Wednesday, July 1, 2020

ReStore Rehab...Reimagining Life

Today’s post is a before and after sort of story. A story of transformation.

When I bought my house, the basement was unfinished. A contractor finished the bulk of it. There was plumbing available for a kitchenette, but adding one at the time was cost prohibitive. 

Before: Unfinished Space
I checked out the base cabinet, countertop, sink, and hardware at my local big box stores. I priced the backsplash materials and other construction needs. Adding the lights I wanted and allowing for labor to do everything, I was looking at more than a basement kitchen should cost. 

I knew I could likely cut the cost if I could find the cabinet base at our local ReStore. ReStore is connected to Habitat for Humanity, a cause I support. I found an entire set of cabinets at ReStore for less than one cabinet at the big box store. And…the hardware was included! The man at the store loaded the pieces in my van. My daughter and grandson helped me unload them into my garage. 

Over the next few months, I wandered through my ReStore occasionally. Slowly, I collected the items I needed. My garage was beginning to look more like a workshop. I bought a bar sink at Lowes and added it to my collection.

I don’t know exactly when it happened, but I came to the realization that I could install my own kitchen. 

I had some knowledge.

I had Tom’s tools. 

I had all the materials.

I had YouTube. 

And I had the desire to try.
ReStore Cabinet Find

I measured the space and the cabinets multiple times. Getting the cabinet in with the sink was a priority. My plumber moved the old washing machine water line and told me he could hook everything up to the water and drain. He told me to call him when I had the cabinet, sink and countertop ready. 

I watched YouTube to learn how to patch the hole in the drywall from the plumbing being moved. 

I did some more measuring. A base unit has two doors. I had enough room for another small cabinet, so after a lot of consideration, I cut one of the base cabinets in half. Perfect. I managed to move the full cabinet and the half cabinet from my garage to the basement. I felt like Wonder Woman. 

Cutting the countertop for the sink was daunting. I heard cutting a Formica top could cause chipping and splitting. I watched YouTube for clues. Again, I measured the opening multiple times. I drew the line to be cut on the countertop. I taped beside the line. Still, I was filled with fear to make the first cut.

One video I watched suggested I purchase a special drill bit for Formica and drill a starting place for my saw. I went back to Lowes. Ellery, the store manager told me I was overthinking it. He told me to use a drill bit I had, make a hole in each corner big enough for the blade of my saber saw, and go for it. So I did.

Go for It!
I reminded myself the countertop only cost me $10 at the ReStore shop, so I should feel free to risk it. How did it turn out? Piece of cake. I did the happy dance all through the house. I took pictures the way a new grandma takes photos of a baby and shows them to everyone in sight.

The cabinets, countertop, and sink in place, my plumber returned to hook it all up. He even anchored the cabinet to the wall for me.

The next step? The backsplash. The tile at the ReStore was fifty cents a square foot. Seven dollars later, I walked out with enough tile to cover the space as well as a couple of extra tiles in case I needed to trim-fit awkward edges. The adhesive and grout cost more than the tile. 

I wanted to do it all myself. It turned out to be impossible. I had a respiratory reaction to the adhesive. Fortunately, my youngest daughter wanted to help with the project. I measured and cut tile in one room while she adhered each piece to the kitchen wall. It was a fun afternoon.

My friend Bob helped, too. He changed the hinges on the door of the third cabinet so it opened the other way and installed the lights I purchased at Menards for the ceiling.

Finally, I put old math skills and my son-in-law’s miter box to use cutting and fitting the baseboards and kickboard. 

The small basement kitchen turned out great. But the real transformation was mine. 

After: Same Space Redefined
I used parts of my brain I forgot I had. I’m a decent problem solver. When I’m writing, I have to create believable situations or get my characters to go where I want them to go… do what I want them to do… say what I need them to say. Those are literally “word problems.” But building requires a different way of visualizing the end product. It requires accurate measurement and geometry. 

