Restored room becomes no-clutter zone


The installers from Carpet One must have thought I was crazy when I kept thanking them, tears in my eyes. It was a just a job to them, but in four hours, these burly guys removed all the furniture left in my den, took out the old nail strips and put in new ones, laid down padding and installed the new carpet. After which they vacuumed it and put my furniture back. My dog, banished through the whole process, was ticked off, but I couldn’t believe how beautiful the new carpet looked, much prettier than the dirty old Berber and of course better than the stained concrete I’d been living with since August.

Now, with furniture in place and books in the new shelves, I still can’t believe how pretty it looks. The rest of the house? Blech. I want to disown the other rooms, which don’t measure up at all. But maybe I can work the same magic there–without the flood.
The carpet came on a rainy Wednesday. I spent the next few days moving stuff back in, analyzing each thing to decide whether I really wanted it. I don’t know when I have ever felt so tired. But yes, I am getting rid of things. Two big boxes of books to follow the two I already gave to the church bazaar. Another box of clothing. Two boxes of knick-knacks. Does anybody want an old-fashioned chiming clock that ticks but doesn’t keep accurate time? I am determined not to put anything extra in that room. It used to be an obstacle course. Walk around the TV, the keyboard, the chair, the pile of magazines, the box of videos that I never figured out to do with . . . No more. I have room to do my yoga in there now, and the carpet is clean. Controlling my clutter is like trying to hold the ocean back, but I’m going to do my best to keep it that way.
Thank you for putting up with this endless saga. I promise to move on to other topics next week.

My Flood Disaster is Almost Over–I Hope

Bookshelves in progress, accompanied by a “Sex and the City” marathon.

I now have new respect and sympathy for people whose entire houses get flooded by hurricanes, overflowing rivers, tsunamis, burst dams or whatever. I only had one room get soaked, and it has taken almost two months to begin to recover. I never saw this coming.

I woke up on Aug. 20 to discover water all over my laundry room. My 12-year-old water heater had died in the night, and water was pouring out the bottom. Phooey. But the laundry room, formerly part of the garage, was never completely finished. Once I mopped the water off the concrete floor and got a new water heater, I figured my troubles were over.

But no. The next night, I was on the phone with a friend when I happened to walk barefoot through my den, also formerly part of the garage. The carpet was soaked. Major curse words flew out of my mouth. I have already blogged about the details of all this ad nauseum. The short version: I spent a day trying to sop up the water with minimal success as the stench of wet carpet padding, wood and sheetrock permeated the house. The next day, I followed my father’s advice and called the insurance company. Water damage workers tried to dry things out, then removed my entire carpet and my four six-foot tall bookshelves. They also chopped a soggy section out of my wall. Over the weeks that followed, I had many visits from various professionals, interspersed with long periods of waiting.

Everything from that room, including hundreds of books, all of my clothes and a host of photos and knick-knacks, is spread through the rest of the house. But now it’s almost over. The wall is patched and painted, I finished putting together the last bookshelf last night, and the carpet is due to be installed on Wednesday. Emerald cut, rust-colored Spanish tile instead of the silly white Berber that used to be there. It will all turn out to be an expensive blessing, I’m sure.

Having been surrounded by my possessions all this time, I’m not so fond of them anymore. And I realize that when the flood hits, everything that gets wet becomes worthless. I will reconsider every item that I put back in that room. Do I really need so much stuff? Don’t answer that. I know what you’ll say.

Meanwhile, yesterday I noticed the roof is leaking in the laundry room. Just a little.

