Friday, October 14, 2011

I Can't Believe I'm Posting These

After living in the same house for 16 years, J and I thought it was finally time to seize the day and buy that house in the country we’ve dreamed of. With a garden! Fruit trees! A chicken coop! Maybe even room for more than two people to eat in the kitchen!

But most importantly:

Somebody once thought this was a good idea.

A toilet that isn’t stuck in the wall!

This photo may one day make its way into one of those “shit rednecks cobble together with duct-tape and gum” photo montages, but you saw it here first, kids.

So after attempting to sell our house for six months last year with ZERO offers, I am convinced that our bizarre walk-through, haphazard, dangerously not-up-to-code bathroom is to blame.

Can you believe I used to clean this room? Who did I think I was fooling?

I know, I'm as surprised as you. I mean, who DOESN’T love squishy walls and exposed PVC piping that appears to have simply been jammed into the wall, where it molds and rots and incubates and emits funky smells and you can fall asleep to the relaxing sound of the grody faucet dripping, because your bed is just eight feet away?

J and I took advantage of a recent loan sale at our credit union, sucked it up, and decided to bring our 125 year-old house into a safer, more hospitable state. Preferably something that wouldn’t give my four year-old nephew nightmares, rashes, or asthma when he comes to visit.

Living in a house with ample, code-safe electrical outlets and an actual bathroom vanity is a prospect that excites me to no end. Did you hear that? An ACTUAL bathroom vanity! On which I can set my toothbrush without gagging or grimacing! Be still, my beating heart.

While this work is being completed, J and I are living on our first floor. I suppose we could sleep in this—

But I may lose 60% of my lung capacity and end up with the sooty face of a character featured in a Dickens novel. So, futon-behind-a-sheet it is for the time being. I am also doing my hair and makeup in the same chair in which I wrote my last novel, and the dog eats and drinks four feet from the pillow I sleep on every night.

Nonetheless, I am still finding a way in the midst of this chaos to do some fall baking, because I’ll be damned if I have to bid farewell to summer AND miss out on recipes featuring pumpkin, cinnamon, squash, and sage. (Mmmm, pumpkin-ricotta lasagna ... I think it's the lead paint dust that gives it that spicy, piquant flair.)

Last night I baked a caramel apple cake (averting tragedy when I remembered just a minute after I put the cake in the oven that I’d forgotten to add an entire stick of butter… "Why is this batter SO DRY?!”) It’s my mother-in-law’s birthday today, so it’s actually for her—so, Happy Birthday if you’re reading this, Mama Riley! You take the cake!"* But first we’ll take you out for dinner to celebrate.

*Don't worry, there isn't any lead paint dust in it. And by "any," I mean "much (I hope)."

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Mama's got a (holy water) squeezebox

J and I have been busy removing every personal item and piece of furniture from our second floor, which is about to undergo a major renovation. We're talking moving walls, cutting new doors, new wiring and outlets, new sheetrock, new ceilings, new flooring, and--most importantly--a new bathroom. (Do you hear that? It's the sound of an angelic choir celebrating with me. They're singing Kool and the Gang: "Celebrate good times, come on!")

The absolute bane of my existence shall be gutted! And replaced with something that actually makes sense. After things are finished, I'll post a before and after photo. You will be horrified by the before. I guarantee it. When we had them visit to take measurements for the estimate, even our contractors were horrified, laughing and scratching their heads. "Now this is special," one of them said. The other was speechless. I got the impression that were he alone, he'd curl into a ball and start rocking in the corner.

As we pack and displace our belongings (everything must go!), it's been fun discovering personal artifacts we'd long-since forgotten about. A diary I kept when I was nine, accompanied by a creepy lock of hair...misshapen ceramic art projects J made in high school. And! A handful of rosaries and a small squeeze bottle of holy water.

I must have received it during some religious exercise in my youth (a better person would call them 'sacraments'). I can't remember if it was my confirmation, or my first communion, or simply because the nuns were worried for our souls and handed them out like candy one day after catechism class.

There is a sticker affixed to the back of the bottle which reads: "Holy water is a sacramental. Any deliberate misuse or disrespect of it is a serious sin of sacrilege."

Now, calling me a "lapsed" Catholic would be putting it mildly. I'm so lapsed that on the occasions I DO return to church, I worry about my skin smoldering. Okay, I'm exaggerating a bit, but I no longer am a member of any sort of organized religion for my own very private, personal reasons. I know what I believe and what I no longer believe, but most of all, I know that there is so much I do not know. YET--

Certain habits and long-ingrained beliefs tend to linger. Take the bottle of holy water. "What should I do with it?" I asked J.

"Water your plants with it."

I figured I'd go straight to hell if I did, so I tried giving it to my mom, who still goes to church. "Can you pour this back in the holy water fount?" I asked. She laughed and politely declined.

"Water your plants with it!" my Dad suggested.

"I can't do that!" And then I paused. Am I REALLY this superstitious??!! What would happen if I dumped it in a potted fern...would I be struck by lightning? Be attacked by a plague of locusts? Be forced to eat pork and wear a shirt of mixed fibers?

In the end, the holy water came back home with me. On the way, J said, "Maybe having this in the house is why it's not haunted." Granted, our house was built in 1885, but my husband is NOT the superstitious type.

Clearly, some of his childhood religious education and superstitions also lingered. It's a tenacious thing. Or maybe we'd just seen The Exorcist too many times.

Either way, the holy water remains in my living room, tucked near some photo albums on a shelf. Just in case.