I did something I thought I could never do. Using power tools and ripping through wood, sanding, screwing, nailing, and caulking? That was Tom’s world. I admired the way he took on any task. He designed and built bunk beds for our daughters with drawers underneath. He built a storage shed over forty years ago that is still standing strong. He added bathrooms to a couple of places we lived. He could do anything. He always showed me how to do things and shared his “thinking through” of a project with me.

When Tom died I had just started crafting a new novel. The hardest project I’ve ever attempted. After he died, I abandoned that project. It was something I felt was too difficult. I no longer feel that way. It will take time. It will be hard. But I now have the confidence to take it on.

My next building project? I have space in my basement for a wood working shop. I’ll likely take that on even as I work on the book. It turns out I do some of my best thinking with a hammer in my hand.

What new challenge are you ready to tackle?

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Consumer or Creator? What Are You?

My oldest daughter, Allison is a teacher. She’s been one all her life. Early on, she would line her dolls and stuffed animals up to learn their ABC’s. As a toddler she taught her stuffed bear to read. When I asked about it, she told me, “He can read, but he can’t talk. His mouth’s all sewed up.”
Allison was thrilled when we added a live student to the family. She was 4 ½ years old when her sister came along, but as soon as Danielle was able, Allison took her role as teacher seriously. Sometimes, too seriously. 

For example, right before Danielle was to enter first grade, the two girls “played school” all summer long. They would come to the cafeteria (kitchen) for lunch, go to recess (the backyard), then come to the media center (our family room) to have the librarian (yours truly) either read a book to them or watch a television program together. 

Tom and I only guessed the intensity of “summer school” when Danielle told us she wasn’t ready for first grade. “Allison only taught me my pluses,” she cried. “I don’t know my take-aways, yet!”

[By the way, the incident did no harm. As an adult, Danielle has happily and successfully home-schooled each of her own four children for their first few years of learning. Wonder where she got that idea?]

Ultimately, Allison studied secondary education and accepted a job teaching world history in the same district where I taught first grade. I remember when we went to the district wide beginning of school meeting together. My heart soared. 

I had occasion to sit in on a few of Allison’s classes at the high school. I watched as she engaged the students in powerful ways. She knew it wasn’t enough for those teens to learn the facts of world history. They needed to look at the world as a whole and understand how and why the actions of people shape history. How the internal policy or events of one country or leader works to fuel the actions of other countries.  

Allison made history relevant. But moreover, she created an atmosphere where her students learned to think for themselves.

Now she coaches teachers. We still talk shop. The other day I told her I know people who are basically intelligent…at least have the capacity to think…but don’t think for themselves. I said, “They’re intelligent but not smart. There’s a difference.” 

She understood. She calls it the difference between being a consumer or a creator. Allison was teaching her students in high school to be creators. To think for themselves and offer new solutions. She warned them against merely being consumers only of what others Say. Do. Think. 

I love all people. Even the unlovable. God expects that of me. 

But I like smart people. People with opinions they’ve formed on their own. People with ideas and possible solutions. I like those who don’t simply quote something they’ve heard or read, but are able to pull ideas together and see a bigger picture. 

I love consumers…but I really like creators. I like to spend my time with them. Consumers are, as my mom would say, a dime a dozen. But creators are priceless.

So are you a consumer or a creator
Consumers  watch the news or read a report and accept it at face value.

Creators  try to view everything from differing perspectives. They look behind the scene to the backdrop and don't only read the script. 

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Off the Sidelines And Into The Game

 I remember hearing “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.” The words were meant to encourage. To make something positive out of something negative.

We all have words and phrases we tend to live by. Simple, self-evident truths we call on to sum up our position, inspire others or, more likely, we use to teach our children. I recently took a good look at those phrases I often use. 

Done is better than perfect.
No Time Like the Present to Connect
There are a few areas of life, a few tasks to be completed where done is better than perfect. It’s the motto I adopted when I started mowing the lawn. I am, perhaps, the world’s worst lawn care person. I didn’t even know how to start the mower until the summer after Tom died. I try to walk behind the goofy machine in a straight line, but somehow I always tend to leave swaths of uncut grass in the wake. I’m getting a bit better at the job. That isn’t the good news. The good news is that it no longer stresses me to try, because getting the job done is better than fretting over making it perfect.

