This blog chronicles my life as I try to balance healthy lifestyle habits with my husband's penchant for pizza rolls and my daughter's desire to watch iCarly 8 hours a day. It contains a mostly humorous, kind, and somewhat spiritual look at everyday life and the people who live it.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Benjamin Moore is better than Valium

For many people these are symbols of hope, of everything being right in their life, of a better tomorrow:

And while I am a huge believer in several of these symbols myself, for me symbols of hope look like this:

And I don't think I am alone in thinking this way. I think the advent of HGTV and DIY and the boom in the home improvement market comes from people feeling hopeful. Feeling positive. Feeling empowered to make a change for the better in their own personal space. I am never more at peace than when I am tearing down wallpaper, sanding woodwork, filling holes, and rolling on paint. These actions, by their very nature, are hopeful: they show trust in my future, belief in my ability to renew, and a certain mastery over my surroundings. Does a suicidal person pick out a paint color, paint a room and freshen the window treatments? Probably not. Does a depressed person slipcover the couch, sew new pillow covers and light the candles on the mantel? What are some of the first things that tend to slip when a family is in crisis: beds not being made, dishes undone, papers stacking up, and laundry going stale.
I'm a huge believer in "acting as if" because I believe that our subconscious doesn't really know the difference between true hope and hopeful actions. I think we can fool ourselves into being happy, productive, positive, and hopeful simply by doing the things that a happy, productive, positive, and hopeful person does. Right now I'm not exactly sure where my future is going. I quit my job. I'm not in school. I'm not sure what I want to be when I grow up and I'm not even sure that I'm supposed to be anything, at least until my daughter is a little older. At first I felt jittery. I should be doing something. I should be replacing my teaching job with something else. I had a lot of I shoulds.
Then I spotted it, the neon OPEN sign glowing even in the bright sun: Benjamin Moore paints sold here. Welcome, We're Open. So I painted the half bath. Then my daughter's room. Now I'm ready to start my daughter's bathroom. There are wallpaper borders to steam, a deep burgundy to primer, a lot of woodwork to freshen, and some fixtures to move. I'm still not sure about my future but I feel hopeful. I feel energized. I'm renewing my surroundings while my soul renews its career goals.
I may not be on-track for a CEO position, but my half bath sure looks good. And that's something.

Friday, October 30, 2009

One drill, 8 screws, 2 curtain rods & me

Let me begin by stating: I love my home. I think the previous owners did a fantastic job picking out paint colors, wood finishes, designing the floor plan, and choosing the carpeting. The previous owners did not, however, have a talent for putting up curtain rods.

"Please leave all curtain rods and associated hardware." we wrote in our contract when we bought the home. I was trying to save myself from having to move in, fill a bunch of huge-drywall-anchor-sized holes, paint, and then be able to put up new hardware. Ironically I am having to do exactly that because you see the curtain rods are mounted four inches below the top moulding of each window. That's right, I said below. It is the most unusual placement of a curtain rod I have ever seen. Rather than elongating the window it bisects the view. Most standard 84" curtains drag the floor (as opposed to puddling on the floor in a display of decadence and luxury), and it is disconcerting to have the curtain rods below the moulding.

Well I'm no slacker, I'll just get Steve's trusty drill and move those rods up about 6 inches. Easy, right? Wrong. It's important now that you know that when we hung the curtain rods in our daughter's freshly painted room we broke the Phillips Head drill bit for the drill so when I went to remove the screws on the oddly-low rods in the family room I had to use a bit that was not made for the drill and is therefore too small. So it kept falling out. So I kept trying to tighten it back in and try again. It kept losing traction on the screws and falling out. Now I like to keep at problems like this for a good 5 minutes or so - you know just enough time to thoroughly round out the screw head so that I when I finally decide to just get the &*^% screwdriver and take the screw out manually I no longer have enough traction to do so. But maybe that's just me.

So I go back to trying the drill (having learned nothing from my previous 100 failures). This time I decide to push that button on the drill that Steve always pushes when he has failed 100 times. I don't know exactly what the button does, but when Steve pushes it, grunts, curses a bit, and pushes the drill really hard into something he seems to get success.

