Monthly Archives: June 2008

Home Repair 103

So, we’re making progress. It comes with a price. The smell of fresh paint is giving me a headache. The constant invasion of my space by pleasantly cheerful worker-people is making me grouchy. Getting up two hours earlier than usual to accommodate their schedule is making me tired — because I can’t seem to convince myself to go to bed two hours earlier. It has become a real struggle not to nod off at my desk about mid-afternoon.

Here is the godawful wallpaper that used to be in the master bathroom. Actually, it’s still there; they painted over it.

My bathroom now looks terrific and I’m left wondering why I didn’t do this long ago. The Dog’s Favourite Person asked why I had them paint the walls white [it’s a perfectly lovely creamy off-white]. Why not something pretty, like blue? I told him it’s like inviting someone to decorate an Easter egg. You wouldn’t give them an egg that had already been decorated. You want them to imagine their own design.

Every morning I think, today is the day they’ll finish up, but every afternoon they tell me they’ll see me at the same time tomorrow. I’m starting to believe they’ll continue to show up every morning until I sell the house. Maybe even after that. Caution to new owners: This house comes with its own work crew that will arrive at the crack of dawn every morning, just in case something needs doing around the place.

And it’s never nothing. They keep finding more things they can fix. I want to say, “STOP it, that’s ENOUGH already!” — except they’re just trying to help. I’m convinced it’s a guy thing. They see a problem, they want to solve it. The most recent offer was to point up the mortar between the bricks on the front steps.

“You know how to do that?” I asked.

The contractor gave a shrug and looked at me with a self-confident grin, as if every man knows how to do that. “Sure I do, love. Not a problem.”

“Wow. That’d be great. Thanks.”

Yes, it really needed to be done. I just hadn’t noticed. See how nice they look now?

I’m notorious for not noticing things. For instance, when the real estate agent first came to look at the house, we were in the master bathroom and she said, “Can we get rid of the cup holder, or are you using it?” I said, “What cup holder?” She looked at me like I had three heads and none of them were functioning very well.

This cup holder:

I swear, I stopped “seeing” that damn thing a week after we bought the house. Oh, I tried to take it down. But it’s stuck on there pretty good. Probably I got distracted and wandered off before I found the right tool for the job. And then, because my brain can do magic, it became invisible. Maybe I’ll ask these guys whether they can remove it. No, not my brain. The cup holder.

Really, this whole hiring people to do stuff thing is making me feel helpless and ineffective and less than capable of being a homeowner. As I said, all this progress comes with a price.


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Self-confidence does not come easy

I had a chat with a writer friend today about self-confidence. Or the lack thereof. I had written an article for my chapter’s newsletter (under duress, but that’s another story) and I sent it to her to read. She said one sentence in the introduction negated not only me as a writer but also the reader. She was right. I had added the sentence as an afterthought because I didn’t feel confident I had anything of particular merit to say to other writers.

So I’ve deleted that sentence and am re-printing the article here. Because I can. I retain copyright, even though the article was published elsewhere. At least that’s what it says in the fine print. It was published under my “real” name, but somehow I just don’t see me suing myself for plagiarism.

So here it is. I may not know enough to give actual writing advice to others, but I believe my experiences have led to a certain amount of knowledge and that there are some things of value I can share with others. This is one of them.

The Camaraderie of a Solitary Journey

We have added many new members in the past year and I thought I’d share with them my perspective on the benefits of being a member of this chapter.

Writing a novel, the process of learning to do so, is not unlike stumbling through a forest in the pitch black of night. You venture into the thick undergrowth and, blind from the darkness, almost immediately run into a hard rough surface. A sympathetic voice comes out of the night, “Whoa, that’s a tree trunk, try not to run into those.”

“Oh. Okay, thanks,” you say and keep going — and promptly trip and fall to the ground, skinning your knees and palms. You stand back up, wiping blood and dirt on the back of your pants, and someone else calls out, “That’s a tree root, be careful to step over those.”

“Right, got it,” you say and continue walking. Only to be slapped abruptly in the face.

“Watch out for those low hanging branches,” someone advises as you struggle to regain your balance.

You make your way a bit more slowly now, feet probing cautiously, arms extended protectively in front of you. Someone comes along and hands you a small flashlight. It’s not very bright, but suddenly you can see not only the trunks and roots and branches, but also colors and textures. You continue on with increased awareness, inhaling the verdant life of the place.

You cross paths with someone who offers you a compass and shows you how to travel in a straight line instead of just wandering in circles.

After a while, you come upon someone sitting contentedly on the ground who gives you a torn corner of a map of the forest. You’re pleasantly surprised to see how far you’ve come, yet daunted by what’s still ahead of you.

You look around and realize there are many others wandering through the forest with you — all going in different directions and at varying paces, some hesitantly and some with great confidence.

It occurs to you to ask, “Where are we supposed to be going, anyway?”

The reply carries on a mingled laugh and sigh of experience, “Our destinations are as different as they are unimportant. The journey is everything.”

You finally find your way to a narrow path that takes you out of the forest and you stand in the sunlight — face turned up to the sky, arms spread wide — and experience a moment of pure triumph and overwhelming joy. Until you realize that you loved being in the forest and, in spite of the scrapes and bruises, the confused lonely wandering, you can think of no other place you’d rather be. Just as you realize there is no other group of travelers with whom you’d rather make the journey.

So you turn around and eagerly head back, looking for another path, another story to tell. Only this time, you’ll be on the lookout for someone who might be in need of a flashlight or a slightly used map.


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Is it just mine, or have all phones become defective?

I’ve been answering my home phone lately. As an experiment. Just to see who calls and why. So far, the results lead me to believe I should disconnect the thing. Everyone who legitimately needs to speak to me knows to call my cell phone. Well, okay, there was the very helpful reminder about the appointment to get my teeth cleaned. Other than that? Nothing I’ll ever regret missing.