To Build a Bookshelf


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Another episode in the wake of the great water heater flood of 2013
Saturday I built a bookshelf. That statement may evoke visions of sawing, hammering, sanding, staining and lovingly polishing, of creating something unique from a few pieces of raw wood. Wow, that Sue is so talented. You can smell the sawdust, can’t you?
But no. I tore open a long heavy Home Depot box delivered by the UPS guy, removed a ton of foam rubber and cardboard packing material, laid out pieces of wood-finished pressboard and a baggie of screws, nails, dowels and brackets, and started putting it all together. Each part was lettered, and the screw holes were already drilled. I just had to follow steps one through six on the instruction sheet with the added attraction of learning how the same instructions would be translated into Spanish and French. Tools required: one hammer, one screwdriver, and two people. I made do with one human and a dog.
You may recall that my previous bookshelves got wet when my water heater gushed water all over my laundry room and den a month ago. The water damage experts sent out by my insurance company declared the shelves deceased and tossed them into the front yard, to be taken to the dump. They sat there for three weeks before my neighbor got sick of looking at them, hacked them up with an ax and burned them in his fire pit. We had a nice visit while I watched my bookshelves turn to ashes. In replacing them, the insurance company would only cover shelves that were similarly inexpensive, hence the fake-wood bookshelf kits.  
It sounds mindless, but after I carefully nailed the backing on with 22 little nails and tilted the shelf up to admire my work, I discovered the backing was on backwards. Oh no! Did I mention I’m not mechanically gifted? I had to lay the shelf back down on the throw rug on the bare concrete of my damaged den and take out 22 little nails I had hammered in good and tight.
I had brought the bookshelf components from the garage to the den one or two pieces at a time because I couldn’t lift the 75-pound box, and I couldn’t think of anywhere big enough to assemble a six-foot tall, five-shelf monster except on the floor. Oh my aching knees and back. Luckily, I had the TV to entertain me. It took a movie, “Monster-in-Law” with Jennifer Lopez and Jane Fonda, plus an episode of “Friends”—the one where Monica and Chandler get approved to adopt a baby—but I got it done. I got parts A, C, C1, G, G2, F, P and P1 all in the right places. Why weren’t there any B’s, D, E’s or H through O’s?
Anyway, the shelf is up. It doesn’t match much of anything. Why did I order royal cherry “wood?” But it’s pretty. I’m dying to put books on it, but I can’t until I get my carpet, which is scheduled to be installed on Oct. 2, hopefully after the water damage guys finish patching and painting the closet. The books will remain on the kitchen floor, on the guest room floor and bed, stacked in the living room, and tucked here and there in the laundry room. I’m only moving them once.
I have three more shelves to build. I find the whole process fascinating. The kits are sheer genius with all those perfectly matched parts. But yesterday, when an unemployed friend at church offered to build the rest of the shelves for me, I said yes. Why should I hog all the fun?

When is a Garage Not a Garage?


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What is a garage? In modern American houses, it’s supposed to be a place to store the car, although in many homes it’s too full of other stuff for the car ever to fit inside. Tools, Christmas decorations, washer and drier, suitcases, garden equipment, stuff you plan to give to charity someday, and stuff you just plain don’t know what to do with live in the garage. At my house, it’s also where I store: pellets for the pellet stove and kindling for the wood stove, a spare tire, tire chains I have never used but must carry in the winter, my husband’s old bike that he never used, two dollies, three ladders, an umbrella for the patio table that fell apart ages ago, a Shop Vac, an American flag hanging above a Christmas tree stand, a few dozen empty boxes, two bags of Styrofoam “popcorn,” a file cabinet that didn’t fit in the house, and a nearly lifesize image of my late husband signed by all the folks at one of his many retirement parties. We call it Styrofoam Fred. But yes, I do get the car in. Thank God it’s small.

