. They came, took measurements, pictures, paid for the beast, and promised to return before the end of the week to claim their purchase. Phil and I were curious to see what they’d come up with.
Their original plan was to coerce 5-10 friends (or enemies) into lowering the thing to the ground, but after they saw how high it was and how much it might weigh, they put their heads together and came up with a plan for two men and lots of tools.
Winches: two winches secured on two beams angled against the ceiling at X degrees and kept in place by a frame of 2 x 4’s that stretched out the open garage and connected in the middle. (My what a lot of prepositional phrases!) The video perhaps explains the contraptions better than I can.

Phil and I pulled our barstools into the garage. I popped some popcorn, and we watched out film, which began at 9pm. By 11pm the plot had thickened, but the popcorn had run out and the hammered drill was off limits. I hope our neighbors remember that bag of avocadoes I took them last week before they come knocking on our door.

By 12:30 the door was in its cradle and on its way to the truck where our Craig’s list buyers made a disconcerting discovery. One man could pick up one side of the door all on his own. Certainly five guys on ladders could have lowered it from the ceiling. Oh well; what’s done is done. They secured it in their truck (which wouldn’t close all the way because
the door was too big) packed up their tools and left Phil and I to board up our garage and finally hit the pillow around 1:45 am. No complaints from the neighbors yet.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Yappy Dogs and Faulty Homes

My brown curls smelt like smoke today: burnt plumb trees and leftover construction wood. Phil and I had a fire in our brazier last night and it was romantic even with the Whittier helicopter trying to land on the nearby hills, our tenants watching T.V. with the windows open, our neighbors sprinklers going off, the ice cream truck playing Christmas carols, and the sirens of the 911 calls responding to Aunt Betty who choked on her potatoes—or so Phil says. I think the sirens are for domestic violence in the apartment complexes located between Hadley and Broadway. All the local sex offenders live there.

I was thankful that that yappy dog across the alley was quiet. It yaps non-stop from the time I get home until about 5pm: a squeaky yap, like the sound my Junior High students’ desks make when they rock them. I’ve done almost all I can do to shut that little wiener dog up. I’ve called the police twice. Phil’s called once. I’ve left a note. I printed material about how to recognize and stop a pet’s separation anxiety and stuck it in their mailbox. Phil even discretely secured a dog silencer under the eves of the neighbor’s garage; it sends off a high pitch noise every time the dog barks—but that fell off and is now who knows where. My Mom finally contacted animal control stating that she owns property in our neck of the woods and her tenants have been complaining about a dog barking. Sounds like a good story to me! I have the e-mail address and number available to make a follow up call if necessary.

While I eagerly wait to rob some old man of his lifelong canine companion, I’ve been inspired to cook like a professional. Ruth Reichl’s book Garlic and Sapphires is behind the desire to add garnishes and candlelight to my dinners. As New York Times’ food critic she describes Sushi like magic, and I fell for it. With words like those I knew I had to give Sushi a chance. So Phil and I splurged and went to Joy Sushi where we ate every morsel of raw tuna, salmon, shrimp, and halibut dipped in Soy Sauce, ginger, and wasabi. It was delicious. As an added treat we watched the Lakers game against Oklahoma. Raw fish and T.V.: what an unusual combination!

The real cause for celebration was the rental of both our front house and apartment. After 3 months—but what felt like 6—our lot is a little community again: a shared washing machine, visitors climbing the freshly painted exterior stairs, full trashcans, conversation through the walls, and a reversal of the cash flow. I’m a little peeved at God about that. All those weeks of worrying and now everything is fine. It’s not just that we’ve stopped dipping into our savings to pay our mortgage, but that the United States Treasury refunded us double the amount we lost in those 3 months. Oh God, why must you be so sneaky like that?! You’re probably laughing, hu? You think this is funny, don’t you! I can’t help smiling just at the thought of it. That God! He’s so stinking sneaky. He makes the bridges fall into place just before I set foot on them. He must think there’s some great value in that horrible suspense that I’ve got to endure with my foot out, suspended over vacant space right before he throws down the bridge’s first plank. It works out. It always does.

