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Writing about what really matters

Category: Old house love

Forty-eight things I’ve learned along the way

Leo cropped

Nora Ephron famously felt bad about her neck (though hopefully she no longer does). I do not, despite having the sort of neck not found on any swan, the sort of neck not flattered by a flaw-concealing turtleneck.

In those moments when I could be feeling bad about my neck, I instead choose to feel good about the head sitting on top of it–specifically the many contents that were missing in the days when the neck beneath was flawless.

In honor of my birthday, a list of 48 random things I’ve learned thus far. (Links are mostly to previous blog posts.)

  1. How to choose my battles. It’s amazing when I think about it now, how many (unimportant) things I was once willing to pitch battle for.
  2. Being able to recognize my ego’s involvement has really made all the difference. At least 99% of the time, that’s what the battle was really about.
  3. Compassion is a great thing to have on hand when your own or someone else’s ego flares up.
  4. Kindness is also pretty important. Even when you need to draw a boundary firmly, it’s generally possible to do it with kindness.
  5. How to forgive continually.
  6. And how to release bitterness–also key.
  7. I used to think being smart was a lot more important than it really is. It’s nice, sure, but far from the most important thing.
  8. Love–that would be the most important thing.
  9. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear …” (I John 4:18, KJV). When fear comes up in one of its many guises, love is the antidote.
  10. Learning to meditatelife-changing for sure.
  11. I learned I was an artist–and I bet you are too. I’d love to see everyone find a really good way to access their right brains.
  12. I grew up laboring in a huge organic vegetable garden, but only as an adult did I discover the joy of working hand-in-hand with Mother Nature to unleash plants’ amazing desire to grow and thrive.
  13. I still remember reading the magazine article that taught me to recognize a narcissist. Based on my early experience, I was choosing narcissists as friends. (Word to the wise: they don’t make very good ones.) I’ve finally learned to stop doing that. Woohoo!
  14. I’ve also learned to allow others to be exactly who they are. If people in my life are behaving badly, I generally do say a few words about it–and leave it at that. People have to change, if that’s what they’re going to do, at their own pace. I hope that if they’re not ready to hear now, they will be later.
  15. But just because I must allow people to be exactly who they are doesn’t mean I have to allow everyone into my inner circle, regardless of their behavior.
  16. Much if not most of what I was taught as a child simply isn’t true.
  17. It’s OK to be uncertain. Embracing a model that offers a complete set of answers about how the world works is certainly tempting, but it’s also a pretty good way to be wrong.
  18. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter a great deal what people believe, if anything. What really matters is how we treat others. Living a good life isn’t dependent on a particular worldview.
  19. Therefore, beliefs are generally not worth fighting for–but a value might be. Justice is worth fighting for.
  20. Karma is real–a universal law to which there are no exceptions.
  21. At the same time, if you’re a graduate student in the school of life, expectations are higher for you than for someone at the elementary-school level–and that’s fair.
  22. I no longer believe you only live once. I find this comforting, because it means there’s no need to try to accomplish everything, see everything, do everything, in this one lifetime. Accordingly, I don’t have a bucket list–or if I do, it’s a short one.
  23. It’s OK to relax. In fact, it’s a really good idea.
  24. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being an introvert. Oh, I am an introvert. (I was quite sure for awhile that I was right and Myers-Briggs was all wrong.)
  25. Models are really helpful, but there’s still a lot they don’t reveal.
  26. Life is not a competition.
  27. Cooperation is really enjoyable.
  28. Sarcasm is best in small doses, and is probably not one of the world’s great art forms.
  29. Participation in social media is not a measure of the validity of my life. And Facebook friends are not the same as real friends.
  30. Complaining isn’t a tool for making anything better, though feedback might be.
  31. Having companion animals is totally worth the trouble and mess. And just think of all the money I’ve saved by eliminating carpet and rugs from my life!
  32. An old house is worth the trouble too. But it’s best to have an excellent plumber, electrician, carpenter, and painter on speed dial.
  33. I am the very best person, bar none, to define what my life should look like.
  34. A good, hot bath can cure what ails you.
  35. A good cup of hot tea (my favorite: acai green tea) is also a pretty good idea. I leave my desk for at least one cup of tea every day I work.
  36. Whether or not you should listen to your mother depends entirely on what your mother has to say.
  37. The leaders of my country may or may not be wise. If they are not, I should notice and take an active role in electing those who are.
  38. Self-help is ultimately the only help there is.
  39. But we could all use a hand up.
  40. No one asked me to judge.
  41. The less I judge, the happier I am.
  42. This is what a feminist looks like.
  43. I should decide what is and isn’t BS on the basis of how well it works, not what other people say about it or what it looks like on the surface.
  44. But when in doubt, follow your gut.
  45. It’s a good idea not to abdicate control, but it’s a mistake to think that every aspect of my life can and should be within my complete control. Forces of nature came by their name honestly.
  46. I am responsible for making the world a better place–and so are you.
  47. I’m not perfect, and neither is anyone I know. Discovering anyone’s imperfection should not be surprising. We’re all human.
  48. The best is yet to come.

