Bathroom update: two steps back

Friends, I was so hoping to reveal our beautiful new bathroom this week. Here’s where we’re at: tiling is 95% complete, with the exception of a backsplash. (Our vanity top is beautiful, and was the deal of the century! More on that soon.) Fixtures are mostly in — except what you see here. Which is turning into a serious headache.

See, way back long ago, in a chapter that we don’t much care to revisit, our contractor asked us to choose our shower and faucet fixtures. We looked at him with big, wide eyes — at the time, the entire bathroom was gutted down to the subfloor and studs. And we had no earthly clue what we wanted it to look like, eventually. All of our creative vision was focused on the kitchen and wood floors (and framing out a laundry room, and moving electrical outlets, and and and …). We were in a state of decision-making saturation, and couldn’t make even one more.

So, he fixed us up with a cheap faucet set — which he had to do, because he had to complete the plumbing work inside the walls — and they needed the install the valve that goes behind the tile. A little vocab lesson: the “valve” is where the water pipes connect to and deliver water to the bath (13 and 14, below, I’m pretty sure). The valve holds the “cartridge” (15, below) which protrudes through your shower wall, and into this your faucet handle is eventually fitted. Turn the handle to move the cartridge to open the valve, and you’ve got flowing water.

shower valve diagram

Fast forward a year: a custom vanity is built, the tile is set, and we finally choose our lovely fixtures — carefully selecting the same brand as the cheap (read: super ugly), previously installed model to ensure everything will work together. And … the new Delta faucet handle doesn’t match up to the installed Delta cartridge. At all.

Normally, when you update or upgrade your faucet handle, you can swap out the cartridge from the front — but not so, for us. Because the valve itself — the thing attached to the pipes inside the wall — won’t accommodate the newer cartridge that came with our new fixtures. Because the contractor-installed fixture set was discontinued in 2006. (Six years before we moved in, notice. Where this fixture came from, we have no idea.) And we can’t return the (expensive) fixtures, because we’ve already opened and mostly installed them.

The most reasonable path forward? Cut a hole (this is where my shoulders slump and I open a bottle of wine and try not to yell) through the freshly painted bedroom wall directly behind the shower, and replace the entire valve.

It’s one of those projects that creates another project. And believe me, with everything on our priority list, patching, texturing, and painting a drywall hole is going to fall wayyyyy at the bottom.

The spouse is on deck for this one, because we’re out of cash — Saturday promises drywall dust, scraped knuckles, and some cursing, most likely.

Fingers crossed — we are so ready for baths and comfortable showers in this house.



The second bathroom has been gutted since we moved in a year ago. We had a vanity base built and installed, and I finally asked the spouse to hook up a toilet because, well. But we stopped there.

In about two weeks, we’ll be taking comfortable showers and BATHS again!

(Yes, that’s our kitchen range hood sitting on the unfinished bathroom vanity. I know.)





The hopeful, vulnerable, reaching-out, light-seeking efforts of spring.

Squares of sunlight belie the biting breezes that sweep through a quick-opened door. Beds are still layered with thick quilts. Fat wrens peck at the thatchy grass, searching for bits.

Tis the season to try, tender and sincere.

Step into my parlor

If the kitchen is the heart of the home, we performed no less than a full organ transplant. That was an exhausting and exhilarating effort. (And no, we still have not selected pendant lights or hung the range hood or painted the pantry door. There were other things happening this summer, like, oh, the spouse almost single-handedly building 200+ linear feet of cedar privacy fence.)

The living room, though — I’d call that effort a full package spa treatment with deep tissue massage. It was relatively simple, but required thoughtfulness and a little muscle. (And two rug purchases. New kitten + new diet + shag rug = unspeakable disaster.)

We started with a dark, dingy, box with filthy wall-to-wall carpeting. Note ugly ceiling fan. The former inhabitants must have been very short — our ceilings are only eight feet high. Not happening.

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The carpets came up early in the renovation process, making way for the wood floors. The whole house was sprayed the same color (Sherwin Williams West Highland White) before we moved in.
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The fan came down, my sister washed the fireplace bricks, and that was it for the living room — moving day arrived. We dumped our couch against a wall and then pretty much ignored this space while we dug out from boxes and nursed ourselves back from the crush of our second move in a year. If it takes five years to hear the sound of a tape gun again, it will be too soon.

