Once upon a time, there was a small bungalow in a beachside town on the prettiest stretch of Highway One. It had a for-sale sign and promise. Perhaps we were the only ones who saw the potential, and perhaps we took on a bit more than was wise. But with the last bit of flooring in the laundry room, our bungalow became a finished product.
We hadn’t thought our new home would change that much. A new door here, a new floor there, a lot of cleaning. But as we grew to love this little place, we decided it deserved better. And so began a year of one better thing after another. After another…
I picked one shot to sum it all up. We started with this:
Laminate, tile, hardwood, carpet, vinyl. I’ve lived on top of it all. In the bungalow, I’ve lived on top of plywood for a good long time. No one heard complaints, much, because even the plywood was a great improvement over the moist cold air coming up from the crawl space beneath.
But it was time for decisions about what to put on top of that plywood, and I’m not talking about the throw-rugs I put down to pretend we were done completely with the renovation. Since I had declared the bungalow a grout-free zone, tile was out. We had a store-house full of laminate, but Stanley vetoed that in the bathroom, just in case I splash three times a day crawling out from those long baths. Moisture-resistant, water-repelling, easy-to-clean. I started looking into vinyl.
“Winkin’ and Blinkin’ and Nod one night
Sailed off on a wooden shoe
Sailed down a river of crystal light
Into a sea of dew” (by Eugene Field)
If you know this song, then you know the whimsical side of the truth. Some things in life are real, some are imagined, and most are a splendid mixture of the two.
Take the paint I have planned for the bathroom. Sometime, when I am good and ready to make a decision, my bathroom will be a soft mix of green and grey – or maybe yellow and coral – or some other creation that will occur to me when the time is right. And I swear to you, that paint will be on that bathroom wall one day. Probably after the tiles, those perfect ones I will find on the half-price table, get fastened to the wall above the vanity.
Or the metallic squares that will – honest to goodness – adorn the kitchen backsplash sometime in the not-too-distant future. They will be soft green. Or maybe deep brushed nickel. Sitting, as they will, atop the counter, my kitchen will glow with classy softness after I clean and set things away at the end of an evening.
The steps leading to my roof-top viewing deck will wander a bit. A zig, and then a zag around the cottage door will lead you with nearly effortless steps onto the platform that will let you watch the crest of the wave, a blow from the whales in March, or the lilt of a boat passing by. I can almost see the view now if I stand on my tip-toes and make a wish for the wind to blow the tree branches.
Yes, this will all happen in real life. Why wouldn’t it? As sure as Stanley is my husband and Sadie is my dog. I am Marsha. Why would I lie?
Life for me is not my dogs’ lives. I like to sit and watch, blend in, observe without much hullabaloo. But I am doomed to cavort with noticeable dogs.
First: Reina, the almost-collie. So beautiful people would cross the street in the Texas Hill Country just to be closer to her multi-colored fluff. Then they would look at her face and notice she had but one eye.
Then Patch, who stuck to my heel like that lousy piece of discarded gum on a hot summer day. Misunderstood and determined to let you know it, she would growl and let her ridgeline hair stand straight, all the while with her soft warm nose attached to the skin above my tennies.
Ace, the noble full-bred pointer, came running at me from the SPCA and never let up the pace. Except when he spied a bird, or rabbit, or critter. Then he would stay stark still -pointing – until every inch of him was a-quiver. He would drag me on our very long walks and people would comment, “Who’s walking who?” until he spotted a creature and the show would begin. On one walk, I counted six people stopped, watching his virtual hunt of a prey he would only once in his life claim.
Sadie follows this lengthy tradition. Ruler of the house and yard and dinner table and seemingly our life in general, she has opinions on everything. She is not allowed inside during meals, so she finds a way to look at us from every window in the house. She is a camouflage dog: coat like a cheetah or leopard, reminding people of that “wild dog, the Australian dog, the African dog, that Dingo.” People can’t help themselves. She elicits comments like the finale of a fireworks show – oohs and ahhs. She gives more love and requires more attention than all my former dogs put together and multiplied by ten.
Sadie has been running ceaselessly from one side of the yard to the other, scaring the workers who come to renew the bungalow. First, we closed her off from the back of the compound, where the workers gathered nail guns and dry wall. Then, we chained her, hoping that would remind her of her manners. Sadie appears to love all this activity. Nothing discourages her enthusiastic romp, or loud comments. Me, Marsha, I’m ready for some quiet time.
