The Things We Carry

I spent much of spring break at my mom’s house in Jacksonville, cleaning out two large storage closets, aka The Twin Pits of Decluttering Despair. They were the final frontiers in the massive undertaking that has been clearing out my childhood home. And while I am relieved to have pushed through to this point, I am also overwhelmed with sadness at the wasted potential I saw as I dug through stacks of paper and boxes.

20641065391_24d4f2bcaf_z

(Behind that door: more stuff.)

My mother almost certainly suffers from a mild hoarding disorder. Unlike many hoarders, she does not shop, and does not Dumpster dive, and generally isn’t acquisitive. However, once items enter her house, they never leave. I started cleaning while she was in the hospital the first time, back in May of 2015. I discovered newspapers dating back to 2009 stacked on the kitchen table, a decade’s worth of telephone books, and every bank statement she’d ever received (including canceled checks). I discovered six closets packed full of clothes, in sizes ranging from 14 to 22, in decades ranging from 1980s to today. But she only ever wore the same three pairs of pants and five shirts – which were draped on chairs in her bedroom.

33172651100_35b7949141_z

When my brother and I lived at home, my parents kept things reasonably neat. I left home in 2002. My father died in 2003, which was also the year my brother graduated college and moved out. Our house went from being comfortably full to achingly empty in the space of one year, and I have a suspicion that my mother’s hoarding ramped up as she tried to fill the void in her heart.

The process of sorting and purging and organizing has been, quite frankly, depressing. So much of the clutter is just redundant waste. My mom had dozens and dozens of towels, most of them monogrammed. But the towels, and the monograms, belonged to long-dead family members – my mother’s mother (died 2008) and my mother’s aunt (died 1986). My mother has just a few pictures of her aunt, but 15 of her towels. Why? Why did she feel it was her obligation to carry the dead woman’s textiles? Similarly, she had sheets for full and queen beds, despite not owning beds in either of those sizes. I used the sheets and towels as packing materials, and STILL sent an entire vanload to Goodwill.

Some of the things I’ve had to get rid of were amusing, like the meat slicer my parents received as a wedding gift. It was still in the box. They also had a case of eight track tapes. Neil Diamond. AW YISS.

32712647004_1bdfc43886_z

I was sad about the items she never allowed herself to enjoy. I threw out pounds of food gifts she’d never opened – jams and cookies and chutneys and preserves. She raved about her friend’s homemade chocolate sauce, a jar of which she received for Christmas every year. There were twelve jars in her fridge. Only one of them was open.

I found landscape plans for the property which had been drawn up for the previous owners. A dresser drawer was filled with old film reels from someone’s world travels. When I asked mom about them, she told me she found them in the house when they moved in. So she kept them. Because of course.

At the back of the large closet, I found three cardboard moving boxes that I’m pretty sure hadn’t been opened since my parents moved into the house in 1983. One of them contained baby shower gifts from 1979, when I was born – beautiful embroidered collars, a sterling cup, hand-knitted blankets, a magic hanky. Each was still in a gift box, wrapped in tissue, with the cards attached. These made me inexplicably angry – not only did she NOT use them when I was a baby, she didn’t even tell me they existed so that I could use them for my own babies. They just took up space in her closet, and her life, for no purpose whatsoever. It’s maddening. I know this is part of a real psychological problem, but it’s hard not to be frustrated.

Most upsetting are things that she’ll never be able to tell me about – photographs of vacations she can’t remember, objects that were carefully packaged and preserved, but now she doesn’t know why or when. If we’re all stories in the end, hers is unraveling.

My biggest challenge was resisting the impulse to keep everything that might be meaningful, that might be useful. My mother kept things that other people found beautiful and useful. She kept things because people told her she should. She kept things because people told her they were valuable. In time, those things began to bury her, and now it is my responsibility to catalog them, understand them…. and decide for myself what to let go. In this endeavor, help me to not be my mother’s daughter.

Save

Leave a comment

Filed under Home, Projects, Mom

Three Quick Updates

None of these is dramatic enough to merit its own post, but here is the list of the latest home improvement projects we’ve undertaken.

In the living room, we removed all of the extraneous window foolishness, including roller shades, brackets for blinds, and wooden valances. Then Jason painted the room (Ruskin Room Green, by Sherwin Williams) to cover the drywall patches. The previous color was a tan..ish?

Before:

32643088450_ae140fcbdd_b

After:

33323957826_6285277907_b

Yeay for more light! And fewer patches!

