Category Archives: Haven for one

When in doubt, do nothing

I’m here to urge you to… do nothing. To paraphrase a particular shoe manufacturer, “Just don’t…”

I have never been, um, particularly spontaneous. Oh, if you call me and invite me to dinner, I can be ready at the drop of a mascara brush. Unlike my mother, who needed three days’ notice before going out, that I can manage to do with no notice whatsoever. I’ve also been known to be fairly spontaneous with buying stuff, which makes early morning coffee and the Internet a baaaaad thing.

No, I’m talking about the big stuff. The REALLY big stuff. Not. Spontaneous. At. All.

When we made the offer to buy our house and it was accepted, I threw up. Not kidding.

So, it should come as no surprise that, after Mr. Ex moved out, while I had the urge to make major changes like redo the entire house, or sell it, or move to wherever, I really did nothing for the first 16 months or so. That possibly may have also had something to do with the fact that, for much of the time, my mother was dying and I was otherwise preoccupied, but let’s just pretend that it was by choice, not completely by inertia.

When I finally got around to redoing the house in February, I knew what I wanted to do. I had lived with it for quite some time and let it speak to me. Seriously. That sounds hokey, but I did. I sat in its quiet rooms, just House and I, and let it kind of flow around me. And, when I did decide what to do, it was good. Not to paraphrase the bible or anything (it was good). I mean, I think God was kind of spontaneous, don’t you? Shouldn’t she have waited to see how the “let there be light” thing worked out before going with the animals, and people and all? Sorry…back to doing nothing.

Now – the yard. Last year, the first summer after Mr. Ex departed the premises, I hired a lawn service. I really don’t think I stepped foot into the yard more than a half-dozen times last summer (and that was probably just to pick up poop). I don’t really think I entertained out there, other than an occasional eating on the patio with my kids, if that.

This summer, more out of frugality than anything else, I took over the lawn duties. The frugality part is kind of funny, since I think I’ve spent quite a lot on yard stuff since becoming, um, intimate with it, but work with me here.

First came the mowing. I’ll admit, I don’t exactly find the lawn mowing part to be the ultimate zen experience. At first it was no big deal, but now, as the grass is rapidly growing and it seems that every day it’s either too hot to mow or raining, I’m not listing mowing as my favorite thing to do (a side note…if you go to Match.com, there’s a picture of a lovely young woman lying on the grass and it says “Mowing the lawn is very therapeutic.” Bullshit).

But the thing that mowing did get me to do was to pay attention to the yard, which is a very large space. Very large. With potential. I started to think about the things that could be done – more space for entertaining, some room for a butterfly garden, or a zen space…

The other thing is that, while I’m good with the mowing, I’m not good with the edging. I don’t like gas powered things, and I don’t want to spend much money on more lawn mowing equipment, so I don’t have an edger. And the problem with manual mowers is that they don’t get up close and personal with fences or other hardscaping, so you tend to have this unruly, unmowed edge around the lawn. I don’t care so much about the edges of the yard – it’s not a golf course, after all (which would be my new mantra. I’m thinking of having that put on a tee-shirt to wear while I’m – what else? – mowing). I have grass shears that I use around the patio, but I’ll be damned if I’m edging the whole yard that way.

So the edges of the yard – the three very long edges that are up against the fence – go unmowed.

Guess what? The not mowing part has given way to YARD SURPRISES! Little pretty presents from the unmowing fairies.

On the south fence, we have hostas. Lotsa-hostas. I seem to remember that they were growing there when we bought the house, but I guess we just kept mowing ’em down. And in the corner, right by the uglyshed, there are daylillies. Bloomin’ daylillies. Like a present.

Along the west fence we have some more more hostas, and I think there are some more daylillies trying to poke their little heads up. Comeon little guys…

Under the magnolia tree, there are some elephant hostas like I’ve never seen before. Biggest leaves ever. As soon as I start my experiments with hypertufa I’m picking a few of those babies to cast.

And along the north fence there are weeds. I think they’re weeds. But they’re interesting. And it’s not a golf course.

And, like I did with the house, I’m contemplating what exactly I want to do with the yard. So far I’ve done only one “permanent” thing, which was to plant a hydrangea next to the patio. It’s only as permanent as Tallulah will let it be, since she decided yesterday that it would be a good idea to dig it up. I think for the time being I’ll stick with container gardening and deciding what to do with the huge space I’ve got.

I’m not in any hurry.

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Hello, house

It occurred to me recently that I don’t hate the house any more. I don’t exactly loooove it, but we’ve come to a good place, house and I. I feel better about living here – being stuck here – and I think I actually use most of the rooms. Well, I don’t use youngest’s room – that’s hers (and, um, kind of messy), and I use the office only to retrieve documents from the printer. I actually do sit in the living room and watch TV in the living room.