Every day brings an improvement in ye old chicken coop. Today we have a tub. And a toilet. Hard to imagine gratitude for those two common household items. It probably gives an indication of the really trying nature of all this home renovating to confess that this view
refreshes me at the end of the day.
PS – just because I mentioned a tub and a toilet, doesn’t mean they came with walls.
Figuring the cost of all this reconstruction has melted my otherwise logical brain synapses into a tangled mush. I should attempt a budget. I should. I’ve done them before.
But the mild weather along the Central Coast distracts me. It must also have distracted all the former owners, to the point that no one had insulated the bungalow. Who needs to insulate against a low of 50 degrees F?
Me, Marsha. In the process of spending a long day scrabbling on his belly like a lizard between the low roof and the high ceiling, Stanley made only one mistake. As he painstakingly lay out the 4-inch deep sheets of insulation, one of his elbows slipped. A hole in the ceiling ensued.
So the insulation didn’t cost all that much. But shouldn’t we have to figure in the cost to repair the ceiling? You tell me. My brain cells are tired. But no longer quite so cold at night.
Like the rest of the country, I am heading toward a fiscal cliff. I had resolved to let this holiday season be simple: a season to observe winter, or religion, or inner peace. Any one of those three celebrations should not cost a great deal.
Several years ago, we reduced and recycled much of our household goods. We were left with a very huge couch,a large bed and various paintings from talented relatives. We haven’t really missed those other items, except every once in a very long time when Stanley wishes for his silver engraver. I don’t understand this sentiment at all. He never thinks about my perfect little round table that mysteriously disappeared from the ‘keep’ pile, but he mourns his little engraver, whose purpose I have never quite appreciated.
So, we have been left with just enough to fit inside a tiny bungalow and a small cottage. Just right. No fiscal cliff.
Not needing things at all, the Christmas season leaves me flummoxed. I know, as an American, I have a seasonal obligation to contribute in some meaningful fashion to the economy. I buy a very few gifts for the new generation in the family, a card or two, a box of candy or two. That’s it. That’s my contribution and it fits the budget nicely.
Watching expenses is always necessary, but this year, when the renovation is taking longer and the peeling back of each layer of this 60-year old onion reveals more moldy skin, it’s especially important . We need what money we have for the pile of wiring that must be untangled and removed by someone who knows how to defuse that potential bomb of melded electricity. We need it for the charred ceiling. We need it for those things that have priority over garish Christmas decor and unneeded gifts.
I put up two decorations. One is a ceramic Christmas tree with tiny lights given to me by my mother. It shines softly and is beautiful. Its one light bulb that fits into the base needs to be replaced. But it is so old that I haven’t found a replacement in the first four stores I looked. I have found cords of 18-foot long lighted ropes that hook into one another if you continue to buy them from the same manufacturer every year, fake trees, real trees, gold plated wreaths and green ones. Also, blow-up Santas, reindeer with purple glossy antlers, chimes and chimes and more chimes that would drive you crazy with their chattering glee all night long.
I have tried every type of gift-buying tradition. Purchase a star, give a gift from Heifer, give a real gift in a nice package. Whatever I choose to give almost always reaches only the far edge of the target of what people really want. Everyone is always grateful, because the ones I give to are nice people and it’s the thought that counts, right?
But the Christmas fiscal cliff looms, though I have not yet fallen off. Maybe I haven’t found that pesky old light bulb, but I haven’t given up yet and I haven’t come home with purple antlers on a reindeer. I have a plan and am sticking to it. If I need some advice, I will ask Stanley for some help. And consider his response.
Come on, American Senate and Congress. If Marsha can do it, so can you.
And so the garden begins. I took a quick run to Miner’s Ace Hardware, which is a celebrating kind of spot on the weekends, and took a walk through the spectacular nursery. I came away with my first coastal garden plant.
Branches, blossoms, new leaves come quickly to the few transferred pots I brought from the valley. The new coastal plants, to me, appear brilliant in color, spiny in design. I love the new decor.
I found a great sale on ocean grasses. They are now potted, placed on the deck, and adding their sway to the afternoon breezes. Everything looks so fresh. Even after working for several hours in the coolness, I’m energized.
Sadie, though, is looking tired, and soon will sleep.