33323958796_d234704ab6_b

In the foyer, I used my newly-acquired picture matting skills to re-mat a set of pictures of my dad.

Before:

32021832822_480e093f41_z

After:

33222432642_5066a46d78_z

Spot the upgrade!

And finally, in our bedroom, I recovered a bench. The previous fabric was in good shape, but I didn’t like it, and it didn’t go with the room. I chose an oversized buffalo check in indigo.

Before:

32983483206_db4426a123_z

After:

33377699516_8099f50756_z

Inch by inch, we’re making this home our own.

Leave a comment

Filed under Home, Projects

Skillz: Picture Framing

We inherited most of the furniture and art in our house, which means that it’s all old and sentimental. Actually, that could be said of our house itself. Hm.

Anyhoo, we have a lot of framed art that is starting to show its age. Among these are four watercolors of the beach painted by Jacksonville artist Eula Bull. Her daughter was friends with my mom, and Ms. Bull gave my mother the watercolors in the late 1960s or early 1970s. They hung in the hall near my bedroom in my childhood home. When we moved them here, I hung them in our bedroom. They helped with the serene feel and watercolor palette I was hoping to cultivate. (<— That statement was 90% fancier than reality.)

The pictures were soothing, the frames were fine, but the mats were looking a little decrepit.

32936802842_231eef61ff_z

At first I considered caving to the barrage of Framebridge ads and having the pieces re-framed in a quasi-professional manner. But a simple frame and mat was estimated to cost $70, times four, and I am not in the mood to pay $280 to change the mats on free watercolors.

Many, many Pinterest posts encourage a DIY enthusiast to “pick up frames at Goodwill” for re-purposing. But most of these projects turn the frame into something else – a tray, or a chalkboard thingy, or a photo display. I could not find a tutorial on re-using a picture frame….as a picture frame.

I decided to roll up my sleeves and take a crack at it. WITHOUT A PINTEREST TUTORIAL. I know.

Here’s my arsenal of re-framing tools:

32277682163_2fc980f721_z

Self-healing mat & ruler, pliers, glass cleaner, razor knife, pencil, and tape.

First I unwound the hanging wire from one side of the frame, and laid it to the side.

32710795600_732425d27e_z

Next, I cut away the paper backing on the frame. Using a razor knife, I (carefully!) slashed the paper along the edges and pulled it away. This was the only part of the frame I did not re-use.

32247191064_0af6753794_z

This was underneath. It’s a layer of cardboard held in place by little metal teeth. I pulled the cardboard out next.

32936788262_029e08e46f_z

Under that was a piece of mat board, the watercolor, and two more mat boards. I removed each layer.

32277569343_21551aba4c_z

To get the glass out, I had to remove the little metal teeth with pliers. It turned out they were diamond-shaped pieces of metal that were wedged into the wood frame. I’m sure they have a fancy name, but I shall continue to call them teeth. I took out the teeth on the top and sides of the frame, and put them aside.

32277567763_09e36fe844_z

I pulled the glass out and cleaned it. Then I got to work on the new mat.

I purchased a 32″ x 40″ piece of off-white mat board for $8.00. NATURALLY, the mats I needed were 16.5″ x 20.5″, which means instead of getting four mats out of one board, I could only get two. Grrrr.

Using the old mat as a template, I cut out my pieces. Then I measured the inside of the old inner (blue) mat to get the opening, which was 10.5″ x 14.5″. I marked the lines on the back of the new mat, using my fancy ruler and a pencil, then used the razor knife to slowly cut the mat board. Straight lines are stressful! It took me three passes to get through the mat board.

32965657711_01bff4e095_z

Moment of truth: I put the old mat on top of the new one, to show how dingy it had gotten over the last 50 years. Bear in mind that the new mat is not white, but cream-colored! Yikes!

32247048914_28c6098efd_z

With the new mat cut, it was time for re-assembly.

First the sparkly clean glass went in.

33050859616_e87bccacf9_z

Next, I taped the watercolor to the back of the new mat board and put that in.

32247021774_2afd96619b_z

Then the cardboard, to make sure everything was secure.

32247015834_b40f7783c8_z

I couldn’t get a picture of the next step,  because it required two hands, but I re-inserted some of the metal teeth along the sides and top. Last, I re-strung the wire and hung it back on the wall.

32936802942_1c95208432_z

A watercolor with the original mat is on top; mine is on the bottom. So much fresher! And cleaner-looking!