What have you learned along the way?

This post is illustrated with my SoulCollage® card Personal power + Leo.

SoulCollage cards are for personal use, and are not for sale, barter, or trade.

Trust the tides, but row the boat

Trust

Trust the tides, but row the boat. –Danielle and Russell Vincent of Outlaw Soaps, quoting the best business advice they received

When I came across this quote on Pinterest recently, it really spoke to me. I believe in setting intentions, and in a supportive, benevolent, abundant Universe, but sometimes what’s needed is some muscle behind those intentions.

Above is the SoulCollage card I made to represent “Trust the tides,” and below is the one I made for “Row the boat.”

Row

I’ve just finished an impromptu pruning of my largest rose bush–my dog needed to go outside and, knowing the pruning needed to be done, I grabbed my Felcos on the way out. I find this process a bit symbolic of what I’m doing in my own life right now.

When you prune, you remove deadwood, spent foliage, and the less important of crossed canes in order to create space and potential for growth, and direct the plant’s focus of its energy and resources toward its most important, freshest goals.

Just last month, I journaled about being unsure what to prioritize first, but recently, what needs to happen in my life has been speaking with a bullhorn. Intuition is hardly needed to discern my priorities.

I found out, for example, that even cast iron has its limits. My next-door neighbor’s original terra cotta drainage pipes gave out years ago (with a bang, not a whimper), and my cast iron ones apparently just recently had begun wearing through. I found out that under my pier-and-beam house, varying degrees of outgoing water were leaking at most of the major points in my plumbing system. When my plumber gave me his quote and I mentioned that I would need to check on how much I had in my account and how much I needed to transfer, he gave me to understand that the project needed to be started now, while I figured that out, not later–though we ended up having to wait for snow and ice to clear, and the plumbing supplier to re-open for business, to begin.

So this priority has been addressed this past week, and now my much-loved old house has a brand-new drainage system–more cast iron that I expect to outlast me. The first set lasted more than 80 years, so I expect this to be something I don’t have to deal with again–in this house anyway. The process was fairly painless, thanks to a good plumber–though writing the check was decidedly not! I love my old house, but as an old-house owner, you certainly do get to invest significant sums in things you can’t see or directly enjoy.

This past week, as other items indicated in various ways that they needed to be addressed now, not later, I made a fresh list of my top five most urgent tasks and goals, and prioritized them. All require varying amounts of money, perhaps for a tool I’ll need–the latest version of TurboTax so I can complete my 2014 tax return, for example. Some also require significant effort.

It feels good to have them spelled out on paper now, and ordered. Now I know exactly where I need to focus. What I’ve been doing, and plan to continue, is each day to take at least one step toward the top goal on my list, until I’ve done all I reasonably can to make it happen. If a goal is blocked, waiting for input of some kind, I’ll begin addressing the next one.

How do you determine what’s most urgent or important in your life? How do you go about accomplishing those things? Do your priorities speak with a bullhorn, or a whisper? Please feel free to share in the comments below.

SoulCollage® cards are for personal use, and are not for sale, barter, or trade.

 

 

Putting the house in order

kitchen

This week, I’ve been putting my house in order–but not, of course, in an end-of-life way, though I do sense that a new phase of my life is coming. Usually, when I feel this urge to organize and improve my surroundings, or do some serious clutter clearing, it’s because something wants to be birthed or realized in my life. I suppose it’s really a nesting instinct.

Some previous instances have involved the acquisition of a major piece of furniture to be used for storage–a linen press, a sideboard. I clearly remember seing my Prohibition-era Art Deco sideboard at the antiques shop and getting an adrenaline rush because it was, though I hadn’t known it until that moment, exactly what I wanted. I still love its beautiful curves, chevron and fruit carving, exterior and interior nickel fittings, and clean, restored silver drawer. The little liquor cabinet hidden in one side isn’t particularly useful, but adds to its charm.