Err on the side of “being there.” Show up.
My daughter taught me this one. When someone is hurting or in trouble, we often don’t know what to say. Or do. Our fear of interfering or saying the wrong thing keeps us from doing anything at all. We’ve all had those moments where we said or did nothing. Oh, sure, maybe we sent a card. Later. We avoid the awkward face-to-face moments. 

I don’t think I will ever forget the night three friends from church came to my house when Tom died. I looked out the window and they were practically running down the driveway to my front door. (Okay, maybe they weren’t running but it seemed so to me.) They didn’t know what to say or do. Later, one of them told me she was unsure about the decision to come to the house. She thought it might be “intruding.” It was anything but intrusive. I felt cared for and loved. 

And if it had been intruding? Someone would have politely met them at the door and told them it wasn’t a good time to visit. Knowing they came would still have made me feel cared for and loved. Sometimes all we need to do is show up.

One step at a time.
As a professor of teacher education, I used this illustration with students who were ready to quit school. Often they couldn’t see themselves graduate in four years as they planned because of money or other life circumstances. I had walked that road. I married when I was eighteen. It took me seven years to get through my four-year teacher education program. I had two little ones at home during my student teaching. I get it. But I also know that by taking one step at a time, I can reach my goals. 

I would draw a picture of a mountain for my students. “Some people race to the top,” I would say. “Others take the more scenic route.” I would draw two lines. One straight from the bottom to the top of the mountain and the other meandering back and forth before reaching the summit. “But the view is every bit as beautiful no matter how long it takes to get there. Take it one step at a time.”

Just Do It.
As I look at these guidelines I use in life, I see a common theme. In the late 1980’s Nike came out with the slogan “Just Do It.” It has been widely popularized, sometimes used for bad, but mostly for good.

It was an illustration to not sit on the sidelines. To get into the game. To do something. Show up. Climb the mountain. 

If you read my blog, you know where I stand on the issue of racism. It is real and it is detrimental to everyone. Racism is not a political issue. We cannot legislate “respect and care for others.” It is a matter of the heart. 

We are called to action. We can no longer sit on the sidelines. Show up. Take it one step at a time. I have a friend who is reaching out to people who don’t look like him, walking with them in their neighborhood, and inviting them to his.  (#WalktheTalkChallenge) I have another friend who is using his social media presence to make a stand against racism. I am checking in on my friends who are of different race, ethnic backgrounds, and whose first language isn’t English to make sure they’re okay. 

What is in your playbook? What are you doing? 

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

With Liberty and Justice For All

On last week’s blog I shared my perspective on racism. My Middle-Aged, Christian, White Woman Perspective. If you missed it, you can read what I wrote HERE. I called it “Courage in Action: We Must Not Be Silent.”

The post was well received and I had a number of reposts, likes, and positive comments.  

Curiously, of the many people who read the post, I had a couple negative results. Normally, I wouldn’t even address those comments, but I found it interesting the negatives were both linked to a single statement I made in the post. I wrote:

“I am discouraged by the inflammatory words and self-serving actions coming from the White House.”

One person, offended by the statement, left my list of followers. Okay.

But the other person suggested that in “undermining Trump,” I was showing that I am “un-American” and “obviously not the Christian woman you claim to be.” 

Let’s see…I vote, I pay my taxes, I do what I can to serve my community. I exercise my right to free speech. I stand up for the rights and freedom of my fellow Americans as well as others hurting in this world. 

I feel blessed to be an American. It’s what I know. 

Being an American, however, does not make me better than anyone else walking this earth. And being white does not make me “entitled.” I stand my ground as a free-to-speak American woman: #BlackLivesMatter.

But this man was right in one way. You see I am an American, but as a child of God, I am a citizen of heaven. I’m actually called that in in the Bible (Philippians 4:20).

And I love this passage Paul wrote to the Ephesians speaking to the unity of believers. It is Ephesians 2:19-22:

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (New International Version)

“Foreigners and aliens.” No mention of color, shape, size, gender, age, ethnicity, economic status… you get it. The list goes on. 