32277699683_0a28b9b2de_z

I re-matted a second picture the following day, and (no surprise here) the process took about half the time.

It will cost me $16.00 and a couple of hours to re-do all four, and I’ll have plenty of extra mat board to frame (or re-frame) other art. VICTORY IN OUR TIME.

 

 

 

 

 

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

February highlights

February 1: I wrote an obituary for someone I didn’t know well. My previous obit-writing experience was limited to my father, but I felt I did a decent job.

February 3: We were having some carpentry done in the house, so I elected to shower at the gym after I worked out. While enjoying the unlimited hot water, I realized that if I consistently showered at the gym, I would save money on utilities and my shower would stay cleaner, longer. On the downside, people might see me naked – but when one has four children running around, the likelihood of that is never less than 15%.

February 4ish: We painted the upstairs hall, using the last of the five-gallon bucket of Sherwin Williams’ Steamed Milk (left over from the foyer). Conquering drywall patches, one room at a time!

February 18: I have used the Walmart grocery app three times. The first time was an exceedingly pleasant and convenient experience. The second time, one if my items was missing. The store was very nice about the omission and gave me the item with no hassle (except that I had to go back for it). The third time was a total bust. Fifteen minutes after my scheduled pickup time, the order was still “processing.” I continued to check over the next few hours, and then I received an e-mail that my order had been canceled without further explanation. I’ll give them one more chance before breaking up with them for good, but they’re on thin ice.

February 25: We completed a project! We were not fans of the fans on the front porch – they were remote-controlled, so naturally they didn’t work. The light kits were non-responsive, and the fans themselves would only operate on TORNADO. So we replaced all three with very simple fans that better fit the style of the house.

Before:

32334243893_d956500138_z

After:

33022529091_618fdeeda9_z

 

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Reading Materials: February 2017

8. My Story: 50 Years in the Shadow of the Near Great, R. A. Gray (Library)

R.A. Gray was Florida’s Secretary of State for over 30 years, from 1930 to 1961. In 1928, he and his wife, Grace, built the house in which we now live. He wrote at least three books, and I’ve decided to read them all this year (and obtain my own copies if I can find them!). My Story is a fairly straightforward account of Mr. Gray’s life from his birth in 1882 until 1958, when this book was published. His father was a poor Methodist minister, and Gray’s descriptions of his early life in rural north Florida remind me how very wild-wild-west this area was until well into the 20th century. There’s not much in the book about the house itself, but Gray’s life was very interesting, and his prose was highly readable. I did find a few photographs, interior and exterior, of our house in its original location:

32746189125_3ccaf3234d_b

I tried to re-create this picture, but was somewhat thwarted by the proximity of the house to our neighbor’s fence, and the large number of trees and bushes in the way:

32705390676_eedc40d5ac_b

You get the idea.

9. Prudence (The Custard Protocol #1), Gail Carringer. (Library loan) I picked this book up at the library because it looked intriguing – Plucky British aristocrats! Dirigibles! Tea! India! – but alas. As I read it, I felt I was missing some crucial background information on the characters, and a bit of research suggests I was. The author previously penned a five-book series called The Parasol Protectorate, and the main character of that series is the mother of the main character in this one. I found the writing to be decently good, but overly cute in places. For example, I did not need a description of every outfit worn by the characters, or constant reminders that such-and-such behavior is scandalous. We get it. It’s Victorian England. I think I would probably give the other series a try before reading further in this one.

10. The False Prince, Jennifer Nielsen. (Middle School book club) This book was outstanding. Not “outstanding for a middle school book” but a genuinely good read. Highly recommended.

11. An Abundance of Katherines, John Green. (borrowed) Another solidly good book from John Green, although the sheer number of footnotes was giving me David Foster Wallace tingles. No surprises here, just a thoughtful and well-told story.

2017 Totals
Fiction: 8
Non-Fiction: 3

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

A Tale of Two Closets

For an old house, our second floor bedrooms have enormous closets. Two of the bedrooms have two closets apiece – but alas, neither of these is the master bedroom. Tyler, a 13-year-old boy who has decided that “closet” is code for “floor,” obviously does not need two closets, and it just so happened that one of his closets backed up on the master bedroom.

32785889236_7e82d80c8b_z

The plan was simple: hire a carpenter to remove the entire door assembly from Tyler’s side of the closet, and move it around to the master bedroom side, giving Jason and me separate closets (which would lead to increased marital bliss, and eventually our own space program).

