The House [Almost] Always Wins: Why I Usually Bet On The Other Guy

Over the last week or so, I've been slowly working away on a wall hanging.  It would normally be a wise move to bet that I'd never finish, and it's probably only due to the fact that I advertised the project, but I'm pleased to say that we've reached lift-off.

It all started with a walk through the woods with a chainsaw.  Last weekend, C and I scavenged around for well preserved blow-downs and decent looking widow-makers, and finding enough worthwhile lengths of both, headed back to the shop to cut slices and power sand the living daylights out of the ugly stuff.  Remember, dead wood, though eco-friendly, is not always pretty.  You should have seen some of the chunks we looked over... they were regular ant farms.  You try hanging that on your wall.  Ick.

Days later, after multiple trips to multiple hardware stores, I started staining.  I used oil-based stuff mostly, along with a water-based forest green and rusty red for a splash of color (it might not seem like much of a step out to you, but it's a far cry from the safety of light beige, the neutral bull's-eye, my home base).  I gathered my rounds of birch, maple, and pine, then proceeded to stain them in a variety of neutrals, ranging from the almost transparent to a rich umber shade, also throwing a couple of those colored pieces into the mix.

After rooting around for a base to attach my rounds to, I settled on a crappy hunk of plywood that was approximately the right size for the project and not terribly heavy.  I sanded this down (mostly for any ratty edges) and then brushed on the darkest brown I had, Miniwax Jacobean, #2750, which wiped down to a rich chocolate hue after giving it a minute or two to sit.

I gave the base a few hours of drying time, then went on a mission down the road to borrow a glue gun from my friend Cathy (cup o' sugar, neighbor?).  Then I spent a small eternity learning how to use the blessed thing (tiny strings were everywhere!!), and moved as fast as I could to slather my pieces and attach them in their predetermined locations before the glue cooled off.

After letting the glue set, we were on to the mount.  C helped with this (helped = performed completely on his own) by drilling the mortar holes and screws to hang the finished piece on the brick above our mantle, as well as attaching the wire to the backside of the plywood.

And then, all of a sudden, it was up.  (All of a sudden really consisted of C balancing backward on the mantle, moving around at my command, while I held "spotter hands" from the ground).  But really, all of a sudden is how it felt to me.

If I were to do it all over again, I would use many more wood cuts for a denser look - but for the first go at it, I'll settle for how this came out.  It also would be neat to make something entirely out of birch rounds. Pretty stuff, that birch.

Here are some photos from the process.

I'm pretty excited to be able to eat at the table again.

Attempting to appear random is pretty tricky.  Notice the blue rounds didn't make the final cut.

But they did make the mantle... in C's grandpa's old shoe kit (center).

The final product.  It almost seems to blend in here, but it is fairly distinct in person.  Sort of.

The best part of this whole thing is that it's actually done.  It happened.  It's up.

Unfortunately, I think I owe somebody twenty bucks,
 because I was pretty sure it would never get there.


Married Life & The Quest To Keep Two Wheels On The Ground

So, I've been reading this book, and the other day I came to a section in which the author was writing about relationships, you know: that messy, haphazard world of dating, love, and lifelong commitment.  I read to the end of a statement about a fellow with a tumultuous dating history and saw that the writer concluded the matter with a sentence like this: "In the end, things have really worked themselves out, and Brian is now happily married".  Is it just me, or does that sound pretty anticlimactic?

Don't get me wrong - I consider myself among the fortunate few who are indeed, married to someone they still like.  I got engaged at the wise old age of 21 years old, married at 22 (barely old enough to make a toast at my own reception), and between now and then we've somehow managed to clear the fences of 6 years.  C and I have gotten this far without dismembering each other or developing a taste for hard drugs, which is what I think the author must have meant when he used the phrase "happily married".

But no, he uses it like most of the world does, as a finishing statement, like, "oh, I'm happily married now, so you might as well bury the coffin". In fact, it's almost as good a conversation ender as "and they lived happily ever after".  If you've read any Disney story EVER, you know what that means:


Duh, duh, duuuuh.

But no!  Wait!  Marriage hasn't happened - it's happening!  Some of us entered into our relationships with some seriously misguided expectations, primarily that we would fall into a love that brought us joy and completion - bam! - all of a sudden, like a crashing wave.  But marriage is like the sun: a wildly twisting, dangerously warm, magnetic source of the good, bad, ugly and shockingly hot in life. What happens after your first real disagreement?  The first time you accidentally roll over and elbow your husband in the face at 2 AM?  Reach your first financial goal?  Climb your first mountain together (literally) or canoe your first river?  The first second time you accidentally deck your husband in the face at 2 AM?

