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No One Is Coming to Save Us

Florida is a weird, weird place. I was born and raised here, and have spent 34 of the last 37 hurricane seasons here. I still have the capacity for astonishment about my home state – each year we seem to find new ways to delight and/or horrify.

Hurricanes are a weird, weird weather phenomenon. Every time I’ve experienced one, I think about how unexpected and awful they must have been for our pre-radar ancestors. The day before a hurricane is almost always beautiful. And then it begins to rain. And it just gets worse and worse and windier and windier. There’s no thunder, no lightning, just the noise of the wind as it screams around the house and through the trees.

It makes a strange sort of sense that hurricanes and Florida go hand-in-hand.

Yesterday was gorgeous. We sat on our porch in the cool evening and watched the kids play soccer in the front yard.

Around lunchtime today, the outer bands of Hurricane Irma began to make their way across the panhandle, even though the hurricane hadn’t made landfall yet. Florida is a huge state, but this is a huge storm. It will get worse and worse, and windier and windier, and then it will be over.

And we will pick up the pieces. We always do.

After Katrina, the city of New Orleans lost over 400,000 residents. By contrast, Miami-Dade County only lost a net of 36,000 residents in 1992 when Hurricane Andrew steamrolled it. We get knocked down again and again, but we just can’t quit our state. Whether this is foolish or fearless, I can’t say.

Floridians seem to share a grim fatalism about our situation. We gather our supplies, make darkly funny jokes with our neighbors, churn out meme after meme, and have hurricane parties. We know how this works.

We’re not morons. (Well, most of us.) We know that these storms are dangerous, and we prepare as best we can. But part of us knows that there’s only so much you can do.

You can’t actually be ready for anything.

Irma is taking a leisurely stroll up the west coast of Florida, so we won’t see the whites of her eye until tomorrow. In 24 hours, the worst should be over.

See you on the flip side.

 

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A Study in Pink

Our house is basically a side-hall farmhouse, but it has a fourth room downstairs that defies logic at every turn. We’ve been befuddled by it since we bought the house, and have finally made some progress in taming it. It’s the green area below:

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Originally, I believe this room was R.A. Gray’s study, as he mentions having a study at home several times in his autobiography, and there’s really no other conceivable purpose for it. This room is 10′ x 13′, and originally opened onto a small porch, but a previous owner enclosed the porch part to make a nursery for his daughter (more on that in a moment).

When we moved in, Hollyn chose this space for her bedroom – partly because she’ll be moving out in two years, and partly because she’d have her own bathroom….ish.

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This is the back wall of the room. The door to the right leads to a half bathroom with the World’s Most Ludicrous Toilet. There is a mere six inch clearance between the rim of the toilet and the toilet paper holder, which means that if you need to use it, you’ll probably want to sit side-saddle. The door to the left formerly led to a closet, and is now a shower. Just. A. Shower.

That was a choice, people.

The first thing we did was rip out that carpet, which had definitely seen better days. We were delighted to find beautiful hardwoods underneath…. but there was a huge patch by the half bath, and no flooring under the enclosed porch part.

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Dagnabbit.

We replaced the carpet with one-inch hexagonal tiles, which fit the time period in which the house was built. We were inspired by all the old hex tile floors we see in Thomasville, Georgia and New Orleans.

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Next we swapped out the old fan for one that operated. Marvelous!

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Then we painted the main part of the room. Hollyn asked for a neutral color, so we went with our old friend Steamed Milk.

Finally it was time to turn our attention to the most frustrating part of the room, which I will call the nook. Remember when I talked about the enclosed porch space that became a nursery? This is it. Hollyn has her bed at one end of the nook and her closet space at the other.

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When I get stressed I find it helpful to make a list. I made a list.

  1. Paint the walls, which were pink.
  2. Paint the trim, which was also pink.
  3. Replace the light fixtures, which were… not good.
  4. Replace the roller shade, which was busted, yo.
  5. Cover cased opening for privacy.

We dug in. As I pointed out above, the doorway wall in the nook is the same cedar-shake siding that is on the rest of the exterior of the house – and it’s a pain in the buns to paint. But you know what else is a pain in the buns to paint? Beadboard. Sweet Fancy Moses. I had to use an artist’s brush to keep the beads clear of paint glops. Both the walls and the trim required three coats of paint. I listened to many hours of podcasts in that nook.

We left the ceiling blue. It’s a nod to the Southern tradition of painting the underside of one’s porch ceiling blue, but honestly I was just d-o-n-e painting.

The light fixtures were an easy swap. They’re on dimmer switches for Maximum Drama.