This time last year I used, well, the kitchen (for the obvious) and my bedroom. I even ate a lot of meals in the bedroom. I’ve come a long way, I think.

Part of why I like it now is because most of Mr. Ex’s things are finally gone. There are still a few vestiges of stuff (and we won’t even talk about the shed in the back, or the chemicals in the garage), but he’s pretty much gone from the house. That feels good. It didn’t help to be tripping over his things and trying to figure out how to maneuver the demise of a 30-year marriage.

I’ve also done a teensy bit of redecorating to suit me. A new kitchen table, new towels, some funky new platters. An old chair in a new place. A new use for an old bassinet.

It’s starting to feel more like my house and less like the house that used to be ours.

I still plan to put it on the market, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to sell it, so I’m happier knowing that we’ve come to an understanding, house and me.

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Furniture shopping

A first: going into a furniture store alone

After a lovely happy hour with a friend yesterday, I decided to brave a new frontier – the furniture store. I only had one glass of wine so I figured it was safe.

Now, these can be pretty intimidating, even with a spouse. Not to mention overwhelming – the choices, the styles, the prices, the salespeople.

And, boy, there’s nothing that makes you feel quite so alone as the realization that the choice of couch color and style is completely up to you.

I circled the entire showroom twice, maybe three times. I pictured myself sitting on the couches, the dogs lying on the couches. I envisioned vacuuming behind them, moving them. I took down measurements. I bought nothing. Of course, I didn’t expect to really buy anything. This is a major purchase, and I refuse to make it standing on one foot. I felt no pressure. I took photos of stuff I liked, but that’s all I walked out with.

I looked at the only other customers in the store: a young couple with a new baby. I remember those days. It seems like it was both yesterday and a lifetime ago. They were excited to be making a purchase, heads together, whispering, no doubt, about how they could afford the purchase, would it survive their children (answer: no), would it fit in the living room… It’s almost hard to believe that they and I are in the same universe sometimes. If this was a movie, the scene would flip from the young couple to Mr. Ex and me 30 years ago. That scene would be faded-looking, clearly the 70’s (elephant bell bottoms, anyone?), but we would be just as hopeful, just as clearly children playing at being grownups. The first furniture purchase – the upgrade from hand-me-downs, college-era, potchkeyed-together stuff.

The following scenes, of course, would show the transitions – sitting on the couch as we held the first baby, cleaning up the spit-up, discovering the cushion that oldest had flipped over after spilling milk on it, waking Mr. Ex at 2:00 am after he would fall asleep watching TV. Arguing after he told me he wanted a divorce.

Wow. You can go through a lot while shopping for furniture. Today I’m looking at what I have to see if any of it will work – maybe I don’t have to buy something else after all.

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Elul reflections

We are in the month of Elul, the last month of the Jewish calendar. As we prepare for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, we take time during Elul to reflect on the waning year and to prepare for the time of renewal that the High Holy Days bring.

As I reflect on the last year – and on the previous 30 years – I’m trying to use this as a road map for the coming year.

I don’t regret doing the things I did to give my children as wonderful a childhood as I could. And I am reaping the richness of doing so; my daughters are amazing individuals who live their lives with integrity, purpose, kindness and conviction. I stayed in my marriage because I thought that was best for my family and, even though the marriage has ended, I still believe that it was a good decision (btw – it’s taken almost a year of therapy to say that). I also benefited from my decision in many ways; I have a career I love, with colleagues I love, and have found ways to earn a reasonable living doing it. I developed a strength that I may not have developed in a different relationship – a strength that serves me well today.

Of course I have some regrets. I worry that the strength I nurtured will make it difficult for me to ever enter into a relationship with a real man. Not a real man as opposed to a fantasy man, of course, but a mature, responsible man with a genuine sense of self. I worry that my “guard” will be too hard to break down. But I’m starting to understand that that will take time – and the right person – to address.

My more immediate regret is that I subjugated myself in so many ways. And I see this same subjugation in many of my friends. Because we moms and wives put everyone else’s needs in front of our own, we forget who we are and ignore the things that nurture us.

In my own case, I’m talking about my creative energy. Over the last year I realized that my energy went into my family; making the best home I could with limited resources, giving my girls things like camp, and propping up my husband for thirty years. Again – I have no regrets. I made these choices as a free woman and I would do it all over again (although I do think that I would have ended the marriage five years ago, rather than working so hard to repair it at that point).

All the things that bother me about my home seem to stem from the lack of creative appearance. I want color, texture and inspirational surroundings. My wardrobe is the same – I want to wear what reflects on the outside what’s on the inside (rather than what, sadly, fits and is affordable). I want to entertain creatively and live creatively, too.

