Monthly Archives: October 2010

A girl’s best friend is her contractor

We just had half a dozen windows replaced in our home, not with replacement windows where all they have to do is pop out the sash, but with new construction windows. Some of the sills were rotting so we had no choice. As long as we were at it, we decided to add a window where there never had been one before, to get a cross breeze upstairs.

The work was well along when I said something to Bob, the master carpenter, about spackling and painting the inside trim. He looked at me like I was bit dim and said, “I don’t do that.” Really, I thought, then who does? Apparently the homeowner, that’s who. Andrew shrugged and allowed as how we probably should do it ourselves. I interpreted we to mean him. Little did I know that we would turn out to mean me. (I’m not suggesting that Andrew deliberately planned a work trip so that I would be left dealing with the contractors and the questions, and the spackling and the painting, I’m just saying…)

The contractors came and went for two weeks. Other jobs would interrupt ours; it rained, making outside work difficult; there was a crisis at Bob’s own house that needed addressing. Meanwhile, the inside of my house was a mess; furniture pulled into the middle of the room, artwork leaning on walls instead of hanging on them, tape on the windows, beach towels hanging where blinds used to be. I wanted my house back, so I went to work.

When Bob showed up, I’d report with pride what I’d accomplished the day (or night) before. “Look Bob, I spackled under that window where there were big holes in the wallboard.” He gave me a thumb’s up.

Another day, “I primed the sills, but they look kind of streaky.”

“Not a problem with primer,” he said, “but watch it with the finish coat.”

I pulled the tape off a window, it pulled off some paint. I confessed that to Bob and he said, “You left it on too long. You know you’re not supposed to do that.” How was I supposed to know that? Does everyone know that? Who told them? He said, “Here, let me show you a trick.” He ripped off a long piece of tape, pressed the sticky side against his sweatshirt, and pulled it off again. “There,” he said. “Now this tape is ready to use. It’ll hold, but it won’t pull off paint.” I had so much to learn.

When I finally waved good-bye to the trailer that had been parked in my driveway, I felt sad. There’s something addictive about having work done on the house. Maybe that’s because the crew kept pointing out things that weren’t quite right, that might be trouble spots in the future, but whatever the reason, I’m going to miss having them around. Andrew has been talking about moving the door in the family room. I thought that was crazy talk, but now I’m not sure. And I have plenty of spackle left.


Shop ’til you drop, or not

I am hardly what you’d call a conspicuous consumer. It’s not surprising given that I have little tolerance for shopping. I walk into a department store and immediately feel overwhelmed. I’m instantly reminded of all the things I’ve been meaning to replace; elderly, shapeless sweaters, my worn-out purse, the leather jacket with the tear in the shoulder. And then there are the things I think I’d enjoy; some kind of makeup that would make me feel, if not look, younger, gloves that are warm and stylish, a party dress (and a party to wear it to). If, however, I stop to look at something other than what I came in for, I use up some of my limited supply of shopping energy, which I need in order to execute the intended purpose of the trip.

Despite the fact that I lack a ‘shopping-for-pleasure’ gene, I don’t deprive myself. I splurge on all sorts of things. Why just yesterday, I threw out the bar of soap in my shower because it had gotten too small. Someone else might have been able to wring a dozen or more showers out of it, but that didn’t deter me. I like a bar of soap with some heft to it.

I splurged at the supermarket today. I bought a bag of baby carrots. After turning up my nose at carrots for most of my life, I discovered that it’s not carrots I dislike, it’s carrot preparation. Per pound, I’d undoubtedly pay less for a bunch of unpeeled carrots, but then I’d never eat them. So now I buy baby carrots. You know the ones, they’re pre-peeled and can be eaten without guilt by the fistful. Nor do I any longer wash and tear lettuce. Whoever invented pre-washed bags of mixed greens should be awarded some sort of prize. Life is too short to spend any of it managing lettuce consumption.

Much of my splurging is done on food. Since I’m typically in charge of feeding my little family, I’m responsible for many of our takeout meals. Andrew lives for Friday night when he can eat pizza, but Hannah’s not a big pizza fan, so I try to give her equal time with Chinese or Thai food. Then there are the days when I’ve spent too long doing, I’m not sure exactly what, and run out of time for food preparation. And if I haven’t gotten to the supermarket, and there’s nothing in the refrigerator to eat, can you really call takeout splurging, or is it a necessity?

Sometimes I buy things online. (If you’re not doing it where someone can see, does that make you an inconspicuous consumer?) For instance, I always buy the book my bookclub is reading (next up is Little Bee, by Chris Cleave). I like the tangible evidence of how long we’ve been together as a group, almost twenty years now. I’d prefer to buy those books locally, but every time I turn around another local bookstore has disappeared. If I promise to splurge on books more than soap, or carrots, or lettuce, do you suppose I can lure a bookstore back to the neighborhood?