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Originally, we wanted to hang some salvaged French Doors on barn tracks over the cased opening. But they would have hung at a very awkward height – and not actually done a whole lot for privacy. Instead, I hemmed the curtains from the master bedroom at our old house and hung them on a large dowel rod.

To add visual interest to this sea of cream, I stained the dowel rod dark, and chose a tatami style wooden window shade.

Here’s the nook after:

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Hollyn’s room looks much more pulled-together. All that’s left is to paint her dresser – she’s selected a deep teal – and add more colorful art to the walls.

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Since this room contains the only downstairs bathroom, it gets frequent traffic. But now it’s ready for company!

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Story Time

I was fortunate to be selected again for the August Story Slam at the Midtown Reader, our adorable independent bookstore. The theme was “heat,” and here is my interpretation of it:

Goddamn.” Jolene and her elderly car rolled into the parking spot beside her mobile home with a sigh. She pushed the car door open, listening to the metallic groaning that set some damn dog barking his damn head off.

Every. Damn. Night.

“SHUTTUP!” she yelled, slamming the door, then dropped her voice to a mutter. “I swear to God I’m gonna kill that dog.”

Jolene closed her eyes and inhaled the Friday night trailer park smell – cigarettes and beer and fried food and an electric smell that she believed was ozone from dozens of wide-screen TVs. “Why anyone needs a damn TV that big, I surely don’t know. Put a $2000 television in a $1500 trailer, I swear. Trash.”

Jolene worked the evening shift at the Waffle House – the one by the interstate, she was always quick to clarify, the nice one.  She got off around 8, counted her tip money, and drove home. Once in the safety of her driveway, she began her post-work routine. She removed her hair net and tossed it in a trash barrel by the rusty picnic table. Jolene ordered her hair nets by the case from Amazon. She thought this made her a savvy hair net consumer. The other girls at work bought their nets at the Wal-Mart a couple of towns over. Waste of damn money, she thought. I get 100 for eight dollars.

She pulled herself up the wooden stairs of her mobile home and locked the door behind her, then set the chain. At last, she could breathe.

Jolene lit a cigarette and removed her work uniform, which was eternally slightly greasy. She inhaled deeply, letting the smoke burn away the myriad petty annoyances that comprised a shift at the Waffle House. She considered showering, but instead her feet took her to the liquor cabinet.

They knew the routine.

Jolene used to drink a bourbon and coke when she came home from work, until she realized that the caffeine made her as jumpy as a damn flea. Now she drinks two fingers of bourbon with exactly five ice cubes. She thought this made her a savvy bourbon consumer. Skip the damn middle man, she thought.

The bourbon, like the cigarette, slowly melted the icy stone of discontent that formed in her chest during the day. It warmed her back, her shoulders, the heat releasing muscles tensed out of habit. Bourbon: the massage therapist of the lower classes, Jolene thought approvingly. I oughtta write that down.

The first drink was gone quicker than she realized, and she got up to pour another. Most Friday nights she didn’t feel like eating –she’d been around food all day, and besides, the bourbon worked better on an empty stomach. Skip the damn middle man, she thought. Didn’t I just say that?

Jolene leaned back into the plaid couch cushions and put her feet on the coffee table, which was dinged all to hell but suited her just fine. She’d bought it with her first paycheck from the Waffle House. I’ll be damned, that was ten years ago. Ten years of grease and hair nets and aggravation and this same damn routine, every damn night. Ten years of cigarettes and skipping dinner and muttering about the neighbor’s dog.

Ten years.

I could use a splash more. No ice this time.

The bourbon pulled her like a warm amber river, away from the trailer, away from the Waffle House. Its heat spread through her empty stomach, reaching for her fingertips. She was loose, made of honey, golden. Now, with the heat filling her ears, she could sleep.

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Happy House-iversary!

One year ago today, we bought ourselves a sweet little fixer-upper.

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Snooort.

It feels like we’ve lived here forever, pouring our blood, sweat, and dollars into this home – but also our love, energy, and attention. Cosmic balance!

I asked Jason last night:  at what point we will have sunk more money into the house than we will ever recoup? For example, if the value of the house is X and the purchase price was Y, is X minus Y our renovation budget? We’re not interested in selling any time soon, but we also recognize that a big four bedroom house (with an upstairs master suite) may not meet our needs for the rest of our lives.

I don’t think there’s a good answer. We got an amazing deal on the house, and we’ve paid for all the renovations in cash. Even if we used the formula above, where list price minus asking price equals renovation budget, we’ve only spent half that amount. In that sense, I feel good about the choices we’ve made so far. And, with any luck, the value of the house will continue to increase over time, which means the reno budget is always usually expanding.

