Sometimes you just have to listen…

There’s so much noise these days.  We’re assaulted with constant input.  It’s understandable to want to shut down, but sometimes you just have to listen.

That’s where I am now.  Forced to stop and hear what the cosmos has to tell me.

It began last weekend.  I went to a story salon, a gathering of women to listen to other women share their words and their experiences.  One of the authors who spoke was Meredith Maran.  I thought I had little in common with Meredith but she intrigued me; her story intrigued me.  I bought her book “The New Old Me: My Late-Life Reinvention” and read it that weekend.

She wrote of change.  Change that startled, devastated, destroyed, rebuilt and motivated.  Sound familiar?  How about your mother dying while you’re half a world away unable to be there for her or your house burning to the ground or your husband dying from cancer?  I mourned my mother, rebuilt my house and held my husband’s hand as his life ebbed away.  I didn’t take time to process any of it.  I had to get on with my life, my job, had to finish my home and take care of all the BS you have to deal with when someone is gone – down to figuring out how the heck do the sprinklers work – the little things you don’t think to ask about as you are planning for the “after” phase.

Meredith wrote about reaching out to the universe for strength – admitting what you need and being brave enough to ask for it.  Someone I’ve known for many years from work but am not particularly close to told me about a friend of his.  This friend was dealing with his own devastation, I didn’t ask particulars,  so my work friend planned a weekend getaway to distract and promote healing.  After dinner on the first night he asked if the friend wanted to return to the hotel or see if there was a show they could go see.  The friend took out a coin and there at the table, tossed that coin in the air, caught it, looked at it and said, “let’s go back to the hotel.”  My friend, asked, “what just happened?  Did you let the coin decide?”  His friend explained that when things had gotten so bad that he found it hard to even get out of bed, he started letting the coin decide minor choices.  It freed him from worrying about the day to day tasks.  He let something else decide.  He listened to what the universe was telling him to do – he trusted.  I saw the wisdom and the relief in letting go of every choice, every step – in not carrying the responsibility of every decision.

The last message I received was from the film “The Last Word.”  It is a story of living a fearless life, a true life, one with meaning.  It is about being authentic and embracing who you are.

I had allowed myself to turn up the volume to the point of not hearing anything but noise.  I avoided silence so I wouldn’t have to listen to myself, to the questions, to the regret, to the fears. I’m ready to turn down the volume and embrace whatever it is I’m supposed to hear and to toss the coin and take whatever steps I need to discover and accept the true me because it is never too late.

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The final farewell…

Death.  It is inevitable yet we don’t speak of it.  It is the ultimate taboo subject.  For the past few months I knew, he knew, the doctors knew that his death was imminent.  Despite this knowledge we didn’t speak of it.  It was easier to continue to go to treatments, to talk of the future, to buy quantities of food that would never be consumed.

Until last week when his decline was so sudden and severe that I, and he, could no longer continue the pretense.  He had been fighting the cancer with everything he could for nearly two years but when his condition became so much worse everything came to a head in just two days.

The intensity of effort provided a distraction.  It was not about death but about contacting people, flying in family, signing papers and a dozen other final details.

Assisted suicide had recently become legal.  As a terminally ill patient, he was eligible for the drugs that would permit him to choose when he would die and give him the peace of mind that he would not be alone in his final moments.  A natural death was only days, perhaps hours away, but for him the uncertainty was not acceptable.

The cancer had turned his body into a weapon that was destroying itself.  The scans showed that the disease had infiltrated nearly every cell.  Despite chemo and radiation,  doctors had been unable to stop its spread.  Though he couldn’t beat it, he didn’t want the cancer to have the ultimate victory.  By choosing suicide he was able to win the final battle and have some control over his life, even if it was when to end it.

Surrounded by a few close friends, our daughter and myself he took his last breath.  We held his hands and spoke words of love and comfort as he went into a deep sleep before his heart stopped.

Ideally we live a long and happy life.  If this is not an option for whatever reason, I appreciate that there are means to choose when to die. However, when we remember him, I want it to be for all the good work he did while among us, not how he died.

 

Finally the pictures I promised

I wanted to wait until the house was perfect but I realized, it never will be.  I suppose that’s part of home ownership – the ability (the obsession?) to constantly tinker but just this past weekend I realized that I feel at last that this is my home.  It’s not a construction site, a work in progress or a modification of my mothers home; it is mine.

We’ve been enduring a terrible heat wave in Los Angeles recently but thanks to as many ceiling fans as I have rooms and a fortunate cross breeze, unless the temperature goes above 100 degrees, I’ve been able to  be comfortable without turning on the AC!