Judge me if you like. Only the judgment I receive from Jesus is of any consequence. 

All I ask is that you take a stand as I stand... “with liberty and justice…for ALL.


Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Courage in Action: We Must Not Be Silent

The events of this past week do not alarm me. I am sickened by them but not fully surprised. Systemic racism is real. The image coming out of Minnesota was not one of “serve and protect.” It was one of “domination and disrespect.” An image of “superiority.”  George Floyd was suspected of “possibly passing a counterfeit twenty- dollar bill.” He was handcuffed, subdued, and unarmed. He posed no threat to the four officers present. He begged for air. He didn’t get it. 

George Floyd died. Because of a counterfeit twenty-dollar bill? No. 

George Floyd was killed because he was black.

Several years ago, a woman went shopping. She picked up a few household goods at one store, paid with a twenty and received her change. She stopped at her favorite thrift store. She enjoyed finding treasures others no longer considered useful. She appreciated the idea that at least a portion of the money she spent in that store helped people in need. She found something she liked and took it to the register. Change she received from the previous store more than covered the cost. She handed the cashier the money.

The cashier considered the ten-dollar bill in her hand and asked for her manager. The manager inspected the bill and recognized it as counterfeit. The woman, flustered and confused, told the store manager about her previous purchase and that this bill was part of the change she received there. The police were called. The woman had given all the information she could offer. 

She clearly handed the counterfeit money to the store clerk but was never considered as a felon in any way, shape, or form. That woman was my mother. She is white.

It’s called profiling. Racial profiling.

I am sickened as I watch the video of a man who cannot breathe. Another man with his knee on the victim’s neck. We should all protest such disregard for human life. And we are. All across the nation. All around the world.

I am encouraged this week by the peaceful protests by people of all colors, shapes, sizes, and ages who take their first amendment right seriously and stand together against systemic racism.

I am discouraged by trouble makers who seize the opportunity to loot and destroy. Their agenda is born of evil.

I am encouraged by the police officers, city officials, and governors who have taken a knee, humbled themselves to a call for justice, walked side by side with protestors, and listened with care and consideration to the concerns of the people in their cities and states.

I am discouraged by the inflammatory and self-serving words and actions coming from the White House.  

I am encouraged by people like Jimmy Fallon. He abandoned his regular format this week to humbly admit his own errors in judgment and to use his platform to be an agent of change. 

Profiling. We all do it in one way or another. We size people up on a regular basis. 

If my mother had been black, hers would have been a slightly different story, a bit more involved but possibly with the same outcome. However, if this had been a black man with a counterfeit ten-dollar bill at that thrift store, the story could have been entirely different. 

His name could have been George Floyd.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Baby Hogs and Graduates

Eighteen years ago, Tom and I became grandparents. It was a beautiful Sunday in May. JT was the first boy we didn’t have to graft into the family through marriage. 

Add to it, the “T” stands for Thomas and that man I married was over the moon. It was at this time we discovered Tom was a “baby hog.” He would come into a room and snatch the baby away from you in an instant. It wasn’t limited to his first grandchild, either. He was like that with each and every baby. It didn’t matter who was holding the child at the time, he would reach with every expectation he was the only one to hold the little one.

We didn’t necessarily see being a baby hog as a flaw. Tom was a good man. He worked hard, played hard, and never neglected to pray for his family. Every. Single. Member.

This May that little baby boy, that first grandson, is graduating from high school. His parents have done a fine job. He’s grown to be a good man, too.

JT went from pushing Hot Wheels along a road he created on the carpet to driving his own car.

He no longer pretends to work. He has a real job.

The technology he grew up playing with is now the launching point for his college major.

But when I see this man-child, I see a lot of his grandfather in him, too. He is sweet and loving. He’s smart and thought-filled.

And he’s a great hugger. I don’t know if I’ll be around when JT has children or grandchildren of his own, but I can see him being a “baby hog” when that happens. 

It may be something in the name. Or the heart.

