Posts Tagged With: renovations

Simple Gifts

There’s a lovely Shaker hymn written in 1848 — “Simple Gifts.”  I’ve always loved the tune, and the words are just as beautiful as the tune itself:

“Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free

‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,

And when we find ourselves in the place just right,

‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.”

The first stanza is what looped in my head all day as I stayed home, alternately sleeping and reading.

What a joy it is to have the simple gift of a home itself, a sanctuary, a place of safety.  So many people don’t have the opportunity or the chance, and far too often we take our own homes for granted.  As I read through the news today, I was reminded just how fortunate I am.

The home itself, built in the 1920s, is a cottage or bungalow style, built on piers.  After all, in the coastal areas that architecture makes sense.  There are lots of large windows as well (and now they open, too, and have screens) so that breezes can circulate and cool the house.  Of course, in the heat of summer — which starts early and stays late here — it’s much more comfortable to use the air-conditioning.  In fall, though, as soon as the temperatures drop, it’s a treat to simply open a couple of windows and allow the breezes to circulate.

Because it’s older and on piers, some floors aren’t level.  Truly.  There’s an actual hump in the kitchen, right in front of the stove.  If I stand barefoot, my arch can actually curve to fit it.  Short of pulling the entire floor up and re-building, I’m not sure I can fix this.  Somewhere in the past, that board simply warped and settled.

Nor is the only such quirk in my home.  For years, before I discovered that there wasn’t a support beam anywhere from the living room to the back (and had one put in), the house wasn’t level — it was so not level that you could drop a tennis ball in the living room and watch it roll through the kitchen and the laundry room to the back room.  The house is more level now, and the floors no longer offer quite the fun of tennis-ball dropping.

It’s a modest home by many standards, but I fell in love with it as soon as I walked in the front door the first time.  The large windows in the living room allowed natural light to flood the room.  Since it’s a north-facing room, that’s really nice.  The bedrooms are east-facing, also nice for gentle light.

Over the years, I’ve added my own touches.  I’ve re-painted rooms.  I’ve renovated in earlier projects, but now am involved in yet more renovation.  Years ago my brother Phil pulled out the kitchen sink and lower cabinets and built new cabinets, neat and shelved and even put in some drawers.  About that same time I put down stick-tiles, but that wasn’t a wise choice.  These have popped and broken, and I am now in the process of beginning to pull them up.  New upper cabinets have been built and are soon to replace the older ones.  As those are done, one more coat of paint on the walls should do it.  Then I’ll get the lower cabinets repainted as well.  Finally, I want a new countertop and sink — I’m thinking of granite or quartz, something clean and simple.  Aqua walls above, white wainscot below — and aqua lower cabinets, white upper cabinets.  New flooring — sheet vinyl, probably, because of the uneven floor itself — will follow.

There are other areas I’m ready to work on.  The living room needs to have the old, crumbling paneling replaced.  The ceiling tiles there are falling down, so I’d like something simple to cover the ceiling.

For so long I too took this home for granted.  It was such a place of joy and comfort for a while.  Later, though, as my mother and brother were ill and after they died (in the 90s) it became more of a place to sleep, less of a home to entertain friends.

It was more of a refuge then.  On Fridays, I’d come home and shut the front door, often staying home all weekend.  Stressful work environment and life needed some kind of balance, and this house provided it.  I simply existed in it, though it did provide me that respite from the craziness of my life beyond it.

Then as Dad’s health worsened, I spent more time with him and less time here.  Moving in with him meant I was living in the bedroom I had when I was 16.  I moved essentials of my life there.  On weekends, I could visit my own home.  There wasn’t much time, however, for working on it or for actually living in it.

But that was interesting and revealing, too.  I learned about myself and how flexible I can be.  What is essential for me.  I occupy a house about 1800 square feet, and live alone (other than the three cats and two dogs).  Yet I have lived in a 12×13 ft. bedroom, with a small area in Dad’s living room for a computer desk.  And a card-table for a work desk.

