Saturday, August 27, 2016

Return to April


I'm going to take liberties with the timeline, and toss the blog back to April. You can do that in blogger world. I wish you could do that in real life, too. Just a little, now and then.

I've had a lot of emotional adjustments to make this summer. Some were very good, and some were bad, and some were in between. But while I'm trying to make sense of them enough to write about them (and I need to write about them), I felt like April was a good, safe place on the calendar to visit.

In April, Tom and I went to Missouri to see my Dad. My sister Dyan came up from Atlanta, and we made a long weekend of it in the Ozarks.

This is the view from my Dad's place, which we call "The Hill." I wish this was a painting.


The Ozark hills in April are made up of tree bark and green mists and blue sky, mostly. But it also has dozens of tiny wonders you'll miss if you fail to pay attention. You need to get up close and personal with an Ozark spring to really know it like you should.

New oak leaves are as rosy and beautiful as any spring flower.


And mayflower is hidden under its own great green silk umbrella:


Blue-eyed grass. It should be the name of an Emmylou Harris album, shouldn't it? 


We visited Wilson's Creek National Battlefield. Ancestors fought in this battle (you can learn more here). We keep returning, partly because my Dad's a military history buff, partly because we ran a race as a family here (read about it here), and partly because it's just one of the most indescribably pretty pieces of land in southern Missouri--rolling hills and winding creek, oak savannah and tallgrass prairie. Below is the Ray farmstead. It is sobering to realize so many men sacrificed their lives in a place so beautiful, on a hot day in August 1861. 


Dad and Tom are in the photo, two of the men I love the most in this world. They met for the first time that weekend. They got on well. (Whew.) Then again, I sensed they would. Some things fall into place like they were meant to happen all along. 

I have a fascination for stone fireplaces. I'm not sure why, but I always come home with photos of them. 


The furnishings in the Ray farmstead museum are so simple it feels serene. 


Local volunteers and museum docents are dedicated to bringing history to life here. This gentleman told us about life on the battlefield for a Union soldier. 


I was fascinated by the design, angles, light and shadow of this split rail fence.


And the bark of this chestnut tree:


And sunlight filtered through sassafras leaves.


Sassafras light. Those are two words I've been playing with since I took that picture, bouncing around in my head. What do they mean? I don't know. Still, I like the sound of them, paired with the memory of that April weekend. It's a good alternative title for spring in the Ozarks. 

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Fear, Remorse, and Home Repair (is that all?)

I have not been a responsible homeowner.

There. I said it.

Now that I've confessed, let me go back a bit, and explain.

On the same day I was shooting and then posting this deceptively calm and composed photo:


A crew of men were in my basement cutting steel i-beams, welding, and generally making an earth-shattering noise in my basement. 

So much so that the dining room post published that day was an act of clinging to sanity more than anything else. I needed to focus (pun intended) on an accomplishment rather than the chaos going on literally under my feet. I could barely write a coherent sentence. I'm still a little at a loss for words. 

It all started back in the summer of 2012, the year after I bought my house. My basement was a mildewed and funky 1970s dark paneling fright of a black hole. It looked like this: 


It smelled. It was ugly. It was......hard to know where to start. And I didn't know where I wanted to end up. My first act was to send samples of the ceiling tiles off to be tested for asbestos. The test came back negative, so we could start demolition safely. I think that was the last good decision I made about this space. 


My son tugged and yanked and pried and swore at that paneling for a whole summer in his spare time between his paying jobs. I really appreciated the help. And then we discovered this: 


Not a good-quality photo, but you get the drift. A crack. A horizontal one running at ground level and right under the windows, with a rather significant stair-step gap almost down to the floor. It had all been hidden behind the paneling in the basement, wasn't noticeable to the eye from the outside, and wasn't obviously out-of-square in the upstairs living area of the house. The inspection at sale had entirely missed this rather significant flaw in the structural integrity of the house. 

The consensus was that it had been there awhile, and had in fact, happened mostly all at once, when someone did a really shitty job pouring the driveway down the south side of my property in the 1980s. It butted right up against the foundation, and the initial pressure, followed by the settling and shifting of the concrete over the years, caused the damage. 