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How do I love thee, house? Let me count the ways:

  1. I love that this house was designed for this particular climate. It has deep porches and an airy crawlspace, which makes the house relatively easy to cool in the summer.
  2. I love, love, love the amount of natural light we get. I frequently forget to turn on the lights when I’m cooking in the kitchen because the windows provide so much illumination.
  3. I love that we were able to move my mom over here; that our guest house has been the perfect accommodation for her. It’s separate but close, and she feels safe there.
  4. I love that we will never, ever, ever run out of projects. Ever.

I don’t miss much about our previous house, but I do miss having alternate “living” spaces. Previously, we had a formal living room, a family room, AND a sun room. Here we have a living room. We use the porch as a second living space, but it would be nice to have an indoor, TV-free area.

We’d planned to take the first year to complete the big-ticket, necessary renovations, and by and large we’ve done that. I think we both hoped to be done painting by now, but no such luck. We just started painting Hollyn’s bedroom a couple of days ago, and the rest of the children’s rooms need addressing.

Next up, we’ll tackle projects that are not strictly necessary, but which will increase our happiness. Remodeling the kitchen is high on our list, as is adding a sound-dampening fence along the Thomasville Road side of the house. Jason would like to add a plunge pool, and as the summer drags on, I’m warming up to the idea.

We are not on a television show, so we’re not on any kind of deadline. I’m comfortable living in an unfinished house, as long as each improvement we make is thoughtful. If it takes us another year to get the house “done” (or rather, “done enough” – a house this old is never done!) I’ll be happy.

I am happy. I’ve loved our first year here.

 

 

 

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The Sweet Smell of…Success!

A couple of months ago, I entered the Midtown Reader’s monthly Story Slam, but ALAS my tale was not chosen. I entered again in June, and my story was selected! Along with three other writers, I read my story (out loud! to strangers!) last Thursday night, and then sat through a Q&A with the audience. It was a ton of fun and I hope to do it again.

Here’s the story I submitted:

I am sitting on the floor outside my mother’s bathroom, a place I have occupied every Sunday evening since I was seven years old, grinding my teeth. Shortly after my dad had just about enough of my mother, she instituted “Sunday Night Spa,” which mostly involved putting on face masks, or playing with her makeup, or French braiding each other’s hair. When I was seven, this was a huge treat. Now that I’m sixteen, not so much. My mother will not allow me to make plans that conflict with Sunday Night Spa, and since I do not share my mother’s overriding interest in her own face, I sit outside the bathroom door while she dyes her hair or plucks her eyebrows or whatever. This is her idea of a generous compromise. Some nights she spends hours watching makeup videos on YouTube while I pray for an asteroid to hit the house. She can tell you all about sheet masks, but can’t identify which political party the President belongs to. Did you know you can contour your toes?, she’ll ask. God, her brows look amazing. 

The soundtrack for these Sunday evenings – and every other evening, for that matter – is a running monologue detailing my mother’s misery and bitterness at finding herself divorced. But in the last few years, the target of her ire has shifted from my father to me. When I finally hit puberty, my head transformed. Suddenly, I looked like my dad in a wig. His nose sprouted from the middle of my face, and my hair became thick, wavy, and unruly. My mother saw this as a calculated affront, like I made my face look this way for the sole purpose of tormenting her.

That’s when my mom started knifing me verbally. “You poor thing,” she’d say, “you got your father’s ugly nose.” Or “Why don’t you let me straighten your hair? It could be pretty like mine.” She offered to get me a plastic surgery when I turn 18 in a couple of years, and got very upset when I declined. The more she insults my father, the prouder I am to look like a dude in a wig. This drives her insane. I mean, more insane. My dad is just a regular guy, and I’m pretty sure the amount of time he thinks about my mother or their marriage is zero. He’s moved on in the last ten years. This also drives her insane. She’s marooned in the past – for her, every day is the day he left. The anger is always that fresh.

Even now, through the bathroom door, she’s offering to get me the same color hair dye so we can match. Remember when we used to wear matching outfits?, she asks. Remember when you loved me best? Remember when Daddy ruined the life we had planned?

She knows that I hate Sunday nights.

She does not know that I have substituted her hair color base for Nair hair remover.

It turns out that I have also had enough of my mother. I’ve had enough of being her therapist, her substitute spouse, her best friend. Over the last few weeks, I have been squirreling away my most prized possessions in my car. I’m 16, so they fit nicely under the piles of clothes and water bottles and books.

I’m going to my dad’s, and I’m not coming back.

In the bathroom, the timer goes off, and my mother turns on the shower. My heart rate picks up speed, my palms slick.

I hear the sharp breath before a scream.

I walk out.

