The Zen of Sanding Chairs

Summer has finally arrived in the Pacific Northwest, and summer for this teacher means time to tackle those nagging projects. Last week was a productive week, leaving my house in disarray. A not-so-simple picture rearrangement in the dining room became a much needed wall paint touch up. That led the way to finally painting naked, primed trim a rich melted vanilla ice cream shade of white. You can’t paint trim and leave the doors grimy and grungy, so off came the door handles and on went the paint. (Mouse and your cookie, you have nothing on me!)

I have a list, and things are getting checked off. When the heat wave drove me out of my non-air-conditioned house yesterday, I sat in the shade in my front yard and painstakingly sanded down a couple of chairs from a 1930s dining set that once belonged to my grandparents. The set was an antiqued-white addition to my mom’s red 70s kitchen when I was growing up. It then adorned our little 1940-era starter home when my own kids were young. It has mostly been stored for years now, with the exception of a single chair that moves from the computer desk to the piano and back again, over and over.

Being the oblivious person that I am, I have for years overlooked the yellowing polyurethane and the ripped tomato-soup colored vinyl seat. The chair is handy, lightweight, easy to move around in its ossified, porous, dry-wood way. It’s a ninja to the knights of my current cumbersome dining set, its portability helping me to reach those top shelves of my kitchen cabinets or to hang a curtain rod, which is what I was doing recently when my foot got caught in the rip and I went down on my rear end, jarring my neck and rattling some unused portion of my brain that tends to overlook things like ripped seats on vintage chairs.

I added it to my list.

The chairs and I were about to get on intimate terms. I had already painted the one that was in my house, trying a chalk paint formula from memory, circuits of which must have been jarred as well in the fall because the 1:1 ratio I thought I remembered was actually 2:1. So off came the thick, gloppy paint job. Then, so as not to leave its siblings out, because one must always be fair, even to chairs, I pulled the others out of storage and sanded them, too.

This is not a simple, straightforward set. It has a routed scroll pattern on the backs and turned legs with depressions that are either full of antiquing stain or nearly 50 years of the dirt and dust of life. As the sandpaper did its job on the polyurethane, the white my mother had painted over the wood became apparent. I remembered her dismay when she learned that because she had painted bare wood, the set could not be stripped back down to the mahogany. I sanded over the legs and noted the distressing that came from years of feet resting on the stabilizing bar at the bottom. Those feet were our feet as children, and later my own children’s feet. With a quiet meditation I sanded. The legs of the chairs were squeaky, begging for attention, and at the corners they had been mistreated and now had jagged edges. I started thinking how like life this whole process was.20170624_124105

This connecting disconnected things could be a result of the stage I’m in, a kind of grasping-at-straws reflective process. My kids are leaving home and are busy with their own lives. I’ve been thinking a lot about my own life (though my family might choose the phrase dwelling on). I was always happy with my choices, but now as I find myself alone more and more, I am not so sure I’d make the same ones if given another chance. Having my kids? Yes. But the choice to stay at home with them in their early years is exacting a heavy toll on me right now.

With each drag of the sandpaper I pondered this life that has been given to me, all of the small moments woven together to bring me to the shade of the front yard on this miserably hot day, and how my choices and the choices of the people I love that have truly impacted it. Like the chair that had sat, unnoticed in its decline, I thought how much tending my new life really needed, how much stripping away of the old might get to the somewhat ossified, but very useful core, how much sanding down the rough edges was needed to avoid breakage and the  possibility of hurting someone, and how much a new paint job in the form of a renewed focus might bring some life to an otherwise old and tired existence.

I will return to sanding down my old chairs today, and with it my old life, my old thought patterns and expectations. I will clothe my chairs in a beautiful French inspired fabric and paint them with a new and accurate formulation of chalk paint. I will revisit the points of wear that really matter and distress accordingly. Then, when I finally rub the wax into the finished product and buff it to a smooth shine, I hope to come away with an poignant reminder of all that has been and a beautiful testament to all that remains.

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Small Things

Tonight wasn’t the night to be missing one ingredient for dinner. I was tired, and had changed out of my work clothes into my jeans and pro-science political T-shirt so I could pull weeds and wash some dishes. I tried to get Maverick to run my errand, but he was heading off with a friend. Everyone else was gone. It would have to be me.