Now I live in my home again and relish the opportunities to refresh it, to open it once more to friends.  I anticipate that.  I also recognize that such renovations will not happen overnight.  I have learned patience.  I have also learned, through living in Dad’s house while renovating it, to live in the midst of such chaos.  And to make order as I can, both mentally and physically.

Right now I am in the room that was once my bedroom, a room about 13 feet square.  Now it is an office, with no pretense at being a secondary bedroom.  I have my desktop computer and printer and my beautiful Texas-star-cornered black walnut desk.  My craft tables and materials are also in here.  As I sit here, I can look beyond the computer to a wall unit that my dad built me when I was in high school.  I wanted some kind of bookcase/storage/makeup area to fit my high-school status.  He couldn’t afford to buy the furniture but he built this piece for me.  It’s been painted since then but it has a pride of place wherever I am.

Much of my furniture, in fact, is a mix of family hand-me-downs and “store-bought” furniture.  Some was bought new.  Some was bought at flea markets or antique malls.  The blend works for me.

It’s not a house that will grace the pages of Southern Living or House Beautiful.  It’s not elegant.  My friend Patty says it’s “eclectic,” and she’s right.

I can sit in the large rocker in the living room, a gift from my grandmother Ella that belonged to her parents; I have the matching love seat too.  One of my earliest memories is sitting in that very rocker, then covered with red velvet I think, in my great-grandparents’ living room — and I’m so young that my feet barely reach the edge of the seat.

If I go to the kitchen and want to make gumbo, I use a pot that my grandmother Ella gave me when I moved to Beaumont to teach at Lamar University.  There are other pots and pans, of course, but that pot is one that is special.  If I want to make fudge, I use the bottom of a pressure-cooker that my mother always used, a pot that Mother gave me at some point.  We’ve made so much fudge in it that the line where the fudge boils up to is clearly marked if you look hard enough.

If I wanted to, I could sit on my front porch and watch people without fear.  I have neighbors I know well enough to wave to, to talk to, to visit with.

What a simple gift it has been today to stay home, recovering from sinus problems.  I could sleep without worrying that someone would break in or bomb me or use poison gas.  I could walk to the kitchen, open the refrigerator or freezer and find food with no problems.  Water from the tap was fine to drink.  A stove and microwave meant that I could cook.  If I needed, I could put laundry on to wash and then dry without leaving my home or without worry.  I had extra clothes, in themselves a gift.

I could talk to friends on the telephone or text them.  I could turn on a television or listen to music.

Television allows me to watch any number of programs.  Internet opens the world yet more to me.

My pets are fed and watered.  They are cared for, not wandering the streets searching for food.

And I can take antibiotics that my doctor prescribed and that a pharmacy filled, using health insurance I can afford, with a low co-pay.

Tomorrow when I meet a friend for early coffee (he has faculty meetings tomorrow since McNeese State University’s fall term begins on Monday), I have a car that I can depend upon.

These are gifts, gifts from the work I did for years, from the savings I have, from the pension I’ve earned.

I am surrounded by gifts, gifts from loving family and friends.  Gifts from my own work. Gifts from opportunities for women that don’t exist in other parts of the world.  I went to school and was able to make teaching literature and composition my career.  I can travel without permission from my male relatives.  I can make my own financial decisions, sign my own legal papers.

Simple gifts.  Gifts to cherish.

Today was a good day to be grateful.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

My House is a Very, Very, Very Fine House

Post-retirement, I am discovering that my house is new to me again.  I’ve lived in this house for almost 27 years now, longer than I’ve ever lived in any house.  It’s different now.  In a good way, but different.  Being in a place all the time means that you relate to it in a wholly new and total manner.

My house is a 1920s cottage, on piers.  Its floors aren’t quite even.  Nothing’s exact.  The ceilings are 10 1/2 feet tall.  Some rooms have oak floors.  Some have linoleum or vinyl.  The original clawfoot bathtub is still here.

