Tree for Two

Mike used to make us wait to the second week of December to get a tree, but Angelic Daughter and I went to fetch one from the big box hardware store early on the first Saturday after Thanksgiving.

Double masked and distanced, I motored in to the outdoor section where the Christmas trees were. Since Mike died, we’ve been getting smaller trees that don’t require me to get up on a ladder to do the lights or the tree topper. Falling and breaking a hip or an arm would be, erm, …. non-optimal.

I went straight for the 6′-7′ section, grabbed one of the shortest trees, gave it a cursory once-over and decided it would do.

Self-check out, and I stood back a good 20 feet while the chain-saw guy cut a slice off the end so the tree could absorb water better. Asked him to chuck it over the chain that separated me from the saw area. Picked it up off the floor, stuffed in the back of the Subaru, and off we went.

The annual Christmas tree fight Mike and I used to have about the tree originated mostly from our inability to use our tree stand correctly. It has a foot pedal in its base, and a separate piece you attach to the trunk of the tree.

You’re supposed to fit the tree, with the separate piece attached, into the base. Then you depress the foot pedal and waggle the tree around until one of you pronounces it straight.

The problem was, we rarely remembered that the piece attached to the trunk is supposed to snap in to the bottom of the base.

For 17 years, we waggled the tree, pronounced it straight, and pushed the foot pedal back into the base, which was supposed to lock the tree in place. It rarely worked, and we settled for teetering trees in danger of keeling over.

This year, I got the tree stand to work the way it’s supposed to after just a few tries. I got the “click” I needed when I lopped off a few more branches to get the attachable base high up enough on the tree.

Minor waggling, and it was straight. Push the pedal in, locked!

Then for the lights. I tested the strings before I started. Predictably, when I got lights around the entire tree and plugged them in, the top half didn’t light up.

Sigh.

My old self would have spend a good 15 minutes swearing and yelling. This year, redoing the lights seemed like a minor inconvenience. Second time around, they lit up just fine. I probably just hadn’t plugged them together tightly enough. Sigh.

We used to put the tree in front of the bay window in our “library” room. I turned that room into a dining room that could seat six. It’s kind of a combo library/dining room with a clubby atmosphere – reading chairs in the window, and another in a corner by the bookcases. I love it, sloppy paint job and all.

The front room, where the fireplace is, to me has always been a more natural habitat for a Christmas tree. My idea for that room was a kind of pseudo-eighteenth/nineteenth century parlor, where guests have conversation before dinner, and the ladies retire after dinner to sip and chat, while the gentlemen enjoy their brandy (but no cigars, not in this house) in the clubby dining room.

I went overboard. Too much furniture. I’ll find another place for four chairs, or sell at least two of them. I liked two I bought online for their eighteenth century shape and animal pattern. Online, the background had appeared to be a lovely gold color.

It turned out to be a pucey- green, which I don’t like, and which doesn’t go with the room. They’re in my “budoir” now. My mid-century looking plum velvet chair is in the basement, all to make room for the Christmas tree. I’ll switch it all back after Christmas, and figure out what to do with the ancestress rocker, as well.

All this talk of excess furniture and guest-worthiness is meaningless until vaccines are more widely available and enough people have taken them, sometime around the end of the third quarter of 2021.

There will be no happy guests and lively conversation this year. It’s just us, with a tree for two.

I got an email from a friend this week, bemoaning the loss of our annual holiday brunch with another friend. But we’re in it to win it, being as careful as we can. We’re hoping to be around next year for a mimosa-saturated good time.

By then, maybe this house will finally see the dinner parties with friends I had hoped to host.

Until then, I remain,

Your double-masked-with-filter-inside, hand-washing, diligently distancing,

Ridiculouswoman

Run Away, Run Home, Don’t Run

The butternut squash is roasting in the oven, for the curried soup I will make for my brothers and sister-in-law, visiting tomorrow. The bag of orchard-bought Macintosh apples is in the fridge, waiting to become pie. Seven pumpkins (one big and six little) and ten gourds cost $24, total, which is another benefit of driving several hours to an actual farm to buy your fall decorative stuff.