It must work out for others too, right? “The Lord works justice and righteousness for all who are oppressed.” Ps 103. Today I caught four students copying off others at break. I walked up behind them and peered over their shoulder and when my suspicions were confirmed, I reached over and without a word snatched up the papers. One of the guilty students came up to me and began pleading with me.

“Please, Mrs. Stevens. I’m so sorry. I don’t ever do this. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m having a really tough time right now. And my parents are in court. Please don’t give me a detention. I can’t have it. I’ve never had a detention. Please. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I just had so much on my mind with my parents getting a divorce. I always do my homework. This is the first time. I just forgot to do it. If I had a detention, it would be just so hard on me right now.”

She was on the verge of tears as she begged for her and her friend’s papers. I told her that Mrs. Shubin would decide her punishment, not me. But I felt for her, and could see that she was being sincere. Oh God, are you listening to her prayers! Oh God, do her parents know what they’re doing to their daughter? It makes me sober to hear what some of these kids have to go through. Do I forgive them more readily for having leaky pipes and crumbling roofs because their foundations are being shaken?

Take Mr. Q in the choir: he is our deepest baritone. His voice sometimes makes the floor rumble, and his comments often make the choir ripple with discomfort. Any misspoken word, any wrong note, any early cutoff, or silly exercise: Mr. Q points it out. He reminds me of myself when I was in sixth grade, and Mrs. Long made me do push-ups on the hot asphalt. I muttered to my friend, “I wish she would do pushups on the hot ground and then she’d know what it feels like.”

Well, Mrs. Long heard me and made me run an extra lap, but everyone hears Mr. Q and still he persists. I’m not ready to lead a revolt against him or rebuke him or even speak unkindly about him behind his back, because I’m almost certain there’s more going on there than meets the eye. I hear the creak in his framework, but I don’t know what wood was used to make his house. Is it splitting? Are there termites? Dry rot? I’m more inclined to smile and shake my head like Phil sometimes does at funny people. “Oh Mr. Q. You’re a character.” It doesn’t rile him; and it doesn’t rile me.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Phil's Projects & the Battle with Taurus

Philip and I are project people. And since we have a house with endless tasks, sometimes the projects come and go faster than we can report. Here's an appetizer of all the activities.

1) Phil's been putting together a succulent picture. He made the frame out of scrape wood, scrounged around for some chicken wire—he got some from Ed Morsey and found the rest covering a vent on our house—filled it with soil, and inserted the smallest succulents we have. He shoots the thing with a spray bottle everyday to water it. The final product will hang on the wall and supposedly won't fall apart because of the roots. We'll see about that one. In the meantime we've got to let the thing sit for 6-8 weeks before it's ready for vertical hanging.

2) Our little laundry shack needs attention, so I took on replacing a rotting roofing board. I learned: that roofing has fiberglass in it so wear gloves, that each sheet of roofing is nailed in below and above the next overlapping shingle, ship-lap is different than tongue and groove, and Phil's battery operated saw isn't as difficult to use as it looks.

3) Phil constructed a wafer-thin drawer that fits beneath our drawers in the kitchen. He thought it, drew it, and built it out of scrape wood. I fit my cookie sheets and griddle in it.

4) Phil also sliced a hole into the side of our microwave cabinet because the convection oven feature was making the laminate peel. Home Depot already replaced our cabinet doors for free, but they started to peel again, so Phil made a heat guard and cut a vent. (See video) He bought this metal nick-knack from the "as is" section of Ikea and used it to cover up the ugly hole he made, because it was as hideous as Gollum.

So what am I doing, if Phil's working full time and doing cool projects? The biggest project has been sanding and painting the exterior stairs. Along the way I found dry rot and termite droppings in countless places, and I made phone call after phone call to the termite company who ensured the place was free of these problems. They dutifully came out to fix their errors, claiming that they didn't search the place with a fine tooth comb.