I pushed the button. I grunted. I cursed. I pushed the drill really really hard into the screw. The drill bit slid right off the screw and punched a decent sized hole in the wall. Hmm. I get the spackle out of my big center apron pocket and patch that hole right up. I try again. This time I decide (wisely) to hold a small cork coaster next to the spot I'm drilling. Yep, it worked like a champ because this time after I pushed the button, grunted, cursed, and pushed the drill really hard into the screw it flew right off the top of the screw and punched a decent sized hole in my hand that was holding the coaster. I didn't have any band-aids in my big apron pocket so I decided to forego the medical attention and just stick to the cursing. Besides by now the drill feels a little hot and I'm thinking the blood running down my hand may cool the bit, kind of a like a morbid wet-saw.

I am having a harder time holding the drill now. My arm is tired. One hand is bloody. The screw-heads are completely rounded out - so much so that I actually contemplate using an Allen wrench instead of a screwdriver. I cursed a blue-streak, grunted, and pushed that drill into the screw as hard as I can yet success eludes me. I briefly consider going to Lowe's to buy the appropriate drill bit for our drill, but I've wasted the afternoon now, school is almost out, and I have to return to my real job.

Drill, screws, curtain rods = 1.
Beth = 0.

But on the bright side, at least I didn't wet my pants this time!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Beth + Home Improvement = Disaster

Well, maybe Disaster is an exaggeration, but I do seem to have some perilous experiences doing what many would consider fairly mundane tasks. Today I was merely painting my daughter's room, a pretty common and not too difficult task, right? WRONG. I love watching the designers on HGTV paint rooms: first they clear everything out of the room, then they prep, finally they paint. Not so at my house where I am forced to paint with all of my daughter's furniture in the middle of her room creating about an 18" border around the edge of the room for me to sit, stand, or place my ladder. This is probably a good time to mention that my daughter's room has 14' ceilings so I needed a really big ladder. A really big and heavy ladder. In addition to not clearing out the room properly, I like to spice up my painting experience by prepping as I go. I don't intentionally skip the prep work, there just always seems to be a stray nail or screw hole that I miss during prep that I notice whilst 6 inches away from the wall, clinging to the ladder, and painting. In order to minimize my trips up and down the ladder I like to wear an apron with a big center pocket where I can keep my drywall spackle, putty knife, Oops! Paint Wipes, and of course my cell phone. That's another key component to remember: during this entire episode I am talking on my cell phone, using my headset of course.

So I clamber up the ladder, my center of gravity slightly off due to the heavy swinging of my big apron pocket up front. I don't really have room to set up the ladder properly so I have a nearly vertical ascent instead of a nice safe angled ascent. I have rubber-banded towels to the top of my ladder to keep the ladder's edge from damaging the wall. This works great, except for the fact that the rubber grips on the ladder's edge that are designed to grip the wall can no longer do any ...uh...gripping. Anyway, no matter, I climb the ladder with my EZ Grip paint can in one hand, cell phone ear bud in one ear, and my paintbrush in my teeth. It takes me a moment after I have climbed the ladder to realize that the ladder isn't squarely resting on both feet on the floor, one foot has caught the edge of my drop cloth and is able to pivot. This pivot, felt about 10 feet in the air, is really contributing to my feeling of being off balance. The problem is I have no where to go! When I shift my weight to one foot to go back down, the ladder pivots awkwardly away from the wall. I have only one hand free to hold on the ladder and am concerned, due to my vertical angle, that if I let go of the ladder to try to steady myself against the wall, I'll fall.

Now obviously I'm not still trapped up on the ladder (carrying a laptop in my big front apron pocket would be outlandish, even for me), so eventually I figured out to lean my body weight forward (thus pushing the ladder against the wall) and kind of slither down the ladder without shifting side to side too much.

