I’d tear it all apart

100_1600You take an old house that’s gutted when you bought it, limited carpentry skills, and no money for tools and materials…and what do you get?

A constant reminder that you might have a shot at doing a better job the second time around.

We are constantly re-doing.  I am amazed when I tear out a section of the old repair and realize how wacky what I did before can be.  “Holy Smokes!!  Check out this used 2×4 that I scabbed together with this cut down 1×6 to give us enough room to balance this part here...it’s INSANE!!!”  It’s like digging up a shot of weirdness from the past…3 Stooges archaeology…but it’s just me.

Jenny helped me to a crazy degree…hauling 5 gallon buckets of dirt out of the hand-dug, water- proofing project ditch behind the house (when she was 7 months pregnant), sitting on every board I had to rip because the thrift store table saw blew up, painting…sanding drywall with a baby on her back,etc….so I don’t want to give the impression that it was all my effort…that wouldn’t be even close to true.  But I think that looking back on it all, most of the really weird element was my doing.

Occasionally, I’ll come to a part of the house that really surprises me with an elegant and appropriate solution to a problem…but that is pretty rare. Usually, it’s a strange, overbuilt compensation for fear and a lack of knowledge…”maybe if I double up on these 6×6’s, it won’t cave in on us in the night?”  (this is the kind of post that they use in the building inspector’s deposition later).

We bought our house before our first child was born.  Our firstborn “worked” on this house in the womb in tandem with her mother…so she grew up with the whole hopeful process.  I think that when we bought the house, we thought that “6 months from now, we’ll be featured in Architectural Digest”…that 6 months from now we’ll be warm and dry and safe and FINISHED!! We were inappropriately optimistic about the whole process…babes in the woods (or at least as close to the woods as you could get and still be sleeping inside a structure).

The reality of the situation was that the first winter we spent in the house we didn’t have any insulation in the ceiling…just rafters and tin and a too small wood stove downstairs to keep us warm.  It was cold…our friend Steve Longenecker helped me pound nails in the ceiling with his piton hammer…getting it insulated and ready for the next winter.  He’s a long time wilderness instructor…spent a lot of time camping and climbing…and he said that he’d rarely been that cold.

That’s the way to keep a recent wife and new mother happy and comfortable, huh?

We are getting ready to celebrate our 19th anniversary in about a week.

My wife was looking at old pictures the other day and commented that “we had an awesome life!” That’s a good thing…to have some way to put it all into perspective. The natural tendency, I think, is to hold onto the hard memories…to catalog the pain behind every callus, the embarrassment of the home improvement project gone awry, the lack…and to build them up into a monument and reminder of “what should have been”. It’s hard to avoid wishing that things had been easier….but we wouldn’t be who we are if we didn’t have that set of experiences.  The “spin”…the ability to take something hard and see the bright side of the situation…that’s an awesome ability and legacy to shoot for.

The title of this post isn’t really appropriate.  There really isn’t anything that I’d want to tear apart…literally or figuratively.  There are a lot of things I’d like a “do over” on…I think I could probably do a better job when I had some of it all figured out…but I don’t think that I’d want to tear it all apart.

Little by little, we fix a house and move on in. Year by year, we build a life and a family.  I’m glad it doesn’t happen instantaneously…I don’t think I’d know what to do.



don’t make a move

DON’T MAKE A MOVE!” our three-year old said in as tough a tone as a three-year old could muster.  He’d hidden a gun somewhere in his pajamas and he’d picked this moment to pounce.

His mother held up her hands and stood in the kitchen…waiting for the crime to play out.

The gun was small.

The pajamas were loose.

Minutes later, the gun was in his hand and his pajamas were around his ankles….and the naked criminal had pulled off another heist.  He’d managed to find his tiny gun after a lot of digging.

We learn by watching.  I know now that to try to pull off a holdup  with my gun hidden in a loose onesy is not going to end well.  I know that to yell “DON’T MAKE A MOVE!!!” is going to lose its impact if I have to do a lot of screwing around to dig out my “piece”.  I know that I need to be very descriptive of exactly what I’m doing if, as an adult, I have to describe trying to dig out my “weapon” in the middle of a crime…no matter where it’s migrated to in my pj’s.

What’s cute for a child is creepy on so many levels if an adult tries the same thing.

