Saturday, December 17, 2016

A Note to the Republic, for which I Stand.


“The world has been abnormal for so long that we've forgotten what it's like to live in a peaceful and reasonable climate. If there is to be any peace or reason, we have to create it in our own hearts and homes.” 
― Madeleine L'Engle, A Swiftly Tilting Planet

I hardly know where to begin, even with Madeleine's very good quote considered. Because I've spent the last six weeks trying to decide if this blog should stand as a refuge from every ugly thing that's happened since the national election, or not. Refuge is a necessary thing when bad news seems to permeate an increasingly out-of-control world. We need to be able to get distance to think, gather strength, comfort ourselves with the familiar and the routine. When does it become escapism, willful ignoring, closing the door on those civic duties to which we are called, and to fellow citizens who need our voices? I do not know. I only know that increasingly, the answer to those questions may become very, very important. So while this blog has been a personal narrative about me and my home life, I couldn't pretend that the last months of our national discourse hasn't had me deeply worried. I would like this place to be as it always has, and if that's a refuge to me or others, that's a good thing. But I also don't want it to be a bubble. Because bubbles are fragile, and I refuse to be that. So here I am, struggling through this post as I've struggled through the last months of this politically grim year.

Right now, I am operating from these two positions.

1. I am repossessing patriot as a word that defines me, because I am. I am a patriot. I love my country, and I believe in the ideals towards which we have been imperfectly and at times violently struggling for well over two centuries. I believe that at all times, that means criticizing the hell out of it--where it's failed, where the people who claim to lead it have failed, when its citizens are failing to hold its government accountable. Everyone from Thomas Jefferson two hundred years ago down to the anonymous protester on the street corner yesterday has this right and responsibility. To the people who have said to me in the past months "if you don't like it, you can just leave....": Fuck no, I'm not leaving. My people have been in various ways always here (native peoples), since 1749 (Irish Protestants escaping religious violence in Belfast), or here since the 1880s (Germans living in the Ukraine, fleeing Russian oppression). My family members fought wars on this soil and abroad to defend this country's ideals. I am not going. I am not going to be quiet. 

2. I'm going to continue to love the people I love. Only I'm gonna do it louder. My circle of family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors includes people who don't think like me, believe like me, vote like me, or look like me. I think that's pretty well the whole point. This country has never, ever, in its entire history, been just one story about one kind of people who are exactly alike. That this republic is constructed of millions of individual stories, that they can encompass a broad range of human experience and thought, and still come together under one ideal, "We the People"-- is not just our struggle (and it has been) but it has also been our triumph when we get it right. And we do, often enough, get it right. That is worth fighting for. Right now, loving (in all the ways we define it) the people who are not just like me may not be only an act of love. It will be an act of solidarity. It will be an act of protection. It will be at times an act of civil protest. So I'm going to love. Out loud. Hard.

Stay and speak. Love loudly. That's what I have right now. I hope it is enough. I hope it is enough for all of us. 

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Tackling the Sad Porch (Part Two)


This is going to be the quickest of quicky "during" project posts, because the truth is I'm avoiding beginning the housework and baking that needs to be done for 12+ Thanksgiving guests. But that's the way I usually roll. Procrastination is the last refuge of the lazy and introverted. And I am both.

The sad porch, as it turns out, was sadder than Tom and I thought.


I think the only thing holding it up on one of the corners was inertia and habit. A badly done roof job and an absence of a proper gutter aimed rain water straight at the foundation of the porch, and a series of wet summers had turned the foundation to weak wood-fiber sponge. It was a little scary.

Tom started in tearing it back to the studs so he could see what needed replacing. (He is the hero of this story, by the way). After shoring up the rotten parts with solid, dry, new supports, he re-sided the outside. We left the windows in place, because tearing it completely out wasn't in the plan, if we could avoid it.


It seems like such a small start in this photo, but the clean, primed siding looked so much better than the old rot it seemed a little miraculous at the time.


Here's Tom at work doing trim. Notice the repaired fascia/roofline. It was beginning to look marginally attractive at this point, even with so much left to do.


Uh, yeah. The interior also needed love. Lots and lots of love. We used the same siding vertically in the inside of the porch as inexpensive paneling.


We also stained several miles of it to use as the interior porch ceiling. 



We really earned our bourbon (er, lemonade) that day. 

Here is the porch ceiling going in: 


Painting has commenced in this photo, but we're still working out little trim, caulking, and interior details. 


And now I must go pretend I like housecleaning. I'll be back post-T-day with the "after" of the screen porch project. In the meantime, I wish you all plenty of turkey, gravy, dinner rolls, pumpkin pie, and football, or whatever makes it your four-day weekend of bliss. See you soon!

Sunday, November 6, 2016

The Sad Porch (Part One)


It is true that I did not completely lead with my practical mind when I bought Ruth (my house). I'm a romantic about houses, and of course that's dangerous to one's sanity and bank account. 

One of her many charms is that she has a screen porch. Screen porch! For Midwesterners, this is a short form of saying "my house allows me to be outside in the summer without being eaten alive by mosquitoes." Also, "my house has a room that becomes a walk-in refrigerator/freezer just in time for the holidays, and thank goodness, because there's no room to put Aunt Lydia's cranberry jello salad in the fridge."