Since the election, I exist on a reverberating wire of tension. There’s a charged electricity in the air of people just looking for an excuse to tell you what they really think. (Says the girl wearing the pro-science political T-shirt.) I decided to get gas first, and ended up behind a patriotic pick-up that was emblazoned with an American flag all across the tailgate and a Trump make America great again slogan slapped on top of it. I groaned and snapped a picture. I groan a lot anymore, like yesterday when I passed a pickup with two giant American flags fluttering behind it only to come across another one sporting a confederate flag. Just some good ol’ boys. People making statements. (Says the girl wearing the pro-science political T-shirt.) It’s a conservative town. I am the dissenting opinion. 20170602_222224

I decided on the humble bulk foods store over Safeway. I just needed some celery. And maybe an avocado… Oh, and milk! I made my way to the checkout line with the cold jug of milk in my hand. The man in front of me turned and said it was going to be a minute. The people a couple spots ahead of him were having trouble with their SNAP card. I assured him it was okay, that it’s always my line that has the problem. We chatted as we waited. The woman fiddled with the card reader while the checker exuded irritation. The man I was talking to called up ahead for the checker to just charge him for the item and give it to the people. She seemed not to hear. The couple thanked him and assured him it was alright. He paid for their item anyway and mentioned something about paying it forward.

When it was finally his turn, he bantered with the checker, spilling over with friendliness, making light of life and the high cost of groceries. She smiled. I smiled. I wanted to thank him for offering to pay for the groceries of the struggling couple. I wanted to thank him for being so kind, and so normal, and for talking to me as if I weren’t wearing a pro-science political T-shirt in a small conservative town. I was kind of glad I had to run out for one ingredient.

Some ingredients, it turns out, are indispensable.

Share Your World – 5/29/17

Here are my answers to this week’s questions for Cee’s Share Your World:

What is the most famous landmark or building you have ever seen?

The one that comes to mind is the one we can’t forget. Remember the Alamo!

Do you like long vacation or lots of mini-vacations?

That’s a tough question. Lots of mini-vacations satisfy the urge for adventure, yet time and distance become limiting factors when it comes to exploring new places. Long vacations let you travel farther and dig in to the local culture. If I could only choose one, it would grudgingly be quantity over novelty, only because I get restless and need to hit the road after being home for a while.

What is your favorite National or State Park?

Another tough question! We just got back from a trip to Utah’s National Parks, and we were discussing this very question. Mine used to be Yosemite, but I’ve had to add the Grand Canyon and Zion, as well as Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. I guess I can’t pick a favorite. I’m just grateful for the foresight of those who thought to preserve these areas for us.

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Zion National Park
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Grand Teton National Park

What is your fantasy vacation?

Anywhere I can be outdoors with relatively good weather, beautiful scenery, and no crowds. Oh, and it should have lots of good, local restaurant options.

Optional Bonus question:  What are you grateful for from last week, and what are you looking forward to in the week coming up? 

I am grateful for the time spent with my husband exploring yet another corner of the world. I look forward to summer and a long vacation from teaching.


Thanks to Cee for giving us a chance to share our worlds. Wishing you all happy adventures in your vacation travels! Have a great week!

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Leave No Trace

Leave nothing but footprints.
Take nothing but pictures.
Kill nothing but time.

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As I crested the hill to Inspiration Point at Bryce Canyon NP, no small feat at 8,000 ft. elevation, a red trinket attached to the safety fence drew my attention away from the beauty below. It was a love lock, a small token of affection of a couple who came and left, but who were not content with the Instagram snapshot and the Facebook post. Instead, they wanted all those who came after to know they existed, that they mattered, that they found each other, and that they had made their way with a cheap, etched, made-in-China lock to this spot on earth that looks down on the million-years process of destruction, erosion, and weathering that is Bryce Canyon.

Another visitor watched me take this photo.

“They must think it’s Paris,” he said with the wry disdain of one who treasures our natural spaces. A kindred spirit. I nodded in agreement.

In the two days my husband and I spent exploring the park, we noted people climbing over barriers, sidling up to fragile canyon edges, and losing hats to the wind. (Thankfully retrieved, due to the ingenious use of two trekking poles.) We saw plastic water bottles down ravines, and even a disposable diaper that was wound tight and had somehow found its way over the edge and down a hill, yet not out of view of passing visitors. I was left to wonder how the park rangers deal with the detritus of a population who relishes the easy access to once remote places and who can’t seem to stay attached to their belongings. Keeping the place clean can’t be an easy job.

Visits to our national parks are up. It’s a great feeling to share in a common wonder and appreciation of earth’s processes or marvel at the way the sunlight glows between the spires and hoodoos of the canyon, yet it’s been said that our national parks are being loved to death. We can slow the impact of being one of thousands of visitors each year if we each start by having a little respect and by committing to leave no trace. Hold onto your hats, stash water bottles in a backpack or leave them in the car, and for goodness sake, save your love locks for Paris. Our children and grandchildren will thank you.

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Damage

As spokes of a wagon wheel of old
They radiate out from the center,
Intentions played out in actions,
Cruel words spraying out in torrents of hatred
And fear,
Until those who would seek to curtail the damage
Are flailed by ever loosening,
Wildly unstable shafts,
Radiating out from the center.