Here’s an idea, someone should open a bookstore that also sells soap, vegetables and clothes. But then there’d be too much variety, and when I walked in I’d just get tired and have to walk right out again. I have to stop now; I’m exhausted.

My not-so-dirty little secret

How many of you are familiar with Webkinz? You know, the bigger-than-Beanie Babies, smaller-than-Build-a-Bear stuffed animals that come with a password that lets you log on to a companion web site? If you have young-teenage girls in the house, or even just in the family, I’m betting you’ve seen these animals many times over the years. You might not know they’re special at first glance, but you can identify them by the colorful W stitched into the sole of one of their feet. Some of them are very appealing, some less so, but they’re all equal if your goal is access to the Webkinz web site.

When you log onto the site and register your stuffed animal, you unlock a year of access to all their games and activities. Each animal you register has an online avatar, and there is a care-taking aspect built into the experience. It’s not quite as rigorous as the one for Tamagotchis, where if you don’t feed them they die. In Webkinz-land, if you don’t feed your online pet, well, to tell the truth, I don’t know what happens. I’ve never let anyone’s happiness/hunger score fall below 85. I mean my daughter, my daughter never let anyone’s score fall below 85.

Okay, so it’s out, my not-so-dirty little secret. I am a closet Webkinz fan. For me it’s not because of the animals (although I’m a sucker for anything I can name and pretend is real), I’m in it for the games. It’s a site I can go to for mindless entertainment without worrying about whether or not I’m going to inadvertently download something to my machine, or fall in love with a game that you can only play until you’re addicted and then you have to buy it. The games are just like the ones you find at grown-up sites, but they’re in primary colors.

These little stuffed animals were all the rage some years ago when my daughter was exactly the right age for them. They came in droves; birthdays, bribes, rewards, just-because-I-love-you presents. She was on the computer constantly and all the stuffed animals got lots of attention. Then the unthinkable happened, she outgrew them.

One day I logged in using her password and was greeted with a message that said that the last Webkinz we had registered had now reached a year old and it was time to say good-bye. I panicked. Stop using Webkinz cold turkey? Were they out of their minds? I saw no way out. I grabbed my visiting exchange student and dragged her to the mall where I made her pick out a Webkinz animal, and presented it to her as a present, minus the tag with the access code.

I’m hooked up again for one more year. I know I’m going to expire next summer so in the spring I’ll start planning for the end. I might even pick my least favorite of the animal avatars and see what happens if you let it starve. Then I can call this whole thing an elaborate experiment, rather than what it really is, my guilty pleasure.

Not time to give up the fight

Today, I read a piece in The Boston Globe called, Retirement’s soft landings, by Susan Trausch. She talks about how difficult the transition is from doing whatever it is you’ve been doing all these years, to not doing it, even if you are, in fact, doing something. Lots of people look forward to retirement as the time when they can finally do all the things they’ve been putting off because they didn’t have time. (This assumes, of course, that they’ve socked away enough money.)

My father thinks that since I’m not actively looking for a job out of the house, that I’ve retired. He tells me I’m too young to retire. I explain that I haven’t retired. If I hadn’t been laid off, I wouldn’t have been considering retirement. My war chest wasn’t full yet, and there weren’t a bunch of things I dreamed of doing that I wasn’t; except for one.

I always wanted to be a writer, so I decided to take the opportunity of my unemployment to write a book. I spent the first year learning and creating, and for the most part I was happy. As the second year begins, I’m trying to sell my creation, and I’m experiencing rejection. This is not the fun part of being a writer. This is the part that makes you question whether or not you should be looking for a ‘real’ job.

Before you all jump in to reassure me that all the best writers suffered plenty of rejection, let me state, unequivocally, that I know that. I fully expected the same. What I did not anticipate was how debilitating rejection can be. I repeat my mantras, “It’s just one person’s opinion,” and “Publishing is so subjective,” and still I sleep later, nap more, and spend too much time staring vacantly out the window. And last week, I went tilt; I looked at job listings on Craigslist.

There was one job that seemed tailor made for a marketing professional trying to ease into (or out of) work, twenty hours a week, excellent hourly wage, flexible schedule. It had my name all over it. The more I thought about applying, the more panicky I became. It took me a while, but I realized that looking at job listings was a fear response on my part, my version of fight or flight. Coming up with a plot for a new novel was going to be very hard, looking for a job was the best way to run away from the problem.

Trausch said, “Some people call retirement “the pasture,” but it’s really more like an airport and the departures and landings are endless.” Sounds like when you retire you give up the fight, in exchange for a lot of flights. I’m not ready to do that. If living the life of a writer means experiencing rejection, even as you continue to write, then I’ll just have to forge ahead. Besides, who can afford to fly in this economy?