I wonder if indulging in an extended (two overnight stays) fall excursion this year was a way of running away from waiting to hear about a job, and from the approaching end of my year-long redecorating project.  I’m starting to think it all was just prolonged “displacement activity,” to avoid being still and letting the grief soak all the way through.  Stillness is when the waves come, of grief, sadness, regret, anger, frustration and sense of incompleteness about a marriage that fast-forwarded to caregiving, skipping the “happy retirement rediscover one another” phase.  The rediscovery came only in those bittersweet, final weeks of hospice. I was and am so grateful for that, but I also feel cheated by the brevity of it, and feeling cheated makes me feel ungrateful, and feeling ungrateful makes me feel ashamed.  I should be grateful for just waking up alive in the morning.

Finally decorating and furnishing this house, a house that remained largely undecorated and unfurnished, except for hand-me-down furniture and the odd Black Friday deal on a couch or a glider or a new mattress, feels like closing the circle, doing the things we didn’t get done, as the years passed toward a future together that never came. Mike saw the kitchen, the deck and the basement. I want to believe he sees the rest, from where he is, and that he likes it, and that he approves of me making this house look like what I had hoped it could have been when we still had time here together.

The painters in the front hall got the wallpaper off in about half an hour.

“If I had known it would be that easy, I would have done it myself.”

“We’re pros. We make it look easy.”

Their van said “drywall,” so I asked for a little extra help repairing the hole in the downstairs bathroom wall, where I lifted one of the mirrors off and took one of the screw anchors with it.

The head guy agreed to do it for no extra charge. Maybe he thought what I had said meant I thought I wasn’t getting my money’s worth. I didn’t mean it that way, exactly. Just that I shouldn’t have spent the money if it turned out to be easy.

But then he took out all the old screws, and drilled four new holes and put new screw anchors and screws in, and patched the old holes, because nothing would have held through a patched hole.  And then they hung up the mirrors for me.

After I asked them to turn off the fans they were using to dry the front hall because the loud sound makes my daughter nervous, and they saw how I had to coax her downstairs to get past them to go to work, they asked me if I had paint for the front hall.  When I handed the can to the lead guy, he said he’d paint it for me.

“Really? You’ll make me cry.”

“Do you have paint for the trim?”

“Here it is. ”

“I’ll do the walls. You do the trim.”

Then he left and his guy did the trim anyway.

So yes, I cried a little.  I’m at the end of my rope with the work, and close to being done, and feeling stupid for spending so much on it all, and now these guys have gotten me closer to the finish line faster than I thought I could go.  I won’t be up until 2 am after chorus rehearsal tonight doing it myself, just to get it ready for my brothers and sister-in-law tomorrow.

When I feel defeated, like when that screw anchor ripped out of the wall,  I let go. Then kindness comes from unexpected places, helping me keep the faith that maybe I will actually get a job before I run out of money and have to start dipping into the already too-small retirement fund.

Sell more stuff on eBay,  lose the the cable, scour the house for more stuff to sell to Half Priced Books. We’ll have this house, for now, and this town, so familiar and comfortable.

The colors are more brilliant here than they were on our excursion. Yesterday we finally got our bright blue October day, and the sun just came out again.

Time to make soup. And pie.

Until pictures prove I actually made them, I remain,

Your grateful-but-spendy-and-anxious-but-hopeful,

Ridiculouswoman

How Not to Strip Wallpaper: Part Two

Collect new wall-mounted cabinet from immaculate Big Box home store, where you have applied for a job and they haven’t called. Surprise.

Measure, drill, screw anchors, screws. This is the drywall part of the wall. Drills easily. Hang mirror. Wait, little triangular mirror-hanger thingees on back of mirror don’t quite reach? BUT I MEASURED, DAMMIT! Try starting the other side first. Hang over protruding screw. See if you can bend little triangular hanger thingee a smidge. Success! Off to a good start.

Unbox new cabinet on bedroom floor. Follow instructions.  Attach sides to shelf. Install rod. No, wait, rod won’t fit when sides already attached. Unscrew one side, install rod in holes provided, reattach side. Attach top to sides. Flip over.  Attach back flimsy cardboard backing grooved to look like beadboard to sides and top with tiny little nails.  Oops, beadboard-looking side is supposed to be on the inside. Remove. Ha! Hammer pries out tiny little nails easily. Turn over, reattach. Why are there so many tiny little nails left over? Oh, they assumed destruction of tiny little nails through amateur hammering. HA!  Didn’t bend a single one.