All's well that ends well. The room is painted. Two coats, no less. I am safely on the ground again and grateful the job is done. A few drops of paint did slosh over the top of my EZ Grip paint can during my "slithering down the ladder" but it seemed a fairly small price to pay considering what almost happened. Actually, it's one of the smaller prices I have paid: once while stripping wallpaper in my bathroom I ended up wetting my pants because I waited too long to use the toilet and found myself with a boiling hot steamer in one hand, no place to put it down, and jeans too sweat-slicked to my legs to come down just using the other hand. I danced around a minute or two valiantly struggling to get out of my jeans and not give myself third degree burns but all the jumping around merely hurried the inevitable: me wetting my pants while literally standing next to a toilet.

I think I'll take up roofing next.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

It's the same, but different

The year is 1982. I walk into the Salem Mall in Dayton, Ohio with my mom. It's a banner day for my 12-year-old-self because Mom and I are going to check out the new specialty clothing store that has just opened: The Limited.
Ahhh, the Limited. I loved this store. The Limited came to our town about the same time the hormone fairies upped my interest in my appearance to an all-time-high and I was ready, babysitting money in hand, to be transformed.

Prior to the opening of the Limited my mom and I had shopped in department stores. There weren't a lot of specialty clothing stores around in the early '80s and department store shopping was pretty common. My mom's store of choice was JCPenney. She loved the catalog, the lower prices, the towels, and the "modest" style they promoted for girls my age. My store of choice was Elder-Beerman, a slightly more upscale department store that wasn't at the mall thus making it feel more special because it looked so large in its surrounding landscape. I bought my first pair of "Lee pin-striped-baggies" at Elder-Beerman. My first mini-skirt. My first pair of chinos to be paired with, what else?, a pastel Izod shirt and sweater. My first pair of too-tight Gloria Vanderbilt jeans (also paired with a pastel Izod, of course), and my first pair of Calvin Klein jeans, worn exclusively with my brown leather lace up Eastland "deck" shoes and striped socks that matched my (wait for it...) Esprit striped T shirt. Oh I was a dish, my friends, a dish I say.

But all that changed on that glorious fall day when The Limited opened up at the mall. The Limited was a store catering just to me. No longer did I have to shop where my mother shopped. No fear of my finery being rung up at the same time as one of my mother's industrial strength 18 hour bras. No fraternizing with old ladies with a blue rinse in the purse department. There were deep V Forenza sweaters in jewel tones as far as the eye could see. Matching socks in a decadently thick knit. Belts. Earrings. Everything my little 12-year-old heart could want with a premium price that buckled my knees, boggled my mind, and had me babysitting 20 hours just to afford a Forenza T shirt. I didn't care. It was worth it.

I wrote on my Christmas lists for the next 5 years: Anything from The Limited. Birthdays. Confirmation. 8th Grade Graduation. School clothes shopping for high school. "Any particular color?" my mom would ask. "No mom, just as long as it comes from The Limited." I would answer with just enough contempt in my voice to make it clear that the buyers for The Limited would never make a color error. Forenza. Outback Red (OBR to those in the know). Limited Express. I was in heaven.

Time went by. I aged. I graduated from high school. I went to college. Stores like the Gap, American Eagle, and Banana Republic began battling with The Limited for my spending dollar. I got married. I graduated from college. I got a full time job. Professional wardrobe needs began to push aside denim and I found myself frequenting Dress Barn, Casual Corner, and TJ Maxx. I never really knew when The Limited closed at the Salem Mall. I hadn't been to that mall regularly in years and hadn't been in the store itself for a decade when I noticed one day, home for the holidays and running to the mall for a last minute item, that the store was no longer there. "Oh, The Limited is gone!" I thought for a moment as I whisked by on my way to Lazarus. I had a momentary feeling of loss, quickly crowded out by a shopping agenda and my eye catching a new colorful display at Victoria's Secret. I certainly didn't notice that a key component of what shaped my adolescent sense of style and self was gone.