Step 1: Cut a hole in the box

32622612461_4402d24cbd_z

At this point, we told Tyler we’d changed our minds and were going to leave this as a pass-through into his room. Much horrified gibbering commenced.

Please note the boxes on Tyler’s desk. Despite living in the house for six months, he has not fully unpacked. This drives me insane. To be fair, we have a couple of boxes of “things we will get around to sorting out eventually,” but we had to unpack 90% of the house, and he was only responsible for his own stuff.

Anyway.

Step 2: Move your junk from one side of the box to the other.

There was a slight snag in the proceedings. In Tyler’s room, the door was a left-hand outswing – meaning the hinges were on the left and the door swung out into the room. In our room, it would need to be a right-hand outswing, which means the carpenter had to flip the door inside-out. Or something. I didn’t watch.

31903097054_b1f02132fd_z

So that’s done. And by “done” I mean “except for puttying, sanding, and painting….and also putting rods and shelves inside.”

Basically, done.

This was a somewhat nerve-wracking project for me. I want to be respectful of our house’s history and the original intent of the architect, but I also want it to function for our family. Adding the gas lamps and painting the walls didn’t change the house in a meaningful way. This did. I’m very happy with the result, and I hope the ghosts of the previous owners are, too.

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Home, Projects

Hack This Recipe: Chicken & Wild Rice Casserole

I love to cook. Nothing makes me happier than spending time in the kitchen with a glass of wine and a Cook’s Illustrated recipe, dirtying every one of my pans in the pursuit of a good meal.

Most of the time, however, I do not have the time or energy to meticulously craft a meal for our party of seven, so I “dumb down” recipes for large-family use. It occurred to me that this might be useful for other families as well.

I love a good chicken and wild rice casserole, but I’d never made one myself until this week. After reviewing several options, I decided to use this one, from Better Homes & Gardens, as my starting point.

First step: Double that action. “Serves 4” sometimes means “serves 4 skinny people as a side dish.” Plus, leftovers are glorious.

31772012234_201b0e649b_z

Second step: Halve the meat. (Or, since we just doubled the recipe, keep the meat the same.) Add a vegetable to make up for it – in this case, mushrooms and carrots.

Now let’s look at the ingredients! I’ve mentioned before that I don’t use single stalks of celery, so that’s right out. I also try not to use “cream of” soups, because I have very limited pantry space and making your own is easy. In the summer I grow basil, but in the winter I’m not paying $4 for a handful of basil so I can use 2 TB of it. Dried basil it is. And while I sometimes cook a big batch of chicken to have on hand for recipes, I didn’t this week, so I needed to factor in the chicken cooking time.

31803264213_be2899fb2a_z

Next, the method. If I cooked chicken, made cream of chicken soup, and followed the recipe, that’s four pans. I looked for ways to consolidate. I was kind of SOL on the rice, but reasoned that it could do its thing while I was cooking everything else. I decided to cook the chicken, then saute the vegetables, then make the soup, then assemble per the original recipe.

Here’s what I ended up with:

32236353060_1a7a525d00_z

Weeknight Chicken & Wild Rice Casserole

Serves 8

2 6oz. packages long grain and wild rice mix
2 TB olive oil
1 chicken breast, sliced in half (butterflied)
Salt and Pepper
4 TB butter
1 large onion, chopped
8 oz. sliced mushrooms
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 tsp. minced garlic
Celery salt (about 1/2 tsp.)
4 TB flour
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup milk
2/3 cup white wine
1 cup sour cream
1 tsp. dried basil
1 cup Parmesan cheese (grated or shredded)

Preheat oven to 350.

Prepare rice mix according to package directions.

Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper and cook about 4 minutes a side, or until cooked through. Remove to plate. Add the butter to the pan, then the onion, mushrooms, carrots, garlic, and celery salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened, about 8 minutes. Add flour, stirring until  totally incorporated into the vegetable mix. Add chicken broth, milk, and wine to skillet, stirring until mixture is thickened and bubbly. Turn off heat, add sour cream and basil. Chop chicken, add to pan. When rice is finished cooking, add that to the pan as well. Adjust seasonings. Transfer mixture to a casserole dish and top with Parmesan. Bake at 350 until bubbly, about 20 minutes. This recipe can be prepared in advance – adjust cooking time accordingly.

Leave a comment

Filed under Food, Home