Attach doors by putting plastic posts into plastic “hinge anchors,

Attach wedge-shaped screw-bracket thingees to inside top of cabinet. Hmm, screwdriver doesn’t fit at angle that allows screwing in brackets. No pre-drilled holes?  Turn cabinet upside down to stand on its top. Leverage? Useless. Screwdriver still won’t fit.  WHAT IDIOT WROTE THESE INSTRUCTIONS? THE WEDGE-SHAPED BRACKET THINGEES SHOULD HAVE BEEN ATTACHED TO THE TOP BEFORE THE CABINET WAS ASSEMBLED BY SCREWING INTO PRE-DRILLED HOLES THAT AREN’T THERE! AUGHGHGHGHHGHG!!!

Disassemble cabinet. Mark and drill holes into inside top. Attach first wedge-shaped screw bracket thingee. DAMMIT WHERE’S THAT OTHER SCREW? Retrieve reasonable facsimile of supplied screw from impressive collection of screws leftover from previous projects, at bottom of drill case bag. Reassemble cabinet.

Follow instructions to drill “small hole” through wedge-shaped screw bracket thingee and flimsy backing. Carry cabinet to bathroom to mark where to drill holes for mounting. Select a spot directly above spackle mark from previously mounted towel rack. Should be a drillable spot, right? Up on stepstool, hold cabinet against wall while bending sideways over sink. Silently thank 8-lb dumbbell workouts.

Step down. Discover pencil tip too short to go through “small holes.”  No marks made. Dispel frustration by drilling larger hole through bracket and flimsy backing. Back on step ladder, hoist cabinet, mark.

Lower cabinet, retrieve drill. Commence drilling.

Plaster dust falls. Note to self: don’t breathe, just in case. Clean with wet tissue when finished. Wait, wha? Drill not progressing into wall. Press harder. Hot smell. Drill motor frying. Cease drilling. Note progress of about  1/32nd inch, accompanied by a pile of plaster dust. Step off ladder. WTF! how am I going to get this thing on the wall?

Plan B.

Retrieve hammer and reasonable facsimile of supplied screws from impressive collection.  HAMMER THAT SUCKER THROUGH TINY 32ND OF AN INCH DEPRESSION. Hear chunks of concrete lath fall down inside wall. Shrug. What happens inside the wall stays inside the wall.

Holy shit, that worked. Screw goes through wall, doesn’t crack plaster, and comes out easy. HA! UNSTOPPABLE! Hammer in screw anchors. Pick up cabinet again, careful not to drop supplied screws. Screw through holes and into screw anchors, pressing hard and sweating. There.

Step off ladder.

Note 45 degree angle slant of cabinet.

Laugh. Really, the only thing left to do here is laugh. It’s 10:30 p.m. and you’re sweating profusely and you’ve been at this all day. Sigh.

Unscrew cabinet from wall. Remind self not to lose supplied screws. Deploy too-short level (yes, you have a level, but this is the first time in more than forty years of hanging things on walls that you have used it) to draw a straight line from one screw anchor across to above other too-low screw anchor. Drill 1/32nd inch deep hole.  Repeat screw and hammer maneuver. BAM! Something more falls inside wall. Shrug. Spare screw anchor from impressive collection goes in easy and tight.

Pick up cabinet, check for supplied screws you reminded yourself not to lose. DAMMIT WHERE’S THAT OTHER SCREW? Retrieve reasonable facsimile. Step up on ladder. Relieved to discover supplied screw still halfway in wedge-shaped bracket thingee inside cabinet. Place level on top of cabinet. Holes match up! GENIUS! Screw in screws, pressing hard, sweating profusely. Step down, wipe up plaster dust with wet tissue. Step back. Straight. HA! WINNER AND STILL CHAMPEEN!

Measure, hammer, anchor, screw, hang picture. Done. It’s 11:30 p.m. You haven’t eaten since lunchtime. HA! Intermittent fasting! Lose three pounds overnight!

Consume demure snack of grapes and cheese. Regain three pounds.

Shower, off to bed.

Step on lost screw for wedge-shaped screw anchor.

HA! FOUND IT!

Enjoying our redecorated bathroom, I remain, your UNDEFEATED

Ridiculouswoman