RIP brave souls who stood up for all that is right and human on the Max train in PDX last Friday. They came from divergent backgrounds, but a common humanity.

53-year-old Ricky John Best
23-year-old Taliesin Myrddin Namkai Meche.

We should also not forget the surviving hero, who also put his life on the line. Thank you for stepping up, Micah David-Cole Fletcher. (21)

 

Share Your World 4/10/17

It’s time for another installment of Cee’s Share Your World. Here are my answers to this week’s questions:

Have you ever participated in a distance walking, swimming, running, or biking event? Tell your story.

I started running at 45. I had been through cancer and thought, why not? (Funny how illness wakes you up to possibilities.) My sister and I started the Couch to 5K program, which starts you with walking and gradually builds until you can run that distance. We supported each other and commiserated at the distances we had to run each week. It was tough, but gradually we improved until we could run nearly 5K. (3.1 miles)

Finally, we signed up for our first race. It was a fun run in Portland that crossed a couple of bridges and ran down the waterfront on both sides of the river. We made a girls’ weekend out of it, taking our daughters with us. I was nervous and didn’t see how I would ever run the whole thing, but I did it. We did it. We went on to run some 10Ks and even a couple of half-marathons. Not bad for an old cancer survivor, eh? Just proves you can do anything you set your mind to.

Name one thing not many people know about you.

I’m usually lonely.

What is your favorite flower?

I love dahlias. We have them planted all around the yard. Last winter we left them in the ground. I’m afraid we might have lost them. They are not lovers of damp soil, and it’s been a super soggy winter.

Things I want to have in my home (paintings, hot tubs, book cases, big screen tv etc)

There’s a giant painting of red poppies at a gallery at the coast. I would love to have that in my home. It’s out of my price range, unfortunately.

I would also love a hot tub. I have the perfect place for it, right below the deck around the stairs, tucked into a little alcove. I looked up homemade hot tubs the other day because it’s looking like we won’t fork out the thousands of dollars for a new one. The homemade ones look intriguing. It would be a bit like sitting in a hot spring.

Barring the hot tub, I’d take a sauna. Especially lately. Dry heat sounds particularly appealing.

Optional Bonus question:  What are you grateful for from last week, and what are you looking forward to in the week coming up?

I’m grateful for another week to be grateful for small things like coffee and Cadbury Mini Eggs, fresh baked scones, baby chicks, farm fresh eggs, and wine & conversation with friends.

I look forward to finding joy in more small things like the adoration of my son’s pup and watching teenage shows with said son.

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As always, thanks to Cee for the chance to share our worlds! Have a great week. I’m off to wash a stinky dog!

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Share Your World 3/13/17

It’s time for another installment of Cee’s Share Your World. Here are my answers to this week’s questions:

Do you push the elevator button more than once?  Do you really believe it makes the elevator faster?

Confession time. I do not push the button multiple times. I’m not a type-A personality by any stretch. Instead, I’ve been known to stand outside an elevator waiting and waiting, only to find out I didn’t push hard enough in the first place. (Slightly embarrassing when someone walks up and thinks you’ve pushed it.)

Do you plan out things usually or do you do them more spontaneous (for example if you are visiting a big city you don’t know?)

I used to love spontaneity. When my husband and I were first married, we would head out on a whim for any type of grand adventure. Then we had kids, and became saddled with diapers and clothes and snacks and bedtimes, only to have those replaced with school schedules and activities. We tried to be as spontaneous as all of that allows, but hauling kids along requires lots of planning. I’ve become even more of a planner lately, after landing at ideal locations only to find a row of No Vacancy signs at all of the desirable hotels. Even successful camping requires a reservation anymore!

So, life, you win. I’m now a planner.

Describe yourself in at least four uplifting words.

Creative

Faithful

Thoughtful

Kind

If you had a choice which would be your preference salt water beaches, fresh water lakes, ocean cruise, hot tub, ski resort or desert? 

Give me a kayak and a fresh water lake, and I’m a happy camper!

Optional Bonus question:  What are you grateful for from last week, and what are you looking forward to in the week coming up? 

I am grateful for sun. I have been living in the Oregon of my youth lately – days upon days of dismal, rainy weather. Sunday was sunny, so we grabbed our things (spontaneously) and headed to the coast, where it was warm enough to eat lunch outside! (And if you are from Oregon, you know how rare that is in March.)

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I look forward to the weather warming up, the sun coming out, the flowers emerging, and kicking my exercise program back into gear.


Thanks to Cee for another chance to write! Wishing everyone a wonderful week!

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Share Your World 2/28/17

Here are my latest responses to Cee’s Share Your World. If you would like to play along, click here.

Ever ran out of gas in your vehicle?

