LIVE LOCAL, LIVE SMALL: Chipping away at long-term and labor-intensive goals with a good group of folks
“Horace currently has pink paint on him. It’s my fault. I dropped a bucket of paint on him. We got most of it off, but he sort of has racing stripes—sort of like he’s at Bristol Motor Speedway for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.”
Anthony paused and took in my response. “What were the dogs doing at the Market Street house?” he asked.
“We had the plumbers at our house and with doors and gates getting opened; Jock and I decided to take them up to Market Street for the day so they could run around the big fenced-in yard and not worry the plumbers.”
Actually, the dogs had a great time; they love visiting the Market Street house. The yard is big, with new things to bark at and sniff, and the interior has stairs to run up and down—which they think is just marvelous!
Elise and I were trying to get the trim repainted in what will be the future Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald Lounge upstairs when we get the bed and breakfast open. Inevitably, mean old Mr. Gravity reared his head, and I dropped a bucket of paint off the ladder. It’s amazing none of it splattered on the wallpaper. However, trying to keep the two dogs from tracking through it and into the rest of the house was a challenge. Eventually, we managed to get Horace out to the upstairs back porch and Hilda into the yard. Poor Horace was so traumatized by the whole event he peed on a dresser. I couldn’t be mad at him; it seemed a perfectly reasonable response to all that had just happened.
However, beyond the paint clean-up, we now still had to sand down the floor in that room and I just added an additional (unnecessary) difficulty, which easily added an extra day of labor.
It is an interesting process renovating my childhood home. I know it so well, but literally touching every square inch of it—frequently on my hands and knees—makes a lot of pieces of information fit together. This room was an addition built in the 1940s (we think). The wallpaper and paint is original; my parent’s didn’t change it and I kept looking at it thinking there would be no way to reproduce anything quite like it nowadays. It was built to be a children’s bedroom, and the floor was painted/stained industrial bark brown. It withstood the Hooper children’s efforts, and my adventurous youth of wear and tear, plus several young people who lived in the room following my mother’s death. But when trying to sand it off, it literally turns to gum under the pad. Jock borrowed a big sander from his friend, Clem, and we spent an evening doing the big passes with it and in the Maya Angelou room next door—plus, two closet floors. For two days Elise and I sanded by hand the edges and quarter round on our hands and knees. When the polyurethane went on, I cried. The floors had never looked so good or so shiny.
But it took a long journey to get there.
“I’m just chipping away at the to-do list,” I responded with an exhausted and rueful smile as inquiring minds asked of my life at Valerie Robertson’s 10th birthday party for Going Green Magazine. A very nice, well-meaning lady I haven’t seen in a few years asked a standard self-help-book question: “If you visualized what you wanted your life to look like, what would you see?”
I smiled and mumbled I’m just chipping away at long-term goals and moved off to chat with some friends across the room. I don’t lack vision for what I want my life to look like—I am well into the process of working toward long-term goals. It is just my long-term goals are very long-term and labor-intensive. Exhaustion and discouragement figure into the equation. I don’t shy away from hard work, but I have realized the key element to making any of them possible is surrounding myself with good people and relying on their knowledge and skills.
A good example is the day Jeremy Bradford installed the stained-glass window in the Maya Angelou bathroom. I have basic carpentry skills, but fine woodwork eludes me. If left to my own devices, I could probably have gotten the window in after about a month. Jeremy did it in half a day. It looks beautiful and he didn’t break it. When he showed me the finished product I couldn’t stop gushing.
“I didn’t do much,” he responded pointing out a frame and some backing support. He shrugged. He is gifted; his brain can solve the geometry problem which tells his hands how to proceed.
It has taken me years to figure it out, but slowly I have surrounded myself with a group of people whose skills match their hearts. Their presence in my life and work make the fruits of their labor a joy to behold. It is not that I can’t do or learn to do a lot of these things. It is just the extra time, attention and love they put into their work makes it all feel so much better. I could learn furniture upholstery, for example. I would probably really enjoy it. After 30 years, I might even be as good at it as Nancy Halstrom. But the love and care she has lavished on the assortment of chairs I have rescued from trash heaps around town is astounding. By the time she finishes them, the only thing remaining from before is the wood frame. Her work is beautiful.
My poor cousin, Austin, has looked askance at several chairs I’ve turned up with, and silently questioned my judgement. The first time I brought a chair back from Nancy, I had to show him the “before” picture because he genuinely did not recognize it as the same piece of furniture.
Randall Cothran, one of our favorite electricians, showed up unexpectedly last week and announced he was there to make the porch lights work. “Randall, I can’t afford this right now,” I told him. “I’ve got to pay property taxes.”
“Pay it forward,” Randall told me.
He insisted the safety of porch lights was important and we could figure payment out later—or I could do the same for someone else. After he left, I cried with joy, relief and awe. His offer meant so much.
After a year of chipping away at the very un-fun projects of home renovation, I finally saw leaps forward in three rooms over the last few weeks. I, frankly, really needed a sense of accomplishment that came with it. The kitchen is almost finished. We have to scrape the glass windows on the cabinets, do some touch-up paint, reinstall hardware, and do some miscellaneous things like clean up and install towel racks. Two bedrooms have walls, ceilings and floors finished, and we started moving furniture into them. That means the 3-D maze of the rest of the house is starting to become more manageable. It sounds small, but it goes a long way toward mental and emotional calm, believe me.
There are still miles to go on the bed and breakfast before we are ready to open to the public. But the forward movement we have accomplished in 2017 is actually pretty remarkable when I look back at it. If it weren’t for the amazing village of people surrounding me, I don’t think I would be able to keep going. But it’s a web worth more than any dollar figure I could place on it.