We picked the same child up after a bath the other night….taking him in to get him dressed for bed time.  We carried him like a “mini me”…facing forward, held to our chest…to the same place to do the same night-time ritual we’d done hundreds of times before.  “WHERE ARE YOU TAKING ME!?”, he yelled.  “Where are you taking me?”.  Where does a question like that come from?  It’s a good question…probably a question that all children should ask their parents more frequently…but what led to a question like that?

In retrospect, I might have asked that question a time or two in my own life.  A person looks back and wonders…like the Talking Heads song…”how did I get here?”.  It all washes over you…time and experience…a string of disconnected events that somehow makes some sense at some point. I could attempt to “wax philosophic” about all my efforts to understand it all…but it’s just blowing smoke in the end.

When you get down to it, when you are digging a toy gun out of the foot of your pajamas, you better be 100% present.  There isn’t any room for a lack of mindfulness…there isn’t any room for an awareness of mindfulness…you just are.  That’s the beauty of being a child…there isn’t any weird internal dialogue going on about mortgages or college or insurance or menus or workplace dramas or any of the other things we think about as adults…it’s just the “now”.

I don’t know how to live completely in the “now”.  I guess that the more I wonder “how” to live like that the farther away I move from living in the present. If it’s still an ongoing struggle, I suppose that I haven’t figured it out yet.  Life shouldn’t be a struggle…or a quiet desperation (no matter what Thoreau said). I guess that a person has too much time their hands if they can ponder some of these issues too deeply, anyway.  There are a lot of floors that need sweeping…it’s probably important to get out of your own head when it all gets “too deep”.

Maybe if I can picture myself standing in the kitchen in my oversized onesy, yelling out to no one in particular, “DON’T MAKE A MOVE!!!”, I’ll be able to keep it in perspective.  When in doubt…stand VERY STILL.


The Asian man has popcorn

Before I started writing this blog, I used to get up every morning and watch a movie on the computer.

I couldn’t sleep… I wake up every morning at five like clockwork…so to be quiet while everybody else in the house was still in bed, I’d check a couple of the different sites I’d found and pick out a movie to watch.

Most of the movies that were on the site were still in the theaters…some hadn’t come out in America yet..so to get a chance to watch them was kind of strange and exciting.

I learned that there are a lot of different ways someone can bring a movie to the internet early.  There is the “screener” where a copy that was sent out for review is leaked to the internet.  These movies are usually just like watching a dvd…because the source material was a dvd. This is the most desirable way to watch a movie early…the best quality and sound is going to come from a screener.

The other most common format is what they’ll call “cam” on the movie sites.  This is where someone has brought a camcorder into the theater and recorded the movie.  This is usually pretty sketchy in quality…bad sound, shaky camera work, outside noise…lots of weirdness can happen with a cam quality movie.

One of the most entertaining things about the cam movies is the people leaving and coming back to their seats.  People come back with popcorn…big cups of soda…giant pigs heads pickled in some sort of pungent brine (just kidding about the last one….it’s too dark to really tell that much detail)…outlined in silhouette against the grainy movie screen, the cameraman not telling them to get out of the way of the camera because he’d probably go to prison if he got caught filming….so why draw attention to yourself by being too demanding?

It seems like a lot of these cam movies come from foreign countries…Russia, China, maybe some of the Middle Eastern countries.  It’s kind of like a twisted black market National Geographic.  Because all the action off-screen takes place in silhouette, you really have to use your imagination to pick up any cultural nuances.

This is really against the rules.  The MPAA doesn’t condone taping a movie off the screen and then posting it on the internet…no matter what country it happens in.  Next time you go to watch a movie, check out the poster warning of the penalties for taping in the theater…it’s something they take pretty seriously.

Watching a movie recorded in a Chinese theater kind of brings the “social element” back to the movie going experience.  We are so isolated in some ways…Netflix and other streaming (legally streaming) sources take all the social element out of the experience…we don’t have to see anybody and watch what we want, when we want…so to get the impression that other people are in the theater kind of grounds us in our humanity.  Maybe there is a legitimate market for that kind of experience?  I’m sure there are a lot of lonely people in the world who would sacrifice video quality for the feeling that they weren’t alone in watching another movie at home.  It’s kind of like watching a fireplace video on the big television…maybe better than nothing….but not by much.

I wouldn’t mind too much if an Asian man needed some fresh popcorn every once in a while.

We bought a tree

We bought our Christmas tree yesterday.

In earlier years, we’d gone up in our woods and cut a little Charlie Brown tree, purchased a tree at one of the home improvement stores, and we even had an artificial tree for a couple of years…but we always had a tree…even if it was Christmas Eve before we put it up.