I didn't notice, that is, until last weekend when, on a routine jaunt to a mall in Massachusetts I saw it, big bold banner proclaiming: The Limited, Now Open! "The Limited!" I exclaimed to Steve and our bored-and-bewildered daughter, "they brought back The Limited!" My reaction was visceral, immediate, and strong: I was instantly yanked back in time 27 years to the first time I had seen the store. The banners proclaiming "Forenza!" were swaying gaily in the air-handler-breeze, the chrome racks were filled with all manner of shirts, sweaters, and jackets. I felt inexplicably happy as I walked by. As I walked by. I didn't go in. It's not my time anymore. I have a not-too-far-from-12 year old myself who was pulling me into Aeropastale. Hollister. Abercrombie. I see her face as we approach these frequently too-dark-and-too-loud specialty stores with premium prices. I know what her Christmas list will say this year: "Anything from Aeropastale!" "Any particular color?" I'll ask. "No Mom, " she'll say with slight contempt and disgust, "just as long as it's from Aeropastale! Or Abercrombie."

Maybe I'll make up my own Christmas list this year: "Anything as long it comes from Coldwater Creek!" "Any particular color?" my husband will ask.

You know how I'll respond.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Okay, I'm Home again...Now What?

This is the view I have from my great room, kitchen, bedroom, and deck. Pretty magnificent, eh? I get to see this view all day long. Every day. You see, it's over: the kindergarten job that just would not end has, well, ended. I'm home again. I feel relieved, excited, exhausted, and completely and utterly without purpose. How did this happen? I have been a stay-at-home mom since my daughter was born 10 years ago! Well, except for 4 years ago when I worked as a substitute teacher at her school. And oh yea, except for 2 years ago when I decided to go back to school to get a Master's in ...well, I never did figure that out. And except for the past 2 years during which I have been a professional volunteer at my daughter's school.

I'm very good at not having a job, but I'm not very good at staying home.

I think I'm going back to the basics of what I do best: work out and decorate my home. I can't imagine a more perfect fit for me than to work on my health and create peaceful, warm, inviting, and welcoming spaces for my family and friends. I have resisted this very calling since we moved to Massachusetts for various reasons: we were renting, we were unpacking, we were on vacation, I was at work, but I am home now and there are no more excuses not to get busy. Yet still I resist. Why? Well, I'm a little gun-shy. I have worked on me and my home and then sold the home, worked on a new home, sold that home, got a new home, sold that home. Part of the reason that I'm not so good at staying at home is because home keeps changing.

Be resilient. Start over. Have faith.

Show up. Do the work. Let go of the outcome. Enjoy the journey.

Stay home.

Well, I'm home, and right now home is a 4 bedroom colonial with a great view.

Eat your veggies. Meditate. Do yoga. Let go of the outcome. Enjoy the journey. Sanctify yourself and your surroundings will be sanctified with you.

I'm a practicing vegan. I have the class schedule for my gym tacked to the cork board in the kitchen and my workout shoes are by the door. I am drinking water and forgoing sugar. Right now my body is a 39 yr-old slightly flabby model with great potential. I love potential.

Show up. Slow down. Get motivated. Stay home.

Breathe. Yeah, it's always the breathing that I forget to do.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Dear Lord Beth, are you still working?

Yes, Yes I am, actually. How is that possible? Well, the teacher for whom I was substituting has opted to not return to work, a new teacher hasn't been hired yet, and oh yeah, I'm a complete sucker. A complete and total sucker, just to clarify.

I like my kids. I am really connected to these kids. I wish only the best for them. I rejoice in their triumphs and grieve their defeats. I am torn, so terribly completely and totally torn by my sense of responsibility and obligation to the kids and my bone-deep conviction that I need this job to end, and soon. I don't want the kids to suffer a series of subs whilst our principal drags her feet hiring someone new. I don't want their little routine -- the routine for which I have contributed blood, sweat, and tears to create for them -- to be disrupted. I was out of school for 2/3 of a day on Thursday because my own daughter was sick and the principal never even brought in a sub, she just had a series of miscellaneous staff "stop in" throughout the day to assist my 87-year-old aide who didn't know what she was supposed to be doing with the kids and so basically just played "wheels on the bus" with them and took them to the bathroom. This is the commitment the principal has to these kids. Didn't even make sure they had a teacher. So if that's what's going to happen when I am gone for 4 hours, what's it going to be like for these kids when I am simply gone? I know that no one is ever irreplaceable but I also know that there has to be a desire to replace and right now, I'm not sure my principal has that desire.