As you’ll see below, I have landscaped the front yard with drought tolerant ground cover and just a few small bushes which I hope will grow to create a hedge of sorts.  To be drought responsible, there are no sprinklers.  Instead I have underground drip lines that (I’m told) are more water wise.  I am keeping my fingers crossed that the new plantings survive this heat!

Enough words, here are the images….  I start outside and move inside from room to room giving you a before and after as best as I can.

 

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In order you have the 1. front of the house –  I couldn’t find any pictures of what the exterior used to look like so I pulled an image from Google Maps – beyond the trees and the fence you can see the old black and white exterior.  I removed the old siding, stuccoed the house and painted it I’ve removed the old vinyl fence, widened the driveway, added a walkway through the yard and planted a new tree and ground cover 2. the original kitchen and the remodeled which is entirely new – it used to be three separate areas all divided by walls with doorways 3. the sitting area adjacent to the kitchen before I took out the wall which used to separate it from the kitchen  4. the formal living room – here I removed the old fireplace mantle and added a new craftsman style with seating/storage on either side and I added a ceiling fan and extended the wood floors from the dining/sitting/kitchen into the living room to make it cohesive  5. the guest bathroom which used to have a bath and shower along the side wall and a vanity where the tub now is – this is one room that is smaller than it had been so that I could expand the master bedroom and bath  6. the dining room looking out toward the backyard, there used to be a screened in porch type room off the dining room instead the french doors now open to a patio sitting area 6. the master bedroom which is nearly twice the size it had been and has an en suite bath and walk in master closet and I added a large deck off the master so I have a nice sitting area off the master.  Then there are two rooms which I don’t really have before images of  they are the guest bedroom/den and the guest bedroom/craft room.  The craft room is exactly the size it had been.  All I did was put in a new window and carpeting and paint.  It used to have wallpaper and wood paneling.  The other guest room is 1/3 smaller than it had been but there’s still a sleeper sofa so guests are welcome!

So that’s the house.  Outside I’m still working on fixing up the backyard.

 

Apologies for the long silence!

I don’t know why I haven’t posted in so long.  It hasn’t been for lack of news to share.  The best news being that the house passed inspection so after living here for a month, I’m officially permitted to.

I’ve begun landscaping. The dead trees, neglected roses and over grown weeds in the derelict front lawn were removed.  I now have a front yard waiting to be created.

But that’s not what motivated me tonight to open my computer and write.  What, you ask,  did motivate me?

A mass mailing letter from a carpet cleaning company.  But wait, this is not just any mass mailing.  I’ve been getting and enjoying these letters for years but not while I was at the apartment.  Today the first since I’ve been back in the house arrived.  The letters are always amusing, often thought provoking, usually clever and never predictable.  Today’s letter mused about the disappointment of hamsters who don’t get their fair share of cute internet videos.

The company is Quality Carpet Cleaning, Inc. in Los Angeles.  I’m guessing that I used their services once, honestly I cannot remember.  However, I do remember the first time I opened one of the letters, planning to scan it and add it to the pile of junk mail.  But the letter engaged me so I kept it deciding then and there that I would use this company on the basis of the writing – even if they didn’t have a five star Yelp review!

My mother used to write a monthly sales letter to get art dealers to place advertisements in the magazine she represented.  Starting when I was about ten years old I used to proof those letters for her and when I got older I’d make suggestions for edits.  My mom’s lucky that I hadn’t been exposed to the Quality Carpet Cleaning letters when I was advising her because her letters would have taken a different tone entirely.  I used to read the Quality Carpet Cleaning letters to my mother before she passed – they’d always make her smile.

I rarely get letters anymore, just bills, flyers and, when I’m lucky, a mailing from Quality Carpet Cleaning.

Not quite done but…

 

I’m writing this early morning – as part of a new “morning pages” (The Artist’s Way) habit.  Don’t worry, not all my morning pages will be posts!  I didn’t prepare images to go with this post so the next one will be all photos.  I want to pair before and afters – my favorite part of all the home shows I find myself still hooked on.  You’d think I’d have had enough of remodeling and/or construction!

I’m happy to report that all the boxes have been emptied, flattened and claimed by the anonymous folk who make whatever is left out on the curb disappear or refilled and delivered to the local Goodwill.  A few boxes were taken to the office for co-workers filled with items I hoped they’d take and enjoy.

The house is fantastic.  Despite the half dozen items that the contractor still needs to do and another handful of items he needs to fix, I’m thrilled with how it turned out.  Last night I dreamt that I had to move back into the apartment and sell the house.  I woke with a start from that having to reassure myself that this house is mine and I don’t have to go anywhere!