But I kept staring at that back wall. It was crying out for built-in shelves, a home for my 17-box book collection. For a fleeting second, we considered getting carpenter bids. What can I say … IKEA hacking came to the rescue again. We bought four of the new 15-inch deep Billy shelves, plus a set of wardrobe doors that luckily fit a unit that was miraculously the right size for our television. (We had to hide the TV. We have our disagreements, but a refusal to build the Altar to the Television God is one thing on which we vehemently agree.)

To bring the shelves wall-to-wall was a matter of measure thrice, cut once — the width of two end units had to be trimmed by several inches. About two hours with our friend the allen wrench, and up they went.

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You know that feeling when you make one relatively small change, and it’s like a door has swung open, cheerful spring breezes sail into the room, and everything akimbo clicks into place? It was like that. We’d made the room smaller, but more square — and it immediately felt bigger, warmer, more purposeful.

That’s when I went to town tearing open those 17 boxes, unpacking my long-stored collection of typewriters, tucking meaningful tchotchkes into place. My inner librarian fairly hummed with pleasure. The kid’s desk and art table slid in neatly under the window. The couch was rotated. Lamps were placed, my childhood coffee table (handmade by my dad) brought into the scene. And it was ours.

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Each of these beautiful machines has a story. The sweetheart at the bottom right is an Olympia SM3 — I figured out that it’s the same make and model as the one embedded in the 11th Doctor’s TARDIS console, only in a more unusual burgundy color.20130625-221215.jpg

Part of the philosophy section. Deep thoughts, friends.2013-10-04 13.09.09

Table by dad. Embroidery/knitting basket inherited from my grandmother. (It still has a few of her unfinished crewel-work projects inside — and gorgeous needles from Germany.)2013-10-04 13.07.39

A lot of magic happens here.
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It’s passed the Christmas tree test, the sick day test, the movie night test, and the dinner party test. In the winter months, the rising sunlight slants straight through the large window for a couple of hours and makes the floors glow. It’s a good room.


Dear Noodle,

When you sleep, I watch your profile. You are total stillness. I love sleeping next to you, the salt-smell of your hair, your warm, thin limbs flung lightly outward. Your bird-bone hand might flutter against my shoulder and I hold my breath to keep it there.

Your profile is still exactly at it was on that sonogram image, seven-plus years ago. The upturn at the tip of your nose. The slight bloom of your lips. Your forehead, high and smooth. From your first glimmer, you were a question-mark. Not your being, but your impression upon my being. Our connection was not the instant “I know you!” as reported by the magazines. It was then as it is now — a connection filled to spilling with a query: “Who are you — so miraculous and intact and outside all prediction? Who are you — full of contradiction, all intense need and pushing away? Who are you — already so whole and so skeptical?”

I think you were almost instantly disappointed by the world and the way it squashes magic. So you brought your own. You had, I think, from the moment of your arrival, little patience for much of what this realm has to offer.

You are my mystery. You are my horizon. I carried you and could not even then interpret you. You have always been exactly you. Even inside, you slept when you should have kicked. I fretted. The contractions that brought you were upside down, at the top of my ribcage. I didn’t recognize them for what they were. You saw no reason to dilly-dally and came sliding forth two weeks early, within a few hours of announcing your intent with a shocking gush of water. (That, then, was the one time that you matched the movie-screen cliche of parenting.)

I have learned that my job is to ride your wave. To stand and stay standing, correct my angle, stay balanced. If I steer that way when you want to go this way, I will fall smashing and get rolled up on the sand. Splutter.

There was no struggle to bring you out — only holding on for dear life. I quite literally grasped the railings of the bed and lifted my body upward in an effort to keep you in. And finally they said I could push.

Oh, I should have laughed.

You could not then, and never since, be pushed.

I birthed you — but a more accurate description is this: I let go. I was your gateway, child. From a place within and above, I observed your entrance. From inside a narrow tunnel of conscious-altering pain, my work was only to let go.

You arrived all squinty consternation and bird-baby squall.

You slept when you should have eaten. I nearly broke myself trying to feed you by the book. I finally taped a tiny tube to my finger and pressed it against your high, narrow, soft-as-silk palate and tickled your chin to make you drink. I murmured and implored you. But it was always on your terms.

You taught me in those early, hazy days that when you cried a certain way, you did not, in fact, want to be held or rocked. You told me, in the wordless, forceful telepathy of infants that you wanted to be put down. So I did. And you settled and slept.