So much in our world has changed in those eighteen years. Tom died five and a half years ago. We added a new little one to our family four years ago. Now we’re facing a global health crisis. Then again, all that is really important hasn’t changed a bit. Love, care, and thoughtfulness. 

But the two most powerful pieces? Our family and our faith. It’s our infrastructure. Our family and our faith is what holds us…all of us… together through tough times and supports us as we grow and move forward.  

What are you glad hasn’t changed through all of this?
What does your infrastructure look like?

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Crazy, Quiet, Dragging, Fleeting, Treasured Time

Last week I offered advice to watch less television and spend more time outside. Then it rained. I mean it really rained. Buckets. Flash flooding. Puddles in the yard. I don’t even need the birdbath. The birds can find water everywhere they go. 

Still, I stand firm on the notion that the flood of mindless television to which we are exposed coupled with the buckets of frightening information poured out on us via media is worth limiting. Your weather, unlike mine, may be wonderful. Even perfect. For now. Be aware. Weather changes. 

This is why today I am sharing an indoor alternative to watching TV. I have a much larger list than what I’ll share here. I’ve been writing down all the things I would love to do “if I only had time” for years now. As a young mother, I thought of it as the incredible things I would do when I was no longer changing diapers and picking up toys. As a teacher I considered it my “summer list.” Then when my daughters grew older, I thought I would tackle the list when they left for college. 

The notebook of ideas grew thicker through the years. It morphed from a “summer list” to eventually the “retirement list.” Now it is the “isolation list.” During this pandemic there is no excuse. I have the time. It is my greatest commodity.

The very fact this period of being virtually alone will soon end lends a sense of urgency to check the boxes. 
I keep thinking I need to do these things now before I have to go back to the real world. Whatever that is…

Item 1: Family Photos
I realize I am the only person in the whole world who has boxes and tubs and envelopes with family photos stuffed inside. Still, I offer this as a much better way to spend time than watching face mask commercials. There is a mysterious element to it. Not only are there pictures of my own family with no dates written on them but I also have dozens of school pictures of children I don’t know. Not former students. These are pictures of kids belonging to friends or neighbors. They were likely tucked in Christmas cards. No names. No dates. No clue. 

I’m at the very least putting those unknowns aside and the pictures I recognize together by family member. The process is tiring and energizing at the same time. It is a job I’ve put off for many years. I can tackle it now because I am assured no one will come into my house and see the mess of photos strewn across the guest room floor.

Item 2: The Garage
The garage has become a dumping ground for every tool or odd item I find and don’t know what it is or what I might do with it. It isn’t that my garage is full of junk. I can still park my vehicles in it. It’s simply that along the walls, hanging from hooks, and stuffed on shelves you’ll find a collection of beaten and battered metal tools and a stash of building supply remnants I’ll probably never need. I also have partially used cans of paint, spray containers of who-knows-what, and an assortment of lawn food and weed killer. My garage is probably toxic. Definitely dangerous. So this area has been the target of time well spent during my isolation. A benefit of the work is a sense of accomplishment.

Item 3: That One Closet (or Cabinet or Drawer)
You know the one I mean. We all have that one area where we stuff things. The catch-all or junk drawer. I have more than one. There is the coat closet. Lots of odd gloves and hats I’ll never use along with a variety of odd jackets. Of course they are now gone. The “junk drawer” in the kitchen has been sorted and organized and cleaned twice during the pandemic. It could use another sifting through of things even as I type. I consider it a “hot spot.” I culled through my clothes closet and chest of drawers after reading Marie Kondo’s books on tidying up…though I refuse to talk to my clothes and ask them if they bring me joy.

The Rest of the List:
I’m looking at all I’ve written for this post. I seem to have spent a lot of my time cleaning. It sounds like a lot of work. I haven’t put a dent in practicing my piano or learning a new language. I still have a stack of books to read, crafts to complete, a workshop to set up, and crocheting to do. 

So Little Time. So Much I’d Love to Do. So I’ll muddle along and do what I can with the time I have. At least while it rains. Anything is better than non-stop coronavirus overload.

How are you spending your time?