My single-car garage is very garage-ish. Cobwebs in the single-paned window, bare-wood walls, electric-powered door that rattles in the wind, bugs traveling freely through, mouse droppings in the corners, cold, stained concrete floor. When the door is open, everything is exposed to the world. It’s not the kind of room you’d like to live in—unless you’re a mouse.
But here’s the thing. The current garage is an add-on. The original two-car garage is now my den. In the wake of the great water heater flood of 2013 (see earlier posts), the bookshelves and carpet were ruined. For the last three weeks, I have been living with a den that more and more feels like a garage. Yes, it’s got sheetrock which I lovingly repainted two years ago. It’s got curtains, carefully matched furniture, and closets all along one end. I was so proud of that room, the one room I felt I had finished. But you know what? It’s still a garage. Behind the soggy sheetrock is bare wood. Behind the wall-hanging I made of felt and crochet hangs the fuse box. Under the Berber carpet was concrete, stained, pitted, cold and hard. Ants travel the edge of the southern wall like it’s a freeway. My sofa and TV sit like islands in a hard gray sea.
The former owners turned the garage into a den in 1990, eight years before Fred and I bought the house. They had four kids, a dog and a parrot; they needed the space. I don’t. I have often thought I’d rather have the house a little more compact and use the garage as a garage, but it’s too late for that. Unless the gradual westward settling of our land here eventually sends it into the ocean.
Post-flood, my beautiful den/library has been mired in insurance-hired service providers. Three guys came out and dried the old carpet for several days, then ripped it out. They tossed my bookshelves into the front yard. Last weekend, my neighbor got tired of looking at them and burned them in his fire pit, causing another neighbor to complain about the smoke. I have new bookshelves ordered and I’m waiting for a sample of my old carpet to be analyzed Back East so I can find out how much State Farm will pay for new carpet so I can finally order it and get it installed. Meanwhile, today, guys are supposed to come out and patch the hole the first guys chopped out of my wall. And then they will paint it. But the drywall will have to dry first, won’t it? And I don’t have any more matching paint.
It’s a slow process. I currently have mountains of clothing from the closets and approximately 600 books all over my house. I had no idea that room, that garage-turned-part-of-the-house, held so much stuff. I don’t plan to put a single thing back without reconsidering whether I need it.
Meanwhile my guest room bed is buried in clothing, books and musical instruments, but you’re welcome to sleep in the garage.

If it’s not wet, it’s frozen

Annie and I have a bedtime ritual. I turn off the TV, empty the water out of the dehumidier in the den and turn it on. That machine that we bought secondhand many years ago sucks up about a gallon of water a day in the rainy season from a room that appears to be dry–but it’s not. Our den used to be the garage. It’s damp and usually about 60 degrees. Mold appears on things in the closet, and giant water stains mar the beige carpet.

Moisture is a constant problem here. I was sorting through old newspapers and magazines on Saturday and found a box containing my very first publications. I found poems, short stories and articles from the early 1970s, as well as articles I wrote for various publications, including the San Jose Mercury News, Bay Area Parent, Bay Area Homestyle, South Valley News, Corporate Times, the Advocate Journal and others. There were my early prizewinning poems,  the article I wrote about San Jose State University when I was a student, my treatise on bees for Family Motor Coaching. A whole history of a career lay in that box, but a lot of it was so moisture-damaged from years in a coastal storage locker and then another year in my garage that I had to throw it away. I set aside the most precious things to be scanned into the computer. Then I went to Staples and bought some plastic bins for future storage.

The moisture is good for our skin, and it’s good for ferns and rhododendrons, but not so great for paper.

We haven’t had any rain for several days now. Instead we’re into an icy period, with the temperature in the 30s during the day and the 20s at night. If we had precipitation, it would be snow, but instead everything is coated with ice. So the other night, I turned on the dehumidifier, took my bedtime pill, brushed my teeth and then led Annie outside to make her final potty stop. She has a doggie door but rarely goes outside without me.

Her first stop is always the water bowl. This time, she put her tongue down and hit solid ice. I laughed at the look of total confusion on her face. I got her inside bowl and offered her liquid water, but no, she had to drink out of the outside bowl. She licked at the ice, pushed it around with her nose and finally found some water underneath.

After her drink, she skidded across the pavement and crunched across the frozen lawn to squat and melt some of the ice. Unlike most nights, she did not take time to sniff the air or run after phantom invaders. Too cold! She ran back inside and waited for her two Milkbones. If I just give her one, she’ll stare at me until I give her another. I kissed her goodnight, and we retired to our respective beds, mine in my bedroom and hers by the pellet stove which would be coming on and going off all night, lighting the room with an orange glow. By morning, the bin would be empty, and Annie would be curled up tight against the cold. I’d get another bag of pellets and start fighting our daily battle against the cold again. I just bought another 18 40-pound bags, half of them still in the car.

Nobody told us it would get this cold when we moved to the Oregon coast. And yet, when I look out the window at our bright blue sky without a hint of smog, when I step outside into the icy cold at night and see the stars so bright I could touch them, when I look at the trees and the ocean and the boats in the bay, I can’t believe how beautiful it is here. So I’ll buy plastic bins to protect my possessions and lots of pellets to keep me and Annie warm. Only a fool would complain.