 

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A Tale of Two Closets, Part Deux

Way back in February, we re-arranged one of the closets upstairs so that it faced the master bedroom instead of Tyler’s room. During that process, we removed all the hardware from the inside of the closet, so for the last four months the space has been a large empty box. Super useful.

I asked the carpenter to give us an estimate on building out the inside of the closet. He quoted us a price of SEVENTEEN HUNDRED DOLLARS, which horrified me. I was determined to save money by building out the closet ourselves.

I followed some good advice and started by looking at my actual closet needs. (Shocking, I know.) I have quite a few long garments – dresses and a winter coat and maxi skirts – so I knew I needed a few feet of full-length hanging space. I also wanted shelves – both a high shelf for storage and bookcase-type shelves for shoes. I measured how many linear feet of hanging space I’d need, as well as determined ideal shelf depth based on plastic shoe boxes.

Then I grabbed graph paper and a pencil. The closet is big – 39″ deep by 81″ wide – but it’s right on the line between a reach-in closet and a walk-in closet. I decided to use an L-shaped plan, with full-length hanging on the right, shelves in the middle, and a double rod on the left, perpendicular to the back of the closet. I also wanted an L-shaped shelf above all that – 12″ along the back of the closet and 18″ across the width, to accommodate Rubbermaid containers.

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We patched and painted the inside of the closet box (using leftover white paint), made a cut list, and headed to Home Depot. We saved money by using pine instead of cedar, and using thick dowels from the lumber aisle instead of the closet rods in the storage aisle. I wanted to dress up the shelves a little bit, so I picked up an antique white stain, which gives the boards a whitewashed look.

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The instructions tell you to apply the stain liberally, wait 3-5 minutes, then wipe off the excess, but I got better results when I applied the stain with a rag and wiped it off immediately.

For the adjustable shelves, we chose easy-to-install strips and clips.

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It was about this time that Jason made a terrible discovery. I wanted the upper shelf to be at 6’6″, and therefore the bookcase shelves would also need to be that tall. Jason accidentally cut them at 66 inches, which is (alas) not the same thing at all.

We quickly revised the plan to make the shelves float, leaving 12 inches of clear space underneath. Ultimately, I think I like this configuration better – it’s easier to keep clean and creates a more flexible storage space. We floated the shelves by attaching 1×2 boards to the studs in two locations, and screwing the shelves to the boards.

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(Two notes on the above photo: first, the bottom shelf is not stained, so you can see the difference the stain makes; second, we did choose cedar boards for the ends of the hanging rods, which makes the closet smell nice but doesn’t cost a bajillion dollars.)

And now, a word about caulk.

I’d never used it before, but I am a convert. CAULK ALL THE THINGS. It made the project look at least 76% more finished and professional.

Before: Amateurish Gaps

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After: Smooth Like Butter

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Finally, we added LED rope lights around the inside of the door, to provide light to every inch of the closet. During the re-wire, the electricians added a plug and switch just for this purpose. Bless them.

Here’s a panorama of the closet. Not pictured: me, jumping up and down for joy.

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Right side:

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Left side:

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And the best part? The total project cost under $250.

That’s a discount of 86%. And you KNOW how I feel about discounts.

I knew that having my own closet would be awesome, but I wasn’t prepared for how great this project turned out. Every time I flip on the light in there I get a little giggly.

Tee hee.

 

 

 

 

 

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Inch by Inch

Memorial Day weekend was, to be honest, bittersweet. Judging by my Instagram feed, 90% of my friends were traveling – relaxing at the beach, or attending my fifteenth college Reunion.

Since travel is not really an option for me right now, we instead filled our weekend with projects.

When we moved in, the upstairs hall had one sassy brass-and-glass fixture in it. The electricians added spots for three more lights – one more in the hall and two in the stairwell.

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Because my middle name is Waffle, it has taken me months to decide what kind of fixtures I wanted up there. Four alike? Two and two? One statement light and three backup singers?

Sunday we went to Lowe’s and vowed not to leave without a bleepity bleep solution. I chose option C, one bigger pendant with three less-amazing pendants.

Ta-da!

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Let’s look a little closer, shall we?

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We used vintage bulbs in both fixtures, which are very trendy right now but can be swapped for different bulbs as soon as HGTV tells me they’re outdated.

We borrowed a 24-foot extension ladder to tackle the staircase.

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Gulp. I am more than a little acrophobic, so I leave all ladder work to Jason. Also all electrical work. Basically, I am the ideas person.

It was very hard to get both stair lights in the same shot, but here’s the idea:

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And up close. I love the fact that the fixture doesn’t interfere with the big beautiful window behind it.

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Inch by inch, we’re building a home.

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