Yet I also know that this job is not good for me, for my family, for my marriage. It's not that I have a job (although that certainly has been a shock to my family) it's this job, with these commitments, with this drama. If I were you, right about now I'd be sure that I am exaggerating: drama? You're a kindergarten teacher, Beth, not a brain surgeon. Well my friends, there's nothing like a principal who believes in dressing down her teachers in front of the students to create a little drama in your life. My Principal, who despite spelling rules to the contrary is NOT MY PAL, has, for the third time yelled at me in front of my class. This last verbal lambasting was because I had told the kids that the teacher, we'll call her Mrs. M, for whose return I had been preparing them for 6 weeks, would not be returning. my princiPAL didn't want me to say anything until she had a chance to say something. Okay, great, say something. Oh, wait, she didn't! She just expected me to smile blandly at these children when they asked "Where's Mrs. M? You said she was coming back today!" Smile. Smile. Smile. The kids would have thought I was insane. They wouldn't have stopped asking! They wouldn't have just forgotten! They have memories as accurate as a digital recorder when it comes to things that affect their lives! I waited 3 days to say anything and then when no word was coming from the office I figured I'd better prepare the kids that they next day Mrs. M wouldn't be coming in. For this I was yelled at, in front of my class, in front of another parent who happened to be in our class, and treated like dirt.

And this wasn't the first time. On the first day of school my princiPAL yelled at me over the PA system for not being in the lunch room with the kids (the 8th grade teacher was there and suggested I get some lunch while she watched the kids). I've also been reprimanded for not signing the school phone log when I made a phone call (I didn't use the school phone, I used my personal phone because I made the phone call while driving my daughter to dance class).

I have used my own personal money to buy classroom supplies, my own personal UNPAID time to set up the classroom, my own personal books to populate our classroom library, and my own personal sense of responsibility has kept me at this job way past the agreed upon time frame.

All those things, apparently, mean nothing to my princiPAL. Now to be fair, she did apologize for "coming down so hard" on me. Let's face it folks, she apologized not because she was sorry for how she spoke to me but because she remembered I am a tuition paying parent and she didn' t want to lose that tuition.

I need to end this job before I forget all the things I like about the school. I need to end this job before I forget all the things I like about the principal. I need to end this job before the twitching in my eye gets any worse. I need to end this job.

Spiritually I feel in chaos: I was presented an opportunity. I jumped. The opportunity has brought me tremendous joy and tremendous heartache as well. Now 20 little lives are affected by my decisions, not to mention Steve's life, my daughter's life, and mine as well. I am struggling just to go to work each day as I wonder if I'll get hit by another drive-by-shouting by the PrinciPAL. I feel sad that I'll miss their little Halloween party. I feel sick thinking I might still be there by Halloween. I feel sad that I'll not be the one who makes handprint turkeys with these kids. I feel tremendous stress just thinking about work tomorrow. Is this the plight of other teachers? Do they love the kids yet abhor their boss whose priority is not the children but micromanaging-spin-doctoring-and-penny-pinching to ensure that all parents are happy and the bottom line is constant while the teachers are treated like dirt?

Right now I truly believe that I am the only non-parent in the school who really cares what happens to these kindergartners. The princiPAL does not care. If she did, she would have been honest with the kids and parents about Mrs. M not returning. She would have made hiring a new teacher a priority. She would have taught the class herself if she'd been unable to find another sub. She would never have yelled at their teacher in front of them. She would treat them as children, human beings with feelings, fears, and attachments, rather than income.

And that is why I angst about leaving. Steve says, "it's not your problem, it never was." He's right, it's not my problem, but now that I have had 7 weeks with these kids, aren't they my responsibility too? Do I go behind the princiPAL's back and tell the parents to demand a teacher be hired? Do I tell them just how "forgotten" their kids are? Do I tell them to demand their almost $4,000 in tuition back because their kids certainly aren't getting what the parents are paying for?

I don't know what to do.