Not while I was driving. We ran out of gas less than a mile from the gas station when my husband was driving, and on the freeway, no less. You can imagine the bickering that came from that incident.

That being said, I’ve come close. When I was driving Sunshine on our cross-country trip to college, the gas light came on. At night. In the desert. In the middle of nowhere. It was me and three kids in the car, Needles, California was the next thing on the map, and it was nowhere in sight. Finally, lights blinked in the distant darkness, and with a twisting in my gut, I coasted into the nearest gas station, thanking my lucky stars. I am now careful to fill up when it gets around 3/4 empty.

Which are better: black or green olives?

I’ve finally jumped onto the olive bandwagon somewhat after eschewing them for most of my life. I prefer black to green, though I really like a couple of chopped kalamatas on a salad.

If you were a great explorer, what would you explore?

I would explore foreign lands and cultures. I find it really interesting to see the way our different experiences intersect and how other people have learned to adapt to their situations.

Quotes List: At least three of your favorite quotes?

This is a long one, but it’s always been one of my favorites. I tend to be a sideline sort of person, so it pushes me to put myself out there beyond my relatively close comfort zone.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.  ~Theodore Roosevelt

And this one about being an authentic person has always stuck with me.


Photo credit: R J Ruppenthal via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

This quote about just doing the right thing and being who you are also really speaks to me.

People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.
What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.
Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.
-this version is credited to Mother Teresa

Here’s another. (Don’t get me going on quotes!) It’s highly applicable to our current political situation.

What you do speaks so loudly I cannot hear what you say.
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Optional Bonus question:  What are you grateful for from last week, and what are you looking forward to in the week coming up? 

Last week I pulled out my drawing pencils and sketch book. I haven’t played around with them for a while, but some art therapy is needed at this time in my life. Like so many other things, this hobby is a combination of work-in-progress and steep learning curve. My fantasy is to paint a giant masterpiece on canvas, something that others would relate to. Haha. For right now I will content myself with trying to figure out how to draw non-Picasso-like faces and symmetrical eyes. But I am grateful for this hobby.

The second part of this question is much harder to answer.

I don’t ever look forward to the week of daylight savings time. I think I dread it more than the dentist, if that’s possible. It stems from not being a morning person and having a relatively early-morning job. I guess I could look forward to my internal clock eventually catching up.


Wishing you all a great week!

As always, thanks to Cee for this wonderful opportunity to write!

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Blocking the Opponent

Let me start off by admitting that I’ve never been much of an athlete. I tried track in high school and got 4th out of 4 by hanging back to encourage a teammate during the mile. (She had the nerve to sprint ahead of me at the finish!) I was the kid shooting granny-shots in middle school basketball during the last 5 minutes of a winning game. So maybe my view is skewed, and maybe I have this wrong, but allow me an attempt at an analogy.

I remember during that middle-school basketball experience learning how to plant my body in front of my opponent to impede his progress. I don’t remember the name of the move, but I do remember that it was risky. Placing yourself in front of a charging, basketball-wielding player intent on hitting the goal might cause you, upon contact, to go flying across the court. It was also tricky. Not fully planting your feet would cause a foul call upon you. Your job as defense was to plant your feet firmly and road-block your opponent.

Progressives are now playing defense. Not only that, but we are playing against the team that is known for playing dirty, and they’ve probably bought the refs. But we can use and must use this play.

It’s time to dig in our heels and not chase down the players. It’s time to plant ourselves firmly in front of the player with the ball and not move. He may, and probably will, get around us, but hopefully we’ve given the blockers time to move into position to successfully throw the ball back to us. The opposition may score a few points, but this is a game we must win. Our democracy depends upon it.

Life as a Jenga Tower

Carefully the foundation was laid,
Criss-crossing planks reaching toward a sky
That tantalized with low-strung clouds of hope
And a vast expanse of possibility.

Life took a plank here and there,
That’s how the game is played,
Opening holes into the recesses of mind and heart,
But a Jenga tower is not easily toppled.

Illness came like the petulant child and
Swiped at the blocks, scattering a few to far reaches,
Never to be seen again,
Knocking the tower a little off kilter.
But the tower remained standing,
Shored up by many hands.

Blocks were extracted as
Building materials for towers which were
Themselves under construction
In a reach for that wide expanse of sky
In a never-ending shuffle of finite resources.
Still, the tower held firm.

Then a block was drawn from the bottom,
And the tower groaned.

Then another.

And another.

Players played on,
Wondering why the tower swayed.
Unaware of the laws of physics,
Of gravity
And of equal and opposite reactions,
They poked and prodded at the structural integrity
Of the Jenga tower.

The game is still in progress,
Though the base has become riddled with openings
Where the winds of disillusionment and melancholy
Eddy and swirl.


Photo credit: Nicola since 1972 via Foter.com / CC BY