But oh, I could not stop gazing at you. You, child, were and are gazed upon with so much love and awe.

Always, you and I, we’ve had a dance of instincts. Synchronized for an instant and then utterly off-kilter. I learn, over and again, to let you lead. Our path is one of constant course-correction.

This morning I brought you to your first grade classroom. A new school in our new town. You said to me several times, “Mama, I feel so important today!” You told me that you were certain the fairies had come in the night to “extra-polish my sweater buttons!”

You brought Piggie in your backpack. Did you choose him because you remember that Piggie was the stuffed friend who saw you through your early, hard days in preschool? He used to ride with us in the mornings. He went to school too, you see, and was scared. You talked to him about it, back then. It helped. (My Piggie voice: anxious whisper and quiet enthusiasm.) You talked to him about school again, last night. (Then you looked at me and whispered, “Mama, can you stop making Piggie talk?”)

You were thrilled on the walk up the hill. You were tickled that you have a crossing guard, “Just like in the old fashioned days!” You told me that you thought the desks would be set in rows, and would open, and that the teacher would teach from a platform, with a book open before her.

You were disappointed in the flat-topped desks grouped in squares. You shushed me, embarrassed, when I pointed out a teacher walking by, a dapper man in a bow tie. You love bow ties. You do not love it when I talk too much.

And when it was time for me to leave you at your desk, you gripped my hand with both of yours, tight.

“I’m scared, mama. I want to be with YOU!” Tears. We walked into the hall and I tried to help you get it together. I murmured encouragement, I told you it was time, that I knew you could do it. That I would be right there, at the end of the day. You would have none of it. “I will NOT go in.” So I brought you back inside and handed your hand to the teacher and you gave in and hugged her leg and cried.

Oh, Noodle. Again, my basics instincts were stymied. You don’t know how hard it was for me to peel your hands away. I looked back and you were peeking at me, tear-streaked, from behind your teacher’s leg. I shot you a thumbs up and a huge smile. My heart was thudding. It was just like those many, many preschool mornings, handing you over to the day.

You didn’t want to let go. And neither did I. With a push, off we both went into Wednesday.

This is how I deal.

News today. Hard news from a dear friend, and what can I do except … love. I’m sitting in one of my favorite spots in town, with a complementary bowl of gazpacho at my right hand, and a mason jar full of cold-extract coffee to the left. There’s sad-hopeful music streaming, and outside it’s all sun and blue. There’s a river sliding by, 90 degrees in the forecast, and white slashes of snow still on the distant peaks. Everything is lovely. And hard. The world is not nice or beautiful or fair. It isn’t.

But it is. It’s just … glorious and sad. Shake your fists at it, and it smiles gently. Carry on. Order a Slip n’ Slide, make quinoa salad, read a book that makes you believe that good things can happen.

We can teach children to be kind and respectful. We can be generous. We can ask for forgiveness, and (best and most magical of all) we can grant it. We can ask someone how they are, and mean it. No — how are you, really?

We can be moved by David Foster Wallace’s assertion that This is Water — and we can think about why, if he knew this, he hung himself in his backyard, leaving a note and his unfinished novel for his wife to find, after she’d cut him down. And then we can thank him for the wisdom he left despite the pain he couldn’t overcome.

This morning I had a disagreement with my child about naked mole rats. Yeah, I did. She declared them “cute.” I declared them the exact opposite of cute, they’re not cute, how could she say they’re cute? “They are the cutest things in the world, mama. I feel sorry for them and I think they are CUTE.” Agree to disagree. Exchange eyerolls and smiles with the spouse, the dry wit born of parenting.

There’s something in here about perfect imperfection. Ugliness inside beauty marked with flaws. I could dig out an analogy around the ideal design of a veiny, fleshy, naked rodent with huge, yellow teeth and squinty eyes crawling along on the same planet as whiskery teddy bear hamsters and rosy-cheeked human babies, and truly good people with truly hard circumstances.

I’ve faced a lot of ugly in my life so far, in varying degrees. I’ve had my tongue slashed with bitter disappointment. Shockwaves have rattled my chest. I’ve been tossed into the darkest slot canyons of the heart. I’ve skinned my fingertips, crawling out.

There is a deep, clear sweetness in the aftermath. We can soften. We are so fortunate — our arms are built just so, right and left coming together, forearm over forearm, palms up. A cradle beneath a sky of loving eyes.

My first word was “gentle.” Let us be so.