I got a call today from a woman who claimed to work for my mortgage company. I’m pretty sure she said there was no problem (it was hard to tell — I don’t think English was her first language), and that she was calling about my mortgage payment. Usually this means someone wants me to re-finance. So I’m ready to hang up. Except she said she worked for MY mortgage company.

So I asked, “What about my mortgage payment?”

“Yes, thank you ma’am. I wish to inform you that this call will be recorded to ensure customer satisfaction.”

“Fine.” I’m already dissatisfied. Recording the call isn’t going to change anything there.

“Yes, thank you ma’am. First, would you please give me your address so I can verify the information?”

Right. And next she’ll want my bank account and SS numbers? “No, I won’t give you that. You called me.”

“Yes, thank you ma’am. That’s fine. I want to verify that your address is (she reads off my address).”

“Yes, that’s correct.”

“Yes, thank you ma’am. And your phone number is (she reads off my phone number).

“Yes.” And stop thanking me. That’s just irritating.

“Yes, thank you ma’am.” Or not. “And is there another phone number you’d like to add to this information?”

I think the one you have is one too many. “No. There isn’t.”

“Yes, thank you ma– “

“Excuse me. Why are you calling?” Because I’m not sure this isn’t a scam and I’m fast losing patience here.

“Yes, thank you ma’am. We want to ask whether you plan to make your next mortgage payment.”

What the hell? “Yes, I plan to make my next mortgage payment.” When have I ever not made my mortgage payment?

“Yes, thank you ma’am. I see here that you usually make your payment on or before the XXth?”

Okay, so maybe she is with my mortgage company. “Yes. That’s when it’s due.”

“Yes, ma’am. I see that. And you make this payment online?”

“Yes, I do.” I’ve never even paid it late.

“Yes, ma’am.” Why has she stopped thanking me? “Is that what you plan to do this month?”

No, I thought just for the hell of it I’d do something completely different this month. Maybe send it by carrier pigeon. “Yes. Is there a problem with that?”

“No, thank you ma’am. I just need to document the information. And do you plan to pay the full amount of $xx?”

No, actually, now that you mention it, I thought I’d only pay half this month, just to see what happens. “Yes, of course I’m going to pay the full amount.”

“Yes, thank you ma’am. And what about the next month’s payment? Will it be the same thing for next month?”

Oh, well, you got me there. Because NEXT month, that’s the one I was planning to skip. “Yes, of course. Are you telling me that’s a problem?”

“No, ma’am. Not a problem once I document the information.”

Document the information? I’m starting to feel like an illegal immigrant here. “But there is no problem with my mortgage.”

“No, thank you ma’am. I have all the information I need.”

“Great.” That makes one of us.

“If you have any questions, please contact our customer service department at 1-800-xxx-xxxx.” Right, since I enjoyed this conversation so much. “Thank you ma’am and have a nice day.”

And then she hung up.

Okay, I know that people are defaulting on their mortgages at an astronomical rate, but this call did not leave me feeling all warm and fuzzy about the financial health and well-being of my mortgage company. Something is very rotten in Denmark if this is the call they’re making to customers who pay in full and on time every month. For thirteen years. Maybe I should call and ask them a few pointed questions. See whether I can get them to thank me some more.

Either way, I think my phone answering experiment is almost complete.


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Home Repair 102

I’m still in the estimate gathering phase. One of the ironies of procrastination is that things just never move as fast as you want them to once you decide it’s time to get something done already.

In the past three days I’ve met with three different contractor/repair type people and talked with two others on the phone. And I’ve realized what it is I truly dislike about this process. Other than the whole call people, leave a message, wait for them to call you back, miss their call, call them back, leave a message and wait again thing. Because of course that doesn’t irritate me. Much.

It’s not that these guys aren’t nice or that they don’t know what they’re doing or that they’re condescending while I explain what I want done. On the contrary. The thing that bugs me is that apparently I’m not supposed to believe a word they say. I’m supposed to be distrustful and suspicious. I’m supposed to get more than one estimate, in case they’re trying to rob me blind. I’m supposed to get references, in case they’re lying about their ability and experience. If they tell me they have insurance, I’m supposed to ask to see proof.

The hell with that. I like assuming that people are being straight with me. I like being naive and trusting. It makes me feel good. I want to believe these guys are hardworking and honest and doing their best to make a decent living so they can feed their families. I want to believe that if someone has been in business for 25 years it means he’s doing something right and that at least some of that longevity has to do with competence and trustworthiness.

I don’t want to expect the worst and hope for the best. If we end up having a problem, we’ll deal with it then. I am entirely confident that any problem will be resolved. To my satisfaction. Really.

So work will begin soon. I hope. The next thing, after the yard work, is to fix the seal on a plumbing vent pipe that leaked and caused water damage in an upstairs bathroom. And by the way, ma’am, you need to replace all the ridge cap shingles. [sigh] I was going to take a picture of the ceiling stain but it’s so ugly. No one wants to look at that. You’ve seen one stained popcorn ceiling, you’ve seen them all. Here, use your imagination:

Of course, then the ceiling needs to be repaired and painted. And since I’ll have people here who know how to do that sort of thing, they’re going to repair the ceiling stain in the back entry from when the washing machine died. And the one in the kitchen from when– um, never mind. They’re going to fix that one too. And then the out-dated wallpaper in the upstairs bathrooms has to be removed and those walls painted. Along with the walls in the front foyer and stairway and upstairs hall.

And yes, I could do much of that work myself. I’ve stripped wallpaper and painted walls before. But this all needs to happen sometime in the current decade. And I’m busy. So I’m getting estimates. And trying to maintain my faith in humanity.


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