I’m going to start a creative journal – one in which I reflect each day how I’ve done something creative to enhance my home, my wardrobe and my social life. I think it may have to be unelectronic, because I’d like to use watercolors and ink, but I’ll try to scan pages where I can.

In closing, I quote the great American prophet, Tina Turner. Seriously – can you imagine anyone better to look to when transforming your life?

Sometimes you’ve got to let everything go – purge yourself. If you are unhappy with anything . . . whatever is bringing you down, get rid of it. Because you’ll find that when you’re free, your true creativity, your true self comes out.

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Toward inspiration

I was just watching something about how survivors of an airplane crash have this new attitude toward life and what’s important. About how they have this “second chance” approach now.

In some ways, that’s how this divorce after a long marriage thing works, too. At least in my case.

For nearly 30 years I was in this life where I did what I had to do; I responded to what was right in front of me. When Mr. Ex lost one more job, I decided that I had to put younger daughter in full time day care, find after-school day care for older daughter, and get a job. I did that. When it became apparent that without more income we wouldn’t be able to pay for school supplies, camp, after-school activities, or bat mitzvah celebrations, I found it. When I was offered an opportunity to take on more work at my full time job – an offer that I knew would bring us just a little more security – I grabbed it (by the way, when Mr. Ex left, this was one of the things he threw in my face: that late at night he would beg me to close the laptop and I insisted on working until the wee hours. It occurred to me that was like a wife who sits home doing her nails all day yelling at her husband for working too hard).

My home was never a sanctuary. Never an inspiration. Never my muse. It was filled with hand-me-down, dog-eared (literally), bought-because-it-was-cheap furniture. I dreaded coming home when he wasn’t working and seeing the house look just like it looked when I left – couldn’t he do something? In the days when he was playing at becoming a cantor I would come home and say “what did you do all day?” and his answer was always, “studying.” I guess – because he certainly wasn’t cleaning, straightening or throwing away.

Okay, okay. I can’t write those things without thinking, “WTF? Why on earth did I put up with that for 30 years?” Enough – I could be in therapy for the rest of my life (and I imagine I will be) and I can’t come up with a better answer than I did what I thought was best for my children. And then, when they weren’t an issue, I guess I figured we’d make it work since it was just the two of us. Whatever.

But now I have this chance to remake my home into a muse.

I want to come home and breathe. I want to come home and fee like I’m being hugged. I want to come home and feel like I’m in this nurturing and inspirational environment.

And all in a space that I may still want to sell, so it can’t be anything weird or too “out there.” Luckily I’m not “out there,” so I can probably make it happen.

I’ve already started with the purging. Not only was it cathartic to get rid of all of Mr. Ex’s things, it’s been incredible to just be able to see the floors, not have stuff on every surface, and to be able to walk into a room without picking my way through piles. After I put those bookcases up in the office I went in there at least five times just to admire how it was so neat and tidy and all the books were on shelves just like they’re supposed to be.

But it’s got to be more than that. I need to be surrounded by the things I love and be able to put away the things I need to keep but don’t have to have in my face all the time. I need colors that speak to me and textures that inspire.

I need the flaws fixed. The water-damaged ceilings need to be fixed, the leak in the roof needs to be fixed, the downstairs bathroom needs to be – yeesh, I have no clue what THAT needs – I just know it needs something . . . And it all needs to feel pulled together.

Ironically, I can afford it, too. I have some money from my mom – not a lot, but certainly enough to do some of this. I don’t have to have anyone else agree with me; I can whatever I want, wherever I want to do it, and however I want it done.

It’s almost overwhelming. That’s the problem. I have too many choices. I’m not used to options. I’m used to settling. And now I don’t have to, and it’s almost paralyzing.

Step one: verbalizing the problem. Step two: making a plan.

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I am woman . . .

So this week I finally decided to keep my art/craft workspace (studio just sounds so, eh, pretentious) downstairs as part of the dining room/family room L. Sidenote: is it a family room if there is no family to sit in it? Should I call it the den now? But den sounds so wood paneled, and my family room/den/TV space is bright and airy and open.

Anyway, the choice was whether to leave the artspace (I like that) downstairs, where it’s open to the dining room/family room, or move it upstairs to the office. Now, office is a bit of a misnomer (I have this problem with misnamed rooms, I guess), because all it does is house a couple of printers and a computer that I never use. Never. Well, except for when I have to scan because the scanner is hooked up to it. But I do all my work on a laptop, generally in the bedroom. So the office turned into this, well, storage space with a couple of printers and a computer. When Mr. Ex lived here, it was virtually unusable because he had crap all over it. A mere 10 months after his departure, it’s getting a little bit better, but it still was this hodge-podge of big bulky shelves and, well, junk. A certain daughter who just left for Israel also used it as her junk spot so it took on that neglected, filled-with-important-stuff-that-doesn’t-go-anywhere-else space.