Finding summer.

I’d entirely forgotten these things.

Hammocks. Popsicle-sticky wrists. Sun hats and the red, sweaty band across your forehead, later.

Watermelon. Lemonade with crushed ice. Nothing but cheese and crackers for dinner.

Grasshopper chirring and the hiss of a breeze in high branches, teasing. Somnolent wind chimes in the neighbor’s yard.

The smell of wet pavement in the sun. The rippled edge of book pages turned by soggy fingertips.

Struggling and twisting into damp swimsuit straps. Cherry pits in the grass.

Singing into the electric fan – every word vibrato (Mister Roboto).

Flipping the pillow to the cool side. Again. Citronella candles. Night noises through window screens.


It’s been a long time since I stepped both feet into summer. So glad to be here.


A month. Then two.

Hi, you. It’s been awhile.

In a month, seventeen boxes of books get unpacked.

A room filled to the ceiling with boxes and furniture is transformed into a home office/guest space.

A yard pushes up surprises: columbine, lily of the valley, forget-me-not, day lilies, painted daisies, hosta, daphne. Wild roses and strawberries.

The eight-months-missed touchstones of home emerge from boxes and find new nooks. Our artifacts. Our us, in objects. The small stone jaguar from the Yucatan. The sonogram. The flower pot decorated with buttons and crayon scrawls. Grammy’s desk.

The typewriter collection comes out of storage for the very first time. (Platen count: nine.)

Paid work gets tackled every day. Kindergarten races toward the finish line. We meet the sweet neighbors who live with their 90-year-old mother named Violet. The first water bill arrives (xeriscaping and water barrels are in our future). I cut an inch off of my own hair. Mainly to avoid auditioning curly-hair stylists. Two bummers about moving: new dentists and new stylists.

The kid writes a song about fleas on a dog’s knees that get blown away by a breeze onto the trees–and sings it to me whilst strumming our out-of-tune ukulele on Mother’s Day.
In two months, a fence gets half built. There are 260 linear feet to cover, in total. Half is good.

I realize it’s my first summer without a daily office job since the kid was born. Longer than that. I buy a wading pool and a stack of bubble wands and make a huge list of fun-but-educational games and at-home science experiments for an enriched summer experience and … yeah. I know. It will be popsicles and mayhem.

I help launch a family dream.

Our coffee ritual transitions from warm to iced–we unpack the espresso machine and the cold brew kit. The fence continues; the neighbor offers beer and sends her kid out to help.

We take our picnicking skills for a test run, sandwiches and potato salad and gritty sand in the wrong places. Crawdads. Lifejackets. Sunscreen protests. Aloe vera. Inexplicably, my head is too big for my old sunhat. Can an adult outgrow a sunhat? The lake’s water is rimmed in a wide band of bright yellow, rocking in the small, lapping waves. It’s pollen from the pines, blown across the water and pooling at the edges. I don’t realize how vibrant and beautiful and strange it is until I look at the photos, later.

We glance at the boxes still stacked against the dining room wall. We studiously ignore the Chaos Pit otherwise known as our garage. The (now gutted) second bathroom fades to a vague future dream and we forget what it’s like to have a bathtub. Almost.

The kid’s kindergarten graduation ceremony happens. I don’t cry.

The next morning, I drop her off for the last day. Through the classroom window, I see her toeing off her velcro sneakers and sliding on her indoor slippers–a preschool routine for four whole years. Goodbye, soft-footed mornings. I cry in the parking lot.

We think about adopting a kitten. We discuss our chicken coop dreams, sketch plans for a treehouse, talk greenhouse strategies. We stare at the mistletoe infection in our junipers and mumble hopeful predictions and go inside.

I finally have lunch with a new friend.

We welcome a hamster into the mix.

A 34-year friendship is shored up with a visit. I make her look at mountains every single day. I make her break her cleanse with beer and a cheese plate. (I once force-fed her an olive. We were eight. A story for another time.)

Dance recital rehearsals are incessant. They are a flock of little girls, skinny and pudgy, knock-kneed and swaybacked, awkward and graceful. They match only by merit of their identical pink leotards and ballet slippers, gauzy skirts above playground-bruised shins. They are certain of their own beauty.

We count nine months since we hightailed it to our new life. It is vibrant and beautiful and strange. Knock-kneed and soft-footed. Awkward and certain. Stories unpacked. Pushing up surprises. Wide open.