As much as I want to just settle in and hang art and pick out new rugs, the completion (nearly) of the house means that I need to focus on the yard.  It’s been good to have these few weeks to live with the dead lawn and skeletal trees.  I’ve decided to modify the original design I drew up months ago.  I’ve decided to expand the driveway and walk way and to limit the lawn area out front and focus more on potted plants.  I now feel it is better to focus on creating an inviting backyard.

That’s all for this morning.  Keep your eye on the site for the photos!

 

My life in boxes

The truck pulled up at precisely 8am, a huge, beeping, lumbering vehicle that just barely fit into the already damaged brick lined driveway of the house.

The previous sleepless night, one of many recently, I lay in bed and recreated in my mind the rooms I hadn’t seen in fourteen months, not since the fire. I pictured the rooms to take a mental inventory of all the items contained therein so I could anticipate their return and plan where they’d go. I started in the living room. There was a bookcase, an end table, a lamp, a chest, a couch, no the couch won’t be coming back, I reminded myself. Room by room I moved through a house that no longer existed. A phantom home filled with phantom possessions, tallying as I went.

The door to the truck opened and first out was Bobbie, the driver and the one in charge who was on the verge of retirement. Azeal, the young buck, and Jeremy the nubie followed. They lowered the lift gate and raised the door to reveal a tsunami of boxes.

I led them into the house and pointed at the meager open space in the living room. I orchestrated the unloading, pointing to where the boxes should be stacked then joined in, working alongside the two young ones while Bobbie folded furniture pads and shoved boxes to the lip of the lift gate.

In no time the living room was full. The kitchen, every inch of floor and countertop was next. Then the guest bedroom and finally the master bedroom, carefully leaving a path by which the mattress and box springs could be delivered the following day.

Three palettes, each holding 24 boxes, remained. There was nothing to do but fill the garage. Boxes were jammed in from floor to rafters, heavy to light.

Three hundred and fifteen in all, some small, some large, some filled, some mostly empty but all of them required action.

After the truck pulled away I began. Hour after hour, listening to “The Nightingale” book on CD, which made me feel both guilty for all I had and petty for feeling overwhelmed by the task at hand. I was not risking my life to save the lives of Jewish children nor was I freezing to death as I walked Allied pilots out of Germany across the Pyrenees. I was just opening box after box after box, wresting with Styrofoam popcorn, bubble wrap, cardboard and tape. The pile of flattened boxes and the bags of popcorn crew until the kitchen was emptied and just three rooms and garage remained for the next day.

“Woo Hoo” my friends texted, “So happy you’re finally moving in!” Happy Face.

Yeah, woo hoo.

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Like deja vu all over again

It feels odd to write this because I’ve been in this exact position before only to have it unexpectedly snatched from me but I like to think that I am not a superstitious person so here goes…. It’s nearly done!

I know, the last time I wrote it was all “woe is me” and “nothing is happening,” etc.  – that was then, today is a whole new story.

Perhaps dealing with contractors is a bit like being an addict or alcoholic…you have to hit bottom before things can get better.  When I last wrote, I had reached a really low point.  I was desperate.  I didn’t just whine on-line, I called, texted and emailed.  I reached out to everyone I’d ever been in touch with through the full experience of the fire, the demo and the rebuild and pleaded with them to talk to my contractor to get the job back on track.  I am not good at asking for help.  I am good at suffering in silence and convincing myself that I it’s up to me to figure out a way.  Feeling helpless and ineffectual was a new and uncomfortable experience for me.  The lesson to take away?  The squeaky wheel gets the grease? Ask and you shall receive?

Finally work started in earnest.  First step, I copied all the people I’d reached out to on an email I sent to my contractor that consisted of a list of thirty questions, the first being: When will the job be done?  Lo and behold he responded with a promise to respond by the next morning.  He didn’t quite make my idea of morning – 10pm the following night – but he did respond! And he’s been adhering to the dates he provided (so far).

In the past weeks the house was stuccoed, the wood floors were installed, the kitchen cabinets arrived, the crown and base moulding was installed, the interior painted, the deck built and the bathrooms tiled!  All that remains is to have the bathroom vanities and toilets installed and plumbed, the kitchen island to be installed, the lights and fans to be installed (and purchased  – that’s my job this weekend) and small touches like light switches and outlets finished.

I’m planning to move back in just three weeks from now!  I finally believe the light at the end of the tunnel is indeed that, not the on-coming freight train about to crush me!

I’m headed there later today to check out progress.  Fingers crossed that things have not installed.

Here are a some work in progress shots – where we were 8 weeks ago, 4 weeks ago and last week:

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