It wasn't progressing, but the very sight of it overwhelmed me to the point of not progressing, either. Typical of my over-thinking nature I researched the problem a lot, assembled a list of contractors and then.... couldn't move forward. And every few months a more immediately urgent problem and financial issue would come up, like a water heater splitting open, and it would move to the back of my mind again. 

This was the house ownership version of being so afraid of a lump under the skin that you don't go to the doctor to get it investigated. It never goes away. Neither does the worry. It had been nagging me forever. But still I was afraid of finding out the answers. 

As it turned out, the research I did over the last four years (Seriously. Somebody slap me.) made initiating the repairs easy. 

However, making the first phone calls was the only easy part. There was a reason I was afraid to face this, and the collecting of bids, horrific expense, weeks-long lending rodeo with my bank, and scheduling issues meant I was right, even if I was stupid. If that makes any sense. It was almost exactly as bad as I'd feared. 

Except that it was fixable. And now it's fixed. The contractor reinforced the wall with steel beams so the crack can no longer progress, and the system includes a way to tighten the braces twice a year, so that the wall comes back towards true gradually over time (though it won't ever be 100% again). 


I don't really have any excuse for how I handled this whole thing, except that I was feeling overwhelmed. I've been overwhelmed since I bought this place, and how badly I don't think I realized until recently. And though the check I wrote was huge, so is my relief. 

My advice? Don't be me, an anxiety-ridden home-owning deer in the headlights. Secondly, old home ownership is not for sissies. I didn't think I was one, but this pretty well beat the snot out of me. 

It has given me perspective, though. I don't think I'll complain about painting woodwork trim. Not for at least a little while. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

June in the Garden, 2016



I've decided that perennial borders aren't for people who can't appreciate subtlety. Because mine looks pretty green from the sidewalk in front of my house, even at peak growing season. 

But that's okay. My favorite color is green, and if you care to take a closer look, there's a lot of other colors going on....



It seems to change every minute too, so I'm often grabbing my camera and making quick shots right after I come home from work, instead of doing proper camera settings. 


There's also plenty of weeds, too, and that's a job that's never done. Can you believe that I don't mind weeding so much? I can't say I love to do it, but it's work that seems satisfying to me, and you can let your mind crash its gears on something else entirely. Gardening must be the philosopher's hobby. 


The froggy is from a ceramic birdbath. Mostly birds don't bathe in it, but lots of pollinators come to have a drink. There seems to be more bees this summer, and I'm happy for that. 




This May Night Salvia is a true, vibrant blue, but it always photographs rather more like grape-soda purple. I'm not sure it's the limitations of my camera lens or the limitations of the photographer. 



What's gorgeous in your garden this summer? 

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Housiversary Five


It seems millennia ago that I signed the papers on this place. But on June 10, 2011, this house, which I like to call Ruth (after its first owner) became mine. And I suppose I became hers, too.

We needed each other. She'd suffered about 20 years of neglect from former owners,  and was about to be relegated to a rental property when I scooped her off the market. As for me, I was about a year and a half post-divorce, only just past the Crazy with Emotion, Anger, and Remorse Stage. It was time to move on. It was time to start a new life in earnest. My four boys and I moved in with a lot of second-hand furniture, cleaning and paint supplies, and carpet-cutters.

It's probably pretty telling that I'm writing this post a day later than the actual housiversary, I'm taking periodic breaks to help my love maneuver drywall sheets up the stairs to the attic bonus room we're working on, I've got to make a trip to the hardware store before it closes tonight, and I'm thinking I need to get a fresh paint brush for the next project.

Meaning, I'm still in the thick of it. It's not giving me much time for reflection, no matter how much I'd like to write a post pondering the significance of this place to me, how it's sheltered my children, worked itself into the very marrow of my bones, how it's even framed the course of my new relationship. It's all been very much about love, but also self-doubt, hard work, bills, and taking out the trash again and again. Somewhere in there a relationship happened, but instead of with a person it is with a home and garden that seem to mean more to me with each passing year, despite the struggle. That makes it sound like a marriage. It sort of is.

Because it's the five-year mark and we've had some real whopper projects lately, I've been taking some time to look back so that I can fully appreciate what we've accomplished. It's easy to feel lost in the incremental gains and forget that they add up to something.

Before:


After:



Before:


After: 


Before: 


After (but not done): 



Before (or during) : 


After:


Before:


After: 


2011: 


2016: 


2017? Beyond? I can't wait to see what happens.