This, friends, this marriage thing can be where the adventure begins.  Don't let yourself settle for a marriage that is static, that happened at one point in time.  Swing for the fences!  Do marriage, live marriage, and with a little grace, you will love marriage.

This whole basket hangs on one very important nail, though, and I'm sure you've guessed it.  Marriage is like a bicycle.  If your front wheel is properly inflated, "trued" (aligned), and well... attached, that's a great start.  But if you've got all of this, and your back tire tube is still stored in a Rubbermaid bin somewhere, or worse yet, your whole wheel is a half-mile back on the left, you're in real trouble.  Likewise, marriage is a two-person affair (wait, not literally... or is it?), and you've both got to be in it for the whole ride.  There are times when a wheel can be squeaky, or even bent six ways to Sunday, but if you can address the problem [with the right tools], you can, after some good hard work, find yourself pedaling along the Hudson again (or the Merrimack, or the Kennebec, or the Ohio, or the Fox - you get my drift).

I know that some of your minds are probably hovering on a wrecked marriage (yours, your parents, your child's) with feelings of anger, hurt and frustration.  I'm really sorry - I wish that hadn't happened to your family.  What I'm trying to convey in this post is probably something you realized in the midst of that falling out: that this kind of relationship - this commitment - is active.  It requires movement and effort and sacrifice and laughter.  I don't want anyone else to have to endure the pain of realizing that their marriage has suddenly stopped like a car in an intersection, waiting for the jarring hit from behind.  No one wants to wake up one morning and wonder after so much time, who that person next to them really is.

I've never been sure.

And more than that, don't we want adventure and meaning in our relationships?  I think that marriage, lived actively and purposefully can be exciting.  Unfortunately, I don't have all the answers, and C and I have certainly our run our wheels off the road now and then.  So my only advice is this: Bring along your bike grease, and a whole 'lotta patience, because you're going to need quite a bit of both.

Because the pedaling, though good, isn't always easy.  And sometimes, when the chain gets gummy, I'd much rather get off the bike and walk than face another hill under those conditions.  But even if I get off the bike and push it to the top of the hill, you better believe I'm going to try to clean that chain, because we all know that while you can't get a thrill by walking down the road, going 45 mph down a hill on a trustworthy set of wheels is about the best rush there is.

And every relationship needs a we-flew-off-into-the-ditch kind of story to keep things from getting stale, don't you think?

So saddle up and go get yours.


Break A Sweat

You know it's a good run when you have to turn around because there's a moose in the trail.

Run count:

Pheasant - check.
Angry Squirrels - check.
She-Moose - check.
Traffic Light - not yet.


I Survive Each Day In Order To Make You Look Better

Nary a day passes when I don’t wish that I had posted something new here on the parka-butt blog.  This is more evidence that my ambitions don’t produce the fruit that one generally hopes for when they think of their personal character and discipline.

Discipline is for unruly toddlers and training circus poodles.  Duh.

When C and I first got married and I was jobless, cat-less, and moderately hopeless, I tried to teach myself to play the guitar (something I still wish I could do), in hopes of creating some sort of personal forward-movement.  My string-picking days lasted for, well… let’s just say that my fingertips didn't even have enough time to calluses over.  

When I was in college, I held to a pretty consistent workout schedule.  Sound like willpower?  It does, doesn’t it?  That is, until you realize that I did this in order to eat vast mountains of ice cream with my roommates and regularly down a half-dozen Krispy Kreme donuts by myself.  (mixed selection, if you’re wondering).  Oh - I also beat my now-husband in an eating contest at White Castle, just in case this point needed reinforcement. 

 Mind if I finish that?

Now that I think of it, when I was in high school, I actually had quite a bit more perseverance than I do now, which is to really say that my character has taken a serious nosedive since the age of 15. 

I started playing JV basketball as a freshman – I’m still not sure why – and I never stopped.  I hated basketball.  I was consumed in hot, angry tears over it on more occasions that I dare admit, but still, I just couldn’t quit.  For all you 8th graders out there, this is NOT a way to spend four years.   To make matters worse, I was awful: an elbow-swinging, freakishly terrified-of-the-basket, rule-violating madwoman with a mouth guard the size of a boomerang.