Moving all my art/craft stuff up to the office didn’t exactly appeal to me. First of all, the moving part didn’t. But I also grappled with the space itself. The upstairs office (which at one time was a bedroom – and at one time or another each of the girls used it) is tiny, tiny, tiny. When it was a bedroom it essentially housed a bed, a dresser and a desk. And no more. It’s also hot. I don’t know why, but that room never cools off. It faces southeast and has two windows, but never ever cools off. In the winter I never even open the vent.

I just couldn’t see myself sitting in there. I would also have to put a TV in there (I need the news and views for a muse, I guess). And I would have had to move these 7-feet tall cabinets up from the artspace. Two of those suckers.

The other issue is the space downstairs is adjacent to my laundry room, which means I have ready access to the laundry tub for cleaning off paint brushes, etc.

So, after about two weeks of consideration I decided to (a) keep the artspace downstairs and (b) clean out the rest of the junk from the office and move books into it. There are books everywhere – the family room, the art cabinets – everywhere.

In order to create a nice book space in the office I had to clean it up. First the items placed there by my youngest had to be neatened up and put in the closet. That was easy. Then there was the issue of the bookcase. There was a bookcase in that office that matches the 7-foot cabinets in the artspace. 7 feet high and about 2-feet wide. And 16 inches deep. It’s a big sucker. I didn’t want it in the office. It dwarfs the space and, since it matches the cabinets downstairs, I figured it would make more sense to move it down there, and get rid of a smaller bookcase in the artspace.

Follow me so far?

So I had to move the monster bookcase out of the office. By myself. Using a shift, push, tilt maneuver, I got it out of the office, around the corner and down the stairs. I have discovered that by carefully tilting large furniture you can kind of slide it down the stairs. Without killing yourself or breaking the furniture. I got it into the artspace and replaced the existing bookcase with the monster one. Then I moved the smaller bookcase into the garage (which actually was harder because I did it by moving it over the patio, which is a bumpy aggregate of some sort, so dragging it wasn’t really an option). This stuff is heavy – it’s fiberboard or laminate or whatever, and it’s heavy.

Then it was time to figure out what to do in the office. After I cleaned it out I figured out I needed two smaller bookcases – no more than 4 feet high. I don’t own those, so I had to buy a couple. The last time I needed bookcases (which was right after Mr. Ex moved out), I went online and found the magic words “no assembly required,” but I didn’t want to spend that much money this time.

Of to my friend Target to find some.

Sometimes you just live right, I guess. Or, it was because I was buying small bookcases during “get ready for college” time. At any rate, I found exactly what I was looking for – at $20 each to boot.

I pulled them off the shelf. Put them in the cart. Bought them. Got them out of the cart, into the car, out of the car, into the house, up the stairs. Put them together. I rock.

Things I learned:

If a nice lady offers to help you get the bookcases out of the cart and into your car, tell her yes. And offer to buy her dinner if she follows you home and helps you unload them too.

Don’t try to put them together on the bed. it doesn’t work. You need the floor or a desk.

Don’t pull the identifying stickers off the pieces until you know it’s all put together properly.

Keep the cordless screwdriver charged.

If the house is hot, it will be especially hot while you’re shlepping bookcases and putting them together. If ever there was a time for air conditioning, that is it.

Oh – and I did it all without breaking a nail OR messing up my fresh manicure. Life is good.

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Homemaking

I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about my home lately. Well, you know.

First I was going to put it on the market and buy something that has always been just mine. But the realities of the current real estate market and the fact that we refinanced and pulled out equity within the last few years has pretty much convinced me that now is not the time to try to sell. While I may really want to live somewhere else, it’s probably just not the smartest thing for me to do. And, to be honest, I’m not at all upset to remove that potential source of stress from my life right now.

So now I’m looking at my house; the three-bedroom house with a two-car garage on a big suburban lot where we raised two kids and weathered 15 years of marriage . . . and then separated – and trying to figure out how to turn it into MY house. It feels decadent; to have all that space for just one person.

I started thinking about the word homemaker. I’ve never considered myself much of a homemaker. I think that word always just conjured up images of the mom in Leave it to Beaver with the skirt and apron, making dinner at all hours. And dusting. And flower arranging. And it implied, to me, that the home you were making was for someone else.

Been there done that (well, except for the dusting. And the skirt. And definitely the apron).

But now I really want to be a homemaker. I want to make the home; deliberately, with great intent, enjoying the process and the anticipating the destination.

But, homemaking for one? After thirty years of being a wife and mother, that just seems like such a hard concept for me to access.

I’m so lucky to have a home and to be able to afford to keep it – I know that makes me so different from many women in their 50’s who get divorced.

So where do I go from here?

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