That's where the practical side ends. Screen porches on old houses should also be like a misty, out-of-focus photo from a back issue of Victoria Magazine. They should have vases of fresh flowers, and white wicker, and ladies with dark hair (that would be me) reading Edith Wharton while sipping lemonade from vintage glassware. 

But I have described my screen porch's quality and construction before, thusly: two guys got drunk on a couple of cases of Natty Light and decided to build a screen porch out of whatever shit they could find laying around. 

About as far from Edith Wharton and fresh flowers as you can get. Add to this a smelly fungal sponge of an old carpet, and sickly shades of "old bruise" mauve and dirty pink beige paints, and it was pretty depressing. And frequently in the beginning used to store stuff during ongoing home-improvement issues elsewhere. 


I am not proud. 

I would also like to mention, for posterity, the clusters of fake plastic ivy the previous owners hung up there to make it festive. 


Over the last five years, I was basically putting lipstick on the pig by painting out the murky purple with leftover paint from other projects, and telling myself that keeping it clean and tidy out there was enough. 


But I saw rot on the exterior siding of the porch and knew it was just a matter of time before I was going to have to get serious about it. Then along came the new dude in my life, and one day this summer Tom took a crowbar to the outside of it. 


It was just as bad as I thought, and worse. And it ended up being what we (and by we I mostly mean he, because he totally wore the superhero cape on this one) worked on for the better part of our summer weekends. 

I'll be back with a progress/part two post soon!

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Postcard from Galena, Illinois


I'm weirdly untraveled in the area of the Midwest where I grew up--Iowa and surrounding states. My childhood experience didn't include much travel at all, and then I lived elsewhere--Seattle and Detroit--for most of my adult life. So in many ways I'm more familiar with the Pacific Northwest and Michigan than the place that's supposed to be home. 

Like I said. Weird. But also, I've discovered, a fun and unique perspective. I get to be a tourist and make discoveries in a place that has already long been home to me. Best of both worlds. 

Tom and I had planned a long summer weekend trip away months before July, but I'd set aside the vacation days and almost completely forgot about it. And then my aunt passed away, and I just didn't have any enthusiasm for anything for awhile. I didn't realize that we'd forgotten to make reservations until the week before. 

Oops. Since Galena, Illinois is a huge tourist destination, that was nearly a deal-breaking oversight. I lucked out with a room at a local B&B, though, and it turned out to be a happy accident. It was uncharacteristic of my usual over-planning self, though. 

To me the best part of vacation is not the destination so much as it is just being pried away from my usual routines and obligations. I need that, because I get too attached to them. And even though I'm as big of a homebody as anyone, sometimes I just want to get gone, you know? Besides, if I never get outside my own city limits and never hit the highways, I miss stuff like this: 


Yep. That's a plastic life-sized skeleton torso (with eyeballs) mounted to the back of a semi-cab. I have no idea. Mascot? Warning? Joke?

Galena, Illinois is a river town that used to be a major steamboat port before the railroad expanded west, and now has a large downtown historic district, boutiques, restaurants, B&Bs, wineries....in other words, a touristy tourist trap tricked out in Victorian-era gingerbread trim. 

Which I don't mind if you see it for what it is, eyes open. Also, tourist trap or not, I'm a huge history geek. It doesn't matter where I go, I'm gonna pry some history lesson out of it. And Galena's are pretty good as history lessons go. It includes a former home of a U.S. President, Ulysses S. Grant. 



I'm a reader of presidential biography, I'm always keenly interested in visiting presidential historic sites, and this one was one I honestly didn't know about. Grant lived in many states over his lifetime, and this home in Galena was gifted to him by the community after he became a civilian again, post-Civil War. His family lived in it for only a very short time before he became President, and afterwards returned only rarely. 

I liked Grant's taste in chairs. The green velvet armchair was so beloved it traveled with him on tours. 


The day we toured the Grant home was broiling hot and humid, the house was only open on guided tours, timed every 15 minutes, and packed full every group. I was annoyed that we were pushed along, and annoyed at having to look at everything over the shoulders of other tour group members. I'm arrogant enough to not want to be one of the unwashed masses, and unwilling to admit that I'm just as unwashed as the next person. Sigh. Also, I just don't like crowds. 

We took a selfie while we waited for our turn at the guided tour. We bought hats in downtown Galena because it was so hot. Our children were not amused by this development as shared on social media. We, however, thought we were stinkin' adorable. 


One of the saving graces of the downtown area on this hot weekend was Galena Brewing Company. 


I wish I could say the same for the rest of the restaurants and bars in the area. They were high-priced, mediocre mostly, and getting away with it because, well, lots of tourists packed in a small town with few choices. 

If the eats weren't the best, I could have easily spent an entire afternoon photographing all the architectural interest.



There is a lovely city park on the Galena River, named after their presidential citizen. 


With a restored Victorian fountain....



And a pedestrian bridge over the river to the downtown area. 


The historic neighborhoods were intensely pretty


Our B&B ended up being a perfect choice, even if it was last minute. I had a serious case of garden envy. 



The breakfasts there were large and excellent, and made up a great deal for the less-than-great restaurant situation elsewhere. (Readers can find the B&B's website here.)

Did any of my readers and friends take get-away weekends this summer? Where? What are some favorite places in your area?