It’s not just that there’s new siding (three years ago), or a new addition (six years ago), or a new roof.  It’s not just the color (it’s now neutral beige, the color of the siding, but will be painted soon in a color similar to the original).  It’s not the new insulation, or the completely new pipes.  Or the central air/heat (I had that put in sometime in the 1990s). It’s not the new low-e windows that replaced the old windows.

Nor is it the ongoing renovations inside (sometimes I think they’ll never end).  Right now, the kitchen renovation is in a holding pattern.  One of the two new kitchen wall cabinets is sitting in my living room; the other is in a workshop.  At some point in the next month (I hope), these will replace the ones on the wall.  They look similar, but are sturdier and will be fresher.

No, it’s not the physical house itself, not at all.  It’s me.  Or rather, it’s me in the house now, post-retirement, as in no longer working.  The closest I’ve come is when I’ve been home between semesters or in summers.  Those times, though, were mere tastes of what it is like now.

I am in the house now full-time, without having to dress and drive to school, operating out of my office.  Now, I can wake up as I wish, dress when I need to do so, and leave only when I want/need to.  Sometimes, I get up and meet friends for breakfast at McDonald’s, or for coffee at Starbucks.  I can stay home all day if I want.  I don’t leave the animals alone day after day while I teach.  I’m with them a lot.  My life is in this house, with some time spent out to socialize.  But not to work somewhere else.  If I work (on a writing project, on jewelry, on a lecture-discussion series), I am usually here (though not always).

Mostly, I find that I wake up maybe by 7 or 8 a.m. and read CNN and The New York Times and The Times of London online.  I put clothes on to wash and dry.  I sweep and mop the dog room; I deal with kitty litter.  Maybe I wash dishes.  Sometimes I crawl back into bed to read.  Sometimes I watch television.

Today that’s just what I did.  Plus call in refills at the pharmacy.  And then I finished sorting three months’ worth of mail.  Now I just have to haul the garbage bag of mail detritus out to the garbage can, along with other garbage bags from house-cleaning.

At some point, I move to my office (where I am now) and work on my blog, or on other writing projects.  Right now, I’ve started re-organizing my office.  While I was gone, my friend Patty (who watched the house and the cats several times a week) moved some furniture for me (thanks to her son Mark, who added more muscle).  Now I’m re-organizing what I need to fit into the bookcase and wall unit.  And straightening out my lovely new desk (thanks to Adam Williams, my friend who built it).  Once that desk is straight, I’ll move on to the desk I use for jewelry projects. Right now it’s just a landing zone.  Progress is slow, but the office I envision is emerging.  Yesterday I cleared off the shelves in the bookcase and wall unit.  Some boxes and cases are back on the wall unit.  Now there are some boxes on the floor (which was clear), but those are today’s project.

My bedroom will get some attention too — I’ll make the bed up before I leave.  It’s always a treat to come home to a neat bed.  In the past, I often didn’t have the time (or get up early enough) to manage that.  I’ve already started putting up clean clothes.  Today, though, I need to pack for a few days at the beach.

My friend Connie and are were talking about this yesterday, when I dropped over to visit her briefly.  Now that we’re retired, we decided, we actually live in our places.  Full-time.

And I’m discovering that I really like that difference.  I am here, full-on, and enjoying being here, as opposed to in an office at school, or at work.

It’s an indulgence I’ve never had.  Maybe I wouldn’t have liked it if I’d always been a stay-at-home person, but that wasn’t my lot.  Now I appreciate the place and the time and the opportunity to just be here in my own home.

One of the things I’ve always loved about my house is the space and the large windows that let in lots of light.  In my years here, I’ve had many parties and entertained many friends.  That stopped for a long time, when I simply didn’t have the energy.  Those were the years when my mother and brother were ill, and after they died.  Sometimes I’d have a few people over, but not on the regular basis that I once did.

And I don’t really want huge parties here.  I do want to have friends over, with music pouring out and food and laughter.  That’s one of the things this house seems made for.

Years ago, Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young recorded “Our House” on their album Deja Vu, and these lyrics have always resonated for me:

“Our house is a very, very fine house
With two cats in the yard
Life used to be so hard
Now everything is easy. . . .”