As we say amongst our friends, I was the show.

But at least I wasn't this guy.

I dated a young man in high school for a couple of years who was a relational train wreck, and gave him far too many chances for far too long.   I still don’t know if he was actually in it for my anxious, antisocial personality – it could have been my boomerang wielding face and cool wardrobe (read: a fair amount of dad’s military-issue clothing) that reeled him in - but for some reason, I didn’t mind that he went out with other girls and stole stuff.   

Fortunately, this young mustang grew up to be a pretty great guy (and was actually fairly kind, considering he was a hound at the time and I was afraid of the general populace), so I still consider this episode a win-win.

These days, I quit half-way through almost everything, from putting on makeup (quickly translates to putting on mascara) to reading books and completing projects.  In fact, I just started a wall-hanging project yesterday, so you can start making your wagers on whether or not I finish. 

My money’s on the other guy.  


And Hope Comes In The Morning... But Will There Be Coffee?

The ground has again been draped in a dusty white veil.

You thought we were past this winter thing?  Me too.

Despite the fact that I long to sip my morning coffee in the clean, crisp June air (April is winter, May is a more reasonable winter, June is merely crisp), I will take what I was given this morning: snow.  

I'll soldier on, because I have hope that it won't always be snowing.  We're not quite in Canada, after all.

This is Holy Week, as I'm sure you're aware.  It's a peculiar time of year, during which we have the opportunity to be reminded that things are made new.  We, this giant, milling brood of messy humans, can be reminded of the meaning found in expectation, in mystery, in goodness. We can set our minds on something buoyant and bright.

As I approach the dogma diving board, allow me to pose what are surely some of your thoughts:

"M, I'm not religious.  I'm spiritual", or...
"My path doesn't include Resurrection Sunday or Holy Week", or...
"I hate religion", or...
"We're going to talk about religion?  To be honest, M, I only come here to sneer at your most recent physical trauma or social embarrassment.  Don't get the impression that I read this to think".

Well, 1) Then we have something in common.  2) Sorry - mine does, and it's my blog (today is not your day... yet).  3) Of course you do - religion practically begs to be hated. 4) Touche (or, as C says, "Toosh").

This post isn't really about religion.  It's about hope.  The connection between one and the other is yours to tie together and likewise, yours to slip apart.  For now though, let's talk sunshine.

As I sat on my couch this morning to write, the sun had risen up behind me.  It lifted beyond the eastern rim of this little dip-in-the-land that we call home.  Over the white, opaque ice of the pond.  Over thousands of pines.  Over hills in the distance, and perhaps even over the meandering Appalachian Trail, which runs just southeast of here.  The warm heat on my shoulders made me feel like this winter might... not... last forever.  It gave me hope.

What is so striking about Holy Week is the music of it.  Go to your nearest Barnes & Noble, hop on Spotify, or paw through your scratched CD collection (oh wait, that's mine) in search of Adagio for Strings, Op. 11a, composed by Samuel Barber.  Feel the despair in the music, the need.  If you listen well, you'll almost sense a physical tug on your soul as the music ebbs and flows from high to low, and back again.  Holy week is like this.  If you don't know the story, here's a gravely simplified, throw-me-in-the-stocks version: First, there' a HUGE welcome party, full of celebrity attention and staring, I'm sure.  Then there's betrayal by a inner-circle kind of buddy, followed by the kinds of torture and death that thankfully most nations don't practice anymore.  Then, somehow, in the wake of these nasty, depressing, terrible things, there's life.  It ebbs, it flows, and it swells, until it finally reaches a crescendo.  It is an account of hope.

Easter, or Resurrection Sunday, as it's also called, is an occasion to float.  It arrives at the end of a horrible weekend, following a current of betrayal, sadness and loss.  It is a reminder to hope in the midst of things, because - just wait - there is a roaring crescendo in the story that is just around the bend, and you are almost there.  Hold on.

As you work your way through this week, regardless of your spiritual path, be encouraged.  I always kid that I'd become an atheist, except that I'm not sure how I could do that and still manage to think about tomorrow.  There's more to it than this, but I know that in order for me, personally, to live well, I need a hope.  In fact, I don't know how you could go without one.  Can you?

So, in a different way, that's also why the sunrise drew me in this morning, why it lifted me.  It is a reminder that there is hope in the sorrow.  There is hope in the ebb and in the flow.  There is hope when it snows in April.

Yes, even then.

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