After one of their many visits, they had to come back again and repair a section of previously repaired wood that just crumbled apart when I stuck a screw driver into it. Alright, I'll excuse one error, but it didn't stop there.

When a deck-em guy was inspecting our stairs to give us a quote, he pointed out that the real landing was hidden underneath a veneer. The veneer hid large quantities of dry rot. My blood started to boil especially when the termite people admitted that they'd covered it up per the previous owner's request. So... you have no backbone is what you're saying. You just do what you're told even if it's dishonest. But I let this one slide again.

While poking around yet again, my screwdriver sunk handle deep into the back of a stairwell's post: a place that the termite guys had already repaired. That was the last straw. I called them up and politely said I'd found more dry rot.

"Shall I have my guys come out to fix it? I don't feel I need to look it over cause we've been there so many times," he said.

"No. There's a couple other things I'd like to show you," I said nicely, but I was working together the speech in my head.

Face to face with Mr. Taurus Termites I gave him a false sense of security. I pointed out several more spots of termite droppings and a mild repair of dry wrought. Then... I lay down the law. It went something like this:

"You know, you guys have had to come out here to fix your errors twice now. First there was that beam in the front of the house, which just crumpled to pieces and ants were making a nest in there. And then I uncovered that dry rot on the first landing where you guys just covered up all the damage. Now you're having to come out again cause your guys did a bad job. So I'm wondering: are you just dishonest or do you do crappy work?"

I was mad.

Mr. Taurus Termites said nothing, so I went on.

"When your guys were out here fixing this post I reaching in and felt it before he filled it with bondo, and it was wet. You can't fill a hole until it's dry, but your guys did it anyway. I'm a 26 year old woman. I'm a new home owner. And I now know more about fixing dry rot than your people do who do this for a living! What's wrong with this?!"

If I wasn't a Christian, I would've pulled out my pepper spray next and shouted, "To hell with your company!"

Their slogan is: "No bull. Just good service." But I've got some better slogans for them. I don't think they're interested.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

You're Old And This is A Gas Station!!!

With a collection of poison pimples on my chin and one smack in the middle of my forehead, today wasn’t a day to feel beautiful. Nevertheless a contractor in his mid-thirties kept staring at me while he pumped gas into big white truck. Eventually he came over to me and said:
“Hello, my name is Joe Smoe. I’m a contractor with such and such, and I noticed you over here, and I wanted to tell you that you’re really beautiful.”
“Well thank you, but you know I had no say in the matter.”
“I don’t see very many people around as beautiful as you.”
“Thank you, but you know real beauty is on the inside.”
“Ya, but how can you know unless you get to know a person. Maybe I can take you to lunch sometime.”
“Um, I’m married.”
“Yep. I’ve been happily married for awhile now.”
“That’s great.”
“Do you know what the secret to a great marriage is?”
“Communication. You got to communicate.”
“Are you married?”
“Why didn’t it work out?”
“We didn’t have good communication. I married this younger girl, and after we were married for awhile, she starts looking around, and now we’re divorced.”
“Well, I wish you the best of luck on learning to communicate.”
“What do you think the key to marriage is?”
I looked him straight in the eye and said, “My relationship with Jesus Christ.”
“Ya. Christ has helped me on a number of occasions too.”
“There’s no other way I could make it each day without him.”
“Alright, well you take care.”
He drifted back over to his truck while I put the cap on my gas tank, forgot to take my receipt or push the button that says: “No I don’t want a car wash”. As I put on my seat belt, the lady across the center column caught my eye. I shook my head, and she smiled.
“That guy was trying to pick up on you.”
“Seriously,” I replied. I hoped she’d heard what was said because those weren’t my words.

This isn’t the first time this has happened, but this is the first time I was able to say exactly what I wanted. Usually I only manage to turn red, stumble over my words, and desperately search for an exit. I was still red, but this time God put the pieces together. If the way I look brings inquiries, I want to redirect them right back to Christ. He’s the one who made me who I am in the first place.