Their lyrics really captured what I always saw as my ideal house — comfortable, eclectic, with pets and friends and food and music.  A place where all my friends felt welcome to drop in.  When I saw this house the first time, viewing it as a prospective buyer, I heard those lines in my head and knew it was my house.  The light hit just right.  I felt at home.

It was my joy to have parties, to entertain.  Friends came over for dinner.  I had barbeques in the backyard.  I had Christmas-tree-trimming parties.  Friends brought their children for Halloween trick-or-treating; adults came for what my friends Pam and Frank call Trick-or-Drinking.  Decorating was fun.  Nothing was too matchy-matchy.  Most of my furniture was hand-me-downs from family.  Occasionally I bought furniture.

When I felt like it, I’d move not only furniture within a room, but sometimes simply move entire rooms of furniture, deciding that I wanted my bedroom in another room, or that I wanted the dining table somewhere else.  I balanced work and living here, finding time to clean when I could.

Somewhere along the way, it became a place where I lived — slept, ate, and existed.  Things piled up.  I didn’t entertain much.  It was always a refuge, though, from the outer world, from some stress and chaos.  But the joy was gone, and for a long time.  However, that joy has been returning for a few years.  It’s been something I’ve had to work at actively, and with some therapy, and with housekeeping help.  The years of neglect have gone.  I am finding order and comfort here once more.  Sorting through so much stuff has freed me.  I’ve tossed a lot.  I’ve got more to toss.  I’ve stored some.  More boxes await sorting and purging.

And I’ve started renovating, finally, now that I have time again, having moved back to Lake Charles full-time from Egan.  I’d like to play the twitch-your-nose-and-it’s-done game (as Samantha did in Bewitched), but that’s not happening.  Instead, it happens in bits, in spurts of time, as I have money and my handyman has time.  And I’m learning to be satisfied with the progress.

As I’ve had the opportunity to renovate, I’ve found even more joy in the opportunity to create my refuge.

Retirement truly has awakened me.  It has awakened this house for me, but it has also made it new for me.

It’s my new life.  In my old house. With three cats and two dogs.  With candles.  With music.   My very very very fine house.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Who Knows Where the Time Goes?

This gentle tune has been floating in my head now for weeks, probably for all sorts of reasons.

I start to do something and then discover, days or even weeks later, that I haven’t finished or completed it.  I start to call friends and get interrupted, only to realize that I didn’t, and in fact haven’t talked to them in weeks.

I understood why this went on during Dad’s last months, and in the months immediately following his death.  But now?  Now when I think I’ve awakened from some kind of protective hibernation?

The last post is an example of this:  I actually wrote and posted it last month, except for some reason it didn’t appear.  I kept thinking I needed to log on and take care of the problem, but something always happened.  Today, though, as February is almost over, I actually did it.  One click and it’s posted.  Finally.

Some projects take my time — simultaneously I manage to play with my jewelry and crafts at times, sometimes with friends, but most often alone.  I manage this while the major project goes on around me:  kitchen renovations.

My kitchen was one of those projects that started 3 years ago and died a painful death.  I stopped because I ran out of money and time.  I was still teaching.  I was commuting more.  Then I was retired and living mostly in Egan with Dad.  It just remained an ugly eyesore in a house that screamed at me that it was being neglected.

It’s taken me months to locate someone (a) who could handle that and the porch project that must also get done and (b) who could be trusted.  Finally, after I forget how many phone calls and attempts to find someone, after the “I’ll call you back with an estimate” disappeared ones, I have found a gem.  Thanks, Sarah, for the recommendation!

That progress simply brightens everything — not just the house, but me as well.  I am moving on.  I am working on MY house.  The kitchen and the porch must be finished before I leave in late April for nearly 3 months in Greece. The other “fix me” calls will be answered, probably in order, but not until I return in July.