We bought our tree from someone I deliver mail to.  It is a good thing to “keep it in the neighborhood”….keep the flow close to home…to be able to say, “thanks again, Doyce..”.  I guess buying local is kind of a movement…I’ve seen the bumper stickers…but beyond it being a “movement” there is something really nice and satisfying about buying from a neighbor.

When we got it home, I trimmed the lower branches, cut the base off a little, and took it inside and set it in the holder.  My wife and I put the lights on it ( newer lights that all worked…what a luxury!  We were talking about how nice it was to not limp along with used lights that we had to wrestle with to get to work…what a real pleasure to just plug-in the strand and have them all light up) and then she and our 3 year old decorated it.

What a beautiful tree!  Our youngest had such a time hanging the ornaments on the lower branches….getting a little history lesson with a lot of the different ornaments, “Daddy gave Mommy that one before you were born” etc. He’s like any of us…if he feels like he’s useful…that he is contributing…he really responds well to that.  They did a great job.

“Breaking Amish” and the “truth”

We’ve watched a show on TLC a couple of times called “Breaking Amish”.  It’s about these young Amish adults who bust loose from the Amish lifestyle and go to the city to experience the “good life” as some of us know and live it.  What hijinks follow–tattoos, drunken parties, weird food…and even SEX.  Holy Smokes…those Amish kids are GOING OFF!!!

It’s kind of like the dark side of the simple life…they give the impression that burning underneath most of the simple living folk’s psyches is the tremendous need to BUST A MOVE and cause some major havoc in an urban setting…that if it wasn’t for the strict rules they have in their community, we’d have a drunken guy in a dark hat throwing up on our street right now.

Then you read in one of our news magazines like People or Us Weekly that it’s all staged…that somebody was a single mother stripper, or stole cars, sold meth, dated a dolphin, or did any number of sordid things before they temporarily towed the “straight and narrow” so it would look better when they joined the “Amish gone wild” crew. It’s all a setup.

Surely they could have found some photogenic Amish young adults who legitimately wanted to go to the dark side?

I’ve read about a term called rumspringa that they use in the Amish community.  It’s a term that is either used to describe adolescence in general…or a period of “forgivable” disobedience.  These kids aren’t shunned when they experience the world…and most, after baptism, return to the church and the simple ways they’ve grown up with.  It’s not sanctioned crazy…it’s just a period that the adults recognize as maybe a little necessary to produce good adult Amish.  I think the important thing is that most of these kids sow their wild oats…and then come back to the life. What most of us take away from the news reports of rumspringa activities is the feeling that there must be a whole lot of trouble in simple town.

So…what’s our fascination with the fall?  Where did that come from? The “I knew it was too good to be true!! Look at those Amish kids go, Flo!” attitude…the cynical expectation that anything good has to be “too good to be true”…why do I enjoy seeing some of that stuff? Maybe enjoy is the wrong word…maybe “watch with disgusted fascination” would be better.  The moral train wreck…black hats and bonnets amongst the wreckage…and me, sitting back in semi-legit moral superiority, thinking, “oh…isn’t that…horrible. Wait…don’t turn the channel…I’ve got to go to the restroom…I’ll be right back!!! The dark-haired one is getting her first piercing in the next segment!!”

I don’t watch the show often.  I will stop on it with the same “mindfulness” that I’ll display when I see a strange infomercial…”those pills will do what to your what?“…and watch it with the same lack of attention. It’s a strange world we live in, sometimes…stranger than I was aware of if everything I see in the media is true…stranger still if I keep watching the lies.

spammin’ me

If I didn’t understand that the emails I get from Nigeria weren’t really setting me up for untold riches, I’d spend my life in a constant state of excitement.

This blog thing…well, that’s another story. Every morning I check for comments…and lately I’ve been getting a lot of what I hope is spam. Who do I know named “manolo splendorific” or “candies shoegal”?  I don’t know these people…and I can’t figure out what fake rolex watches have to do with anything I’ve ever written.  It’s hard enough to navigate the world without these people messing with me.  Who are these people? What is their game?  Do they really enjoy my blog?  Should I send them money because they enjoy my blog?

I do get some comments that are legitimate…and they really keep me going.  Something about writing in a vacuum sounds kind of unappealing…and the folks that have commented really help to take away that feeling of isolation.  One of these kind, legitimate responses makes up for a bunch of the spammy ones.

I think that for a writer it must be the ultimate indication that “the well is deep” when writing about spam (or the “critics”) becomes the topic of the day.

I’m not really sure how it all works…maybe mentioning “spam” opens up the dam of unwanted communiques….maybe I’ll be spammed into the next country now that I’ve questioned WHY I’m getting these comments?  I don’t really know.  You may think that you have some of this stuff figured out…that all the ducks are lining up ( is that a reference to the shooting game?  All in a row so we can mow them down?)….but somebody in Nigeria is going to mess up your day trying to be helpful.

And that’s another thing:  don’t ever let me hear anybody badmouthing any of the folks overseas (i.e. the Nigerians). They’ve been nothing but kind to me…offering me all that money and all the watches.  The world is a benevolent place…and if we all took care of each other like the Nigerians take care of their dead rich uncles who needed a place to put their money before the government took it to support an unjust military, who just needed a bank account to park it in so they can shelter it from the government, and who were willing to pay a huge fee for the privilege of parking the money somewhere…well…it would be a more benevolenter place…fer shure.

simpler than we want to be

I used to follow a number of survivalist websites.

I guess it’s kind of like saying I used to weigh 600 lbs….or was a longtime crack addict…or stole cars for a living or was a suburban pimp.  It’s a surprising revelation for someone who supposedly is trying to live with a more positive way of looking at the world. Being focused on what is falling down in the world doesn’t help you figure out how to stand up.

Old habits die hard, though.  Last night they featured a story about the documentation of the melting polar ice…juxtaposed with pictures of the flooding in the northeast and other corresponding natural disasters.  I got the impression that they were saying that things were happening faster than they thought…that the ocean was going to rise and the ice was going to disappear.  Cataclysm and disaster…and there was nothing we could do about it. I was riveted to the screen…”SEE!!! SEE!!”, I was thinking to no one.

Powerlessness sucks stinks.

The thing about all those survivalist websites is that after a while you realize that there is always something “that might happen” that these guys can write about.  Paranoia is easily encouraged.  Until it’s proven otherwise, the zombies are coming to get me and coming to get me soon.  I read it in a blog.

But…we have the wonderful privilege now of making the choice to live a simple lifestyle.

Climate change is a pretty heavily politicized issue.  That the environment could be argued about as heatedly (no pun intended) as it is seems pretty crazy.  When I’m burning in the fire, I don’t give a flip who lit it or if someone else tells me it’s not  a real fire…I just know that it hurts.  It doesn’t seem to do any good to obsess over climate change…but some of these people act like it’s not happening at all, and that bothers me.

So…back to the choice of choosing a simple lifestyle.

It’s a necessary and seemingly easy choice to want to lighten our impact on the earth.  It’s doable and teachable…and makes an impact on our family and the world around us that can be seen immediately. What a luxury it is to be able to choose to live a simple lifestyle.  Some of the things that we champion as “simple living icons” would , unfortunately, be pushed to the back of the shelf if there was an easy alternative.  My father talked about how much he liked “store-bought” bread after a lifetime of homemade…liked the texture, etc.  I don’t think it’s debatable which of the two breads would be the “simple” choice…but he really enjoyed the store-bought. Everything hard looks better if you aren’t “kneading the dough”…my grandmother probably liked the store-bought bread every once in a while, too.

I guess that what I’m trying to say in an imprecise way is that we have the ability to choose any kind of lifestyle right now. Our choices aren’t made for us by political or environmental factors…we get to choose. That’s pretty amazing.  To a degree, we really do get to shape our world to make it what we want it to be.  If I were to stay invested in the survivalist mindset, though, I’d say that the great reckoning was coming…somehow it was going to come…and that pretty soon things were going to be a lot simpler than we want them to be.  We don’t control the future…we do control our choices.  One of our important choices is to approach things with the knowledge that we need to be aware of the need to feel gratitude for the chance to choose.  People would be right in saying that economics makes our choices for us in a lot of cases….and it often does define what we can do…but for the most part we really are able to choose.

Coming off the flu…rambling more than usual…trying to say in a blog post about simple living something that could be said more simply in two lines–that it’s good to have choices…and that I hope the choices aren’t taken away when the floodwaters start to rise.


Do people have patina?

My wife and I were talking the other day about old cars…and new cars…and she mentioned that she hated when the “clear coat peeled off on these newer cars… I like the old cars with the paint that got a patina as it wore out”.

This comment got me thinking.  I know a lot of people who seem to have developed a “patina” as they got more mileage under their belts.  Every year brings more character and inner light…more outward signs of the great life they’ve lived.  Like the cars with a bit of primer and rust showing through….beauty for the wear.  Some of the older customers on my mail route are like this…they let their light shine brightly even if the exterior is a little battered. There has to be something underneath to shine through when the new is worn away.

On the other hand, I’ve known a few people who seem to have a good bit of their “clear coat” worn off, too.  Nothing shiny or new about them…just the dull paint underneath that the gloss used to cover up. I guess that the “gloss” is enough for a lot of people until it doesn’t shine anymore.

Most folks run a lot deeper than what’s on the surface.  I’ve never known anyone who didn’t have something good about them…but some people take a lot of patience and positive attention to notice what the good is.  It’s pretty superficial of me to think that I notice or understand what any “patina” or “clear coat” or any other hazy allusion means , really…I don’t have a handle on much….but I do appreciate the patina when I see it.


photograph by David Freiburger @HotRod.com


Thrift Stores and the American Dream

My wife and I were visiting a small town in Georgia once and asked one of the locals “where the thrift stores were?”

She looked at us as if we had something fishy going on…and then said, “You mean where the poor people shop?”.

We are into thrift stores.  There aren’t many that we pass up.  We’ve got to check them out.

Big cities, small towns…we check all their thrift stores out.  There isn’t much that gets the “OK” for a diversion more often than a thrift store we’ve never visited before.

In all our thrift store visiting, it hit me that a pretty strong indication of how well an area was doing could be found in their thrift stores.  We live in a land of plenty.  No matter what the media tells us about how the economy is doing, in the area of material goods we really do excel.  The purest example of a consumerist society is on display when you go to a store that sells the “cast offs” at the tail end of a product’s utility.  We go through a lot of product. An area that can support a number of thrift stores is usually doing pretty well financially…or at least is an area that’s pretty good at consuming.

What I’ve found to be true is that thrift stores really do mirror what’s going on in a community.  Places that have a lot of people, consume a lot of material goods, and that have a high turnover in the goods that they do buy tend to have the best thrift stores.  It’s not just the “worn out” that makes it to the thrift stores, either.  It’s often the stuff that has to be “moved out” to make way for the new.  Check out a thrift store around the first of the new year…you’ll probably find some items that were replaced at Christmas.

The lady’s comments about “poor people” is really kind of funny when you dig a little deeper into who is doing a lot of the thrift store purchasing.  Many of the people we see in thrift stores these days are dealers.  People with smart phones scanning the book section to see what might be salable , others checking labels to see what might have potential on Ebay, and all of them seeing how they can use the low end supplier to make a profit.  Prices at the thrift stores have gone up as a result…but like any business the “bottom line” is making sales, not necessarily only selling to the “poor people”.  It is strange to watch all this play out.  Thrift stores are popular with a pretty broad range of people for a lot of reasons…the fact that items can be researched almost instantaneously takes a lot of the “magic” out of shopping like this…but makes it easier for the dealers to run a business.  When it became easy to research and buy and sell, you saw a whole lot of people get into the thrift store market.  When a business that was set up to give the lower income folks an alternative to retail is hit hard by people recognizing that low prices equal a better profit margin you really have to wonder who the business is serving.

I’m a big fan of the second-hand market.  My father once called me a “good scrounger”.  I guess it kind of hurt my feelings a little…never really thought of myself as a scrounger…but I suppose that we are pretty good at supplying our needs with “recycled” items.  There are a lot of ways to be green.   A person can buy the brand new, organic cotton, hand sewn shirt from the fair trade store in the trendiest section of the hippest town…or maybe just buy a used “recycled” flannel shirt from the thrift store.  I guess it all works out in the end.


We took a pretty epic road trip this summer to see some of my relatives out west.  6,000 plus miles in a 12 year old Dodge Grand Caravan…and not a single breakdown.  We were blessed.

We spent 3 days with my cousin on some land I inherited when my Dad passed away.  Northern Idaho is beautiful.  I remembered this from the trips we took to the land when I was a child…but it had been 30 years since I’d seen it, so I had a lot of gaps in my memory to fill in.

It was great to see how much my family enjoys traveling.  When you have a group that enjoys the journey as much as the arrival it really makes a trip a lot nicer.

So a big trip like that can be our “shakedown cruise”…circumnavigation of the globe should be next.