I gathered dinnerware, glass, silver, and cloth and paper napkins from all over the house, and arranged them neatly in its drawers and on its shelves. I enjoy little more than organizing something well; I find this kind of thing deeply satisfying for reasons I can’t fully explain.

This week there was no new sideboard or linen press, but there was a new dishwasher–delivered and installed at last. I was loading it for its maiden voyage while my plumber was still here, and he observed that I was wasting no time. After more than a month without a working dishwasher, I’ve never been so excited about using one. This is also the first time I’ve ever had a new one. I believe in using things up and wearing them out, and that certainly happened with my 32-year-old former dishwasher, which came with my house. I can remember–and perhaps you can too–when almond was the ‘it’ color! (No one can deny that it was a huge improvement over the avocado green and harvest gold of my childhood–colors I recognized as truly hideous even at the time.)

I ordered the new dishwasher in a color meant to tone with my restored Kelvinator refrigerator called pastel turquoise. The manufacturer inadvertently added a metallic finish to the paint, which resulted in a silvery green. They said they’d make and send a new front panel in the color I ordered, but meanwhile I am thrilled to have a functioning dishwasher once again.

I’ve been hand-washing the dishes, flatware, glasses, mugs, pots, and pans I needed to have a functioning kitchen, but since I collect dinnerware and kitchenalia, I have extras of almost everything–and thus I had a backlog of dishes to do. As of this morning, I’m caught up with running the dishwasher, and my kitchen cabinets are satisfyingly full of tall stacks of plates, bowls, and the refrigerator dishes I collect and use (food keeps better in these old-fashioned containers than it does in plastic).

The electricians have been here this week as well–only painters and carpenters were missing, though they would have been welcome too! They replaced a bad pull chain over the kitchen sink, as well as various outlets that had been missed on prior visits. Best of all, they took care of a scary-looking (and live, I found out) hank of wiring and electrical tape at the back of one of my kitchen cabinets. I think it’s all that’s left of a former wall oven. The young electrician expertly (and impressively–I’ve seen experienced electricians make a mess of similar jobs) sawed a small hole in the back of the cabinet, recessed the wiring in a box, and covered the whole thing with a plate. A small thing, but quite gratifying to have something annoying so well addressed.

I also went and bought additional clear shoe boxes this week, as somehow I’d managed to accumulate more shoes than I had boxes. All are now properly housed. I also brought home another mini filing cabinet, twin to the one I already have, for those filing categories it couldn’t accommodate. I’m labeling the drawers as I remember missing categories. I also used my discount card (the large women’s shelters here raise funds in the fall by selling discount cards that can be used at many retailers for 10 days) to buy the new skillet I’ve been needing–Le Creuset this time as I have other pieces from them I love–and some Equal Exchange fair-trade coffee to give at Christmas.

I replaced batteries in two clocks that were running slow (bad feng shui, I know) with new lithium ones that should last for years. And my plumber replaced the curved shower curtain rod that came with the house, which had bent, with a new one fashioned from thick copper piping–very industrial chic. I couldn’t rest till I went out and bought a new fabric shower curtain liner to go with it. The plumbers also made an impromptu improvement to the flooring in the laundry room, which I truly appreciated.

The dishwasher being installed provided me with the opportunity to pull everything out from the kitchen sink cabinets, which I tend to do only when the kitchen plumbing needs attention. I cleaned, culled, and organized there, and also cleaned the dishwasher enclosure, which I suppose hadn’t seen the light of day in 32 years. Completing these and other cleaning tasks, I didn’t use quite every cleaning rag in my arsenal, but I did come close.

My new dishwasher, with its solid metal door and superior insulation, is exponentially quieter than the old one, and with its Energy Star rating, probably equally more energy-efficient. Interestingly, though, my old dishwasher cleaned just as well. While I generally like to keep my home relatively low-tech (no TV, no stereo, etc.), dishwashers will always be beautiful and essential technology to me.

Now that I’ve cleared the decks, and am well on my way to getting my house in order, I can’t wait to see what’s next.

Patience rewarded

Kelvinator restored main

This purchase could be considered proof positive of my alleged antiques fetish. To me, though, it is a symbol of patience rewarded.

I ordered my then-to-be-restored 1948 Kelvinator from Antique Appliances in January 2013; the “6-8 weeks” of restoration work was scheduled to begin in December of last year. At the end of this past June, I learned that the custom color painting had been completed (matched to a piece of vintage pottery I’d sent), but my refrigerator was still in pieces–not yet reassembled. In early August, I was notified that the restoration was finally complete! I could hardly believe my ears. The picture above is one of the ones I was sent at that time, taken in the shop with the chrome trim on the feet not yet replaced.

This past week (September, but who’s counting?), the refrigerator was finally delivered, plugged in, and stood in my kitchen doing the job it was hired for.

Kelvinator logo

Interestingly, response to the project has split along gender lines. In my unscientific sample, men have a lot of respect for the restoration, pronouncing it “really cool.” I learned from them that this refrigerator is basically a stationary vintage car (check out all the chrome!) that keeps stuff cold. Women–unless they are also old-house people–tend to be considerably less voluble. I think they probably want to say I’m crazy and should have gone to Home Depot, but are too polite. Some allow that Grandma had one like that. Others question what I’ll do if something goes wrong. (I have kept my former refrigerator as a backup, and 13+ years as an old house owner have taught me how to find people who can fix things the old-fashioned way.) They look at me in disbelief when I explain that many of the refrigerators of this age that have survived still run, and on a very simple mechanism. (“Built to last” is a concept most people have forgotten.) Refrigerators manufactured today have an average life expectancy of 14 years, and this one has got that beat. (Hey, it’s even got 20 years on me.)

Everyone wants to know what I’m doing about ice! Clearly it’s not being delivered straight to the cup through the front of this refrigerator. The answer is that I don’t really like ice, and only have it in my drinks when I’m at restaurants. I keep an ice tray in my chest freezer, and use it to clean my DisposAll when I don’t have any lemons or limes in the house. So–no ice problem, and no need for the chilly metal ice trays of my early childhood.

Kelvinator restored open

It would definitely have been possible to match restored refrigeration exactly to the original 1920s period of my house. But I’m not a purist, and to me, the Deco-influenced refrigerators and stoves of the late 1940s and early 1950s look just the way appliances should–and far more beautiful than any modern expanse of stainless steel and plastic. But I am most charmed, as a collector of vintage glass, by this refrigerator’s virtually pristine interior. Ridged glass shelves (the ridges are on the underside), the shadow lettering I remember seeing as a child, Deco ridges and stepped effects.

Kelvinator inside before

The restorers did a great job. I was probably most impressed by something not shown in these “after” pictures. There’s a defrosting drain at the center of the base of the freezer, and below that another piece, a narrow, oblong plastic defrosting cup with a stepped exterior. In the picture above, you can see it had quite a large hole in it. Looking at the outside of it now, you can’t tell it was ever repaired. Only inside is there any evidence of the restoration. The person who worked on it did an absolutely beautiful job–one I waited almost two years to see. I can’t say I enjoyed the wait, but I do appreciate the results.

I foresaw when I bought my house–a 1927 English-cottage-style bungalow–that I would need a whole new level of patience, and promised myself I’d have it. It has indeed been absolutely necessary, and not just for awaiting this refrigerator with forbearance.

I grew up in a house of about the same age, and I don’t remember any major inconveniences occurring. Probably in the 1970s, a 1920s house just wasn’t old enough yet for major systems to fail. In my house, I’ve been without hot water for a total of three weeks, first while having the hot water heater replaced, dealing with minor water damage (the old heater was sitting directly on the floor with no pan or drainage whatsoever), and bringing it up to code, and then replacing my gas line and bringing the entire house’s gas system up to code. (It took me several additional years to get the gas company to finally identify and fix the gas leak in the alley behind my house, which I’m sure was the reason I could smell natural gas in the first place.) The three weeks provided ample Little House on the Prairie moments as I boiled water for washing dishes and other household tasks.

I’m washing dishes by hand once again as just a few days before my refrigerator was delivered, my valiant 1982 dishwasher decisively retired. It had been groaning as it worked lately, and so I was planning to replace it in the next few months. The time to do that, however, is clearly now.

I find the refrigerator has raised the aesthetic bar for appliances at my house. I found a vintage-look brand, Big Chill, that I think will blend well. They offer a custom color palette, so I’ll be able to get a close match. And the nearly two-year wait for my refrigerator should help put the approximately five-week lead time in perspective–lightning-fast by comparison! Just another opportunity to exercise my old-house patience … and eventually, have it rewarded.

1948 Kelvinator before

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