As Fred works, I sit at the dining room table (amidst cups and saucers and mail) and read.  Or play Words with Friends, or Scramble, or Word Warp.  Sometimes I look at catalogs.  Sometimes I look online for paint colors or sheet vinyl patterns or explore the merits of quartz vs. granite.  I spend a lot of time thinking and making lists, too.

I don’t have papers to grade or classes to prepare for, so all of those old deadlines are retired (along with me).

At other times, friends come over and visit.

Some days, the time slips by and there’s minimally visible progress in the kitchen, though a lot of prep work has gone into it.  Hours have passed and I have read newspapers and parts of books and surfed the net.  Then after Fred leaves I quickly run an errand or two.

At night I watch some television and/or read, dogs and cats curled with me on the bed.  I forget that I can use the telephone — a hangover from months with Dad, when talking on the phone could disturb him, when I slept as I could.

So for just over a month now, time has slipped away even more.  Peacefully, even enjoyably.  Yet it slips away nonetheless.

And here it is, only hours away from March 1, and in taking stock of myself and my life I hear Judy Collins in my head wondering about the time.

I can tick off some things on my to-do list.  Taxes?  Started, but waiting for more documents.  Clearing the house?  Only a bit.  Yesterday I managed to clear out the living room, sorting into three rooms.  Today?  I’ve sent some vital emails for insurance and taxes.  I’ve started clearing the office (which will take days, but if I work a little bit every day . . . .).

Each day I rise (eventually) and immediately make the bed.  Somehow that’s necessary.  I may hang around the house in sweats and a t-shirt, but if I want to crawl back into bed (and sometimes I do), I have to make an effort for that.  When Fred texts that he’s coming over to work, I corral the pets in the back and close the door.  Of course, then I hear them scratching and barking and purring for release.  Occasionally, too, Homer the Greek Goddess (from the island of Spetses) actually gets the door open and frees her companions.  She’s a street-smart Greek cat and knows how to manage.  I return the escapees to the back of the house once more and secure the door, preventing further escapes. When the mail drops through the door slot, I get it and go through it, sorting some to keep, some to toss.

So my days go.

Yet in the past six weeks or so, I’ve done road trips, too — gone to see Willie Nelson with friends and spent a night at the beach house, gone to see Lyle Lovett and Robert Earl Keen with my sister and spent a couple of nights at the beach, gone to Baton Rouge, gone to Crowley for business, to Egan and Lafayette for family and friends.  My cousin and her husband have come to the area casinos and we’ve had good visits. I’ve done some visiting here, but not what I need/want to do.  And tomorrow I’ll head to the farm in East Texas for a family weekend of laughter, food, and work.

March is slipping in and as February slips away, I put away Mardi Gras finery and begin to sort through closets and clothes.  Spring cleaning and sorting has begun.  Yet the weather hasn’t yet warmed up permanently, so I need flip-flops and sandals and shoes, sweatpants and shorts, t-shirts and sweaters.  A “cold” front has come in (far from snow, but “cold” for us here on the Gulf Coast).  I’m enjoying it, truly, because all too soon the heat will begin to rise. And rise.  And rise.  Along with the humidity.

Next week, I’ll tackle the back room of the house, sorting boxes of stuff (I have no idea what’s in some boxes) for keeping, for storing, for giving away, for junking.  That will be a marathon job, and I really look forward to it.  It’s the only way I can imagine tackling it, frankly.

Business done, business to do.  Mardi Gras over.  St. Patrick’s Day in New Orleans to come in a couple of weeks.  Planning a 3-week library series for the first three Tuesdays in April.

And the suitcase(s) for Greece will come out soon and begin to fill.

It’s 1:15 p.m on a Thursday and I haven’t been out of the house today.  I probably will, later, but I’m still figuring out time management.  And realizing that all time is precious, that time that slips away isn’t necessarily wasted.  That some things I’ve let slip need attending to — friends and time with them, not to be lost.

Who knows where the time goes?

I’m just glad I have time.  And enjoy every minute of it.

Maybe I’ll call some friends to meet me for coffee today.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: